Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Private Club With a Rich Director
Tonight marks the 16th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner. There will be much hoopla, a shindig at the Waldorf, an obligatory jam session at the end of the show, and an VH-1 broadcast later this week. Record-company executives will pay up to $25,000 per table.
So where does the money go? According to the Foundation's federal filing, it goes toward putting on the show they're watching, and toward paying the Hall's director, Suzan Evans, a whopping $300,000 a year.
At the same time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation contributes almost nothing to organizations that help musicians, to music programs, or directly to musicians in need.
The Form 990 filed by the Foundation for 1998-99 reveals that it donated a measly $1,200 to the very needy R&B Foundation, another $2,000 to New York Music for Youth Foundation (a division of United Jewish Communities with a board comprised of record-company executives), and $77,000 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. It listed a total revenue of $3.7 million, with expenses of $1.8 million for putting on the Hall of Fame dinner at the Waldorf.
The foundation made no donations in 1997-98, although Evans made $295,000 and had $40,000 in travel expenses. Revenue and expenses were similar to those of 1998-99.
"This is grotesque," said one high-placed record-industry source. "I would have guessed $150,000 at most."
Another record-industry insider made an audible shriek when told the news. "I would have thought maybe $80,000 at most. What does she do?"
A former associate who is considered a power player in the record business says, "She has no idea who anyone in rock and roll is, but the guys like [board member] Jann Wenner treat her like a pet. Everyone knows she has quite a gig going for her."
Evans' travel apparently took her to, among other places, MIDEM, a music conference in Cannes, France, that has nothing whatsoever to do with her primary job: arranging for the inductees in the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner.
Evans, whom almost no one in the music business seems to know or to have met, is said to be a Westchester socialite married to an architect. She's been the director of the Hall of Fame since its inception in 1985.
This year's inductees include Paul Simon and Michael Jackson, each of whom has already been installed in the Hall of Fame as a member of a group, respectively in 1990 and 1997.
Inductees have tended so far to favor mainstream artists and ignore rock icons or pioneers like Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren or Iggy Pop; soul stars from Memphis such as Rufus and Carla Thomas; or Sixties belters from the Phil Spector era such as Ronnie Spector or Darlene Love.
The categories, as well, are mostly subjective and hard to explain. For example, Carole King is in as a songwriter with ex-husband Gerry Goffin, but not in as a performer, even though her album, Tapestry, is one of the all-time best-selling records.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation is pretty much run by two people: Sire Records founder Seymour Stein and Rolling Stone/US Magazine owner Jann Wenner, who fancies himself the leader of the organization.
It's no coincidence, for example, that Paul Simon, Wenner's close friend, is again an inductee this year. Wenner also underwrote the recent NARAS Musicares dinner that honored Simon as Person of the Year during Grammy week.
I asked Wenner on Friday night at his largely celebrity-free US Magazine party at the Hudson Hotel if he could tell me exactly what the Foundation did, or what its relationship to the Museum in Cleveland was.
He said, "I'll tell you," and then ran off. He was not seen again.
Benjamin Needler, attorney for Jann Wenner and Wenner Media, who is also on the Foundation board, told me he didn't think $300,000 was too high a salary for the director's position.
"It's a big job," he said. "She [Evans] spends six months planning the show."
By comparison, the directors of the R&B Foundation and the Songwriters Hall of Fame each make less than $75,000 a year.
I also asked Needler about the Foundation's charitable giving.
He said, "The foundation is not about fund-raising. It's about the Hall of Fame dinner. We're not about giving away $100,000 or $200,000 at a time. We want to give $2 million to someone."
He could not say who that might be.
"Someone worthy," he concluded.
A source says: "The whole Hall of Fame thing has become like a private club. I know a lot of people who are listed on the board who have nothing to do with it and feel very distant from it."
The Foundation's offices meantime are located in the New York offices of Atlantic Records. One wonders why they're not in Cleveland with the rest of the hall.
"Because the center of the music business is here in New York," says Needler.
What that donation of $77,000 went to is unclear since the Museum, which is run as a separate entity from the Foundation, counts AT&T, Continental Airlines, and Enterasys Networks as its three very generous corporate sponsors.
In fact, says Needler: "The museum is self-sustaining now."
I suppose there will be a moment of silence tonight at the Rock dinner for John Phillips, who died yesterday at age 65. It'll be ironic, though, since Phillips couldn't get a gig with a major record company for the past 25 years.
There will be a lot of stories about Phillips — the main Papa of the Mamas and the Papas — as a drug addict. He was pretty open about it and wrote a book, too, called Papa John. He was not so nice to a lot of people and maybe not the best parent or husband.
But it really hit me in the gut when the news of his death came over the radio. Say what you will about his personal life, but Phillips was a musical genius. Those lovely melodies and haunting lyrics will last forever, and are more beautiful as they age.
"California Dreamin'," "Words of Love," "Monday, Monday" and a dozen other songs he wrote between 1965 and 1969 are not only pop classics, but created new production standards. (I always loved "Creeque Alley" and "Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon.") The soaring harmonies, overdubs, and touches of violin are all gorgeous and unprecedented for their time.
Phillips's contribution to the canon of pop music cannot be underestimated. Now he joins Mama Cass Elliot in rock and roll heaven. He will be missed and, I hope, celebrated.