Monday, February 28, 2022

Rising to the Occasion: In Praise of Volodymyr Zelensky

It was William Shakespeare's character Malvolio, in Act III of the play "Twelfth Night," who said, "Some are born great... some achieve greatness... and some have greatness thrust upon them." It's an important quote, especially given what is going on in the world right now. We have been watching as a powerful autocrat, Vladimir Putin of Russia, invades the neighboring country of Ukraine, trying to take it over-- the first step in his dream of one day re-creating the old Soviet Union.

Of course, Ukraine has no desire to be part of Mr. Putin's dream. Ukraine is a free and independent country, and it would like to stay that way. It does not want to rejoin the Soviet Union, nor does it want to be ruled by Russia. All over the world, including in Russia (where protesting has been criminalized by Mr. Putin), people understand that. Many have been marching and demonstrating in support of Ukraine, and against what Russia is doing.

The Ukrainian military is badly outnumbered, but as I write this, they've held Russia at bay, much to Mr. Putin's surprise. They have fought bravely, refusing to give up and refusing to give in. And what has been especially inspiring is the leadership of Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Few people expected him to come through. After all, he was a former comedian and actor, and when he was elected, his presidency got off to a slow start. Many in his country began wondering if he would ever be the kind of leader Ukraine needed. But as it turned out, he was exactly the kind of leader Ukraine needed, and the past few weeks have proved it.   

President Zelensky has rallied his country, giving eloquent speeches in defense of democracy. He has motivated his fellow Ukrainians, even as he fearlessly confronted Vladimir Putin. Zelensky had at one time played the role of a president on TV. Now, he was doing what an actual president should do, refusing to back down, refusing to let Mr. Putin intimidate him. (He even endured the bizarre spectacle of the Russian leader calling him a Nazi-- Mr. Zelensky is Jewish and he lost relatives in the Holocaust, making Putin's name-calling even more offensive.)

I'm not good at predicting the future, so I cannot say with certainty that Ukraine will win this war. It's a war that should never have happened, and the Ukrainians who are fighting to preserve their young democracy deserve our support. I applaud President Biden for bringing the allies together and getting everyone in NATO on the same page. It wasn't an easy thing to accomplish, but he got it done. Mr. Biden understands what's at stake, and whether you like him or not, the fact remains that he too has risen to the occasion.

But the person who deserves the most praise is the former comedian, the former TV actor, the man everyone underestimated. Volodymyr Zelensky has had greatness thrust upon him, and he wears it well. May his leadership continue, may Ukraine's independence survive, and may all the enemies of democracy be defeated...whether in Russia or wherever else they may be.      

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Making Memories: Some Thoughts About a Birthday (Mine) and an Anniversary (Rush's)

I never thought of myself as an especially memorable person-- I mean, yes, I knew I was different from the way girls in the 1950s were supposed to be, but I didn't expect to become famous. On the other hand, I wondered if I'd be able to do anything unique or noteworthy. I certainly hoped I would, but I was surrounded by folks who told me I wouldn't. I was determined to prove the doubters wrong, but to be honest, I didn't know if I'd succeed.

Fast forward to 2022.  On Valentine's Day, I turned 75. As a cancer survivor, I was happy to still be here, able to celebrate another year. My husband made a wonderful dinner, we had birthday cake, and we spent a peaceful evening at home. But I was genuinely surprised to see that about 900 people reached out to me on social media, to wish me well on my birthday.  Most were Rush fans. But some were former colleagues in radio or the music business. A few were former students, or folks I had mentored along the way. Some I hadn't heard from in years, but there they were, saying hi and wishing me well. Some, I had kept in touch with for decades-- including Bob Roper, who had sent me that first Rush album back in 1974, and record promoter Heavy Lenny Bronstein, with whom I go back to my days in college radio. Evidently there are some folks who do think I'm memorable after all.

And speaking of memorable, I was reminded by several Rush fans that not only is February 14 an important day, but so is February 15-- that's the anniversary of the release of "Fly by Night," which came out on February 15, 1975. I remember it well-- after Neil had joined the band in July 1974, so much changed for them. They did a live concert at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on Monday December 16, 1974, and they played a couple of the new songs they'd been working on. As I recall, the songs were so new that they hadn't performed them before-- "Fly By Night" was one, and I loved it immediately. So did the audience-- a very receptive and enthusiastic crowd that fell in love with Rush the same way I did-- after hearing "Working Man" in the spring of 1974. (Among the best decisions I made as a music director was getting behind "Working Man" and encouraging everyone at WMMS to play it. It worked out better than I ever dreamed it would.)

And I remember how Geddy and the band got ready to play "Working Man" at the Agora, but first he stopped and gave me a shout-out, and encouraged the crowd to do the same. I was not expecting that-- as I've said many times, over the years, I helped lots of bands and never got so much as a thank-you. But Rush were always unique in that regard-- they never forgot the people who were there for them. Geddy looked right at me and smiled, and the audience gave me some applause, and then the guys launched into a dynamic live version of "Working Man." And just like the opening chords of "Finding My Way" still give me chills, I can't help but feel a sense of pride whenever I hear "Working Man." I was able to watch the guys go on to have a successful career: "Fly By Night" was just a preview of their new direction, and it proved that Neil's contribution would be immense. It was amazing to witness it first-hand.

So, here's to birthdays, and here's to anniversaries, and here's to friendships. I wish Neil were still here, but I am grateful for his music, and grateful for the fans who still love Rush, and who think of me as family too.  And while I've written a lot of books and articles, and had a number of accomplishments of my own, I don't know if 900 people would have reached out on my 75th birthday if it weren't for a certain rock band from Canada, who came into my life unexpectedly, and changed it for the better.