Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 8: This afternoon I dropped Carlo off at work and then took Anna to her mom’s house. On the ride over there Anna and I were talking about the deprivations of our locked-down, pandemic world.
Me: Did you do anything today?
Anna: Of course not. I had an online math test. That’s it.
Me: I guess that’s not a question I should be asking these days.
Me: [starts laughing out loud]
Me: I just thought of something. When you have kids, or when you’re a grandmother or whatever, you’re gonna be doing that “back in MY day we had to stay INSIDE because of the PANDEMIC!” thing. You’re going to sound like old people saying how they walked uphill both ways to school or when your grandma Charlie talks about the Depression and all of that. And no one is gonna care at all. They’re just gonna think “there she goes again . . .”
Anna [realization of her uncool future dawning on her]: . . . Oh God . . .
Me: You’re gonna start going on about how you had to conserve toilet paper and cut your own hair and everything and kids are just going to roll their eyes at you.
Anna [the horror of it all hitting home]: They’re gonna be all like, “OK Zoomer!”
We both died laughing, but I think it legitimately bothered her. I hope I’m alive when that all goes down because I’m gonna join in with the kids mocking her.
Per the latest in recommended best practices, several days ago I started wearing an improvised bandana mask when I left the house. It was pretty janky:
Today in the mail we received some homemade masks sewn by a friend of Allison’s. They are much more refined. Stylish, even. Allison’s is personalized, with a horse print. Mine looks like this:
It stays on my face better and is way better made than the red bandana.
Not gonna lie, though: the couple of times I put on the red bandana while walking into a store or a gas station or whatever made me feel like I was about to fire shots into the ceiling and rob the fucking place, and I don’t get the same rush with the little mustaches. Oh well.
Bob Dylan recently released his first new song in a very long time. “Murder Most Foul” is a 17-minute murder ballad about the assassination of J.F.K. Dylan refers to that in song as “the soul of a nation being torn away,” after which he lists off, like a mantra, some of the most significant American art and music of the past 60 years.
Dylan’s intentions are rarely easy to decipher and, often, when people do figure them out he’ll lie and say he was talking about something else. He’s funny that way.
With the caveat that he may very well show up in a “Rolling Stone” interview this fall saying that the song was, really, about some obscure French Symbolist, at the moment most people seem to be reading it as a contemplation on how people can still create and thrive and a culture and society can persevere in the face of horror, even if we do not — and should not — forget that horror. At the very least people are interpreting his decision to release it when he did, as we were plunging into the depths of a pandemic, as something along those lines. For all we know he wrote it in 2005. He’ll probably never tell us.
Back on March 25 I mentioned Nick Cave and his “Red Hand Files” newsletter. Today, in response to a reader’s question, Cave talked about “Murder Most Foul.” His interpretation is basically what I said above. But then he went on to talk about whether this will be Dylan’s last new song.
It’s a fair question. Dylan turns 79 next month. Apart from this song he has not put out any newly-written music since his 2012 album “Tempest,” choosing instead to release a series of albums of standards from the Great American Songbook. I’ll put nothing past Dylan — his last creative renaissance came after a seven-year new song hiatus during which he only released a couple of albums of folk standards — but this could be the last new Dylan song we ever hear. If it is, Cave has some advice about how to think about it:
As for whether this is the last time we will hear a new Bob Dylan song. I certainly hope not. But perhaps there is some wisdom in treating all songs, or for that matter, all experiences, with a certain care and reverence, as if encountering these things for the last time. I say this not just in the light of the novel coronavirus, rather that it is an eloquent way to lead one’s life and to appreciate the here and now, by savouring it as if it were for the last time. To have a drink with a friend as if it were the last time, to eat with your family as it were the last time, to read to your child as if it were the last time, or indeed, to sit in the kitchen listening to a new Bob Dylan song as if it were the last time. It permeates all that we do with greater meaning, placing us within the present, our uncertain future, temporarily arrested.
This resonated with me in a major way.
I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I believe that when we die, we die. That a light switch is simply flipped and we are cast into oblivion, no more aware of our afterlife, such as it is, than we were of our beforelife, such as it was. What were my real time impressions of, say, 1951? Nothing. So too will be my experience of the time after I’m gone.
When I tell people this they often tell me that it’s dark. Or sad. Or that it seems hopeless to them. I’ve had some people say to me, upon hearing this, that I should seek out some sort of mental or spiritual help. I find that all rather laughable, and not just because, if you’ve met me, you’ll attest to the fact that I’m probably the least dark guy you know.
The reality: a final death like that is encouraging to me. Comforting, even. It fills my life with purpose.
If there is nothing else after this — nothing to wait for and no time in which to do more — it means that everything I do now is everything I’ll ever do. I won’t have the time or space to say what I could say now but don’t. I won’t be able to do then that which is not done now. As Cave suggests, everything I do now could be the last time I do it. Every time I see someone could be the last time I see them.
Because of that, I do my best to make sure that my acts, my thoughts, and my interactions are as meaningful as they can be. And, if they can’t be truly meaningful — and let’s be honest, we spend a lot of time in life just farting around, even if we try not to — I at least try to make sure that I leave no dissonant notes which I’ll regret having not resolved. This is why, as I mentioned last week, I don’t like to drop my kids off at their mom’s for five days with our last conversation being an argument or a lecture. This is why I think a lot about and write down a lot about almost everything that pops into my head and any significant experiences I may have. When you only get so much of something, you want to savor it. When you might have to leave in a hurry, you want to make sure you’ve left things where everyone can find them if they need to.
I’m still not sure what I think of “Murder Most Foul.” I think it’s a better poem than a song, and there are a lot of Dylan songs about death and finality that I love more, but I also think that if this is the last thing Bob Dylan ever does, it stands up as a strong final note.
My state, Ohio, has been aggressive about shutdowns and things. It seems to be paying off, as yesterday the Department of Health announced that it is beating initial projections of new COVID-19 cases and as such has substantially revised its projections downward. The initial prediction is here, in the blue portion of the graph, when it was projected that at the peak we’ll see 9,800 new COVID-19 cases a day in our state:
The new projection, here, shows 1,600 new COVID-19 cases per day:
There no doubt will be idiots who, upon seeing lower-than-initially-projected cases, will claim that this was all an overreaction and that we didn’t need to shut down public life after all. Such is the nature of addressing a pandemic. As the experts say, if the response is effective it will feel like it was all unnecessary simply because we, as humans, tend to notice when things happen and we tend not to notice when things don’t happen (i.e. lots of people who did not die). Given that dynamic, I can only assume working in public health is a thankless job.
Either way: the fact that the idiots who will later complain about all of this will, by definition, be healthy and alive and able voice their idiocy goes a long way toward proving their idiocy in this respect.