Isolation Drills: Hezekiah Jones

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Jones: What does life look like in our house during the current pandemic?

Sometimes a lot gets done, sometimes nothing gets done. I go to bed earlier. I wake up early and dig another couple of feet of trench behind our fence. Maureen made a baby last September. Caden loves having us both home. I plant and tend to a lot of flowers and plants. Bandmates email me their parts to songs we are working on.

I flip through TV channels for about a half-hour at night and realize it’s trash, but do it anyway. I make up and sing stupid songs to the child; the hits are “I Don’t Know If You Know, But I Know That A Baby Is A Baby” and “Everyone Says Your Baby’s So Cute, And I’m Like Duh Duh Duh.” I sometimes play more “adult” music. The roses first bloomed through May and early June. I planted more snap peas (sugar/honey) and lima beans (Fordhook) than maybe I should have. I write sometimes. We go for walks. We cook a lot. I do an awful lot of laundry. I record and mix music when I find time. I dig up daffodil bulbs and randomly plant them in the woods.

We listen to music (Chris Bathgate, Louis Prima & Keely Smith, Chris Kasper, Adam Torres, Frontier Ruckus, The Singing Nun, etc.). We planted a kousa dogwood in the front yard. Caden and I play piano together; I play bass lines, and he plays the melodies (or what can maybe be construed as melodies with his open-handed, key-mashing technique). We are extra frugal. We cancelled Hez Jones venue shows probably through til 2021. I, luckily, love my family.

We planted peppers and tomatoes and basil. We have had some more time to work on the full-length album that has been on our plate too long. Maybe our jobs never come back, and we have to find new kinds of work. Hopefully that’s not true, but if it is, we’ll figure it out. I take a lot of pictures. The garlic was ready to harvest early. We cancelled a festival (Robin & Beth) that Daniel Bower, the Depauls and I work really hard on every year.

We currently drink about one and half gallons of almond milk in a week and about that same amount of orange juice. I have some extra reading time. I wait in line for up to an hour to get into a grocery store and buy twice as much hummus and lentil soup as I normally would. The zinnias started blooming in early July. The Super Sweet 100 tomatoes have turned out to be prolific along with the Better Boys and the Long Hots. July has been hot. Caden is beginning to figure out the door knobs he can reach on his tip toes. He is tall like his mother.

That is some random basics boiled down that my family and I lived for the first few months of the pandemic. The mundanity of that insular domestic life seems so absurd and trivial when framed in the context of humanity at large in disaster mode and the very real suffering going on, like relaxing on a cloud while nuclear missiles are flying between continents. It’s just so damn surreal—to see the politicization of wearing a face covering. Or people being flippant about instituting small measures that would help keep their at-risk family and friends safe. Or a tractor trailer bearing down on a large group of protestors. It’s a strange and confusing time to be alive.

It’s been really heartening to see the uprising of voices loudly calling for the very necessary and long past due unraveling of the deeply entrenched racism in this country, a calling of attention to a festering, national wound. It’s been encouraging seeing the institutional changes taking places, and even better knowing there are deeper individual changes happening in private. There are a lot of Black intellectuals/activists/writers, from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, that speak on these important issues more knowledgeably and with more intelligence than I can. A friend was kind enough to share this Google drive link full of some of that writing, and I would urge you to take some time to look through the collection. There are a lot of organizations working toward a more equitable world that are worth donating to. A couple that resonate with us are Equal Justice Initiative and Code2040.

Thus far, 2020 has been heart-wrenching and eye-opening, anxiety-inducing and a much needed slowing down (for some). It’s revealing the best and most ridiculous of us as a country, and there’s no real way to tell which direction we’re headed in. Our trajectory changes depending on the data sets you input, and none of that data takes into account the stupid decisions humans make when thinking in mass and panicked. Or the selflessness of a nurse showing up to work everyday for a month straight. Or the bravery of a person who puts themselves between police and protestors and calls for calm. Or the extra chaos the federal agents are adding to cities in the midst of protests. If anyone tells you that they are sure of where this is all headed, you can be sure they are full of shit. Looking into the future right now is like opening your eyes underwater in the Schuylkill River. I have no idea where we will be when 2021 hits, but that uncertainty makes me optimistic for the chances of a better collective path in our future, no matter how far away it may seem right now. 

Long live the spirit of Gene Shay.