The Endless Spring
The following is the third in a series of editorials that tackle topics more personal in nature than MetalSucks’ usual fare. These journals bridge my personal experiences with the world of metal while offering a behind-the-scenes look at forces within the industry and a peek behind the curtain of how this website operates. The first entry in the series, “On the Natural Bias of Friendship, Metal Bands, and Access Journalism,” was published in late April, and the second, “Does Your Age Define Your Taste in Metal?” ran last week.
This has been the longest spring I have ever experienced.
With nothing to do and nowhere to go, no concerts to attend and none to look forward to, the only thing to differentiate one day from the next has been the progression of the flowers and trees as our hemisphere slowly warms up, especially slowly this year, it seems. And the gradual trickle of new music to pass the time.
What’s worse, I went through the same spring twice, in two different places.
After the birth of my daughter in mid-March, right as the shit hit the fan and Americans realized how serious this whole pandemic business was, my family isolated for two weeks at our apartment in Brooklyn, then got the fuck out of the city. For the past two months we’ve been living with my mother-in-law in Woodstock, NY, about two hours north of NYC, in the home my wife grew up in. The extra space and additional help with childcare (we have a five-year old, too) has been essential for us. I’m well aware of how fortunate I am and of how many do not have this option, and I remind myself of this often.
So there we are, New York City, mid-March, it’s still cold — really fucking cold, full-on winter jacket weather — but the signs of spring are beginning to emerge. First the crocuses in Brooklyn brownstone front yards, then the daffodils, then the hyacinths with their sweet, spicy, intoxicating aroma, and some of the early trees were beginning to bud. The magnolias had just begun popping when we left.
Around that time Code Orange, with their impromptu, closed-door livestream concert, made lemonade out of lemons with a performance that captivated the metal scene, inspired us. That show will be talked about for years the way New Yorkers gush over Mike Piazza’s late-inning home run in the Mets’ first game back after 9/11 — it’s already legendary. Suddenly there was hope. Maybe we’d get through this!
Those good feelings didn’t last, though. While livestreams have undoubtedly offered a lifeline to emotionally exhausted music fans, the unique circumstances surrounding that show never had a chance of being matched, which Code Orange have likely discovered themselves with their subsequent attempts. But these streams have absolutely provided some much-needed levity and cathartic release in the pandemic doldrums where time is a flat circle and every day is the same.
I set up a brand new podcasting rig, a de facto home mini-studio, and started recording episodes of The Quarantinecast. Not only was it useful from a content-generation perspective but doing it also helped me process my emotions about the pandemic, and the uncertainty of the future, in real-time with my peers who are going through the same things I am. We’re all in this together, especially those of us in the music industry, be it musicians, venues owners or media. I enjoyed the process of setting it up — new A/V stuff, fun toys! — and of re-teaching myself audio and video editing, and I found the process of talking to musicians in the same boat therapeutic.
Then we arrived up north, where everything was still completely barren. And it was back to square one. The doldrums of winter… again. No hope in sight.
Woodstock — yes, that Woodstock — is only 90 miles north of NYC, but it’s crazy how much of a difference that distance makes when it comes to the seasons. I’d say we’re a solid three weeks behind, maybe more. That contrast was on stark display when I drove down to the city one weekend afternoon to pick up more clothes, medications, and other random things we’d left behind at our apartment after we quickly fled without realizing how long we’d be staying here. In the city it was full-on spring, the trees blooming, a palpable excitement, albeit muted with people mostly inside their homes. Back in Woodstock it was still cold-ass, brutal winter, nary a leaf in sight. The elevation is a factor, too; we’re at about 1000 feet here, which doesn’t seem like much, but even 15 minutes down the mountain in Kingston, at sea level, they’re way ahead.
What have you been listening to during the pandemic? I’ve taken the opportunity to dive into some full-band discographies I’d never checked out before. After hearing “Barracuda” on the radio one day, I felt inspired to dive into Heart… and I’m so glad I did! I checked out a good portion of their work, but their 1977 album, Little Queen — the one with “Barracuda” on it — really grabbed me. That track isn’t even representative of the album as a whole; it’s weird, proggy, adventurous, lush with multi-tracked guitars and vocals. I listened to it twice in a row on that drive down to NYC and once again on the way back, and it’ll forever be an album I associate with this period in my life.
The cold didn’t lift throughout all of April. Is it just me, or was this spring especially frigid? Sure, people probably say that every year. Humans aren’t very good at reckoning their expectations for how seasons are supposed to be with how they actually are/were. But this year spring felt especially cold and long. Usually by mid-April I’m out on the baseball diamond and it’s crisp but pretty out — very few such days this April, which is to say nothing of the complete void of baseball in our lives (ugh).
So, we repeated the process all over again. The crocuses, the daffodils, the intoxicating hyacinths… I cut a few and put them in a vase at my bedside, enveloped at night by their drug-like aroma, but the fleeting nature of that smell is second only to wisteria in its non-portability. Minutes after you cut the flower from the ground the smell has already diminished! Surely there’s an allegory there for life.
By this time the nation was in full-on pandemic panic mode, Trump with his asinine proclamations, Cuomo riding the publicity wave as New Yorkers forgot about (or were never aware of) his criminal past, hydroxychloroquine, social distancing, masks, gloves, grocery stockpiling. We were just trying to survive, balancing the extreme challenges of having a newborn with the unexpected burden of entertaining and educating our five-year old full-time with schools closed for the forseeable future, all while also trying to work. As for personal time, it simply does not exist right now if you have children, you can just forget about it.
Trapt frontman Chris Taylor Brown kept the music world entertained with his ongoing Twitter meltdown and manufactured scene beefs, the embodiment of everything wrong with America, wrong with Trump, and how this pandemic has been handled. He became a convenient punching bag for the rock and metal scene, an outlet for us to express our anger, and we let him fucking have it. Chris isn’t the cause of the problem, to be sure, but he’s emblematic of it. And he doesn’t seem to mind the attention, whatwith that massive Pandora popularity. Like pretty much everything else this spring, didn’t the whole Trapt story seem to drag on for way longer than it should have?
The bottom fell out of our business, almost overnight. There was plenty to write about on MetalSucks — a TON to write about, whatwith the pandemic canceling tours en masse — but our biggest source of income, advertising from dozens of concert promoters all over the U.S. and Canada, completely vanished. And it’s not coming back any time soon. Third-party networks like Google are filling that ad inventory, but at a small fraction of the rate we usually get. Every online publisher, not just in music, is in the same boat right now, but music sites have been hit especially hard. It’s a scary time.
Tours were canceled. ALL the tours. Except for the ones whose organizers have remained incredibly stubborn and ignorant. They’ll all be canceled, too, don’t worry. Touring will not be back until next winter at the earliest. Sorry, folks, just accept it now.
I kept up with recording new episodes of the Quarantinecast in spite of a series of technical difficulties, mostly related to not having all of my gear up here (so frustrating!), but also the simple problem of not being able to find a fucking quiet spot to record in this chaotic house. I’m sure you can relate in some way, stuck at home with family or roommates, no one able to go anywhere. On top of that, it’s not even my house, I feel out of sorts to begin with, and trying to get away is awkward! But it’s been crucial for my psyche, and I’ve enjoyed doing it; I haven’t interviewed bands in years, ceding those responsibilities to our main podcast hosts, and it’s been fun to flex that muscle again. I’m finally getting backing into the groove of feeling more comfortable doing it, less self-conscious, more in the moment.
Finally, sometime in early May, the weather started to shift. A few warm days were punctuated by brutally cold nights — even last week, it dipped into the 30s and it snowed! — but now it seems the warm weather is here to stay.
I started a garden, something this city boy has never done before. Lettuce, peas, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers are all in the ground now, and cucumbers, melons and zucchini will go down next. Will they grow? Who the fuck knows. Weeding is already a Sisyphean chore and they’ve barely begun. I took over a gorgeous, prized garden space that was tended by my late father in law for decades. H passed away last year, and his garden was his pride and joy; it pained him deeply that he wasn’t able to dig in the dirt the last couple of years of his life, as cancer slowly robbed him of everything. I’m doing my best out there, and truthfully I have no idea what I’m doing, but he was never one for rule-following or organization anyway; he’d say it’s beautiful no matter what, and he’d mean it.
I have never been so keenly aware of the intricacies of the progression of spring in my entire life. It’s been refreshing to slow down and observe all of that even if the reason is overwhelmingly depressing. When else in our lives has there ever truly been nothing else to do but watch the friggin’ trees change color? When will there ever be again in our lifetimes? I’d venture that there won’t. Only now, in mid-May, have the trees started to turn green up here. Those of you in southern U.S. cities where it’s already been spring for months are probably surprised to learn it’s now just barely warm here. Mid 60s most days, finally. And we’re not even that far north! Albany, Vermont, Maine, Montreal, Toronto… all much farther up!
Thinking about that really makes you appreciate summer. And summer is coming. It’s a precious time, now even more so that I’m living somewhere with a drastically shortened season (it’ll end just as prematurely come fall, I imagine). Warm days and not-frigid nights have arrived. Shit, the summer solstice is now exactly one month away, the longest day, cause for celebration for millennia. I worship it every year. I’ve always found it fascinating that the peak of the seasons don’t mirror the solstices, but lag about a month behind.
But when capital-S Summer is finally here, will it even matter? We won’t be at the beaches, won’t be attending festive holiday barbecues, won’t be playing sports, won’t be at concerts during their usual time to truly shine. Sadly, I’d imagine what’s coming is more of the same: watching the trees morph from the innocent light green of spring to the fortified dark green of summer. Waiting for the irises, then the roses, then the lillies and hydrangeas. Soon it’ll be bass season, and fishing will be a thing to do. Going outside with my boy, playing catch, digging for worms in the mud, exploring the forest, tending to the garden. Getting to know the back catalogue of another band whose legacy has been obscured by time.
Shit, autumn is already in the news as a focal point as if summer has been written off. Will schools reopen? Will universities? Will offices? So much hangs in the balance, and it’s still so far away. Nothing is certain.
But summer is almost here. Let’s do our best to try and enjoy it as best we can given the situation.
I’ve just begun exploring James Taylor. Songs like “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Fire and Rain” and “You Can Close Your Eyes” have been with me since my teens, but I’ve never dug deep. This video came across my feed the other day, and holy shit, it’s breathtaking. Everyone knows Taylor is a master singer and songwriter, but his highly technical guitar playing doesn’t get enough talk in my book, and Carly Simon adds incredible depth on this duet:
These are incredibly challenging times we live in, especially for those who have lost their jobs. I hope that our government will do the right thing by extending jobless benefits and offering to cover all or most of workers’ salaries, but I fear that they won’t. Even if they do, so many workers will fall through the cracks, likely the ones who need those benefits the most. This disaster has truly put the chasm between the rich and the poor in America on full display for everyone to see, and yet people still think socialized medicine is a bad idea… but that’s a subject for a different day.
Speaking of which, fuck, we have a presidential election just around the corner! Has anyone else mostly forgotten about that? It seems like an afterthought at this point. Even if you believe Biden has a chance of winning (I personally do not), gritting your teeth and voting for him is an incredibly painful decision.
But what can we do? We’re here. There is nothing any one of us can do to alter the course of events. We’re stuck in this, and pretty soon a bunch of idiots are going to be outside spreading the disease once again en masse. One day at a time… that old AA motto has gotten me through, and it seems trite, but it works: worry about today today, and tomorrow tomorrow. No concerts? Not that important, all things considered, and I say that as someone whose livelihood depends on them.
If you’re healthy and you’re fed, not much else truly matters. Watch the trees change, learn about the progression of flowers. Start sewing a battle jacket. Watch that incredible Gojira concert. Dive into a classic band’s discography.
Together, we will make it through.