The Day The Music Stopped
When COVID-19 hit our country I had already worked half a year on booking my 2020 schedule. One day I am playing a gig anticipating a busy summer and the next day told to stay home. No public performances, no gathering of people, no events of any kind. Don’t get me wrong, it was a necessary step to slow down the spread of the virus. Nonetheless, being told that you can’t work until further notice made me feel more helpless than I have ever felt. All of that work was gone, not postponed, gone. Between performance obligations and events associated with my entertainment company I had lost 62 jobs. If the surge of the virus continued through the rest of the year it would be 126 jobs. The scariness of what the industry was facing followed me every day. I knew that a lot of music venues wouldn’t survive this economically. What did this mean for the future of events and musicians? How would I make a living?
Suddenly my Sundays weren’t the same. Usually an anticipated day, full of swing pushes and board games with my family, Sunday now held as many stressful thoughts as the other days of the week. It didn’t help that winter was holding on in the Northeast and every morning I was met with bursts of cold and lingering snow. It was a great recipe for giving up on positive thoughts. I spent the ﬁrst month in hiding. Which, by the way, is easy to do when you are mandated to “stay in place.” All of my music friends immediately started going live–playing sets online with Venmo links. It’s smart, and a great way to stay relevant, but I wasn’t in the same mindset as that.
I became content being depressed and sorry for myself, but sometimes sadness can be a necessary emotion to sober up complacency. It made me appreciate and miss the little things about my job, like sticky bar ﬂoors, or the smell of a faint cigarette that was sneaked by the bartender right before he unlocked the door to let me load in. I even missed people asking me to play “Hotel California.”
After a month or so, my friend and musical comrade Mark Bengtson started asking me to record guitar parts for some of his active projects. He has always encouraged remote recording with his business, Crunch Time Productions. So, from his chair, the pandemic didn’t change much of his daily workﬂow. My ability to work in this context absolutely got me back in the saddle.
I almost instantly wrote a song called “Sundays.” In a lot of ways, the helplessness I was feeling re-inspired me. I tracked guitar, bass vocals, and bells at my home and sent them over to Mark for his thoughts. He brought in a mutual friend of ours Kenny Christiansen who added percussion. Mark mixed it at his home studio and before we knew it, we had a ﬁnished product. We never met in person but were able to work remotely, which felt great.
There is no easy way to sugar coat the effects of this pandemic, but these hard times could be looked at as a re-birth of creativity, a regression to our roots. People are ﬁnding enjoyment walking in parks, cooking meals, and being together. A movie at home may not look or sound the same as a theater, but to my six year old, it’s just as thrilling because she gets to be with her parents.
We may not be able to do things the same way we are used to, but adapting to a bad situation is almost always a window into a new era. The future is full of unknowns, but creativity is like rain water on an old roof, it will ﬁnd a way into the house. I know, soon enough, this year will be a distant memory. Until then, I spend the edge of the day trying to smile, but with worry and hope.
— Rocko Dorsey, guest Gretsch blogger