“It’s true that we get clarity about what matters during a crisis, and, hopefully, as a society, we actually can readjust toward things that do matter.” —Singer Damian Kulash of OK Go
“Even in this bad time, there is goodness within us that can be the foundation of how we get through this.” —Damian Kulash (OK Go)
Damian Kulash, singer with Los Angeles-based band OK Go, is happy to be healthy again. He and his wife came down with the coronavirus in the beginning of March, when only six other people in California were known to be infected. “I didn’t experience the same things that most people have,” says Kulash, “which is this, ‘Oh, no, what is it like? What’s going to happen?’ Because by the time I knew to be scared of it, I had had it!”
“My own experience of this illness was long and dreary, with one really rough day where I literally couldn’t get out of bed,” recounts Kulash. “When I tried to get up, I just fell over. And then I slept for 20 hours—and basically have been on my feet ever since. During that crazy few weeks, my wife was really sick. She had respiratory symptoms and had to go to the hospital. It was scary. And we have 2-year-old twins—toddlers—who are obviously a lot to handle just on my own. It was a really intense time.”
During his illness, Kulash was surprised to discover feelings of hope and possibility amid the discomfort and anxiety. “I found this weird sense that I wasn’t 100 percent freaked out. That itself was a surprise,” he recalls. “It was, of course, ‘What’s happening in the world is scary.’ But it wasn’t the thing I had imagined a nightmare to be. It got me conscious of the sense of hope—or something else—in this experience. There was something in this that was entirely new. And that newness came along mostly with a bunch of anxiety, but it also came with something else.”
It wasn’t until he read an article in The Guardian by Rebecca Solnit (“‘The Impossible Has Already Happened’: What Coronavirus Can Teach Us About Hope,” April 7, 2020) that Kulash was able to articulate the experience and feelings that surfaced while recovering from the coronavirus.
“The Rebecca Solnit piece really nudged my thinking along. She clarifies a truth that we don’t think about often: When things break down, all of the good things break, but so do the bad. You have the opportunity to rethink everything,” says Kulash. “The example she uses in her piece that really struck a chord with me was the nationalizing of the healthcare system in Ireland or basic income in Canada and Germany. This happens on a personal level too. All of a sudden, petty concerns from last week don’t matter at all. Solnit has an interesting line in her piece that’s something like, ‘At a time like this, what is weak crumbles, and what is strong remains. And what is hidden becomes visible.’ It’s true that we get clarity about what matters during a crisis, and, hopefully, as a society, we actually can readjust toward things that do matter.”
Kulash and OK Go created a song and video that embody the anxiety and hope of this pandemic. “All Together Now,” was released Wednesday, May 13. Kulash and fellow bandmembers, all residents of the LA area, recorded their parts in their own homes, and the resulting audio/video was edited together. “All Together Now” features Kulash on guitar and vocals, Andy Ross on guitar and toy piano, Tim Nordwind on bass, and Dan Konopka playing drums. “I needed to channel those feelings into something more soulfully, or spiritually, connected than the everyday type of work I’ve been doing,” Kulash says. “So, we started working on the song.”
“All together on the precipice… all together in the chrysalis” —“All Together Now,” OK Go (May 13, 2020)
Sales of the song benefit Partners in Health, and the video for “All Together Now” ends with each bandmember going outside of their respective homes at 8:01 pm to the sound of pots and pans being clanked in gratitude for front-line workers.
“In our neighborhood, people go outside and bang on pots and make a big cathartic sound to try to communicate gratitude to the people at greater risk from the virus—healthcare and grocery store workers, mail delivery people,” says Kulash. “I would be in that moment on the balcony, listening to my neighborhood, and I would feel this teary intensity. It was an emotion that was not surprising. But the thing we’re communicating in this song is not just gratitude. That is there, but we’re actually communicating to each other, and that’s what the Solnit article helped unlock in me. What this is more about is connecting with a communal solidarity—and a desire to reassure one another that, even in this bad time, there is goodness within us that can be the foundation of how we get through this.”
“It’s worth noting over and over again that there are people for whom this suffering is much more acute and much more permanent and unthinkable,” Kulash emphasizes. “I don’t want to be the privileged one saying, “We’ve learned something so spiritual.” My heart aches when I think of how much worse this could’ve been, and is, for a lot of people.”
“It’s not that clapping or compassion will solve this. Or that optimism is the key. It’s just that a reassuring feeling of your neighbors is good; they love you and you love them. You don’t even have to know them to feel we’re in this together. That was very transformative in terms of my thinking,” Kulash remembers. “I realized this isn’t just about sadness; it’s about sadness and joy. It’s about anxiety and hope at the same time.”
“My kids are 2 and will not remember anything of the pre-pandemic world, which is so strange to me. If society does realign, they’ll never know the one I grew up in. That’s for sure.” Kulash adds, “I hope for all of our sakes that whatever normalcy emerges after this, that it’s one that we like.”