In grad school I wrote a few papers the point of which boiled down to, yes, the message of “Moby Dick” is bleak, but the fact we live in a world where art as great as “Moby Dick” exists is affirming. In this spirit I offer a few songs that have been on my playlist the last month, with an informing idea that sad plus beautiful equals more than sad.

  1. “Hold On,” John Lennon. For the middle of the night: a prayer for yourself, to yourself. Also like the emphasis on getting things done. Small accomplishments in dire times are important.
    *
  2. “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear,” Blondie. “Keep Your Distance” by Richard Thompson or “Don’t Stand So Close” are the more obvious choices but I’ve spoken before about how ambivalent I am about good advice. If we can’t hang out in person, like Debbie we’ll just have to be content with navigating the psychic frequencies together for a while. Social distancing is not required in the stratosphere.
    *
  3. “Don’t Worry About the Government,” Talking Heads. For the verse about taking a break from work when friends come to visit–even in apocalypic circumstances friends and work are both still very important! Also for the nod to civil servants, to which I’ll add medical workers and governors and everyone else working hard for the greater good. They do feel just like our loved ones.
    *
  4. “It Never Was You,” Bobby Short. My favorite version of this is from German singer Helen Schneider, who sings it as if surprised by her own emotions, but that one seems to be out of print so we’ll go with Bobby’s matter-of-fact ruefulness. For everyone separated by distance or mortality. One of the saddest songs I know. But he clearly loves her so much–and how can that be all bad?
    *
  5. “Dreaming My Dreams with You,” John Prine featuring Kathy Mattea. Another sad one. Nothing can touch Waylon’s original but this is wonderful in its own modest way. Loss, responsibility, resilience, resolve. And of course R.I.P. to John.

P.S. Props to Bruce Springsteen for showing his sense of humor hasn’t deserted him entirely by playing “Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu” during his otherwise ponderous guest dj stint on E Street Radio this week (free Sirius XM for all until May, folks!)