Wednesday 8 September 2021

Live Free And/Or Die


We went to New Hampshire for a couple of days. I’ve never been to New Hampshire before and going there explained a lot about why that is. I usually get to go to places because someone wants me to play there but I can’t imagine there’s much of an audience for someone like me in New Hampshire, and so far no one’s invited me and given me the opportunity to find out. I imagine folk singers would do well here, and lounge music might be as far as it goes in a jazz direction. I don’t think I heard music being played in any form in the whole time we were there.

We drove past a sign - Welcome to New Hampshire - with the New Hampshire strap line, slogan or motto Live Free Or Die underneath, and as if to underline the point an un-helmeted motorcyclist hurtled by, long hair blowing in the wind.

No one wore a mask. It seems they don’t consider it necessary because the incidence of Covid-19 has been very low in New Hampshire. i wonder if this is because New Hampshire is a very un-garrulous sort of place - people don’t bray at each other in New Hampshire so they aren’t spraying each other with spit-born droplets of deadly virus. I don’t think they even go out. There was nothing much to do in our little corner of New Hampshire except walk by the ocean and try to figure out a way to get to the beach by clambering across a thousand mossy rocks.

I quickly gave up on the quest for a decent cup of coffee on the first morning. We went to the nearest big town, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I didn’t hold out much hope and the coffee place I had pegged as the good one was closed for the day due to, according to the sign on the door, exceptional circumstances. We went to a cafe that was pretending to be German where I settled for a cup of sour black liquid and a catalogue danish pastry from the freezer to table range. The breakfast of depressives.

It was strange spending a night away from home after all this time. Neither of us could sleep, even though New Hampshire was considerably cooler than the unbearably overheated upstate New York. It was nice to be in a room without a window-mounted air conditioner thrumming through the night. Instead there was an energy efficient heating and cooling unit high up on the wall, but although it was practically silent it had a huge illuminated temperature display that lit up the room with an eerie green glow and informed us that the temperature was still seventy-two degrees. After half an hour of trying to switch off the display we unplugged the unit and opened a window instead. Similarly the wall mounted TV had a red light that might have warned passing ships of the dangers of bedroom furniture. And in the kitchenette area a microwave with a digital clock display flashed on and off until I thought i might have an epileptic fit and got up to unplug the thing. It was a busy night.

It’s all good practice for going on tour. In the past few years I’ve wondered if each tour I was about to embark on might be my last. And suddenly there was no touring. I did one final show, in an ex-freight depot in Cambridge, New York. Two days later I felt - if not unwell - decidedly not myself. I called the covid helpline where they told me I didn’t have Covid because my symptoms didn’t fall into line with the official Covid symptoms as they were then. They told me I’d probably got a cold but I didn’t believe them so I quarantined anyway.

I felt better, and then I felt bad again, and this time I was able to go for a test. Two days later I was an official Covid victim. I felt exactly the same as I had the first time around, only this time the official symptoms had been brought into line with how I was feeling. I quarantined again. I felt better again, and then i felt worse - worse in fact than I’ve ever felt in my life - and one day after a few days of feeling utterly weird, and not being able to walk round the block without collapsing, my arms. legs and head were suddenly detached from whatever was left of me and making their own peculiar and fuzzy nonsense. I was riding along with Amy in her car at the time. She took me to the emergency room where they confirmed what Amy thought and I refused to believe - I was having a heart attack.

So now the lung damage that caused the deoxygenated blood to clog up and damage my heart (40% blocked on one side, 100% on the other) is all repaired - I’ve made a full recovery. My cholesterol level is exactly where it should be, my blood pressure and heart rate are perfect and I’m fit and healthy and ready to tour my ass off. I still feel breathless, I still get unreasonably tired, I have a loose and intermittent cough, and need eight hours sleep where five used to be plenty, and all this has been attributed to Long Haul Covid which I’m not going to argue with as it seems there’s no other explanation, especially as I’m now off most of the post heart attack medication.

Yes, I’m ready to tour my ass off - but that’s just bravado. The truth is I’ve never felt less ready or able, and the Delta Variant threat is adding an extra twist of hilarity. I’ve been trying to get in training for it. but as the weather has either been either excruciatingly hot or impossibly wet, walking or cycling hasn’t been an option so I’ve been going to the gym and clocking up miles on the treadmills. The gym really isn’t too bad - there never seem to be many people there. Older woman saunter on treadmills as they catch up with gossip, men of my age (and probably younger) put in time on the cross trainers wearing expressions of fearful determination because they’ve either been told they’ll have a heart attack if they don’t do something about it or they’ve already had one. And then there are the body builders and the body-beautiful people doing clever and esoteric stuff with the aid of benches and dumb bells. I wear headphones and zone out. I switch the TVs off, not just the one pertaining to my treadmill but the ones either side because I don’t want a home improvement show or Fox News flickering away in my peripheral vision. Sometimes, depending on what I’m listening to, I feel like I might be dancing on the treadmill but not when it’s Soft Machine Third.

For the rest of it I’ve been trying to figure out how my songs go. It’s amazing what an eighteen month lay off will do. Amy told me muscle memory would kick in but it hardly ever does. I get the first line and hit a void. I don’t think this is an effect of Long Covid, I think it’s just a standard feature of being me. I’ve had to re-learn everything. A strange process, elating and depressing by turns. One day I’ll be thinking that some of this stuff is pretty good, and other days I’ll be thoroughly dismayed and downhearted at how lame it all is. The other day it occurred to me that these songs are my life’s work, and then I started to think about all the great things other people have done during the pandemic. To be honest I’ve found some of them quite annoying in their relentless pursuit of creativity - writing a song or a sonnet every day, posting a track a week on Bandcamp - you know the kind of thing - it’s very laudable but it’s all in the shop window. There’s sometimes a depth to a certain amount of privacy. 

On a bad day it seems to me that all I’ve achieved during the pandemic is to forget my life’s work. That and figure out how, with a couple of deft snips, a Sweetwater sticker can be turned into one that says twat.

I easily forget that I've recorded countless tracks - songs, instrumentals, weird electronic doodles and so on - some of which might even see the light of day on a new album; and that I’ve recorded an album with our friend the poet, Karen Schoemer; and even recorded enough basic tracks with Amy to make up half an album. Apart from that I’ve been slacking off, daydreaming and forgetting stuff. I spent an inordinate amount of time packing up posters and sending them out to promoters though that of appears to have been a waste of time because half of them are undelivered, lost in the wreckage of the post-Trump US Mail Service.

I've also been called out for daring to suggest in one way or another that a certain aniti-vaxxing rock icon of the sixties and seventies would be a worthy recipient of the truncated Sweetwater sticker. I was told that I shouldn’t be in a creative industry.

think it’s time I got on with some work.