I must confess: I have had old songs streaming through my head since I was very young. But the playlist has changed dramatically since the global pandemic arrived earlier this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sickness and death, but it has also ushered in a wave of inexplicable violence, including mass shootings on both sides of the border. Somewhere, early on, a 30-year-old song by the Talking Heads set up shop inside my head. It went away for a long time. Then it came back.
Called Life During Wartime, the song portrays a time of menace and shadows of violence and an amorphous underground resistance. Listening to it now, at a time when a U.S. president welcomes the support of violent right-wing extremists and a conspiracy-theory group that believes he plans to destroy the American system of government, the song seems strangely prophetic, right from its opening lines:
“Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons/Packed up and ready to go/Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway/A place where nobody knows…”
Nearly one full year into lockdown/social distancing/working at home/watching craziness south of the border, we are in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and tempers are frayed. Who would have believed that the wearing of a protective mask could be so contentious?
Here in Canada – particularly on Vancouver Island – following guidelines set by government medical authorities has resulted in a lower transmission rate, but some individuals continue to resist. In other jurisdictions around the world, despite warnings from authorities, widespread flouting of guidelines on distancing and mask-wearing has resulted in an accelerated infection/death rate.
It is probably a good idea to heed what Talking Heads warned decades ago:
“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco/This ain’t no fooling around…”
Then there are echoes of the daily case-counts, city by city:
“Heard about Houston?/Heard about Detroit?/Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?/You oughta know not to stand by the window/Somebody see you that way…”
As the pandemic has dragged on, political events below the border have become even more bizarre, with a U.S. president in a frantic bid to retain his presidency. Along with the seemingly uncontrolled spread of the virus, the truly frightening thing is the number of supporters – many of whom are heavily armed and hardwired for violence– who continue to trumpet the president’s campaign to overturn the election. One can only hope it does not lead to the scenario described by Talking Heads:
“The sound of gunfire, off in the distance/I’m getting used to it now…”
But the craziness of political leaders is not exclusive to the U.S. Here in Canada, we can read about the Ontario finance minister, who has travelled outside the country on a “personal vacation” that was “previously planned.” This despite an escalating case count, widespread business shutdowns and restrictions on personal travel. Oh yeah – there’s also that Quebec MNA spending the holidays in Barbados.
For young people especially, this is a time of existential questioning.
“Why stay in college?/Why go to night school?,” later followed by, “Burned all my notebooks/ What good are notebooks?/They won’t help me survive…”
Heading into the New Year, there are reasonable prospects for an abatement of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the arrival and distribution of numerous vaccines. But experts have warned that we will have to continue using masks and practice social distancing until at least the fall.
Until then: “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco/This ain’t no fooling around…”
Shayne Morrow is a Port Alberni journalist and author of The Bulldog and the Helix, a true crime book.