How do we make decisions about the future when the fact sets on which they depend keep changing, sometimes from day to day? This is an ongoing conversation among artists and others, particularly those with families, and as of yet no clear answers have materialized. No choices are detached from risk. For many, the tension of living with that unrelieved uncertainty has been compounded by grief.
The grief arises from varied sources, and manifests in diverse ways. Grief caused by abuse inflicted on loved ones and their community by supposed protectors. Grief from losing beloveds to the coronavirus or more prosaic illnesses. Grief over the normal messes and tragedies of everyday life. Grief at the loss of human touch and face-to-face community. It’s a weight that makes its pressure felt daily and, not surprisingly, many artists are unloading it into songs that address specific loss against the surreal backdrop of these times.
In April, the local music community mourned the loss of an uncommonly intuitive musician, South Pasadena’s Tim Fleming. Fleming was a familiar, steadying presence at Brad Colerick’s long-running Wine & Song showcase (wineandsong.com), usually seen playing pedal steel in the house band there, and he was a key part of Colerick’s backing band the Wreckers. Colerick recently shared a video from his home studio in South Pas of “Santa Ana Winds (For Tim)” (youtube.com/watch?v=LX3AmiGqKf0), a moving piano ballad he composed in tribute to his departed bandmate. Playing a graceful, blue-tinged melody, he gives voice to a lyric that mourns a trusted companion while acknowledging the clarity gifted by unexpected loss: “Took some time to believe it/ Sometimes truth just doesn’t care to settle in/ Like an uninvited guest/ Or a tightness in your chest/ The air is clear here all around me/ I can see what really matters to me now.”
Millions of women can relate to the agonizing loss of a baby, the subject of Jess Cornelius’ (jesscornelius.bandcamp.com) newly issued single, “Body Memory” (youtube.com/watch?v=kJa4dvxRAz8), from her forthcoming album “Distance.” (Per Cornelius’ Bandcamp page, all proceeds from the single’s North America/UK/EU digital sales will go to the African American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName campaign: aapf.org/sayhername.) Now based in Los Angeles, the native New Zealander compresses life-changing domestic drama into straightforward lyrics and a hooky melody over a pulse-like electronic beat. In Cornelius’ iPhone video for the song, images of her solitary figure against spacious backgrounds at Lake Isabella in Kern County suggest the isolation of grief as well as the shutdown: “Yes, it’s true that I was on the fence/ The future scared me half to death/ But for those two weeks I felt like someone/ We had a plan and the plan fell through/ I wish it could be simple like it is for you/ But my body has a memory and it won’t forget.”