Pentagon Tales * Trasmissioni dal lockdown
Joey (Downtown Boys)
New York City, USA
1. Where are u right now?
I’m in New York City, which has emerged as the center of the pandemic in the United States. It’s a very strange place to be, as I’m sure it is in cities across Italy.
2. What’s happening in your country/city at the moment?
Are there any restrictions?Are venues/shops/bars opened?
Almost everything is closed. Certain essential businesses like grocery stores remain open and somewhat normal, but all venues, shops, and bars are closed. People are getting goods from deliveries, or by wearing masks to the food stores once in a while.
3. Did u have any tour/gig planned before this Thing started?
Yes, both Downtown Boys and my other project La Neve had shows planned in March and April and beyond that were immediately cancelled. Downtown Boys had an international tour planned for June that’s obviously off now. It’s terrible because we all make a lot of my money through music, and all of it has been shut down. All our other day jobs have largely been shut down as well. Even when things begin to return to normal, it’s hard to know when larger concerts or festivals will be possible again.
4. How this situation is reflecting on your everyday life?
I am still healthy, so I am lucky. I have housing and food. Many people don’t have these things right now. Being alone is not so bad for me. I always have writing or music to work on. But obviously there is an intense anxiety and depression across our society. Our political situation is quite scary, and getting worse every day. Our economic situation is very grim. Our country provides very few benefits to anyone, especially self-employed workers like musicians. I’m trying to keep myself busy with organizing musicians, and with making new work, but it is difficult to focus while so many things collapse.
5. How the Music Community in your country/city is reacting?
As I mentioned, the situation has been very bad for musicians. In the United States, workers who are classified as self-employed, gig workers, or independent contractors are not eligible for most government benefits. That means you can’t receive paid sick days, unemployment benefits, etc. Most self-employed workers also don’t have health care, or we have very bad health care.
Musicians and many other groups lobbied the government very hard to change this rule, and the recent relief package did extend some benefits to self-employed workers. So, this is a good development, but no one has actually seen any of the money yet. There’s a lot of work left to be done.
I have been helping to organize musicians both on the national level and in my state, Rhode Island, to make various demands, including the extension of benefits, a rent suspension, the extension of benefits to undocumented immigrants, and more. Many of us have wanted to form local and national musician unions for years, so this is serving as a galvanizing force to get things together. We launched a national letter, as well as a local Rhode Island letter over the past couple weeks. We’ll hopefully have more news on this all soon.
6. Do u usually have any help from the Government if u’re
a musician in your country?Do musicians get money if they tour?
I spoke to this in the last question, but no in the USA musicians get no benefits at all. We succeeded in pushing the government to expand unemployment benefits to musicians for the COVID crisis, but as of now we have yet to receive any money. We don’t get health care, or sick time. Nothing. We are now trying to organize to fight for extensions of these benefits. We should have done this a long time ago, but the crisis is forcing everyone to take further action. Some states, like Rhode Island, are expanding artist grant programs, so you can apply for some emergency money, which is helpful. I’ve been doing a lot of grant applications this past week.
7. How the Government reacted?Did they think about the economical
loss and disaster the musicans are facing?
Our government is a disaster, and is currently making the crisis far worse than it needs to be. They’ve been slow to distribute any emergency benefits, have not expanded health care, have not put in place a rent suspension. How are we supposed to stay home if we have no money? How are we supposed to pay rent? The government and corporations are using the crisis as an opportunity to shift us further toward authoritarianism and monopoly.
We are fighting back, though. Musicians and other workers are getting organized. There are strikes happening everywhere. The benefits extension to self-employed people was a victory, but we need to keep fighting.
8. What’s the social situation where u live?How people in general are
living these days?What’s the percentage of your friends that right
now is not working for this reason?
It seems to be one of two extremes. Either people have lost their jobs and are at home struggling to find work and money, or they are a healthcare, food, or other essential worker and are putting in countless hours at high personal risk. It’s a very intense time. For my friends who are nurses or doctors, they are exhausted and scared, because our hospitals don’t have enough protective equipment or medicines. They are forced to choose who lives and who dies because they don’t have enough ventilators and other equipment. The United States’ private health care system is a disaster. It’s always been a disaster, but COVID has fully revealed the situation.
9. How’s reacting the Society and do u think after this will be over something will
change in the everyday life?Do u think people will change anything in their life?
It all depends on how hard we can fight back. The wealthy are going with the disaster capitalism playbook and using the crisis to further consolidate their wealth and power. The government is using it to extend authoritarian systems, to steal elections, etc. But workers are also fighting back. People are getting organized and going on strike at grocery stores, Amazon warehouses, and other areas throughout the country. We’re trying to get independent musicians organized for the first time. People are fighting to release undocumented people from ICE detention, and to release prisoners from dangerous facilities like Rikers Island. The future is up for grabs right now.
10. Is there anything u would recommend to the people of the music world
during these hard times?
Stick together! We need to unite right now to save artists, venues, and the broader music community. And we need to unite to join the rest of the working class in remaking the world during and after this crisis. We are workers, and we must unite with all other workers across the world in this desperate moment.
11. Is there any book/lp/movie u read/listened/watched recently that u would recommend ?
I have been listening to a lot of Dimitri Shostakovich for hope, specifically his Symphony No 7 which was written during the siege of Leningrad. That he could focus on creating something so powerful and beautiful during such a perilous historical time is deeply moving and inspiring, and can help us put our current moment in context.
Also, our bass played Mary has another band called Clear Channel that just put out an excellent record appropriately entitled Hell. It’s a wonderful album, and especially needed right now.