Oak Hill is a bucolic suburban neighborhood – stable but always refreshing itself, well-tended, plenty of room to breathe. And dream. Play, if you’re a kid – run, if you’re a dog. But even – especially? – pretty suburban neighborhoods have their issues. My friend Stacy Widelitz has been serving as a City Commissioner since 2016 and he’s seen a heated conflict or two.
Stacy’s had a non-traditional career path, to say the least, as a musician, songwriter, composer, arts advocate, photographer – and City Commissioner. Today he stops in for some Real Bacon talk. Stacy is funny and isn’t one to mince words…
Hi Stacy! I don’t even know how you are surviving Life in the Time of Corona. You are one of the most sociable people I know. How are you surviving Life in the Time of Corona?
I’ve always worked at home, so this doesn’t really constitute a major change to my daily rhythms. When I was busy composing for TV back in the ‘90s, I could be homebound for weeks because of the deadlines, and it was solitary work. But you’re right, I love my social life, and this crisis is pushing the boundaries of alone time, even for me. I miss restaurants, friends, concerts, in-person meetings, etc.. I’m home so much I think I’m even getting on the dog’s nerves.
What is your state of mind?
Generally pretty good, though I do sense an undercurrent of low-level anxiety.
How does it compare to your state of mind pre-Corona?
It was generally pretty good, though I did sense an undercurrent of low-level anxiety.
When do you leave your house, and for what? Would you consider yourself compliant or non-compliant?
The one risky thing I had to do earlier this month was collect signatures for the qualification petition for the Board of Commissioners election here in Oak Hill. It was a last-minute decision to run again, so I had to be very careful to minimize contact in a compressed period of time (I qualified, btw). Otherwise, I’m pretty compliant. I hit the grocery store, the pet store, and the hardware store only when needed. I joked with the salesman at the liquor store that if a man wearing a ski mask had entered his shop three weeks earlier, he would have shot him. But I have taken my convertible out for some backroad joyrides to get a little sense of freedom and exhilaration.
What musical projects are you working on right now?
I’m taking some of this time to reconfigure my studio downstairs – new computer, some new software. It should be up and running in a few days, so we’ll see where that leads. Otherwise, I’m playing my piano and listening to a lot of music. I may even pick up the ukulele again. I’m terrible, but it’s fun.
How about photography? Would you be willing to share some of your photos from Life in the Time of Corona?
That’s really frustrating – my work is classic street photography, so this has put a crimp in that pursuit. But I’m trying out some new gear, like the Sigma Art macro lens I bought for the Sony a7Riii camera. And I’ve gotten some nice photos in the house, including one I like of my dog Max sheltering in place (above). Here are a few others…
You’ve been deeply involved in local politics and non-profits. Thoughts about the effects of Covid-19?
The City of Oak Hill has closed its offices for now, but the city manager and staff are working remotely, so business continues. We’re trying to figure out a way to have Board of Commissioners meetings via video conference, but still have them open to the public. In general, I feel like Nashville’s and Tennessee’s leaders have been thoughtful, responsible and responsive, so that’s a relief. As far as non-profits go, I’m very concerned. As immediate past president of the board of Nashville Opera, I’m very involved in our efforts to pivot in light of the new reality. Our Artistic Director/CEO, John Hoomes, has shown great leadership through this crisis. We’ve moved Verdi’s Rigoletto, which was supposed to have closed out our season this past weekend, to the end of next year’s season. The summer is light for the Opera, anyway, so we’re in pretty good shape. I’m on the board of Nashville Film Festival, and I think we’ll be ok because the event isn’t until October. But I really worry about the Symphony, the Ballet, plus all the smaller arts organizations that have had to cancel or postpone performances. I worry about how long it will take for audiences to feel safe and confident enough to sit shoulder to shoulder. I’m afraid this crisis and its aftermath will have a long-term effect on fundraising, audience-building, and livelihoods in the arts. We just have to let it unfold while being as fiscally responsible, flexible, and creative as possible.
The world around us has changed so drastically. What changes have you seen in your neighborhood?
People are definitely out more, walking dogs, pushing kids in strollers, doing yard work. But my neighborhood is close-knit to begin with, and everyone is keeping an eye out for each other. It’s actually very nice to see.
What changes have you felt in yourself?
I find myself worrying more. I worry more about my elderly mother up in NY, and I’m concerned that I wouldn’t be able to be there or help in an emergency. I worry about people’s mental health – an old friend from high school, a fine photographer with whom I’d reconnected over the past year, killed himself March 20th by jumping off his apartment building in NY. We had just spoken in February, so that was a terrible blow. I worry about the ongoing health of the music industry in the midst of a massive shutdown. I worry about Nashville itself – we all griped about the pedal taverns, the golf carts, the bridesmaids whooping it up, the throngs of tourists any given weekend, but now I think we’d all give anything to have them back. With the exception of that ridiculous tractor hauling drunken tourists through downtown. I don’t think anyone is missing that thing.
What changes will last, if any?
I think social distancing is going to last a while. Handshakes, hugs, kissing the cheek, all the physical ways we greet each other will fall by the wayside for a long time to come, if not permanently. I think there will be a generation of children affected by the pandemic and its economic fallout, just as there was a generation affected by the Great Depression, WWII, or any other major crisis. What that effect will be none of us can predict at this point. Interesting side note since I wrote the preceding – I just spoke to my mother, who lived through the Great Depression, and also lost a brother in WWII. She’s 93, and when we were discussing the present crisis, she said, “I remember what it’s like to be poor.” There will be a lasting impact.
What are you reading/watching/listening to?
I’m a New Yorker subscriber, so I always look forward to the new issue, along with the Sunday NY Times Magazine. But I started reading a book called Bricktop’s Paris, about African-American women in Paris between the wars. It centers on a very influential club owner, Ada “Bricktop” Smith. I was watching Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” for the 50th time, and there’s a scene where F. Scott Fitzgerald tells Zelda and Gil, played by Owen Wilson, that they should all go to Bricktop’s. Because of the Bricktop’s restaurants in Nashville, I got curious about the name. Enter Google, and a deep rabbit hole that ended with ordering Bricktop’s autobiography, along with the book I mentioned. Look Ada up – she discovered Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter performed regularly in her club. She was amazing.
What’s your advice for people trying to stay sane in the time of Corona?
Don’t force yourself to be productive. Meditate. Figure out if there’s something of lasting benefit that can be drawn from this experience. Cook comfort foods. If you can have a cocktail, explore new recipes. Do puzzles – they take time, use your mind, and are wonderful distractions. Limit your news intake. Seek out things that make you laugh. I recommend The Marx Brothers (especially Duck Soup), Young Frankenstein, The Producers (the original), and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. And probably most important of all, stay in touch with friends. If you know someone who has struggled with depression, reach out to make sure they’re ok.
And – just for fun –
Favorite snack in the time of Corona?
Raw pumpkin seeds. I know, too healthy, but I’m not much of a snacker. They also have the added benefit of lowering blood pressure.
Well, you know me well enough to know that’s a loaded question. But I think a good gin martini has been winning that race. Stirred, not shaken.
Favorite comfort food?
Roast chicken. And I make a helluva roast chicken.
Thing you’re most sick of…
The 24-hour news cycle, no matter who the broadcaster is.
Person you’re most sick of, on TV or otherwise…
Donald Trump, hands down, but that preceded the virus.
Greatest pleasure in the time of Corona…
Leisure without guilt.
In comparison to the hardships that so many people are experiencing, mine are minimal. I’m frustrated by my lack of options, especially regarding travel. I’ll let it go at that.
Puccini’s arias, Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” and anything by Prokofiev, Beethoven, and The Beatles. I’m also obsessed with a new song called “Teenage Headache Dreams,” by Mura Masa, Ellie Rowsell and Wolf Alice. It’s haunting, and beautifully produced and mixed. Wear headphones or earbuds for the full effect, but at a reasonable volume, of course.
I’ve always loved the paintings of Caravaggio. I think his sense of humanity in the midst of suffering has particular resonance in this moment. That goes for Rodin, too (the sculptor, not Rodan the giant pterodactyl that terrorized Tokyo).
Well, of course, Max the Devildog! He’s been a great companion through all of this.
Stacy, it’s always a pleasure! I look forward to coffee one day before too long. The Well? And thanks for sharing that fabulous photo of you in the Smoking Jacket (with Pinky). Life is but a dream, sweetheart…
* * *
Stacy’s a romantic at heart… he co-wrote this little tune you might recognize with Patrick Swayze…