Friday, December 15, 2017

In Praise of the Moody Blues

When I first began blogging in early 2015, I was taking an online course about political campaigns, and the professor (a campaign consultant) asked us to blog every week. I had never blogged before and wasn't sure I'd be good at it, but I gradually got used to doing it.  Since the course ended, I've generally blogged every other week, and that still seems like the right number for me. When I blog about politics or sports or popular culture or religion, I average between 200-300 readers, for which I am grateful. (I never expected to average more than the students & the professor in that online class!)

But if I write about Rush, the fans flock to my blog and suddenly readership soars: my two most-read pieces this year were about the band-- one refuted the rumors of a Lee-Lifeson reunion  https://dlhalperblog.blogspot.com/2017/08/why-everyone-should-fact-check.html (2974 readers) and the other was about Neil's retirement https://dlhalperblog.blogspot.com/2017/09/finding-our-way.html (13,633 readers-- an all-time high total for my blog). I could read these trends two ways-- nobody cares what I have to say unless I'm talking about Rush; or people do care, but they know they can get views on those other topics in many places, while the views I can share about Rush are unique to me (and to my experiences as someone forever associated with the band's history).  Either way, I came to the blogosphere with no expectations, and I'm happy that some of my blog posts have really resonated with readers.

This week's post could easily have been about political upsets (kudos to Doug Jones for defeating Roy Moore) or my views on the Republican tax plan (big giveaway to the wealthy, guaranteed to help Mr. Trump and his family more than it helps you and me) or how upset I am that a partisan FCC repealed Net Neutrality (while the mainstream media waited till after the vote was taken until they finally covered a story that will soon affect us all).  But instead of controversial topics, I'd like instead to focus on something that unites us, rather than divides us--music, and in this case, classic rock.

As you know, I've had my share of disagreements with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, whose animosity towards Rush was well-documented.  When they were finally inducted, I felt as if a wrong had been righted.  And to be honest, I feel the same way about the Moody Blues.  I've been a fan of their music since "Go Now" (which I played when I was a college deejay).  Although their music is very different from that of Rush, the two bands have several things in common: a passionate fan base, and critics who treated them dismissively.  I'm among the many who have spent years writing and petitioning and asking for the Moody Blues to be inducted, but until now, they were ignored by the judges (much like how the guys in Rush were ignored for years).

Personally, I've always loved the kind of music the Moody Blues did; sometimes it was progressive, sometimes it was pop, sometimes it blended genres unique for that era (like doing an album with a classical music orchestra).  The band's creativity always impressed me:  "Nights in White Satin" (which wasn't a hit the first time it was released in late 1967, but scored big the second time around in mid-1972) was one of my favorite romantic ballads.  I still love "Ride My Seesaw," "Never Comes the Day," "Gypsy," "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band," "Question," "Your Wildest Dreams," and Justin Hayward's solo tune "Forever Autumn," just to name a few.

As a former deejay, music director, and radio consultant, I met a lot of musicians over the years. Many were a disappointment-- conceited, crude, caught up in the "rock and roll lifestyle." That's what made Rush so special to me-- as I've said many times, success never spoiled them.  So, after being a Moody Blues fan (and playing their music) for years, I finally had the privilege of meeting them circa 1986, when I was consulting a Rhode Island radio station then known as RI-104. I admit I'd had a crush on Justin (he was definitely a hottie, and female fans all agreed), but it was gratifying to find out that he was not just another good-looking rock musician.  He was also a kind and down-to-earth person, not arrogant, and not taken with his own fame (again, the parallels to the members of Rush).

So for now, let me put politics and other topics aside and just say that I am really happy the Rock Hall decided to honor the Moody Blues. For more than three decades, they gave us listenable and interesting pop songs and creative album tracks.  Most of their music has aged well, and in fact, some of the original members are still performing.  There are some other bands and solo artists in this year's class of inductees who also deserved to get in, but growing up during the 1960s (a contentious time when so many things in society were changing), albums like "Days of Future Past" and "In Search of the Lost Chord" still bring back memories for me.

I will never forget that period of time-- 1968-1969, long before I went to Cleveland, long before I met Rush, when I first got my chance to be on the air; when album rock was becoming the dominant music on many college campuses, and FM was gradually gaining in popularity.  It was an incredible era for music, an incredible era for radio, and an incredible era for being a fan of rock and roll.  I'm glad I was able to play some of those songs back then; and I'm glad that now, some of the bands who were part of that era are finally getting the respect they deserve from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Who Are the Role Models These Days?

First, a comment or two about politics; but it's related to something that has been bothering me:  famous men behaving badly.  Yesterday, President Trump, who often complains about "fake news," tweeted out some inaccurate videos that claimed to show Muslims in acts of violence; he got the images from a far-right British organization known for spreading anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages. The president never bothered to find out if the videos were fact-based (several were not) before he sent them to his many followers, much to the dismay of some members of congress, American diplomats, and even the Prime Minister of England.  As might be expected, Mr. Trump's press secretary defended his sending out false videos, because "the threat is real."  The threat of what, I wanted to ask:  as I see it, the threat is from a president who regularly sends out inflammatory messages, just to please his base and perpetuate his own biases.

I have never understood why Mr. Trump thinks rudeness is a good thing. He uses Twitter to name-call, stoke resentment and outrage, spread conspiracy theories, and insult anyone he personally dislikes.  I find this behavior very disconcerting, and very un-presidential.  In all the years I've been alive, I've never seen a president act this way, just like I've never seen a president curse in public (as Mr. Trump did when expressing his anger at NFL football players who kneel during the anthem) or accuse the media of being "the enemy of the American people," or say that news networks like CNN, and more recently NBC, deserve to be investigated. Third-world dictators talk this way, not American presidents.  And yet, his supporters love and defend this behavior, for reasons I truly don't understand.     

But before some of my readers claim I'm just another "lib" who hates the president, this isn't just about President Trump.  Yes, he's the most recent example of famous men getting in the news for all the wrong reasons.  But as I mentioned in my previous blog post, this is absolutely NOT partisan, and it's not entirely political. Consider all the stories over the past several months about various indiscretions and outrageous behaviors by men in both political parties, as well as some members of the media. The biggest names recently were Al Franken, John Conyers, Matt Lauer, Russell Simmons, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Joe Barton, and Roy Moore, but there were plenty of others. Some of them, sad to say, have had their defenders; but for the most part, large numbers of us have become frustrated at the wealthy and privileged men who feel they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

It all started me thinking about if there are public figures we can still look up to.  Many of us grew up admiring some of the folks we saw on TV-- I remember my parents admired Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, for example.  I personally admired Pope John 23rd for taking a strong stand against antisemitism in the church.  Perhaps you recall Justice Thurgood Marshall or Senator Jacob Javits, or pro athletes like Roberto Clemente and Ted Williams, all of whom devoted much time and energy to causes that helped the less fortunate.  And although I didn't agree with Ronald Reagan's politics, I thought his devotion to his wife Nancy (and hers to him) was commendable.

Okay fine, perhaps if there were 24/7 cable TV and social media back then, we might have learned that some of these folks had many more faults than we were told about.  But my point is that these days, we're at the other extreme: every day, we learn that yet another famous person or political leader isn't what we thought they were. So many movie and TV stars, athletes, talk show hosts, and political figures turn out to be crude, petty, greedy, and self-centered, or they're in the news for sexually harassing someone.  Now and then, there's a feel-good story (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seems to be one lately), but these past few months have given us example after example of high-profile folks who were brought down by their own bad behavior.

I'm generally an optimist, so I'd like to believe there are some famous people who really do take their marriage vows seriously, or don't claim to be religious while secretly breaking the majority of the ten commandments, or who really are compassionate and it's not just an act.  One of the things I've always admired about the rock group Rush was that success never spoiled them, and they remained family men, rather than getting caught up in the "rock star lifestyle."  So, I'd be interested in your suggestions for famous people you respect and admire, not because they're in your political party or you loved their latest hit movie; but because they have a history of trying to make the world a better place. I hope you can give me some names, as I'd like a little good news for a change!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Al Franken, Roy Moore and the Dangers of Partisanship

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that my Republican friends were almost gleeful about the accusations leveled by a female talk show host against Senator Al Franken. Given all the negative reports about Alabama Republican Roy Moore, I'm sure they felt a sense of relief. Now, they could say "See? Your side does it too!!!"

But that's exactly what's wrong with the conversation up to this point. It's become a predictable exercise in tribalism: my guy couldn't possibly have done such a thing, but your guy is absolutely guilty.  Republicans want to re-litigate Bill Clinton, or point the finger at Al Franken.  Democrats want to demand a reckoning for Donald Trump or focus on the many sins of Roy Moore.  Too many folks on each side are certain that the other side is lying, or that the women speaking about what was done to them are not victims at all-- they're just frauds with partisan motives.

Unfortunately, lost in all of the partisan defenses of "our guy" is this fact:  a lot of powerful men, in politics and entertainment and even the clergy, have behaved in a disrespectful way towards women; and up to a couple of months ago, most have gotten away with it.  Many professions have been dominated by men who regarded women as intruders-- these guys wanted to run the company like their own boys club, and women were not welcome (or were grudgingly tolerated). Yes, women who were pretty and knew their place could get hired; but they could also be subjected to crude comments and rude behavior-- and nothing would be done to help them if they complained.

True story:  I worked at a radio station where the guys would go off to the conference room to watch porn.  True story:  I worked at another radio station where a drunken rock star grabbed my breast and laughed (he will remain nameless because he did apologize years later, after he got sober); unfortunately, the guys standing there watching also laughed... I didn't think it was so funny, but there was nothing I could do about it.  When I hear women telling similar stories, I don't think "Wow, they must be lying." I think "Wow, a lot of us really did endure the same things." 

I don't know (nor did I even think about) the political party of the music business executive who tried to force himself on me during what was supposed to a job interview. But I do know that even 40 years later, talking about it is painful.  Defending Roy Moore, a right-wing provocateur, Dinesh D'Souza, said on Twitter that any woman who still cries about something that happened forty years ago is performing (or lying). I was doing neither, Dinesh. I was reliving something I hadn't talked about in years, and remembering it was not pleasant.  Being as partisan as you are, I wouldn't expect you to understand.

But some things aren't partisan, or they shouldn't be.  Some things are wrong.  They're wrong if a Democrat does them, and they're wrong if a Republican does them.  They're wrong if the guy thought he was being funny, and they're wrong if the guy thought he was the boss and had a right to act this way.  We can ignore the women (or demonize and mock them), we can pretend everything is fine and someone from "our side" would never do such things; or we can think about ethics and values:  many folks claim they care about morality, but they make excuses for men who think fondling a woman without her permission is funny, as long as those men are in the right political party or working in the right position of power.

So, before everyone retreats to their corners, I hope folks, especially the skeptics and doubters, will recognize what is happening in this moment-- why are so many women, in all walks of life, deciding it's okay to tell their story?  And ask yourself honestly if your company, and your workplace, is a safe and welcoming place for female employees.  It's nearly the end of 2017, and too many of us have suffered in silence for far too long.  If some folks continue to see this as just a bunch of lies from women with partisan agendas, we'll still be having this conversation next year, and the year after that; and an important opportunity to create positive change will have passed us by one more time.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

So, I Got A Letter from the KKK

This has been a truly bizarre month.  Nearly everyone I encounter seems tense, short-tempered, in a perpetually dark mood.  Yes, there are moments of calm and moments of beauty, but then something sets people off and we're back to that same negative energy.  At first, I thought it was my imagination. But when I asked, a number of folks said they'd noticed it too.  So either we're all having a group delusion, or something is making people really, really irritable. I have a few theories about what could be causing it. Perhaps you have some theories too.

When I say it's been a bizarre month, consider this:  four days ago, I got a letter in the mail (yes, some people still send letters). It was addressed to the editor of the school newspaper at Lesley University, and right now, that's me. The sender included no return address, but it was post-marked from Tampa FL. (Since our newspaper is online, we have readers from almost everywhere.) I opened it, and got a surprise: it was on letterhead that read "The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan."

The writer, who signed off as "Loyal American Patriot," wanted me to know that the KKK is being treated unfairly, and they're not happy about it.  For example, said the writer, some people call the KKK a hate group.  But, be assured, they're not. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We follow the teachings of the Bible, and only wish to keep the white race pure, as God intended."

Dear readers, I used to teach Comparative Religion, and I used to be a chaplain.  The alleged purity of the white race (whatever that means) is not discussed in either the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) nor the Greek Scriptures (New Testament). Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, the Apostles, none of them took a stand about white purity. Rather, they talked about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, living a life of ethics and compassion.  But in whatever bible the KKK reads, it evidently has a different set of instructions.

The letter went on to say the Klan has a new book that will tell me more about their views. They gave me a chance to get the book and have a student review it for the school newspaper.  (Sad to say, there is credible evidence that the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other White Nationalist groups are actively recruiting on college campuses.)  After I got over the initial shock of receiving mail from the Klan, which I must admit has never happened before, I talked about it with my journalism students and decided there was no benefit to sending for, or reviewing, their book.  I pretty much know what the Klan believes, and I see no point in giving them free publicity-- even if we trash it, we're still giving them publicity. Frankly, I'd rather not.

In such a bizarre month, so filled with vague uneasiness and tension, I guess a letter from the KKK is just one more example of how crazy life has become.  It certainly seems that more haters are feeling emboldened-- they see an opportunity to get their message out, via rallies, or via social media, or via old-school snail mail.  I don't like any of this:  when I saw the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, part of me thought they looked silly, but part of me feared for my country.  Seeing folks marching with swastikas also brought back some very unpleasant memories.

I'm noticing over and over how easy it is to stir up anger and animosity, especially online; these days, even folks who aren't haters seem ready to argue at a moment's notice.  As for me, I filed the KKK letter in the appropriate file.  But I found myself unable to forget about it. No, I don't think my students will be joining the KKK any time soon; but the fact that this group and others like them believe now is a great time to recruit is profoundly disappointing... and it should worry us all.   

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Culture of Hypocrisy, Harvey Weinstein Edition

There's a line in a Rush song ("A Farewell to Kings") that says, "the hypocrites are slandering/ the sacred halls of truth," and it's come to mind a number of times in the past several weeks.  I've never been fond of hypocrisy:  if you're going to complain about others who do X, you shouldn't be doing X yourself.  I was very impressed with my father, for example-- he quit smoking (not an easy thing for him to do) so that he could set a good example for his kids, and not be a hypocrite when he told us not to smoke.

This has been quite a week for hypocrisy, and I could give so many examples.  But let me focus on one: all the guys in the entertainment industry who are now shocked, shocked about (former) movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.  They can't distance themselves from him fast enough.  Yet many of these same guys were just fine about going to his parties, and taking his donations for their pet causes.  And before some of my readers get all self-righteous about Harvey being a Democrat, how about all the guys who defended and applauded Republicans like Roger Ailes, or made excuses for Bill O'Reilly?  Republican politicians and celebrities are every bit as guilty as Democrats when it comes to power: they will hang around with anyone who can help them to advance their career or provide some favorable publicity.

But the issue of sexual harassment has never really been about politics, although some folks seem eager to turn it into "my side good/your side bad." And I also don't want this blog post to seem like a rant against guys in general (nor even guys in the media). I spent nearly four decades in broadcasting, and I met some amazing guys, who were wonderful to me.  But on the other hand, there are some guys who should have been called out long ago, and they never were.  It's an open secret that many powerful men have long been able to get away with treating women shamefully; and what helps it to keep recurring is the colleagues who look the other way, or the boards of directors who don't care about sexual harassment as long as the profits keep rolling in.  But when one of them gets caught, instead of addressing the issue, it's treated as an isolated incident with one guy who behaved badly.  The wagons get circled, excuses get made, perhaps the guy in question is fired.  But the culture that made it all possible continues, and the hypocrites who benefited from it go back to living their lives.

The victims have no such luxury however.  When it happened to me in the mid-1970s, the advice I got from the men who knew him was to keep quiet and accept the fact that "this is how some guys are."  But none of his male colleagues seemed surprised and none condemned his behavior; I was told that I alone had to adapt.  It took a while before I stopped being angry, and I never entirely got over the feeling of helplessness. (If you've been through it, that's the worst part-- you know what happened, you know who did it, you know he'll probably do it again, and nobody in his circle of friends and colleagues is willing to do anything about it.)

And here we are in 2017, and it seems not much has changed:  women who were harassed are still asked why they didn't come forward sooner.  In many cases, the reason is self-preservation, a reaction to a system where the cards are stacked against you.  If you complain, you're branded as a trouble-maker and nobody will hire you.  If you come forward in a public way, you're often accused of lying, or blamed for what took place (as if harassment or sexual assault is somehow your fault, not his).  It's no wonder many women keep quiet. So, now Harvey Weinstein will be driven out, as Roger Ailes was. But I fear that we still won't see an end to the culture that allows such men to have so much power over women's lives.  And I fear that those who enable these men will now decide their work is done. They'll return to doing what they've always done: looking away, or pretending it doesn't happen... until the next time...      

Saturday, September 30, 2017

You Don't Have to be Jewish to Learn Something from Yom Kippur

First, my thanks to the more than 13,300 folks who read my most recent blog post. I've never had that many readers, even when I've blogged about Rush on other occasions. And I do understand that I get the most readers when I blog about Rush.  But while I love the guys and always will, there are also some other topics that interest me.  Today, I was thinking about the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), perhaps the most serious day in the Jewish religion, and one of the most widely observed.  But this isn't just a post about religion.  It's also a post about spending 24 hours without media.

Yom Kippur is a day when many Jews (even some who aren't particularly observant) refrain from eating for 24 hours; they also go to synagogue, study the sacred texts, and ask God to pardon them for the wrongs they've done in the previous year. And they also turn off their devices.  No smartphones, no tablets, no internet, and of course, no social media. That may sound horribly boring, but in actuality, it can be a very spiritual experience, and one that I recommend.  Instead of having Twitter fights over the latest silly thing that [insert name of politician here] just said; instead of posting a photo of your adorable kid (or your pet, or your new tattoo, or the amazing restaurant you just went to), you get to spend 24 hours being anonymous to the outside world, without any need for an online persona, without any need to find the right meme, or locate some arcane fact on Google.

A day without media (and especially social media) gives you a chance to humble yourself, and to appreciate what's all around you, including the everyday stuff we often take for granted. Weather permitting, you can take a walk and look at the sky or watch the birds. Since you don't have to be anywhere for a while, you can read a book, or just sit and talk with someone-- texting is not allowed, so it's an opportunity for face-to-face communication, which is often a lost art these days.  And speaking of lost arts, you can also take the time to listen--  it's amazing what you can learn just from listening.     

I used some of the time to think about forgiveness-- one of the most difficult things in life (and I admit this affects me) is letting go of being angry at certain people. On Yom Kippur, we ask for God's forgiveness, but we also have to agree to do some forgiving of our own.  We have to apologize to those we spoke harshly to, those to whom we were unkind.  I thought a lot about that: we've all had our share of petty disputes over the past year, both online and in person. Holding onto those negative emotions doesn't really solve anything, and yet so many of us still do it.  Today was a good day to agree to forgive, to agree to start over.  That was a promise I made, and I will do my best to keep it.

It was also a good day to think about gratitude-- in the high-stress, busy life most of us lead, we don't spend much time being grateful. Instead, we're tend to focus on what's going wrong:  we're upset that someone cut us off in traffic or [insert name of politician again] has just said something outrageous, or we hate our boss, or we wish everything wasn't so expensive.  Maybe we find some escape in our favorite music, or our favorite TV show, or the latest YouTube video of a dancing cat, but we don't always take the time to think about what's good in our life, rather than being irritated by what's bad.  So, I spent some time thinking about gratitude, and I probably should do that more often.

One of the things I'm grateful for is being alive. When you're a cancer survivor, as I am, it's no joke to say that every day, and ever year, is a gift.  So, I'm grateful I've made it through another year on the Jewish calendar, and hopefully, I'll still be here when the secular calendar changes to 2018.  I'm also grateful I was able to write these words-- we can all debate what freedom of speech means, but it's nice to live in a country where expressing ourselves doesn't usually result in being thrown in jail. I'm grateful to have a husband who appreciates my good points, while forgiving my faults; and I'm grateful that people, be they Rush fans or not, think my words are worth reading.

So, that's what I learned on Yom Kippur:  24 hours without food isn't as daunting as it sounds (I do it every year, and while it's sometimes a challenge, I keep thinking about people in other parts of the world who have no choice in the matter, and it puts everything in perspective). Similarly, 24 hours without media isn't so bad either-- making the time to turn off all the noise can be very fulfilling, both spiritually and otherwise.  Reading a good book, whether about religion or any other topic, is also very fulfilling.  And making time to forgive, and time be grateful-- that's worth doing on a religious holiday or any other time.  Thank you again to those who read my blog, and whether it's to find out Rush news or to engage in discussions with me about politics or media or whatever, I appreciate the opportunity; and I appreciate all of you.     

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding Our Way

Yesterday was Neil Peart's birthday.  For those who are not Rush fans, Neil spent more than four decades as their drummer.  He was an amazing and talented musician, and I don't say that as just some fan-- his own peers in the music industry have spoken with great admiration about his skill.  He was also a respected songwriter, who helped Rush to go from being just another bar band in Toronto to becoming a well-known rock band with millions of loyal fans all over the world, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.

Drumming was a large part of Neil's identity, and he took great pride in it; he studied the work of other drummers, past and present, and he always gave 100% every time he performed.  If you ever saw Rush in concert, you know that few bands put on a more dynamic and energetic performance-- no opening act, just Alex, Geddy, and Neil, onstage doing what they loved, entertaining their fans.

And then, one day in late 2015, it all came to an end.  Yes, bands break up, but it's usually due to animosity among the members. That was not the case here-- the guys were friends and they remain so to this day.  But Neil announced he would no longer tour, and in fact he was retiring. One major factor in his decision was health:  he had severe tendonitis, and drumming was just aggravating it over and over again.  Another factor was his desire to spend more time with his wife and their little daughter.  As he told Drumhead magazine, he accepted the fact that it was time to "take [himself] out of the game."

At a certain point in life, many of us have to reinvent ourselves, or see what the next thing is for us.  Sometimes, it's voluntary-- some folks hate their job, even if it pays well, and they're eager to make a change.  But for others, it's a difficult decision-- they love what they have been doing, but they realize they cannot continue on with it.  Athletes often confront this dilemma:  as they get older and their skills begin to diminish, they gradually have to accept that it's time to retire.  Veteran politicians also encounter this same problem:  they may have served for years, but now they must agree to step aside and let the next generation onto the stage.  If you've ever been in the situation of wanting to stay but knowing it's time to go, it's not an easy place to be.  

I know it well.  In my own life, I had to accept the fact that the broadcasting industry had changed and my skill set was no longer in demand; the most difficult decision I ever made was deciding to go back to school and study for my PhD so that I could become a professor.  I miss radio every day, but there were no jobs, and it was time for some other way to make a living.  I'm fine about being a professor, but I can't deny I wish I could have stayed in broadcasting.  I imagine many athletes and politicians know exactly how I feel, since they too wish they didn't have to walk away from what they loved.

But Neil doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories-- he wasn't unhappy playing drums for a living (in fact he was devoted to it); his skills were not diminishing (although he was increasingly in pain each time he played); and he probably could have continued on for a while longer, if that's what he wanted to do.  But he knew it was time, and he wanted to leave on his own terms.  And so he did.  I would be lying if I said I've talked with him recently, but I do know several friends of his, and I am told he is very happy with his decision.  He and Alex and Geddy still keep in touch, but by all accounts, he has no regrets about being a "retired drummer."  Fans desperately want him to return to drumming (and return to Rush) but that is not what he wants, nor what's best for his health.  It's a wise person who understands when it's time for a change.  And whether the change is voluntary or not, it's a wise person who embraces whatever the next phase in their life happens to be.