Tending Your Garden and Going to Ground

Two days before our annual St. Patrick’s Day gig and five days before Governor Ducey shut down the bars, I called and cancelled the show.  Bodies were piling up in Italian churches with 53,000 Corona Virus cases and more than 4800 deaths.  President Trump was telling us that the virus was not as bad as the seasonal flu while Anthony Fauci said it was ten times worse.  A week after St. Patrick’s Day, I was lost in a cycle of toggling between The New York Times and the CDC website and arguing about the severity of the virus with nonbelievers on Facebook, while my husband, Danny, watched CNN dressed in the green sweatpants that would become his COVID uniform.  I could feel a bout of depression coming on and recognized the futility of attaching factual links to posts by virus deniers, but I couldn’t seem to stop my senseless scrolling. 

On April 1st I hit bottom.  Adam Schlesinger, the great songwriter from Fountains of Wayne, died of COVID at the age of fifty-two.  Danny and I spent the next few days listening to Fountains of Wayne and watching their live concert footage on YouTube.  We learned a couple of their songs and recorded a tribute video. Schlesinger’s death brought the reality of COVID home for me in a way that facts and statistics could not.  He was at a high point in his career, working on songs for movies, TV and Broadway shows. It was a terrible loss and a sobering reminder of my own mortality. 

The following week I began working on a new song, Go to Ground, as stories of lost wages and underpaid essential workers filled the news.  I had the first line, “You never thought that at your age / you’d be working two jobs for minimum wage,” and I continued working from there.  As the song evolved, I seemed to channel some of the self-effacing humor of Fountains of Wayne, who were brilliant at blending catchy melodies with sad but funny lyrics.  One morning as I was working on the melody and guitar chords, Danny looked up from scrambling eggs and sang, “You used to think that at your age / you’d be playing guitar like Jimmy Page.”  Danny makes a habit of bastardizing song lyrics for fun and usually elicits eye rolls from me and our daughter, but this was the perfect line to kick off the last verse.  

Writing “Go to Ground” brought me out of my malaise.  I already had a couple of songs I’d written in 2019, and I only needed a few more to complete an album length project.  I received a timely email from local studio owner and engineer, Duncan Stitt, telling me about his newly remodeled studio with isolated rooms and a separate venting system to avoid recycling potentially contaminated air.  I continued writing and recording in Duncan’s studio throughout the summer, and two weeks ago I sent off my master for CD duplication.   

Throughout my life I have turned to songwriting and music to cope with both personal and collective sorrows.  It’s hard not to fall into despair at the deaths of over a million people worldwide and the political and racial divides that tear us apart.  I have found, as Voltaire wrote at the end of Candide, in this worst of all possible [years], work “is the only way to render life supportable.” And so, I have opted to tend my own garden – aside from the occasional relapse on Facebook. 

Publish in Zocalo Magazine, November 5, 2020

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