Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Second Wave

I have an odd mind. When I read that studies suggested only short-term immunity to our covidious predicament, and pointed to the prospect of a renewed onslaught, the first thing I did was to start a sequel to my herd immunity playlist. Herewith then The Second Wave... (spotify version)

The first track was obvious, The Second Time Around by Shalamar. You can't go wrong with Jody Watley, Jeffrey Daniel and Howard Hewett and their sublime brand of danceable soul. The vocal arrangment, the call and response, the irresistible rhythm guitar, the infectious bass, the production make everything about the song close to perfect. I think of it almost as a twin to Chic's Good Times, but referencing Chic's opus would be argumentative for the purposes of the playlist I had in mind. No, Shalamar it is, and maybe even the extended version fits the bill here.

That previous evening, Questlove's second night tribute to Jam and Lewis had been my pandemic soundtrack and, with the Minneapolis Sound in mind, the next song was also obvious: High Hopes by S.O.S. Band. Apart from beat matching quite suitably with Shalamar's opus, The S.O.S. Band were named quite felicitously in light of an impending second wave. Clearly we have seen some magical thinking by policy makers. The S.O.S. Band ride in on the white horse at the last minute dispensing High Hopes to all, the prelude to a wishful thinking soundtrack.

Then things got complicated, Darn That Dream clearly needed to follow the opening soul salvo, if only to provide respite from the upbeat mood, and inject a touch of magical realism. Darned dreams in opposition to delay/deny decision-making and dereliction of duty from our dubious dictators. But then, which version of Darn That Dream should get priority? After a good ten minutes of thought, I went with Dexter Gordon's version, and I should explain. Miles Davis's from the Birth of the Cool sessions would hit it on the nose too squarely. True, I'm fond of both Nancy Wilson's (backed by The Cannonball Adderley Quintet) and Dinah Washington's renditions (Dinah's jam - pun intended, came complete with Clifford Brown's saxophone stylings) but they both reeked of wine-soaked blues. It was tough, you couldn't argue with Ella Fitzgerald take, what with Nelson Riddle's string arrangments; has anyone ever objected to Ella in history? I was stumped, but at length, however, I decided on Dexter, for he was a beast during his 1960s Blue Note run; the One Flight Up session, recorded in Paris, is incomparable to my ears. This version of Darn that Dream combines regret and wist in equal measure. As a bonus, Coppin' The Haven from the same album is modal perfection.

2nd Wave by Surface was next. The entire album seemed appropriate when contemplating the prospect of a second wave. Again, it was difficult, but I forced myself to pick a single track and went with I Missed. The chorus: "I missed. I must admit" is apt. I wish that many who messed up during the first wave would simply admit it and move forward and let those who have expertise do their job. As the wise Kodjo Crobsen was fond of noting as things kept going bad in Ghana's history, "At this point, subsequent horrific events are still reversible". Observers are worried.

the second wave

Thinking things through, Anticipation by Dazz Band would be thematically and musically compatible to kick off the b-side. It features the mid-80s production values that erstwhile funk bands adopted as they flirted, first with disco, and then with boogie. Funk bands from Cameo through Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire all went through this - man's got to eat. And the chorus is contagious:

Do I hear the sound of anticipation?
Hold on, cause I'm coming back to you.

Anticipation by The Bar-Kay's would have to be on the reserve team as it was simply too mellow - a sad fate for a bonafide classic slow jam. DJ Krush's Anticipation trip-hop instrumental would come in for those late nights as we get ready to watch the numbers from daily news, or whatever covid tracker we follow.

Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check by Busta Rhymes hit a trifecta of serendipity for the playlist. Namely:

  1. Woo Hah was in aural proximity to Wu Han - a case of onomatopoeic delight.
  2. The "I got you all in check" catchphrase was doubly ironic especially if you interrogate the "you" in question.

    Is Busta rapping from the covidious perspective? Is he the clump of viral RNA seeking solely to reproduce? Or is the "you" rather humanity, those held in check by faithless leadership and their dubious preparations?

    Or is it the reverse, should we construe it as a hopeful soundtrack? Are we all New Zealander, Singaporean or Vietnamese Busta Rhymes who now have the coronavirus in check?

  3. The song features the ever memorable Ol' Dirty Bastard and is the best track of The Coming album. The album's title makes for a perfect segue from Anticipation while embodying rapture and, depending on your perspective, the dread of the end times or apocalypse. The fierce drum track also leads the way to the next item of business.

1,000 Deaths by D'Angelo seamlessly slides in the Leader of the New School's wake. The muddied militaristic drums, the lyrical perspective of the cannon fodder, the essential worker on the frontlines, the soulful vocals buried in the mix, the afrofuturist funk, that electrifying guitar solo at the end, all these things underscore the point:

The US has been more or less averaging 1,000 deaths during the first wave of this coronavirus pandemic even before the onset of the flu season.

Beyond the outrage, and the human cost of the pandemic is infuriatingly outrageous, D'Angelo's tour to support the Black Messiah album was quite appropriately named: The Second Coming. Perhaps I could pick further tracks from it, I'm spoiled for choice, Prayer? Ain't That Easy?, Til it's done?. Ah, dilemmas. Songs like The Charade were the initial soundtrack for the Black Lives Matter movement, and the global wave of protests following George Floyd's murder have been a factor in life in a covidious time.

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Once Bitten Twice Shy by Vesta Williams is the only logical choice for the next song in our playlist. Those Americans lucky enough to survive until November's election will no doubt have Vesta Williams in mind as they try to cast their ballot. Will the death cult fund the post office to allow them to vote by mail, or will they have to run the gauntlet of in-person voting? True it has been done, South Korea and Singapore have managed two rounds of elections, after all, during this covidious interlude. And therein lies the crux of the matter. Both the US and South Korea recognized their first coronavirus cases on the same day. The trajectory of the two countries speaks for itself (302 total deaths in South Korea as I'm writing this and well, the USA is losing that many people every few hours). There's considerable collateral damage to American exceptionalism.

Vesta's message also speaks to those countries that had to deal with the first SARS pandemic, and the MERS disaster, the Ebola and other epidemics. They all knew that you couldn't afford the human costs without a serious reaction to a pandemic, and, in East Asia especially, their emergency preparedness was second to none. Culturally, the response to those earlier pandemics was adopting the norm of universal mask wearing. Structurally many countries went for resilience and adaptability. There was the propensity to heed public health interventions that humanity has learned through painful experience are necessary adaptations to daily life. We all need to heed the lessons of The Mosquito Principle.

Sidenote: apropos bitten... We had a serpentine visitor at our front door on the 4th of July - the consensus on Facebook was that this was a Texas rat snake, probably non-poisonous, who was simply disturbed by the fireworks. Most of the American friends seemed to take it as a good omen, a snake that would deal with various pests in the vicinity. Most of the African contingent recommended vigilance, a stick or club, and swift retaliatory action. Different strokes for different folks, cultural relativism perhaps.

snake at the door

Sidenote the second: Vesta also kicked things off in the Rent is Due playlist, she was a message singer evidently, and it pays to listen to her closely.

Vesta's presence in this playlist is primarily for reasons of avoidance. Luther Vandross would normally come in with his version of The Second Time Around, but he also has the following chorus in I Won't Let You Do That To Me which seemed more on topic

The first time, a mistake
Second time, a bad decision
Third time, there won't be one
'Cause I won't let you do that to me

My job was basically done at that point, Ahmad Jamal Trio performed both The Second Time Around and Darn that Dream back to back in the Live At The Blackhawk album, and that seemed to round things out quite well. Throw in a little bit of 'Ol Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, and a touch of Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green's death stings), and we were all set. The rest was organizing the various remixes and live and extended versions that one could throw in to the mix to spice things up, as one tends to do when you are in the grip of musical obsession.

The second thought, as it were, was a vigorous internal debate, and it wasn't about politics, public health or prognostication, no, rather it was about whether the playlist should be called The Second Wave or, more properly, The Second Coming. The latter of course would relate this notion to my ongoing series that echoes the words of William Butler Yeats's magnum opus, the one that Chinua Achebe would echo so memorably. For indeed, I have only dealt with Yeats's Second Coming in one of the hundred odd variations on the theme of Things Fall Apart I have attempted, and obliquely at that: The Game of the Rough Beast. Perhaps it is just as well, my take on that beautiful piece of poetry was that we should interrogate who is writing the script. All in good time, I suppose I shall expand on that thought at a later time. I leave the question out there: who is writing the script about these covidious times?

When you think about the second wave of a new disease that we have barely characterized, to which humanity has no immunity, you can only prepare yourself for the worst. I submit it is best to do everything to mitigate the effects, for the cost of the pursuit of herd immunity is measured in precious human lives. Often, in a tsunami or say in earlier influenza epidemics, the second wave has proved to be more deadly than the first, a sobering prospect. This notion rhymes with Frank Sinatra's notion that

Love is lovelier the second time around
Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground

Upon reflection, I believe I made the right decision to deal with the reality of The Second Wave first, The Second Coming will have to wait.

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

The Second Wave, a playlist

Do let me know what you think of the soundtrack to this note. I'm quite proud of it, if you don't mind my saying. (spotify version)

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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