Concerts are cancelled. Movie theaters are closed. Performing arts venues are shuttered. What’s a culture vulture to do?
While nothing beats live performance or seeing movies on a big screen, we’re all learning to make do with the new normal: staying at home and consuming our culture via streaming on digital devices or engaging with such old-fashioned methods as reading print books and listening to the radio.
A number of performing arts venues are opening their stages and archives to listeners and viewers for free via streaming. While the Metropolitan Opera has cancelled its current season, which was to run through May 9, every night the Met is streaming an opera for free. “During this extraordinary and difficult time,” the Met says, “the Met hopes to brighten the lives of our audience members even while our stage is dark. Every day for the duration of the Met’s closure, a different encore presentation from the company’s Live in HD series will be made available for free streaming.” The Boston Globe has a great list of prominent opera houses and symphony orchestras streaming free performances from all around the globe, as does The Guardian.
There are also some paid options for streaming performances, for way less than the price of a single ticket in most cases. These include PBS’s Great Performances, New York City’s WNET’s AllArts, and the UK’s Marquee TV, which brings together many of London’s greatest theatrical houses.
Popular artists, all of whom have had to cancel concerts and tours, are also taking to streaming platforms, some free, some not, to share live music with their fans. These include Indigo Girls, Natalia Zukerman, Common, Pedro the Lion, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Carsie Blanton, and Honey Badgers. NPR has compiled a list that they are updating every day. Read it here.
Please listen to my Spotify playlist Soundtrack for the Apocalypse, which includes songs carefully selected for their sonic and lyrical appropriateness for this time of great emergency. It includes songs by the Clash, Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Public Enemy, Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, U2, and Warren Zevon. Please play in shuffle mode. Read more about it here.
My friend Michael Winograd, a terrific composer and musician, is killing it on Instagram (@michaelwinograd1) with a daily “Quarantine Song.” These short songs, which come with innovative videos, are a kind of blend of They Might Be Giants, Leonard Cohen, and Kendrick Lamar, with Winograd’s brilliant and quirky imprint, tailored for these apocalyptic times. Subjects include social distancing, self-isolation, and toilet paper.
Some critics and viewers have problems with the new Prime Video TV series Hunters, starring Al Pacino leading a ragtag bunch of would-be superheroes hunting Nazis in America in the 1970s. If you can get past the idea of applying a comic-book sensibility to a story whose origins are in the Shoah and just enjoy it as a revenge flick against some of the most heinous, evil people of all time, it’s gripping and fun to watch. Pacino is perfect. Read my complete review here.
Speaking of Nazis, HBO’s dramatization of Philip Roth’s counterfactual novel, The Plot Against America, kicked off its six-episode run this past Monday. Produced by the same team responsible for American TV’s magnum opus, The Wire, the show, like the novel, imagines an alternative history wherein aviator and popular hero Charles Lindbergh successfully challenges Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the presidency on a proto-Fascist platform of Making America Great Again and keeping the U.S. out of the war raging in Europe, with a campaign heavily reliant on Jew-hatred. At times the atmosphere is almost too close to our current situation for comfort, which is all the more reason to pay attention.
If you’re seeking comic relief from all this and haven’t yet stumbled upon the Canadian comedy sitcom Schitt’s Creek, I envy you the fun you’re about to have. The sixth season is playing itself out right now (on PopTV, which I access through YouTubeTV), but if you start from the beginning, you’ve got 74 episodes to enjoy (Seasons 1-5 are on Netflix). Some of its cringe humor takes a while to get used to, but stick with it and watch the characters grow and develop over time in this show about a one-time wealthy family fallen on hard times, living in a town called Schitt’s Creek, running a roadside motel, and slowly integrating themselves into their new world. The show was co-created by and stars Eugene Levy (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show) and his son, Dan Levy. I’d especially recommend it to fans of the great Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame – which if you haven’t yet watched, well, stop what you’re doing right now and get on it.
I can’t find my copy of Albert Camus’s The Plague, but if I could I’d be reading it right now. See what the great French writer Alain de Botton has to say about The Plague’s relevance to our current situation in the New York Times.
Check back here for more recommendations soon.