Isolation doesn’t bother me at all. It gives me a sense of security -Jimmy Page
Without great solitude, no serious work is possible -Pablo Picasso
What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be -Ellen Burstyn
The first phase of Covid reopening in my city, New York, happens today. For all of the hardships, inconveniences, and potentialities for ennui recently; the last few months have also offered up opportunities for enrichment. Since we are not totally out of the woods yet and the possibility still exists that we might very well find ourselves locked down again in a few months if we don’t handle this newfound freedom appropriately; I thought this would be a good time to share some of my own experiences with lock down and some of its valuable shadings.
As someone whose last serious tech advancement was a stubborn switch from number two pencils to ball point pens I must say I have seen the light. Don’t misjudge me. I don’t believe there will come a time where I will prefer reading a novel on a Kindle or a Chrome book. I will always prefer the hardcopy (if not the hardcover, but that is more a matter of expense than aesthetic). As far as my music goes LPs, CDs, even cassette tapes will always be my chosen routes. There are many reasons for that, and I am not such a purist that I won’t ever listen to music online. For the most part however, it is unlikely that I will collect my music in this manner. There is something comforting to me about seeing the casings and packages lined upon my shelves and having that precious moment of perusal before deciding exactly which of the lovingly assembled collections fit my present mode and mood best.
But this is not meant to be a missive on the disadvantages of the digital world, but rather on how the current times have made its assets more available and at times, necessary. I am almost ashamed to admit it, hard core old timer that I am, but I have become a fan of some of its aspects.
Let me start with the wonders of You Tube. On this platform one can access The National Theater in London. I truly doubt that I would have experienced much of their work under normal circumstances. For one week, each week, the newest offering is available for free. After that one does have to pay, the exorbitant price of $9.75, to view some of the best theater in the English-speaking world. This week they are offering William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston. There was a production of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller where they took turns playing the monster and the doctor. Gillian Anderson tackled the epic role of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, (proving once and for all that there is much more to this talented actor than Agent Scully) David Suchet and Zoe Wannamaker took on Arthur Miller’s quiet classic All My Sons. Next week they will be offering The Madness of King George.
I am not a musician, but I have enjoyed Rick Beato’s postings on classic rock riffs across various instrumentations. Elvis Costello has a thing called Spectacle which features some of the most prominent recording artists of the last forty years or so, chatting and jamming together. Recently I captured an episode that brought together Kris Kristofferson, Nora Jones, John Mellencamp, and Roseanne Cash. Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby Magee alone was worth the time. There was also an episode with Elvis’s spouse, Diana Krall and Elton John. Another with Bruce Springsteen. There was time well spent with Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson and the lost but not forgotten Levon Helm, Allan Toussaint and Lou Reed. Sting as well as Herbie Hancock are also featured. There is no shortage of talent or genre on this wonderful effort by the former Attraction.
Leland Sklar has his own channel where he tells stories of the many musicians he has backed as one of the most frequently used bass players in contemporary music over the past fifty years. His tales of being on the road and in the studio with artists as varied as James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross, and Linda Ronstadt supply an intriguing inside view of both the artists and music not often available to us faithful listeners. There is one particular story about a 1990’s tour with Phil Collins involving a certain fellow who brings comfort and joy to all once a year that may bring a smile and also, perhaps a happy tear to your eye. I likely never would have discovered this gift if not for the lockdown.
Many movie theaters unable to operate in the normal manner have been offering films in a virtual way. Since I spend a lot of time in the capital city of the State of New Mexico, I have, along with my best girl, been supporting a local independent film presenter, the Jean Cocteau Theater in Santa Fe. You don’t have to live in the city of the theater you wish to support. I encourage you to investigate such possibilities in your own localities. Particularly the independents, who really could use your help at this time. Some of the films we have enjoyed were Brian Dennehy’s final film Driveways, a revealing and touching story about the different definitions of friendship and family. It is also a reminder of what a special talent this giant of a man was and how much he will be missed. For those of us who have also practiced the craft he pursued with such passion, his performance is a reminder of the power underplaying can bring to what might otherwise be considered the most mundane moments. I am going to start early with a plug for nominations across the board for this performance, not because he is gone, but rather because the performance itself is so powerfully present in the here and now whenever that here and now might be.
The Scottish actor Brian Cox who we just recently caught as LBJ in the Lincoln Center production of The Great Society captivates in the Etruscan Smile about a Scot steeped in the old ways who comes to San Francisco for medical help and rediscovers family while enjoying one last fling, with a fetching Rosanna Arquette.
I cannot say that I have been a huge purveyor of things like Masterpiece Theater prior to this. I never really got into Downton Abbey and only paid sparing attention to some of the other programming from the BBC. Although I have periodically checked in with Call the Midwife and Doc Watson, and back in the day I did of course love Monty Python’s Flying Circus and I, Claudius; because of Covid, I became enraptured with World on Fire and cannot wait until it picks up again next season.
And while we are at it, let’s hear it for Zoom and Skype and Facetime. While modes of transportation have been severely hampered during this period, limiting visits with family and old friends, all of these venues have allowed at least the shape of a meaningful rendezvous. I personally have suffered less of a loss of income than might have been expected had this happened at any other time in our history thanks to Zoom. I have enjoyed dinner with loved ones at our favorite “virtual” restaurants and have even attended cross country birthday parties.
I also got a lot more writing done as most of you regular readers can attest to. The squirrel kept me much busier than usual. “What the hell else do you have to do?” he would shout as he gobbled still another acorn. Fat bastard!
I could go on, but I have to end this somewhere and this feels like a good spot. You get the idea. Hopefully, during this isolation, we have done the “serious work” Picasso alluded to so that both the biological and the sociological viruses that have plagued us may take their places in the dustbins of history. So go on, but be careful out there. Continue to practice social distancing and maybe a few extra degrees of kindness across the many platforms of our humanity because if the last few months have taught us anything, it is that we are all joined together and it is all very, very fragile.