Tuesday, October 30, 2018

If You Choose Not to Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice

For as long as I've been blogging (which I began doing in early 2015), I always get the most page views if I write about Rush.  But while the title of this post comes from their song "Freewill," the post itself is not really about their music; and that might mean some of you won't read it.  However, I'm  hoping you will, and I can even promise a Geddy Lee mention-- although this time, it won't be about which Rush tunes I like best.  Rather, the topic is about something Geddy and I have in common: we're both Jewish, and we're both living in a time when antisemitism is on the rise.

Of course, I am well aware that our current era is nowhere nearly as bad as what Geddy's mom lived through:  Manya (later Mary) was a Polish Holocaust survivor, who eventually settled in Canada. As for my relatives, many of them came to the US in an earlier era-- 1905-1910, when Russian Jews were enduring brutal persecution.  But knowing how bad things were for Jews in previous times doesn't make what we're seeing in this one any easier to accept.

I've spoken before about how when I was growing up, casual antisemitism was still part of the popular culture. Even people who considered themselves good Christians would make antisemitic remarks now and then, expressing common stereotypes about "the Jews," as if we were all alike.  Supposedly, we were all greedy, or rich, or cheap, or clannish; and of course, we couldn't be trusted. Individual Jews were okay, but they were consider the exception (a colleague actually told me once that I wasn't like all those other Jews... she seemed to think she was giving me a compliment).

But even when things improved for American Jews, and overt antisemitism declined, I never believed it was entirely gone.  I always knew that in certain corners of the world, the haters still existed.  However, at that time, they were isolated, able to perhaps buy time on a local cable-access channel and not much else.  But then, along came the internet and social media; and suddenly, the haters had new ways to congregate and reinforce each other's beliefs; and that is exactly what they have done.

Certain politicians didn't help, nor did certain talk show hosts. And sad to say, neither did some otherwise kind and compassionate people who saw no problem with re-tweeting a meme with anti-Jewish content, as long as its political message was one they liked.  For example, Jewish philanthropist George Soros (himself a Holocaust survivor) has become the favorite whipping post of many conservatives.  I have no problem with people who disagree with the organizations or candidates to whom he donates. I have a big problem with people who speak of him as some diabolical puppet-master trying to control the world with his money (blatantly and demonstrably false, but a common antisemitic stereotype); or who accuse Mr. Soros, along with other people who are Jewish, of being sinister and malevolent figures who must be stopped.

There are internet websites that relentlessly spread hateful myths about Mr. Soros (some even use Jewish symbols, like the star of David, juxtaposed with dollar signs).  These sites have multiplied, and they have some loyal fans, who believe what they're reading on them-- Cesar Sayoc, the guy who sent him a pipe bomb last week, was convinced George Soros deserved to die; and only the fact that the bomb didn't explode prevented a tragedy from occurring.  Robert Bowers, the guy who murdered 11 innocent Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, also believed Mr. Soros and other Jews were dangerous, since they were allegedly bringing illegal immigrants into the US as part of the much-maligned "caravan."  Again, this is a complete lie, but on anti-Jewish websites and chat rooms, it's widely believed, and it contributed to the deaths of 11 people whose only "crime" was being Jewish.  

There was a reason why I titled this post "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." Some people will choose to ignore what I've written; or think that anti-Jewish political rhetoric is just something to laugh at; or say that George Soros deserves all the hate being rained down upon him by certain politicians.  Those are certainly choices, but not the ones I'd agree with.  Whatever your religion, whatever your politics, nothing will improve in our society until more of us say "no" to prejudice, and speak out when we encounter it, even if someone from "our side" is expressing it.

While I've used George Soros as an example, he is not the only one being subjected to anti-Jewish rhetoric.  I find it painful to see how many people world-wide are espousing these views (some more subtle, but some right out in the open).  History has already shown us where those kinds of attitudes can lead. I dread to think of a world where what Geddy's mom and my ancestors endured becomes the new normal.  I don't want a world where intolerance is okay, as long as "our side" benefits politically.  But right now, that seems like the direction we are heading.  I hope I'm wrong. I hope more people will decide to work together to create a more tolerant society.  In memory of those who were murdered in Pittsburgh, I pray we'll decide to do it soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Twenty Rush Songs That Mean the Most to Me-- Eddie Trunk Edition

Several weeks ago, I was surprised to receive an email from a nice guy who is the producer for Eddie Trunk's satellite radio show.  The reason I was surprised?  In August 2017, I blogged about an internet rumor that started on Eddie's show, about Alex and Geddy (allegedly) reuniting; it wasn't true, as I confirmed when I contacted Alex to make sure.  After that, I noted in my blog the importance of fact-checking and not just sending out rumors to everyone you know, even when it's a rumor you like. http://dlhalperblog.blogspot.com/2017/08/why-everyone-should-fact-check.html 

So, yes, I was surprised when Eddie's producer contacted me, asking if I would submit my top-20 favorite Rush songs for a show about Rush that Eddie was going to do; and he asked if I'd be part of the show, calling in to read my list.  As I've done with other interviewers, I explained that I don't think in terms of "favorite" Rush songs-- these are my friends, and I love them dearly. Asking me to pick favorites is like asking a mom "who's your favorite kid?" Obviously, there are days when one kid or other can be annoying, but over all, most moms love all their kids-- although, perhaps, in different ways.  I'm like that about Rush songs. Yes, there are some that resonate with me more than others.  But "favorites"? Not really.  I love all their songs, although in different ways; and I'm so proud of what Rush accomplished during their long career.

With that said, I agreed to compile a list of twenty songs that have special meaning for me, and I did call in to read the list. (I also was glad I could give a shout-out to female Rush fans, of which there are many.)  Eddie was courteous and it was fun to be on his show. After it was over, several fans who had heard it (or heard part of it) contacted me to ask if I'd publish my list. So, for anyone who is a Rush fan, I'm happy to share what I read to Eddie.  And of course, feel free to let me know some Rush songs that would be on your list.  

1.  (as you might expect) Working Man -- the song that started it all, back in the spring of 1974, and resulted in a more-than-four decade friendship with the band (and members of their families)

2.  Finding My Way (part of the same time frame-- the other song we got a lot of requests for at WMMS... to this day, hearing the opening chords, I get chills...it reminds me of those early days when Rush first were becoming popular in Cleveland)

3.  The Spirit of Radio (as a long-time deejay, as well as someone who has seen radio change-- and not always for the better-- this song has always brought up mixed emotions & nostalgia for me)

4.  Freewill (I often quote the lyrics about "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.")

5.  Limelight (more lyrics I love; it's a window into Neil's view of celebrity, and what many fans expect from their favorite rock stars-- "I can't pretend the stranger is a long-awaited friend.")

6.  Driven (my interpretation may be different from some people's, but I hear this song as being about taking control of one's life: "It's my turn to drive.")

7.  The Garden (I often recommend this to anyone who stereotypes Rush as just another hard rock band; this song is a very moving piece of music)

8.  Tom Sawyer (more great lyrics that I often quote, about thinking for yourself -- "his mind is not for rent to any god or government...")

9.  The Big Money (I read this as a song about the excesses of capitalism and the down-side of globalization-- "Big money got a heavy hand, Big money take control, Big money got a mean streak, Big money got no soul.")

10. Closer to the Heart (more lyrics that could apply as much to current events as to the era when they were originally written... "And the men who hold high places, Must be the ones who start, To mold a new reality, Closer to the heart...")

11. Distant Early Warning (I always loved hearing this performed live...the music video was cool too...)

12. Fly By Night (again, this just brings back great memories-- the first studio album with Neil on drums and writing lyrics... I was so excited to hear the guys growing and expanding their musical style)

13. Time Stand Still (some insightful advice about appreciating this present moment, being grateful for what you've got, before it's gone:   "Freeze this moment, A little bit longer, Make each sensation, A little bit stronger, Experience slips away..."

14.  Entre Nous (some absolutely amazing lyrics about love and relationship and being afraid to trust... "We are secrets to each other, Each one's life a novel, No-one else has read, Even joined in bonds of love, We're linked to one another, By such slender threads...")

15.  Show Don't Tell (another song I always enjoyed hearing in concert, and another with very practical down-to-earth lyrics about thinking for yourself and not being swayed by others: "You can twist perceptions, Reality won't budge, You can raise objections, I will be the judge, And the jury...")

16.  Roll the Bones (I just think this is a very creative and catchy song to listen to... something a little different... but a good message about being willing to take risks..."We go out in the world and take our chances, Fate is just the weight of circumstances, That's the way that lady luck dances, Roll the bones...")

17.  New World Man (I was glad this song got some top 40 airplay, back at a time when pop radio was totally resistant to playing any Rush songs at all, and even many album rockers avoided them-- for reasons I never understood...)

18. Anthem (a song from back when Neil was still influenced by Ayn Rand; he ultimately walked away from those beliefs, but some fans still refuse to believe he changed...I felt this song was another example of the progress Rush had made since Neil joined the band... and it sounded good in concert when they played it)

19.  Red Barchetta (I liked the science-fiction influences in the lyrics, plus the song sounded really good on the radio... it still does)

20.  Subdivisions (some people tell me they find the video a bit disconcerting; but the lyrics are insightful, warning us about the dangers of conformity, and what happens when one does not obey society's expectations... "conform or be cast out..." another fine example of Neil's songwriting prowess...)

SO, that is what I read to Eddie Trunk when I was on his show last Friday.  As I said, I have more than four decades of great memories and a deep appreciation for Rush, as musicians and as human beings; but these songs are the ones that have stood the test of time for me.  What do you think of my list?