Essay: What I’m Missing Without Live Music

The Birchmere
The Birchmere is among the DC-area music venues closed by the covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Dan Reed)

Music provides more to its fans than just entertainment. Live shows provide community. They are places where people who share an interest can come together. Losing live music during this pandemic has stripped away my primary outlet for socialization.

I have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Socializing and relationships do not come easily for me. I struggle to make smalltalk. My affect strikes a lot of people as “off.”

Of the many communities where I’ve dipped my toes, none has proved as supportive and welcome as music and music fandom. I can relate to fellow music fans on the basis of a shared interest, which makes me feel comfortable and confident in that setting. I’m even appreciated and respected for my encyclopedic knowledge.

Music fans are, generally, fairly tolerant. The community attracts a lot of people who may have felt outcast and marginalized, and there’s an acceptance of individuality and eccentricity that’s missing from many communities. Music fans have shown that they’re willing to accept me as I am, as someone who may not always cast his voice at the right volume, whose facial expressions may not look quite “right.”

I have a lot of interests many people might consider geeky: science-fiction and fantasy literature, comic books, anime, role-playing games. Even within the “geek” world, however, there is still a mainstream and periphery. My interests in sci-fi and fantasy, for example, are decidedly more literary and even experimental as opposed to say, Harry Potter. When it comes to comic books, I don’t read many superhero books, and even then mostly ones that are at least a little offbeat. I enjoy role-playing games as an experience in shared storytelling more than for simulated violence or creating a super-character.

While I’ve participated in groups built around “geek” interests, I often find that, under the surface, I don’t have all that much in common with a lot of those people. The books, films, and comics that interest me don’t interest a lot of them, and the pop culture stuff that most of them are interested in doesn’t really interest me.

At a show in the summer of 2018, someone noticed the book I was reading, Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. It’s a collection of queer, feminist weird stories. It’s not the sort of thing that, even in the geek community, you might find a big audience for. But at a small concert, I met someone who shared my love for the book. We connected and became friends to this day.

Most of my social circle — locally, as opposed to virtually — consists of people who I’ve met at shows and through music fandom. I’ve gotten involved in the local house concert scene. Music has given me places to go, things to do, and people to talk to.

But that’s stopped, at least for now. I find myself feeling isolated and very lonely. I live alone, and can go sometimes for days without having a real conversation with another person. When I am home, I am really home alone, and since the pandemic hit, I’m always home. My world has become a one-bedroom apartment and a continuous, unstructured stretch of time.

I’ve tried to keep myself busy these past few months. I’ve read an enormous amount–three novels, several anthologies (a couple of which were huge), two history books, Chrissie Hynde’s memoir (I recommend it strongly), more than a dozen volumes of bound comics. I’ve gotten more involved in writing my own fiction, composing several flash pieces and a few short stories. I’m participating in a lot of virtual events through the writing community I belong to.

There’s no substitute though, for either in-person communication or one-to-one conversations. For the past few years, music has been there to give me those opportunities. I will always struggle to have relationships and healthy, fulfilling social interaction, but I feel like I’d finally found my place. After a lifetime of not fitting in anywhere, that’s a really, really big deal.

For now, I’m struggling. Like many people, I’m experiencing symptoms of depression and I’ve been having trouble sleeping. This is a hard time for everyone, and it’s hard for different reasons. People with partners and families face the pressure of being confined with them. Single folks, like me, are feeling very isolated. In my case, I have an additional set of challenges that amplifies that loneliness.

I understand and accept our society’s need to be cautious in dealing with covid-19. I agree that we need to limit gatherings for now and be very careful about resuming them. That doesn’t make it any easier, though, to get through this.

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