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With a Little Help From My Friends

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I know that on this site, we mainly discuss politics, but I'd like to pause for just a moment and raise a different topic. Last night, I went to see Rush (the rock group, not the right-wing talk show host), and as I was driving home from the concert, some thoughts about the value of friendship kept running through my mind. Back in 1974, when I was a disc jockey and music director at WMMS-FM in Cleveland, I was fortunate to receive a copy of a self-published album by a Canadian band I'd never heard of; from the moment I played the track "Working Man," I knew that Rush had immense potential. So I helped them to get a U.S. recording contract (the story how it all came about is posted to a number of fan websites, so I won't repeat it here) and we became friends. Since those early days when I first met Alex, Geddy and Neil, we've kept in touch sporadically; they've become as successful as I knew they'd be, and I've gotten a few accomplishments of my own. But the bottom line is we're all pretty busy. And yet, 34 years later, we still keep in touch.

It's kind of unusual in a way. I mean,how many people do you stay in contact with for that many years? There's a line in the song "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" by Billy Joel where he says "So many faces in and out of my life; Some will last, some will just be now and then; Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again." That just about sums up my years in broadcasting. When I was a music director in four major markets, all sorts of interesting people used to call on me. I understood that for most of them, it was not my charm or my wit that made them want to hang out; they wanted me to add their records or give them some extra airplay, and they figured being friendly to me was the right thing to do. But as often as I talked with certain record promoters or band managers, once I wasn't working for that station any longer and couldn't help them, I never heard from them again.

Of course, that's not just typical of the music industry or broadcasting. In just about every profession, and especially in politics, you can find behaviour that seems Machiavellian, as certain people do whatever they feel it takes to remain in power. And while I know that there really never were any "good old days," it often does seem to me that these days, neither courtesy nor gratitude is being encouraged. We live in such a polarized society, and good conversation often becomes a casualty of ideology. I've seen far too many talk shows where anyone who disagrees with the host (or with the current Administration) is treated as an enemy, where debate quickly deteriorates into name-calling. I wasn't raised to believe that dissent is somehow a bad thing. In fact, while my politics lean more to the progressive side, I have several friends who are right-wing conservatives; what I value about them is that that even when our interpretations of events differ, we can discuss them respectfully and still be friends. But these days, I don't expect to find much civil discourse. More often than not, what I encounter is lots of sound and fury, but not much respect. And that brings me back to thinking about Rush.

As I said, when I first discovered the band, I had no expectations of getting anything in return. So, when they dedicated their first two albums to me, and when I was given the opportunity to be the MC at one of their live shows in Cleveland, that was more recognition than I had usually received; as a music director for more than 13 years, I had helped a number of bands, and had seldom gotten so much as a thank you. I didn't take it personally. I understood that's how things often went in the music industry, and when Rush and their management acknowledged my efforts on their behalf, it was a pleasant surprise. But I certainly never expected that more than three decades later, the band would continue to remember what I did for them during those first few years. When I tell people that the members of Rush are the same kind, down-to-earth guys I met in 1974, some folks are skeptical, given what they've heard about rock stars. But the fact remains: success hasn't spoiled them. When I see them backstage, when we hug and chat about whatever, it's amazing to me that here we are, each of us with a lot more achievements than we had in 1974, but there's no ego, and no pretence. They're courteous (there's that word again) and while they have definite opinions about politics, the way they express them doesn't demean anyone. And even though our lives and our circumstances may have changed, we still care about each other.

And that's the important thing. So many of us feel we are under pressure, struggling just to get through the day, and we often lack the time to let people know they matter to us. We intend to tell them, but something always interrupts, and we don't take a moment to call or send an e-mail just to find out how somebody is doing. More often than not, we seem to wait for a good reason to get in touch, such as when we need something; it provides an excuse to make contact with someone we haven't talked to in ages. I know it's human nature, and I am probably as guilty of it as anyone. But spending some time with Rush last night reminded me once more of the gift that friendship is, and how it shouldn't be taken for granted. And while I know it may sound strange to some of you that I'm discussing this on a political site rather than a music site, it's because I've seen firsthand that friendships are essential for our mental health. For example, during these past two terms of the Bush presidency I've often relied on friends to help me keep my sense of humour. And I'm not just referring to friends I could actually sit down with and chat, but to my cyber-friends -- the people on this site, on list-servs and on blogs. When it seemed the majority of Americans believed in the war (and believed those of us who disagreed were traitors), it was my friends who were there for me, and we encouraged each other. To this day, many of us still exchange ideas. and while I may not have met the writers in person, I feel as if I know them. It's those relationships that often help me to navigate some very trying times.

So, before we return to discussing politics, may I ask you to do something? If there is somebody in your life who has made a difference for you, whether it's a blogger you look forward to reading or an actual person you enjoy spending time with, let that person know of your appreciation. I've dropped a thank-you note to columnists whose essays impressed me, and invariably, they are shocked to get some praise-- usually, they just hear from people with complaints. And yes, there is plenty to complain about, but it seems to me we also should make the time to recognize the people who are doing right by us. In our often cynical and stressed-out world, it's our friends who help us to make sense of it all. And for that, they deserve our thanks!

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Donna Halper attended Northeastern University in Boston, where she was the first woman announcer in the school's history, broadcasting a nightly show on the campus radio station beginning in October 1968. Ms Halper completed 2 master's degrees from (more...)
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