Peggy Turbett/The Plain Dealer /Landov
Jane Scott in January of this year in Lakewood, Ohio.
Jane Scott in January of this year in Lakewood, Ohio. Peggy Turbett/The Plain Dealer /Landov
Jane Scott, a long-time rock writer for Cleveland's The Plain Dealer — and perhaps the first rock critic at a daily paper in the entire country — known for her unending enthusiasm as well as her nearly 40-year tenure in the position, died on Monday, July 4. She was 92 years old.
Scott was known as a fan and friend to rock's biggest names, in the city that would eventually hold the genre's Hall of Fame.
"The big bang for me was The Beatles coming to Cleveland on September 15, 1964," she told NPR's Scott Simon in 1999.
Anyone trying to reverse engineer the phenomenon of rock criticism would do well to note that moment. Rock exploded for Scott at the moment it did for the rest of the world: her coverage of that 1964 Beatles show was on an assignment for the paper's teen section.
"I'd been doing a young adults column for high-schoolers and trying to get them interested in doing things for their school, and all of a sudden I realized where their heart was," Scott told Robert Siegel when she retired from The Plain Dealer in 2002.
When the Beatles came back to Cleveland two years later, she snagged an interview with Paul McCartney, one of many musicians she'd befriend during her tenure at the paper. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Lyle Lovett are among the singers who have dedicated songs to her from Cleveland's stages.
Scott wasn't afraid to point out the difference between her age and that of most of her subjects. When she began in 1964, she was 45 years old — a middle-aged female rock critic writing for a major daily newspaper in a major rock town at a time when both rock music and print media mattered in a way that's almost impossible to understand today.
Scott started her career at The Plain Dealer as a society reporter, and the sense she communicated, of pulling back the curtain on a secret society pulsating with energy, survived into her pieces on Lollapalooza and the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. (She was 72 years old when she wrote this sentence: "Nine Inch Nails, an industrial-strength group formed in Cleveland, started with the energy in 'Terrible Lie' that most bands hope to build up to. It had the advantage of playing after dark and made effective use of dry-ice mist.")
Scott was deeply invested in rock and always generous to artists (that piece on Lollapalooza notes Siouxsie Sioux's "Top 6 hit," a designation notable for communicating a mild go-get-'em, more than its pop significance), which helps explain why so many musicians loved her right back. Lovett, Peter Frampton, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, Springsteen and Lou Reed all expressed their appreciation in print when Scott retired.
At the time, she told Robert Siegel that even on the rare occasion when she panned an artist, she'd "try to find among the panning ... even somebody you don't like, there's always something good about them."
That perspective may have been enough to get her labeled a lightweight, or merely a fan in critic's clothing. But if she passed down nothing else, Scott helped to cement Rock and Roll as a serious concern for the world, not just those screaming teenageers. That she did so with their enthusiasm, and for such a long time, was her most remarkable accomplishment. She wrote her own job description, and her own legacy.