Continuing to be comforted by artists’ creations during the coronavirus pandemic, I share with you singer-songwriter Mary Lee Kortes’ new song, “William Shakespeare and Me.” The video below was shot by Kortes’ husband Eric “Roscoe” Ambel — a co-founder of the band The Del-Lords who has worked with Joan Jett, Steve Earle and countless others — at their home in the epicenter of the crisis, New York City. Under horrible circumstances, Kortes applies her rich, beautiful, sunny voice to a sophisticated song.
The productive and prolific Kortes’ timely, catchy, clever song was inspired by William Shakespeare, who was also very productive in a society riddled with plagues that necessitated social distancing. Some believe that many of his plays were written during quarantine, including his tragedy “King Lear,” which inspired Kortes’ ruminations. She submitted the song to NJArts.net for our series, Songs to See Us Through, which was developed to break social isolation and create support for musicians during the time when they cannot make a living performing.
“People have been hoping to use all the time they suddenly have productively, to put it to good use — painting, cleaning, learning guitar or a new language,” said Kortes. “Me too, although it’s easier said than done. This song was inspired by that desire, and more specifically by people talking about how Shakespeare had written ‘King Lear’ during a quarantine. There was a thread about that on Rosanne Cash’s Twitter account when this all started to get very close to home. So the phrase ‘Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” during a quarantine’ started swirling in my head with an accompanying melody, which is how most songs happen for me — a swirling phrase cycling in my head with notes attached — and I wrote this song.”
We tend to hope that something good will come from bad, something great from tragedy. There are a few lines in the song from “King Lear” — some people will recognize them, some won’t (me, I Googled!). But there are also a couple of lines in the second bridge (not from “King Lear”) that express what I think some of us hope can come from this time: ‘How so in the darkest hour could there bloom the brightest flower?”
The first few days of self-shutting-in, I was happy to be able to be home and not have to go anywhere. But as the numbers and boundaries of this thing expand, so has a feeling of depression. So I’m grateful to be able to share music and intend to do more.
“Oh, and the video includes that lovely shot of my desk with my laptop open and a fan sitting on a ledge,” said Kortes. “So perhaps we should title the video, ‘Mary Lee and her Fan.’ ”
So kick back and listen to Kortes’ honey rich voice and have a taste of her masterful songwriting skills in this thoughtful and funny song. Her delivery is strong and made me feel good, despite the serious subject matter, including her confessions about her struggles to be productive.
Kortes has released four CDs of original compositions under her performance name Mary Lee’s Corvette, and one fantastic album of covers — a complete, song-for-song recording of Bob Dylan’s classic Blood on the Tracks. She has toured the world as a headliner and opening for top musicians, including Dylan, Steve Earle and Ian Hunter.
She also has published a book, “Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob,” a collection of dreams from people all around the world, including musicians such as Patti Smith and Warren Zanes. This book sits by my night table and it is called upon now more than ever when it is hard to sleep.
To support Mary Lee Kortes, visit maryleekortes.com.
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
We encourage artists to email us submissions (newly recorded, if possible) at email@example.com. Please include links to sites such as Patreon and Venmo. Readers can also make suggestions via that email address.
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