May-June 2020

COVID-19 FOLK

By Ross Altman, PhD

wash your handsRemember what Naomi Judd said to her girls when they were kids,

"Wash your hands, say your prayers, because germs and Jesus are everywhere."--Kinky Friedman

“We must love one another or die,” wrote W.H. Auden~ in September 1, 1939~ on the occasion of Germany’s invasion of Poland and the start of World War II. But his prophetic words are no less true today, as the world faces another pandemic, of Covid-19. So here we all are, six feet apart, to demonstrate our love for one another. We’re in the same boat, brother wrote E.Y. Harburg, during that war,

We’re in the same boat, brother

we’re in the same boat, brother

and if you shake one end

you’re gonna rock the other

we’re in the same boat, brother

In this Brave New World of Covid-19, to “love one another or die” translates to staying six feet apart when we go out—only if we must—and otherwise staying home. It means wearing face masks and gloves, and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds often.

There are songs for this war too—antiwar songs if you must. Where Have All the Rolls of Toilet Paper Gone? and Imagine (No Coronavirus)

It’s easy if you try

no lines at Trader Joe’s

above us only two-ply

Imagine all the people,

living for today

Oh you may say I’m a dreamer,

but I’m not the only one,

I hope some day you’ll join us,

but stay six feet apart.

In that vein, Ben E. King, were he alive, might have rewritten his classic song Stand By Me. It would sing:

Don’t stand by me, don’t stand by me, don’t stand, don’t stand by me.

And I wrote this talking blues:

Talking Covid-19 blues

Way back in march of 2020

I was singing woody’s pastures of plenty

And this land was made for you and me

I fall to pieces by patsy cline

Tom Paxton’s last thing on my mind

And other tunes from 1963

Didn’t have a care in the world

Til coronavirus came and took my girl away

I thought it was all a fake news hoax

Covid-19 must be a bad joke—by the ghost of phil ochs

But now i’m wearing a mask and rubber gloves

And washng my hands ten times a day with dove.

They flattened the curve in Washington state

“if you wait till you see it, it’s too late”

Social distancing and isolation

Led the way across the nation

California was the first

To outlaw social visitation

I can’t go into a nursing home

Where i used to play and sing my song

Since Governor Newsom laid down the law

I can’t sing “I’m my own grandpa”

With a cowboy hat like Roy and Gene

And close my show with “Goodnight Irene.”

What good’s a guitar if you’ve nowhere to play it

So i stay at home and just Mel Bay it

Practice and practice for there will come a time

When Covid is gone and I’m lost for a rhyme

And then I’ll take this old guitar

Out of its case and sing “swing on a star”

And “I’m my own grandpa.”

(By Ross Altman)

Superstar Neil Diamond updated Sweet Caroline,” to encourage people to wash their hands: Hands Washing Hands. And Randy Newman wrote Stay Away, a quarantine love song for his wife, which he introduced on CBS Sunday Morning:

Stay Away (Opening verse and chorus)

Venus in sweatpants

That's who you are

And when this mess is over

I'll buy you a car

We'll drive that car

So fast and so far

All your stupid friends

Will be left behind

Stay away from me

Baby, keep your distance, please

Stay away from me

Words of love in times like these…

And a heretofore unknown hit this comic (and be forewarned—tasteless) gem out of the park with Stay the Fuck at Home: Thank you to Chris Franklin for these lyrics:

The world has caught a virus so I've written you a poem,

We need your help to cure it so stay the fuck at home

And if you have got 12 kids or you're living on your own.

Lock it down and isolate and stay the fuck at home.

If you think you're not at risk here you're living in a dome,

it spreads faster than a hookers legs so stay the fuck at home.

"I need the gym, I need the beach,"

I hear you bitch and moan you need to grow a brain cell and stay the fuck at home

"But I feel fine... I don't feel sick, I'll go out on my own"

How thick are you? You selfish prrrrick! PLEASE! just stay the fuck at home!

From LA through to Berlin from Wuhan through to Rome

There's people dying every day so stay the fuck at home.

If you need to contact family use Facebook, Skype or phone,

We've got the fucking Internet, so stay the fuck at home.

The only way to slow it down is isolate not roam.

Please help the world get back on track and stay the fuck at home.

Stay the fuck at home, stay the fuck at home.
Don't you be a fucking dick, please stay the fuck at home.

Stay the fuck at home!

[Read by Samuel L. Jackson on Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.]

And most recently, on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, Adam Sandler performed his wonderful new Quarantine Song:

[Verse 1] Doctors brought us into this world as babies

Doctors take good care of your grandma

Doctors always give you an old lollipop

After hitting your knee with a hammer

[Verse 2] Nurses slap your arm 'til they find a good vein

They wear crocs and they tell you the truth

Nurses give you ice packs and pain medication

While your doctor is smokin' on the roof

[Chorus] Doctors and nurses will save us from this mess if we give them the supplies that they need

And I hope they save us soon 'cause I'm feelin' really sick of my family

[Verse 3]  If you're a nerd, a doctor can give you a note

So durin' gym class you don't have to run the mile

School nurses give the older, richer, stinky kids

So they're a little less stinky for a while

[Verse 4]  God bless Italian doctors in Italy

And all the Spanish doctors in Spain

And God bless Chinese doctors in China

And also Chinese doctors in America

[Chorus 2] We gotta build some better laters and make up more mass

We gotta do it now, so let's all come together

I'm teachin' math to my kids and that can't be good for America

[Outro] Stay home as much as you can

Make sure to wash your hands

To make this damn thing go away!

We love you, doctors and nurses

You're savin' lives everyday

Find a cure for this s***

'Cause I really, really miss huggin' my mailman

By Adam Sandler Produced by Jimmy Fallon

Without even realizing it, Carole King wrote the ultimate social distancing anthem almost 50 years ago. She has now  re-tooled So Far Away for the Social Distancing era and posted a video on her Facebook page to wish her fans well during the Covid-19 shut-in. Her updated lyrics perfectly capture these strange, strange days:

So far away

Everybody has to stay in one place anymore

It would be so fine to see your face at my door

Doesn’t help to know

You’re just time away

King also took time to send some well wishes to those on the front lines who are battling the virus, saying, "I just want to say that I hope you and your family are well and that you all stay well. I wish the same for all the medical professionals who are doing such important and difficult work. And also to thank all the people who keep the groceries coming, and the trash being picked up. There are just so many things that I don’t even know about, but I’m not taking it for granted, none of it. So thank you all. And thank you all for staying in and making sure that we do our part to help this crisis go away. May it be soon!”

Emma’s Revolution, Pat Humphries and Sandy O, came up with From a (Social) Distance, a brilliant parody of the Bette Midler song written by Julie Gold with lines like “From a distance Trump’s still an idiot.”

And speaking of brilliant parodies, we just got the latest from Roy Zimmerman  on his website. The Liar Tweets Tonight, a parody :of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, by Solomon Linda. Parody lyrics by Ede Morris, Roy Zimmerman, Melanie Harby:

“Satirical leftist anti-sectarian” protest singer David Rovics on his website has a whole slew of Pandemic and Covid-19 songs, including Viral Solidarity, I Turned 53 In Quarantine, Waiting For Their Check to Come, The Solution to the Toilet Paper Shortage and Unprecedented Precedent to make your day. You can’t miss with David Rovics.

And I was so happy to hear from my London friend Helen Munster:

Hey Ross,

Here's Ralph Mc Tell of 'Streets of London', if the link works.....

I have to pause by the hour to collect my thoughts.........

It's not good here. But hoping for better times.

All the very best to you and yours x

Ralph McTell reveals new song Masks and Gowns for Folk Radio, in recognition of the brilliant job that the front line workers are doing. Says Ralph: “It’s not available to buy or download, that was never the intention, but  we have started a petition to have the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square dedicated to the frontline workers who have given their lives—Doctors, Nurses, and all…

And finally, we joined Joan Baez and a chorus of well wishers to say Hello In There to John Prine as he battled Covid-19 for his life. John Prine lost that battle and died from complications of Coronavirus. Rest in Peace, Dear John. Here’s my obituary.

And finally, these:

See facebook for the unsilenced version: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2665925010399310

And, because I can’t end on a sad note:

Ross Altman has a PhD in Modern Literature from SUNY-Binghamton (1973); belongs to Local 47 (AFM); heads up The Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club (on hiatus until further notice due to Covid-19); he writes for FolkWorks; Ross may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  

All Columns by Ross Altman