Photo of an illuminated concert stage filled with smoke, and the silouettes of concert-goers in the foreground.


Heard Immunity

A music writer ponders the quaint habits of music fans of 2020, who, in their day, lamented the loss of such archaic practices as live concerts, in-person gatherings of any kind, and now-outdated technologies. But music itself lives on, as does a certain rock ’n’ roll guitarist.

Editor’s Note: How will 2020 go down in history? In the Hindsight 20/20 project from The Colorado Magazine, twenty of today's most insightful historians and thought leaders imagine themselves in 2120, looking back on 2020 and sharing their visions of how that year will stand the test of time.

Sitting in my analog-delay sub-cortex-demodulator-home-entertainment complex, I find it quaint to revisit the pandemic of 2020, which occurred one hundred years ago. As history told us before the subject was expunged from school curriculums, people actually had to be asked to sequester in their homes with no outside human contact—a ritual termed “social distancing” or “what enemies deserve.”

And there was a segment of society that clamored for the return of “live music”—a concept whereby the experience of gathering to listen to actual people playing actual instruments held an appeal that couldn’t be replicated on Zoom (a now-forgotten technology that allowed people to see each other as they spoke, a precursor to today’s cochlear-retinal entertainment package implants). The leaders of the resistance were of a generation raised on “concerts,” a generally accepted type of super-spreader event. The pandemic decimated that industry, and everyone held out hope for concerts to return while struggling with the loss of artists such as singer-songwriter John Prine and the underappreciated Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who succumbed to Covid-19.

Photo of empty rows of black and white chairs, in an empty auditorium

The cessation of live performances due to Covid-19 devastated fans, artists, and a thriving live-music industry.

Photo by Alex Avalos. Courtesy of Unsplash

But live music professionals were ill-equipped to deal with the combined forces of commerce and technology. A tipping point emerged shortly thereafter in the broadcasting community, when, to counter the inconvenience of studio audiences, the producers of The Voice and Rollerball combined forces to create Last Man Singing, where contestants eliminated their competitors by attempting to maim them as they vocalized.

Things exploded from there, to the point where we are now safe from any pitfalls of listening to music performances collectively—or the distasteful notion of interacting with others except on our devices, for that matter. Locally, a watershed moment occurred when Red Rocks Amphitheatre was franchised into do-it-yourself kits scaled to anyone’s land parcel or loft patio.

Now there are outliers, such as Keith Richards’ forthcoming 175th birthday tour—the promoters have announced that there are no tickets to purchase, only a flat $10,000 rate covering delivery fees and service fees and processing fees and facility fees. But most every consumer is content with the enhanced 5-D hologram programs that replicate the sights and sounds (and Port-a-Potty smells and concession-stand tastes) of the old rock festivals.

We must still navigate aesthetic compromises, the latest being a decree by King Eric Trump III from the country of Florida—that he be digitally inserted into every musical performance of the last two centuries playing kazoo. But is that really such a big deal? Yes, the music business has changed. But as has been the case since homo sapiens whistled through holes poked in mammoth tusks 40,000 years ago, music will endure.


More from the Hindsight 20/20 project in The Colorado Magazine

A Pivotal—and Long Overdue—Moment for Change The year 2020 was not unprecedented. Rather, it was a stark reminder that racism and classism had for too long gone unresolved. It was a time for action. The youth of 2020 went on to become the chroniclers of their era—and the leaders of the next generation of resistance to the inequities the pandemic had exposed.

A TikTok Pandemic Story  In 2020, a generation of young people experiencing isolation and loneliness in the midst of a pandemic seized on a new platform called TikTok. This new generation of media creators transformed trauma into creativity and, ultimately, connection.

2020: Year of Destiny  Though Americans in 2020 felt the weight every day of a global pandemic, in the end they endured. What was harder to appreciate at the time was the pandemic's long-lasting impact on American politics—and democracy itself.