“All sorts of kids playing basketball yesterday. I play basketball. There’s no concept of social distancing while playing basketball. It doesn’t exist. You can’t stay six feet away from a person playing basketball… you can, but then you’re a lousy basketball player and you’re gonna lose.”
These words were spoken early today by my state’s forthright and fearless leader Andrew Cuomo.
He was appropriately chastising me and my fellow city dwellers for doing a pretty terrible job of avoiding dense crowds and activities that spread the virus. And he did it in a way that really hit home for me. Because if you know me, you probably know that basketball is one of the few things that I truly, selflessly love in this world. I wish I loved music as much as I love basketball, because I’d probably be a better musician if I did.
A case in point is that I spent about half an hour today thinking about why Michael Jordan stuck his tongue out whenever he was about to do something spectacular on the court. Seriously, why did he do that? The best basketball player in the history of the game would just inexplicably stick his whole tongue out in the middle of an especially intense moment. It was as if he had some basic biological connection to basketball—like dunking on Patrick Ewing was the mother’s milk he needed to survive and he was sticking out his tongue to suckle at that life giving tit.
Yes I just said that! Yes that paragraph escalated quickly! No you won’t be able to watch Michael Jordan highlights the same way anymore!
Anyway, I devoted a good deal of brain energy today to thinking about Michael Jordan’s tongue, and I haven’t played guitar at all today, so you can see where my priorities lie. That’s all to say that I appreciate Andrew Cuomo for using basketball as an example in his Covid-19 press conference today. Yet it is truly an insult to injury that in this scary, sad, uncertain moment, I (and countless others) cannot turn to one of my favorite methods of distraction and self-soothing.
Because there’s an old proverb that goes a little something like this: Ball is life. Unfortunately that truism is temporarily false.
So what do we do? What do we do when we can’t do anything fun except stay inside, eat snacks, and watch movies?
Well, we stay inside, eat snacks, and watch movies.
First things first, if you haven’t seen Jaws, go watch Jaws. Secondly, watch it again. Thirdly, call me and let’s talk about Jaws. I mean this.
Fourthly… I’d like to highly recommend the movie Heat. Normally I wouldn’t recommend watching a near 3 hour movie, but these are certainly unusual times, and I have at least 10 quick-fire reasons to watch this movie. Here they are in no particular order:
This is the archetypal cops and robbers movie—you’ll see shades of Heat in nearly every bank/heist movie made after this movie.
The only true Val Kilmer is a Val Kilmer with a ponytail.
Although it isn’t overtly shown in the movie, Al Pacino was allegedly acting as if his character (the brilliant detective Vincent Hannah) was high on cocaine the whole time. And it is fun to watch Al Pacino pretend to be high on cocaine.
Whoa! Natalie Portman at like age 14 or something.
Have fun applying or arguing with the core philosophy of successful bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert Deniro): “you want to be making moves on the street, have no attachments, allow nothing to be in your life you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.”
You can try building your own cosmic yin-yang metaphor around Neil and Vincent’s relationship. Or maybe I just built it for you.
Excellent cameos galore: Tone Loc, Henry Rollins, Hank Azaria…
You get to listen to Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan’s very fun Rewatchables podcast about it afterwards!
Enjoy harkening back to the days of the payphone.
Visit gritty Los Angeles from the comfort of your own couch.
Oh hey, I also recorded a song this week. I figured out I could run a cable from my room to my back patio, so this one was mostly recorded in the open air (as you’ll hear). Also Tiny is the name of our house cat. That sentence will make sense if you make it to the end of the song.
As we all navigate this extraordinary new normal of life amidst a pandemic, it is natural to ask ourselves and others “what the hell do we do?” I think there are two important ways of answering this question. The first involves the logistics of what we need to do in order to help quell the spread of this virus. And the second answer involves what we need to do in order to keep our spirits high and nourish our souls while some of our favorite pastimes momentarily disappear (sports, concerts, raucous nights at the bar, etc…).
To begin to address the second answer to the question of “what the hell do we do?” I’ll simply say this: reach out and continue to connect to the people you love (even if you can’t do that physically). And continue to do the things you love at whatever capacity you can.
I for instance, currently do not have access to the amazing studio at Man Made Music where I work, because we are taking the very responsible route of working from home during this time. However, that is not going to stop me from completing the ridiculous resolution that I made at the beginning of this year. I’m going to keep recording and producing music every week from my tiny bedroom! See! Check out these tracks! Boo ya!
Ivan – March 8, 2020
Night Shift – March 15, 2020
And to answer the far more difficult and urgent question of what the hell do we do to stop the spread of this virus, I want to kick it to my very talented, educated, and intelligent cousin Sarah. She is currently completing her Master’s in epidemiology at Columbia and has been sharing an incredibly useful, straight-forward, informative letter with her friends and family about the current situation with this coronavirus. I asked her if I could publish it here and she said of course. Here are her words:
As we navigate these unfamiliar waters together, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to share my insight with friends and family, or really anyone that is willing to listen. Hopefully this information can aid in your decision making in the upcoming weeks, or at least equip you with the knowledge to filter through the abundance of misinformation that is circulating. I can substantiate the following advice with two years of infectious disease epidemiology training, and if that does not reassure you I have confirmed my own uncertainties with my professor, a leading virologist in the field. The world has not experienced a pandemic of this magnitude since the Spanish Influenza, 100 years ago, and it will require a learning curve. This is a fluid situation, and much is subject to change as we learn new information, but here is what I know right now…
The virus has been officially named SARS-CoV-2. You will start to hear this more often. It is NOT the same virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002, but they are related. They are both severe acute respiratory viruses in the family Coronaviridae.
The virus has an incubation period of 5 days, on average, but it has been observed up to 14 days in some. This is the period from exposure to onset of symptoms.
The infectious period is believed to begin before the appearance of symptoms. This is an unfortunate property, as it inherently adds an element of complication to control. For this reason, quarantine and social distancing is an integral part of limiting spread. Our movement is no longer just our business- whether we are concerned for our own health or not, we have to be cognizant of how we can serve as a vector to vulnerable individuals if we have been unknowingly exposed.
What should I do if I’m experiencing symptoms? Unless you need to seek medical attention, you should stay home and self-quarantine. If you have roommates, it would be wise for them to stay home as well, because they have most likely been exposed.
Should I get tested if I have symptoms? Yes, if tests are available in your area. However, we have yet to see a mass dissemination of testing kits, a critical fault of our early response. DO call your health care provider and ask about testing in your area, DO NOT frantically turn up at urgent care facilities asking for a test, they will almost certainly not have them. The administration just announced that google will launch a website where you can list your symptoms, and if consistent with clinical signs, you will be pointed towards the nearest testing facility. Drive through testing facilities are setting up as we speak. Be on the lookout for this site.
Should I limit my contact with older or immunosuppressed family members? I cannot answer that for you, but I will tell you what I would do. If I was flying, or coming from an area with any confirmed cases, I would distance myself from vulnerable individuals. Five to six days of distance if you are aiming for the average time it takes to develop symptoms, 14 days if you want to be on the absolute safe side. This one is TOUGH. It negates our primal instinct to seek the proximity of loved ones in times of crisis, but the nature of the situation demands this. You can take comfort in knowing it is only temporary.
Who is vulnerable? The elderly (65+ years of age by definition) or anyone with comorbid conditions that could result in immunosuppression. However, ‘elderly’, is a very relative term, not a one size fits all kind of situation. Chronological age does not always reflect biological age- I know many people in their sixties that are very healthy (shout out mom and dad) and likely at minimal risk. The virus does not abide by our social constructs of age, who you designate as vulnerable is up to your discretion.
What’s up with that 2.5% case fatality rate? This an average, observed value, it is not an intrinsic property of the virus. It is highly variable and more than anything reflective of the population demographics and health care capacity in any one area. In China, the average fatality rate was 0.2% or less for those age 40 or younger. The average is still relatively low for those below 70+ years of age. I personally believe these values are gross overestimates, given the inevitability of underreporting. These values are NOT cause for mass panic, but they are higher than many of the infections we regularly encounter, and we have an obligation to protect our vulnerable.
How long can it remain on surfaces? This virus can remain infectious outside of the body for days at a time, especially on hard surfaces. All the hype behind maximum handwashing and minimal face-touching is absolutely true. Soap and water is actually better at breaking down this virus than ethanol-based sanitizers, but hand sanitizer is better than nothing.
Should I wear a mask? No, if you are a healthy individual from a low risk group. There is a severe shortage of masks for healthcare workers worldwide, leave them for the people that truly need them.
Can we expect to see seasonality? This virus does not have a confirmed seasonality, but SARS-1 demonstrated seasonal preference similar to that of influenza, so it is reasonable to suspect the same of this virus. Seasonality is not entirely understood, but it is suggested that in cold, dry, climates virus particles can travel farther through the air and become more efficiently aerosolized. In warm, humid climates, our respiratory particles become weighed down and cannot remain suspended in the air as long.
Why are kids at a lesser risk? Kids are still getting infected, but they are displaying milder cases on average. To put it simply, viruses elicit an immune response which stimulates a pro inflammatory response. This occurs in the lungs during acute respiratory infections, and it can cause severe damage when the response is prolonged or exacerbated. Children have underdeveloped immune systems, so the idea is that their lessened immune response may actually be protective against this virus.
If I get infected, can I get infected again? I spoke extensively with my professor about this, because I personally have encountered many rumors of people getting re-infected. If you get infected, you should NOT get infected again. This is why vaccines work. Speaking of which…
Will there be a vaccine? It is very likely we will see a vaccine for this virus, but probably not during this outbreak. However, when one emerges it can hopefully aid in suppressing future outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2.
How long will this last? No one can say for sure, but I assure you this is not going away as soon as Trump will have you believe. To give you some perspective, let’s calculate the herd immunity. The reproductive number for this virus (R0) is believed to be between 2 and 3.5. This means that at best, the epidemic will die out once 50% of the population becomes immune (either via vaccination, infection, or genetic insusceptibility). At worst, 71% of the population will require immunity to stifle the spread. This number is not static- meaning we can reduce these values through concerted control measures, and hopefully the seasons will be on our side.
Herd Immunity =
Do we have the medical capacity to manage this outbreak? Yes, IF we implement sufficient control measures. It is estimated that roughly 10% of SARS-CoV-2 infections result in hospitalization *I cannot attest to the accuracy of this value. If we spread the cases out over a longer period of time, we have the hospital capacity to manage. If all the cases surge at the beginning, we will NOT have the staff, space, or resources to provide care for everyone. TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN EPIDEMIC INTERVENTIONS. Restrictions on travel, events, activities, etc. are unfavorable, but they will be critically important in preventing us from surpassing this threshold.
How do I prepare? Limit non-essential travel and social interaction. If you choose to partake in these activities, you must be willing to under-go quarantine if need be (and not just if you become a case but if you are exposed to a case), and maintain a heightened awareness of your presence around vulnerable people. Maintain enough resources around your house to last 2 weeks in case you need to self-quarantine. At this point, you risk being stuck anywhere you travel, take this into consideration when planning.
This is yet another symptom of an unbalanced planet. I will be the first to admit that I underestimated the progression of this outbreak, but I did so in anticipation of a response from our leaders than never materialized. Things are going to change for everyone, not forever, but they will get worse before they get better. If you have not felt the presence of the epidemic in your respective areas, you will very soon. This letter is not intended to incite panic, but to promote awareness as you go about your lives. I believe knowledge is one of the strongest armors, and we must be mindful not to let fear impede logic. This will subside in a few months, but it will require some personal sacrifice and collective effort. Don’t forget to thank your friends, family, or acquaintances that work in healthcare, because this burden may fall the heaviest upon them. Remember, you are not alone in your confusion, anxiety, and loss of normality. Be an advocate of your own health, and others.
Feel free to email me for additional guidance or answers that were not presented here. email@example.com
My track this week is called “Last Minute Greens.” Go ahead and listen while ya read:
I wanted to call it last minute blues, because that sounded cooler, but I couldn’t get over the fact that in terms of both tone and form, this music is not the blues. That is, unless you subscribe to the George Carlin school of musical-thought:
“All music is the blues. All of it.”
While this is an incredible line—both funny and a little mind bending—I cant quite agree with the statement. I’ve taken too many music classes/lessons that tell me that all music is not the blues. However I do like the sentiment.
Because it is nice to think that all music shares something deep and essential at its core—that it all springs from a primal need to channel our emotions (especially-even difficult emotions) into sound. However, allow me to disagree once more in this hypothetical debate that I’m having with George Carlin’s ghost.
Because George, you see, sometimes music does not spring from some deep emotional well. Sometimes you simply have to write a little music, because you’ve made a public-facing New Years Resolution about recording a song every week. And sometimes you wait until the last minute to start on your song so you just have to go with whatever happens to be the first thing that pops into your head. And sometimes that thing that pops into your head happens to be a little whistled-melody. And sometimes even though that whistle melody it is a little out of tune, it still sounds pretty cool. And sometimes you just ride that whistle melody all the way from start to finish and then name your song “Last Minute Greens.”
This week I did something that I haven’t done in years. I bought some music. I mean sure, I do pay for music by subscribing to Spotify premium and buying tickets to live concerts. But I hadn’t purchased some music to have and to hold since I don’t know when.
The album that changed that for me this week is called All Melody by Nils Frahm. It’s music I’ve been listening to for the better part of a year now. I keep returning to it, and I keep liking it more and more. The songs are hauntingly beautiful and subtly crafted, with each note and shift ringing out with crystal clear purpose. You should listen to it.
I finally reached a breaking point with my affection towards this music and decided that I was no longer content to just listen to it. I wanted to play with it. I wanted to stretch it, reverse it, compress it, shift it, bop it, twist it, and pull it. You can’t do this stuff on Spotify—you have to have the audio file.
Quick side-note: There’s a similarity here to dating vs. being in a relationship. Listening to music on Spotify is like dating. You experience the music or person in the nice, curated way in which they want to be experienced. You’re also likely listening to other artists on Spotify (dating around), and you can walk away from any one artist whenever you’re tired of them. But purchasing music—now that is a relationship baby! All of a sudden you can truly take this music/person wherever you go. You can burn it on to a CD and play it in your friend’s 2007 Toyota Corolla, you can put it on your weird Chinese handheld mp3 player, or yeah, you can still play it on your phone. You can also hear this music from totally new, and deeper angles— you can slow it down, speed it up, and put it in reverse. Some of these new angles will be uglier, and some of them will be even more beautiful.
Disclaimer: I know more about music than I do about relationships.
Anyway, upon purchasing and downloading All Melody I was delighted to discover that the download included liner notes. I had a keen sense of nostalgia as I was reading them—remembering all of the CD’s I bought and insert-booklets I read. I also learned a little bit about Frahm and his recording process. For instance he does his recording in the historic Funkhaus Berlin recording studio, only records in one take, and only uses real chambers for reverb in the studio—all things that add an atypical depth of life to his electronic music.
Yet I was most struck with his articulation of a timeless conundrum in the artistic process. For creators, the music in the speakers, or picture on the canvas, or movie on the screen will never quite live up to the image which we have in our heads. These are his words:
“All Melody was imagined to be so many things over time, and it has been a whole lot, but never exactly what I planned it to be. I wanted to hear beautiful drums, drums I’ve never seen or heard before, accompanied by human voices, girls, and boys. They would sing a song from this very world and it would sound like it was from a different space. I heard a synthesiser which sounds like a harmonium playing the All Melody, melting together with a line of a harmonium sounding like a synthesiser. My pipe organ would turn into a drum machine, while my drum machine would sound like an orchestra of breathy flutes. I would turn my piano into my very voice, and any voice into a ringing string. The music I hear inside me will never end up on a record, as it seems I can only play it for myself.”
My song this week (Lucas speaking now) feels like a textbook example of this very conundrum. I had high hopes for it, and I think there are certainly redeeming qualities to it, but it is not what I hear in my head. Oh well, here’s to getting closer next week.
Finally, I want to extend an extra special thanks to my buddy Jonathan Gardner for providing the buttery bowed bass you hear on this track.
I’m on a flight to Minneapolis right now writing this blog post. On a very lazy level, I wish I didn’t need to do this right now. I’d be happier to kick back, order a crisp pilsner, eat the tiniest possible bag of cheez-its, and watch Hustlers. And I know that you might be thinking “Lucas, you don’t have to do this—no one is making you write blog posts. No one is even asking you to!”
Well, sassy reader (who is actually my own inner monologue), I didn’t say I HAVE to do this, I said I NEED to do this. You should really read my blog more carefully. The distinction here is that saying I “have” to do something implies a responsibility coming from somewhere outside of myself— I have to go to work, I have to file my taxes, I have to wear pants in public. But I don’t actually need to do any of those things. A need is something that emanates from inside myself, directing me to something that will nourish my body and soul. I need to eat, I need to sleep, and I need express myself. This little blog and these little songs are how I get to express myself right now.
But I actually don’t want to do this right now. And it is more than mere laziness at play. I don’t want to do this because I think I don’t have anything nice and easy to write, and I don’t have any nice and easy music to share.
Truthfully, I had a pretty hard week, and I’m not feeling all that cheery. Both on a completely personal level, and on issues that I view from afar, this week sucked. A fond coworker of mine told me that, astrologically speaking, we’re currently in the “shadow” period gearing up for a coming “Mercury Retrograde.” This period of “Retroshade” (amazing band name) is apt to bring about things like breakups, dangerous exes reaching out, and even corruptions of democracy.
Actually I don’t know if that third one is on the list of things that usually happen during retroshade, but I do know that that is something that happened this week when one of our political parties decided to further enable an aspiring tyrant by acquitting him of his crimes.
But I digress. I’m certain I’m not alone in having a bad week. I don’t need astrology to assure me that some people are having a hard time. Many people are having a far worse time than I am, and I would never dream of being able to offer any kind of blanket solution to solve anyone else’s difficulties. What I would like to offer, is something that I need to remind myself from time to time: It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel your feelings. And it is good to find a way to express them.
Ok, I feel like I’m doing a bad Mr. Rogers impression right now and I don’t like it. I’d just like to share how I captured my uglier feelings this week: I wrote a piece of music that begins somewhat sweetly, grows a more and more strange throughout, culminates in a terrifying crescendo, and ends up being mostly ok.
Let me say at the outset of this post that I think the Chiefs are going to win. Pat Mahomes came to me in a dream last night and the man was looking real confident. I’m not saying this because I put any actual faith in my football dream predictions, but rather because in order for that prediction to carry any weight, it means I need to get this posted before the Super Bowl starts. I’m just putting a little time-pressure on myself to go ahead and get this done and then go about my day.
I will remind you readers, however, that back in November of 2018 I successfully predicted that the Raptors would win the 2019 NBA finals. So if you are looking to trust someone’s sports betting hunch, I think you can go ahead and trust mine. I’m probably a sports-psychic after all. If this whole producer/blogger/musician racket doesn’t work out, look for me to setup an outpost on Fremont Street offering my services.
And now that I’ve hooked you, America, with my insightful and necessary sport-psychic chatter, I’d like to talk to you about Instagram filters. We’ve all seen em; we all use them. Just took a picture of that cool brownstone across the street? Want to make it look like you took that picture in the 1970s? Slap a Gingham on it. Looking for a classy, timeless black and white approach? Look no further than Inkwell. Just want it to look more better? Try Hudson!You’ve got instant, professional-grade photography at your fingertips.
Now I’m sure that any actual professional photographers or graphic designers would scoff at the previous sentence, and they would be right to. There is most certainly a world of difference between the work of a true craftsperson who takes time to dial in the exact saturation, contrast, and brightness appropriate for a particular picture, and a rube like me who just picked a good filter. By the way, I don’t even know what saturation is—I just saw it on instagram. However, when I choose a particular instagram filter that makes my picture “pop” in that perfect way, even I am seduced into momentarily thinking that I’ve done something special.
The truth is that I couldn’t be less special in this moment. I’ve done something that literally millions of people are doing every hour. But the results don’t lie, most of these filtered pictures do look pretty good. The frightening prospect to me is that in art, music, and culture we may be headed towards a ubiquitous “pretty good” rather than a wildly varying array of things awful to great.
Before you write that last sentence off as esoteric aesthetic paranoia, let me try to flesh out my dystopian worries. The fact is that we are outsourcing more and more artistic decisions to technology. Whether it is instagram or photoshop for pictures, final cut pro for video, or Logic for music, any software meant for the creation or editing of audio/visual media contains presets, layout choices, and biases that lead you towards certain creative decisions.
Sure, it might be me, a human, who is operating the software, and in theory I can be as creative as I want to be with the choices I make. But truthfully I’m often more apt to go ahead and pick a preset than take the time to dial in a sound using my ears, training, and instincts. Say I just recorded a bass line for instance, and I know that I want this bass to sound nice and punchy. Oh wow, look at that, there’s a compression+EQ preset called “nice punchy bass.” The temptation is too strong; I’m going to use that preset. Oooh, that’s nice. And punchy.
But herein lies the same problem that I experienced when I posted that picture on instagram. It feels like I’ve done something special, but I’ve simply chosen the same pretty good preset that millions of other people have access to. The same phenomenon occurs with digital instruments and sample packs. From Alchemy, to Reason, to Kontakt, to Spitfire, to Splice—we music creators have more access to more good sounds than ever before. The problem is, this is potentially leading us all towards a pretty-good homogeneity, rather than an inspiring and varied originality.
Indeed these are the mad, professorial ravings of an aesthetically paranoid man. So what is the point? What is there to do?
Well, what I did to ease my troubled mind this week was to record some cups.
If everyone is using the same presets, the same digital instruments, and the same instagram filters, I needed to do something at least a little different. I recorded a simple track with real guitar, real bass, real Wurlitzer, programmed drums, and a “pretty good” digital vibraphone instrument. Despite all the realness, it still was feeling somewhat uninspired. So I poured some water in some glasses, tuned them to some notes, and replaced that “pretty good” vibraphone sound with some pretty great cup sounds if I do say so myself.
I’m not saying I did anything artistically ground-breaking. I’m certain that someone has recorded cups before. But I may have done something personally ground-breaking. I proved to myself once again that it is more satisfying to create something real and original, than to rely on the presets and paths already taken.
I was sitting down in my local coffee shop, getting ready to write a pretty arcane blogpost about technology and aesthetics, when I learned that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and unidentified others died in a helicopter crash. Suddenly I didn’t feel like writing that post.
Like many of you, I feel deeply shocked, sad, and confused. My heart aches for him and his family. Yet, what feels truly strange—considering that I obviously didn’t know this man personally at all—is that I also feel a sense of personal loss.
Many of you who know me, know that I am a huge NBA fan. I don’t have a team I love—I simply love the rhythm of the game, the tension of close competition, and the players who bring their own unique spirit and skill to the sport. I’m that meme of Rob Lowe in the NFL hat, only for basketball. I just a fan of the game.
Kobe Bryant never qualified as my favorite player. That title has been reserved for Reggie Miller in the late 90s, Jason “white chocolate” Williams in the early 2000s, Tracy McGrady that one game he scored 13 points on the Spurs in 33 seconds, Steve Nash in the late 2000s, and LeBron James during the 2010s. Yet during the entire duration of my NBA watching life, Kobe Bryant has been constant presence. He was a force of nature on the court, and remained visibly close and meaningful to the game after his retirement in 2016. I literally do not know the game of basketball without Kobe Bryant in it.
He was the epitome of strength, skill, and confidence. He was the consummate alpha male on and off the court. He never flinched, never shied away from a challenge, and never succumbed to any weakness. He seemed to have a supernatural power—he seemed to be more than human. He was Kobe—a spirit you can channel on any court in the world. “Kobe!” Swish.
And this is why it is utterly shocking and mind-bending that he is gone. The person that seemed beyond human, went and did the most human and vulnerable thing possible.
I don’t think that there is much of a silver lining to be gleaned in any of this. Pardon my french, but sometimes things are just completely fucked up.
What can be gleaned, however, is inspiration and truth. The truth is, Kobe Bryant was not super-human. He was a man who worked incredibly hard to become great at the thing he loved doing. And while most of us could never dream of reaching the heights that Kobe did, we can all find peace and pleasure in following his lead, and working hard at the art, craft, or skill that we love.
I had planned to post the song that I recorded this week, but considering the moment, I think it is fitting to post a different song of mine. A song about loss: