Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Year, and the Concert, that Changed My Life

I was sorry, but not surprised, to hear that Cleveland's Record Revolution (or Record Rev, as we used to call it) was closing. If you are a Rush fan, that store is part of the history of how the band became famous in Cleveland, and went on to become famous in other cities. As many of you know, I was the music director at WMMS-FM in the spring of 1974, and a music industry friend of mine (Canadian record promoter Bob Roper) sent me a copy of an album (they were all vinyl albums back then) by a Toronto-based band called Rush. It was on their own label, Moon Records, and Roper told me his label wasn't going to sign them. But he thought they had potential. I listened to their album, fell in love with the song "Working Man," and ran downstairs (my office was upstairs) to tell the deejay on the air to play it. 

I'd be lying if said I knew at that moment that Rush would become famous. To be honest, I was concerned that listeners would be confused by their name. At that time, there was also Mahogany Rush, a Montreal-based band whose new album, "Child of the Novelty," was getting a lot of airplay at WMMS. No, they didn't sound similar (in fact, listeners thought Rush sounded like Led Zeppelin), but the audience knew Mahogany Rush and they didn't know anything about these three guys from Toronto. Neither did I. And when WMMS started getting requests for "Working Man" (a song I thought would resonate with the Cleveland audience), listeners soon wanted to buy the album, especially once we began playing other tracks, like "Finding My Way" and "Here Again."

The store in Cleveland that was known for carrying records from other countries, or "imports," was Record Revolution. I contacted Rush's management-- they were shocked to find that someone in Cleveland had championed Rush's album, especially since they weren't getting much airplay in their home city of Toronto. We arranged to get some copies of that Moon import down to Record Revolution, and chances are, if you lived in the Cleveland area and still have one of those original copies, you bought it there.  (I still have mine, but it's the one that Bob Roper sent me. And it will always be special to me.)

John Rutsey was still with the band when Rush first played a gig in Cleveland. He and I didn't speak much, as I recall; in fact, the guys were all quite shy-- and probably still amazed that they had fans in Cleveland. But then, in mid-August, Neil joined the band, and Rush got a contract with Mercury Records. This now-well known August 1974 photo shows me, holding that first Rush album which was hurried re-issued on Mercury. (I still have the dress, and I still have the Mercury album-- I was absolutely stunned to find the band had dedicated it to me.) Some folks have commented that the guys in Rush looked very serious, but actually, they were exhausted (and somewhat unaccustomed to having photos taken for the trade publications). From left to right, Matt the Cat (one of the deejays). Neil, Geddy, Alex, me, my boss John Gorman, and Mercury Records local promoter Don George.

Not long afterward, on August 26, 1974, Rush performed at the Agora Ballroom, on East 24th Street in Cleveland, for a WMMS Monday Night Concert. (Tickets were $3.00 in advance, and $3.50 at the door; those were the days!) The guys returned to the Agora again in mid-December to perform again, and they introduced a couple of the new tunes they were working on, now that Neil was beginning to take on some of the songwriting duties. But in late August, they were mostly doing the material they had performed with John Rutsey. Neil, being a great drummer even then, made some of those songs his own, complete with a drum solo when they played "Working Man."

It was a very enthusiastic crowd, as I recall. And I was so proud of Rush. But here is something else I didn't expect: before launching into "Working Man," Geddy paused, looked in my direction, and gave me a shout-out. I know why he did it. There had been some rumors flying that someone else had really been the one to champion the band. The guys, who were famously loyal even back then, wanted to let everyone know that they gave me the credit, not anyone else. And for years after, they made sure I was acknowledged (and thanked) whenever they were interviewed about how their career took off in the States.

1974 was a difficult year for me in many ways. I was very lonely in Cleveland, I didn't fit in well with most of my colleagues, and I was seriously underpaid (the men on the staff made much more than the women, as was the custom back then, sad to say). But when I became friendly with Rush, it led to so many other changes, including my being hired by Mercury Records in New York (briefly) as a talent scout in 1975. But most importantly, it led to a friendship that endures even now. I've seen many Rush concerts over the years, in many cities. But I will never forget the first time I saw them play when Neil had joined the band, the first time it became apparent that Rush was going to become a major force in Cleveland... and soon in other cities. 

I am sorry that Record Revolution is closing, as I said, and I am sorry that I am no longer in radio-- I miss being on the air every day of my life. But I am grateful that I am still in touch with Bob Roper, and with Geddy (and his sister), and with Alex. No, we don't talk as often as we once did, but we are still in touch, and I am also still in touch with several of the folks in their management, as well as with several close friends of Neil (who I also miss every day of my life). It has been a remarkable journey, from Cleveland to New York to Washington DC back home to Boston, and many other cities along the way. I've met so many wonderful fans, and I have so many wonderful memories. And it all started with a Canadian record promoter doing a good deed in April 1974, during a year that changed my life.     

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Times They Are A-Changing (Slowly but Surely)

So, as it turns out, democracy was indeed on the ballot during the midterm elections, and so were women's rights. Prior to the elections, numerous pollsters and pundits predicted a "red wave," but it never materialized. The Democrats held onto the Senate, and while Republicans were poised to take over the House, it would be by a very small margin. Millions of women voted, and so did a surprisingly large number of young people. Exit polls showed that voters from both parties disliked the idea of the government telling women what they could or could not do with their bodies. (Pundits had said the Dobbs decision would not be a factor, but they were wrong: it was on the minds of many of the voters, even in red states.)

For me, one of the biggest headlines was that voters from both parties overwhelmingly rejected some high-profile candidates with extreme views: candidates who had denied the results of the 2020 election; or defended the January 6, 2021 insurrection; or insisted that unless they won, the election was rigged and they would never concede. Some very well-funded Republicans with those views were defeated, and while a few managed to win, the majority of election-deniers in the battle-ground states lost. 

I was sorry that some of the Democrats I liked didn't win-- for example, Tim Ryan ran an outstanding campaign in Ohio, but he still lost to J.D. Vance. On the other hand, many people--even some who would never have voted for him--were inspired by John Fetterman, who overcame a stroke to win his race against Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. (Rather than being alienated by his speech problems during the debate, voters said they could identify with what he was going through, and they commended him for his courage. On Twitter, partisans mocked Fetterman, but in Pennsylvania, his supporters cheered him on, and he did not disappoint.)

Another noteworthy thing happened in a number of states: after the elections had concluded, the losing candidates (from both parties) offered their concessions and congratulated their opponent-- just like candidates used to do.  Of course, a few sore losers refused, but I was encouraged by how many candidates acknowledged their defeat, and did not claim something nefarious had happened.  

It's easy to think that a large number of Americans are bigots and haters because on cable TV and social media, those folks are given far too much attention. But here in the real world, in states all over the country, there were a number of "firsts" that suggested America is changing for the better, showing signs of becoming more diverse and more inclusive. Consider this: more women, from both parties, were elected to governor and lieutenant governor positions: Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon were among the states electing a woman governor. Among the many other women from diverse backgrounds who got elected, Maryland now has a female lieutenant governor--she and her family immigrated from India when she was a child; and Massachusetts elected its first Black female attorney general.  

Some men also made history: Maryland elected its first Black governor, while California elected a Filipino-American attorney general. California is also sending a Latino, the son of Mexican immigrants, to the Senate; another Mexican-American man is now the first Latino secretary of state in Nevada.  Locally, New Hampshire elected its first transgender man to the New Hampshire state legislature. And it was also a good night for some candidates who were gay or lesbian.  I could go on with the many other "firsts" from coast to coast, but I do want to give a shout-out to 25-year old Floridian Maxwell Alejandro Frost, the first Gen-Z candidate elected to congress.

And as I look at what happened, both the good and the bad, I am comforted to know that we do still have a democracy, that some folks still believe in the right to privacy, and that in both red states and blue, people voted for the candidate they thought would get the job done-- even if that person was a minority, or gay, or trans, or from a party they'd never voted for in their life. Yes, a lot remains to be done before this nation can heal from some of the traumatic events of the past several years, but I see some positive indications that we really are more united than some pundits might think. To all who voted, thank you. To all who believed in our democracy, thank you. And to all who rejected the negativity and partisanship, and trusted our system of government, I thank you most of all.