John McDonough | Chicago Reader

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Re: “RIP former Tribune rock critic Lynn Van Matre

I thought of Lynn yesterday only to learn of her death 19 months ago. It was sad to hear. My belated sympathy to Tom, whom I knew from the copy desk. I still picture Lynn as the glamorous 23-year old on the 4th floor of the Trib. I landed in Russell McFall's Neighborhood News section about six months before she did in 1967. When she appeared, she was noticed, being the first person at the paper to wear a miniskirt. And she wore them magnificently on her tall frame with those long, willowy legs. She was not the first to cover rock for the paper, though. It was another fellow who grabbed the job first, fashioned it into a regular beat, and held it for a year or two. He was Robb Baker, a curiously eccentric looking young fellow whom some found easy to mock at first. He covered the routine suburban news but he talked endlessly around the office about the Sgt Pepper and White Albums when they came out in '67 and '68. I was into jazz and listened with only half an ear. He heard things in the music that I didn't because he was tuned to the emerging counter-culture vibe in a way no one else seemed to be. Despite the conservative rectitude of editor-in-chief Don Maxwell, in whom the old anti-New Deal fire of the McCormick era burned as brightly as ever (the paper still ran the occasional editorial on the “Yalta sellout”), the Trib was surprisingly good about letting a young staffer pitch an idea rooted in his own personal passion. After a few months Baker had persuaded his bosses that rock was something worth covering, and that's where it began. I believe he was at Woodstock. But just as that piece of journalistic real estate was becoming hot, Robb moved on from the Trib, and the glory that might have been his for the next 20 years passed to Lynn. She stepped in, solidified it as a lasting presence in the Trib’s index listing, and made an important name for herself. She was a pioneer and today should have a Wikipedia bio. Coincidentally, over on the movie beat a similar story played out during the same period. Cliff Terry and Roger Ebert took their posts at the Trib and Sun Times in 1966 and 67. But like Robb, Cliff tried something else (a leave of absence to Harvard) at just the wrong time. Gene Siskel came in as a "temporary" replacement and you know the rest. Opportunity abhors a vacuum, of course, and film was becoming a virtual black hole. And like Robb, what might have been Cliff's passed to Gene. It too bad Lynn didn’t stay even longer. She would have been great television.

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Posted by John McDonough on 07/27/2014 at 4:22 PM

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