Will Things Go Back To Normal, Or Is THIS The New Normal?
When we emerge on the other side of COVID-19, we will face a collective reckoning. Who will we be, and what will we choose to value?
I rarely, if ever, publicly disclose details of my financial circumstances. I hope never to boastfully crow over money I’ve been fortunate to make, or self-pityingly weep over revenue I’ve lost. Still, like so many of my peers, friends, colleagues, and fellow arts professionals, these crisis circumstances have meant a brutal body blow to the family bank account. These are belt-tightening days, and they are frightening.
For many, the question is simply, will I survive this?
For the time being at least, my family is not at that point. We accordingly still retain the luxury of looking further down the road to wonder what comes next after all of this is over. Will things “return to normal,” or is THIS “the new normal?”
It’s virtually impossible to answer this question. Not because we don’t really understand yet how long this crisis will last, or what the real financial impacts will be — though that is undoubtedly part of it. And not because we don’t yet know the full extent to which the corrupt and morally bankrupt administration that currently rules the United States will exploit this crisis to their own profiteering advantage — though that is certainly part of it as well.
No, the real reason we can’t answer the question of what comes next is because the answer resides within us, and we don’t really know ourselves well enough to know. What will we value when we emerge on the other side of COVID-19?
Will we value live music, poetry readings, and the theater? Will we value regional cuisine? Will we value experiential travel? Will we return to the libraries, the book stores, the museums? Will we return to the cafes, the galleries, the local shops?
Sadly, in a vicious, post-capitalist/pre-fascist corporate economy powered by the relentlessly brutal equation of r > g, in which return on capital forever outpaces growth and perennially causes ghastly inequality, many — if not most of us — don’t feel we have the financial luxury to choose.
But what price do we pay if we don’t?
Unlike many of my musical colleagues, I rarely, if ever, disparage online platforms. T-Bone Burnett, for one, can keep his rich mouth shut. Spotify is not to blame for musician’s woes. My music is on Spotify. There was no gun to my head when I made that decision. Furthermore, musicians are not Spotify’s customers — listeners are. And for listeners, Spotify is literally incredible.
If the arts are devalued, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Right now, today, there are musicians all over the planet inviting you into their homes, where they will play you deeply personal music — this is an unparalleled intimacy; an experience not possible without the very digital platforms and tools we so love to bemoan. These musicians are asking you to donate what you can to help subsidize their creative efforts — through digital services like Patreon, or via virtual tip jars, or via Paypal, Stripe, and more. Is Facebook to blame when we don’t pay?
If we are to retain a creative culture in the aftermath of this pandemic, it is upon us — all of us — to put in the effort.
There is a wonderful venue in Berkeley, CA, The Monkey House, asking patrons to become paying members at just $5/month. If enough of us commit, this beautiful little home for the creative arts will survive.
Christoffer “Kid” Andersen, one of the most important producers and instrumentalists of his generation, and widely recognized as a modern savior of — and evangelist for — the blues, is doing everything he can to raise money for himself, his famed studio Greaseland, and the artists and heroes he admires so profoundly. Do you want to see John “Blues” Boyd continuing to make music? Kid is organizing donations even as I write this:
These are but two examples of what’s going on out there. I highlight them because of their innate nobility. These artists aren’t promoting themselves. They don’t proceed from the assumption that they “deserve” to be kept alive so they can keep doing what they want. They’re doing it because they want to lift entire communities on their shoulders
I note this distinction because, regrettably, there are those who approach the matter in rather less than noble ways. Personally, my wallet stays closed when I see “support my artistic survival with a donation.” But when I see Ira Marlowe trying to keep a venue afloat for the artists AND the audiences who love to experience music together, both my heart and my wallet open. When I see Kid trying to keep his heroes able to keep making music, my heart and my wallet open.
Mine are ultimately meager efforts, I know. I wish I could solve and save everything. I can’t. I can barely keep my own efforts afloat, and I, too, am on the far side of a socio-economic contract whereby I depend on others who are interested in my music to subsidize the work I do.
In short, I don’t have the answer. What I do know, is that we are in for a collective reckoning. Because this crisis will end. And we will leave our homes again, and we will blink again in the bright lights. And at that time, we will have to ask ourselves, who are we now, and what do we choose to value?
I hope we choose wisely.