a year and a day
I missed yesterday’s anniversary. February 15, 2020 was the last time I took to a stage. It was the TBGB album release party at Martyrs’. (You can still get your copy, and you should, it’s really good.)
Given what was to come in the year ahead, you might think I was really drinking in every detail. And I do remember a few things. There was a technical problem with the lights which I was ironing out pre-show, which was frustrating. The weather wasn’t great that night, and I think it dampened turnout a little bit. I recall we played well, reflecting all the time we’d worked together on the album during recording, and then reinforced at a series of good rehearsals. It was an especially high energy set, I know. And I had a lot of friends there, some coming from as far as California. We went out for the usual post-show burrito after. But the details get fuzzy.
But I couldn’t know, could I? By then, yeah, the thing was spreading rapidly in China, and cases had been reported here and in Europe. Some flights had been restricted. It still seemed far away. I’m more than a bit ashamed to admit that at that point, I was still thinking this was like other recent outbreaks that had affected other parts of the world (Ebola, MERS, SARS) but probably wasn’t going to be a Thing here. I mean, I was making Captain Trips jokes on Facebook. Baby, can you dig your man?
I’d like a do-over on that, please.
It’s not that my callousness and arrogance influenced the trajectory of this disaster, of course. I’m just looking to rebalance my karmic ledger. I know people who’ve gotten extremely sick; I know people who’ve lost family and friends. I can forgive my lack of foresight, but not my lack of empathy. I think a lot about that time, and where my head was.
Back to this timeline. While it’s not foremost on most people’s minds, what about live music? Most experts agree it’s going to be just about the very last thing to come back to anything approaching the old normal. I suppose the absolute best case would be this fall, but probably then only with restrictions that would diminish the experience for everyone involved. 2022 seems more realistic. So many clubs are already gone, and so many more will go under between now and then. Nobody came to help the one sector that was completely rendered helpless by this thing. Clubs and musicians, theatres and actors: get bent. This is America, and we don’t give a fuck about art or artists. Get a haircut, and a real job servicing capital.
Unlike real performers, this is obviously not a financial crisis for me. If anything, my life as a part-time dilettante in music has been a major cost center, and I probably came out ahead. It is, however, a different and more serious crisis when I consider (as I have had way too much time to do) how much of my sense of self is defined by performing. I haven’t played a ton of gigs in the last ten years, but they were enough to keep that fire lit. Enough that I could credibly say, “I’m a musician.” Enough that I could feel like one, even as I spend the majority of my days pushing other people’s electrons around.
It’s hard to feel it now. Even sitting here in my office/studio at home, surrounded by instruments of all stripes, I don’t reach for them all that often. I now understand clearly that what it was always about, for me, was the communal aspect. Making music with others, for others. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who are beyond happy to sit and strum alone in their bedrooms, and may the forces of benevolence bless and keep them all, but that ain’t me.
I wish I’d seen this coming that night a year ago, that I knew it was going to be an indefinite hiatus ahead. I’d have taken more pictures. I’d have savored more of the moments and details, just let myself drown in the sensory deluge that is playing a big, loud rock and roll show. I’d have been better about working the room and saying “thanks for coming” after. I’d have written about it while it was fresh. I’d have been drinking up that moment with all I had.
I’d like a do-over on that, too, please.