In the secluded comfort of my childhood bedroom, whenever I dropped the needle onto a new album I entered new worlds of wonder, discovery, heartbreak, and heroism.
Staying indoors while self-isolating during the coronavirus outbreak has some similarities to those days. I’ve shut the world out for the sake of self-preservation, and once again turned to music to brighten my mood and ease my fears.
In fact, I’m leaning on music now more than ever. The 45 minutes I dedicate to immersing myself in an album is a sanctuary. The news certainly will have gotten worse by the time I’m done listening to the record, but that worry can wait.
When I put an album on my turntable now, or stream a record through my headphones, I am as much in need of temporary salvation as I am wanting to hear a familiar song and a comforting voice. Music keeps me from falling apart.
That’s a lot to ask of any artist, but records have held me together and helped me find and define myself since I first started spending my allowance on Prince, INXS, and Madonna records in the ’80s. My relationship to music has always been one born out of dependency, and I listened intently while bands introduced me to places I had never been, experiences I had yet to have, and emotions I had just started to feel.
I’ve turned to records to heighten the good times (Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, Björk’s Post, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock) and get me through the bad (Billie Holiday’s Lady In Satin, the Cure’s Disintegration, Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, Portishead’s Dummy) my entire life. But during this recent coronavirus-imposed exile my interaction with music has changed considerably: Music serves as a connection to a creative society that I feel cut off from, reminding me that beauty and magic still exist.
Music is also an increasingly necessary disconnection from social media and the news. If I’m going to be depressed, I’d prefer that Joni Mitchell or Thom Yorke soundtrack that downward spiral rather than the hyperventilating trolls on Twitter or the talking heads on TV shouting over each other. I’ll end up curled up in a ball on the floor either way; music just allows for a far less painful crash.
Musicians are clearly in need of that creative connection as well. The amount of planned and impromptu live music streams grows every day, with artists broadcasting intimate performances and unfiltered interactions with their fans. All of us who make and love music are missing the release and sense of community that live shows create. So, with all public performances canceled for the foreseeable future, in place of that you have musicians like Ben Gibbard, Colin Meloy, Charli XCX, Soccer Mommy, James Blake, and Katie Crutchfield all streaming wonderful live performances online. Laura Marling is doing daily guitar lessons on Instagram, teaching her fans how to play her songs.
It might all sound a bit twee if we weren’t so desperate for the sincerity and casual camaraderie of her gesture. These makeshift performances give viewers a glimpse into the musicians’ creative processes and their home studios. They’re affectionate efforts to bring us all closer while reminding us that we aren’t going through this alone.
These are frightening times, and it’s OK to feel broken and afraid. I do, more and more every day. But music has always had the power to piece me back together again after I’ve been fractured by the world, and now more than ever I need the sweet relief that comes from losing yourself inside a record and discovering the secrets these musicians have hidden there.
For a brief moment, we can all be Spiders From Mars, Kind of Blue, Supa Dupa Fly, or Jagged Little Pills. The feeling doesn’t last long, and we must cherish those rare moments while we can. Eventually, we must snap ourselves out of that reverie to face reality and figure out how we intend on changing things for the better.
But those brief flashes of musical magic are enough to soothe my soul and ease my mind—until things get heavy again and it’s time to put another record on.