By Madeline Barry
A new brand of sound has appeared on the Internet since the onslaught of the Coronavirus. This particular genre of music is rather niche, in that it focuses entirely on the current pandemic. Some songs are angry; calling attention to frayed political parties and crooked leaders, while others are lighthearted parodies. Nevertheless, while the tunes differ in tone, they all seek to memorialize the feelings experienced by many during this crisis.
Proud anarchist and indie songwriter David Rovics, who advertises his “Songs of Social Significance” on his personal website and YouTube page, takes protest music to a new level with his numerous pandemic-related songs. In the video to his song, “Corona Virus Climate Catastrophe Fascist Empire 2020 Blues Massacre,” released March 2, Rovics, with a stained black hoodie and an acoustic guitar, lambasts capitalism and the response from certain politicians to the virus. He sings, “As if the end times weren't right here/ Just go shopping, do not fear” (De Blasio anyone?), and at one point invokes a dictator, “Reactionaries on the rise / Mussolini reprise.” In the song description on his YouTube page, Rovics explains “Listening only to NPR's relatively sugar-coated version of the news on the way to take my teenage daughter to school recently, she dryly commented, ‘we are so screwed.’ This certainly would often appear to be the case.” He reiterates this dreary outlook in the song’s chorus, “It’s 2020 – the decade's just begun/ With any luck, we just might make it to 2021”. Other Coronavirus related material streaming from Rovics’s YouTube account include the song, “Once this Pandemic is Over” and an hour long “Pandemic Songwriting” video.
Benjamin Gibbard, Seattle resident and lead singer of the Grammy-nominated indie band, Death Cab for Cutie, and also of The Postal Service, released his new song “Life in Quarantine” on March 20. The song was released on the website of Seattle newspaper The Stranger as part of its “Message to the City” series, which features videos contributed by well-known Seattle residents ranging from small business owners to local activists.
In the song, Gibbard, accompanied by his guitar, sings slowly about desolate Seattle streets. “The sidewalks are empty/ the bars and cafes too/ the streetlights only changing because they ain’t got nothing better to do.” A familiar scene, indeed. About halfway through the song, the lyrics take a darker turn: “People have a way of going crazy/ when they think they’ll be dead in a month”. He calls these the “days of no guarantees” and repeats “No one’s going anywhere soon”. The song is available to stream on Spotify, and according to the online publication, Vulture, Gibbard will be donating proceeds from the song to various Seattle-based organizations. One of these is Aurora Commons, a nonprofit organization that aids the homeless population of the city by offering them a space to eat, commune, and connect. For more Benjamin Gibbard tunes, check out the Death Cab for Cutie Instagram page. Gibbard is very active on the page and frequently streams his music via the app’s Live Stream option.
THE ROLLING STONES
The Rolling Stones have released their first original song in eight years. Titled “Living in A Ghost Town,” the song was actually written in 2019, but because of its eerie relevance as well as the cancellation of the band’s upcoming tour, it was released on April 23. The original lyrics were modified to be more sensitive to the times, Jagger explained in an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music. The final version of the song was recorded in isolation. In typical Rolling Stones rock and roll fashion, the song laments being unable to go out, have fun, and party. “Living in this ghost town/ Ain't having any fun/ If I want a party/ It's a party of one.”
CORONALOLA: A CORONAVIRUS KINKS PARODY
On the opposite end of the pandemic song spectrum are the variety of Coronavirus parodies that have appeared on YouTube. One such parody is “CoronaLola: A Coronavirus Kinks Parody” written and produced by Hugh Fink, who is known for his work on This Is 40 (2012), and Saturday Night Live (1995-2019). The video was released on his YouTube account, Hugh on First, on April 16. The song, sung to the tune of the Kinks song, “Lola”, as the title suggests, features funny lyrics (Fink brilliantly rhymes vaccine with Hydroxychloroquine) and multiple samplings of familiar news clips. These include guest appearances from a number of Coronavirus skeptics such as Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, as well as snippets from President Trump’s speeches. At one point, the music plays and Trump’s voice declares, “I don’t take responsibility for this at all” and “What do I know? I’m not a doctor.” You’ll recognize a few more familiar faces, including a segment taken from the interview with a proud Florida spring breaker who determinedly said, “I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.” Even the Charmin bear makes an appearance. Look out for the images of homemade hazmat suits, and parents picking up their kids from school (pre-school closures of course) spraying their children with Lysol. But it is Governor Cuomo who steals the show. “I’m not the world’s most political man/ But I know a good man who should be President/ His name is Cuomo/ Cuo, Cuo, Cuo Cuomo”.
Andrew Cuomo is the star of another pandemic parody video by YouTuber Randy Rainbow. “ANDY! A Rainbow Song Parody” is sung to the tune of the Grease song “Sandy”. This time however, instead of watching John Travolta sulk at the drive-in movie theater, we see Randy Rainbow grace the screen in a variety of fun 1950’s themed costumes. He praises Governor Cuomo, “Oh Andy, baby, someday, when COVID’s not a thing/ If we’re on Earth, for what it’s worth, I hope they make you King/ You run my state/ While I gain weight/ With grace and dignity/ Oh please, be my dad/ Oh Andy!” It’s worth mentioning that Andrew isn’t the only Cuomo that Randy appreciates. Chris makes a cameo, too.
Adele fans will enjoy Chris Mann’s song, “Hello (from the Inside) An Adele Parody” streaming from his YouTube page, Chris Mann Music. The video begins with an image of Mann peering out of his window, palms pressed against the glass. He sings, “Hello it’s me/ I’m in California dreaming about going out to eat/ just a burger/ with cheese/ or a shaken margarita, baby back ribs from Chile’s. As the song continues, Mann’s desperation increases. His face gets closer to the window; his nose practically flattened against the glass and his palms claw at the thin layer separating him from the outside world. “Hello to Corona Life/ They’re saying stay home till July/ Jesus Christ, Almighty/ Can you please send me strength/ I’m so sick and tired of my own goddamn face.” Perhaps the best part of this video is Mann’s ability to hit the high notes (watch out, Adele!). In addition to this pandemic parody, Mann has a song and video titled, “My Corona” sung to the tune of— you guessed it— “My Sharona.”
“The Liar Tweets Tonight” is the most recent of these satirical videos. Roy Zimmerman, leftist singer and songwriter, released the tune on his YouTube page on April 21. The video stars Zimmerman and The ReZisters, a crew of vocal folks of all ages. It was made in collaboration with the Raging Grannies of Mendocino, whom the Mendocino Voice described as “a group of mature female musical activists who show up and make fun of political hypocrisy wherever they can.” Sung to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “The Liar Tweets Tonight” features Zimmerman and the aforementioned groups replacing the famous chorus, “Ohi’mbube, Ohi'mbube ” with “Vote him away, vote him away”. The anti-Trump sentiment is strong in this one. “In the White House, the mighty White House, the liar tweets tonight/ In the West Wing, the self-obsessed wing/ the liar tweets tonight.” Fans of the Netflix series “The Tiger King” will appreciate the comparisons of Trump to Joe Exotic, aka Don Exotic Lyin King.” Zimmerman invites anyone who wants to participate in the next virtual sing-in video, to sign up for his mailing list: http://www.royzimmerman.com
Madeline Barry is a high school English teacher at Northside Charter High School in North Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She teaches three sections of senior English and two introductory Latin classes. Figuring out virtual learning, listening to music, and writing for The Insider has kept her semi-sane during the quarantine.