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A Song For A New Day

September 26, 2019

download-1If you attend live music performances, you’re already sold on the “song” part of Sarah Pinsker’s novel A Song For A New Day. The “new day” is the science fiction part, and while it’s not entirely new in terms of apocalyptic detail, it uses new aspects of the everyday to tease out the little things that make up the whole of the experience of being part of an audience.

I was thinking about the novel this weekend when I went to see Dear Evan Hansen at the Ohio Theater with 2,779 other people. Why did it make a difference to hear my favorite lines from the song “Disappear” while surrounded by strangers? The man sitting right next to me never spoke a word to anyone the entire time, but we both had tears in our eyes watching two boys sing “If you never get around to doing some remarkable thing, that doesn’t mean that you’re not worth remembering.”

Sometimes I play live music (and sometimes I get paid for it, which makes me a professional musician, right?) but I think that the “live” part is often more fun for the players than for the audience. There may be better recordings of fiddlers playing “Tam Lin,” for instance, but there are few other people who get as much of a kick out of playing it as I do, with a group. I like to tell the story before we play the reel, and maybe get the audience to imagine how the music shows him continually struggling to get away, out of her arms—at one point even flying up like a bird.

The author Sarah Pinsker plays live music, like her protagonist Luce Cannon, who sings and plays guitar in a rock band, the last band to play a live show before it became illegal to congregate in public places after a series of threats which included an explosion in a crowded stadium and a contagious and often fatal epidemic.

One of Luce’s fans is a young girl named Rosemary who doesn’t remember much about life before people stayed separated. Rosemary grew up on a farm, working remotely for “Superwally,” the mega-corporation that supplies everything for everybody via drone delivery. When she takes a new job with a company that records music for individual virtual reality experience in a device called a “Hoodie,” the events of the story begin.

Rosemary takes a job offer from the mega-corporation that records music for “Hoodies,” StageHoloLive. The job is to recruit new acts for their recordings. On her first trip away from the farm where she grew up, she stays in a city in a hotel which advertises that:
“Every floor of our hotel is individually reinforced and blast-guarded. Our elevators do not pick up more than one party at a time. Marton hotels comply with all congregation and occupancy laws. All surfaces in every room are sanitized between visits.”

The first time Rosemary experiences a live show (watching Luce perform), she has a panic attack:
“So many people. Dozens, maybe hundreds. No, impossible. She’d seen the space empty. But it was so hot now, and everyone stood so close to each other. How did you get from one place to another in a crowd like that? If they didn’t move, if they stood their ground, what happened to the person moving through? Worse yet, what if somebody else panicked while she was stranded in the middle of the sea of people? She’d be trapped, suffocated, crushed, trampled. Her breath caught in her throat.”

In this world, restaurants have isolation booths. Public transportation is available in “single-cells,” although at one point Rosemary takes a bus with “no private compartments” and sits on the edge of a seat “so her hip didn’t touch the hip of the woman next to her.”

Rosemary has “learned in school that the time Before was terrifying and anxious, full of shootings and bombings and crowd-borne disease.” But then a long-time Baltimore resident tells Rosemary:
“I know it’s bad form in some circles to say anything is better in the After, and there are new things that are fucked up, and some of the same old problems, but there are a few things that’ve improved…. Look around. Kids have access to good schools, regardless of where they live. People have better access to jobs and housing. We’re working on federal basic income….The prison cycle’s got a flat tire. The rents went back to manageable when all the rich people left. City resources were reallocated more fairly.”

Rosemary also meets people who are “noncomm,” meaning they don’t use phones and Hoodies. One of them tells her “it’s not anticonsumerism. We still buy stuff, but we don’t want our purchases tracked, and we don’t think we always need to be in contact and trackable ourselves.” This is happening now, for some people, in our real-life version of “Before.”

In the fictional version of “After,” Luce hates “the pox, the bombers, the bombs, the gunmen, the guns, the chaos they sowed, the politicians who wielded restriction in the name of freedom and safety, or the ones who didn’t stop them, or the ones who were sure it would only be temporary.” Some of these things are certainly happening now, too.

What do you think about the dangers of too much virtual living, or about the pleasure of being present at a live performance?


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