Author Shayne Morrow, whose first book The Bulldog and the Helix has just been released, converted a linen closet in his Port Alberni home into a writing nook overlooking his vast garden. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Author Shayne Morrow, whose first book The Bulldog and the Helix has just been released, converted a linen closet in his Port Alberni home into a writing nook overlooking his vast garden. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Morrow: A song of dread in the year of the pandemic

Port Alberni writer Shayne Morrow opines for simpler times


I must confess: I have had old songs streaming through my head since I was very young. But the playlist has changed dramatically since the global pandemic arrived earlier this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought sickness and death, but it has also ushered in a wave of inexplicable violence, including mass shootings on both sides of the border. Somewhere, early on, a 40-year-old song by the Talking Heads set up shop inside my head. It went away for a long time. Then it came back.

Called Life During Wartime, the song portrays a time of menace and shadows of violence and an amorphous underground resistance. Listening to it now, at a time when a U.S. president welcomes the support of violent right-wing extremists and a conspiracy-theory group that believes he plans to destroy the American system of government, the song seems strangely prophetic, right from its opening lines:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons/Packed up and ready to go/Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway/A place where nobody knows…

Nearly one full year into lockdown/social distancing/working at home/watching craziness south of the border, we are in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and tempers are frayed. Who would have believed that the wearing of a protective mask could be so contentious?

Here in Canada – particularly on Vancouver Island – following guidelines set by government medical authorities has resulted in a lower transmission rate, but some individuals continue to resist. In other jurisdictions around the world, despite warnings from authorities, widespread flouting of guidelines on distancing and mask-wearing has resulted in an accelerated infection/death rate.

It is probably a good idea to heed what Talking Heads warned decades ago:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco/This ain’t no fooling around…

Then there are echoes of the daily case-counts, city by city:

Heard about Houston?/Heard about Detroit?/Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?/You oughta know not to stand by the window/Somebody see you that way…

As the pandemic has dragged on, political events below the border have become even more bizarre, with a U.S. president in a frantic bid to retain his presidency. Along with the seemingly uncontrolled spread of the virus, the truly frightening thing is the number of supporters – many of whom are heavily armed and hardwired for violence– who continue to trumpet the president’s campaign to overturn the election. One can only hope it does not lead to the scenario described by Talking Heads:

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance/I’m getting used to it now…

But the craziness of political leaders is not exclusive to the U.S. Here in Canada, we can read about the Ontario finance minister, who has travelled outside the country on a “personal vacation” that was “previously planned.” This despite an escalating case count, widespread business shutdowns and restrictions on personal travel. Oh yeah – there’s also that Quebec MNA spending the holidays in Barbados.

For young people especially, this is a time of existential questioning.

Why stay in college?/Why go to night school?,” later followed by, “Burned all my notebooks/ What good are notebooks?/They won’t help me survive…

Heading into the New Year, there are reasonable prospects for an abatement of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the arrival and distribution of numerous vaccines. But experts have warned that we will have to continue using masks and practice social distancing until at least the fall.

Until then: “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco/This ain’t no fooling around…

Shayne Morrow is a Port Alberni journalist and author of The Bulldog and the Helix, a true crime book. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


Just Posted

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in Juan de Fuca Strait

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

Keygan Power, pictured at B.C. Children's Hospital,  plays chess five to seven times a day during his recovery care. Keygan suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2.
(Photo Allison Power)
Vancouver Island teen ‘locked inside,’ battling to regain speech after severe brain bleed

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Snow is sticking to the ground on Malahat Drive at Shawnigan Lake Road. (Drive BC)
Snowfall warning issued for Malahat

10 centimetres of snow expected between Goldstream and Mill Bay

Swanwick Ranch, a 67-acre property on Swanwick Road in Metchosin, features a luxurious 10,700 square-foot home overlooking the ocean. It is currently on the market for $14.1 million. (Sotheby’s International Realty)
The five most expensive homes for sale in Greater Victoria

A roundup of luxury estates currently on the market

The community services tent for people in need has found a home near Cook Street and Dallas Road. The Beacon Hill Park trust has prevented the tent from being installed inside park boundaries. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Help tent returns for the homeless near Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park

Homeless services tent installed on Cook Street to provide assistance for area’s homeless population

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Cash and drugs allegedly found in a suspect’s possession following an arrest earlier this month in downtown Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
Accused drug dealer arrested in Nanaimo carrying $20K, fentanyl, crack and meth

Terrance Virus, 39, being held in custody, scheduled to appear in court Feb. 1

A tip from the public helped Victoria police located and arrest wanted men Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Tips lead police to arrest convicted killer, robber near downtown Victoria

Two men were at large after failing to return to community facility

Police are warning people of flu shot and vaccination frauds. (Black Press Media file photo)
Flu shot fraud charges West Shore resident for non-existent appointments

Fraudulent email claimed to be from London Drugs

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan (left) and Kairry Nguyen on Jan. 27, 2020 after Tenessa Nikirk was found guilty for striking Bui in a Saanich crosswalk. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Driver convicted of dangerous driving after hitting Leila Bui out on bail

Tennesa Nikirk was convicted for striking then 11-year-old Leila Bui with her car

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is breaching for a COVID-safe return in March. (Poster photo by Owen Crosby)
Pacific Rim Whale Festival aims for virtual return in March

Educational celebration scheduled to arrive in Tofino-Ucluelet on March 15.

Extensive water on No. 4 and 5 at the Mount Brenton Golf Course following heavy rains earlier this month. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Island golf course does a booming business in 2020

A total of 15,000 more rounds played than the previous year at Mount Brenton

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

Most Read