John Prine And Roommate Music

I was very sorry to read of the death this week of John Prine, one of the great songwriters of his generation, from complications of the coronavirus.  At the same time, thinking about John Prine, and how I first heard his music, took me back to some happy memories.  I think John Prine probably would have liked that.

John Prine on campus of Georgia State College - November 12, 1975I first heard John Prine’s music in college.  My college roommate was a huge fan of John Prine, and in our apartment John Prine songs were an inevitable part of the playlist.  Sam StoneIllegal Smile, and Please Don’t Bury Me in the Cold, Cold Ground (which is probably not the actual title of the song, but is how I remember it) and a bunch of other great songs with great lyrics were all in the rotation.  John Prine was a good example of how actually going to college (as opposed to attending virtual school, which is what people are now forecasting might be the future) had the effect of broadening the cultural horizons of college students in those days in the long ago ’70s.

My roommate and I each had an extensive record collection, featuring both albums and 45s, and they fit together almost perfectly, with virtually no overlap — well, except for the Beatles, because everyone had the Beatles albums.  He had a lot of John Prine, Creedence, and every Lynyrd Skynyrd album, as well as some great 45s from the ’60s, and I had a lot of Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, jazz, and classical stuff.  We played it all, and quickly came to enjoy and appreciate each other’s music.  When the college days moved behind us, I still listened to all of it, and even now, 40 years later, still think automatically of John Prine lyrics that suit the situation.

And the real acid test is:  what songs of an artist do you sing in the shower?  For me, that’s John Prine’s Bad Boy:

I been a bad boy
I been long gone
I been out there
I never phone home
I never gave you not one little clue where I’d been
I’ve been a bad boy again

I got a way of
Fallin’ in love
With angels that don’t shove
You into thinkin’ that you are committing a sin
I’ve been a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again
I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again

I must have walked ’round
In a real fog
I was your best friend
Now I’m a real dog
I never thought that now
Would ever catch up with then
I’ve been a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy
I sung a wrong song
I took a left turn
I stayed too long
As you were thinkin’ that I wasn’t
Just like all other men
I’ve been a bad boy again

I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again
I’ve been a bad boy again
Now I’ve been a bad boy again
And all the trouble that I’m in
Makes me a bad boy again

RIP, John Prine — and thanks to my college roommate for allowing me to make your acquaintance and enjoy your music.

For What It’s Worth

People in German Village are getting pretty creative with their messaging. Or, perhaps, they’re just really bored after weeks of work at home and are feeling a need to get out and do something . . . different.  Either way, we’re seeing more interesting forms of public expression around the ‘hood these days — like this effort, which uses the help of a standard issue stop sign to quote some of the lyrics of the Buffalo Springfield ’60s anthem, For What It’s Worth.

You remember that song, don’t you?  After a few bell-like guitar notes, the lyrics begin:

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear . . . .

Apt lyrics for these strange and interesting times.

Breaking The Good News

Recently I wrote about the choices politicians have had to make in breaking bad news about how their states, and the residents of their states, are going to have to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  Breaking bad news to people is a tough job — but in some respects breaking good news is arguably even more challenging, at least under our current circumstances.

And, for the first time in a long time, there seem to actually be some glimmers of good news.  Ohio, for example, has carefully managed to avoid “hot spot” or “potential hot spot” status, and yesterday the state’s number of reported new cases was below the curve of projected COVID-19 cases for the eighth day in a row.  In fact, Ohio’s number of new reported cases was less than one third of projections.

There are also some tantalizing signs that the curve flattening and bending is happening elsewhere, too.  In yesterday’s federal coronavirus task force briefing, for example, Dr. Anthony Fauci reported that recent data from New York indicates that the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, and intubations in that hard-hit state have started to level off, and Dr. Deborah Birx reported that social distancing — the countrywide mitigation strategy that has been implemented on the largest scale ever attempted — appears to be working.

But therein lies the good news challenge.  The curve seems to be flattening and potentially bending precisely because the vast majority of American have taken the stay-at-home instructions seriously and have tried, responsibly, to isolate in their households.  But if you give people good news, might they relax in their precautions and let up a bit in their zealous pursuit of social distancing, thereby increasing the risk of a new flare-up and outbreak?  And if you get people’s hopes up, won’t they feel even worse if it turns out that these preliminary signs aren’t the bend in the curve we are hoping for?

21a9dbf8-44ea-4df2-a49b-28802063afc6In this case, I’m in favor of giving people the good news as it comes out, with appropriate caveats.  People have made a lot of sacrifices during this shut-in period.  Some have lost their jobs — for now, at least — and everyone has experienced disruption and more personal isolation than they would want to experience otherwise.  We all need to know that our sacrifices are making a difference.  And, as Andy Dufresne wrote to his friend Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “hope is a good thing . . . maybe the best of things.”  In this case, there’s nothing wrong with a little hope to leaven our collective spirits during difficult times.

I’ve got a lot of respect for the innate sensibilities of the American people.  For every jerk who has ignored social distancing to party on a beach, there are tens of thousands who have acted prudently and without complaint during this period to protect themselves, their families and their communities.  I’m confident that people will continue to act responsibly if they receive some positive news about how their efforts are making a real difference.  In fact, I think there is a good chance that Americans react to such news by redoubling their social distancing efforts, to finally bring this scourge of a virus to its knees and drive a stake through its ugly heart.

Until The Cupboard Is Bare

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, the impressive Dr. Deborah Birx, is advising that it’s especially important for Americans not to go out to the grocery store or the pharmacy this week and next — unless its absolutely essential.  That’s because the COVID-19 arc is supposed to peak during that time.

At our house, we’re taking this instruction very seriously.  We want to do our part in the collective national battle against the coronavirus.  COVID-19 has had a huge impact on people’s lives, and jobs, and we are eager to do whatever we can to bring it to an end at the earliest possible date.  Really, it’s the least that those of us who, thankfully, aren’t infected can do to help in the fight and to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.  And I admit there’s also a healthy sense of self-preservation involved.  Why run the risk — even if it ultimately turns out to be only a modest one — that a random encounter in the produce aisle on a grocery run that you really didn’t need to make transmits the disease, and you then bring it into your home?  And if fewer of us go to the grocery store, that allows those people who absolutely must be there, for whatever reason, to maintain better social distancing — and also will help to keep the grocery store clerks and checkout people who are doing such important work during this period safe and healthy, too.

So we’re going to eat what we’ve got, until the cupboard and refrigerator are bare.  That means eating every last can of soup, the brown rice that you bought because it’s supposed to be healthier before you discovered its pretty much tasteless, the ramen noodles, the can of stewed tomatoes, the oatmeal and the grits, and every other item of foodstuff odds and ends that you’ve accumulated.  We’re in “waste not, want not” mode, and we hope other people are taking the instruction seriously, too.

So this week, we’ve got Campbell’s bean with bacon on the menu, and we’ll figure out how to make something involving the brown rice, too.  And when our cupboards are bare and this all is over — and it will be — we’re all going to go on the greatest grocery store run in the history of mankind.

Duck Walk

It was raining when I took my walk this morning — so much so that this drake decided to leave the immediate vicinity of the Schiller Park pond and venture out to the driveway of one of the houses along the park.  

Here’s a tip for those of you who are taking “coronavirus walks” every day:  rainy days see less people out (but more ducks), so you don’t have to do so much social distancing zigging and zagging.  I would say my walk this morning is easily the most direct walk I’ve taken since the whole social distancing regime took effect.  In fact, I’d guess that all of the veering has added quite a few steps to our standard walks.  Nobody walks as the crow flies anymore.

As for our waterfowl friends, they practice social distancing as a matter of course.  You can’t get too close to a duck without it waddling off to an assured clear distance, shaking its tail feathers and muttering under its breath all the while.  It’s as if they had coronavirus training long ago.

“Hunkering,” And Now “Bracing,” Too

We’ve all been hunkered down for a few weeks, and now the authorities are telling us we need to be bracing ourselves for the worst week of COVID-19 data yet.  According to the models, at least, we’re apparently somewhere near the top of the curve on that chart we keep seeing, like the people on a roller coaster who are a few clicks of the chain drive from the top of the first hill, scared about the view from the very top but eager for the exhilarating rush down the other side.

hqdefaultI’m not sure what, if anything, we can do to “brace” ourselves for more coronavirus news.  What does it mean to brace yourself for news of tens of thousands more people who have tested positive and are “confirmed cases,” thousands more who have been hospitalized, and thousands more who have died?  The numbers are so big and so out of context it’s hard to even conceive of them, much less put them into a framework where you can truly prepare yourself mentally to hear more of them.  “Bracing” yourself under these circumstances, for this kind of gush of large-number news, isn’t like readying yourself for the inevitable death of a loved one who has been on a long slide.  Instead, it’s like the old footage of the carnival performer who gets shot in the stomach with a cannonball.  He clenches one fist, spreads his arms wide, tightens his torso muscles, and dons what look like welding goggles, then accepts the inevitable punishing jolt to the system that he knows is coming and is going to hurt.

So, we’ve been “hunkered,” and now we’ll “brace,” too — to the extent we can, at least.  And it seems like “hunkering” is actually a component of “bracing.”  Part of preparing yourself for bad news is thinking about what you can do to deal with it and, hopefully, help the situation in some way.  We might not be able to personally aid the doctors and nurses and health care workers in Manhattan and New Orleans and other hot spots that are dealing with this pandemic, but we can do our part by acting responsibly, staying inside and maintaining social distance when we go outside for exercise, and not adding to the caseload.  That’s how Kish and I are going to “brace,” anyway.

And, because another key part of “bracing” is preparing yourself to move ahead after the bad news comes, we’re also going to look forward to the ride down the slope on the other side of that coronavirus chart.

Any Takers?

Normally, any furniture item put by the curb in German Village vanishes in a heartbeat. It will be interesting to see whether that reality has changed in the current climate. This couch appeared today with the obligatory “free” sign, but also two coronavirus-era additions — a sign stating that the couch “lived” in an apartment with one tenant and a dog, and a sign saying the couch is “COVID free.”

Will the pickers among us ratchet back their acquisitions during this period? Would you want to plop down onto a couch of uncertain provenance?