From celebrities to local artists: Repository writer reflects on end of a long career

from-celebrities-to-local-artists:-repository-writer-reflects-on-end-of-a-long-career

CANTON Dan Kane arrived on the job of his first day as a journalist, uncomfortably dressed in a shirt and tie and looking young enough to be mistaken for a teenager.

The 22-year-old Wooster native walked into The Canton Repository circa 1982 — cigarette smoke clouding the air and dirtying ceiling tiles, fingertips hammering at the keys of high-end IBM electric typewriters, reporters cranking out stories before the copy was sent upstairs in pneumatic tubes to be scanned into the newspaper’s first computer system.

Letter to the Editor: Dan Kane championed the local music scene

He felt out of place in a newsroom where everybody seemed to be older, most notably the grizzled men on the copy desk.

The same day he was given his first assignment: Cover a speech by iconic network television anchorman Walter Cronkite at the Canton Palace Theatre.

“I was told it would be on the front page,” recalled Kane, who considered Canton to be the big city as a Wayne County youth. “That was a lot to process on my first day.”

Cronkite was only the beginning.

An array of stories and interview subjects followed in the subsequent years, including hardcore underground punk rocker Henry Rollins, soap opera star and television actress Morgan Fairchild, professional wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, the drag queen and singer known as Divine, pop-rock icon Jon Bon Jovi, alt-rock provocateur Trent Reznor, and assignments taking him backstage with Eddie Van Halen and a few feet away from Howard Stern and David Lee Roth.

But far beyond the fun and flashy celebrity encounters, what Kane became known for most was the passion and unending support he gave to the local music, arts, theater, symphony and cultural scene, and in more recent years, his weekly restaurant reviews and culinary discoveries. 

Nearly 40 years after sitting in a packed theater listening to the venerable Cronkite, and witnessing seismic technological shifts impacting the music and entertainment and newspaper businesses collectively, Kane retired from his post at The Canton Repository earlier this month.

Recent Dan Kane articles: Behind the food at The Irish Pub & Grill

Recent Dan Kane articles: Praise from Rolling Stone greets the arrival of new Shootouts music

During a recent wide-ranging conversation, he cleared out desk drawers and unearthed copies of entertainment sections so old that Billy Idol tickets cost $5 at the Cleveland Agora and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” was playing in its first run at movie theaters.

The 61-year-old Kane found himself on the other side of the questions, reflecting on just shy of four decades in a job that made him synonymous with what he covered.

Sitting amid a newsroom turned barren by the pandemic and in a cubicle mirroring his personality, adorned with vibrant art, dynamic photos, peculiar keepsakes and posters of rock shows and art exhibitions he planned and promoted, Kane recalled with his trademark enthusiasm the arc of his career and the colorful and rewarding moments he experienced along the way.

He was affable, engaging, personable, never exhibiting a trace of sadness or melancholy over the newspaper life he leaves behind, instinctively deflecting any talk of his legacy and making the story about those whose talents he showcased, not himself.

Calling Hank

It was 1982.

Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president. Sony Walkman portable cassette players were the rage. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was dominating radio and selling millions of copies. Camelot Music first began selling CDs at its stores inside shopping malls. And Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” was a personal computer.

It was in this bygone era when Kane started his career, following graduation from Bowling Green State University with a journalism degree. Experience included a short stint with Orrville’s newspaper.

And immediately his impact was felt, edgier and obscure musical artists suddenly making the entertainment pages of The Repository.

“I was very much into the punk rock and new wave scenes and figured out that for small bands on indie record labels, I could just call and get interviews,” Kane recalled, laughing. “I started putting these very wild artists in The Canton Repository. I saw Henry Rollins and Black Flag (in concert) and called them — the record label number was on the album cover.

“They put him on the phone. They said, ‘Hank, oh, he’s here right now.'”

Interviews with Stiv Bators and a member of The Gun Club followed, as well as with Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats, their words and photos splashed inside the weekly REPertoire entertainment section before its name was changed to Ticket.

Editors and supervisors at the time “didn’t question it because I was the young guy and I think because I was so enthusiastic they let me do what I wanted,” he said.

“I remember the headline on the one story and I just about died: ‘Henry Rollins says his music is one big death trip.'”

Thinking back to his ambitions as a 20-something, Kane said Canton was supposed to be a quick stop, maybe two years. “I wanted to work at Rolling Stone magazine in New York City — that was my plan.”

“But I just got really rooted here and liked it,” said Kane, who several years later was promoted to entertainment editor while continuing his writing and reporting duties.

Not a superhero

Kane interviewed Phil Collins during his chart-topping prime in the 1980s, as well as a member of the Beastie Boys following the group’s groundbreaking debut release, “Licensed to Ill,” which became the first rap album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

He met Bill Cosby backstage at the Canton Memorial Civic Center long before the comedian and actor became embroiled in scandal.  And he stood next to legendary, influential music critic Jane Scott, of The Plain Dealer, during a New Kids on the Block concert in 1990 at Blossom Music Center, amid the shrieks and hysteria of throngs of young girls.

Recent Dan Kane articles: How did an international theater-mask creator wind up in Canton?

Recent Dan Kane articles: Don’t be fooled by the tiny trailer, J.D.’s has big-flavored hot dogs

Talking with stars and rising artists was fun and even a thrill in some cases, but other times he wasn’t starstruck, including when he attended Howard Stern’s early-morning broadcast in Cleveland in 1994, a raunchy celebration marking the radio program’s ascent to No. 1 in the market.

“I remember standing behind David Lee Roth and he was no bigger than me, which really surprised me because I thought he was going to be this big rock star, superhero person,” he recounted of the event, where the former Van Halen frontman performed. “And he was trying to hit on these two strippers from Tiffany’s Cabaret and they were not digging it.”

‘Shining the spotlight’

As the local arts and music scene evolved, Kane’s interest and devotion to it grew, and so did its coverage and prominence in Stark County’s largest newspaper, which had a circulation of roughly 80,000 on Sundays.

“Everybody was writing about The Go-Gos, but I was the only one writing about (the local rock band) Lovedrug and local theater and local artists,” said Kane, whose engaging and lively writing style matched the subject matter.

“The thing … I’ve really loved about my job is discovering local things that are not necessarily super well-known and shining the spotlight on them, and I had total freedom to do that.

“It just developed,” he said. “One of the things I said is, ‘If you think there’s nothing to do (in the Canton area), you’re not looking hard enough.'”

Battle of the bands

But Kane did more than write about entertainment.

He organized and promoted a handful of rock shows and co-curated highly successful Massillon Museum exhibitions. Another highpoint was his involvement in The Repository’s “Battle of the Bands.”

Kane smiled wide and became animated when recounting the event. He credited the newspaper’s marketing department for the idea.

“That was one of the most meaningful things,” he said of the former annual spectacle. “We impacted peoples’ lives. They were teenagers, high school kids. And they were getting to play at the Palace Theatre on a stage in front of a bunch of screaming high school girls.

“When I run into those people, that remains one of the biggest memories of their life.”

Kane also has attracted devout followers of his restaurant reviews, with some readers even clipping and compiling the write-ups and using them to guide their dining choices.

“Restaurants would have a landslide weekend after a positive review,” he said. “Restaurants that weren’t busy at all were suddenly busy; it makes me feel good that not only people are reading but are trusting, and it’s a great way to support local businesses.”

Macy moment

Kane also wrote avidly about recording artists from the area whose acclaim extended far beyond Canton, including Don Dixon and Marti Jones, Marilyn Manson and Macy Gray.

Gray’s fusion of soul, R&B and pop earned her a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her hit single, “I Try.”

The song was everywhere on commercial radio. All seemed golden when she agreed to sing the national anthem at the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game at Fawcett Stadium.

But the homecoming performance went awry. Gray flubbed the song and stumbled over the words. She left the field amid boos and laughter.

“There was this outrage over it, which was kind of overblown in my opinion,” recalled Kane.

But the story didn’t end there.

“Macy called me in the midst of this uproar,” Kane remembered. “She said, ‘Dan, it’s Macy.’ I said, ‘Do know you are the most-hated person in town right now?'”

Kane asked her for a statement about the fiasco, but before giving one, the music star didn’t consult with an agent or record company executive. To his astonishment, she asked for his help with writing one, the journalist having gained her trust through previous interviews.

So, after a few read-throughs, her statement was 89 words long, including this excerpt: “I’ve never stood in the middle of a football field with 25,000 people watching, with planes flying over me. I blanked and I couldn’t believe I forgot the words…”

Great gig

Kane said the time was right to retire.

“After a year of working at my home and not in the newsroom and not seeing my coworkers, it’s been challenging to kind of scrape up entertainment stories when all entertainment has been canceled,” he said candidly. “It just seemed like a good time to step back.”

Kane is curating and promoting an upcoming art exhibition: “Turn and Face the Strange: A Visual Celebration of David Bowie,” on April 2 at The Hub Art Factory in conjunction with First Friday in downtown Canton.

So he’s not leaving the art or music scene. Just the newspaper gig he unabashedly loved.

“I felt like I’ve had the most fun job in the building,” he admitted. “And I feel kind of like my job has allowed me to meet all the coolest people in this county.”

Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and ebalint@gannett.com

On Twitter @ebalintREP

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