Friday, April 30, 2021

Oh, the Places You'll Go

In my most recent blog post, I recalled the anniversary of Rush getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, on April 18, 2013, and what a privilege it was to be there.  But around this time of year, there's another anniversary I like to recall: May 13, 2011. For obvious reasons, this one didn't get the media attention that Rush got, but it certainly meant a lot to me: it will soon be ten years since I got my PhD at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, at the age of 64.

If you had told me when I was growing up in Dorchester, Mass., that I'd one day have a PhD, I would have been skeptical. At that time, I had fallen in love with radio, and even though there were no female deejays, I knew that's what my dream job was.  When my family moved to nearby Roslindale, I continued to dream of being on the air: I loved rock music, I loved listening to my favorite deejays, and I couldn't wait to join them.  

Of course, growing up in the 50s and early 60s, I was told girls could only be teachers or nurses or secretaries, and being a deejay was something that guys did. Still, I dreamed of proving everyone wrong. In fact, one of the first things I did when I got my first car was drive to Paragon Park--an amusement park at Nantasket Beach, about 20 miles from my house, to see the WBZ Radio deejays who did remote broadcasts. But all I heard from teachers, peers, and even my parents was that I would never be a deejay and I ought to choose something more realistic. (My other dream was to be a sportswriter; I was told girls couldn't do that either.)

Many of you know that when I enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston in 1964, I applied to work at the campus radio station. But they told me girls couldn't be on the air-- because, I was told, they don't sound good on the radio; I asked how many female deejays they'd had, and the program director said none-- because they don't sound good. I always wondered how he came to that decision if he'd never given any of us a chance...  It was really frustrating (and depressing) to get sent away, and for a while, I nearly gave up, but periodically I kept coming back, and gradually, attitudes began to change. In October 1968, I was given my own show, becoming the first female deejay in the history of Northeastern University. 

From there, it took a while before any commercial stations would hire me (radio still wasn't hiring a lot of women), so I taught in the Boston Public Schools, and continued to apply. In 1973, I was hired at a small station in Cambridge, Mass. called WCAS, and that led to my getting hired at WMMS-FM in Cleveland later that year. And if you are a Rush fan, you know what happened at WMMS in the spring of 1974, when I received a vinyl album from a Canadian record promoter friend of mine, and I got a song called "Working Man" on the air. And several months later, when Rush got their first U.S. record contract, they came to Cleveland for an appearance (Neil had recently joined the band), and I was there to celebrate the occasion with them.

My radio career took me from Cleveland to New York City, to Washington DC, and finally back to Boston. After being an announcer and a music director for about 13 years, I opened up a radio consulting business, working all over North America with a wide range of radio stations, hiring and training announcers and managers for nearly thirty years. (And during all that time, I kept in touch with Rush; I still do, to this day.) Along the way, I met some amazing performers: Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Madonna, Z.Z. Top, Kiss, Dolly Parton, and so many more. Not bad for a working-class kid who was told when she was a kid that she'd never have a career in radio. 

And then it all changed. Deregulation of broadcasting happened. Then media consolidation happened. And by the early 1990s, a handful of big companies had gobbled up hundreds of small and medium-market stations. Many of us lost our jobs-- I lost my consulting business, and suddenly, in my 50s, I had to confront the prospect of reinventing myself. It took me a while to decide on the next chapter (I knew there had to be one), and I decided to go back to school and become a professor. I had been a part-time instructor (I had even won several awards), but I knew I'd never get hired full-time in academia without a PhD.

Unfortunately, nobody seemed eager to give me that chance; every school I applied to turned me down. And then, finally, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (nearly 90 miles from Boston) took me in.  It wasn't easy, and it took me nine years, going part-time-- teaching in Boston (usually at Emerson College) and then driving out to Amherst; but I have never regretted doing it.

I was 55, and I hadn't been a student in thirty years, and at first, I worried that I wouldn't be able to do it. But it was something I needed to prove to myself-- especially to show certain people that I wasn't "too old" (something some folks had actually said to me), that I could do the work that younger students were doing. And I did. I even got good grades. I will always be grateful to UMass. for seeing my potential. 

And as it turned out, getting the PhD really did change my life. I don't know if I sound any smarter (or if my blogs are more erudite), but the fact that I was able to become a professor and get taken seriously by folks in the academic world is because of that degree. I completely understand why Dr. Jill Biden wants to be called by her title-- she too went back to school as an older adult and she too got a degree that some folks did not expect her to get. If you've ever undertaken a doctorate, you know how much work it requires. (My dissertation was 365 pages long.) Meanwhile, here I am, age 74, still teaching, still writing, still blogging. And I'm proud of what I finally accomplished... ten years ago, May 13, 2011, an anniversary that I will always remember, because it proves it's never to late to write that next chapter or take that next step. 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

An Anniversary to Remember (18 April 2013)

I can still recall where I was when I heard the news that Rush had finally been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was in mid-December 2012, and I was sitting in a Lesley University faculty meeting. I've told this story before, but it still stays with me. I never keep my phone on when I'm at work, so it was set to "vibrate" in the unlikely event that someone was looking for me (one of my doctors perhaps-- I had been having some health issues).  Suddenly, my phone began to vibrate...repeatedly, with phone calls and messages. I looked down at my news-feed, and that's how I learned the good news about Rush. 

It really affected me: I mean, if you know anything about me, you know how long I had fought for Rush to be inducted. It seemed like such an injustice that they hadn't been. And now, at last, they were going to get the recognition they deserved. I got a lot of calls from radio and TV stations, wanting to interview me, asking how I felt. When I first heard the news, I got tears in my eyes-- tears of joy, because I was so happy that these three guys who mattered so much to me (and to the worldwide community of fans) would take their place in the Rock Hall.

One station that interviewed me was CTV, and I was so happy that Pegi and the nice folks at Rush's management got to watch it. (In the screenshot from that appearance, the background is the Boston skyline; but in reality, I was in a studio in Newton, Massachusetts--about ten miles from Boston. When I did the interview, the producer superimposed the Boston skyline, as the morning team from CTV in Toronto chatted with me.) I talked about my role in getting the band's career going in the States; I talked about the millions of fans who loved this band, and wanted to see them inducted; and of course, I talked about how certain judges (including Jann Wenner himself) had disliked Rush and opposed their induction for years. But now, there were different judges, and finally, things had changed. I couldn't have been happier about it.

I didn't expect to be invited to the induction, which was out in Los Angeles that year. To be honest, I had no idea whether I'd be able to get out there, nor if there were any tickets left.  But Pegi called me to let me know the guys wanted me to attend, and she took care of my flight (which I appreciated-- they don't pay us professors the big bucks!); she also assured me I'd have tickets (and good seats).  And she made sure I was staying at the same hotel as Geddy's mom and sister, and all of us were able to hang out together.  THAT was very cool. I've been friendly with Pegi for many years, and it was wonderful to share the event with her. I also made some new friends: I am in touch with Geddy's sister to this day, and it was also such an honor to meet his mom, who was pleased that I could speak Yiddish.

It seems like only yesterday, but it was eight years ago. I've told a lot of stories about that evening-- like how the capacity crowd seemed dominated by Rush fans, and when Jann Wenner came out to introduce the band, we all made sure we let him know how we felt about him. The booing lasted for what seemed like five minutes at least. He was a good sport about it, and he knew exactly why we were booing him.  And speaking of something that took a long time, I recall the long acceptance speech (it seemed like it lasted forever) that Quincy Jones gave. I'm firmly convinced that's what inspired Alex's legendary (and hilarious) "blah-blah-blah" speech. And it was an inspiration to see how many musicians, including the Foo Fighters, and Chuck D of Public Enemy, had words of praise for Rush-- and how many musicians expressed their admiration for Neil.  It was also wonderful to see how proud the band's friends and family members were. And the live performances... the jam session... to experience it in person was truly magical.  

I met a lot of fans while I was in LA. For reasons I have never understood, some of them applauded me. I applauded them right back.  After all, when you are a fan of Rush, you are a member of an extended family.  I was glad that so many of the fans were there in person, to enjoy a moment we had all waited for. (Others got to see it later, when HBO broadcast it. I don't know about you, but I had fun reliving the evening; I watched it several times, in fact.) 

Today, looking back on it, my only regret is that Neil is no longer with us. But it still makes me smile whenever I think back on that evening in Los Angeles, when Rush finally got the respect they had long deserved. The doubters said it would never happen; the folks who never liked Rush said it would never happen. But we who loved and believed in this band knew that sooner or later, it had to happen. And on 18 April 2013, it finally did.