By Gordon Anderson
Music is the greatest distraction in my life in normal times. So, yeah. Not gonna change during a pandemic.
Back on March 26, when all of this was still pretty new, my randomized Spotify playlist presented me with “Raging in the Plague Age,” a song by Brooklyn-based indie rockers Les Savy Fav.
“Being the king was pretty cool/I’d have to say that ruling ruled,” the singer sang. “And I’d be in throne still/Had I not one day fallen ill.”
And that’s where I got the idea to find and share via social media as many #plaguejams as I possibly could.
Then a lot of people started dying. Ugh.
Taking myself way too seriously, I wondered if I should continue publicly making light of the disease. But music is as much of an outlet for me as it is a distraction, and I realized I was like, expressing myself in a healthy way or something. Music was helping me understand my feelings about the world.
So I decided to keep going, and also realized that not everything had to be so literal. As the pandemic and all of its ripples continued to play out, if the song title was relevant at all, it qualified.
Wilco’s “A Shot in the Arm” is probably about drugs as best I can tell, but, you know. Vaccines. Folk legend Phil Ochs sang “That Was The President” in 1965 to chastise Marxists who didn’t sufficiently mourn JFK’s death. It’s not about a pandemic at all. But, hey, the most insane thing you’ve ever heard come out of the president’s mouth happens like every other day. “That Was The President” totally counts as a plague jam right now. I posted Nirvana’s entire 1989 album “Bleach” in late April.
People pouring into the streets of downtown Raleigh to protest a stay at home order and the closure of “non essential” businesses? Tobin Sprout’s “And Then The Crowd Showed Up” feels appropriate, as does “Business Interruptus” by San Diego musician Rob Crow.
And with the death of John Prine as well as the completely depressing politicization of this whole situation, his “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” seemed to hit the nail on the head. For me anyway.
A couple of weeks into the whole thing, I started getting messages from people suggesting this one or that one (one guy totally beat me to one of the ones on my list, The Police classic “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” – you know who you are) and they were all good ideas. But I told them all to start posting their own plague jams – and I’m hearing all kinds of stuff I probably never would have otherwise. Like most good things in a time of crisis, this should be a community effort. So go find some plague jams. If you have a Spotify account and are interested in hearing what’s on my list, you can do so here.
“You call this music?” you’re probably going to ask yourself when you listen to the stuff Gordon Anderson likes. It’s okay. All this stuff nobody ever heard of makes him feel superior. Just let him have that. Let him know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.