It has been widely reported that low-income and minority communities have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic. Health care disparities, lack of affordable housing, food insecurity and mass incarceration make the virus more difficult for many of our citizens.
Powerhouse singer-songwriter-guitarist Karyn Kuhl shares her musings on this subject in her solo acoustic, previously unreleased song “The Tower,” which she submitted to NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series. Kuhl hopes that these painful days encourage us to honor those adversely impacted by the virus by acting constructively to repair the world.
Without collective consciousness about loving our brothers and sisters, and without leaning on science, the future is indeed grim. The virus has made our interconnectedness more apparent than ever; “The Tower” prompts us to reassess our priorities.
In the video below, filmed in Kuhl’s Hoboken home, her voice sounds strong and dreamy. Her lyrics are haunting and as she plays, her hypnotic intensity draws me into her moody tale.
In a previous interview, Kuhl said some of her recent songs have “moved away from personal music and have a more political tone.” “The Tower” embraces the personal in a political context.
“It’s a very dark tune — a meditation on dark times,” she said. “There’s a card in the Tarot called The Tower that symbolizes a time of inner transformation. It’s a time of deep loss but with the possibility of spiritual renewal.
“The line (in the song) ‘I’m jumping from the tower’ came into my head over the past few weeks. When I was racking my brain to send you something relevant to the present moment, I thought of an unrecorded song by my former band Sexpod with the word virus in the lyrics. It was a raunchy punk song inspired by an enmeshed relationship. I used a verse and chorus from that song and wrote the rest of the lyrics. The simple country blues feel is inspired by the Johnny Cash arrangement of ‘Ain’t No Grave.’ ”
Snake tongue, alligator lung
My virus, my parasite, my sweet little one
Oh my, how you’ve invaded me,
Watch me scratch and claw to regain my dignity …
All that remains is my compassion and trust
As you extract the rotten tooth infected with greedy lust …
I’m jumping from the tower
Bare feet land on the grass
There’s a purifying fire and I can’t run too fast …
My magic is the potion I collected it in the ocean.
In the Sexpod song, the virus is an unhealthy relationship. But in this new adaptation, it’s the killer coronavirus.
Kuhl wrote this version of the song out of a desire to encourage those of us who are healthy and not struggling to secure basic necessities to be better humans and to “use this time for some self-reflection,” she said. “Do it for those that have passed. We all have magic within us, but a competitive, greed-driven consumer society suffocates it.”
She added, “My definition of magic is creativity and compassion. Maybe we’ve been given the opportunity to access it. Think about what you’ve had to let go of and what you cling to.”
She stressed the need for all of us to consider what is essential in life: “What do you really value? What is your dignity? Your character? What is your life? What is just a lifestyle? This is our chance to finally grasp the spiritual concept that we’re all in this together, that we are one.”
She hopes that by jumping from “the tower,” we step away from selfish motives and look beyond thinking about No. 1. “Let’s make it a reality by helping each other in whatever way we can,” she said.
Originally, the line “my virus, my parasite, my sweet little one” was inspired by a feeling of enmeshment “in a relationship. Having the life drained out of you … The lines, ‘all that remains is my compassion and trust as you extract the rotten tooth infected with greedy lust,’ exemplify what I’ve been thinking about and feeling.”
During the pandemic, Kuhl has been teaching in Little RocknRollers, a music program she created for infants and toddlers at Hoboken’s Guitar Bar, Jr. and Little City Books. She has been teaching these music classes via Zoom during the lockdown on a donation basis.
Like all artists, Kuhl has had to cancel her gigs. So, no backstage banter or van rides with bandmates. She says she feels “more disconnected. I miss human contact, meeting up with friends, and not playing with my band makes me so sad. I even miss being in a roomful of screaming toddlers! It’s so unnatural to be separated like this, even for someone who loves their alone time.”
Kuhl played punk in Gut Bank in the ’80s and psychedelic hard rock in Sexpod in the ’90s, displaying raw musical splendor with close-knit band members Alice Genese and Tia Palmisano. After playing solo, she formed the Karyn Kuhl Band in 2010; the band’s lineup has changed over time.
She has released several stunning albums, including Songs for the Dead (2013) and her 2016 EP The Stars Will Bring You Home, produced by James Mastro. Her current band includes Mastro on guitar, and their eloquent interplay makes them devastatingly compelling together. She also plays drums in the band Psych-O-Positive.
Kuhl has said that when she’s onstage, she’s completely immersed in the music and connected to her soul and spirit: “You are not worrying about anything. It’s kind of ecstatic.” I look forward to post-pandemic days when we can revel in the energy of the Karyn Kuhl Band, but for the moment we can listen to her latest song, “The Tower.”
To show support for Kuhl, leave her a tip via Venmo (@Karyn-Kuhl) or PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org). Or visit KarynKuhl.bandcamp.com to download copies of her album.
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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