I figured its about time I write something on this whole pandemic that’s happening. However, rather than focus on the actual pandemic, I’d actually like to focus on a song that has quickly climbed to my most played song this last month. The song has been a kind of rallying cry as I sit in my apartment, working from home. And maybe it can be for you too.
It’s a song by Yo La Tengo, called Ohm. Specifically the version called Ohm (Live 1). However, the original, Ohm, is just as good.
But really, Yo La Tengo gets the job done. You’ve got to get a bit comfortable with their style before you can jam to them. Anyway.
If anything, I hope this brief post will help you through at least one of these abnormal days we find ourselves living through.
So. The song. Specifically the live version. Although you can’t go wrong with either the recorded or the live. Check it out below.
First observation: it’s pretty much a one chord song. The chord that starts is the chord that finishes, and it drives the song from the beginning all the way through to the end. The same chord. Repeating, and before you realize it, the song is over.
Every day, waking up to face the same truth – we’re quarantined, or at the very least frowned upon when we go outside without a mask. It stinks. But through the repetition, we eventually make it through to the end. GK Chesterton observed that repetition is not inherently a bad thing. If anything, it was humans who made it bad. There is a beauty that can be found in repetition. He says:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”GK Chesterton in Orthodoxy
Second observation: The lyrics.
The lyrics are hard to nail down due to the somewhat nonchalant and laid-back delivery of the trio, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew. Make a cursory google search and you might find three or four slightly different versions. I’ll be using the lyrics from the version called Ohm (Live 1) which can be found on Spotify.
The lyrics, when first heard, sound as if they are negative or pessimistic. One could say bummed out. Lines like:
Sometimes the bad guys come out on top
Sometimes the good guys lose
Sometimes the bad days maintain their grip
Sometimes the good days fade
This is it for all we know…
They all sound like the singer’s a bit bummed out. And I totally resonate with the sad singer. I’m bummed out. I look around and think,”Yea, the bad days are maintaining their grip. I can’t even seem to remember a good day… I wish I could go outside, eat in an actual restaurant surrounded by people, go to a coffee shop, pretty much anything that will bring a sense of normalcy.”
Somehow, we’ve found ourselves in this strange alternate reality, and rather unexpectedly I might add. Routine’s upended. Jobs lost. Social isolation. Online meetings, classes, hangouts. It seems as if the bad days are maintaining their grip while the good days are fading. It seems as if nothing about this virus thing is really being explained.
Deep down, I think the song is a meditation on the way life can change unexpectedly and in an instant, and often there is a sadness associated with such change. Ignoring the fact that bad days sometimes maintain their grip does not keep the bad days from actually maintaining their grip.
There is a sense in which the stating of truth that things suck somehow allows the singer to move past the bad days to something else, because there is an implicit assumption with a line like “Sometimes the good days fade.”
It is simple.
Sometimes the good days don’t fade. Sometimes the bad days do lose their grip and sometimes the good guys win. Nothing ever stays the same, not even this bizarre COVID-19 world we find ourselves currently occupying.
So what do we do in the meantime, while we all sit inside?
Listening to good music is a great start, like the song Ohm… but, as the song suggests you might say goodnight to those you love. Don’t lose time resisting the ways in which things are changing, and don’t let them keep you from reaching out to those around you. Stop resisting the flow and wasting energy on an alternate spring time in which the Memorial Marathon happens next Sunday, the economy didn’t flip on its head, and you could have hugged your friends and family this Easter without worrying about spreading a virus.
Remember, nothing ever stays the same. Not even this pandemic, and I hope the song can give you a bit of hope through this mess like it did for me.