Coronavirus Blues: An Exploration: Music History

Listening to the Coronavirus Blues while Thinking About the Future

Questlove and Coronavirus

As I sat pondering my future in this time of Coronavirus crisis, a good friend sent me an urgent message on Facebook Messenger. Go to YouTube, Search Roots Channel. Questlove is giving a masterclass on Marvin Gaye.

I figured it would be cool, my friend generally has decent taste in music, and I like both Questlove and Marvin Gaye. What I did not realize was that it would be a truly paradigm shifting experience.

What I found when I went to YouTube was a presentation of Marvin Gaye’s life story told by Questlove as he was mixing Marvin Gaye’s music. Live from Questlove’s living room with flashing red and blue lights it felt completely authentic and perfect. Why hasn’t music history and music journalism been presented more frequently in this multi-medium format.

I wonder this as I am seeing my recently obtained job potentially vanish into Coronavirus limbo. It gave me a long afternoon at home to think about the potential for a future path, what I want to accomplish and what I want to leave behind me on this earth. I’m not going to get into what happens after death here, but what we do and produce here leaves a mark, and I’ve only recently settled on what I want that mark to be.

Music History

It started when I was in Law School in California, when I started researching what I thought would be an epic story about a white man and a black man growing up through World War I, surviving the Great Depression, and finding climax in World War II. I never wrote that book, but one much better, and one that will open the door to a long series of books that follow a family and its descendants through the 20th Century. Not only the events that moved a people, but through the music that commented on those events.

If you follow this page, thank you mom, you might have heard of my novel Nobody’s Heroes. It is only half the first novel in that series. I am currently reworking the other half and combining them to publish the full version of the novel and initiate the series with an official and–I hope–traditional publication. I have already written the second novel and plotted out much of the next several. This series is what I want to leave behind. But to do this requires research, and to do that research requires money, and to get money, I need work…at least at this point in the process. Or at least I need a way to build an audience who can support my habits of reading about music history, history, and listening to music. All of which is ultimately in service of what I am calling the Ayers Family Saga.

This is my life’s work. This is what I want to leave behind. But what lacks is the means to eat and live while doing it. I have tried the law, but been found lacking. I thought I had a chance at Business Development–hell, I may still–but then Trump’s Chinese virus hit and locked us all out of our offices and may well lose me my job. I need something I can do with the resources I have, something that allows me to monetize my research without having to go through the bothersome process of getting a PhD and dealing with Ivory Tower politics.

That’s where Questlove and Marvin Gaye come in. I can use the research in music that I’m doing to present the history of Black Music in the 20th Century. It is a multivariate history, ranging from minstrel music, Tin-Pan Alley, and Broadway to Blues, Jazz, and Rock & Roll to Funk, Soul, and Disco to House, EDM, and Hip-Hop. And it is inextricably linked with the history of the United States. And in telling that story I can combine it with the actual music.

Why hasn’t music history been taught like Questlove teaches it before?

The only question that confronts me at the moment, though, is how. How do I go about presenting my research and my stories in a manner that will attract the most followers and touch the most hearts with the true-life stories of America’s musical history?

How to Stop Worrying and Love the Quest

Do I go full out and present a YouTube channel? I don’t have the means to startup a v-log and I don’t think I’m personally very aesthetic when it comes to the camera, nor do I have a presentation that must be presented live. Can there be live elements to it? Portions of the presentation chipped off to find homes in various social media locations? Sure. But do I think video is my primary medium? No. Music video is a separate medium in and of itself and presents distinct challenges in reporting. I’m not going to attempt to climb that mountain until I have a Nepalese guide whose climbed Everest at least three times.

But what about audio? A podcast? Music lends itself to the audio experience. And podcasts can cover niche aspects of history and still be successful. One of my favorite podcasts–in that I’ve listened to it more than once–is B’howery Boys about historical incidents in New York City’s past. They pull in nearly $4,000 a month on Patreon. I have a voice, one that was praised in my youth, and which seems fairly consistent now that I don’t drink. Once I draft the scripts I can record the presentation and add music and effects and otherwise create a podcast on a regular basis. But I would still have to prepare the script and do the research which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t combine the process.

In addition to producing a podcast I can post the scripts with links to the YouTube songs that I feature in that podcast. And then spread that information through multiple social media platforms.

And that’s where the situation becomes sticky. In all of my efforts to promote myself and my content I run across this problem, this promotion. I’m not so good at marketing myself. I’m getting better, and I’m learning some things, but I have yet to reach the point where I make breakthrough to the level where I can support myself by producing and marketing content.

But that’s the threshold I need to break, the plateau upon which I need to tread. I’m getting better at producing content regularly. I’m in a good state of mind–absent the Coronavirus blues–and I’m ready to walk the walk. I just need to find the subject matter that ignites my fire and that enthuses me enough, and for long enough, to be consistent enough to get to the point where I can actually start making money off this s$&t.

Corona-virus Blues

It’s a long way from an out of work crazy man who digs crime novels and black music stuck in Saigon to a successful blogger/podcaster who can make a living off his content. But the time is free, the moment is available. I suppose if I sing the blues long enough I just might get over the blues. That’s how it’s supposed to work, after all. You got the blues, the best way to get rid of them is to sing them.

So I’ve got the blues–and I’m one of the few people around who question the traditional narrative of the Delta Blues as a historical force–and I’ve got a computer and I’ve got a bit of time. I might just belly up to the bar and down a pint of black beer before the night is through–oh wait, the bars are all closed. That’s all right. I’m not supposed to drink. It affects my medication and creates a negative stereo-beast for practically a week afterwards.

I’ve go the blues. I can’t go drinking whiskey. I can’t go singing the blues. I don’t know how to sing. But I do know how to listen to them. I do know how to hear the feeling of those singers. And though I think the Delta Blues are far less important historically than most white people, I do enjoy them. Now, if you’re talking Chicago or Electric Blues, start out with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Albert King, then we might be able to have a conversation.

It’s a start, I suppose. A way to move forward and make something happen. Feel the music, hidden in my studio apartment off the City Center here in Vietnam. I’m out of money, out of work, downtrodden and blue, but I’ll still pull through. I might just produce some freaky content in the process too. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

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