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CLEVELAND – Rock critics are typically reviled or ignored but rarely bronzed. Of the latter, Jane Scott may be the first, which is fitting. Scott took her job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1952, three days after Alan Freed‘s famous Moondog Coronation Ball, becoming the first full-time music writer at an American daily.
“She could have started on Thursday, but if she waited until Monday, she could get a dime more a week,” recalls her nephew Bill Scott. “She always regretted it and said ‘I should’ve started on that Thursday so I could’ve gone to that rock ball.'”
Scott rallied support among fans and musicians to put the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in her native Cleveland and is now immortalized there with a bronze sculpture bearing her signature red glasses. (While the styles would change over the years, the color of her frames remained the same.)
One of the quirkiest, sweet-hearted individuals you’d ever meet, she charmed artists for half a century. Scott had a very egalitarian, almost punk rock attitude that viewed rock as a communal good. She didn’t treat rockers like stars, but real people.
“Ms. Scott had an expectation of you being a person,” says Lyle Lovett, a longtime friend. “I think when you’re in the entertainment business people have really low expectations of you.”
Her brand of rock criticism was strangely inclusive by modern standards. She never wrote a negative review, and at least half her concert stories would feature interviews with the fans talking about what they thought was great about the show.
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In interviews, she had a clever stratagem to ground her subjects: Her first two questions would always be “What is your favorite color” and “Where did you go to high school?”
“That would disarm people because you’re thinking back to your high school days when you had no power. You were all worried what everyone else thought, and that’s where she would take them first, to kind of reset them,” explains her nephew. “Then she’d start asking them questions about their career.”
Like Canadian rock journo Nardwuar, Scott was famous for tracking down people’s parents. It was all the more effective since she was often of their generation. “She’d get all kinds of information from them, of course,” says Scott’s nephew. “Then they found out she’d been talking to their mother and they had to be polite to her after that.”
That’s how in 1968 at the height of Jimi Hendrix‘s popularity, she was able to score an interview with the guitar great. She won the confidence of Jimi’s father, who made him talk to her. She wound up accompanying Hendrix to the local Chevy dealer, where he bought a blue Corvette.
Other fans of Scott’s included Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reed. In a missive sent for her 80th birthday Reed called her “a very smart guileless lady” with “unbiased attitudes” that was “determined” and “filled with energy.” Lovett and the Boss were personal favorites and she saw them religiously when they came through town.
“She was just the nicest lady in the world and was just so enthusiastic about music,” Lovett tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Her interest seemed sincere and I would stay in touch with her throughout the years. It’s inspiring to meet someone who seems to love what they do and is so thoughtful about it.”
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To break the ice, Scott would sometimes offer to read artists’ palms or handwriting. She inadvertently delayed The Who’s performance in Cleveland one time because she was playing psychic. A notorious backstage ninja, Scott always found her way into artists’ dressing rooms, and when there, the tenor of the room changed.
Says classic rock guitarist Michael Stanley: “I’ve seen the most swarthy, grimy backstage rock ‘n’ roller you ever want to spend 10 seconds with, and she’d walk into the room and he’d turn into a choir boy. All ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am.’ She had that effect. She was always charming and took the wind out of a lot of pseudo-bad guys’ sails.”
Stanley got his first taste of fame when his high school band was the weekly featured local band, and when she say him again a few years later, she recognized and remembered him. It was just part of her nature.
“She always made it feel like it was about you when she was there. It was never about her, and you can’t say that about too many people in the public eye in the press or on the stage,” says Stanley. “It was all about making you feel comfortable.”
She covered it all in her time from The Beatles’ first American tour to Dylan, Presley, Live Aid, Woodstock ’94 and Lollapalooza. Scott finally quit in 2002 after 50 years at the Plain Dealer. She was 82, and continued to attend shows by The Who, Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, among others. “If you can meet Bruce Springsteen,” she told a reporter, “who wants to sit around and play bridge?”
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None of Scott’s relatives knew how truly beloved she was by the rock community until her death. They only knew her as their sweet, odd aunt. After her memorial service in 2011, her relatives contacted then-Rock Hall president Terry Stewart, who had spoken at the ceremony about creating some kind of lasting legacy. Stewart put them in touch with David Deming, then-president of the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Deming was going to design a bench shaped like Scott’s red glasses for outside the Rock Hall, but once they visited his workspace, their intentions changed. A skilled sculptor, his space is populated with larger-than-life figures like a titanic Ricky Williams (for the University of Texas) and a Zeus-like Jim Thome, his bat extended outward in warning.
Once they saw his work, Scott’s relatives insisted on a lifelike sculpture. Deming had the brilliant idea to put her on a bench and have her leaning in inquisitively, as though interviewing those seated next to her. Even immortalized, her focus is outward.
Deming ensured that the sculpture featured a jar of peanut butter poking out from her back (standing in for the baggied sandwiches) and inscribed her first two questions on her notepad. The family added a few more touches to make it more realistic. “The nieces both said she’s not frumpy enough,” laughs Deming.
Scott now sits outside the exhibition doors, slightly disheveled and curled about her writing pad, awaiting the next interesting person to cross her path. The implicit idea is it could be you. That seems perfectly appropriate to someone present at rock’s birth, with a well-honed understanding of its populism, while truly embodying its earnest equanimity and ever-youthful enthusiasm despite her age.
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