What are you doing with your unexpected time at home?
Some aspects of my life have not changed at all. In fact, it’s sort of eerie how unchanged some parts of my life are in the midst of a global pandemic. Particularly now, when I don’t have a record coming out and I’m not on tour.
I’m working on a new novel, so I was already pretty much in isolation. There was an initial wave of book event cancellations (I have a picture book out now, called Everyone’s Awake) and a festival show canceled, but other than that, my work life has mostly remained the same.
The real disruption came when schools closed and all of a sudden my wife and I were tasked with keeping up our kids’ schooling. Then there’s this blanket of dread that I felt surrounded by in the earliest days of the shutdown — and I was suddenly compelled to stop working on my book and I just start playing music. I think it’s a kind of survival mechanism, a self-balm. Playing covers and such. Then started playing those songs on Instagram — that’s weird, too.
I have a complicated relationship with social media. I’m not the sort of oversharer that thrives in that environment. But for whatever reason, I’m excited to do these weekly Instagram shows, to post guitar tutorials and the like. I’ve also started baking a lot — like a lot of people. I’ve got a sourdough starter going (mostly because yeast became almost impossible to find) and I’ve learned to make bagels.
What music do you turn to in times of crisis for solace and comfort, and why?
I think the first record I turned on, the morning after the kids’ school closed and it looked like we were going to be locked down for a while, was Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. It’s my ultimate comfort record. It feels grounding to hear it. It’s not that it’s super chipper or anything — it has its dour moments — but it’s such a sublime piece of art that it triggers something in me — some kind of hope maybe. It’s the record I played for both of my kids when they were first born, the first piece of music to hit their ears. Also listening to a lot of John Prine, Bill Withers. Trying to celebrate these lives.
What about books or films?
We’ve been watching movies as a family pretty regularly, with each of us taking turns to choose. The movie has to be appropriate for everyone (two adults, a 14-year-old and a 7-year-old), so it’s a lot of kid movies. I managed to get The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in there, the Terry Gilliam film, and it was fun to watch that again after many years. I’d forgotten how much that movie has informed what I do. The Decemberists, particularly the early stuff, owes a lot to that movie.
Books have been huge during this time. We are all lucky that Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light made it into the world just as everything shut down. It’s the third in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s beloved counselor, and it’s so good. It’s so immersive. I’m taking my sweet time reading it — I find myself lingering over sentences and paragraphs either because the writing is so lovely or my mind drifts to school closures and employment figures and infection rates — whichever reason, I’m glad I’m moving slow. It’s like 1,000 pages but I wish it was five times as long. I want to read it forever. I also finished Ishiguro’s Pale View of Hills, which is so good and creepy.
Anything else you want to say to your fans right now?
Stay strong! Stay home! Courage!