(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Q: You have a different way of looking at the world sometimes. How are you dealing with what feels very surreal and strange and painful?
A: Relatively speaking, I’m doing fairly well. I have enough to eat, paying my bills and that kind of stuff. . . . Like a lot of people, there’s times when I wake up in the morning and I go, “What am I doing today and why am I doing it and why bother? What is all this for? Where is it going to go?” These kinds of virtual connections and all the Zoom calls that I do every day, they’re not the same.
A: It’s a kind of solutions journalism sort of thing, where you highlight places, people, initiatives that have started solving problems in ways that maybe can be mimicked and copied. So we’re not interested in a billionaire giving money to a hospital; that’s a one-off solution. It’s a very nice thing, but it’s not a real solution. We’ve started a series now called “Now Anything Is Possible,” which is specifically about being in the pandemic and where people are kind of reassessing their values. And a lot of initiatives that were kind of off the table or weren’t being considered are now kind of on the table again. Maybe we could return city streets to people and have fewer cars, because now we have almost zero pollution from cars.
Q: Obviously a lot of people with big names and celebrity audiences use that bully pulpit to get political, whether it's on the left or the right. Tell me about your decision to really stay out of that.
A: I have my own personal feelings about things and my own personal political slant. But I don’t bring that into my public persona or the work that I do.
Q: Why is that?
A: We’re seeing enough partisan politics. I don’t think partisan politics is getting us anywhere. I’m personally for getting rid of political parties, period.
Q: We're seeing pockets of resistance to some of the pandemic guidelines. But in general, there's something inspiring about how people are responding for a larger good than the idea of doing something for the short term.
A: Yes. This kind of makes them pause, obviously, for a bit and ask what are the things that are really important to me? What do I really value? And so all those things are becoming apparent to people in this kind of trying moment. I want to make sure I remember that and hold onto it and not necessarily go back to the way things were, in every respect.
Q: In your amazing show "American Utopia," which ran on Broadway through mid-February, there was a communal feeling you don't get any other way. And in your book "How Music Works," there's a sentence that speaks to how isolated we are now. You're talking about live performance: "It's a social event, an affirmation of a community. And it's also, in some small way, the surrender of the isolated individual to the feeling of belonging to a larger tribe."
A: That’s kind of what I was talking about earlier: when you wake up in the morning and you know that you’re not going to have any kind of human group experience. I mean, some people might be kind of sequestered with a whole bunch of family members. But the other part is where you come out just with a bunch of people you don’t know, where you’re gathering for entertainment or for work or for this or that. Those parts are kind of absent. And that’s a big part of our lives, a big part of who we are as a species. And so, in my opinion, we’re managing the best we can with all those remote interviews and remote meetings and all that kind of stuff. But it’s only going to take us so far.
Q: Have you been riding your bike, by the way?
A: Not in the last few days, but, yes, I have been as much as possible. I’ve been connecting with some of the band members who were in Manhattan or Brooklyn. And we’ll go for a pretty long bike rides. So we distance bike ride well, you know, often wearing our masks and all that kind of stuff. But, boy, does that feel good.