RIP former Tribune rock critic Lynn Van Matre | Bleader

RIP former Tribune rock critic Lynn Van Matre


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A clip from 1972
  • A clip from 1972
Lynn Van Matre had a gift. Reread her coverage of rock and roll in the Tribune in the 1970s, and you find her doing two things at once: she's writing about rock with savvy and passion that young readers had to respect; and she's explaining to the white, wealthy, conservative parents of those readers what the hell is going on with their kids' music.

Here, for instance, is the angry note on which she concluded a long 1974 piece that traced rock back to its roots in C&W and R&B:

Born as a reaction against strictures, today's rock is often little more than ritual, offered up to audiences who pay money to be crowded like cattle into barns with poor sight lines and sound systems. Once inside, too many of them get loaded on whatever the hip drug is at the moment, settle into the scene, and applaud like hell no matter what's played as tho in the presence of gods. And these 'gods,' if they're honest admit offstage it's only a business and often express contempt or incredulity for the adulation they receive. Rock's not dead, as some would have us believe. But as Frank Zappa once said, sometimes it does smell funny.

Or to put it another way, the way she put it a little earlier in the same article, "Rock is mammoth business, and like all mammoth businesses, it is extremely establishment."

Rock, in other words, wasn't just noise. It was big business. And it wasn't the only real thing in a phony America. It was big business. Thanks to the common ground Van Matre cleared away, I'd like to think civil conversation returned to the family dinner tables of Winnetka.

Van Matre joined the Tribune out of college in 1967 and covered rock for the paper from 1969 to 1988. She remained with the Trib as a suburban reporter until 2004. Her death last month went almost completely unnoted (click here and scroll down for an exception) because she and her husband—Tom Popson, a former Tribune arts editor—wanted it that way; nevertheless, as a young woman covering and pretty much defining the rock beat at the Tribune, she was an important pioneer. I asked Don McLeese, who covered rock for the Reader in the early 80s, for his memories of Van Matre, and he announced her death on his Facebook page.

As you will see from the comments that follow his announcement, she is warmly remembered. "I was very competitive and full of myself," McLeese himself recalled. "She was neither."

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