I finally got the call!
The furlough is over. I’m back to work.
My three month involuntary vacation is over. It feel a lot like when I was in 2nd grade and we all got together again at the beginning of school. Inevitably, the first show and tell of the year was all about what we did on vacation. John’s family spent a week at the lake. Laurie helped out at her Grampa’s produce stand and made fresh lemonade. Lot’s of families went to Cedar Point to ride the rollercoasters. I was always the odd one out. We went to Yosemite National Park and saw Old Faithful at Yellowstone.
In that spirit, I want to share a bit of what I was up to (aside from writing reviews) during my three months of quarantine. On the plus side, I took a free online course on the Black Death. I didn’t pay for the college credit, I just binge-watched lectures to learn more than I ever thought I’d know about the world’s most famous epidemic. I also took a course on how to be a contract tracer for Covid 19, but no one in Florida is hiring contact tracers.
Thanks to my friend, Harlow, I fell down the rabbit hole that is TikTok. Mixed in with all the silly dance videos and “put a finger down” quizzes, I found some content that I actually learned something from. One young woman who goes by SlavicCeaser, posts compact history lessons on ancient Rome, the holocaust and Roma (aka, gypsy) culture. Another young woman, Ispadeau, from Nunavut Province, Canada shares little videos about her town, her region and Inuit culture. TikTok may have started as a kid’s app, but there are plenty of adults on there on there making 60 second videos about adulting. And… since someone who should have more important things to worry about raged against the app, I posted a few of my own stories and rants.
People far more interesting than me had to find things to do because of Covid. The Mekons have been able to stay active and relevant for over 40 years because they’re a bunch of friends who get together to make music. They all do other things to make a living. Their usual modus operendi is to get together somewhere and spend a week or so making a record. Last year, the band gathered in the California desert to write and record what became Deserted. In 2020, the plan was to get together in Valencia, Spain and get inspired there.
The pandemic put those plans in the dustbin. You don’t stick around as long as the Mekons without learning to adapt. All of the bands records have been made by a bunch of people getting together in the same room and making music. Since they couldn’t get together, they tried something different. They took inspiration from a game Surrealist writers played where they passed around a text and each player contributed something. Thus, sound files were shared around until Exquisite came into being. Some of the members had access to proper studio equipment; others just recorded their bits on cell phones.
Exquisite is the band’s most ramshackle production since Fear and Whiskey. I don’t mind. I love that record. Like that classic album, the Mekons stumble their way through a grim landscape, avoiding horrors and seeking relief with their mates. The reggae inflected rhythms of “The Inhuman” carry us through a sleepless night haunted by the ghosts of guilt and shame. “Nobody” is a spooky blues sung down the telephone line from a cabin in the woods. ‘Buried Treasure” rides on an rhythm bed that sound like tapping on the content of a kitchen cabinet that provide a stark contrast to the beautiful guitar and vocals. Hope, or at least the memories of home, shine through on “Corn & Grain” and the ’50s rock and roll vibe on “What Happened to Delilah?
Yo La Tengo took a different path. They formed their own socially distanced bubble in Hoboken and hunkered down to play in their rehearsal space. For the past 25 years, Yo La Tengo have written songs through a process of jamming together, then sorting out bits and pieces from the recordings they made to work up into “real” songs.
For We Have Amnesia Sometimes, the band decided to put out these raw, amorphous soundscapes. They released a song a day on their Bandcamp page beginning with “James and Ira Demonstrate Mysticism and Some Confusion Holds” and ending with “Ira Searches for the Slide, sort of.” Once all five songs were out in the world, the band put them together as We Have Amnesia Sometimes.
The album sounds almost alien when compared to their crafted songs. There are no vocals. These pieces sound more like experimental chamber music with lots of drones and small embellishments creeping into the mix. This is much closer to the soundtrack work Yo La Tengo have done for movie scores. I find it relaxing, setting a mood for meditation or writing. I wonder in it would go well with yoga class?
I know there are thousands of other projects incubating or already hatched as a result of lockdown. We are going to be unpacking this experience for many years to come. Being back to work is good. I look forward to when we can have reunions at live shows and trade some of those stories over a pint.