Three Songs to Listen to When Fleeing COVID-19

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Sing me to sleep, Jigglypuff.

What a tragic week. Here’s three songs to help you cope with the campus closure, Bernie’s Super Tuesday defeat, and anything else you might be dealing with right now:

1. “We’ll Meet Again (Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When)” by Vera Lynn

If you’re from the United States, your grandparents probably know this song. Vera Lynn sang it at RSO shows, and it was a favorite among military couples separated during World War II. The message is heart wrenching but ultimately hopeful: “We’ll meet again / Don’t know where / Don’t know when”–in other words, we’ll meet again, either in this world or the next. Ultimately, it’s a song about resilience and hope. This is a great one to sing to your friends, or to your senior crush who you might not see again.

The best part is when the all-male chorus joins the female soloist, so that both members of this (very heteronormative) couple are singing goodbye to each other in unison. I cri evry tiem.

LYRICS:

We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away…

2. “It’s All over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan

Like most Bob Dylan songs, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is a bit cryptic. At first, I thought it was about a breakup. Now I’m less sure. Either way, the first lines are gold. Play it while you’re packing up. It calms your nerves.

LYRICS:

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out, the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue…

3. “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” by Woody Guthrie

“So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” tells the story of refugees fleeing the Dust Bowl during the 1930s. It’s part Dust Bowl Ballads, an album by the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie.

Another farewell song, its relevance to our current situation hardly needs explanation.

Here’s the chorus:

So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-blowin’ me home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.

Guthrie wrote his best songs during the Depression and the Second World War. Most of his work deals with the struggles of working people, vagabonds, and the downtrodden. If “We’ll Meet Again” is about youthful hope, “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” is about despair. There’s this overwhelming feeling of “well, I guess that’s it. What a shame it’s over.”

There’s also an eerily biblical quality to many of the verses. In concrete terms, Guthrie is singing about about leaving Texas to escape a man-made drought. But the repetition of dust (dust storms, grasslands turned to dust, roads covered in dust) echoes Genesis: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In other words: “So long, it’s been good to know yuh. This dusty old dust is a-blowin’ me home” = “The world is ending. It’s been nice knowing you! To dust I shall return — we’re all going to die!” In this way, for Guthrie, dust storms aren’t just terrifying in their own right; they represent death itself. Otherworldly stuff.

But amidst all this gloom, Guthrie manages to treat his material with a great, if dark, sense of humor. The abruptness of the whole situation (“the world’s ended; toodaloo!”) is, for him, a source of comedy. And, out of all the aspects of this song, it’s this ability to laugh in the face of the absurd that I’ve found the most valuable these last few days.

 

BONUS SONG:

“All You Fascists Bound to Loose,” another Guthrie song, contains the memorable, if today slightly nonsensical line “Put it there boy, we’ll show these fascists what a couple of hillbillies can do!” (How times change.) In light of Bernie’s stinging defeat in the Michigan Primary a few days ago (a defeat announced hours after the campus closure), perhaps this is another ditty worth listening to. Time will tell if it’s overly optimistic, smacks too much of the inevitability of progress.

 

Stay well and see you again soon.

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