At the end of 2019 I was waiting on the new year with high hopes. The Tea Club had released a new record earlier that summer and had just wrapped up a wonderful and successful national tour. New tour offers and festival appearances were coming in, sales and streaming numbers for the new album were breaking all our previous stats, there was even some new music starting to appear in rehearsals. There was a lot of reason for hope.
Well…then the nightmare began. The dreadful, dreadful, surreal nightmare.
I won’t bother you with a recap of what happened this year. You know. You lived through it too.
Here I am again, now at the end of 2020, waiting on the new year with hope. Yes. I have hope. I’d even call it High Hope.
Honestly, I don’t really know for sure.
But I don’t know if Hope always needs to have some perfect explanation. Maybe that’s a kind of hope, but it’s not the hope I’m talking about.
That’s not to say I don’t have any reasons for my hope.
Aren’t you starting to see the light through the cracks in the wall of this goddamn pandemic? Do you see it? This thing will end. Sooner or later, it will end. They always do. And when it does, can you imagine the sweetness? Can it bring you some hope?
Can you imagine what it will feel like when you gather with friends and total strangers in an audience for the first time to hear live music? Can you imagine the sweetness of that moment? I can tell you this: I think about that moment every day. I think about what it will feel like when I, along with my brothers in the band, stand up for the first time before a crowd to play music together, and I think of the tears of joy that will stream down my face.
I don’t think I’ll be the only one.
I have a sense that, for a time, this will be truly special. I can recall many moments over the years in The Tea Club where we played shows and there was a sense of routine to the whole thing. A sense of routine and maybe even, at times, a sense of dullness. But I think that will be gone for a time. I think there will be something of a rebirth, a reorienting towards the real things in life, the real reason why artists make art and lovers of art gather to take it in: because it gives life.
Is it entertaining? Sure. But the best of it is life-giving.
I wonder, too, if this renewed sense of what’s most important won’t spill out into many other areas of our lives. What a gift that could be.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this playing out like a big party or something stupid like that. No. There is and will continue to be deep, deep grief. Individual grief, communal grief, and maybe even national or global grieving. But it may be very good for us to truly learn how to grieve together and we may find in that grief a joy too great for words, an unspeakable joy. And the tension between that grief and joy might just be the beginning of adulthood, which brings me to another reason for hope.
I’m only speaking about this from the viewpoint of an artistic person, but I see glimmers in the arts of a great Growing Up of sorts; that we, as a popular culture, are, in some ways, moving, or being moved from an adolescent stage, where I think we’ve strayed for far too long, towards a long overdue adulthood. We’ve been frivolously entertaining ourselves to death in some ways but I don’t think this will be possible much longer. Too much has been revealed.
Have you heard people say something like this: “I went to the store the other day and the shelves were empty. It looked like a zombie apocalypse.” It might sound kind of funny but I think they’re onto something. I’ve heard that word “apocalypse” thrown around a lot this year. But here’s the thing, “apocalypse” is an ancient Biblical word, and its original meaning has less to do with a “zombie apocalypse” or the so called “end-of-the-world” and more to do with a Revealing, an Uncovering, an Unveiling. Things are being unveiled right now, revealed. Truth is coming out. Things that give life are coming to the forefront, and the things that bring death, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual death are being shown for what they really are.
I have felt these things in myself this year. They’ve made themselves painfully unavoidable, but I have faced them and have allowed them into my art-making. I think many, many others are doing the very same thing, and I look forward to what they produce. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some fully realized, grown-up art.
I don’t know if this will take place culturally on a grand scale. Probably not. But I think it will be significant enough to be visible in places. How can we not be changed by this year? Have we learned nothing? Have we managed to avoid all the challenges or have we explained everything away? Have we stopped up our ears and zoned out like zombies in front of our screens drooling and watching inane Netflix show after inane Netflix show all year? I don’t think so. God. I hope not.
And so, here I am, again, waiting on the new year with hope, a hope that is hard to describe and, really, might just be a little silly. But I can’t shake it.
You might say I sound a bit like a deluded idiot trying to soothe himself with wishful fantasy. You might be right. That’s a genuine possibility. I might look back on this writing in a year or so and wince.
But, so be it. If there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that that is no way to live. It’s not life-giving; it’s not living at all. To walk around second guessing yourself all the time and doubting everything is certain death. Eventually you have to stand up and say: “Yeah, this might be stupid and utterly futile, but the hell with it, I think it’s right and I’m going with it anyway.”
And suffer the consequences. They may end up making you more in the image of the Life-Giver, the One who gives real Hope.
Wait, now, with hope.