The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation is finally opening its big-money vault for musicians. And not to just nominees or inductees to its Hall of Fame, but to all the musicians who have made pop, country, and soul records under the aegis of rock and roll.
This news came to me on Thursday at lunch with Suzan Evans, the director and founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Readers of this column know that I have been extremely critical of the foundation's practices, especially the fact that the organization "with $10 million in the bank" doles out very little every year to needy musicians.
Evans, who brought me to lunch with Wenner Media's affable PR director Stu Zakim, wanted to correct what she felt were some misconceptions about the foundation. I was happy to hear them.
Immediately then to the issue of taking care of veteran rock musicians.
"Believe it or not," she said, "we get very few calls about this and almost no applications. Up until this past year we said we would cover inductees and nominees to the Hall of Fame. But this summer we decided to widen this to all musicians in the rock world."
Now, this doesn't mean your cousin Tony whose big-hair band in 1983 had a regional hit single will be eligible. What it does mean is that every legitimate Top 40 artist — vocalists, instrumentalists, sidemen, studio musicians — going back 40 or so years may now apply to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation for assistance with medical bills, living expenses and health-care issues within reason. They do not have to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This is important. If you can spread the word yourself, go right ahead. This is one time I authorize news organizations — particularly in England and Australia — to pick this story up and give it a push.
This includes even acts like Lobo ("Me and You and a Dog Named Boo") or Terry Jacks ('Seasons in the Sun"). I give you these examples not because they need help, but because they are obscure. Anyone, for example, who's ever sung or played a note on a Rhino compilation is eligible.
Last year the foundation gave just $14,000 in assistance to musicians. Evans says she's earmarked at least $100,000 for this purpose. If she sticks to her word, there should be no reason that anyone in the music world would ever have to be evicted or repossessed again.
The foundation's phone number, by the way, is 212-484-1755. Pass it on to the appropriate parties. Don't abuse it.
So what did I think of Evans, whose six-figure salary and whose seeming lack of interest in "legacy" rock artists I've criticized in this space?
Well, it's not like I've had a 180-degree turnaround. There are still several things about the Hall of Fame Foundation that I have questions about. But I found that Evans was willing address many issues openly. (She would not discuss her salary, however. "The papers," she said, "speak for themselves.")
Besides the issue of aid, the other pressing subject we addressed was the voting and induction process, and the fact that the category of "Early Influences" has been dormant for a couple of years now.
I pointed out to Evans that many R&B, jazz and blues musicians who'd been overlooked were now too old for some of the voters to appreciate. In fact, some of them may be too old to climb up on the stage at the Waldorf to accept an award.
There are also some major glaring omissions: Motown's Mary Wells ("My Guy") is one of them. Patti LaBelle is another.
Evans assured me that the issue of Early Influences being reactivated would be looked at, maybe as soon as this year. She also said the foundation would consider Lifetime Achievement Awards as a way of grandfathering in some older acts.
It wasn't the perfect answer everyone hopes for, but at least it was something. I was impressed by her willingness to discuss this stuff at all.
As for the voting: Evans insists that 75 people — record execs, musicians, critics and the like — go over a huge initial list every year. She even offered me a ballot. (You can write to me at the bottom of this column with your suggestions.)
She says that if acts aren't getting in, it's because this group and the one that follows it is excluding them. What can I tell you? If John Mellencamp makes it on the first ballot this year, and the Dells and Lynyrd Skynyrd are left off, we can certainly revisit this.
For the time being, though, the biggest problem surrounding the foundation, the lack of support for musicians, is on the front burner. Spread the word.
We posted this on Friday night, but here it is again: Michael Jackson won't be able to depend on James Meiskin anymore for investment ideas.
The head of Plymouth Partners, a commercial real estate broker, was arrested Friday along with his own attorney on charges of trying to extort a Manhattan criminal defense lawyer and his client. The class D felonies are punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Meiskin, according to the U.S. Attorney, is involved in a strange and ugly story.
On Sept. 21, a friend of his named John Olexa broke into his posh Upper East Side apartment and tried to steal a Sony plasma TV. Neighbors called the break-in in to the police, who arrested Olexa on the way out of Meiskin's building. Olexa was booked and released on $5,000 bail.
No one knows why one of Meiskin's friends would be stealing from him, but followers of a basic "Law & Order" episode could probably figure it out.
But it's what happened after this that is puzzling: Meiskin and his attorney, Samuel Gen, according to the police, then told Olexa's lawyer that if Olexa paid them $100,000, they would drop the charges and make sure Olexa was dealt with leniently. If he didn't pay the money, the police say, Meiskin and Gen made it clear to Olexa that he would be convicted and probably not survive jail.
Olexa's lawyer consequently called the police, who set up a sting operation to catch the pair receiving the money they demanded.
I told you about Meiskin back in April 2002. I told you that he had been married formerly to Jerry Seinfeld's sister-in-law Rebecca Sklar and is a dead ringer for the comedian.
Meiskin met Jackson in November 2000 at the home of public-relations guru Howard Rubenstein when Jackson was introducing his new charity with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. I know this because I met him there.
Meiskin subsequently joined the board of the charity. He reintroduced himself to me at Jackson and Boteach's infamous charity event for children at Carnegie Hall on Valentine's Day 2001.
Meiskin's relationship with Jackson did not stop there. He told intimates he was helping Jackson look for a mansion in Florida last January. It was also Meiskin who helped set up, through pals at the Democratic National Committee, Jackson's strange performance at the Apollo Theater on April 24, 2002.
Meiskin was then trying to salvage Jackson's financial problems by lining up investors for some kind of business. It didn't work out.
Meiskin was set for an arraignment sometime this weekend.
It would be wrong of me not to say anything about Oprah Winfrey's nutty hour with Barbra Streisand last week.
If you missed it, Streisand wore a white wool cowl-neck sweater that came up just over her chin. It looked like the collar from a Rembrandt painting. I don't know if she was hiding twaddle, or the weapons of mass destruction, or both.
The thing about Barbra is, and I'm not really a fan, that her voice is perfection. When she sang — live, no lip-synching, to a backing track — she had the magic that has made her so unbelievably popular.
On the other hand: She calls Deepak Chopra by his first name, and calls him when the flowers on her terrace mysteriously change color. She is told, and believes, she has willed this to happen. She is absorbed by the death of a 9-year-old dog, for whom she held a funeral, but was not too aggrieved that she didn't run out and get a clone-like replacement.
Winfrey, who herself straddles a fine line between empathy with her audience and her desire to be a megastar living in Bel Air, was incredulous. When Streisand finished singing, Oprah said from the audience, "I've owned this studio for fifteen years and I've never seen a white microphone."
The singer replied she had had it sprayed white so it would match her sweater and the dog (the new one was brought to her on stage) and wouldn't detract from her performance.
Now that, my friends, is a diva.