The story is already one that has been told countless times over the past two weeks, but the intensity, the impact, only increases with the volume. For Cold Cave frontman Wesley Eisold and Screaming Trees man Mark Lanegan, the devastating effects of the coronavirus spelled the end for any hopes of touring and, generally, earning money for the immediate future.
Like a huge percentage of the population, they had to figure things out. Look after their families, try to ensure that the bills can be paid — all the stuff that so many of us (this writer included) have been dealing with since our lives changed. But they also wanted to use their time constructively and create some art. And that’s how Plague Poems was born. Both artists contributed 23 poems to the collection, written in February and March of this year.
“I know we’re all living inside of this shut-in now, but I think if I can speak for Mark and myself, we were both aware that we were going to have tours canceled a little further in advance when things started getting a little messy,” says Eisold. “So we decided we wanted to, since we found ourselves with time, write a book. It wasn’t all done in February. It was started in February, and Mark just handed in his last two poems a couple of days ago.”
Eisold says that, for him, the poems weren’t necessarily written explicitly about the pandemic, but rather attuned to the current time and what’s going on in his life.
“Some of the poems are about instances I had in the first week of this pandemic — sort of mundane everyday occurrences of going to the grocery store or something like that, and the differences in climate in doing something so basic really,” he says. “The conversations people have with you now, the fear they wear all over their faces, stuff like this. The absurdity in everyday life is something I’ve always been fascinated with and written about anyway, and it’s just magnified right now because of the current climate.”
While the writer and musician says that some of the poems might be therapeutic for readers, he doesn’t really think of the writing process as a form of therapy— he doesn’t feel any catharsis once the writing is done and the words are out of him.
“However, a lot of the poems I did write are about a good friend of mine that’s just passed, Genesis P-Orridge,” he says. “I just woke up one night, the day after it happened, at 2 a.m. after going to bed at 11 a.m., and just wrote 15 poems through the night that just flowed out magically. This is someone I had just visited in February 15 of this year, and had emailed back and forth with them up to March 3, so that kind of happened suddenly to me even though it was expected that it would happen one day. It happened sooner than I had thought. I think when I’m able to plug into everything I learned from that person being a part of my life, I’m able to access a part of myself that words are just able to flow out of.”
Eisold told us that he had 80 shows cancelled, multiple tours, in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus becoming public knowledge, though he knows he’s not alone and he’s certainly not looking for sympathy.
“I think when you are a musician, you are living with a constant gamble that there is going to be a future in what you do,” he says. “It’s just a bit of a reality check for everyone when that stream is dammed. On the other side of my life, my wife Amy [Lee] owns a bookstore in Hollywood and that obviously closed also. There’s a logistical aspect to that, where all the things ordered for someone’s store don’t stop coming so you have to figure that all out. Stuff like that. Helping the employees navigate their way through everything.”
Eisold met Lanegan a couple of years ago — both were fans of the other’s music. They each sing on a song on the others’ unreleased, forthcoming album. Plague Poems, though, will be their first collaborative piece of work made public.
“Mark is such a great lyricist and writer that I probed him to see, ‘Do you have poems? Have you written poems?’” Eisold says. “His initial answer was ‘Not really’ and then he showed me a couple that were fantastic. I was like, ‘Great, let me see some more. Now we have this time, are you interested in this idea?’ and he said yes. It came together pretty quickly. Obviously writing lyrics and poems are two different things but they’re not so dissimilar that you can’t try your hand at one if you’re successful at another. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In his case, it worked.”
With the book done, it’s tough to plan anything else this year due to the uncertainty surrounding how long this crisis will stretch. Eisold is hanging tight for now.
“Some people are gambling a little harder than others in terms of planning their lives around tours that may not happen,” he says. “We want to play live, but we don’t want to go through these cancellations again so we’re probably gonna wait it out a little bit and see what happens. I fear that there will be a second problem for people as opposed to the one we’re living under now, that various forms of insecurities be it financial or sociological, even wanting to go outside — I don’t know how people are going to react. I don’t know if the doors open tomorrow, if people will want to go to a show or not. We’re taking it day by day.”
Plague Poems is out vie Heartworm Press on June 1. Order it at theheartworm.com.