Annie, a journalist friend of mine from Cleveland, tweeted last night that she was listening to "Moonlight Mile" by the Rolling Stones, a song I hadn't thought about in years (and one I used to play when I was a disc jockey). It's a song that was inspired by a musician being out on the road performing, far away from home, far away from the people he loves. In late 1973, I moved from Boston to Cleveland to follow my dream of being in radio, and suddenly, I too was far away from everything and everyone I knew. It wasn't easy for me to make friends and I often felt I didn't belong there ("...the sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind/ just another mad, mad day on the road..."). But there was no way I could just turn around and go back to Boston. This was my chance, and I had to make it work. I especially identified with the line in "Moonlight Mile" that said, "oh, I am sleeping under strange, strange skies..." No offense, but Cleveland always felt strange to me. It never felt like home... until I met Rush.
You already know the story of how I was the music director at WMMS-FM and I received their home-grown album on Moon Records from Bob Roper, then a record promoter at A&M of Canada. You already know how I fell in love with the song "Working Man" and gave it to Denny Sanders to play. And you already know how the audience responded almost immediately. Rush came to Cleveland in August of 1974, as I recall, and there's a photo of that online in a number of places. (Neil had only recently joined the band, and we all looked so much younger...) I had no idea at the time that I would begin a 40+ year friendship with the guys in the band, as well as with their management, and with several members of their road crew. I never expected that we'd stay in touch over the decades, nor did I expect that they'd acknowledge me on two of their albums, give me a shout-out at one of their early concerts, continue to remember me when being interviewed about their career, or ask me to introduce them at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and I didn't expect to see them inducted (finally) into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (In fact, there was no Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yet in 1974.)
But while I was in Cleveland, Rush gave me something really valuable-- they gave me acceptance. Thanks to my association with them, suddenly people who had never wanted to talk to me decided I was okay after all. Thanks to being Rush's unofficial Big Sister, record executives who wanted to sign them treated me as if I mattered. Suddenly, I wasn't just some music director at some radio station, and the fact that I didn't smoke or drink or do drugs (at a time when all three were common activities in both the radio and record industries) was no longer a problem. I was a friend of Rush. People I didn't even know began to treat me with courtesy. Of course, many of those people quickly lost interest as soon as I could no longer give them access to the band; Rush signed with a record label (Mercury Records in the US); the Moon album was re-released on Mercury, followed by a new album with new material, Fly By Night.
In mid-April 1975, I left Cleveland to work in New York and then in Washington DC, before going back to Boston. Rush and I kept in touch periodically: they no longer needed a Big Sister, and we were all much busier with our careers. But they never forgot what I had done to advocate for them in those early years. To this day, even though the band has gained world-wide (and well-deserved) fame, the guys in Rush and the people who work for them still treat me with kindness and affection; it is deeply appreciated.
I had the privilege of seeing Rush in concert on Wednesday June 23, along with Annie, who flew in from Cleveland to watch them perform. She had already seen them in Columbus (she's a rock journalist), but she told me this show was even better. Based on what fans told me (including some who have also seen multiple shows on this tour), she was right: the Boston show far surpassed everyone's expectations. There were so many high points: the visual retrospective with images from the many years of Rush's performances; hearing songs they hadn't performed in a while or rarely performed (fans told me that "Jacob's Ladder" was especially impressive for them, as were "Xanadu" and "How It Is"); and witnessing the energy and enthusiasm that Rush brings to every concert. The newspaper critics were effusive in their praise for Rush's performance, and the fans took to social media to express their appreciation for such an amazing evening of music. I did too: the fact that Geddy is able to achieve the same vocal range year after year, and the fact that the band's musicianship remains so consistent and precise-- this is something unusual in the universe of rock bands. Too many older rock stars become parodies of themselves, but that has never been the case with Rush.
And yet... despite such a great show, many of us have mixed feelings. When I revisited that Rolling Stones song, I couldn't help but think of Neil, who almost didn't want to go out on tour because he didn't want to miss a moment away from his wife and little daughter. Yes, he was his usual outstanding self playing the drums: Neil is a total professional, and if you didn't know that he feels ambivalent about this tour, he did not give it away. (Nobody in Rush has ever "mailed it in." They always give 100% to the fans.) But now more than ever, Neil is "sleeping under strange, strange skies," rather than where he wants to be, near his family.
I had a chance to spend some time with Alex before the show. He too has his own mixed emotions-- while his health is better now, and he is pleased with how well the guys are playing, he too misses his family, especially his grand-kids. I totally understand. The guys have been living the hectic life of rock musicians for more than forty years; it can be gratifying, but it can also wear a person down. And while I am rarely at a loss for words, this time, I admit I didn't know what to say to Alex-- for one thing, he had several friends waiting backstage and I didn't want to intrude, but for another, I don't know if this is the last time I'll see him in concert. We hugged a lot. Sometimes, words get in the way.
I sat in the mixing booth during the show, watching Howard Ungerleider (whom I've known for as long as I've known the band) doing his magic with the lights and effects. And at the end of the show, Howard and I hugged too-- neither of us knows what the next thing is, and at this point, it's all very uncertain. Maybe there will be more live concerts. Maybe not. Only the band knows for sure. But for me, once again, I remain overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude for all the years of great music, for the devotion the guys show to the fans, and for the friendship Rush has continued to give me. And in the end, whether there are more tours or not, I have a lot of great memories, and a lot of love for three guys from Toronto whose songs have been the soundtrack for so many people's lives... including mine.