As the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc over much of the world, and New York City back in March and April of 2020, I looked back at the weekend I was anxiously anticipating. March 14th-15th, 2020, was set to be epic.
March 14th would feature the return of my pals from Pittsburgh, PA, Anti-Flag, who were set to play the Gramercy Theatre. The following Sunday, March 15th, I was ready to train it out to Huntington, NY, to catch Against Me.
It was going to be a jam-packed weekend of contemporary punk rock. No has-been legends making an appearance with senior citizens yelling at the young whipper-snappers to stop circling the pit. With the exception of Rancid, these were perhaps two of my favorite contemporary punk bands in the world.
I’d been preparing for both events for weeks, digging the archives for new (to me) music, and downloading Anti-Flag’s latest release 2020 Vision. I had discovered so many new, good songs from both bands. And you, dear dedicated reader, were going to read and hear all about it right here on this blog.
And then Coronavirus hit and one after another, events big and small were canceled that weekend, including major sporting events like NCAA’s March Madness Basketball Tournament and the NBA. The NBA? March Madness? This must be serious, and it was, and sadly it still is. Oh had I known what I was in store for then.
While I and other equally disappointed fans awaited the Ticketmaster behemoth to FINALLY and belatedly “refund” these “postponed” concerts, there was one silver lining. There would be an all-female punk show at Desmond’s Tavern on the east side of lower mid-town Manhattan. The event was called Ladies of Punk Rock, put on by a local promoter I’d never heard of before DJ Gorilla Presents at a venue I’d never visited before, with bands I’d never heard play before. Hey, when life serves up lemons, you make lemonade infused home brew.
The bands on tap included
I enjoyed the bands, and will always support females in punk rock or almost any endeavor frankly. But little did any of us realize this would be the last live music most of us would see for months, if not longer. It was a small crowd as Desmond’s Tavern is more pub than concert hall. But there was already evidence of the virus’ impact. As I walked from the west side to the east side of Manhattan to the venue, I was in awe of the relative silence of the city, even in midtown. Some folks were taking this seriously already.
Many places were closed, the streets were relatively empty, and the city that never sleeps had an eerily calm vibe to it. Little did I know then this would be a small preview of the apocalyptic conditions yet to come.
Living near Times Square, the epicenter of Manhattan, one is always trying to get a little mentally prepared for a life-shattering event. Still, you’re thinking of a dirty bomb, terrorist attack, or some other malevolent event along the lines of another 9/11/01.
The creeping impact of a pandemic never really crossed my mind. None-the-less, I had seen the recent news reports but was probably thinking this would be like H1N1 or the Swine Flu and not impact me personally very much.
Indeed, I had just returned from a west coast trip to Washington, Oregon, and California, where the virus first officially surfaced in the US while I was there. I thought I had outsmarted COVID, I thought wrong.
I had arranged for my trip out west to wrap up in time to see the concerts in NYC that weekend, and when they were canceled, I considered staying home. But since I was all geared up for some punk music, decided Desmond’s Tavern sounded relatively safe, compared to the other venues they had just shuttered. I assumed the shuttering of events was through an over-abundance of caution, not realizing it was actually a matter of too little, too late.
Upon arrival at Desmond’s and ordering a beer, I thought a little more about the virus. I had my hand sanitizer ready and tried to maintain distance from folks, much as I would during a flu outbreak. This was before we were told how to protect ourselves other than washing our hands more than Howard Hughes on a cocaine bender.
I remember clearly when the lead singer from one band, “Invading Species,” joked about virus fears. She seemed to intimate it was likely a media hoax or, at the very least, a media exaggeration. I spoke to her after the show and found out she was Puerto Rican now living in the Bronx if I recall correctly? I remember because I am supremely curious about the anthropology of punk fans. While Puerto Rico is not exactly a hot-bed of punk music, I have met some bands over the years. Also, well documented is the fact that Nuyoricans have a long history of contribution to the early punk movements in NYC in the 1970s and ’80s.
I kind of laughed with her because, I too, was at that point, not taking COVID very seriously. Indeed, I had a business lunch the next day in a virtually empty restaurant in midtown. I shook hands with my lunch companion before sitting down. We had a pleasant meal side by side before departing with a professional, friendship hug while telling each other to “stay safe.” As if that were an option when no mask or hand sanitizer could be found for miles around and friends would soon start dropping left and right.
Maybe, just maybe, we were all acting a little smug and superior, noting how fear didn’t control us. Not at all, unlike the lead singer of “Invading Species,” who rejected my offer of hand sanitizer with slight but humorous and not impolite roll of the eyes.
I want to be very clear. I do not mean to blame or shame her for her comments. At that point, I was a willing participant, laughing along to her COVID inspired jokes and laughing just as hard as anyone else. Well, not exactly in the floor laughter, more in between nervous teetering and a polite laugh. At that point, we were ALL equally ignorant as to the catastrophe to follow.
In a matter of just a few days, I’d be a full-fledged believer. I had panic attacks for the first time in my life. I had an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia amid the realization that every time I checked social media, I was hearing of another friend who had COVID. It seemed everyone I knew was suffering mightily, or in a few cases, had even died one of the worst possible deaths one can imagine… alone, of a mystery illness.
I imagined dying all alone in a hazmat environment with the cold feel of steel and rubber tubes and medical technology surrounding me as I took my last labored breaths without being able to see my best friends or family one last time. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go out that way.
I noticed the Bronx, in particular, was getting slammed, and I thought of the lead singer of “Invading Species,” wondering if she was still laughing. I was in Manhattan where it was a bit better, but I wasn’t laughing anymore either.
I’ll admit that for a while, I was full-fledged terrified in a way I’ve never been before. I’ve been in bad car accidents, robbed, attacked and, caught off-guard in sketchy places the world over but this was a creeping fear, very different from that adrenaline rush I’d felt before, which was always followed by a sense of endorphin drenched relief.
It didn’t help matters that we had a clueless, buffoon for a leader who seemed to be making things worse and who clearly was unprepared for this event. How can you be surprised about a pandemic and yet so prepared for nuclear war? H1N1, Sars, Ebola, etc. HELLO!!!! The US had supposedly been preparing for an epidemic since the George W. Bush presidency. Where’s the pandemic playbook Susan Rice handed Michael Flynn in 2017? I think it was called “Pandemic Preparedness for Dummies?” Did Flynn shred it when he got caught lying about Russia?!
No, now, I was a true believer and I had never felt more alone in my fear. I heard the sirens. I saw social media posts. I was literally on a zoom conference call when one of the participants broke down into tears. He had to leave the call early because he’d just received word a close associate had died of Covid. The Superintendent in the small building where I live was diagnosed and his condition was not good. My (younger than me) musician friend nearby was having a tough, tough time with COVID, and my other musician friend (also younger than me) in Brooklyn equally so.
This was March/April, and I was afraid that I was going to lose several friends and family before this was all said and done. I heard my actor friend tell me how a mutual friend’s grandfather had died in the hallway of the hospital in Queens because the hospital was overrun. My friends in the healthcare field were freaking out because they were being asked to work around highly infectious people without proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). PPE was an acronym I never knew existed just a few days before, and now it was suddenly everywhere on the news. It appears DJT had never heard of PPE either and didn’t give a damn about protecting working-class nurses and healthcare practitioners pressed into duty, risking their lives to help others. Well New Yorkers did and every day at 7pm you could hear their appreciation loud and clear!
So imagine my dismay when a tweet from the lead singer of Cro-Mags, a NYC based hardcore band, hinted that the area hospitals were all barren and COVID 19 was a big media exaggeration. John Joseph, as he’s known, claimed to have personally witnessed and filmed (I guess he’s a citizen journalist now) empty hospital beds first hand. How he got access to hospitals, I’m not sure, or further why he’d be doing such during a global pandemic!
But there was a movement afoot in conspiracy circles that hospitals were actually empty (see video at the end of this post) and that the media was just hoaxing everyone with the number of cases. John Joseph was going full-on Fox News Channel Conspiracy Covidiot Denial, which I considered then and now, a hazardous bit of misinformation to be peddling seemingly for the sake of social media likes.
At this early stage of the pandemic, Fox News Channel was in full “protect dear leader” mode. They were downplaying the bungled response to the outbreak as much as possible (i.e., Geraldo said to a national audience, if you could hold your breath for 10 seconds, you didn’t have COVID). How is this clown still on air? All the while, FNC was adhering to the strictest of guidelines behind the scenes (sending most employees home to work remotely). The dangerous hypocrisy and damage caused by downplaying the virus early on would make itself evident in the weeks and months ahead. Not for the first time, FNC would have blood on their hands. But so would John Joseph of Cro-Mags.
In early April, I took a chance and traveled to my family farm in Tennessee to shelter. I needed to be around family, and I felt I could isolate more easily as there are way more cows than people where I come from. I also got a chance to be near nature where I grew up and to heal a bit from the trauma of living in a place like NYC, which is not a pleasant place when dealing with something like a pandemic.
I’ve been back in NYC for a couple months now, and Tennessee and other parts of the South and Sunbelt are now spiking. No surprise there. I felt safe on the family farm, but whenever I ventured into the small, nearby town, I stayed away from people. It was rare to see someone in a mask or practicing social distancing or even taking this seriously. They were acting like the pandemic was a nuisance caused by Nancy Pelosi and other “liberals” who were overreacting to the “Dempanic.” They were acting like John Joseph and Geraldo and Trump and Pence and the now dead of Coronavirus, Herman Caine.
A surprising number of people down south seemed to think COVID was some kind of elaborate worldwide hoax put out by the Democrats to unseat their beloved ruler and fictional war hero, President Bone-Spur.
They were full-on Alex Jonesing, Breitbart News-ing it… hell, FNC was a veritable voice of reason compared to the crazy conspiracy theories being thrown about like the despicable fake-umentary “Plandemic.”
Reptilian brained folks on social media were claiming Bill Gates and Dr. Fauci created the virus in conjunction with the Chinese to profit off of the vaccine profits?! We all know, Bill Gates needs to make more money to then give away to impoverished people of the world.
Whenever I posted about wearing masks on social media, I was trolled by bots and others on the unhinged right wing-nuts who accused me of being a “sheeple” or of being a “head case” and of “living in fear.”
Meanwhile, those keyboard cowards are afraid to ever leave the US (one of the most violent countries in the world) and I’ve been to 70+ countries, including Haiti, Ghana, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, China, Korea’s Demilitarization Zone (DMZ) and dozens of other places they’d deem “too dangerous” to visit. Others were more realistic in their accusation, accusing me of being, gasp, a despicable, evil, democrat because I wore a mask. I’m a long time independent, but I do have a pre-existing condition… a brain. I also have a heart and a soul… and empathy.
Elections have consequences, and this is what happens when a narcissist twitter troll and reality TV star is elected and more interested in his political survival than in actual unification and messaging for the greater good.
All this madness and more (I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg here for brevity sake), got me to thinking about the lead singer of Invading Species and John Joseph of the Cro-Mags. I don’t think they are right wing-nuts at all. John Joseph is supposedly a committed vegan and triathlete, not a typical Fox News Channel viewer.
Yet, here they both were, expressing distrust of “mainstream media” in the middle of the most significant health crisis in the last century. Both doing things to undermine and essentially propagate conspiracy theories that “the media” always has a hidden agenda and is rarely telling the truth.
I understand the distrust, and as John Joseph responded to me just before I blocked him, “the first rule of punk is to question authority.” I answered that I always thought punk actually meant no rules. Fascist, be they from the left or the right, are all bad in my book. Same with conspiracy theories.
But now that I know there are rules, I wonder if someone could forward them to me so I can follow along? Or is it John Joseph, a lead singer for a not very successful or famous hardcore band that makes them?
I don’t think down-playing the Cro-mags success or downplaying a global health crisis where hundreds of thousands of REAL people are dying and millions more suffering, is what punk is about. I downplay the Cro-mags to prove this point. I never liked their music because I never liked hardcore that much. I don’t know if they are big, small or in between. I only followed JJ because I like to support local “punk” musicians. The same reason I trekked out to see the “Ladies of Punk Rock.”
Perhaps the lead singer of Invasive Species is now a believer, heck for all I know she may have caught COVID. Still, I sure hope not because it is all too real, and besides being hell to get over, no one is yet sure of the long term complications from it. And I also hope no one close to her suffered and died. I don’t blame her for her statements because I think no one, including those in government who should have known better, was taking this seriously enough at that point, yours truly included.
But JJ of Cro-Mags should have. Things were in full swing at that point.
I take offense at people like John Joseph of the Cro-Mags who use their little bit of social influence to cause harm at a point in the crisis when we needed everyone to pull in the same direction, not indulge in crazy conspiracy theories to be “on brand” or provocative for the sake of a few social media likes?
This pandemic has progressed and subsided in NYC. But it has expanded elsewhere in the nation, and there is no arguing that the US has the definitively worst response of any other in the industrialized, “first” world. All this despite being the wealthiest country on the planet. Even countries like Rwanda are shaming us with their superior response. There are several reasons for this and Donald J. Trump is a major one. But so is Fox News Channel and people like John Joseph of the Cro-Mags.
I think people like Geraldo and even less influential folks like John Joseph should be held accountable for their actions. If not legally, at least in the court of public opinion or maybe on the streets of NYC?
I know that if I EVER see either of them on the streets of NYC, I’m going to let them know what I think and dare them to do something about it. That is if I can recognize them with their masks on, which they’ll probably pretend they’ve always worn since day one.
But now we all know better and we should never let them forget the damage they’ve caused.
Speaking of conspiracy theories, here is a good FREE video from comedian John Oliver about them. It may explain John Joseph’s and other’s behavior.