Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Year to Remember, A Year to Forget

I admit it:  I've never been a big fan of New Year's Eve.  For one thing, I'm not much of a party-goer, and I don't understand the custom of going out and getting crazy.  Believe it or don't, I'm shy, and I much prefer hanging out at home and watching old movies (or the annual Three Stooges marathon on a local TV station).  And looking back on the year, I can always find things I wish I had done better, or said differently.  There's a lot of second-guessing, and I've always been my own worst critic.

When I was growing up, New Year's Eve used to depress me because it reminded me of how frustrated I felt:  back in the 1950s and 1960s, opportunities for women were still very limited and people kept telling me I had to learn to be like everyone else: marry young, have kids, be a housewife. But no offense to those who chose that-- it wasn't the life I wanted.  I wanted to be on the radio. It's what I wanted from the time I was a kid-- except back then, I couldn't imagine how I would ever be able to follow my dream.  I would listen to the deejays and wish that somehow I could do what they were doing, having fun on the air and playing music that cheered people up.  I'm glad I was finally able to get into radio, and I hope I made my listeners happy.  (I recently found some old fan mail from my deejay days, and evidently some folks really did enjoy listening to me on the air.)

Anyway, so here we are at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. I still am not a big fan of New Year's Eve, but at least I can look back with some satisfaction on what I've managed to accomplish.  In 2017, I had the honor of speaking at a baseball history symposium in Cooperstown (I discussed the work of five women sportswriters who worked in baseball's early years); and I also spoke at a conference at the Library of Congress in Washington DC about preserving recorded sound.  I wrote a number of articles, got quoted in some newspapers, and was a guest on several radio shows, including on Boston's WBZ, where I talked about Boston's radio history (of course).

And several times, I was asked to do a podcast: in fact, I was genuinely shocked when my friend Matt Cundill told me that my appearance on his Sound Off podcast back in October was his most listened to episode of the entire year. ... That was certainly a big highlight of 2017.  Another was finding out that nearly 13,800 people read one of my blog posts, about why Neil Peart decided to retire.  And then there was the best news: I had my three-year checkup, and my doctor tells me I'm still cancer-free.  There's no substitute for getting positive news from the doctor, and I remain eternally grateful.

But there was also plenty of bad news-- hurricanes (more than a million folks in Puerto Rico still don't have power), a mass murder in Las Vegas and another in Texas, and we lost some amazing people from the music industry, including Fats Domino, Gord Downie, J. Geils, Tom Petty, and Chuck Berry. And then... there was the year in politics.  (Don't get me started.)  This was not a great year for many of us, in large part because of the person in the White House.  No, it's not because Mr. Trump is a Republican-- I didn't always agree with Barack Obama, and he was a Democrat.  No, what continues to bother me about President Trump is how crude, how uncivil, and how petty he is. I can disagree with anyone on policy, but if you know anything about me, you know that courtesy and kindness mean a lot to me. Mr. Trump is proudly discourteous, and equally proud of being cruel to those with whom he disagrees.  I am mystified that his base actually loves this about him:  there should never be a time when casual cruelty is acceptable, nor a time when being rude is considered a mark of strength. And yet this is what 2017 was about-- watching the leader of our country be rude and unkind to people while his supporters cheered.

It was also not a great year to be an immigrant (even a legal one-- hate crimes are up, according to every survey I've seen); and there were moments when I wondered if it was okay to be Jewish in America:  if you remember the folks with the torches marching in Charlottesville (the folks Mr. Trump said included "some fine people"), perhaps you recall their chant of "Jews will not replace us" as they surrounded the synagogue in that city (and the police stood by and did nothing, sad to say). I still remember it.  I found it frightening-- it reminded me of another time, not that many decades ago, when similar chants were heard on the streets of Nazi Germany. I never thought I'd see such things in America in 2017.  But that's the kind of year it was.      

I noticed a lot more people seemed tense, irritated, and short-tempered in 2017-- even some of my students. I talked to a lot more people who seemed worried, even in the red states. And while the economy continues to improve (let's be honest-- it started in President Obama's second term; Mr. Trump, like most presidents, tries to say he did it all by himself, but that's not true), most people I know are all too aware that the gap between the super-wealthy and everyone else continues to widen. As many of us see it, Mr. Trump is not draining the swamp-- rather, he is using the presidency to enrich himself and his wealthy friends; and yet his supporters continue to believe in him.  Getting through year one of a Reality Show presidency has been disconcerting, to say the least.

And yes, the year had some good moments too, and I'm thankful for every one of them. I made some new friends, and reconnected with a few folks I hadn't spoken to in years. My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and I celebrated my 70th birthday.  And politics aside, I'm still happy to be alive and well and able to enter another year of blogging (my third). To all who read my postings, even when they don't agree, I appreciate it. To all who reach out on social media and engage with me in discussion, I welcome hearing from you.  And I'd also be glad to hear what you'll remember from 2017... and what you'd like to forget.  Happy new year and much love.

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 (2977 readers) and the other was about Neil's retirement (13,648 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.