During these challenging and uncertain times, our columnist finds peace in this workspace, doing what he loves.
There have been hard times in the music industry before. Every 10 or so years, someone writes an obituary for the guitar. Disco pushed working musicians out of clubs in the 1970s, and the synthesizer was predicted to obliterate the electric guitar a decade after that. Just as corporate rock fizzled out, hairspray metal came on strong until plaid-clad minstrels from the Northwest killed off the hairspray stars. Even now, as music splinters and mutates into a thousand sub-genres, there are industrious musicians finding ways to reach fans. If streaming was the great disrupter, COVID-19 could be the tipping point leading to the next chapter for creative souls. We always persevere.
As testament to this, working and leisure time is morphing. Schoolteachers are instructing classes via the internet with classroom apps and video meetings. Many jobs are now being done remotely. At the same time, musicians are webcasting lessons and concerts from their homes. I’ve been watching my friends in the industry break the fourth wall like never before—singing and playing directly to their audience in the most intimate way—and it’s delightful. If the previous five decades have been about creating ever-larger tribal events with enigmatic icons preaching from the stage, right now it’s about connecting directly in decidedly informal ways. Whether it’s Richard Thompson, Keb’ Mo’, or Mike Campbell, it’s great to see them at home being real. We’re craving the feeling of community and intimacy that isolation denies, and sharing low-budget episodes (with humor) feels right.
For those of us who are not performing artists, we share what we do via social media, too. I find sharing comforting. In times of hardship, people are drawn to the humanity of others and tend to be repelled by obvious commercialism. In our electronically connected world where everyone is a star in his or her own imagination, it’s nice to witness a letting go of pretense in favor of some down-home sincerity. As scary as things are, it’s good to experience this small adjustment. I love getting glimpses into the life and work of artists I admire, and hope the trend continues. A friend of mine calls the digital screen the “fake electronic window,” but right now it’s a window we need.
For now, we’re doing what we all have done when things get tight. Be creative, courageous, and, most of all, flexible. When strong winds of change blow, the tree that bends avoids being broken. So, I go to my shop and bury myself in the details of creating instruments that people will love. I’m not thinking about the payday. I’m watching the chisel shear the wood. The rhythm of the saw and file hypnotizes me as I become one with the work, like when you find the musical groove and everything you play is easy. Everyone has to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head, but when you love the process, the result takes care of itself.
Will these trends continue once things return to normal? What will the new, new normal be? Your guess is probably better than mine. I can only hope that we all stay safe, love each other, and learn some sort of useful lessons along the way.