Friday, 8 May 2020

Fame, Immigration & Corona

My blog post about being diagnosed with the virus went viral. I was inundated with messages of support and assurances that prayers were being offered up and positive vibes were being beamed in my direction. I was very moved by the response, moved and taken aback. And I felt guilty because when all this came along I was having a fairly good day, I spent hours replying to these kind messages - don’t worry about me, I’m fine - I resisted the temptation to cut and paste.

I felt uncomfortable getting all that attention. People have told me to get over it, to just accept the fact that I’m famous. I don't really think of myself as famous, not on a day to day basis. I'm an artist and entertainer and I've done a couple of things that people have heard of. I don’t even know how you measure fame. 


While I’ve been laying around I’ve been thinking about it all a lot. Around the end of the nineties when I was starting to write A Dysfunctional Success I thought it’d be a good idea to assemble the press cuttings from my brush with fame back in the late seventies. I didn’t have anything. I mentioned it to my mother who produced a large scrapbook filled with everything that had ever been written about me.

‘I made it my business to collect everything’ she explained. ‘Well, I knew you wouldn’t - it didn’t seem to matter to you, it wasn’t what you were in it for.’

And I suppose that’s true. I never imagined when I made my first record that I’d be an overnight sensation. I really wanted to do it but it all seemed so ludicrous that I couldn’t take it altogether seriously. I was terribly shy and I had an alias to hide behind and all the booze in the world to cover for my insecurities. I wanted to sell records and fill concert halls and so on - it was the rest of it that I couldn't handle. I couldn’t bear to read the things people said about me, good or bad, it made no difference. I couldn’t take the insults, the indignities of being treated like an object. I fucked it all up with the help of a couple of record labels and managers. Then I ran away and crept back in as an underground artist.

During the eighties I seemed to meet a lot of young musicians who were hoping to be as lucky as they thought I’d been. They’d tell me how they wanted to make it. My response would be: and then what are you going to do? When I was starting out I thought it’d be great to be in a band because girls would find me attractive. Though it wasn’t by any means my primary motivation the idea was definitely a bonus, but when it started to happen it made me quite cross - they only like me because I’m in a band… And a lot of the time I assumed they probably found the bass player or drummer more interesting anyway.

But I’ve been figuring it out a bit more - there’s a difference between fame, notoriety and celebrity. Celebrity doesn’t interest me - I’ve never been impressed with someone because they’re famous, only for the thing they do. When I go out to play shows I like to be treated with respect, but not deference. Sure, it’s a laugh to be treated like a VIP occasionally - the limousine from the airport, the five star hotel… Those kind of things have really only happened to me a couple of times.

I went to Los Angeles a few years ago to do a highly lucrative private show in Beverly Hills. I was supplied with a car and driver for the duration of my stay. The driver, wearing a smartly tailored black suit that contrasted quite radically with my scruffy jeans, t shirt and jacket, picked me up at the airport. He showed me into the back of a sleek, black limousine - endless bottled water, cocktail bar - the works. He asked was there anywhere I’d like to go or would I just like to go to the hotel after my long flight. I wanted an espresso so I told him where to go and off we went. He dropped me off and said he’d be right there waiting in the parking lot when I returned. I had my espresso, came back to the car, and there he was with a paper cup from Starbucks. We discussed it - he was a nice guy - and I insisted he came back to the cafe with me and allow me to buy him a good cup of coffee. I ended up riding around in the front with him, he showed me photos of his wife and kids, I told him all about my wife, daughter and grandkids and we were like the odd couple in a buddy film. I’m not cut out for stardom.

If you need a break from reading this drivel here's a tune:



The virus is a rollercoaster - unpredictable and tenacious - so I felt ironically better about the attention I was receiving when I felt unwell again. 

I first went down with it around March 15th. I’d been feeling unwell on and off from some time in mid-January but my symptoms didn’t correspond with the known symptoms at the time of this new virus. I’d been working hard fixing up an apartment in England. I had to demolish a partition wall - there was a lot of dust involved and even though I’d worn a mask I put feeling under par down to that. 

I arrived back in New York on February 28th. I landed at JFK. Passport control and immigration is a nightmare there at the best of times. It’s been worse in the last couple of years and I think a large part of the reason is due to the introduction of a new semi-automated system - machines with greasy screens that everyone has to dab at to answer the questions - are you bringing plants or soil into America, have you been hanging out on a farm, all that stuff. I believe the owner of the company that supplied these disgusting, insanitary machines is an associate of the odious president of the United States. This is what I’m told.

The machines often don’t work. You dab at the screen to select your choice of language and follow the instructions. You hold your passport or green card in a slot provided. After a few seconds the screen tells you to take the passport or green card out, put it in the correct way around and start again. After a further wait the screen informs you that it’s having trouble reading your document and tells you to wait for an official who will come and guide you through the process.

Meanwhile you’re surrounded by impatient fellow travellers, all breathing on you…

The official bustles up, takes your passport or green card off you, looks at it closely as he or she shouts at a few people to back up, inserts a key, dabs at the screen a few times and finally reads the passport or green card. Then the machine requires fingerprints. There’s a perspex plate with a green light behind it. You have to put four fingers of your right hand on the screen and hold them there for up to a minute while the thing takes a reading. I’m often surprised the thing can do this because the screen is usually smeared with grease and who knows what else from thousands and thousands of right hand fingers.

Then you dab at the relevent yes/no boxes in answer to a series of questions about farming and commercial goods. When all this is done and you’ve sworn that the information you have given is correct - by dabbing at the screen a couple more times - the machine takes your photo. You have to position everything by manipulating the on-screen image with your fingers, then dab at the on-screen button and brace yourself as the machine takes the worst photo of you that you’ll ever see in your life. The machine then prints out a document with the photo on it that you have to take and present to a border guard.

The airport staff in charge of herding people through immigration seemed quite jittery. Some were wearing masks, cheap ones from the DIY store, the sort you might wear to sand down a plank or spray paint a car bodywork repair.

There’s always a long line for the border guard bit. The border guards themselves seem bored and pissed off, like sulky teenagers, permanently on the edge of going on a break that keeps getting delayed. I can’t say I blame them - checking on miles and miles of jet-lagged travellers, asking the same old questions, it must be utterly soul-sucking: 

Where have you been? How long were you in the UK? Where did you go in the UK? 

And because this is a special time: 

Have you visited China or any other Asian countries on this trip? 

I answered no to the last question and the guy was fine with that though he didn’t check the stamps in my passport so there didn’t seem much point. 

Maybe, just maybe I picked up the virus at the airport. Or perhaps I flew it across the Atlantic. I have no idea. But if I didn’t get it from using one of those machines in immigration I damned sure someone else did.

Some bright spark is going to tell me to apply for the Global Entry Permit. I know - I had an appointment but it coincided with a blizzard so it was cancelled and I haven’t had time since to do anything about it.

I came home, I felt fine. I got on with a few things and on March 13th I had a show to play in upstate New York - the Argyle Brewing Company in Cambridge, New York. I was fully prepared for the show to be cancelled but it went ahead. A lot of advance ticket had been sold but a lot of people stayed away which was probably just as well because everyone was spread out around the room. This was pre social distancing but people were being careful. It was a good show. I’ve had moments since when I’ve thought if that was to be my last public performances I’d be happy enough with it. 

I felt like I had a cold coming on. I went for a walk out in the forest. I got halfway up an incline and realized I was completely out of breath which isn’t at all like me - I keep myself fit if not always in shape. When I’m home I go to the gym as often as I can and run on the treadmill - it nearly kills me some days but I don’t get puffed out walking up a slight slope. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t feeling very well. All I seemed capable of was sleeping. I didn’t have a fever - I never had a fever so I didn’t immediately think it was Covid because fever was being touted as the main symptom. I developed a dry cough and started having pains in my upper chest and back so I phoned the medical centre.

I spoke to a doctor who didn’t seem over-concerned. He said it didn’t sound as though I needed to come in and get tested but I could go to the emergency room to have the chest pains checked out in case I was having a heart attack and in the meantime I should just stay home, rest and take Tylenol or Paracetamol. We’ve come a long way since mid March. 

So, apart from driving out to some remote areas where I could walk without meeting anybody, I stayed home, slept a lot, took zinc, echinacea, vitamin C, vitamin D, and drank water by the gallon. I got better. After three weeks I felt fine, ready to rejoin the human race and everything. It lasted a few days but suddenly I went down again, and this time it was worse. Still no fever, just insidious debilitation. It felt like an effort to breathe sometimes and sometimes I felt like I really couldn’t be bothered trying anymore. I’d wake up in the morning feeling vaguely ok, but by the time I was up and dressed and ready to face the day I’d have to lay down for an hour or two. And that’s when I got tested and the test came back positive.

I’m out of quarantine now. It wasn’t so bad - I got to know the back yard quite well - all one third of an acre of it - I swear I went to bits of it I’ve never been to before. Then suddenly the day came that i was out of quarantine, free to roam. I was feeling better but I’d learned not to trust it so I haven’t exactly been gallivanting around, not that there is anywhere to gallivant. But if you see me acting weirder than usual in a supermarket it’s ok, I’m just gallivanting.

I‘ve been feeling well for over a week now, hoping maybe this thing is gone. Yesterday I put vocals on a couple of tracks - nothing strenuous, not a high full voice thing, just easy stuff right in the middle of my range. It all went well and I was happy that I was back to my old self but I was suddenly overcome with tiredness and had to lay down. I had a rest and we decided to go for a walk. After a couple of hundred yards I had to sit down - I felt dreadful, as though I’d run a half-marathon with no training. So no gallivanting for me. I hope I’m not back at square one. I can take the isolation, the distancing, the quarantine, but not being held hostage to this fucking virus. I think it’s just damage though hopefully not permanent.

It made me very sad to see a photo of a protester against the lockdown holding up a banner that read: Get America Back To Work - Sacrifice The Weak. The Covid virus makes you weak so if that person catches it - and there’s a high likelihood that they will - I wonder how they’d like to be sacrificed. On a funeral pyre? Gasping for a dying breath while health care workers who risk their lives every minute of their working day do what they can to minimize the pain and discomfort of the ultimate sacrifice?

If you haven’t had it you’ll probably get it, and though it might not affect you badly you’ll probably pass it on to someone else who will be. It’s not a time to take the virus lightly. This is no time for bowling, going to the beach, getting a neck tattoo, or enjoying brunch with friends while a server wearing a mask waits on you. I’ve had it with lunkheads who shrug it of with their it is what it is crap and refuse to wear a mask. I’m appalled at people who baulk at wearing a mask in a supermarket - the staff are wearing masks the whole time they’re working in there. Surely it counts as basic human decency to not put their lives at risk more than is absolutely neccesary.

But on a positive note - a mask does wonders for a double chin.

I'd like to thank everybody for the support and kindness - letters, postcards, emails, care packages, text messages, grocery runs, deliveries... The list goes on and on. I love you all. I'll reply to everyone eventually... Wear a mask when you're out and about, don't forget to breathe, and steer clear of tanning salons.

Here's a track I recorded while we were in quarantine. It's a John Wesley Harding / Wesley Stace song. Wes asked me to do it for his Community Coronation Covers series. I subverted the song to my personal Corona hell:


21 comments:

  1. I really hope you're feeling better soon Eric. I've learned a new word 'lunkhead' and what a star you're mum was. Hope to see you in England soon Rich.

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  2. Glad to hear your're on the road to recovery Eric. Looking forward to the reading the second book one day has to be done. Take it easy.

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  3. Great to hear from you again, Eric. Take care!

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  4. take care. stay safe. thinking of you two.

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  5. I think my wife and I spotted you at Chopper a few nights back. And we all gave weird darting eye glares over our masks.

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    1. The masks make everything so much more creepy.... Who was that masked shopper...?

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  6. The word celebrity is used all wrong! I celebrate that some of your songs have made my life happier. My sons band covered one a few years ago, so his life too. Therefore you are a clebrity. Unlike say the Kardasians or Paris Hilton, who have had a negative effect on so many, yet are lauded as something or other for no apparant reason.

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  7. Thank you for making me laugh again at this scary time! Love from Regan in Devon, England, and thanks for signing your book, I'm loving reading that too. Cheers mate.

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  8. I was just thinking about you today. Karen P told me of you being sick. We met at her house concert. What a great evening. Anyway. Its good to see you are on the mend. Its an evil disease and this song is perfect. By the way, who did that portrait behind you? It really looks like something i did long ago...lisafosterart.com...

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  9. Hi Eric. I hope you will be feeling better soon.sounds horrible.im just so glad your ok and sound to be over the worst.all those years ago I didnt care that you were in a band I liked you for who you were as a person . Obviously I liked your music too. Good times. Get well soon

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  10. Glad to see you're still with us, and that the virus hasn't dented your sense of humor. I'm kind of liking the mask thing. It's as if I've been granted permission to run around looking like a bank robber any time I'm outside. Be well.

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  11. Wow Eric. Survivor of 2 punk wars and now a veteran of the Corona campaign! Thoughts are with you and Amy

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  12. I always like reading your blog, about time for the second book. Glad you are well again.

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  13. Great stuff, Eric - loved that story about the odd couple. Shine on, good Sir!

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  14. Glad you're feeling better. Saw you in Memphis awhile back down by the river, lovely show.

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  15. Glad to hear you're feeling better, Eric. My thoughts are with you and Amy.

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  16. I can now add No. 11 to my list: He survived Covid-19.

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  17. Glad your on the road to recovery Eric,
    George and Hazel, x

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  18. Oh Eric, I just read about your brush with Corona on another site :( We might have had it as well, were really sick fot 2 weeks and a little less sick for another two, but couldn´t get tested.Weel, we seem to be over it. Best of luck to you and Amy, Clara & Harald from Cologne

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  19. In the matrices of 'Wrekless Eric' : "It's a great life if you don't weaken...".

    That fatuous comment from your youth probably doesn't sound so smart-ass now, eh?

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    1. I remember 'that fatuous comment' being attributed to me but I didn't actually say it, some copy writer did. I don't quite know what your point is here. But please bear in mind that none of us stay stong forever, eventually we die - your own death might be quite painful, remember that and stop being a cunt.

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