I’d just been playing Angel From Montgomery on guitar when I got the news that John Prine was in critical condition with Covid-19. Thankfully, the news is a little better now. The most recent word from his wife is that he’s stable. This is good. The world needs more John Prine songs. Wouldn’t you love to hear his funny but deeply moving version of coronavirus blues? I can’t wait.
It’s no coincidence that I was playing that song at that time. It’s one of the about five songs I can make my way through these days so whenever I pick up the guitar for a music therapy session (which I try to do several times a week), I give it a try. Still having trouble with the F chord, but the rest doesn’t come out too badly.
Just like everybody else who’s picked up an acoustic guitar in the last fifty years, I’ve been playing it for just about my entire musical life. You don’t ask a guitar player if they know it. Of course they know it. At every Bearded Pigs gig it was the song we started the first set with. When Ranger Dave and I played at the Venice Café as The Prairie Dogs it was a highlight, and I loved listening to his elegant lead lines during the instrumental break, particularly when we went into the chorus (the way he handled that F chord). I was at a remote mountain resort in Korea, leading a workshop for a bunch of bright young librarians, and somebody found a guitar so I could play after dinner one night. I did three songs and of course that was one of them. I told the story of it first, so that my translator could relay it in Korean before I played, but I’m sure that many of them already knew it, too.
People have been posting their own versions of it lately, even before we heard he was sick. TomCat put one up on Facebook a couple of days before. I played along on harmonica while I watched and listened. (He put up a nice rendition of Paradise as well). Now, of course, there’s been a flood of them. What can musicians do in hard times, but play and sing?
Social distancing is tough on performing artists. And while I’m not a sports fan I’ll say I was completely sympathetic to LeBron saying that he wasn’t going to play if the league was going to try to continue the season in empty arenas. Asinine idea. The fans are where the power comes from.
So musicians and actors and dancers, professional and amateur, are posting themselves from home. Paul Simon put up an achingly beautiful American Tune. I saw that he’s now put up The Boxer but I haven’t had the courage to watch it yet. I’ll cry.* Dolly Parton is reading bedtime stories for children. Trent Reznor just released two Nine Inch Nails albums for free download. Families who are quarantined together are posting amateur theatricals. Museums are mounting online exhibits, with narrated walk-throughs of the blockbuster shows they’ve spent years curating, that now hang in empty halls. The late night comics are doing their shows from home. There’s I So Lounging w/ Amanda Shires every afternoon at 5.
The internet is stressed. I see reports from people using Zoom for conferencing that sometimes it’s flaking out on them. I’m getting occasional DNS errors, but nothing too disruptive. For a long time now it’s been hard to imagine what our daily lives would be like without that technology. I try, occasionally, to tell Josie what it was like and she can’t wrap her 15 year old mind around it. Now we’re seeing what a lifeline it truly is.
I see there’s a petition asking the networks to quit broadcasting the daily coronavirus briefings. Too little new and useful information and too much misinformation that then needs to walked back. I’m thinking, “But nobody is required to watch.” Spend too much time with coronavirus news and you’ll ratchet your anxiety up to unhealthy levels.
Dylan’s utterly astonishing Murder Most Foul tells us that music is the essential balm the nation needs in desperate times. Now is when we need the arts more than ever. See what your favorites are doing. Find some news ones. If you can spare it, send a contribution. Buy a tour shirt for the tour that got cancelled. And join in. Paint a picture and put it up. Write a short story. Sing.
(*Just watched it now as I was getting ready to post this. Yep. I cried. It was good.)