Isolation Drills: Morgan Pinkstone

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.

Pinkstone: Prior to the shutdown in mid-March, life was practically rose-colored. I was enjoying a lighter work schedule and rounding the corner of a year spent falling in love. I had a weekly gig at the legendary Fergie’s Pub in Center City, where my friends always knew they could find me if they needed.

I play in a band called the Primaries; at that time, my bandmate Susan and I were patiently awaiting the return of our third member, Michelle, who had spent the year studying abroad. We were eager to get back into rehearsals and, eventually, into the studio to record our first set of originals. I had also begun recording new demos of my own material with a producer friend in his home studio.

When the shutdown began and the timeline looked relatively brief, I was relieved to have extra time to write and prepare for recording. TC Cole and I began a series of online performances we called Covid-19 Covers. We learned and performed one cover song per day for an audience on Facebook Live and Instagram. It was an effort to keep others’ spirits high, as well as our own. When we reached cover number 19 and the severity of the pandemic solidified an extended quarantine, I started to feel defeated. We kept playing covers, not every day as we had been, but we managed to play 25 Covid-19 Covers before taking a break.

And then, well …

On June 1, days after the police killing of George Floyd, the day protesters were gassed on 676, I was rushed to the emergency room at Jefferson Hospital after an animal attack. So many things were going through my mind on that ambulance ride, like:

“Am I really going to the hospital right now?”
“How will I pay for this?’’
“This could be how I get COVID,”’
“Maybe I won’t be leaving this hospital.”
“Will I get to see the people I love again?”

And while I remain very impressed by the speed and skill of the emergency triage staff at Jefferson Hospital, the thoughts only grew darker after I arrived there. From my vantage point in the operating room, I could see a woman to my left: a protester, worn and whimpering while getting sutures at the base of her skull.

At that moment I felt humbled and so very sad. Thoughts of “will I survive this?” turned to thoughts of whether or not the world would survive this.

I made it out of the hospital. Unfortunately, it would be a while before I walked without assistance and even longer before I could play guitar again. This kind of stasis, for me, was crippling creatively. Limited mobility, ample free time and an unrelenting newscycle of horror became a real recipe for disaster. (Read: depression.) 

Traditionally, trauma, survival, heartache and grief have all been caves I mine for songwriting inspiration; in turn, the songwriting helps me process those feelings. This time was different. The anxiety, the depression and the bills kept growing, while the creative spirit inside just kept shrinking. 

It took time and a lot of physical therapy to feel better. I bought a melodica because I only needed one hand and working lungs to play it; this helped. It took Zoom appointments with a mental-health professional. It took close friends and family checking in on me a lot and TC being there for me through every helpless feeling and lousy mood. And before I even realized it, I was feeling better. I was writing music and playing guitar again daily.

Looking back, my biggest mistake was wasting my time thinking about all I had lost, thinking an injury could change my relationship to music, when I should have been thankful for, y’know, making it out of the hospital. Because of the nerve damage in my right hand from the attack, playing looks and feels a bit different now, but everything else about playing music and writing songs is still exactly the same.

Music always makes things better. It has the power to quiet the chaotic mind and perhaps, most importantly, it connects us to ourselves and others.  

My personal healing continues, with work. Lately I’ve been enjoying an extended visit by the Muse, so to speak. In addition to writing new songs, I have also been getting back into working with textiles and doing pyrography. 

Additionally, I have just begun my very first home-recording project of songs written since the beginning of the pandemic. With any luck and a lot of YouTube tutorials, I will be able to release some new music in 2021. 

I’m looking forward to this new year. I’m feeling hopeful, but if that hope turns to sorrow any time soon, I promise I’ll play some music about it.