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Memories Of Alex
by Donna Halper (7/01/02)

I will never forget Alex Harvey, although not for the reasons some people might think-- I mean, I was the music director at an important album rock station, he and the band came to town on a tour, and after the show, Alex and I spent the rest of the night together.

I know what assumptions were made about that, given how many of my colleagues and friends saw me go backstage and then vanish for hours-- I just about abandoned one of my closest female friends, who was not a fan of the band but had been persuaded to come to the concert, and then I just left her there. It was rude and to this day, I am sorry, but it was such an opportunity for me to finally sit and talk with this musical genius whom I had admired for ages and ages. Hours later, when I finally did find my friend (who was none too pleased at having had to wait around with no explanation), I tried to explain what had happened, but it just didn't translate. The short answer is Alex and I had been talking, and we got into an intense conversation that lasted for hours. She was somewhat incredulous, of course. Everyone else was too. But it was the truth-- all we did was talk.

Alex and I stayed up all night and talked. I gave him a poem I had written for him. He gave me access to Alex the human being, rather than Alex the performer. It was one of the most intimate evenings I ever spent with anyone. And until I found your website, I had nobody to tell this story to, because few people in the States remember the SAHB. But I do. I still do, and I always will.

Perhaps you know me. My name is Donna Halper, and I am usually associated with the career of another rock band, the cerebral Canadian trio RUSH. I helped them get a US recording contract and helped to popularize their music in the States. I was the music director of WMMS-FM, in Cleveland Ohio, and back then, a music director could actually make a difference. There were no giant conglomerates to tell us what to play, so if we wanted to take a chance on a band, we did so. And airplay from WMMS could sell a lot of records.

I was first introduced to SAHB through "NEXT", a quirky version of a Jacques Brel song; there had been a successful stage show of Brel's works that had played Cleveland, so Alex's take on Brel went over well with our audience. The Cleveland audience had unique tastes in fact-- there were certain bands that just seemed to appeal to the WMMS listeners, and Rush was one. SAHB was another. To my knowledge, the only cities where SAHB was really popular were Los Angeles and Cleveland. And when the band came to town that night in 1974, they had been on another arduous journey through cities where nobody knew who they were, serving as opening act before indifferent and sometimes rude audiences.

And then they came to our town, where Alex didn't know how popular the band was. He found out, and after weeks of being ignored, it genuinely affected him to receive such a warm welcome from the Cleveland crowd. People could even sing along with some of the songs, and they did. Alex was surprised, and then moved.

If I have one memory from that night and from the great set the band played, it was when the band sang their final number-- "Anthem", and hundreds of us stood, joined hands or linked arms, swaying in time with the chorus, humming along... some lit their cigarette lighters and you could see the proverbial "flickering shadows," as we all shared the emotion of that moment, knowing we had seen a truly amazing rock show, and wanting Alex and his band to know how much we appreciated them; and as the final notes faded, I was sitting close enough to the stage to notice that Alex had tears in his eyes.

Maybe this all sounds silly. Maybe too much time has passed and it doesn't matter how after the show, the two of us sat and talked for hours. There I was, a non-smoker and a non-drinker and a non-drug user in a world of people who used them all, a woman in a job which had primarily been done by men till only recently, drawn to album rock by my love of the music. And for too many musicians, I was somebody to try to impress-- after all, they wanted me to play their records. Some musicians were crude, some were charming, most had a persona that enabled them to spend a different night in a different city with a different woman night after night.

But when Alex seemed to want to talk, I sensed right away that he wasn't like that. No, I am not saying the man was a choir boy, and I have no idea how much carousing he did in other cities. All I know is in that city, on that night, he needed a big sister, and I was there. And I needed somebody I could really talk music (and life) with, and he was there.

And he told me how much he missed his wife and how he regretted not having been home as much as he should have, and he told me how insecure he was sometimes and how he feared that American audiences would never understand what the band was trying to do, and how much it meant to him that the WMMS audience truly respected his work.

And I told him how lonely I was in Cleveland, how out of place I felt, how unaccepted (today some of what I encountered would be called sexual harassment, but there was no such concept back then) and how eager I was to talk to somebody who wouldn't criticize me for not using assorted substances. The conversation was much more than this brief summary-- we talked about the music business, we talked about philosophy, poetry, insincere people, the war... you name it... but the bottom line was that at the end, Alex and I hugged and I wished he could have stayed another few days. I think he wished that too, but it was time to move on. He promised he would keep in touch.

In December of 1974, I received a post-card from him, and I still have it. He was in New York and it read "Dear Donna, This is It. The end of the tour. Thanks for your help, interest, and love. See you in the spring." It was signed Alex Harvey, with a line drawing of a bird standing on the "V" and the "E". I remember crying when I got it, and being glad he was going home.

I never saw him again. My radio career took me to New York, Washington DC and then back to my own home, Boston. His took him all over everywhere. We were never in the same city. And then I read that he had died, and when I tried to put into words how I felt about it, most of my friends could not relate, since they had never even heard his music.

And yet, to this day, every now and then when I am feeling depressed, I will start singing the words of "Anthem", especially the part about "Although it's true I'm worried now, I won't be worried long," and somehow it encourages me. And the image flashes in front of my eyes again of the hard working but unappreciated rock band finally finding the audience that loved them, and I am so glad that in some small way I was able to contribute to that experience, so honored that I met Alex, and so sorry that he isn't still here.

Thanks to this website, I can finally share this story-- although I can't believe it's the 20th anniversary of his passing. Alex, I still miss you, but I know you died doing what you loved-- playing rock and roll. It was a privilege to know you even briefly, and I hope your music lives on.

Click here for my interview with Donna (Nov. 2005)

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