Comfort in the time of COVID-19: Some music that can brighten these dark days
J.S. PORTER “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer” — Albert Camus
These are difficult, troubling, unpredictable, anxious, frightening days.
Do you do what the quarantined sock-puppet man does and make a video of a sock eating the traffic going by his window? (Thousands of tweets and retweets.)
Do you pig out on James Bond movies at home? Reread Camus’ “The Plague,” a radiant story about human solidarity and ingenuity in the face of a pandemic? I’m missing the start of baseball, which always feels like the turning of a new season, a new beginning to me. How do sports fans get by without their regimen of hockey or football or basketball on television?
I meet a few fellow dog-walkers in the morning and the late afternoon who keep their distance and let their dogs play in an open field. That’s the extent of my social life, except for playing chess with my grandsons and watching detective shows with my wife.
Most days, I don’t know what to do with myself. The dog is having a better time than I am. I can’t seem to concentrate well enough to read or write much, the two activities that are usually as natural to me as breathing. I eat too much. I drink too much wine.
I can’t visit my mother who lives in a care centre. I make do with phone calls. I don’t visit my neighbours. Just phone them from time to time. Send out a few emails to loved ones. I like to keep lines from Dennis Lee’s “Night Songs” in my head: Tell the ones you love, you love them;
tell them now.
I want to tell my wife that I love her, that she is an amazing mother and grandmother, an amazing human being, an amazing friend.
The hope I have is that China seems to have got the better of the Coronavirus and South Korea has reduced its infected population. The curve really can be flattened.
My heart breaks for Italy, the country of origin of both my nearest neighbours on my little court.
Saturated with the news — you can’t get away from the virus coverage even if you try — I find myself looking for comfort the way one looks for comfort foods in times of tension. (My favourite comfort food, by the way, is champ — mashed potatoes in a mound, with scallions, butter, salt and pepper.)
If I could sing, I’d try to do my best rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” I see trees of green, red roses too I see them bloom for me and you And I say to myself what a wonderful world I see skies of blue and clouds of white Bright sunny days, dark sacred nights And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I’d also try a few bars from Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” although it’s much better to listen to Eva Cassidy singing the lines: I never made promises lightly and there have been some that I’ve broken But I swear in the days still left we’ll walk in fields of gold We’ll walk in fields of gold.
Everyone has his or her own comfort songs. And as much as I enjoy instrumental music, whether jazz or classical, it’s the human voice I thirst to hear. I want to hear Buffy Sainte-Marie sing a prayer-poem from Leonard Cohen’s “Beautiful Losers” titled “God is Alive, Magic is Afoot,” or k.d. lang’s barefoot version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” These are Canadian anthems for me.
I also want to hear — just to make a small list of comfort songs — these songs:
Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels”;
Neil Young’s “Helpless”; Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” or “Song for a Winter’s Night” sung by Quartette — Cindy Church, Caitlin Hanford, Gwen Swick and Sylvia Tyson;
Joni Mitchell’s “The River” or “Both Sides Now”;
Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds”;
Molly Johnson’s “Diamond in My Hand”;
Lightfoot again for “Ribbon of Darkness” sung by Bruce Cockburn. Sometimes when you’re in the dark, it helps to articulate it.;
Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”;
And, finally, Hamilton’s Arkell’s “Knocking at the Door.”
If the anthem helped Canadian athletes win gold in South Korea, it can help Canadians get through these difficult days. Got the North Star guidin’ me It’s the fire burning inside of me No, I don’t need a miracle I got something far more powerful All aboard, I heard my brother say All aboard, like it’s some parade That’s me, I’m knockin’ at the door I’m thirsty For more, for more, for more. J.S. Porter reads and writes in Hamilton
As much as I enjoy instrumental music, it’s the human voice I thirst to hear