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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Dobie: Don't let the music fade away

John Prine poses in his office in Nashville,

John Prine poses in his office in Nashville, Tenn. on June 20, 2017. Prine died Tuesday, April 7, 2020 from complications of the coronavirus. He was 73. Credit: AP/Mark Humphrey

In times of trouble, people turn to music. Which makes so cruel the loss of so many musicians during this coronavirus pandemic. Some of them fell to the virus itself, a grim irony in that the disease attacks the lungs essential to the art of so many. And the loss of all this talent is compounded because so many of them had so much to say that is relevant right now.

Like the great lyricist John Prine, 73, who died Tuesday of complications from COVID-19. In helping to define the genre we call Americana, Prine wrote about dashed dreams and folks on the margins of society, the kinds of people at heightened risk now to contract the virus. In “Paradise,” Prine sang about wanting to go back home but discovering it was too late, Paradise was gone.

And listen to the lyrics from his haunting “Hello In There,” about the loneliness of older people.

So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare

As if you didn’t care,

Say, “Hello in there, hello”

It’s hard not to think about the victims of the coronavirus, dying, with no one to comfort them or to say goodbye.

Country singer Joe Diffie, 61, also was felled by the coronavirus. He had a string of fun-loving honky-tonk hits, and on one Grammy-winner sang with wisdom about the essence of music: “As long as there’s a world/we’ve gotta sing those folks the truth.”

Perhaps most poignant, as all of us are hunkered in our homes and realizing the strength of our origins and our families, are the lyrics from Diffie’s debut record, “Home,” about a traveling man who discovers what’s important in life:

But more and more I’m thinking, that the only treasures that I’ll ever know

Are long ago and far behind and wrapped up in my memories of home ...

My footsteps carry me away but in my mind I’m always going home

Ellis Marsalis was one of numerous jazz musicians killed by the coronavirus. Marsalis, 85, was a great swing pianist but perhaps better known for his musical progeny — countless pupils like singer Harry Connick Jr. and saxophonist Donald Harrison, and his renowned sons, saxophonist Branford and trumpeter Wynton. As good a musician as Ellis Marsalis was, his death reminds us that all musicians and every one of us have roots, and those roots are precious, and if we’re lucky we get to extend them.

Among Marsalis’ peers who succumbed to COVID-19 was jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Pizzarelli was 94 in years but far younger at heart. His smooth sound was always soothing. It’s amazing to watch him playing “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a classic 1920s pop tune covered later by the famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, in 2014 at age 88. Live in a Seattle studio, sitting in the center of the jazz quintet Pearl Django, playing with obvious joy and spirit, Pizzarelli is a guitar-picking reminder that great music is about individuality and community, and that when both work together it’s such sweet harmony.

The roster of the recently dead also includes Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of Fountains of Wayne and writer of the catchy title track from the Tom Hanks film “That Thing You Do!” And Alan Merrill, who co-wrote “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” made famous by longtime Long Islander Joan Jett. And country great Kenny Rogers, whose most famous song, “The Gambler,” includes a refrain that has a more plaintive echo as we all wrestle with the emotional wreckage of the virus.

There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done

And then there is Bill Withers.

Like Rogers, Withers, 81, didn’t die from the virus; for him, it was heart complications. No matter. Either way, there ain’t no sunshine now that he’s gone, and just when we all need someone to lean on.

RIP, to Mr. Withers and all his peers. May you — and eventually, all of us — find an eternal “Lovely Day” ahead, like the one you sang about.

When the day that lies ahead of me

Seems impossible to face

When someone else instead of me

Always seems to know the way

Then I look at you

And the world’s alright with me

Just one look at you

And I know it’s gonna be

A lovely day

A lovely day

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