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Across the Universe

Winter’s coming. A long season of coronavirus discontent is settling over us.

A shift in our community interactions has already proven to be inevitable.

After a slow, downward spiral, one of downtown Rochester’s iconic bars, Richmond’s, closed last weekend. The place goes back more than three decades, back to when it was Schatzees.

Morning glory vines have overtaken my backyard this summer. They are deceptively beautiful, with their lush greenery and scattering of delicate trumpet flowers creeping up the deck railings, thin tendrils reaching out to embrace the legs of the grill. The morning glory grows with startling virility. If the dog stood for too long within its reach, I might have to tear the vines from her legs.

But in truth, the morning glory is a lie. It is a noxious weed. If I allow it to spread, it will kill everything beneath it.

For fans of metaphors, the morning glory is 2020.

As best as Francie Marx can reassemble the story after more than seven decades, Robert Marx was 19 years old, serving in the U.S. Army Air Force as a military policeman somewhere in Europe. World War II had just ended, and he was assigned to sit outside the cell of a prisoner. Francie recalls Robert describing him as "a pathological killer."

"And if the guy wanted a cigarette, Robert would light one, put it on the floor, push it forward with his foot," Francie says. "This guy could then smoke the cigarette."

The world has reached the point where, after a tough day at work, you can’t pull up a barstool and unwind with an expertly made Negroni cocktail without feeling like it’s an act that puts your friends and family in danger.

Not since the coronavirus pandemic, “when the world changed,” Chuck Cerankosky says.

“But we’re all still here. The bars are still here, we’re struggling to survive. We’re trying to navigate through this forest of precautions and guidelines and morality.”

The Spring Chickens had a gig last week. It was the first live-music performance I’d attended since mid-March.

That’s quite a stretch of home quarantine for someone who is usually out three or four or five evenings a week. Maybe attending shows, or eating dinner at a restaurant or a friend’s house, or wandering over to a neighbor’s house with my dog. 

It’s nothing but the best for The Empty Hearts when the band goes off in search of inspiration. As Andy Babiuk tells it, there was this one night …

“I was backstage at a Stones show, hanging out with Mick Jagger,” Babiuk says, “and he goes, ‘Hey Andy, I have this song that I think would really work for The Empty Hearts.’ And he literally like, sang the whole song to me.”

Alas, it was, literally, a dream gig.

“And so I got up and I hummed the song into my iPhone and went back to bed,” Babiuk says. “Had I not done that, I would have never remembered it.”

The music is perhaps unlike anything you have heard. Or maybe it is like many things you've heard.

It is "Fountain," the debut album by Lyra Pramuk. Music that flows and explodes out of the classical and electronica realms. A droning, oscillating, leaping, humming. Machine-manipulated vocalizations with the influence of African rhythms dart with electricity and land somewhere between Gregorian chants and the poetry of Laurie Anderson songs.

As next month’s KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival recalibrates for the new reality -- the event will be presented virtually -- the performers are having to rethink what Darren Stevenson calls “the canvas on which we create.”

The film is black and white, as was the issue. The camera work is a little jittery, as were the times. A Black man -- he looks to be in his mid-20s -- is talking about the relationship between the police and Black youths.

“They got feelings, we got feelings, they should consider that. I mean, if you get clubbed upside the head, man, it hurts. They should know that, if they get clubbed upside the head, that’s gonna hurt. You know what I mean?”

The problem with our new reality is, we can’t see it from where we are now.

The new reality, of course, is COVID-19. The numbers -- more than 600,000 dead worldwide, more than 140,000 dead in the United states -- tell us the virus is not a conspiracy theory. Science tells us it’s not going to simply disappear.

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