James McMurtry: 'Postponing Tour Dates Is the Only Ethical Choice' - Rolling Stone
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Op-Ed: Postponing Tour Dates Is the Only Ethical Choice

Singer-songwriter James McMurtry on why he’s halting his tour during the coronavirus pandemic

James McMurtry

James McMurtry is postponing his upcoming tour dates because it's the "ethical choice at this time."

Mary Keating Bruton*

James McMurtry has never been meek when it comes to sharing his political opinions. During the George W. Bush administration, he was relentless in his criticism of the president and his White House via songs like “Cheney’s Toy” and “We Can’t Make It Here.” On Saturday, the American singer-songwriter (and son of novelist Larry McMurtry) released a statement saying he was postponing his scheduled tour dates because of the coronavirus pandemic. Here he expands on his statement and touches on the finances of touring, U.S. healthcare, and the lack of leadership by President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Like a number of touring musicians, I have postponed all my March and early April tour dates. A couple of the clubs were already pulling out, and the rest might have eventually followed suit, because postponing the dates is the only ethical choice at this time. The reports from Northern Italy are horrific. If anyone still believes COVID-19 is a hoax or overblown, they need to read the Newsweek article titled, “Young and Unafraid of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Good for You, Now Stop Killing People,” written by an Italian doctor.

Everyone involved in my postponed tour is taking a financial hit, but we have to. We can’t be abetting a situation such as the one happening now in Italy, where doctors are having to decide whom to treat and whom to let die, because the virus spread so fast that there are far more sick than there are beds and respirators. We can’t stop this thing, we can only slow it down, hopefully slow it down enough that our healthcare system can handle the steady flow. To slow the spread, we must take uncomfortable action, and we the people must take action on our own because we are leaderless. The governor of my home state, Texas, where there are quite a few confirmed cases of COVID-19, has yet to close schools. Due to lack of testing, we have who knows how many unconfirmed cases, yet our schools are open.

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Our president has actually been exposed to the virus, which is highly contagious even in asymptomatic cases, but he refused for days to be tested, he refused to take action to protect those around him: his family, the Vice President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, by extension, us. Fortunately, we have NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to provide a model for leadership in this country. Silver’s decision to suspend the season will cost the league so much money, yet Silver took responsible action while Trump golfed and McConnell did whatever McConnell does when he’s on vacation.

While musicians are financially vulnerable right now, service industry personnel are in a tougher spot. We can sell merch and downloads online, even perform online and solicit PayPal donations. Servers have to show up for work. If a bartender could mix you a virtual drink, how would you drink it?

In Europe, servers make real wages. They have government healthcare. Here, servers are paid less than minimum wage on the assumption that they will be tipped adequately. They generally have no benefits, and they are taxed on a percentage of what they ring, therefore if we don’t tip, then it costs the server money to serve us. An awful lot of Americans have never waited tables and really don’t get it. We need some kind of big time socialist safety net for these people. Shops and restaurants are closed across France I hear. But the French take care of their servers.

Lots of people are saying that Trump is a moron. The elephant in the room question is, “What if he’s not a moron?” His policies have long seemed to have been aimed at dragging the global economy to its knees through his insane trade wars. Somehow the economy held up despite Trump’s efforts. But now he has a pandemic to stop the global flow of capital, and perhaps provide a valid excuse for suspending elections, not to mention setting us all at each other’s throats, which could lead to martial law. Americans have been known to go Lord of the Flies pretty quick when their lives are even slightly disrupted.

Once, while on tour during the Cheney Administration, I saw a good chunk of the South run out of gas due to some kind of human error pipeline disruption. The regular pump nozzles were bagged in Chattanooga when I filled up one morning, so I filled up with mid grade. That evening, there was no regular in Athens, Georgia, so I topped up with mid before driving back to Chattanooga after the show. The next morning there was no gas in Chattanooga. We had a half a tank when we got to Nashville where one or two stations still had gas with lines around the block. We had enough gas to get to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for the show following Nashville, and the promoter in Bowling Green said there was plenty of gas in Kentucky, so we checked into the Holiday Inn Express on Broadway and watched the insanity going on at the not-yet-out-of-gas convenience store across the street. People were pumping gas into plastic milk jugs, a major static spark risk. They were fighting over spaces in line. [Future Republican Tennessee Senator] Marsha Blackburn was on the news yelling, “Drill here, drill now!” as if a crude oil shortage had shut down the gasoline pipeline.

So what happens when we’re all out of money and stir crazy from quarantine and a whole bunch of us are sick, or dying, or dead? Trump’s blame game will take on a whole other dimension. It must be remembered that Hitler didn’t rise to power on a robust economy. It’s easy to fire up a mob when people are truly hurting. We are only starting to hurt. I’m not sure if Trump really meant to become president, but he means to stay president at any cost. The New York Times says it would be damned hard to postpone a national election due to the date being set by Federal Law, but I doubt that would stop Trump from trying, with the gleeful assistance of McConnell. Trump needs the legal protections of the Presidency to stay out of the New York State Penal System. He doesn’t care who dies. I hope I’m just paranoid, and Trump is just a moron.

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