Answers to “What Songs Do You Turn To At Times Like These?” Part Two

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“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack
A crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”


from “Anthem”
By Leonard Cohen

This is the second part of this three-part series in which we posed the question to our readers and friends around America and beyond: What songs, if any, do you turn to at times of crisis like this one?

The responses received were voluminous, and reflect a beautifully vast range of music. That so many people took the time to share their songs with us reflects the timeless power of song in our lives. Songs have always been there for us at all times. In happy times we sing and play them and dance to them. In the saddest times, as well, songs express better than anything that words cannot.

And at times of real crisis, when there is fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the immediate future for all of us and our loved ones, songs matter more than ever.

So, to all who contributed with both joy and sorrow expressed, please accept our gratitude for the music, the words, and the hope this provides that we will all stay united and strong, bonded by the timeless love and beauty of song. 

It all starts with an old friend, and a song needed more than ever, Paul Simon and his new performance of his song “American Tune,” which he posted days ago on his website.

Paul Simon, “American Tune for Til Further Notice.

JEFF GOLD [Singer-songwriter, musician, producer, teacher; West Valley Music store owner; West Hills, California].
Paul Simon’s new version of “American Tune.”

DARRYL PURPOSE. [Singer-songwriter, Teacher, Blackjack Champion, Friend, Father; Nederland, Colorado].
I’ve been going back to The Beatles a lot lately. And Paul Simon is always there for us.

DAVID MESIROW [Musician; Chicago, Illinois].
“Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and anything by Paul Simon/Garfunkel or The Beatles, such as “I’ll Follow the Sun.”

DAVID HAMMER [West Palm Beach, Florida].
When I saw this Paul Simon video of “American Tune” the other day, I was absolutely gobsmacked. Strange that he wrote this about the Nixon era.

Now we have a White House occupant that makes Nixon look like a choirboy.
Everything about this song fits our moment. Perfectly.

CHRIS SEEFRIED [Songwriter, Producer; Los Angeles, California].
Staying home reading, writing and listening. Can be very healing.
A song for today for me is Mary Lou Williams, “Saint Martin de Porres”.
Wishing everyone safety, good health and restoration.

Mary Lou Williams, “Saint Martin de Porres”.

QVEEN HERBY [Rapper, Songwriter; Los Angeles]. 
I have noticed that I’ve been reverting to the music I listened to when I was growing up. So I’ll listen to ’90s R&B, hip hop, and then, every night,  I make it a point to take a bath; a lot of spiritual people have said that water actually removes negative energies from your body. And so I’ll put ten drops of lavender oil in a hot bath and I’ll listen to classical music. That’s my secret reset at the end of the day. because if you go to bed smelling like lavender, the heat raises your body temperature and relaxes you, kind of like a hot tub. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t have a hot tub,” I tell them that their bathtub is actually even better, because you can be alone and focused.

One of my favorite pieces I have been playing lately is “The Lark Ascending,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Which is so beautiful.  

“The Lark Ascending,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

SUSAN-ROBERTO QUINTANA DE FOSTER [Altadena, California].
“Anthem” by Leonard Cohen inspires hope in the darkness, and reminds me I can share that hope and build on it. My solution doesn’t have to be perfect to make a difference, but I do need to do whatever I can do. 

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem.”

STEVE BERLIN [Attorney, government ethicist; Chicago, Illinois].
Simon & Garfunkel, “The Only Living Boy in New York,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
The Beatles, “A Day in The Life,” “Eleanor Rigby.”
WWII songs, like :A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “We’ll Meet Again,”A Wing and Prayer.”

I’m also reminded of this poem:
“On Hearing a Symphony by Beethoven,”
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!
Reject me not into the world again.
With you alone is excellence and peace,
Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain.
Enchanted in your air benign and shrewd,
With limbs a-sprawl and empty faces pale,
The spiteful and the stingy and the rude
Sleep like the scullions in the fairy-tale.
This moment is the best the world can give:
The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
Reject me not, sweet sounds; oh, let me live,
Till Doom espy my towers and scatter them,
A city spell-bound under the aging sun.
Music my rampart, and my only one.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

DOUG OLIAS VENCIL [Lyft Driver; San Diego, California]

The entire Last Autumn’s Dream by Jade Warrior. Released in early 1972, it is my #1 go-to album to lift me and transport me gently into another, calmer dimension.

JEFF SHATTUCK [“Marketing Drone,”Songwriter; Austin, Texas.]
To mirror the times I’ve been listening to “Wild World”  by Cat Stevens quite a bit. For a pick me up, it’s The Rolling Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from Get Yer Ya Yas Out.”

CANDACE FAUNCE. [Mediator; Pismo Beach, Palm Springs, Whidbey Island, Washington (“All three simulatneously at the moment.”)]
“Sunshine On My Shoulders,” by John Denver, for one. “If I had a day that I could give you, I’d give to you a day just like today.” John has a way of taking me right to the present moment. His songs remind me of what is sacred and special, even in the midst of chaos. I’m a Mediator (mediation as opposed to meditation) and from Pismo Beach, Palm Springs and Whidbey Island, WA (all 3 simultaneously at the moment) ♥️

John Denver, “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

JAN LINDER-KODA. [Singer, artist; Los Angeles].
“God Bless The Child” by Billie Holiday.

Billie Holiday, “God Bless The Child.”

WILLIE ARON [Musician, Composer, Recording Artist with THEE HOLY BROTHERS; Los Angeles, California]. 

I’m not sure that I’m turning to music as a source of comfort during this time. If that were the case, I’d certainly be listening to plenty of what I consider my musical “comfort food”: The Beatles, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, etc. But I’m using this time instead to play, write and listen in a way that challenges the way I typically hear and experience music. 

For example, my 11 year-old daughter is an advanced beginner/intermediate level clarinetist in her school orchestra. She asked if I would introduce her to some interesting music for clarinet for her to learn. I immediately played her “Mood Indigo” and “Black and Tan Fantasy” by Duke Ellington, who’s probably my favorite musical artist after The Beatles. I tried listening to the pieces along with her as if I heard them for the very first time, as she did. It was a bracing experience, trying to listen anew to music that’s been such a part of my DNA.

Duke Ellington, “Mood Indigo.”

PETER MILLER. [Filmmaker, Documentarian (AKA Doc Pomus, and others); New York City]
My go-to music in times of trouble (or times of joy) is always the Modern Lovers, especially the first album, back when Jonathan Richman and his group were rock ‘n rollers, and they sang about love, anxiety, and trying to make sense of one’s life in suburban Boston. When this all returns to something like normal, I look forward to driving past the Stop & Shop with the radio on.

JON COLTON BARRY [Writer/Producer/Creator; Los Angeles, California]. 
Songs and music are mysterious, and our interaction with them seems to work on so many sub-levels upon which there feels like no great urgency to reflect. Music is one of life’s great pleasures that is totally personal and there is no wrong answer. Most pleasures, like delicious food, for example, come with restrictions. Even if we choose to ignore it, we are aware that too much, or the wrong kind of food, is not healthy. Not so with music. 

Listen to Fear or Cole Porter or Taylor Swift all you want. You’ll be fine. That said, being a creative professional (and songwriter, among other things), I have thought about the “whys” and “hows” of music listening and, during these strange, unnerving times, what I find myself listening to makes sense to me. 

My creative work has been a great psychological comfort and distraction. It’s something one can, more or less, control, and, by its very nature, it (should) actually entertain you as you work hard to create something entertaining. What a gift right now. 

I was listening to a few different things before the recent pandemic shut the world down and, very organically, I shifted over to music I return to every so often and of which I can never seem to reach the bottom: Steely Dan. 

The Dan may seem like an odd choice for a comforting balm, but for me, apart from the pure pleasure of the music, the songs and music of Donald Fagen and the late, criminally underappreciated Walter Becker, stimulate my brain in ways other Pop/Rock doesn’t. On one level, if I’m writing a script and have them on in the background, they become a smooth, slick melodic metronome tossing just enough odd words or chord changes into the subconscious to keep the brain roiled, but not disrupted. 

If my brain decides to focus more and begins dissecting the craft of what they are actually doing at every level, well, to ever reach a complete understanding of that feels tantamount to going back to school for a Masters Degree – perhaps even a PhD – in a good way! My music theory and technical knowledge is limited, which is another wonderful thing about music: there’s endless learning and growth. Endless. 

Finally, yes, there is, for me, something actually emotionally comforting about the distanced, ironic and cynical stance of Steely Dan. The danger right now is real and close to home. At the moment, I don’t want to hear songs that draw my attention to the flux of emotions constantly bubbling in and around me. At this moment (and that might change tomorrow;  I don’t want to be sucked down or lifted up, I appear to prefer the relief of standing outside it all. Objective, but with a sense of humor.)

Right now it feels like the world might explode and Steely Dan is giving me a momentary escape hatch to sit in a cool theater, watch it up on the big screen, and even be amused by the cliches and bad acting. We can’t go outside, so I’m enjoying going outside. (And that was the short answer.)

Steely Dan, “The Boston Rag.”

GREGORY DAVID YOUNG.
I kind of like snarky tunes from John Prine to snap me out of self-pity. Like ‘ Please Don’t Bury Me.’

RW SANDERS.
“I Don’t Want To Hold Your Hand.”

CAROLINE SCHWARZ [Recently lost job as Customer Service Manager, Sales Associate; Eureka, California.]
I keep turning to Warren Zevon! His blend of gallows humor and tenderness with which he views humanity is, while perhaps not for some at this moment, perfect for me right now. He helps me laugh and cry in ways that are both cathartic. I can’t help thinking he should be alive at this time – it seems suited to his artistry. 

So yeah, been putting Warren on about every day. A few winning tracks: “Splendid Isolation,” “ Life’ll Kill Ya,” ( really, that whole album), “(Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” “Fistful of Rain,”… man

Also his final album, The Wind: “Disorder In The House,” “Dirty Life And Times,” “Keep Me In Your Heart.”

Yeah, those final two records of his in particular are made for right now. I guess for me, with Warren, it’s less comfort, per se, or distraction, as it’s a deep dive into the human condition with someone who was (is) a master at seeing and speaking the darkness and the light. Because, as we all know, you don’t have one without the other.

I also run The Bob Dylan Fan Club (non paying gig). I listen to Bob Dylan every day too, and the album of his which I turned to the other day is John Wesley Harding, Bob’s album of parables sung in his soothing, country voice: 

If you see your neighbor carrying something, help him with his load, And don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road.” 
These moral story-songs of Bob’s that fill this album make for easy, comforting listening right now.

Warren Zevon, “Splendid Isolation.”

PEGGY FLINN GLENN [Freelance writer, editor; Prescott, Arizona].
Since the early 90s, Kathy Mattea has been my musical touchstone. She delivers every song, in a live show or recorded, as a precious gift. She is a careful song chooser and a brilliant song interpreter.

Through the songs she’s chosen to record and put into the world, she’s consoled me in difficult times, guided me through sticky issues, rejoiced with me when good stuff happened, and reminded me that I’m not alone. She’s also told me stories of other people so I could focus out from me and become more selfless

Examples: “Where’ve You Been,” “Walk The Way The Wind Blows,” “Come From The Heart,” “BFD,” “There’s Still My Joy,” “Nobody’s Gonna Rain On My Parade,” “Late In The Day,” “Love Travels.”

Bonus: One of the biggest blessings is that I’ve met nearly every songwriter who’s written the songs she’s chosen to record.

NANCY KELEL [Songwriter, Retired Insurance Salesperson; Los Angeles].
Songwriter. Los Angeles]. 
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Ever since hearing this particular song about five years ago, it became my absolute “Go To” song for comfort and calm. The songwriter is Jimi Yamagishi. His song “Count Your Blessings” from his Talkstory  LP is pure gold to me. I have actually let him know this personally but doubt he realized the depths his song has touched in my heart. Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in.

Jimi Yamagishi, “Count Your Blessings.”

JIMI YAMAGISHI [Songwriter, musician; Alhambra, California]
So many local writers that I love. Britt Kusserow’s “This Will Be Your Year” is one of my favorites in these times. Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” always has me singing along. Brenda Russell’s “Drive my Car ’till Sunset” is always in my car and starts off every cruising playlist I have. 

LISA NEMZO [Songwriter/Producer, “Used to be touring non-stop, not so much anymore” touring musician; Los Angeles].
What songs or songwriters do you turn to now? Which ones have worked the best? I love listening to Jimmy Webb, always, anything he ever wrote.” “Adios” always makes me cry.
Then Katrina and the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine” and “Ace,” “”How Long, (Has This Been Going On)”. 
Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa are my faves right now.

Dua Lipa, “Future Nostalgia”
Linda Ronstadt, “Adios” by Jimmy Webb.

DAVID ZIMMER [Writer, Author of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Biography, with photos by Henry Diltz; New Jersey]. 
 My go-to music during this COVID-19 crisis is (surprise, surprise) Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSNY, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. This CSNY song, “Heartland” by Graham Nash, from 1999’s Looking Forward album, may not apply directly to our current “shelter in place” mode but it gives me comfort and hope that we will get through this. Stay well. Sending peace and love from New Jersey.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Heartland.” Written by Graham Nash.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS [Reverend, Writer, Caregiver; DeRidder, Louisiana.].
Music has meant a lot to me. It has gotten me through such bad times and led me to some of the best friends of my life.

KATHRYN DAVID [Joshua Tree, California].
Tom Petty, particularly “Learning to Fly,” as I feel that I’ve let down everyone in my life at the moment, but am trying to find my way up.

Also, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, Kevin Welch, Dolly Parton, Margo Price. 

SALLY DEMING.
Besides Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,  (the Seattle band) The Head & The Heart. Their song “Rivers & Roads” has always been the perfect song of what I’m missing and where I hope to be. 

The Heart and the Head, “Rivers and Roads.”

BERTRAM ULRICH [NASA Liaison Multimedia; Washington, DC.] .
I decided I would add to the cool Chaplin/Gold Rush reference and add mine which was as apt during the depression and it is today: Chaplin’s “Smile” (if he really wrote it). *
Stay healthy everyone.

The closing scenes of Chaplin’s Modern Times, featuring his music.

*[Editor’s note: Chaplin did write “Smile,” but not alone. For the whole story, see: Smile.

SAMANTHA ELIN [Book editor “with a passion for songwriting”; os Angeles, California.] 
When the tension is high, Bossa Nova is my soothing salve. Listening to Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim trade off delicate vocals on “Agua de Beber” and Gilberto sweetly singing “Corcovado,” backed by Stan Getz’s sultry sax, is akin to being enveloped in wisps of warm, summer ocean breezes.The ultimate in relaxation,

Astrud Gilberto, “Agua de Beber” by Antonio Carlos Jobim

JAMES ELIOPULOS [Writer; Los Angeles]. 
“The sea refuses no river,
And the river is where I am.” 
[from “The Sea Refuses No River,” by Pete Townshend].
The truth is beauty, and that is about as true as it gets.

Pete Townshend, “The Sea Refuses No River.”

EILEEN WEINER [Comedian; Hollywood, California].
John Martyn, “May You Never.”

John Martyn, “May You Never.”

JIM TOOMBS [Retired small animal orthopedic surgeon & professor; West Lafayette, Indiana].
My go-to in times like these is Tom Petty. The first song that comes to my mind today is Tom’s cover of the Little Feat song “Willin.”

DAVID LASSEN [Former LA area sportswriter, now senior editor, Trains Magazine, Waukesha, Wisconsin.]
While my listening varies a lot from day to day, I find myself listening to a lot of Everything But The Girl. They had a really interesting career arc from folkie to electronica, and there’s something about Tracey Thorn’s voice that I just love. And they have music that fits a lot of moods. 

Rj CHESNEY [Singer-Songwriter; Los Angeles.]
“Chet Baker’s Unsung Swan Song.” I can’t exactly tell you why this song by David Wilcox gives me so much comfort in dark times. It may just be the open rawness of the lyric . One of my favorite lyrics of all time . The version of the song I like best is by kd lang off her album Drag. Hits me deep down in my bones every time .

“Chet Baker’s Unsung Swan Song”
By David Wilcox 

My old addiction
Changed the wiring in my brain
So that when it turns the switches
Then I am not the same
So like the flowers toward the Sun
I will follow
Stretch myself out thin
Like there’s a part of me that’s already buried
That sends me out into this window

My old addiction
Is a flood upon the land
This tiny lifeboat
Can keep me dry
But my weight is all
That it can stand
So when I try to lean just a little
For just a splash to cool my face
Ahh that trickle
Turns out fickle
Fills my boat up
Five miles deep

My old addiction
Makes me crave only what is best
Like these just this morning song birds
Craving upward from the nest
These tiny birds outside my window
Take my hand to be their mom
These open mouths
Would trust and swallow
Anything that came along

Like my old addiction
Now the other side of Day
As the springtime
Of my life’s time
Turn the other way
If a swan can have a song
I think I know that tune
But the page is only scrawled
And I am gone this afternoon
But the page is only scrawled
And I am gone this afternoon

David Wilcox, “Chet Baker’s Unsung Swan Song.”

NIKKI O’NEILL [Musician, Author of Women’s Road to Rock Guitar].  
Al Green,  “The Spirit Might Come” (from Higher Plane).
Aretha Franklin, “Spirit in the Dark” (from Spirit in the Dark).
U2, “Stuck in a Moment” (from All That You Can’t Leave).
And yes, “Hey Jude,”  by The Beatles or Wilson Pickett’s rendition of it.

HAPPYRON HILL [Songwriter, Music Coach; San Diego, California].
“Hey Jude,” by The Beatles. It’s the perfect song that captures so much of what The Beatles were about. The Beatles always had the right combination of simplicity, to keep it accessible, yet also complexity, to keep it interesting.

The song is simple in that most of it is one line repeated over and over. The sing-along part makes it one of the most accessible songs ever written and instantly makes people feel more connected to the world and each other,  exactly what we need right now.

Yet the song is complex in the amazing vocal gymnastics that Paul does while singing. Also the variety of instruments coming in and out underneath. The chord progression is a simple V-IV-I-V progression, yet the notes emphasized and the resolved feeling on the V chord gives it a distinctly modal flavor that makes it fit with the rest of the song, but also sound different.

Just the thing to inspire a physically isolated songwriter who is trying to stay connected to the world – and to music.

The Beatles, “Hey Jude.”

JAMES COMBS [Songwriter/ Recording Artist, with Great Willow; Los Angeles, California].
We are listening to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major a lot in the last week (and other Bach cello suites, too). Brightness, warmth, beauty and humanity is what we need right now, and this piece has it all to my ear. It feels like warm weather and open air. 

Early songs by The Beatles really help too, from that first blush of brilliance – “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” our breakfast music. It starts the day with the spirit of youth, humor, creativity and fun before my nine-year-old son settles into a quiet morning of schoolwork at home. The Beatles are such masters at igniting the spark of humanity, which we all need to remain in touch with in the coming months – the feeling that there will be brighter days ahead.

Yo-Yo Ma, Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.

BOB KEALING [Spokesman/PIO at Seminole County Sheriff’s Office; Florida]. 
Dylan, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” “It’s such a joyful song, given that he was laid up after his motorcycle accident. May it give us all a sense of joy in an otherwise rueful time.”

Bob Dylan, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”

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