July 1, 2020
Paris is slowly getting back to normal and me with it. The transition back to rejoining society yet keeping my social distancing has been challenging but I try to use James Dean as my reference. He didn’t seem to like anybody getting too close to him either. I was one of those die-hards who spent the entire two months of lockdown inside my apartment and yet my days during that time were strangely calm (my neighborhood in Paris has never been so quiet nor the sky outside my window so pollution free) and regimentally the same; capped with a final coda of a 7pm workout on a stationary bike followed by a brief 8pm applause session out the front window for all the health care workers on the front lines and then the inevitable 8pm Corona Couch Concert of which there were 54. This is how I kept my sanity: by keeping the callouses on my guitar playing fingers and the finesse in my gravelly singing voice.
We are making more of these Corona Couch Concerts available for download each week (send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for further information) and thanks again to the dependable Patrick Dupon for his editing and archiving skills. According to Patrick, I performed 224 songs with very few repeats and only a handful of covers and keeping track of all of that was indeed a Herculean feat which he handled so well. After the show, Françoise (who introduced many evenings in the guise of Le Duc de Montesquieu, Anastasia Not-Romanov, Ze pom-pom girls and many others unforgettable characters!) and I had dinner around 8:30 and as soon as the dishes were cleared, we settled into binge watching episodes from a favorite series on Netflix. We steadfastly went through all of Freud, Ozark and Poldark without taking a break. In fact, I was so obsessed with Poldark that after going through all five years of the series I was so desperate for more that I began searching YouTube for interviews with the actors in the series who were all so brilliant but Jack Farthing who played George was absolutely outstanding and gave me a life-lesson in how not to nurse a resentment into a way of life.
I began the first Corona Couch Concert on March 20 by singing a single song: all 11 minutes and 12 verses of “Put it Down” from Rainy Season (2014). This was the second longest song I’ve recorded after “Absalom, Davy & Jacky” from Prodigal Son (2017) which was about a minute longer. I’ve yet to break the 12-minute mark but I’m working on it. Of course, long songs are rare in rock ‘n roll which when it comes to timing is more famous for creating the hit ‘em and run under three-minute single. A prime example being The Rolling Stones’ version of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away which came in under two minutes. Way back when, AM radio stations in the USA loved short hit songs because it meant there was more time to sell commercials which was how they made a living. Then FM radio came around in the late 1960’s and Rock got more adventurous and longer songs were accepted as part of a burgeoning and recognized art form which was a good thing in my opinion. I mean what if all of Picasso’s painting had to be under a certain size? We would have no Guernica1 today!
Many times I’ve referred to Bob Dylan as the Picasso of rock ‘n roll so it is no surprise that he would be the one to musically own the events of November 11, 1963 in his 17-minute epic “Murder Most Foul.” Which to me is every bit as masterly in sound as Picasso’s Guernica was on canvas. With impeccable timing Bob dropped “Murder Most Foul” (the first single from his now released Rough and Rowdy Ways album) right at the beginning of the pandemic, when we were rife with fear and, even more importantly, willing to get serious for a moment, perhaps even pay attention to the bone-chilling and heart wrenching lyrics. I shuddered the first time I heard the song refer to Kennedy’s brothers coming to save him (and the country?) and the devilish reply “…we’ll get them as well…” and then thinking of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination five years later and Teddy Kennedy’s tragic Chappaquiddick incident2 which forever sidelined him from becoming President either.
The substantial length of “Murder Most Foul” also spanned the perfect amount of time for me to do about 100 calories on my stationary bike while listening through my headphones and I think I did that about 50 times or more while never growing tired of being brought back to that dark day in Dallas when JFK left us and, as Bob reminds us, we’ve been searching for his soul ever since. Like so many of my generation I remember exactly where I was on that date oh so well: I was fourteen years old and sitting in my Latin Class in Garden City Junior High School where I was getting a stern lecture in class conduct by my teacher. Well, actually it was more than a lecture, because he was furious at me for disrupting his class. I can’t remember exactly what I had done to fuel his furorem 3(maybe I had tried to fly a paper airplane at one of the cute girls sitting in front of me which landed on his desk) but as I was getting balled out the principal of the school suddenly appeared at the door and called my Latin teacher outside into the hallway. Minutes went by and then he walked back in and said that the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had just been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Than he turned to me and said, “It’s because of people like you that these things happen.”
People like me? Come on man! I mean, I may not have been the most well-behaved teen-ager in that class but to put the guilt of a presidential assassination squarely on my shoulders seems a bit excessive I’m sure you will agree. Anyway, I remember the day of the assassination being followed by what seemed like endless days of news reports from Washington DC; then suddenly Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, and finally a televised closure of mourning at Kennedy’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery. I also remember as I watched this sorrowful history on our black and white television seeing a tear in my father’s eye (who was an Eisenhower Republican) as he watched the funeral cortege proceed solemnly down Pennsylvania Avenue where a black-veiled Jackie Kennedy walked between the two remaining then-living Kennedy brothers. My father, Elliott Sr., was born the same year as Jack Kennedy, 1917, and would die himself two years later from a heart attack. The arc of my own life was following that of the nation as we lost our spiritual guidance and light for a time. Mine eventually came back but America seems to be still struggling with its own. But for many years, my world turned very dark indeed during that disastrous decade and the only illumination of my own soul came from the glorious music of those years. From Folk to Motown to the English Invasion (parts I and II) I found a sanctuary I never left. It was true back then and it was true again during the pandemic.
1 Guernica is a large (3.49 meters/11 ft 5 in tall and 7.76 meters / 25 ft 6 in across) 1937 oil painting which portrays the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos during the Spanish Civil War. The most famous protest painting!
2 The Chappaquiddick incident was an automobile accident that occurred around midnight on July 19, 1969 caused by the apparent negligence of driver Senator Edward Kennedy which resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne.
3 That would be anger in Latin, of course.
Photo by Nick Carraway