to be in the room


One of the things that has surprised me about myself during these days of quiet isolation is growing disdain for Zoom. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I have to use Go to Meeting for work, which is its own special brand of hell, but there’s more to it than just that. I think it has to do with the disembodied nature of the whole experience: even when it’s in real time, it’s not live.

And live matters.

I was in the room at the Tarrant County Convention Center the night BB King came out for the encore and played “When Love Came to Town” with U2. When it was over, Bono turned to Edge and said, “For a minute I felt like a musician.” I saw BW Stevenson play at The Hop in Fort Worth on a night when only about ten people showed up. During the break, I went up to him and said, “i’ve been following you since college.”

“So you’re the guy,” he answered.

I’ve sat in seven or eight venues to hear Springsteen and wait for the change to sing “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty, but, hey, you’re alright” and then cheered when he shouted, “You guys are gonna put me out of a job!”

My friend Ken and I heard Michael Martin Murphy play at East Dallas Community College in an auditorium that held about five hundred people and was so acoustically vibrant that he sang “Geronimo’s Cadillac” without amplification. (Oh, Lord, take me back . . .) Then there was the night, early in our dating life, when I took Ginger to see Linda Ronstadt and as Linda was belting out a song Ginger leaned over and said, “Is that all she’s going to do? She doesn’t dance?”

On our first date I took Ginger to see Lyle Lovett at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth. We have seen him every year since. He sings the same songs and the evening is always fresh and new because none of us is the same person we were the last time we were together.

I heard Beth Wood play at Blue Rock in Wimberely, Texas and Nathan Brown play in the barn behind our house; I sat on the back row at Reunion Arena in Dallas with my friend Patty to see Fleetwood Mac and on the tenth row to watch Dan Fogelberg’s solo acoustic tour. And I have sat in more rooms that I can count for open mics or to hear bands I knew nothing about because it was live. The music became flesh and dwelt among us, within us, between us.

I understand why so many musicians are live-streaming. I am grateful that they are. I have heard some amazing performances. But it is not the same thing as being in the room. Watching James Taylor sing “You Can Close Your Eyes” on Fallon the other night was beautiful, but not the same as sitting in the bleachers at Fenway when he sang it with Bonnie Raitt.

Last night I was talking with my friend Kenny and he said, “You really miss worship, don’t you?” The question was pretty much rhetorical. He went on. “You love live music so much. Live anything. And that’s what you love about worship: being in the room when it happens.”

It’s good to have friends who know you.

I miss being in the room to hear the prayer requests, the celebrations, the moments when kids drop stuffed animals out of the balcony or someone misses a cue, the point in the sermon where I know Ginger has gone “off book” from the manuscript I read the night before and is speaking to what she feels in the moment, in the room. I miss leaning over to Chuck, whom I usually sit next to, and making side comments. I miss hugging the little kids who are unabashedly friendly.

Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters among other things, has a great article in The Atlantic about not being able to play live and he closes it by saying,

In today’s world of fear and unease and social distancing, it’s hard to imagine sharing experiences like these ever again. I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to. It’s not a choice. We’re human. We need moments that reassure us that we are not alone. That we are understood. That we are imperfect. And, most important, that we need each other. I have shared my music, my words, my life with the people who come to our shows. And they have shared their voices with me. Without that audience—that screaming, sweating audience—my songs would only be sound. But together, we are instruments in a sonic cathedral, one that we build together night after night. And one that we will surely build again.

Some promoters are predicting it will be September 2021 before live concerts happen again. Others are saying that congregational singing will be one of the last things churches are able to do as they gather again in person. Till then, I suppose, we will continue to be creative about the ways we find to communicate our affection and connectedness, which matters but it does not measure up to what it means to be live–to be in the room together.

And I am not handling that well. Zoom leaves me feeling more alienated than hopeful, more isolated than included. I don’t completely understand why, I just know that is how it feels. The prospect that it may be the primary way we communicate for a long time is despairing for me.

I know. This should be the part of the post where I start to make the turn towards home and say something hopeful, but I am not hopeful right now. My depression has moved in with a vengeance over the past week and is not remote at all. I am working hard to be creative about my sleep habits and work schedule and how much I walk, trying to make sure I can still do my job and can do more than curl up in a ball in the middle of the bed. As always, I am grateful that the kitchen remains a depression-free zone. At least I can cook and find some relief. Ginger is live here with me, which is the best news I know.

I know I am not alone in my depression. I know I am loved and I am doing all I can to find ways to let people know I love them. But to not be in the room together means we are missing the best part of the show. And I am missing it. Badly.



  1. Miltie, longing for a big hug tonight. I know you know, but know I love you. To be in a room together would be great, but you fill my room with memories and feelings. Longings, yes, but, the next 15 minutes. Then the next. And someday, the room together. Geno

  2. one of the oneders of reading you is that by the second paragraph you are here in the room. How do you do that you hot monster?

  3. Wow, you ARE a really good friend to sit in the back row with me at a Fleetwood Mac concert! But I knew that. I will try to be hopeful for two while the black dog is with you. I love you my friend! Big hug from too far away.

  4. Any time you want to you can call or write me and dump all that depression in my lap. I’ve got plenty of space for that.

  5. Peace, love and understanding to you, Milton.
    And remember there is “magic in the night,” knowing we’ve made it through another tough day.

  6. Once again, you have put my feelings into words. I was able to articulate that I miss being at church, but you have said exactly why. I need to be in the room. Thank you.

  7. I never tire of reading your comments, so insightful and full of love and humor. Stay strong, Milton, and know there are so many who appreciate you and your artistic creations.

  8. Yes!!! Thank you, Milton, for reminding of joyful communal moments I have shared in other music venues, like when Katie surprised me with Fitz and the Tantrums tickets at House of Blues. I can still feel the music pounding in my chest.
    And, you have nailed it. Teaching Math from home doesn’t hold a candle to the exuberance and adjusting on the fly that satisfies my soul in the middle school classroom.

Leave a Reply