I didn’t think it was possible to have nostalgia for a city I currently reside in, but reducing travel to the five-block radius around my building has made me miss places and people situated only two or three miles away. I haven’t seen grass in six weeks. I’ve been looking at the same six trees for the same six weeks. My neighborhood is, to quote a friend, like 3 a.m. all day. There’s people out and about but not much for them to travel to and from. The new neighborhood bar that was making a new tradition out of Saturday night shouting matches has gone quiet. The tattoo parlor that used to blast new rap into the night is all dim window lights and no music. The spirit of the city is in retreat, but every night at 7 p.m. we’re reminded that we’re all living through the same struggle. COVID-19 is touching everything. I wince a little when I see someone cough on a TV show now. I have emotional responses to lyrics that were never intended. This week, I reacted strangely to the Alan Parsons Project deep cut “I Don’t Wanna Go Home,” a song about a gambling addict who can’t pull himself away from a catastrophic game of cards. I could see where he was coming from. I wish we didn’t have to stay inside, but here we are.
The Rolling Stones didn’t write their new song “Living in a Ghost Town” — the British blues rockers’ first in eight years — about the current crisis, but I think astute poets can smell a bad time coming, and music is also slippery and reflexive. Really, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are singing about good times past. We’ve all had intense nostalgia for simpler times at some point in the last five years. “Ghost Town” fits in with recent works by ’60s and ’70s rock alums like Bob Dylan, whose “Murder Most Foul” uses the JFK assassination to remind us how we cope as a community in turmoil; Ozzy Osbourne, whose new album Ordinary Man is something of a musical monument to the godfather of metal’s heyday; and the Who, whose (!) 2019 self-titled album kicked off with “All This Music Will Fade,” a zen acknowledgement of the fact that time passes, and with it, so do people.
The Stones track lands in the sweet spot between wistful boomer nostalgia and tacit acknowledgment that the sands of time have shifted, and once again we’re looking fondly backward instead of excitedly forward. The faint whiff of dub accents that surface in the back end of the song (see: the harmonica that really sounds like a melodica) is a reminder that the band cares about Jamaican music as well as the stuff from America. Are the Stones moving on from the sweaty blues of the 2016 covers album Blue and Lonesome? It’s not like we have any choice but to wait and see.