Tag Archives: “Heroes”

Life during wartime

5 Apr

My day job is being the director of internal communications for Michigan’s largest health care company. This means that over the past month, my life has become intertwined, 24/7, with the COVID-19 virus.

I am not a physician, nurse, respiratory therapist or other clinician, all of whom are risking their lives and leaving their families to help others survive. I am blessed to be able to do almost all my work remotely, well away from the hospitals that have been redeploying beds, supplies and staff at lightning speed to fight this pandemic. I am in awe of their dedication, and my heart breaks every time I hear about what they have to go through to ensure they have what they need to take care of patients and themselves. They are at war against an invisible enemy on our behalf, and we’re all in their debt.

For the first time in my career, I feel that what I do helps save lives. In one day, I went from taping a CEO video update for our employees to writing a blurb about a change in sanitary wipes – both equally important. To work with my exceptional internal communications teammates, all of whom have been going full tilt to support our care teams, is an honor and a privilege.

The stress is incessant, though. While our schedule has at last gotten to a point where we do not all have to be on call every day, it’s a rare afternoon, evening or weekend when I don’t have to monitor my email or jump back on my laptop to do something that can’t wait. It’s near impossible to unplug, and the evidence of the pandemic is everywhere. Taking a walk or going for a run, I look ahead to see if I need to swerve more than six feet away from an oncoming pedestrian. Watching late night talk show hosts wrestle with poor video conferencing connections and lack of flattering lighting and makeup is diverting until they have Dr. Anthony Fauci or another expert as a guest. I love having all three kids home for dinner, until I start thinking about why they’re here and not at work, or in New York, or at high school getting ready to graduate.

Even though I know – we all know – this will not last forever, everything right now feels like whistling while walking past a graveyard. When we’re out of this, we’re not sure what we’ll be in, and it’s almost foolish to imagine it. It’s better to keep the next hour of the day in front of you and move through that to the next one as best you can.

There are a few songs that have helped me get through moments of frustration, fatigue and fear. The Rolling Stones catalog, particularly from the Mick Taylor period, have a lot of screamy, brassy anthems that help me blow off steam. I am a sucker for horns, so “Bitch” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” are often on repeat.

I also got hooked on “Sympathy,” one of the songs from Father of The Bride, Vampire Weekend’s most recent album, due to its relentless momentum and a great bass solo at its center:

When I need to let a song take over my brain for a bit, “Chicago” from Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois album is a dreamy trip:

But there is one song – my favorite song – that is almost too apt. (It pains me to hear it in a Walmart commercial right now, even though they’re thanking their employees as essential workers.) To me, it represents hope against all odds, no matter how dire the situation. I’m trying to wait to really listen to it until that moment, weeks or months from now, when we can all literally breathe easier.

Here it is, in German, in one of the best uses of the song I’ve seen:

I hope you’ll share the songs that are helping you get through all this. Until then, much love, stay safe, wash your hands, stick to science, and look out for each other.

See you on the flip side …

RIP, David Bowie

11 Jan

 

BBC tribute to David Bowie

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me

“Lazarus,” Blackstar

 

One of my favorite blog topics is how rock musicians reckon with aging in a profession that celebrates youth, recklessness and commercial certainty. Many pop stars who made their splash decades ago are perfectly okay with hauling around on the tour bus to sing their top 10 hits and hawk $100 hoodies over and over again. Others continue to produce new material and perfect their signature style, wearing it like a battered leather jacket that still has its original shape but has become more comfortable and recognizable over time.

Then there’s David Bowie. He’s in a universe by himself.

His last weeks were remarkable in their creative breadth and quality: releasing Blackstar, his critically acclaimed 25th studio album; launching his musical Lazarus off-Broadway;  getting delightfully spry portraits taken by a favorite photographer. The news that he had been diagnosed with cancer eighteen months ago throws all of this into a more profound light. He created these works knowing full well that his days were numbered, and still he pushed into new territory instead of standing in one place.

Blackstar’s producer Tony Visconti confirms that the album – and the music video for its song “Lazarus – was created as a “parting gift” to fans soon after his diagnosis to be released as he approached his death:

 

As Bowie intended, the imagery and lyrics are chilling, eerie and perfect.

Although this is as graceful an exit as any artist (or human being) could have, I’m still greedily wishing we could have seen him decades from now as a nonagenarian, still disrupting our notions of age, style, beauty and art. That’s a baton others will have to pick up.

When I heard about David Bowie’s death early this morning, I immediately posted a video of him performing “‘Heroes'” at Neil Young’s 1996 Bridge School Benefit – an alternate version of my favorite song of all time:

 

Yet the rest of the day, I couldn’t get “Life on Mars” out of my head. It’s not an upbeat story – few of his songs are – but as the song title makes you realize, there are other worlds to aim for and better realities to create:

See you on the flip side …

 

The Next Day

4 Mar

None of us are getting any younger, and this has to be the plague of a rock star’s existence. In addition to hip replacements and grandkids and whatever other worries they share with the common folk, they also have to make peace with the fact that they aren’t who they were when they became famous. An image of themselves at the peak of fame – young, leather-clad, sexy, invincible – must stare back at them like a mournful ghost every time they look in the mirror.

David Bowie did himself a huge favor by 1) being a musical and marketing genius 2) making well-publicized overhauls to his performing persona over time so he didn’t get stuck in one he couldn’t maintain and 3) being comfortable enough with himself to stay out of the limelight until he had something he wanted to say.

Bowie The Next DayHe waited until his 66th birthday last January to release “Where Are We Now,” the first single from his newest album, The Next Day.  This took pretty much everyone – fans, the press – by surprise. Since a serious on-stage heart attack in 2004, he’d kept a low profile and hadn’t made public that he was recording new material.

The album artwork is simply brilliant: a clean white square obscuring one of his most iconic images, the cover of his 1977 release, “Heroes.” You can’t see his two-tone eyes or his youthful glamour or his stunning black hair. That’s past; that’s been done; you can’t access it anymore. It’s time for something else.

I am just beginning to absorb the album, which will stream on iTunes until it’s available for purchase in a few days. I’ll leave it to the critics to  put it in its proper place in Bowie’s musical canon, but I truly like it. It’s got a great deal of perspective and depth without being inaccessible or arty. While I appreciate his more recent albums, especially Heathen, The Next Day seems warmer, more compassionate. Bowie – a performer who specialized in putting a dramatic distance between himself, the characters he portrayed and his audience – connects to the listener in a very human way.

Always fond of  his visual impact, it’s no surprise that two of the songs have been released via video. “Where Are We Now” is rather strange and subverts his glamour from the get-go: he appears only as a distorted face projected on a two-headed doll. (It’s David Bowie singing mournfully about Germany … what else would you expect?) The other, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” mangles his past identities into a freaky Mobius strip that turns fame in on itself. He’s supported by kindred spirit Tilda Swinton – who, by being in the same room as he is, proves they really aren’t the the same person after all – and a couple of  young doppelgangers:

(It must be noted that there is some half-naked carryings on in this film … but if you look carefully you’ll see that the only one naked to the waist is a man … isn’t he?)

As a man and a musician, David Bowie makes us hopeful. We have more than one chance; we have any number of lives to live, full of discovery and challenge, unbounded by age yet informed by history. Each next day gives us a clean white page on which to begin anew.

Added bonus: In case you haven’t seen the Lincoln-sponsored web ads, Beck produced a remarkable concert version  of Bowie’s “Sound + Vision.” He employed an impressive bank of more than 150 musicians–gospel singers, electric guitarists, strings, percussion, even a yodeler and a singing saw–standing in a ring around the seated audience. There’s a whiz-bang 360-degree video experience, which (if you have the bandwidth) uses your computer’s webcam to follow your eyes as you focus on any element of the concert you wish. Or you can enjoy the standard definition version shot more like a typical concert video–which is still pretty nifty. Grab your earphones and give it a listen and don’t worry: no one’s half-naked in this one.

See you on the flip side …

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