Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Pandemic blues

"Sunset" (photo by the author)
"Sunset" (photo by the author)

The other day I talked eye to eye with my rheumatologist who, upon hearing my plea for advice, i.e. whether to take the fourth “shot”, said, “Better to wait. There may be something better on the horizon.” He added, “besides some think so many shots may actually weaken the immune system.” I added, “You mean we have become the testing ground for Pfizer?” He didn’t answer, except for a strange raising of eyebrows. He certainly didn’t deny it.

I say this knowing that the vaccinations surely helped us avoid massive deaths and kept the lid on the entire situation. We really had no choice, though they said we did. But now many scientists say that this (please G-d) is the beginning of the pandemic’s end, that although “O” is contagious it is weaker. And yet, people are still dying.

Yes, we are fatigued. We are all singing the blues, but not one that cries out for an unrequited love, but one that is tired, muted and subdued, sort of like Miles Davis’ Blue in Green. Sad, but nostalgic. Longing but sensuous. Perhaps we should all relax and make love, for experts predict that when this crazy time is all over, people will all want to burst out. People will hug each other in the street and we will return to normalcy.

Others continue the blues saying “It’s here to stay.” To them I say, “poo poo on you, please don’t ruin the day.” We have better things to say, especially about Bibi, about the weather and about the world supply chain crisis.

My wife once said to me that all my former “X’s” sounded like poodles: “Chi Chi, Noe Noe, Nili, etc.” Now that you mention, so do all our politicians. Why do we do this? Perhaps because we crave true representation (like in the American House of Representatives) but in reality we only can have cute names, as if our leaders were our great pals. Burst the bubble my friends. This ain’t the case!

So I lay back and hibernate until the storm passes. My dietician says I must exercise. I ask her, “Does that mean I should use my brain more?” No, you must get outside, even if it’s minus one, and walk, walk, walk! I immediately call to mind Amanda in Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams telling her son Tom to “Chew, chew, chew.”  I’ve had enough of chewing, especially the news, the nicknames, the mixed messages and the soaring prices of groceries.

I do feel safe in my humble abode, glad to have heat in winter, glad to have enough good single malt to sustain the twinkle in my eye. I am grateful for the love of my family and friends, but I do not pretend to understand most of what goes on, as it seems like an old scratched record on replay, rather than fast forward.

I guess that’s why I consider myself an artist of sorts, trying to chronicle our times like some street-box crooner standing on the moon, roaring with laughter, but sometimes crying. Is there a sound when nobody is there to hear? Like in master-poet Ed Codish’s now classic Homeric-like versed poem, Voyage to Gaza, when the hero puts his rickety handcrafted boat called Frog (complete with sails, cabin and ample supply of whiskey) in the wadi outside of BeerSheva, and waits for the rain to fall.  He clocks that his journey of thirty-five miles will take him three years.  Now three years is also the period of time that Bibi “accepts” in his negotiating with the powers-that-be for his “punishment”, admitting that he fumbled the ball but is ready to pick in up in three years time. Why not? He is our chummy friend.

Waiting for the rains to fall (illustration by Jacob Yona Horenstein, Ed Codish: Selected Poems, Kasva Press)

That’s why I’m singing the pandemic blues and like Miles’ dulcet harmon-muted trumpet sound, these days feel very cozy in my self-imposed isolation, sort of like the Danes do when they practice “Hygge”  (pronounced “hooji”) sitting comfortably by the roaring fire, complete with their glasses of sherry (mine are with whiskey), waiting for the time to pass, in semi-bourgeois coziness while the rest are biding the time or simply reading the news.

Like the winter clouds speeding over our heads, our thoughts travel in broad circles, where each cloud is similar but slightly different. I too crave for a nickname. I had some when I was younger, like “Hornpout, Steve Austin or Balou” but the one I was most put out by was “Horny” because as I kid I did not have horns.

So much for my haranguing.  Instead of “Hygge”, I’m going to “Boogie” to the sounds of Miles, especially his album, Miles Smiles.

Dancing the dance (photo courtesy of Jacob Yona Horenstein)
About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA) and recently a Mifhal HaPais prize to produce a new album “Sounds of Siday: Side B” (orchestra).. Horenstein's teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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