In late April, a nice guy named David reached out to me on Facebook. He introduced himself as the owner of Fantoons. I was very familiar with his company's work, and was delighted to chat, but I couldn't imagine why he'd be contacting me. Then he told me: Fantoons had been tasked with doing the official video for the Rush song "Spirit of Radio," on the 40th anniversary of Permanent Waves. It was envisioned as a tribute to radio, which had been so important to the guys in Rush when they were growing up; and of course, radio had played an essential role for the band later on, when I introduced "Working Man" to the WMMS audience in Cleveland in the spring of 1974.
But what surprised me was when he said he wanted to include me in the video, in cartoon form. I must admit I've never been in a cartoon before, nor did I ever expect to be. But the story of radio, the story of Rush, and the story of how various American radio personalities fell in love with their music, all told in animation, sounded like a fascinating project. And that is how I came to be in the video, along with some other wonderful folks who were also important to Rush's success. David told me he was worried that I wouldn't like how they drew my character, but I wasn't at all concerned. I figured that the folks at Fantoons were professionals; and however it looked, it was still an amazing opportunity. I mean, how many of us get to be in a music video-- as real people or as cartoons?
Since the video came out a few days ago, the response has been overwhelming and totally positive-- as I knew it would be. I've said on more than one occasion that Rush fans are like a big, extended family. The members of that family may differ in their politics, or their religious beliefs, or their hobbies, but the one thing that unites them is their love of the music of Rush. Since the band retired, and since the tragic passing of drummer Neil Peart, any new opportunity to discuss all things Rush is especially welcome. Thus, this video could not have come at a better time. Fans loved the song, they loved the animation, but above all, they loved getting together online to reminisce.
I've probably talked about the video with several hundred fans, thanks to social media; everyone seemed so grateful for that video, and it evoked a lot of memories. We remembered the times we saw the band live, the times we watched or listened to them being interviewed, the Rush-themed events we attended... And for a little while, in this very chaotic and uncertain time, there was nothing but kindness and friendship. And yes, there was "the freedom of music."
Sad to say, the great radio stations like the ones the members of Rush grew up with, and the ones where I introduced their music for the first time, are (for the most part) not what they used to be. Many are gone, victims of media consolidation. Many have changed formats and no longer play any music. Some do still play it, but only a very restricted playlist. And a few still keep that spirit alive, still broadcasting radio that is live and local, radio that is a companion for the audience. I miss being on the air. I miss breaking new artists. But I remain profoundly grateful that the Canadian band whose music I debuted in 1974 became my friends, and that the fans they inspired with their songs are still inspired (and inspiring a new generation of fans). I never expected any of it to happen. And yet, it did. And even now, the spirit of radio, and the love of Rush, live on.