Monday, April 06, 2020

FTW, 4.6.2020

Everything changed on 3.13.2020.

It seems kind of silly and pointless to be writing about music when thousands of people are dying from Covid-19, others are putting their lives at risk to save the virus' victims or to keep the rest of us going, and many are facing a scary and uncertain future, as the crisis lays bare the inequities in our economic system and the inadequacy of our for-profit health care scheme. When this is over, one hopes we will do something to rectify these conditions in the long term, now that ideas people were dismissing as "crazy" just a few weeks ago have been implemented as emergency measures. We can and must do better going forward.

My wife is working from home now, and it's inspiring to hear the care and commitment she and her coworkers show for their students and their families as they figure out how to do distance learning for nonverbal, medically fragile students. Like school districts everywhere, Fort Worth's shifted on a dime in the wake of the pandemic, when their IT folks were already in the process of restoring their network after a malware attack that hit just before spring break. I'm always proud of her and the sweet folks she works with, but never more than now.

Myself, I feel like Uncle Lou wrote in "The Kids" on Berlin -- "I am the waterboy, the real game's not over here." I started journaling again, more for therapy than posterity, but honestly, there's not much motivation to write when my free-floating anxiety has me checking social media for news every few minutes.

Live streaming seems to be the thing now. A muso bud (who also has a straight job that, so far at least, remains secure) was lamenting how the quarantine is going to kill live music "forever." I suggested to him that forever is a long time, and in the short term, at least, when the bars and clubs reopen, there'll be an explosion of pent-up demand. After that, who knows? Maybe people will develop new pastimes. We've already seen that the best way to get Americans to exercise is to tell them not to leave their homes. And after a certain amount of enforced leisure, even folks who habitually eat all their meals out might learn how to cook.

I'm now regretting that I missed Gregg Prickett's as-yet-unrecorded Monks of Saturnalia at Denton's Sweetwater Grill and Tavern a few weeks ago, and hoping the fact that band members Drew Phelps and Jeff Barnes are li'l d homeboys will ensure that they have more gigs to come there. We'd recently caught the first set of Rageout Arkestra's most recent Shipping and Receiving stand and left with a copy of the CD-R Clint Niosi recorded at a Rageout performance in Denton awhile back. While it's a representative document of what these improvisers get up to in their sets, you miss little spontaneous moments like Chris White prowling around, taking advantage of the fact that you can hear his trumpet over the band even without amplification, joining the dancers or "attacking" the guest guitarist. Or an interval at the show we saw when Parker Lunsford cranked up a DC go-go groove, then later, when he tried to get the band to shift into 6/8 but they just weren't going for it. Look forward to seeing these guys again, when we can.

It's important to remember that musos need to get paid, and one hopes that folks who are taking advantage of the plethora of live streams that sprung up overnight with social distancing are also kicking some coin to the performers. In general, we won't tune in unless we're willing to pay whatever we would have paid as cover for a show -- the same way that we won't eat out (under normal circumstances) unless we have enough scratch to tip 20%.

That said, we have watched a couple of the free live streams from NYC's Metropolitan Opera -- a Saturday afternoon staple of my childhood (the overture to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg is indelibly etched in my memory from when it was the intro music to the broadcasts my old man used to tune in). And I couldn't resist the opportunity to hear Richard Thompson (whom I could never afford to go see when he used to appear at Caravan of Dreams fairly regularly) playing and singing from his living room in New Jersey (his "Keep Your Distance" having become a sort of theme song for social distancing, at least in my world). Auggie even jumped up to have a listen, and didn't lie down on the keyboard, disrupting the transmission, the way he did with the opera a couple of nights before. I could spend the rest of my life practicing hybrid picking over drones, and still not be worthy to hold Mr. Thompson's coat.

Have also been watching weekly talks by historian Heather Cox Richardson, whose "Letters from an American" has become a welcome read in my daily email, providing levelheaded analysis of the political news of the day, and whose How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America is an essential read on how we came to this historical moment. She's on Facebook Live discussing current events in historical context at 3pm (Central) every Tuesday, and the broader arc of American history at noon (Central) every Thursday. Worthwhile.

Other than that, have been enjoying playing DJ for my wife (when she's not on a Zoom call). Have to observe a few different conventions than I'm used to: can't play the same record over and over, for one. And she really doesn't like prog rock. She does, however, really like Ronnie Lane, so we've been spending a good amount of time with Ooh La La -- An Island Harvest, a double CD's worth of toons from the songwriter who always took a backseat to more flamboyant frontman in the Small Faces and Faces, and finally got to step out front with his own band, Slim Chance. This stuff sounds like nothing else -- equal parts old-timey Americana (country, blues, Dixieland) and English music hall, infused with a rustic sensibility not unlike the one that informed the first (good) three or four Rod Stewart solo LPs.

Also spinning Chicago-based guitarist Jeff Parker's The New Breed a good bit -- a hip-hop/jazz hybrid which whets my appetite to hear his new Suite for Max Brown when I am buying things again (as soon as the quarantine came down, it was like somebody threw a switch and all my "want" circuit breakers were deactivated; probably the result of being raised by Depression-era kids). I have yet to hear a record on the International Anthem label that I didn't like.

Last but not least, Trees Speak is a Tucson-based duo whose debut full-length Ohms is out on estimable UK indie Soul Jazz (which usually releases only archival material). They use an arsenal of gear including a mellotron, synths, and analog F/X to produce a sound that's alternately ethereal and atmospheric, organic and groove-oriented, bearing the stamp of '70s German bands like Kraftwerk (when Florian still played the flute), Neu!, and Can (minus the vocalismo). Good soundtrack for meditating and contemplating, activities we've more time than usual for these days.

Stay home and flatten the curve if you can and if you can't, please take care, won't you?


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