Insensate to music whose demands on this listener went no further than guaranteeing deepening impatience in car service waiting areas, I’ve turned to Kenny Rogers in the last forty-eight hours with the fervor the late country idol channeled into his Dolly Parton duet. Spring in South Florida means watching scolds of jays compete with mockingbirds for telephone wire bragging rights; the chaos of trills and screeches interferes with my hamhanded attempt to record my first class lecture, but otherwise I’m grateful for the reminder that, as Sting once averred, there is a deeper world than this.
I spent my first full weekend of quasi-isolation conducting sessions of virtual intimacy: a two-hour happy hour with friends on Saturday, another last night. The lack of physical contact acted as no inhibitor on my alcoholic intake, I realized. Along with the newly delivered bottles of bourbon and Averna, I attacked my latest shipment of books. Yesterday I finished The Catherine Wheel, Jean Stafford’s fresh, forgotten third novel about the kind of eccentrics in 1930s Hawthorne, Massachusetts who name the ghosts in their homes after Thomas Hardy characters and anticipate the carving of ornate headstones. While young Andrew Shipley can’t separate pining for his best friend from wishing a hideous death for the older brother keeping them apart, the single but far from spinsterish aunt who’s watching him and his twin siblings while their parents vacation in Europe does her own pining for the absent brother-in-law. If Stafford has a reputation, it’s thanks to a slim novel called The Mountain Lion, reissued a decade ago by the redoubtable New York Review Books Classics, also about children making do without adults. Ex-husband Robert Lowell, at the peak of his early fame and at the beginning of his abusive manic states, married well (Elizabeth Hardwick and Caroline Blackwood also endured “Cal”). Fortunately the novel has sentences less ornate than the following: “The inseparable mind sang in its bone-cell and she was wheeled outward swiftly and the purblind mind nosed like a mole through splendid mansions of ice-white bone and luminous blood, singing with the music of the spheres.” Whether Stafford, by using free indirect style, is poking fun at the aunt’s fusty mind is matter of debate. Library of America recently collected those novels and her debut Boston Adventure.
I want to share three pieces of writing describing The Way We Live Now. First, The Miami Herald, not known for merciless editorial writing, outdoes itself. In “Coronavirus is killing us in Florida, Gov. DeSantis. Act like you give a damn,” the newspaper lays out the ways in which Ron DeSantis has doddered:
n Florida, unemployment can reach a measly maximum of $275 per week, for anywhere between 12 to 23 weeks. In high-cost South Florida, that’s a joke. In fact, according to FileUnemployment.org, Florida is almost rock bottom in what it pays for unemployment insurance compensation. Only Alabama, Louisiana, Arizona and Mississippi, which pays the lowest at $235, keep Florida from complete embarrassment.
By raising the rate of payment, Florida will draw down more in federal funds. A provision in the coronavirus relief package passed last week by Congress and signed by the president — What else could he do? — says federal government will pay whatever Florida needs for unemployment compensation, U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala told the Editorial Board. However, those funds will be based on the level that individual states already pay. Florida’s pay rate is so low, Shalala said, that, “A lot of our tax money is going to go to Michigan.”
Why would DeSantis allow that to happen? Will he let a “small government is best” ideology cheat Floridians out of adequate healthcare, as did his predecessor’s refusal to expand Medicaid?
Washing my hands for the eighty-second time last Thursday afternoon, I stopped in place when DeSantis went on an unlettered tirade against “China.” When this is all over, he said, we have to take a long look at China and decide how we’re going to make them pay for what they’ve done. This string of sounds that cohered into words was not in the official transcript. Earning a reputation as one of Donald Trump’s most enthusiastic toadstools that obscured an unmemorable congressional tenure, DeSantis, readers may recall, hung out with racists and offered nothing during his campaign for governor except acknowledging Florida’s parlous environmental preparation and a promise to continue Trumpian executive rule. He has been, I must admit, a better governor than Rick Scott. Give DeSantis a podium, though, and reporters need buckets to catch the pus.
The second, written by the NYT’s Ben Smith, describes FOX News as a zoo populated by monkeys who gibbered their approval as the president denied the existence of a virus to which FOX’s demographic is particularly vulnerable:
By January, Lachlan Murdoch knew the virus was coming. He’d been getting regular updates from the family’s political allies and journalists in his father’s native Australia, an Australian News Corporation staff member told me. The Fox host he’s closest to, Mr. Carlson, had been a rare voice on the network urging Mr. Trump to act more urgently. Even Mr. Hannity had hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, early on his show and warned of the risks.
But as the crisis took hold, there were more than two weeks of statements like Laura Ingraham’s assertion on Feb. 27 that Democratic criticism was “more unsettling” than the virus and Mr. Hannity’s allegation on March 9 that political opponents were trying to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” Finally, after an obscure Fox Business host, Trish Regan, ranted that the coronavirus issue was “another attempt to impeach the president,” the network pivoted.
Again, cable news’ demographics and the cohort most endangered by COVID-19 coincide.
Finally, my friend and former editor Todd Burns, who these days presides over Music Journalism Insider, publishes an interview with writer Sasha Geffen and my friend and City Pages editor Keith Harris that underscores our worries about COVID-19’s impact on alt weeklies:
Obviously, in-person profiles—already hanging in the balance as social media has provided artists more direct ways to set their own public narratives—are off the table indefinitely (“There’s only so much mileage you can get out of phoners,” Harris says), and even music criticism—a core tenet of music writing, well before Pitchfork brought the decibel system into the fray—seems superfluous to some.
“It’s a wartime mentality right now,” he claims. “Our mission has temporarily shifted to a non-adversarial mode. This is not the time for criticism—it’s time to get the word out there that people are trying to survive.”
Take care of each other.