In the end, they’ll be the only ones there. #PlagueSongs, no. 10

If you haven’t really listened to the lyrics of Hanson’s “MMMBop,” you might be surprised to see me cover it as a Plague Song. In fact, I rather hope you are surprised by the choice. (Who expects to see a middle-aged professor performing a teen-pop smash from 1997?)

As you listen to the lyrics, do note that the Hanson brothers — Isaac, Taylor, and Zac — are singing about the fragility of human relationships, and their necessity in the face of mortality. Musically, it’s an upbeat, three-chord pop song. Lyrically, it advises you to “hold on to the ones who really care. In the end, they’ll be the only ones there.” When the song was released, the brothers were between the ages of 11 and 16. And, unlike most of the other songs on Middle of Nowhere, they wrote this song — the album’s biggest hit — themselves.

One thing I love about learning even an apparently simple song (such as this) is discovering that it’s always a bit trickier than I at first think. Getting in all (or most) of the “yeahs” and “ohhs” was like memorizing a nonsense poem, a sensation further enhanced by the nonsensical chorus. I also love the fact that such a joyful, exuberant song considers mortality and the vital but sometimes tenuous bonds of affection upon which we all depend.

Here are Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson in the song’s music video (1997).

Here’s the Fabulous Pink Flamingos’ cover (2007), the version which made me reconsider the song.

Here’s the Postmodern Jukebox cover (2016), the arrangement of which highlights the 1950s doo-wop that inspired Hanson to write the song.

And, yes, as you have already noticed (via the number at the top of this blog post), we are now at Plague Song number 10. When I started, I thought, oh, I’ll be doing this until maybe late May… early June? Now, I realize that I will be recording a weekly Plague Song until maybe 2021 sometime? I truly have no idea.

But I do hope you’re enjoying my attempt to push a little hope into the world. And I hope it inspires you to create some of your own. Sing. Dance. Write. Rap. Recite a poem. Perform a scene. Draw. Paint. Sculpt. Bake. Cook. Cultivate your garden. Build something.

As readers of Leo Lionni’s Frederick (1967) already know, art creates hope. And we can all use our creative talents — whatever they may be — to that end. So, let’s do it!

Seeking a #PlagueSong to perform? Check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


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What’s Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 4

At long last, here is Part 4 of “What Is Your COVID-19 Routine?” (Links to Parts 1 through 3 are at the end of this post.)

I did the first three every other week, but… that was not sustainable. So, I have switched to roughly once a month. Since the U.S. has no plan to manage this pandemic (and, given its malignant, incompetent leader, is unlikely to develop a plan), I expect I will be living some version of the quarantine lifestyle until at least 2021. So, health permitting, I will make a fifth episode.

As noted in this episode and the previous ones, do share your own pandemic coping strategies! I realize that what works for me may not work for you, or may simply not be available to you.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

To again quote the end of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), “Buck up — never say die. We’ll get along!”

Chaplin, Modern Times (1936): final scene
Still from end of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936)

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If you just call me. #PlagueSongs, no. 9

Some of Bill Withers’ songs seem always to have existed. It is as if they were always out there in the ether, but needed him to bring them into the world. “Grandma’s Hands,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lean on Me” — the song I’m performing for this week’s #PlagueSong.

Here’s the late, great Mr. Bill Withers himself, performing the song in 1973.

There are many cover versions of this song. Club Nouveau’s 1987 hit cover version may be the best known. But rather than populate this blog post with cover versions (as I’ve done for many previous “Plague Songs” posts), I’ll let you seek your favorites.

I prefer here focusing only on the songwriter, who passed away at the end of March — not from COVID-19, but from heart complications. RIP Bill Withers (1938-2020). And thanks for the music.

If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


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So far away, but still so near. #PlagueSongs, no. 8

Day 53 of quarantine, and I’m covering… Robyn! On a related note, my apologies to Robyn and her fans.

As in all previous posts in this series, I strongly recommend you check out the original version — and, indeed, the cover versions by actual musicians. The song is far, far better than my performance conveys. Here’s the original audio. This is my favorite version, and the basis for my cover.

The music video, 2010. This is a different mix than the above version.

Lovely, spare, sad version recorded at the BBC Live Lounge in 2010.

Live performance from 2011. (Remember live concerts?)

There are more covers of this than I had realized. Here’s Kings of Leon’s 2013 cover, performed on the BBC Live Lounge.

An arrangement and performance by Pentatonix, 2017.

If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


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Kick at the darkness. #PlagueSongs, no. 7

This week, a song from a different dangerous time that speaks eloquently to our present one.

“Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is one of two hits from Bruce Cockburn’s Stealing Fire (1984). The other is “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” “Lovers…” was the bigger hit in his native Canada, and “… Rocket Launcher” was the hit in the U.S. But “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is one of Cockburn’s best-known songs. Barneaked Ladies’ 1991 cover of the song was the band’s first hit — #16 on the Canadian charts. U2 quotes the “kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” lyric in “God Part II.” My own cover (such as it is) owes more to Cockburn’s acoustic version from Columbia Records Radio Hour, Vol. 1 (1995) than to the delightfully 1980s Stealing Fire version.

The 1984 music video, which is… very 1984.

Beautiful live acoustic performance from 2011.

Music video for Barenaked Ladies’ 1991 cover.

If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, check out this ever-expanding playlist. Of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


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Be an optimist instead. #PlagueSongs, no. 6

The final song on the Kinks’ Give the People What They Want (1981) is also one of the most hopeful songs in the band’s oeuvre. It has long been a favorite of mine, but I only just learned it for this Plague Songs series.

Unlike previous entries in this series, I had to record this on my iPhone. When using iMovie, either it froze/crashed … or the performer failed. So, that’s why the look and sound here is very slightly different than previous Plague Songs.

Would you like to hear a better version of the song? Of course you would! Here’s the Kinks’ original.

Here’s a great cover by Dar Williams from 1997.

Here’s Fountains of Wayne’s 2001 cover, introduced by Conan O’Brien in 2020, following the death of Adam Schlesinger (from COVID-19) on the first of this month.

And Pearl Jam!

Here’s a live Pearl Jam version, in which Eddie Vedder misses a few lyrics — but, hey, everyone’s enjoying themselves… and isn’t that what “Better Things” is all about?

BONUS this week! The Munich Blue Notes perform — in quarantine, from their home offices — Enya’s “May It Be.”


If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, check out this ever-expanding playlist. But, of course, you may have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


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What’s Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 3

Here’s the third — and possibly final — video in my “What Is Your COVID-19 Routine?” video series. These have been fun to make! I hope you’ve found them helpful and/or entertaining, as we all navigate this new world together (separately).


Here are links to the charitable organizations named in the video:


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There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. #PlagueSongs, no. 5

🤦🏼‍♂️ After last week’s #EpicSkaFail (my apologies to music-lovers everywhere), I’ve chosen a song that I can perform adequately.

Composed by Ritchie Cordell, “I Think We’re Alone Now” was a big hit for Tommy James and the Shondells in 1967.

The song was again a major hit for Tiffany in 1987 — the singer’s biggest hit, in fact.

I’m more partial to the Tommy James version, but Tiffany’s has its fans. And these are just the best-known versions. Lene Lovich did a cool new-wave cover in 1978.

There’s also the Rubinoos’ 1977 power-pop version, Snuff’s 1989 punk cover, and Girls Aloud’s 2006 slick pop performance, among others.

Beyond offering you the silliness of a middle-aged man singing a teen anthem, I chose this song to remind you that you are not alone. We may be physically separate, but we can still be together — via phone, video-call, texting, emails, physical mail, or even by talking to a friend or neighbor from a safe distance. Chat from the balcony of your apartment building, or across the fence, or when you see them out walking. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. But we can be — and are — still here for one another.

If you’re seeking a #PlagueSong to perform, I invite you to check out this ever-expanding playlist. But, of course, you may well have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


BONUS! Below is my personal mix of happy songs — the playlist that I turn to for cheery music. Many genres, and (as per my mix-making rules) only one song per artist. As of this writing, there are 116 songs and over 6 hours of music, including: The Muppets, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Eat World, Digable Planets, They Might Be Giants, P.O.S., R.E.M., Das EFX, Mavis Staples, Curtis Mayfield, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ennio Morricone, Ramones, Nina Simone, Paul Simon, the Clash, Beastie Boys, the Beatles, Blackalicious, Groucho Marx, Vince Guaraldi, Chet Baker, Robert Preston, Aretha Franklin, the Isley Brothers, the Mills Brothers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Lizzo, Metric, Dick Dale, Jack White, Big Audio Dynamite, Pizzicato Five, Jurassic 5, the Jackson 5, the O’Jays, the Dixie Cups, Barenaked Ladies, Billie Holiday, Maurice Chevalier, Bruce Cockburn, Fats Waller, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Toots & The Maytals, Sly & The Family Stone, David Bowie and Queen.


🥳 Incidentally, today is my one-month quaranniversary. I started quarantining on March 14th. So, happy quaranniversary to me, happy quaranniversary to me… 🎶


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It’s later than you think. #PlagueSongs, no. 4

This week’s #PlagueSong is a cover of Prince Buster’s “Enjoy yourself” (1963).

But I first heard the Specials’ cover version (1980).

That said, Prince Buster’s version is itself an adaptation of Guy Lombardo’s 1949 version, which reached #10 on the US pop charts in 1950.

Prince Buster retains the chorus of the 1949 song (music by Carl Sigman and words by Herb Magidson), but offers completely different lyrics for the verses. The other big difference is that Buster’s version is ska — so, the beat is on the upstroke, or, if you like, on the second and the fourth. And, as my rendition (unfortunately but predictably) reveals, that rhythm was the trickiest part of this cover for me! So, do check out the other, better, versions!


This week, featuring another bonus Plague Song! Emily Wishneusky Petermann covers Tom Lehrer’s “I Got it from Agnes.” Keep those Plague Songs coming, Emily!


If you’re interested in performing a #PlagueSong and are seeking ideas, I invite you to check out this ever-expanding playlist. But, of course, you may well have a song in mind that I don’t know — and that would be welcome, too!


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What’s Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 2

I’m back with 5 more things I am doing to keep myself going during the pandemic. (If you haven’t watched “What’s Your COVID-19 Routine?” before, may I recommend starting with Part 1?)

How are you keeping yourself going? Anything working really well for you? How has your routine changed? Let me know in the comments below!

Remember: we can be emotionally close even though we must be physically distant. Reach out to friends and family. Check in on each other.

Find a routine that works for you, and — of course — modify as necessary.


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