Ken Stringfellow: ‘We are in for a long ride on the COVID Express’

„To choose the life of an artist — to endure the skepticism, the jealousy of those who ridicule you for taking the chances that they themselves never had mustered the bravery to risk– is to choose a life where the only currency, really, is trusting the fates. So, it’s been rather ingrained in me to look to that unseen hand, perhaps divine, perhaps just the dumb luck of Olive Oyl when, hypnotized, she unwittingly stumbles into a building site and just manages to pass from one swinging, suspended I-beam to another at the precise moment to keep her from falling. Let’s say this: the best things that happened to me both inside and outside of my career were highly unlikely, absolute gifts; all my strategic thinking produced, at best, inches of progress. Bolts from the blue: everything else.

When I boarded a plane for my American solo tour at the end of February, most people did not foresee that in two weeks’ time, the entire world as we knew it would be shut down, ground to a halt at every level, with international travel completely suspended (The USA doesn’t even bother to issue passports anymore, more on that later) and all live events canceled worldwide. I certainly didn’t. I’d grabbed some masks in the States in a visit the week before. I had hand sanitizer with me at all times. But cancel a tour? Surely things wouldn’t get that dire (for a musician, canceling even a single show is the highest order of shame. Sucking chest wound? You still have one lung, mate, YOU DO THE SHOW). The tour went well, and my jokes each night about being in the front row for the last 72 hours of the human race were met with nervous, but ample, laughter. My tour was scheduled to wrap with a weekend of fun debuting the Posies album at South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin. When the festival canceled, we scrambled to try and prop up some of the shows anyway — the venues didn’t want to see the business leave anymore than we did. One by one the replacement shows also were forced by the city to cancel. Most of my solo shows are non venue, small events, essentially private so they could continue, and continue they did. But, in the second week of March, attendance started to fall. People bought tickets — they just didn’t feel safe actually showing up. Since I did the shows, they were not eligible for refunds. So, oddly, the tour raked in money. I do believe some people bought tickets not intending to come to the show, but to be supportive, and it’s greatly appreciated.

Now, when I arrived to the US for the tour I decided to renew my passport. A bit early (it would have expired this December) but some of the countries in my upcoming itinerary-now-canceled required 6 months’ passport validity for entry so I figured this was as good time as any. In this sense, I was rather obliged to just carry on touring as I couldn’t just cancel and go home to France until my new passport was ready.

The weekend of March 13-15 I played my final shows and was told by the venue in New Orleans that my show on the 17th would have to be online only. I also got a call from my passport services provider that my passport would be ready Monday the 16th. Originally I would have had them FedEx it to me where I was in Texas, and I would try and move up my flight home from Austin a few days.

The morning after my last show in Houston on the 15th I woke up bolt upright at my hotel at 7am with a voice in my head saying GO NOW. Whose voice? I’ll never know. I emailed the passport service company with a change of plans. They should NOT FedEx me the passport (luckily I hadn’t given them the address yet, so they didn’t just do it automatically) but they should courier it across town to my assistant in Burbank. I jumped on the computer and traded in my miles for a flight leaving Houston for LA that was leaving in 90 minutes. Cost: $5! I drove at 90 mph (145kmh) –which in Texas is the slow lane but hey– to the Houston airport I was booked to fly from, got on my flight. When I landed in LA, my wife called to tell me that the French borders were closing the following day at noon.

My assistant Tina (who is single and would REALLY like to live in Holland, by the way) was there to hand me my new passport (among the last ever issued by the USA) and, sweating and shaking and CLEARLY looking like a COVID victim, pounced on the Air France desk and tried to explain that I needed a flight NOW and started piling credit cards on the counter. The woman took pity upon me, and said not to panic, and it would be cheaper to buy it via the app, and I could do that while she waited. $2000 and 4 hours later I was on the last flight to Paris, which arrived an hour before the borders closed. A chauffeur was waiting at Charles de Gaulle to take me to my home in Tours, as the trains were all shutting down as well. It was lockdown, officially and totally. I didn’t leave the house — at all — for two months. By the time lockdown started to lift, my parents, my kids and my wife had all had birthdays. But somehow everything had lined up — not only was I rather forced to ride the bleeding edge of the COVID front lines so the tour had minimum cancellations and maximum income, but I have a ten year passport when there are now none to be had, and I was able to spend lockdown with the people I love the most.

Lockdown was, in all honesty, a breeze. We left the confines of Paris years ago for a house in the country that better suited my wife’s health. I have a studio there, so I was able to put the call out for work as a player, producer, mixer, singer (and I’m still looking for that work, anytime folks! Contact me at www.kenstringfellow.com) and even started a series of very successful online concerts (more on that in a minute). We are lucky. We have a garden, and a studio, and wine cellar. And the company’s not bad… 🙂 Aden my daughter was extremely cool about being stuck in with us for months. She kept the jokes and the music going to keep morale up.

I won’t lie, even with all this good fortune the enormity of the epidemic, the confusion and suffering that it delivered, caused me to shut down at times and triggered an upwelling of sadness that only the love of my family and friends, and the occasional (OK, daily) glass of Vouvray could combat. Fear brings out the worst in humanity, even as adversity often brings out the best. There’s a lot of fear out there. I, too, was afraid, but it seemed mostly to manifest in me as deep sadness. For everyone’s loss, and for the suspicion and the abject cruelty embraced by so many whose pride won’t allow the ‘weakness’ of compassion. We are in for a long ride on the COVID Express– let’s make sure there’s a (distanced) place for everyone.

All my upcoming shows’ tickets and info are at linktr.ee/KenStringfellow

hope to see you all soon.”

KS,
La Noue FR

Check ook de kakelverse nieuwe single van The Posies, Sideways, die deze week uit het niets verscheen:

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