With concerts indefinitely shut down thanks to COVID-19, musicians who’ve spent much of their lives on tour are stuck at home this summer, and pondering an uncertain future. “I just don’t even know what is realistic at this moment,” says Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson.
I haven’t picked up the guitar since they canceled me in Arizona almost two months ago. I was born on a farm down in Louisiana, and this is a flashback, because this time of year we were sharecropping in the fields all day. And then we would stay locked in the house, trying to stay home as much as you can. I grew up distancing from people except for the family in my house. Even before I got the chance to make a living playing music, I was driving a tow truck. This is the longest I’ve been home in 50 years, maybe a little longer. I want to get back out there. People are so mad at the world, but when I play music, I see them smiling. I own the largest blues club in the city, they closed that down. Before that, [business] was fine. My next birthday, I’ll be 84, so when you get up in that kinda age, people say “I better go check him out.” I hope they come up with a vaccine, so I can get back out there and let them know I’m alive and well and trying to keep the blues alive. I don’t know what else to do now. I can’t go looking for a bus-driving job.
All we have right now, if you’re home in quarantine, is time, unless you’re taking care of kids. So, really, you could do anything that you’ve been wanting to do your whole life. That’s how I’m trying to look at it. But, even though I didn’t have a tour planned, my brain doesn’t know that yet. My brain is like, “OK, you came off the road, and usually you would be going to rehearse.” It’s still bugging me that I should be getting ready for something, and I’m not. This has never happened to me ever in my life. The second I come off the tour with one career, the phone’s ringing off the hook from the other career, saying, “Are you ready to do something cool?” This is the year I was going to talk to everybody about making my movie and do some recording and meet new people. Well, you’re not going to meet any new people, because you can’t leave your house.
The coronavirus is so real and so scary and life-threatening. I haven’t seen yet a solution that will work until we get a vaccine. I guess I’m more patient than some. I keep telling my family, if it was lions and tigers roaming out there, you could see that, so that prepares you psychologically, so you realize you don’t want to go out there and be reckless. All of this opening-up talk is pretty scary to me. I’m afraid we’re probably end up going backwards. And I don’t want to be the guy who contributes to that. You go do a concert with 10,000 people, and then find out afterwards that some of them died? I don’t think any of us will really be ready until after we have a vaccine and people feel safe again. I’m an older person, and a lot of people my age have died. Maybe some other guy thinks it’s a good idea, but I’m not dying for Donald Trump. I’m not dying for the economy. How can you have any kind of a crowd?
I’ll be comfortable playing a show before there’s a vaccine, if it’s declining and seems to be going away. I’m going to make a radical statement here. This is hard to say without stirring somebody up, but truthfully, I’d rather personally get sick and even die, if that’s what it takes. We have to save the world and this country from this economic thing that’s going to kill more people in the long run. I would rather see everyone go back to work. If some of us have to sacrifice on that, OK. I will die for my children and my grandchildren to have a life anywhere close to the life that I had in this wonderful country. That’s just the way that I feel about it. I’m not going to go around spreading the disease. But there may be a time where we have to sacrifice. I mean, how many people die on the Earth every day? I have no idea. I’m sorry to say it, but we all gotta die, man.
I’m not making any money from anywhere and [my house] is in jeopardy. I’m not whining about it, though — it’s what we have to do, or we can’t beat the coronavirus. But I don’t think most people know what it’s done to the music business. It’s everyone that I know. They’re completely out of work, and a lot of them don’t make a lot of money. Everyone is like, “You’re a rock star and you drive in a Cadillac and you burn money.” Bullshit. Ninety percent of us are working people, and our job is gone. I hope I’m back on tour next year, but I’m not sure I’ve got a next year. That’s the thing: I’m almost 80 years old. When you take away my next year, you might have just taken the last one I got. That’s a bitch. I think they are doing the right thing to not have aggregations of people, but don’t kid yourself about the effect. To us? To the musicians? It’s a goddamn disaster.
We’ve been trying to figure out how to get me two months off the road for a long time, and now we’ve got it. I actually looked at a picture of myself the other day and I thought, “I look rested!” Of course I miss it. I usually do 120 shows a year, so I’m out at least half the year. I love to travel, but I’m not eager to jump the gun, because we have a responsibility to our fellow humans to keep this thing at bay. I am not interested in pushing anything anti-lockdown, because I am afraid a lot of people are going to get sick and die. Right now, I’m taking part in what’s required of me — which is to sit tight, practice, keep myself in shape, walking [in Central Park] with a mask and a pair of gloves. Last night I played Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” and one of the lyrics is “Everybody knows that the plague is coming” — and it is here. He left us with his last album, You Want It Darker, and we’re getting it darker.
In a way, it’s nice, because we’ve never had much more than a month off, or six weeks at the most, ever. We’re always on call, and we work year-round. We’ve got a small business going here. We can’t afford to just stop. We’re not living paycheck to paycheck, but we’re not a huge act like the Rolling Stones or U2. We haven’t talked about doing [streaming concerts] — to what end? So we can get publicity, so people can go, “Oh! Cheap Trick! I forgot about them. I’m going to go out and steal some of their music”? What good does it do? But we wouldn’t be comfortable playing before a vaccine is out. Different messages are coming out of every corner.
I can’t imagine social distancing at the gig and everyone’s six feet apart. Where are you going to do it? In an aircraft hangar? I don’t think that can happen. I’ll just wait. I mean, “normal” wasn’t very good. Let’s face it, we had gotten used to a normal that was very destructive and very unpleasant, very noisy, very dirty, and very dangerous. If we can recraft the future a little bit, this is an opportunity to do it. And if it means sacrificing things we love . . . Would you rather have blue skies and birdsong? Or would you rather go to a gig? I’m sure we will have gigs. I’d be delighted if there was never another show in a stadium. You go to see a rock band because you want to see the band. You don’t want to look at a screen. It’s become sports. Just because everyone accepts it, doesn’t mean that it’s as good as it can be. Things should be as good as they can be.
We canceled three months of shows so far. I miss my friends, my fans, I miss the band. But we get on the phone and we FaceTime. We all become family after we’ve been together for a while. I have a balcony, so I can get fresh air. You look out, the streets are bare. You’re scared to press the elevator button because someone who has [the virus] may have just touched it. All of my trials and tribulations that I have been through in the past can’t touch this. Sometimes I get down, but I can’t afford to be depressed. One day, my brother called. I said, “Pervis, I am standing in the living room and wondering which way should I go?” He said, “Well, Mavis, you can go north, south, west, but don’t go east, because you’ll walk out into Lake Michigan.” That’s all I needed, was a laugh. I miss getting up and packing my bags, getting on a plane. It’ll be back.
The first week of May, I was being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, I was going to do the New Orleans Jazz festival, and my new CD was coming out. All that in the first week of May. Well, shows you what the coronavirus thinks about my little happenings! [The live-music business] is just a wreck. We don’t have any savings, as savings go. The money that we have usually in the bank is what we had to pay bills with. It isn’t like our retirement plan or some kind of shit. I don’t know if I would stay home till there’s a vaccine, but I certainly am going to stay home till they tell me more than they’re telling me today. We are elderly — everybody that people want to take a chance on to see are the elderly, and we ain’t going to take a chance on you!
Southside Johnny will play one of New Jersey’s first drive-in concerts on July 11th.
I guess you get used to it — but you can’t do a boogaloo in a Volkswagen! In general, you don’t want to put anybody at risk. Nobody knows when everything is going to open up. We don’t know how people are going to be with each other. When I go shopping these days, and somebody comes close to me, I feel it. And I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I don’t worry about me, but I do worry about the band. It’s the gig, and they don’t have another gig. [If it ended up being] two years off, I think I’d probably be out of the business. How do you regroup from that? It can be stressful on the road, but it’s how you define yourself.
The toughest thing about the lockdown is the feeling of not knowing what the future holds. The feeling of your whole life being placed on hold. Time seeming to move quickly but slowly. Empty and unused time I don’t care for, especially at 70. I’m counting my days. I feel like Muhammad Ali, who was at his prime — well, I’m in my late prime — and the years he could have spent boxing were taken away from him. So I try to heed my deceased Aunt Eda’s advice. She always said, “Just live every day as if you’re gonna live forever.” I think she meant, greet each day on its own terms, as an opportunity for life’s possibilities. Breathe it in. Let the world open up before you, and prepare yourself to accept it in its entirety, on its own terms, with a vengeance. Well, I’m ready, and I hope you are, too. But right now, the waiting . . . is the hardest part. (Via SiriusXM’s E Street Radio)
Steven Van Zandt
Little Steven — who wrapped up a long series of dates with his solo band, the Disciples of Soul, last year — is optimistic that the E Street Band will get to play for a live audience again at some point.
You gotta think that. I don’t think that I could handle the sadness of not thinking that. You’ve got to hope that the scientists will come through. I think that day will come, and hopefully sooner rather than later. It could happen as soon as the summer of ’21. I’m still hoping for that. But we’d better be mentally prepared for not. I do believe there will be an intermediate stage, where we will actually get in the same room [and perform on camera for a remote audience]. That will need fast and accurate testing. It’s a different thing, but it’s better than nothing. I think people will be performing like that within the next six months. Even though the audience will be home, that will be helpful in terms of people feeling like life has some normalcy.
I can’t remember when Earth, Wind and Fire weren’t on the road in the summertime. So this was pretty frightening and traumatic. We had our rehearsal schedules and were booking hotels and and buses and trucks. We were excited about touring with Santana for the second time in our career. I mean everybody in the world had plans that this virus just put a halt on. I keep thinking about, what if they called and said, “this area feels good about having a concert. ” I guess I have to just wait and see how I feel when that happens. And if it’s two years? You know what comes to mind? “We’re fucked!” That was one of Maurice White’s colloquialisms. But I never conceive of not making music or playing music or performing. I mean right now I’m sitting in front of the piano. I’ve been spending this time studying jazz piano for hours and hours – it gives me much more appreciation for the music I love.