I think we can trace the culture war that has erupted over the wearing of masks to help dampen the advance of COVID-19 to an early press conference from our outgoing super-spreader-in-chief, President Donald J. Gameshow. In the nascent stages of the pandemic, the Great Trumpkin announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had recommended wearing masks to curb the contagion, a strong suggestion that our Fearless Leader watered down by claiming it was completely voluntary, adding that he wouldn't be wearing one.
And just like that, ignorance and rhetoric leapfrogged over science and logic. Suddenly, people who hadn't given a molecule of recent concern for the civil liberties of BIPOC, immigrants and the LGBTQ community were waving flags on the state house steps of every American capitol building and screaming about their inalienable right to govern their own health. It seemed lost on these freedom fighters that the mask was not protecting them from us, it was protecting us from them. Of course, it's been brought to light that masks actually do help with incoming prevention as well as outward spread, but even that revelation has been discounted as egghead nonsense, or worse, fake news.
There are several levels of protest within the mask-denying contingent. The truly belligerent wear no mask at all, in absolute defiance of reason and common sense. Others cover just their mouths, leaving their nasal passages exposed; we gently remind these titans of intellect that the blowholes over your upper lip are where nurses shove a long swab up between your eyes to see if you have the virus. It follows that the cavity they're exploring is a wet petri dish for COVID and your nostrils are an open faucet to the world at large. Still others go to the ridiculous extreme of wearing their mask on their chin, as if they were restaurant cooks who've been instructed to restrain their ZZ Top beardhairs in order to keep them out of the daily special. And don't even get me started on masks as the new litter; parking lots are beginning to look like graveyards for paper face coverings.
This level of stupidity is intolerable. In a country where “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” is enforced with jackboot authority, because of legitimate health concerns, the wearing of masks to slow the spread of a disease that has killed over a quarter of a million U.S. citizens is scorned because it was a government mandate and proof of the creeping control of a nanny state. The irony is that the overwhelming majority of these lunkheads are all sporting scars from their smallpox and tuberculosis vaccinations; if their parents had screamed about the nanny state back in the '50s, they might not have lived long enough to see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
Back in the mid-'90s, my friend Tom and I went to see the Spin Doctors at Bogart's. There was an improbable amount of crowd-surfing from the very start of the show, and about halfway through the band's set, a woman who was being passed around wound up in a relatively sparse part of the audience and was promptly dropped on the back of her head and knocked unconscious. The Docs' lead singer Chris Barron witnessed the incident, stopped the band and shouted to the crowd to spread out and give the woman room to breathe. He then called to the back bar and “Somebody from the club needs to call an ambulance.”
Within minutes, paramedics arrived, placed the woman on a backboard, strapped her head in place and carried her out to the waiting ambulance. The crowd roared supportively as she waved weakly while being carted out the front door. The Docs began playing a slow, vampy Blues groove and Barron grabbed the mic to address the crowd.
“It's like my grandma always said, 'When there's roughhouse, somebody's gonna get hurt.'”
The crowd laughed and applauded, but Barron continued.
“We have two important things in this country. The first is liberty, which is a personal thing, and the second is freedom, which is a collective thing. The challenge for this generation is deciding where your liberty ends and everybody else's freedom begins.”
The band then launched full bore back into “Big Fat Funky Booty.” The Spin Doctors: Come for the show, stay for the civics lesson.
Now, here we are, a quarter century later, in the grip of the second (or third) wave of a raging pandemic, arguing like petulant children about not wanting to do what's best for us, as if we were being forced to eat a vegetable we don't like.
For the record, folks, and to Chris Barron's point, your maskless liberty ends when it impedes everybody else's freedom to remain alive.
Hey, remember how we all came together for a few shining months after 9/11? We had a common enemy then and we united as a nation to show our strength and commitment. Well, we have a common enemy again and it's killed more than 80 times as many people as the 2001 terror attacks and it won't require secret planning and a raid by Seal Team Six to lay it to rest. The first baby step in eradicating our foe is simply wearing a mask.
So, here are a few songs to help reinforce the notion that masks are this season's hottest fashion (and survival) accessory. Some may note that a few of these songs make reference to the tearing away of masks and seize on that perspective as a counterpoint and evidence of hypocrisy or mixed messaging. Not so. They are included to remind us that if we temporarily acquiesce to the inconvenience of a mask today, the future will bring a day when we can triumphantly remove them. Mask up and rock on.
- “What's Behind the Mask” — The Cramps
- “The Blue Mask” — Lou Reed
- “Mask” — Iggy Pop
- “Sleeping With Your Devil Mask” — Robyn Hitchcock
- “Masks” — Van Der Graaf Generator
- “Choose Your Masques” — Hawkwind
- “Mask” — Drowning Pool
- “I Advance Masked” — Robert Fripp/Andy Summers
- “Mask” — Bauhaus
- “Behind the Mask” — Eric Claption
- “The Mask” — Roger Glover
- “Laughing Man in the Devil Mask” — Tony Iommi
- “Behind the Mask” — Fleetwood Mac
- “Mask of Mona Lisa” — The Bad Examples
- “Mask” — Rollins Band
- “Girl Behind the Mask” — Screaming Trees
- “The Mask” — The Fugees
- “Oxygen Mask” — Gaz Coombes
- “Under the Mask of Happiness” — Graham Parker
- “He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” — Alice Cooper
- “The Black Mask” — International Noise Conspiracy
- “Killing Mask” — Buckethead