First it was the cancellations. Fest For Beatles Fans…Concert For Bangladesh Revisited…Flower Power Cruise…all gone within 72 hours. Then it was the bars and restaurants closed, so no more of those mid-week “stacking” gigs I did for the hang and the grocery money.
Then two days into the “shutdown” it was chills, body aches and fatigue, and fevers spiking to 100+ at night. Tylenol relieved my fever during the day, but my media-fueled paranoia was only relieved by a 2-day depressive episode.
A telemedicine Dr said that since I wasn’t in any respiratory distress I should just monitor my symptoms at home. The next morning the fever went away permanently, and after another two weeks indoors my energy, focus, and the color in my face were fully restored. A second telemedicine Dr said that my wife and I “most likely had the virus or something like it,” whatever that means.
Then Murray passed away. My stepfather had been hospitalized just before the shutdown with a severe, non-COVID illness. My mother, my sisters and I and our families gathered on Zoom with our rabbi and said prayers together, promising to celebrate his life with family and friends when gatherings are allowed again.
It’s been almost six weeks since COVID-19 brought life as we know it to a screeching halt, and I know I’m not alone in feeling as if I’ve lived several lifetimes since then. The outside world brings both horrendous stories of infections and fatalities, and inspiring tales of brave essential workers putting themselves in harm’s way for the greater good.
But the inner world of the performing artist has become a complete alternate universe, full of mind-bending existential questions and dilemmas: Who am I? What am I? What have I accomplished? Has any of it mattered? Will it ever matter again? What am I supposed to do when things get “back to normal?”
That's the fog I was living in when my dear friend Rob Silverman texted me: “Not sure if I sent this to you before…”
It was a video clip from last year's annual “Clapton Is Godfrey” show at the Space at Westbury, with the Godfrey Townsend Band (Godfrey, Steve Murphy and Manny Focarazzo, plus guitarist Mark Newman). Rob is a faithful GTB supporter and can always be counted on for good audience footage, and he sent me a few seconds of our rendering of The Yardbirds' "I Ain't Got You" (1965 album track). We attacked this tune with only one rehearsal at soundcheck, and I had just memorized the lyrics.
This was a heavy gig, and a heavy season. My father-in-law had been diagnosed with leukemia a few stressful weeks earlier; I knew that making the big noise with my brothers-in-rock would be necessary therapy, and I showed up for this gig loaded for bear. My bandmates knew what was up with the family and had my back, and we hit the stage like a bomb (as we always do). I drove home that night feeling both invigorated and relaxed, a contentment that only comes after 2 hours of doing what you’re put on this earth to do.
That was a little less than a year ago, and I’d completely forgotten about it. After six weeks of the quarantine I was convinced that I was only put on this earth to wash my hands, disinfect the groceries, wash my hands again, try to wear a mask without fogging up my glasses, and wash my hands again.
But something magical happened as I looked at my 2019 self in the video clip: lean, strong, clean shaven with a fresh St Marks Place haircut, wielding my beloved Spector Rebop DLX 4-string and boldly fronting the mighty GTB in front of a packed house. Neural pathways that had been dormant for weeks started flowing again. The unprecedented confusion and uncertainty about my future gave way to a familiar sense of confidence and calm, and the blue monster ran off like a little bitch.
Being a singing bassist gives you exponentially more power and control over a band, and this clip reminded me that it’s only when I’m up front with the 4-string that my brain is fully activated. I watched it several times, smiling to myself as I thought, That’s who I am. That’s who the fuck I am.
How much longer will it be before we can raise the Goblet of Rock for a packed house again? Nobody really knows. If I had a dollar for every article I’ve read and free webinar I’ve attended since mid-March pertaining to “the music business in the age of COVID,” I’d have a hundred dollars but no answers. Nobody knows anything, and nobody should be expected to know anything because nothing like this has ever happened to us in our lifetime.
All of us are making this shit up as we go along. And that’s okay.
But whatever you do, don’t forget who the fuck you are.
Remember what’s important!