Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: A Pandemic Playlist by Neil Elwell

A creepy sort of greeting on this pandemic thanksgiving
Due to rising Covid cases and the predicted second wave of the pandemic, we here in Washington state, like several other states, have have returned to a modified shelter-in-place. This means that today's typical stomach-stuffing and family gatherings are postponed, cancelled, or turned into a round of Zoom and Facetime meetups. 

As a child, I didn't have a family that was big on traditional meals or large gatherings. Once married, my sister tried a few times to create a semblance of the Norman Rockwell's painting with our family and her in-laws, and it was a damn good showing (she cooked it all, and Dad would fall asleep on the floor for the rest of the afternoon, hat tipped over his eyes). Those remain a few of my childhood memories of so many family members in the same place and time. But we were never a family that could sustain a tradition that seemed so asynchronous to who we were as anxiety-riddled humans who prefer small groups, or better, our own company.

As a teenager, I spent Thanksgiving morning working at the town's fine-dining restaurant, which hosted a bountiful Thanksgiving buffet. The tips were good due to the guilt-generosity of diners who relied on us to serve their meals instead of themselves. That morning always passed fairly quickly, and since it was a buffet, it required more preparation than the deep effort and juggling that comes with menu service. And the meal afterward, my goodness (a whole table dedicated to dessert!), and shared among fellow servers and cooks . . . well, it was pretty pleasant to eat good food with equally tired friends. 

Once married, I'd attend a traditional Thanksgiving at my husband's grandparents' house. This experience was a little startling because of its ease--everyone knew the order of events, what to say, and where to sit. Afterward, the elders gathered around the TV, and the cousins met on the carport to share memories of when they were kids at this same house on this same day. I hadn't known such families existed.    

Now, my former husband, my partner, and our son gather sometime after noon to share a simple meal of soup and bread and a warm pie. Afterward, we might go on a hike or walk around the neighborhood. It is finally what makes the most sense to who I am and who we are. That we all live between 400 and 2,000 miles from our first families helps to keep the day easy and delightful. Though, when asked what my plans are for Thanksgiving, I think my plans sound off-key to the questioner--or I imagine they do, lacking as they are the crowd and commotion the day seems advertised to require. 

Thankfully, I won't have any of that.

There is much to be discovered and enjoyed when we unravel traditions, rituals, and routines. 

And so today's pandemic meditation comes from no Thanksgiving tradition. 

Today's meditation is made of music. Many of us have relied on, returned to, and replayed songs and albums that bring us the most needed emotions, memories, and mind-states as we experience these sorrowful and surreal times. There is something to be thankful for, or just simply said, about what helps us cope with, or better think about, our lives and each other. 

Thank you very much to my friend and Spokane musician Neil Elwell for taking the time to create a playlist from the music he's been listening to, as he says, in "the ugly months of 2020." 

Perhaps you'll find yourself among songs this Thanksgiving Day. 

That would be good.




Neil's Pandemic Playlist

by Neil Elwell

It would be cumbersome to write about all of the artists and music I've been listening to since the pandemic began, so I've broken it down to a few artists, albums, and tracks . . . Here ya go, Neil's Pandemic Playlist, in no particular order, a tip of the iceberg, but gems, nonetheless. (As always, your mileage may vary.)

Miles Davis' album In a Silent Way is the master's 1969 musical expression featuring keyboardists Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Chick Corea, with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, John McLaughlin on guitar, and Tony Williams on skins . . . The entire side one of the original recording is 18 minutes of bliss, called "Shhhh/Peaceful"-- and it is.

Dire Straits, with Mark Knopfler at the helm released Love Over Gold in 1982. One of several amazing cuts is "Telegraph Road," a 14 minute tour-de-force featuring Knopfler's incredible guitar work and songwriting. DS had a great feel for dynamics, and in this cut, it shows.

Richard and Linda Thompsons' release Shoot Out the Lights (also from 1982) is a soul-baring musical chronicle of the Thompsons' impending divorce, at least in part. The track I find myself singing in my head is "Walking On a Wire," which shows Richard's songwriting talents and blistering guitar.

Musical maverick Paul Simon's 1986 recording Graceland dares you to not engage in foot-tapping and maybe a little dancing around the room. The title track and most of the album features mainly South African musicians. The Everly brothers, of all people, show up to provide background vocals. Wow!!

Ry Cooder's 2013 album Corridors Famosos, recorded live at SF's Great American Music Hall is a tour of the many lands that Mr. Cooder has visited (literally and musically) throughout his career. In this record, and onstage that night, were no less than 17 musicians--with Cooder and the band at the top of their game. My favorite track: "Crazy 'bout An Automobile"

Joni Mitchell's Hits is a mainly user-friendly compilation of her radio hits up until 1990. Another recording full of great tunes, with "Big Yellow Taxi" as one of the standout tracks.

Guitarist John Williams (and others) put together a fine tribute to guitar music Spanish Guitar Music. It offers the six-string masters performing Spain's folk music at a very high level. "Fandango" here is this record's amazing piece.

Tom Waits spends a lot of time blasting out of the speakers, inside and out, here at the hovel. No wonder the neighbors think I'm "weird." Nevertheless, all of Mr. Waits's records are magnificent, especially Small Change\ from 1976. "Tom Traubert's Blues" with the "waltzing Matilda" refrain is a long piece that's just about guaranteed to stick in your mind. All hail Tom Waits, is my motto.

This is just a small sampling of what I've listened to during the ugly months of 2020. Other artists include Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Rolling Stones, Maria Muldaur, Howlin' Wolf, John Coltrane, James McMurtry, Peter Rowan, JGB, Robert Johnson, Weather Report, Earl King, Willie and Lukas Nelson, Neil Young, Django Reinhardt, Johnny Cash. Many more made it onto the turntable and into the cd player. 

It's tough and not a lot of fun, being locked down. 

Music helps. 

A lot.


Neil Elwell
Neil Elwell is a Spokane musician, guitarist, singer, and gardener. When there isn't a pandemic, he plays in the two bands Doghouse Boyz and Laffin' Bones Blues Band