When the Covid-19 pandemic put the world on pause, it interrupted each of us at a specific life stage. For the already retired, newly retired or nearly retired, this posed particular concerns. Health-wise, we’re in a high-risk group. And the gray roots emerging from our uncoiffed heads remind us that we have more yesterdays than tomorrows.
Corinn Castro and Marco Fischer are among those for whom the latest crisis was especially ill-timed. At the end of February, two weeks before their hometown of Portland, Oregon shut down, Castro, 56, retired from her job as an engineer with the Bonneville Power Administration. Her husband, 67, a dentist who had stopped working two years earlier, was about to start cancer treatments.
In the days before Covid-19, they were avid travelers who went abroad twice a year, in addition to taking various domestic trips. They feel fortunate not to have the financial pressures that have thrown other people – and small businesses – into distress. Still, the pandemic has upended plans to spend several months at a time overseas, as well as the local activities that they enjoy: boating with friends; dining at Portland’s numerous restaurants; and patronizing the city’s music venues, where they sometimes played at open-mic nights.
But from their floating home, attached to a moorage along the Columbia River, which separates Portland from Vancouver, Washington, they have continued to make music together. Their soulful ballad, “Down the Road,” written during the first two weeks of confinement, captures the intense isolation of the experience. It begins:
Hostages in our living rooms, slaves to our TV
Friends behind their window shades, wave sad hellos to me
Except for the reference, in the next verse, to driving on an empty freeway, everything that follows could just as well convey what life is like across the country, in New York. That’s especially true of the chorus, which describes the loneliness and heart-wrenching ripple effects that are only starting to become apparent:
We’re feelin’ down, down and alone
Bound to see more trouble, Trouble gotta feed its own
Well I’m gone, but I ain’t gone far, I’m just down the road
The song came to my attention by a circuitous route, via mutual friends on the other side of the Atlantic. Tamsen Wassell and Nanine Alexander, American residents of Barcelona, attached it to a WhatsApp message as we compared notes about our respective quarantines. They were among about a dozen recipients of the recording – the first one that the couple has distributed this way.
Normally, “we feel pretty strongly about not imposing anything on an audience unless we’re asked,” Castro says. But at a time when they were already on various e-mail threads with friends reacting to the quarantine, “This is one more interpretation that we’re adding to an ongoing conversation.”
Like so much else in the age of Covid, it is homemade, which is to say, recorded at their dining room table. To do that, they used an iZotope spire – a wireless device that connects to their smartphone. All the mixing is done with a cellphone app.
Listen closely with headphones and you might hear their cat Mavis shaking the bell on her collar like a tambourine or purring in the background.
That’s Fischer, a onetime garage-band rocker on the acoustic guitar. Castro plays an eight-string ukulele, which has a deeper tone than the usual four-string and at times provides percussion. Her voice is reminiscent of Joan Baez performing “Joe Hill” at Woodstock. Though they sing bluegrass and the occasional rock-and-roll cover, “we fit squarely into a folky genre,” says Fischer who, according to his wife, “has music dancing through his head constantly.”
The lyrics to their melancholy melody – an effect achieved with minor sixth and seventh chords – came to Fischer during the course of two days. “I suspect that any self-respecting songwriter has either written or is attempting to write something about this experience,” he says. “It’s too profound to ignore.”
Castro, who for several decades relied on work to provide a routine, notes: “I have to figure out how to continue to be productive, but it’s got to be a structure that I create.” Each day the couple set aside many hours to spend on their music.
Now, even as stay-at-home orders around the country start to lift, for health reasons they don’t expect to resume group activities anytime soon. “This could end up taking a year out of your life, or it could be giving you a year to concentrate on things that are really important to you,” Fischer says. “It’s kind of all about attitude.”
Deborah L. Jacobs, a lawyer and journalist, is the author of Four Seasons in a Day: Travel, Transitions and Letting Go of the Place We Call Home and Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide. Follow her on Twitter at @djworking and join her on Facebook here. You can subscribe to future blog posts by using the sign-up box on her website’s homepage.