My colleague Mark Seelig quotes a musician friend of his, regarding troubled times: “We have to make better music.”

I couldn’t agree more, as I set out in my blog post The Artist’s Role in Culture. This planet is in the teeth of the worst pandemic since 1918, with no end in sight. We need our serious artists now, more than ever.

Not for escapism, tempting as that may be. The sickeningly opportunistic (and plain delusional) bluster of too many (but not all!) political figures should make that clear enough. We are being given a Reality Check like no other in the past century, and this is no time to hide. We need to rise to the challenge, or we’ll be swept aside.

What is the challenge for us artists?

The challenge hasn’t changed. We must hold up visions of truth and beauty. We must point the way to going within, deeper and deeper than before. We must reflect knowledge of who we are and of what we are capable. We must act as leaders, moving others to find their ways, actively countering the cultural diseases of ignorance, apathy, fear, anger, hatred and despair.

We must hold up visions of life, while death and chaos mimic Shiva’s dance around us.

As the news stories are demonstrating every day, what we need are courage, empathy, compassion, love and wisdom.

Just Don’t Call It a “Suite”

Many of my colleagues from music and other arts are taking advantage of the enforced isolation brought on by COVID-19, in lots of interesting ways. New albums, streaming performances and studio videos abound.

For me, it was time to tackle a new composition project. With four albums in progress to choose from, something possessed me to start a new one instead. Conceived last summer as a final guitar statement, this is an eight-part extended piece for all five of my String Things: 6- and 12-string electric guitars, fretless electric, acoustic and mandolin.

Inspired by The Pat Metheny Group’s masterpiece The Way Up, this is one long composition, not a suite of mostly-separate bits. It is through-composed, and is being written mostly on keyboard instead of guitar. Along with being a liberating new way to work, this approach has some practical, time-saving advantages.

Composition is going very well. In just two weeks, I am nearly halfway done. It’s close to 40 minutes of music so far. But it will take as much time as it needs.

Once composition is done, I may not record it right away. I may continue on with writing, moving to one of those other albums… we’ll know when we get there.

The main thing is: Onward! Rolling over and baring our teeth – or playing dead – helps no one. Adversity calls us to rise up, and transcend.

I’m fond of quoting lyrics from Neil Peart to emphasize points, and it seems apropos here:

Keep rolling until dawn
How many times must another line be drawn?
We could be down and gone, but we hold on…