Let’s Start An Anonymous Club

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I’ve been trying to write this piece for four months. The initial idea was to capture the moment we’re in, back when that moment felt novel. Now more than ever, people said, it was important to stay connected. So we did.

A friend sent me a collaborative Spotify playlist called “Strawberry Songs” full of songs by Tim Buckley and Natalie Prass and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. We texted about how good it felt to disappear into walls of guitar noise. I listened to this music when Haley and I unfolded the stowed-away flap of our Ikea kitchen table to create a larger shared workspace as we began spending 9–5 on our laptops at home. One buried gem resurfaced: “Anonymous Club” by Courtney Barnett.

It’s an undeniably wonderful song, flush with warm lyrics about, yep, connection. But the kind of virtual bonding my friend and I had via a shared playlist is verboten in Barnett’s world. Instead, she calls for a simple night without phones, shoes, or names—swapping in a home-cooked dinner, some glasses of wine, and general fellowship. The entire thing spills out over six humid minutes. She only plays two chords. The drums are more for atmosphere than beat-keeping. You could call it a vibe, the entire story swelling up to a final romantic denouement: “Thank you for cooking for me,” she sings. “I had a really nice evening, just you and me.”

The cooking, so simple, shows an intimate act of kindness and love, the kind that quickly became a necessity once we began eating three meals at a day at home. We collectively ventured into fraternity and communal strength by clapping at 7 p.m. and keeping our distance. Barnett’s image of wearing name tags with question marks, meanwhile, made me think of peering out my back window and seeing the lit-up rectangles of other buildings every night, neighborly shapes moving around inside without identities. Even the gentle command of “turn your phone off, friend” sounded revolutionary at a time when plugging in equaled the only escape.

Of course, this was all during the moment. But the moment has shifted. It’s no longer a moment. It’s just where we live now.

It feel strange months later, with warmer weather and too many people deciding, hey, the hard part’s over, despite expert opinions, but eh what do they know, and it’s time to careen right back into old routines, right? I see the scores of unemployed journalists, more every day, whose layoff tweets crash into my timeline, signal-boosted by friends trying to help lend a hand. I worked with so many of them. I respect their work so much.

The utter earnestness of “let’s start an anonymous club” once felt like an imperative. But part of me thinks we’re already there, like we showed up with vegan enchiladas and tempranillo, kicked our shoes off in the hall, and got crusty looks from the other folks in the building for coming by at all. And that it was okay to do that. And that it wouldn’t hurt anyone or put anyone’s health at risk.

The weirdest part? The song still comforts. I deleted Twitter and Instagram from my phone, which is a silly and childish victory, but it helps. I’m just here, inside, looking out, and washing two plates as a humid swell of guitar effects fills my entire apartment. I’m connected.

I write and edit for @MTVNews and still listen to nü-metal.

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