A Musician Speaks Out: COVID-apathy and the tyranny of greed

Homeless for Christmas photo credit: Kyle K. Mann

by Indigo Pearl

Gonzo Today contributor

So, I am a musician.

Immediately, there is the assumption that I am flaky and don’t like to work hard, I strive to be famous and rich, and my talent is some kind of privilege I have, for which I am both envied and despised, and sometimes admired. 

I was talking with a real estate agent about an apartment for rent in a rural, economically depressed, yet well on its way to gentrification, southern VT town. The unit was tiny and over priced, but he already had 100 people vying for it. No doubt a bunch of them were NYC residents able and willing to pay much higher rent than someone else who may need to find shelter for the winter, and who does not have a well paying online job- Someone like me.

So, as I said, I am a musician, a songwriter and a performer. 

I would think it needless to say, but apparently it is most needful, that my entire industry is still CLOSED, people! While you all are settling into a long haul in a home-based, or mask dominated new normal, have you forgotten that there are people out here- visual artists, musicians, dancers, performers, comedians, actors, writers, poets, anyone working in the performing and filmed arts industries and all the off-stage writers, designers, creators and crews, venue personnel and owners, who are not making any moneystill.

Not only is our industry closed for the foreseeable future, the day jobs we usually all do to stay afloat have disappeared. Unless we are famous, apparently we don’t really deserve to make any money at our craft. Think about it, what we do is for the soul of the community, for the release and healing that can happen especially during live performances, for the sanity that we bring to the human condition, by fulfilling our collective need for creative expression.

We artists provide a mirror, a form of acceptance, a way to let go, a pressure valve for the charge of whatever we all feel; a charge that can easily, with enough stress, fear, corrupt politics and narrow mindedness (oops, I am describing the present moment) can ignite us all into insane, violent, crazy monsters with big guns and bombs and knives and toxic words and unbridled brutal sexuality and greed.

Yes, lots of people went out and hogged guns and toilet paper at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but there were those of us who watched a good movie, listened to good music, read a good book, or looked at beautiful art to calm down and not lose our humanity and our sanity. 

Art is a vital and important service, perhaps the only thing that’s holding the human race together right now, and keeping us from annihilating each other, as we are nearing mass homelessness, starvation and injustices, as have never been seen before in the USA or anywhere else in the developed world. Need I remind you that when Hitler rose to power and as soon as he invaded Poland, intellectuals and artists were the first to be rounded up and shot?

Artists fulfill a vital purpose of turning our communal shit into gold, and for the lucky ones, gold records.

So, the jobs we do to stay afloat are mostly gone – restaurants, bars, large gatherings in which we entertain. What about teaching? Even if I triumphed in the battle with technology (singing with a group of kids over Zoom is not the same as talking to muted adults in a lecture or a yoga class) I wouldn’t even consider it.

I used to teach music and it was the first thing taken off the budget at the California schools I worked for in the early 2000s when we had an economy crash. We lost a golden opportunity to collapse the empire of banks, and jail their rotten CEOs, but instead we just threw our economy under the bus so they can continue business as usual… sound familiar? Oops again, I am describing the present moment. So, no, I am not trying to teach, too busy trying to survive.

So, as I said, I am a musician, and I am talking to this real estate agent about an apartment he won’t let me see, and he is interrogating me about my “income situation.” I had to disclose that unless there was a CARES act and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig workers, I’d have been homeless long ago, but that I saved some money and am writing grants, and have excellent references. I think the power game here is that I am supposed to feign shame and, like a little dog in need of adoption, I must try to impress this potential pet owner with the quality of my former adoption history, since I have no pedigree!

NO! Fuck that! I called him out on a human level.

I am a musician, I write and perform music, I am producing a record, I am doggedly continuing to practice and share my God-given ability to heal the human psyche. (And when we all wake up from this nightmare and realize that we are all, indeed, in this together, and that artists possess the tools for healing from trauma, suddenly you’ll get what I am saying.) I am more than my income, and credit score and landlord references… and I am not alone! I am part of a giant group, shall we say, a COVID-19 minority. Just because the American public found a way to live without live entertainment, doesn’t mean the people who provide it have gone into stasis in space until needed again… we are here, bobbing in the wreckage of our livelihoods, hoping to be carried by an appreciative society to a safe shore before we freeze to death!

So, Steve, the agent, and I were talking and pretending that it is OK for landlords to suddenly need more money for their mortgages than they needed before, and that it is not an opportunistic move on the part of the homeowners to suddenly raise the rents.

Have you noticed how the pandemic disrupted everything other than political corruption/human greed?

A friend of mine got literally bullied out of his rent money by a private lender of student loans (Sally Mae, in case you are wondering) and not only did they strong arm the payment out of him, they also hit his credit for being a bit late so now his score is down. Did I mention he is an artist also about to be homeless? I wonder if the Sally Mae agent my friend spoke to got “the extortionist of the month” award, and maybe even an extra “Hero” bonus for managing it during a global pandemic.

For some reason it is totally OK for the leaders of this country, and from were I stand, it really doesn’t matter who the president is, to play with our lives and show us how to abuse each other. I don’t need to know your politics to know that if you own a rental property, in the current atmosphere of COVID-apathy, you wouldn’t care that a musician will freeze her ass off in the New England winter and may very well be actually homeless next week; no, you’ll just exercise your right to charge whatever the market will bear for your rental unit. 

It is also OK, for some reason, for a greedy lender to bully a young graduate into handing over their last dime, in a reality in which, even without a pandemic, they are barely able to make enough of a living to stay off the street. Those banks don’t need that money, but as essential businesses the law empowers them to ruin a person’s life, just out of habit, simply because they can. It’s business as usual! 

But we are all in this together, right?

Am I bitter? Is this not entertaining enough for you? Am I not performing tricks to your satisfaction? 

Anyway, as I said, I am a musician. I can’t not make music. Sure, I’d love to make some money, but all the places I used to work are not hiring so yes, I am unemployed. Suddenly, since people from dense urban areas who can work from anywhere started moving to my rural part of New England where they are less likely to get infected with COVID-19, and where I have been sheltering in place, I am also desperate, to the point that any home owner I tried to even talk to about renting from them, sadly admitted that my financial situation caused them distress.

It did not occur to them to just rent me the place for a few hundred dollars less (what they were, no doubt, renting it for before the pandemic) just because they liked me, got a good word from my references and checked my credit. I never got that far.

We are all pretending that just because COVID-19 caused the real estate values to shift, it is OK that those of us who have not even begun to recover from the quarantine, nor see recovering in the near future, will just be cast aside and denied housing.

Am I bitter? Nah, I get it, everyone is grasping at what they can. But it’s bitter cold out here and since I started writing this rant I have become homeless and moved into a tent.

This is not a test.

It’s the truth!

Indigo Pearl

Dec. 30, 2020