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DON’T GET DEAD, or: how to sing your way through a barbwire year
These days, you want the poem to be
A mask, soft veil between what floats
Invisible, but known in the air.
You’ve just read that there’s a singer
You love who might be breathing their last,
And wish the poem could travel,
Unobtrusive, as poems do from
The page to the brain, a fan’s medicine.
Those of us who are lucky enough
To stay indoors with a salary count the days
By press conference. For others, there is
Always the dog and the park, the park
And the dog. A relative calls; how you doin’?
(are you a ghost?). The buds emerge, on time,
For their brief duty. The poem longs to be a filter, but
In floats Spring’s insistence. We wait.
C. Eady from Together in a Sudden Strangeness, (Knopf, 2020)
Maybe the party’s done.
What a year. That was the statement a lot of people eventually arrived at when trying to describe the Pandemic year of 2020. I make my living messing with words, but is there actually a term for what happens when the whole world gets the rug pulled out from under everyone’s feet?
For myself and the Trio—Charlie Rauh on guitar, bass, and percussion, and Lisa Liu, on Guitar and Keyboards—the tug under our feet began, like most everyone else in the US, in mid- March, 2020. Gigs start to dry up. Then disappear altogether. Then everyone is on lockdown.
We didn’t know what to do. Underpinning everything at that moment was the feeling that maybe, this time, it wasn’t going to work out. Why bother to write or record music if no one was probably ever going to hear it? Was it even possible for the three of us to write, record and mix anything that wouldn’t sound like three people from three different locations and room sounds, stitched together with Frankenstein thread?
All that we did know was we didn’t want to stop. Even if it turned out to be folly—not to be brave, just to keep sane.
We changed, from a band that played and recorded live, to a band that found their groove on the web, each band member’s office or bed room part of a three-way, on-line studio. This is why, if you listen closely to the song “17” you will hear birds—for real, just outside of the window of whoever’s turn it was to add their part, or the occasional creak of my old office chair (since replaced).
These songs are a musical diary, from the early shock, fear and confusion of March, 2020, (“Misery Bed”, “Little Boat”) through the white hot center of the body count. (“Nurse Red Line” “17”). From the bravery of one black man holding off a mob on January 6th, (“One Good Man”) to the hope of a song, inspired by a quote from an ailing Walt Whitman (It’ll Pass By”), and the possibility of building a new normal (“Sunshine”).
Listening to these tracks now, I’m surprised by how many times these songs invoke the name of the Lord and the Devil. But I suppose I shouldn’t be; ain’t that moan part of our old, collective Folk/Blues Tradition? Certainly in the songs I grew up with. One of the many touchstones songs I probably had in my head as I wrote these was the Dust Bowl ballads of Woody Guthrie, especially “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You”. The same feeling of the world falling crazy away from you probably ties our two eras together, only with the Pandemic, you couldn’t pull up stakes and hit the open road—our “dust” would be waiting to greet you, anyplace you thought to ramble.
This is how the three of us made it through. We waited. We worked. We learned. I wrote and we recorded over 60 songs. Luckily none of us fell ill.
My mother-in-law grew up in rural Virginia, and in her family they had a saying: “Root, Little Pig, or Die”. We’re happy to share with you the year we picked up our imaginations, voices and guitars, and dug.
"Maybe it’s back someday."
What a year. Don’t Get Dead.
Center Moriches, NY