The ailing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation puts on its show Monday night with John Mellencamp performing and Madonna preening in the audience as a rare non-performing inductee.
It’s an audience that pays up to $100,000 a table in some cases, and a minimum of $2,500 a seat for individuals.
But how to explain the newly available actual finances of this corrupt, dying establishment created by Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner?
According to the 2006-2007 federal tax filing for the Foundation just published at guidestar.org, expenses are higher than ever while charity remains almost nil.
Consider that in 2006-2007, the Foundation — which claims assets of over $14 million — made just four charitable donations.
A mere $475 — the cost of a lunch at say Harry Cipriani — was sent to the T.J. Martell Foundation, the music business’s indisputable main medical charity and a key player in worldwide cancer research.
An equally astounding $500 to City of Hope, the important Duarte, Calif., cancer research center and hospital: $500. Yes, just $500.
A third donation, of $167,000, went to the Rock Hall Museum in Cleveland. This was not for the museum itself, which the Foundation doesn’t support. It was to pay for staff to maintain the Foundation’s archives, which are housed there.
The fourth donation was $25,000 to New York’s Fund for Public Schools. You might wonder what the motivation was there, since the preservation of rock 'n' roll probably isn’t on this group’s mandate.
But the $25,000 is well spent. This is where Wenner receives perhaps a twofer: socialite Agnes Gund, head of the Museum of Modern Art, is on the board. Her family’s foundation secured the original mortgage for the Cleveland Museum. Wenner also gets to play with big time New York socialites and moguls like board members Caroline Kennedy, Mort Zuckerman and Lenny Riggio (Barnes & Noble).
Then there’s the itchy-scratchy relationship between the Cleveland Museum and the Foundation. A Rock Hall source says that although it may not have shown up yet in the filings, the Foundation has pledged $8 million to the Cleveland museum. Of that, they say, $1 million has already been paid, although it’s not evident from the new filing.
Nevertheless, the Foundation’s coffers remain full while their attitude toward charity has been scant.
For example, last year, according to the filing, the Foundation gave a measly $4,183 to indigent musicians.
This total is actually broken down on the filing to food, shelter and clothing ($2,400) and medical, dental and hospital expenses ($1,783).
By comparison, in 2006, MusiCares, the arm of the Grammy Foundation that supports musicians, gave away $6 million in Specific Assistance to Individuals. This ranged from musicians with addictions to those who’d lost their homes and livelihoods to Hurricane Katrina to those who simply never had medical insurance and require it now.
An insider from the Rock Hall explains: “They’ve done away with the mandate of helping musicians. They’ve turned their attention now to scholarships for students in New York and Cleveland instead.”
Indeed, the Foundation’s latest PR effort is to offer four high school students in Cleveland and New York each $5,000 checks to study music or the music business.
What could the great charitable fundraisers of the rock world — like Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Bono and this year’s inductee, John Mellencamp, who helped start Farm Aid — make of this?
What’s even more outrageous is that -- given that they now report over $14 million in assets — the Hall of Fame Foundation also claims it finished $120,857 in the red for fiscal year 2007!
It’s hard to believe, but not after you look at their other expenses.
Last year, the new head of the Foundation, former Clear Channel exec Joel Peresman, was paid a salary of $331,229. That’s double the salary of the former chief, Suzan Evans Hochberg.
That would be bad enough, but Evans Hochberg is still being paid nearly two years after she was usurped by Peresman at Wenner’s behest. She’s still getting $150,000 a year.
(For several years, Evans Hochberg was also paid $300,000 a year until this column revealed it. After that, her salary was mysteriously halved for reporting purposes.)
Yes, that’s just about $500,000 a year for two people, one of whom has been more or less “retired.”
They paid $80,000 in legal fees to the firm Grubman, Indursky, even though Alan Grubman, one of the top music attorneys in the biz, is on their board. (No discounts there!)
Another $80,000 went to “occupancy,” meaning rent, although their suites are within the Rolling Stone offices.
Just under $37,000 is attributed to Travel. But this isn’t travel for even past inductees to attend the annual ceremony. Hypothetically, if someone like Smokey Robinson or Elvis Costello wanted to come to the Waldorf Monday night, they’d be required to pay for their tickets and provide their own transportation. That’s why you rarely see, with the exception of Robbie Robertson of the Band, any alumni at the dinners.
In other words: some of Monday night's less wealthy inductees, like the Ventures or Little Walter, will not be returning anytime soon unless someone sponsors them.
Meantime, controversy continues to rage over who’s allowed into the Rock Hall anyway. Madonna was allowed in during her first year of eligibility presumably because she’d be a draw for the TV audience on VH-1. She refused to perform, it’s been suggested by sources, because she may have requested an in-kind donation to her own charity, the Kabbalah-based Raising Malawi, and was turned down.
And Madonna, whether you like her or not, is decidedly not a rock act. Still, as she steals the thunder of publicity Monday night at the Waldorf, consider again who’s not in the Hall of Fame yet after two decades of fabulous dinners and incredible “travel” expenses:
Neil Sedaka, Linda Ronstadt, Chicago, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro, The Moody Blues, Ben E. King, the late Billy Preston, Todd Rundgren, Kiss, Carole King, the late Mary Wells, Chubby Checker, Hall & Oates, Iggy Pop, Patti LaBelle, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Alice Cooper, Sonny & Cher, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Dionne Warwick, Ringo Starr (the only Beatle not in as a solo artist), Lesley Gore, Petula Clark, many famous record producers (Richard Perry, Phil Ramone), DJs (Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram, Wolfman Jack, et al) who created the genre, or two dozen R&B or early rock doo-wop acts including the magnificent and tragically overlooked Little Anthony and the Imperials.
And this is really funny: Quincy Jones is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Luckily, he doesn’t need them as much as they need him. But that’s the whole story right there, isn’t it?