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March 24, 2020 - April 6, 2020
HEY CORONAVIRUS! The Quarantine Issue
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NEWS 4 | For Many with COVID-19 6 | History Lesson 7 | DHS Workers 8 | Story Plot 9 | Brewed On Grant 10 | COVID-19 and Alcohol ism 12 | Undiagnosis
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We are an influence-free, Independent alternative print and online news company in Pittsburgh Pa. As we’ve been reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen firsthand the dramatic effect it’s having on businesses around southwestern Pennsylvania. This is especially true for small businesses like ours. While we remain steadfastly committed to reporting on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak through the latest information and features, we need your help. Support independent journalism through a sustaining or one-time donation to the Pittsburgh Current. 80% of all donations go toward paying our staff and content creators, 20% will help keep the lights on. And 100 percent of it will ensure this city continues to have an alternative, independent voice. Even before canceling events and staying at home became the new normal, media companies like ours were struggling to keep things going. But we, like others, have found a way because people depend on our product, they like what they do and we feel that appreciation every day. We announced last week that we were temporarily halting our twice-monthly print publication and focusing on our online digital edition because people aren’t going outside, and the businesses where we distribute are all closed. The good news in all of this is that our digital edition will now be coming out weekly instead of bi-monthly. So beginning March 24, you’ll be able to get the Current every Tuesday (to make sure you get it delivered to your inbox, fill out our email signup on our homepage). We are a small team with a big mission and we’re stubborn enough to know that with your help we will get through this. The Current, like many small businesses, is at a crossroads. We plan on doing our part to get you the information you need to make it through this crisis, but we need your support to make sure we’re also able to report on the next one. You can donate by clicking the popup on our homepage or clicking donate below.
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NEWS Protecting the Public Officials want county jail population reduced due to COVID-19 BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
Since the early days of the COVD-19 outbreak in Pennsylvania, most of our public leaders have done a good job telling the public how they should be taking care of themselves. Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. When you sneeze, sneeze into your elbow; not on your hands and certainly not onto someone else. Be careful touching surfaces and then touching your face. Use plenty of hand sanitizer. Clean surfaces often. And, most importantly, practice social distancing. But what if you’re not being told these instructions. And, even if you were, what if there was nothing you could do about it. What if you were incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail and lived in one 6X8 cell with another person, two beds, a sink and a toilet all next to each other. What if you ate in that room and even did some of your laundry in that sink. What if your access to soap was limited, hand sanitizer is nonexistent and the thought of social-distancing was laughable. What if while the rest of the world is taking extreme measures not to get the COVID-19, you are just sitting in your cell or communal dining hall or open prison yard just waiting for your turn to get it. And worse yet, you don’t need to be there. In the past 10 days, advocates for incarcerated individuals and some Allegheny County elected officials have been asking for the population at the Allegheny County Jail to be significantly reduced to prevent more people from catching the COVID-19 virus. The response from the many stakeholders involved in the process from Allegheny County to the Fifth Judicial District to the Allegheny County District Attorney was not a proactive one. While there may have been talks behind the scenes, plans, if they existed, were not relayed to the public. On March 16, a letter was sent to Allegheny County and the other stake-
holders asking for the release of as many inmates as possible from the county lockup, a population that stood at more than 2,000. They sought release for people being held for trial simply because they couldn’t post bail or people held on technical probation violations or even people convicted of low-level crimes whose penalty for a minor offense shouldn't be a potentially fatal disease. On March 19, 189 individuals were granted their release. By the afternoon of March 23, 297 incarcerated inmates were released. And while those numbers are a start, officials say, action took too long, more people need to be released and at a faster pace. And a lot of this could have been avoided if the county wasn’t over incarcerating individuals in the first place. Now, advocates and officials are working to make sure that neither problem happens again. Ten Days ago, on Saturday, March 14, the Current asked a county spokesperson if there were plans to alleviate the population at the county jail to avoid a widespread outbreak. The response was quick: “The jail is just the detention facility. We don’t get to decide who comes in and out,” she said. However, Allegheny County Councilor-at-Large Bethany Hallam didn’t agree with that. And tonight (March 24), Hallam and council colleague Olivia Bennett are introducing legislation to direct that direct action be taken to mitigate the spread of disease at the ACJ. Wagner, who sits on the jail oversight board with Hallam, says she has long called for a reduction in the jail population because of cost and because, she says, there are too many people in the jail who don’t belong there, now more than ever. “We need changes now,” Wagner says. “Not just for cost, not just for justice but for the safety of those incarcerated and the community.” Wagner says healthcare at the jail is already stretched thin (there are roughly 45 unfilled medical positions),
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The Allegheny County Jail from above. (Pittsburgh Currrent Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
an outbreak of coronavirus could have catastrophic results. “If you’re sick, our county jail is not where anyone should be,” Wagner said. “You belong in a hospital and our hospitals are soon going to be overburdened caring for people with this virus. “This situation doesn’t just impact those incarcerated in the jail. It also impacts the staff at the jail and their families.We
need to do everything we can to reduce the risk.” One of the issues that comes up when you talk about releasing incarcerated individuals for a public health crisis or even just for the injustice of it, is a lot of people lack empathy. But the Allegheny County Jail is not Lucasville, Attica or Soledad. Most of the people in lockup here haven’t even been convicted of
a crime. Many suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues, some are being held on a technical probation violation (like missing a meeting or violating a curfew) and are waiting for a judge to hear their case. According to the language in Hallam’s bill: “more than 80% of those at ACJ are not convicted of any criminal offense; instead, 44% are held on alleged viola-
tions of probation, many of them technical violations or based on non-violent charges; 28% of them are held pretrial, with their presumption of innocence intact; countless numbers are held simply because they cannot afford cash bail.” Hallam has firsthand knowledge of life in the ACJ. She has not been shy about discussing her past issues with
drug addiction and she has been incarcerated at the jail. “I can’t fathom being at the county jail during a pandemic,” Hallam says. “You can’t share a cell, a toilet and a sink with somebody else and practice social distancing. Now more than ever, we have to speak out against the injustices going on there. I know the public defender’s office is working as hard as they can to get as many people out as possible.” But Hallam says she worries that it will be difficult to get enough people out fast enough. That’s why she and Bennett have brought forth the legislation. It would reduce the population not just in the ACJ but in alternative housing facilities. According to the bill: Pursuant to the terms of this Ordinance, the Allegheny County Jail and alternative housing facilities located within Allegheny County are hereby directed to immediately undertake substantial reduction of their population by releasing the following categories of people incarcerated there in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the jail and to the broader community, and to reduce the risks and burdens upon correctional staff at this time of emergency: Those alleged to have committed a technical probation or parole violation; Those alleged to have violated probation or parole by committing a misdemeanor and/or non-violent offense; Anybody charged with a misdemeanor and awaiting trial; Anybody charged with drug possession, sex work, or other nonviolent offenses and who is awaiting trial; For any individuals currently held in Allegheny County Jail or alternative housing facilities that do not fall into any of the above-mentioned categories, an individualized review should take place. This will explicitly include who have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence which includes a term of incarceration in Allegheny County Jail. In particular, individualized review should be expedited for: All elderly individuals (over 50) and those at high risk of vulnerability, including but not limited those with respiratory conditions, heart conditions,
diabetes, cancer, or other autoimmune diseases; All pregnant and postpartum individuals; All children younger than 18 years of age. It’s unclear what the likelihood is of Hallam and Bennett’s legislation passing (it just needs a simple majority). However, Hallam and Fitzgerad have butted heads in the past so his support is an unknown at best. However, Hallam says Fitzgerald has spoken publicly before saying he would like to someday see the population of the Allegheny County Jail consistently below 600 inmates. In December, Fitzgerald spoke at the Pitt Institute of Politics at a “Jail Repurposing Forum.” At that time, Fitzgerald did indeed talk about a shrinking prison population. He was talking about the way that officials in New York City reduced their jail population. “We’re at 2400 [incarcerated], we used to be at 2800,” Fitzgerald said. If Allegheny County Jail reduced its population the same percentage as New York, “...in Pittsburgh that number would be 600. Can you imagine what our jail would be like if we got it down to 600? These are the goals we can reach if we do things the right way. “Seventy-five percent of the people who are in our jail are there because they have a substance abuse or a mental health issue. Think about that...is that who we should be incarcerating? Is that the best use of our tax dollars? ...It makes no sense.” Hallam for one says she certainly agrees with the county executive’s goal of 600 inmates and says this is the time to make it a reality because there is a public health crisis. “What we want to see now with these releases, that’s the new normal we’ve been advocating for,” Hallam says. “The county executive has said that’s what he wants to do. Well, then I say let’s do it. Now is the time.”
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 5
NEWS HISTORY LESSON
UNDERSTANDING THE 1918 SPANISH FLU OUTBREAK COULD HELP US DEAL WITH COVID-19
wenty-two-year-old Elvira Vinc saw the devastation of the pandemic around her in Monessen and decided to act. She volunteered for the Red Cross, despite having no training, and cared for the sick before she caught the deadly virus herself. When she died, mourners draped her casket with the American flag, and a local newspaper called her as heroic as anyone who took up arms to defend the nation. Vinc’s story is just one from the fall of 1918, when the improperly named “Spanish Flu” (the flu did not originate from Spain) decimated Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania shortly after it had devastated Philadelphia and the eastern seaboard. There’s a lot more discussion of that misnamed virus now as people and nations across the world grapple with the spread of the coronavirus. The Spanish Flu, or “Spanish Lady,” caused mass closures and shutdowns in the U.S., part of a rapidly improvised and unprecedented public health response. Its symptoms even mirrored today’s COVID-19 virus. Most cases were mild, but the unlucky few suffered terrible respiratory complications, whereby the virus’ attack on the lungs caused them to fill with fluid, essentially leaving the body to drown itself. “It is eerily similar,” said Thomas Soltis, assistant professor of sociology at Westmoreland County Community College. Soltis has studied and written about the response to the Spanish Flu in Western Pennsylvania for years. Before and since the pandemic’s anniversary in 2018, Soltis has given a presentation on how it struck Pittsburgh and the surrounding region. “The question I always got was, ‘Could it happen again?’ My answer was always, ‘It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.’” He won’t get that question anymore. Pittsburgh was among the hardest hit of all American cities in 1918. In a city of about 580,000 people (well over today’s 300,000), the daily death counts hovered near 100 for a nightmarish three-week period in the fall of 1918. Surrounding coal-mining towns suffered
BY TOM LISI - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM even more, since medical treatment and other resources were hard to come by. As quick as the virus arrived in Pittsburgh, it vanished. By November, cases declined exponentially. In Pittsburgh, the Spanish Flu left in its wake some 4,500 dead out 22,000 reported cases. That’s a mortality rate of more than 20 percent Before the current outbreak, the historical highlights for many might have been the sheer number of fatal cases — how more American troops died in World War I of the flu than in combat — and how little this tragedy entered popular culture in the decades since. “I think the pain was just so deep that everyone experienced it,” Soltis said. “And then you had the war ending, it was almost just like, ‘Let’s just close the door and move on.’” But now it’s tantalizing to dwell on the similarities between the 1918 experience and today’s pandemic. Accounts of the public response from contemporary newspapers are uncannily similar. Some business leaders and skeptics accused government officials of overreacting by closing down movie theaters, dance halls and saloons. Part of a fascinating summary of the local 1918 response from a 1985 article in the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, a front-page editorial in the Pittsburgh Leader castigated the state health commissioner for closing public gatherings in Pennsylvania. “Probably the only thing that will result from it will be that many people will be deprived of what are their rights under ordinary circumstances and no great good will be accomplished,” the editorial read. It’s not all gloom and doom — there are also hopeful parallels as well. In the fall of 1918, church congregants, social club members, religious orders and mutual aid societies sprung into action with volunteers to tend to the sick. Lay members of Sacred Heart parish in Point Breeze surveyed the sick in nearby homes and delivered food and other supplies. Dozens of nonprofits and volunteer initiatives all over the region are now mobilizing to help vulnerable families with
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food and medical access in response to the coronavirus. Back in 1918 and 1919, the regular people who stepped up to care for the sick were venerated, Soltis said. The professor pointed to Vinc’s story as an example. “The newspapers called her as much as a hero as someone who picked up a gun and went to fight in World War I,” Soltis said. Vinc is buried in Grandview Cemetery in Monessen, he said. By the end of the pandemic, Pittsburgh saw horrors that hopefully won’t befall the city again 102 years later. As in other cities, the death toll grew so quickly, bodies accumulated at cemeteries. A shortage of grave diggers meant that some grieving family members had to bury their loved ones themselves. The events of the 1918 pandemic surely have some similarities that would’ve been difficult to relate to even weeks ago. But Mari Webel, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, warns that there are important differences that should not be lost in the frenzy to make sense of contemporary events. One is that the U.S. was occupied with the events of World War I at the time. Many doctors and nurses in the country had been mobilized to serve in the war effort and were not available back home. The Spanish Flu is also famous for its “W-shaped” mortality curve. Unlike most influenza strains, the 1918 flu showed higher incidents of serious cases among younger adults. Early data and anecdotal evidence suggests few children are seeing severe COVID-19 symptoms. The W-shaped curve doesn’t so far seem to be the case for coronavirus either, but more data analysis is needed. Back in 1918, those in the prime of their lives were among the hardest hit. Of all the major contrasts between 1918 and 2020, one that might be oddly overlooked is how medical advancements have come a long way in 100 years, even though there are not yet any antiviral treatments or vaccines for COVID-19. Medical and epidemiological researchers are working around the clock to better
understand the coronavirus and develop not only strategies for containment, but also potential treatments or vaccines, Webel pointed out. In 1918, the medical community had almost no understanding of what caused the Spanish Flu and where it came from. Webel also emphasized that in 1918 and 1919 there were no ventilators, the most important life-saving method to treat patients with severe fluid build-up in their lungs. First-person accounts from 1918 detail the horror of watching pneumonia-stricken patients gasp for air as their symptoms worsened. If anything, it’s a harsh warning of what could befall medical systems if there are more severe cases than there are ventilators, Webel said. It’s a reality that American medical professionals are already issuing dire warnings about if people do not stay home to slow the virus’ spread. “If we do see [intensive-care units] overwhelmed, that’s one histrical comparison that is devastating to look at but is one that we should probably be thinking about,” Webel said “And one we should be trying to learn from and help inform us to sort of stay away from one another and give those health care providers the slack that they need.” The jury is still out on important details regarding today’s epidemic, Webel said, and there are important lessons to be learned from other public health crises, including H1N1 “swine flu” in 2009 and the HIV/ AIDS crisis in the 1980s. But the overlap between the event 102 years ago and now are undeniable, and both Webel and Soltis said the Spanish Flu provides one more important lesson: the coronavirus will eventually disappear and leave many, many survivors to describe what happened. “There will be mistakes made, changes that come about, but we will navigate through it,” Soltis said. “I think that’s what 1918 can show us.”
'ESSENTIAL STATE DHS WORKERS SAY THEIR OFFICES AREN'T PREPARED FOR COVID-19 BY STEPHEN CARUSO - FOR THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
fter telling state employees to work from home to stop the spread of COVID-19 last Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration pivoted and sent thousands of human service workers back to their cramped offices the next day. The reversal, which came in a late-night email, came with few additional protections for workers’ health and safety, according to interviews with state employees across the commonwealth. Workers sent back to work included employees working in four southeast counties that Wolf had previously shut down over coronavirus concerns, according to internal emails viewed by the Capital-Star. In an email sent Tuesday, March 17, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller defended the decision to the department’s staff, saying that the work — which includes processing applications for low-income utility or food assistance — is essential because “lives depend on it.” State employees contacted by the Capital-Star, all of whom asked for anonymity to speak candidly about internal work matters, agreed that providing services was critical. But they also described little preparation to either keep their offices safe from the spread of coronavirus — from limited hand sanitizer and paper towels to no regular cleanings and no access to protective equipment. These human service employees routinely work in offices with dozens, if not hundreds of employees processing Medicaid, SNAP, low-income heating assistance and other welfare programs. “It serves as a major distraction throughout the day as you can’t feel healthy and clean surrounded by that many people from different areas,” said one state employee in York County. Workers at three different offices across Pennsylvania described similar office layouts, with four person cubicles where employees were close enough to touch arms. The office work also seemingly contradicts standards laid out by the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention and trumpeted by Pennsylvania’s own Department of Health. In daily press conferences, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has repeatedly stressed
that individuals can stay safe by staying home. Meanwhile, the federal government has advised against gatherings of more than 10 people. The Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents thousands of DHS employees still on the job, is taking that suggestion to heart. Union president Steve Catanese said Monday that negotiations with the administration are ongoing to improve working conditions. That included adopting staggered shifts to prevent cramped offices. Workers are “being relied on in a way they’ve never been before and they need support from the Commonwealth to match,” Catanese said.
Not a matter of if
Catanese first noted state employees’ concerns to the Capital-Star last week. Workers then independently reached out to the Capital-Star in subsequent days, saying they and other employees were at risk of catching coronavirus in their offices and spreading it to loved ones. One Philadelphia employee said that their office, with at least 70 employees, was not getting regularly cleaned, leaving the task to the workers themselves. The office bathrooms also sometimes ran out of paper towels during the day. Some coworkers are commuting into the city from Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties, hotbeds for infection in the state, the employee added. By showing up, they risked exposing other coworkers, including some who are elderly or immunocompromised — putting them at greater risk from the coronavirus. The employee added that he lives with his two elderly parents, increasing his concerns. “It’s not even a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” the Philadelphia employees get sick, they said, “and then you have a whole office [that has] to be admitted.” And “if we all go down, nobody is getting” any services. Erin James, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, told the Capital-Star in a March 19 email that the department recognizes the “frustration and
concern” over its decision to keep county assistance offices open. “However, these job functions are essential and cannot be performed off-site with existing technological capacity,” she said. The department announced some changes last week that included closing county assistance offices to the public to limit potential exposure. James added that the department was “following CDC recommendations for environmental cleaning and directing owners of leased buildings that we operate in to do the same.” “We continue to monitor this on a dayto-day, hour-by-hour basis,” James told the Capital-Star. “If additional adjustments become necessary, decisions will be made and communicated, but this work is essential and we cannot abandon the people who need or may need these programs when they are needed most.” The state’s rickety IT infrastructure also raised workers’ concerns. One employee, for example, said that their case management software had failed twice in two days last week — citing pressure from remote work. “If the idea was we’re going to be helping people,” the employee said, but “we can’t really work if the system was down.” James said that there were not any systemic technology issues within the department. She added that “given the unprecedented nature of this emergency, there are some challenges to work through.”
There are eight DHS offices whose employees must report for work outside their homes — including workers processing Medicaid applications, child-abuse investigators and state hospital employees — according to an email that department secretary Miller sent to staff March 17. But this was not the initial message that caseworkers received from the administration. On Monday, March 16 at 3 p.m.,
the Wolf administration sent out a mass email saying that “non-essential” workers could work from home. Most of the workers sent back to their offices “have historically been deemed non-essential,” according to a letter sent to the Wolf administration by the SEIU 668 March 17. The Philadelphia caseworker added that during routine office closings, such as snow days, his coworkers had never been ordered to go to work. They and others never expected that they’d be ordered in during the closure. But at 9 p.m. on March 16, six hours after the remote work email, deputy DHS Secretary Lisa Watson told case workers in the Office of Income Maintenance that they were deemed essential, and had to show up for work the next day, Tuesday, March 17, or use their existing paid leave. “We need our staff to be available to complete the time sensitive vital work we do so that we can continue to provide critical and life-sustaining services to the people who so desperately need us,” Watson wrote in the evening note. They were classified, along with police, fire, emergency medical services and sanitation as essential during the coming pandemic, according to a press release laying out Wolf ’s coronavirus response. DHS spokesperson James did not clarify how many department employees were reclassified. But there were some hints that the department was ready to make changes in earlier communications to employees. In an email sent March 13, before Wolf ’s shutdown order, Secretary Miller told the department’s 16,000 employees that “continued flexibility will be the key to successfully navigating” the coronavirus impacts. Miller added: “But I want to be clear that we are prepared to take actions that protect your health and preserve the essential functions of our department.”
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 7
CMU students develop map to track the spread and progression of COVID-19
CMU STUDENTS DEVELOP MAP TO SHOW PREAD AND SEVERITY OF COVID-19
BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR JODY@PITTSBURGH CURRENT.COM
s coronavirus spreads across the United States, a couple of Carnegie Mellon students partnered up with a friend at New York University to create a map tracker that displays the growth and movement of COVID-19 in an easily accessible format. Jason Zhu, a junior at CMU in the Human-Computer Interaction department, worked with his classmate Miranda Luong, also a junior, and friend Justin Chen, who is studying computer science at NYU. "There's something really visceral about seeing the virus, seeing it actively spread across the map, that the numbers can't communicate," Zhu told the Current via telephone from CMU's campus. "Especially in the US, a lot of criticism is that people aren't taking this as seriously as they should be taking it. You do see people treating it like there is nothing wrong, or news articles where people have said it's not a big deal. By creating
this tool, we don't want to create panic, but we do want people to be informed and understand the severity of what's going on." Zhu, Luong and Chen got this up and running fast. On March 12th, they started working on the idea of simply tracking which universities were shutting down and which were moving to on-line classes. In just a few days time, they shifted their focus to tracking COVID-19 in a way that would be easy for anybody, from a government official to your grandmother, to understand and use. Working for 10 to 15 hours a day on the project, they had their site up and running by St. Patrick's Day. "We're from a design background and we're interested in data visualization to begin with," Luong said. "It was interesting looking at maps which had been published and we were thinking about -- what did we feel the maps that we had seen already lacked. We felt that the scale of them was very general and broad. We
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thought maybe we should be building a site that could look at the number of cases on a county scale." According to Zhu, their site, www. coronashutdown.com is one of the first choropleth maps used to track COVID-19. In layman's terms, a choropleth is a map that uses shading and coloring to convey data. Using Pennsylvania as an example, by looking at the map, you can see clusters around both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- deeper, darker coloring. And lighter shades in the counties with fewer cases (primarily those in the middle and north of the state. "We wanted to create something with a deeper level of granularity and scale, so everyone could make sense of it," Zhu said of their map and how it tracks confirmed coronavirus cases on a county-by-county basis. "This was something that we thought was at the appropriate scale, so people could understand exactly where these things are, but not
too granular where I'm seeing individual points, but it's not too big, too broad, so I'm not just seeing state by state." As of this writing, Allegheny County has 49 confirmed cases (with one death) and Philadelphia County has 91 cases and neighboring Montgomery County with 87 cases. And both of those areas really pop out on the map. That kind of design is what you learn at a program like the HCI program at CMU where much of the focus is on how to turn statistics into visual, digital stories. Luong and Zhu have worked on projects together, but this is the first time they've created something for general use. "Jason (Zhu) is really in love with making maps. He has that type of interest in it. I have done work in data visualization. I think about how to story-tell through data," Luong said. The team continues to update the site daily as more information becomes available. Primarily, they draw on data from Johns Hopkins, the University of Washington and the site, 1Point3Acres, all of which they have found to be extremely reliable sources. It remains a work in progress. They are adding new features and, since the original iteration, they built in a timeline. "You can see how the coronavirus is spreading, and how quickly it's spreading. You can see what areas are the hardest hit and how the virus is spreading across the map. From a couple hundred cases to over 22,000 cases" Zhu said. [Since speaking with the Current, the number of cases nationwide has grown to more than 32,000, with more than 400 deaths.] Both Zhu, who is from New Jersey, and Luong, from New York City, are in Pittsburgh now, working on their on-line studies at CMU and continuing work on this site. It should be noted that there is one confirmed case coronavirus at CMU as of this writing (there is also a confirmed case at Pitt..) Zhu said that his parents in New Jersey are in their 60s and more at risk, so his being at school felt like the safer choice for the safety of his family. "That's a common thing I've heard from some classmates -- people's biggest worry is more passing it on to someone who is more vulnerable than myself."
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FOR THOSE BATTLING ALCOHOLISM, COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS ADD AN EXTRA-LAYER OF DANGER BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR JODY@PITTSBURGH CURRENT.COM
ars are closed up and the liquor stores are, too. The lack of access to craft cocktails may be something to joke about as an uptown problem in the face of the most serious public health crisis of our lifetimes, but it is a serious matter for alcoholics. For a person with significant alcohol dependence, what happens when the well runs dry and the tap is shut off?
The nature of alcohol itself makes the problems unique as the body starts to go into physiological withdrawal very quickly. According to Lawson Bernstein, MD, Medical Director for Behavioral Health at UPMC McKeesport "Alcohol is a very short half-life drug, so you stop drinking and within six to twelve hours you're in trouble.". Going cold-turkey is a risky way
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to come off of alcohol dependence. Because it is metabolized so quickly, the body starts to crave it fast. "You've got a substance which basically has turned down the volume on a variety of different physiological functions and you suddenly take that away? All those functions go wild. So your blood pressure goes up, your pulse goes up, you start shaking like a leaf. The lights
are brighter, the sound is louder. At about the 24 hour mark, you may have a seizure," Bernstein told the Current via telephone. Pennsylvania is a unique state, given the state run liquor business. People can still buy beer and wine at those grocery stores and convenience stores which are licensed to sell them. Some wineries and craft breweries are open for take out
orders or curbside delivery in an effort to limit or halt exposure to coronavirus, while still serving their customers. "It's not completely unavailable to everybody. It requires more effort and work. It's not ideal," Gary Swanson, MD, told the Current. Swanson is a psychiatrist with Allegheny Health Network working out of Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side. Still, in this Commonwealth, state run liquor stores and the bars they supply are the only game in town for hard liquor. Additionally, access to wineries and craft brewers means access to transportation and the ability to pay on-line, which is not a foregone conclusion for everybody. In short, middle-class and wealthier alcohol addicts may weather the COVID-19 storm better than those who already struggle economically. According to the PLCB site, one liter (1,000 ml) of Vladimir Vodka [80 proof] retails for $7.79. One would have to drink a considerable amount of wine or beer to replicate that effect. [Vodka averages about 40% alcohol by volume; wine is typically anywhere from 6% to 20% abv; and most beers range between 4% and 12%.] Obviously, with lines out the doors on Tuesday evening, people tried to stock up. But nobody knows how long this crisis will last before things start to return to normal. Stocking up for two weeks may be possible for many people. Stocking up for six weeks? Eight weeks? Even six months? That's nearly impossible. Given the risks associated with COVID-19 and in light of what we are seeing in Italy and Seattle, there are no perfect solutions, particularly for Dr. Rachel Levine, who is the Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth and who had to make the call. "I know that [Rachel] Levine was aware that this might be an issue for this group of patients, but you have varying risks and balancing whether it's safer to close down the state stores and deal with possible alcohol withdrawal. Or leave them open and allow the spread of coronavirus more rapidly. Those are tough decisions to make. It's an unintended consequence, but something people are going to have to wrestle with," Swanson said. What actually happens when the
Crowds lined up at state liquor stores before they closed last week. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
body goes into severe or complicated alcohol withdrawal? What are the risks involved? "When we talk about 'complicated alcohol withdrawal,' we mean seizures or delirium tremens. With delirium tremens and seizures -- there's a risk of both and both carry inherent risk. When this delirium is in combination with elevated blood pressure and heart rate, that is a very significantly dangerous and deadly situation. It is a very high mortality rate," Gina Goszinski, DO, a psychiatrist with Jade Wellness, an outpatient substance abuse treatment center in Pittsburgh, told the Current. According to Bernstein, the mortality rate can be higher than you think. "The prevalence of death in untreated serious alcohol withdrawal is 50%. That comes from the bad old days - that's original research done at Boston City Hospital in the 1940's before there were really detox protocols. But if you did nothing and you were going into moderate to severe withdrawal? 11 risk of severe disability
or death is one in two." Alcohol withdrawal can be treated safely in a medical setting. For some patients, their underlying health conditions in combination with severe dependence on alcohol land them in the Intensive Care Unit. But generally, the treatment is to administer some benzodiazepines (which are things like valium, librium, xanax and so on.) The drugs mimic what alcohol does in the body, thus they regulate the withdrawal and ameliorate adverse medical risk. It's also simply easier to tolerate. All three doctors stressed the need for medical care in the case of severe withdrawal. For those who have been dependent on alcohol for years, there are often underlying medical conditions such as decreased liver function, pulmonary issues or high blood pressure. It's dangerous to navigate those conditions without professional care. "As to the Emergency Department, if people are worried about coronavirus and worried about how busy we are, the
fact of the matter is right now things are a little slow," Swanson said. "I think everybody is reluctant to go out and that includes coming to the hospital. Part of me would caution people, if they think they have a problem, they shouldn't be too hesitant about coming to the hospital -- we're taking precautions and doing the best we can to make sure that people aren't exposed to COVID. If you're having a serious problem, I wouldn't discourage you from coming in, even if it isn't for COVID. There are plenty of other things that require treatment." People are understandably concerned about presenting to anywhere, but medical intervention at an emergency room or treatment center is called for despite the need for social distancing and the risks associated with coronavirus. As Bernstein said, "Everything now is a potential personal and public health event."
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 11
Vehicles line up for COVID-19 tests on the North Side
FOR MANY WITH COVID-19, THEY'LL GET ALL OF THE PAIN BUT NONE OF THE DIAGNOSIS BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
he loud hacking cough barking through the phone is as painful as it sounds, Julie Straub assures
me. “It’s undoubtedly the most painful cough I’ve ever experienced,” Straub told the Current on Thursday by phone. “I also have this massive chest pain, almost like an elephant is sitting on my chest. You know when you go outside on a really cold day and breathe in deeply? That’s what it feels like all of the time.” Julie Straub had COVID-19.
Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Actually she isn’t sure because other than the elephant on the chest, the fever and the extremely painful cough, the 38-year-old Shaler resident is pretty healthy. Because of her general fitness, she doesn’t qualify as high risk and therefore her healthcare provider, UPMC, says she doesn’t qualify for a test. Her fiancee has the same symptoms. “They said they have a very strict
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protocol and I don’t fit the criteria for testing,” Straub said. As of this writing,there are 479 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 48 in Allegheny County. There have been two deaths statewide, one in Allegheny County. There is no doubt that those numbers are low because there aren't enough tests to go around. The only people who are being tested are those in high-risk categories like the elderly, those with lung and breathing issues, NBA Players and celebrities.
“Why can an asymptomatic NBA player get a test but a mother of two who is presenting symptoms cannot,” Straub said. She began feeling sick last Wednesday, saying she was just “feeling off.” She felt the same way and started to become “achy” in the next couple days and by Saturday the coughing and chest pain started. She called her doctor on Tuesday who told her to call back if her temperature hit 99.5 or higher. That milestone came on Wednesday but she was told she didn’t meet the criteria and
NEWS to quarantine at home. On Wednesday she felt worse, the fever went up, the cough worsened, and she decided to get herself tested. Straub went to a drive-thru testing on March 19 at a Central Outreach Wellness Center location on the North Side. The best way to test for the virus is a nasal swab, however, because of the test shortage she couldn’t get one of those. “Testing started at 11 a.m. and I got in line at about 10:20 a.m. and there were about 17 cars ahead of me,” she said. “Sitting in line, I saw only one nasal swab but by the time I got to the front, there weren’t many nasal swabs left and I basically got to spit into a cup. “I know they are overrun and working non-stop. But you’d still like to know.” On March 23, Straub tells the Current she expects her test result any day and she is starting to feel a bit better, although there are bad days. “I don’t currently have a fever, but the cough is still terrible,” Straub said. “I felt really sick [March 21] and called my doctor because the coughing spells were terrible. But he said unless I couldn’t breath to stay home, which I have. She has been quarantined at home, her children stayed with their father. She works as a leasing consultant at a large apartment complex, 415 units. She says her coworkers are nervous because they come in contact with a lot of people everyday. “If it’s spreading through there, that’s a lot of people,” Straub said. Straub’s fears are shared by many others in her place. There are more than 16,000 cases of the virus nationwide, more than a quarter-million across the globe with more than 11,000 deaths. So it’s easy to get scared when you think you’re infected with a potentially deadly disease. But for the majority of people who get COVID-19, they will fight the disease off successfully without any major complications. During a Thursday teleconference, the Current asked Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen about how worried people should be if they are not specifically tested and treated. “The virus can present from extremely mild to extremely severe. Some people get headaches and sore throats and others have problems with their upper
Julie Straub takes a quarantine selfie with her dog, Saylor
respiratory systems, Bogen said. “While the duration of the illness varies, 80 to 85 percent of people will experince mild to moderate cases of the virus. Those people will be able to get through the virus on their own. They never require any care outside the home.” Bogen said people should use pain meds, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and cough medicine when needed. It is important, she said for these people not to overwhelm the healthcare system that is already dealing with the most severe cases. At the moment, Straub and her fiancee are self-quarantining at home while they wait for their test results. She texts and facetimes with her kids, ut most of her energy is spent just trying to get through this thing.
“It’s a scary thing, but I know even if I am positive I’ll get through it OK,” she said. “But right now, I feel like complete shit.” I started to not feel great last wednesday… going onassumption… feeling off. My fiancee and i in cook’s forest.. Neithr felt great, likachy, trying to fight off. Saturday sunday is when the cough started… been back at a standpoint… essential job but cough, contacted tuesday. No fever… 99.5 or highrr. Yesterday worse… super dry cough. Massive painful pressure in your chest, elephant...go outside on a super cold air, that’s what it feels like..talking to on call docitr… fever yeterday afternoon.. Don’t fit our criteria for testing… strict protocol. Upmc, only
using their tetd not cd tests… i think that’s part of the problem there. Central outreach wellness center. What do id do.. Started testing this am. 11. Got ther 10;20 ALREDY line forming 10-15 cars i saw… only saw one nasal swab. Got a sputum tet.. History of pneumonia… how many nasall swas… 11; 20 ONLY 20 LEFT.. MASSIVE… upmc… 99.5 .. higher this am… 99.6 fever.. Wasn’t consdiered high risk. 38year old, in good health.. Over a certin age.. Have to meet certian helath criteria, asthma, thing.spit into a cup… from what i understanfd.. Nasal most amount of secretions. Other things frokm the spewtim tests./// .. they said up to four or fve days… they are so overrun. Working nn stop..leasing consutaltn for apartment complex.. Commercial housing, lodging essential. Def. don’t think she s not afraid.. My coworkers are afraid.. If it’s positive.. Apartment complex, 415 units, a alot of people ther… been foregin community… passed t peole there… that’s a lot of people. Been in every apartment buildingnin our community.. That’s scary... if this does end up positive, ill be ok… i feel like coplete shit. That’s what’s so big about thi… stay home, don’t know...the people there had full masks on… gowns on, gloves...its extreely frustraiting, been in contact with her family… no questions asked, two hours get a test… i dont’ understnad.. Why can an asymptomaitc nba player get atest, moter of two. I hace to do a run-around…… the most painful cough i’ve had. Almost like a stiningin your chest and a constant urge to cough feel like youe pulled every… they’re 12 and 15 luckily for them not together witht heir father.. During this, they were there… quarantined your self…. For kids.. Still terrifying, we text a lot, talk on the phoen.. They said you need to quarantine in your house until the test results… quarantined for 14 days…… i dont think you can ever be too cautious.. In italy.. Not that far good aggressive measures… people aren’t listeing.. Federally iit isn’t not a trump fan……. Julie Straub .. Shaler ...38 regood health……. If i had to guess it would leasing counsultant…...
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 13
OPINION DON'T ISOLATE YOURSELF FROM THE OUTDOORS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS BY LARRY J. SCHWEIGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
The coronavirus crisis facing this country may be the most profound challenge we have faced since World War II. The pandemic and the national failure to invest in our governmental agencies are having catastrophic consequences. We must learn to discern science from opinions and accept that expertise matters. Our failure to be better prepared is causing immense pain and suffering. Before it is over, we may need to reconsider who we are as Americans and how we must live in an overcrowded, interconnected, and fragile world. Perhaps this may also be a time to elevate our consciousness of the interdependency we have with nature and our community. In the absence of sound leadership from Trump to guide us, it is becoming the responsibility of governors and mayors to make the hard but responsible decisions. As theatres and other market-based social events close, we must find ways to isolate and take steps to protect our family. Health authorities have pleaded continually with every American to adopt "social distancing" measures like working from home and maintaining a distance of six feet from each other. The failure of some to stop socializing and other self-seeking behaviors prolongs the crisis. It makes the pandemic so much more dangerous than it otherwise would be. Self-isolation is the order of the day, and depending on how society adapts, it could last for several months. For every parent, adjusting to the unexpected time with your children, consider getting them outdoors and connected to nature. If there can be any unseen benefit of the very dark #coronavirus clouds, it is that nature provides intrinsic social distancing. In these tight economic times, nature is available for free. We should be out in the woods with our children. You may be opening a whole new world for them to explore, use their imaginations, and find deep and
lasting connections with wild things. Rachel Carson wrote about the importance of curiosity and unstructured play in nature. “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” Today, I hiked along Pine Creek, listening to the spring peepers, tree frogs, and a distant piliated woodpecker drumming on a hollow snag. Rachel Carson and her mother once walked along the same stream in her youth. Springtime outings undoubtedly seeded Rachel’s sense of wonder for nature. She wrote in her last unfinished manuscript called The Sense of Wonder, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." She may have been reflecting on her time with her mother when she wrote, “I sincerely believe for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide, it is not half so important to know as to feel.” Rachel’s mother was not very knowledgeable but she loved nature all the same and inspired that love in Rachel. For parents who may not know much about nature, it is ok to allow your children to roam unfettered. You may not be able to teach your children much about the trees or flowers but let them experience free-ranging in the woods and along the creeks. Author Richard Louv has linked the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—and connects it to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. Louv wrote “Last Child in the Woods to bring together a growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for
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healthy childhood development of the physical and emotional health. As adults, we, too, need to be out of doors to avoid cabin fever in this time of isolation. There are many signs that something significant is happening to the essential connection between Americans and the outdoors. The signs are everywhere. What is happening to our relationship with nature, and where has the outdoor time gone? The Association for Childhood Education International reported that that U.S. children’s outdoor time is down by 50% over previous generations. A study published in Early Childhood in 2004 found that 85% of mothers reported that their children play outdoors less than they did as children. In 2004, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that the average child spent over 6 hours daily watching TV, playing video games or on a computer, and I am sure those numbers are even worse today. A survey of teachers in a paper entitled “From muddy hands and dirty faces... to higher grades and happy places” Cath Prisk and Dr. Harry Cusworth explore outdoor learning and play at schools around the world. The survey explored the benefits of outdoor learning found: The majority of teachers said that children gain a better understanding of the environment through outdoor play (92% of Australian and 88% of Canadian teachers identified this as an outcome, compared to 83% in the UK and 82% in the US). Teachers across the world believe playing outdoors develops critical skills for life, including social skills, imagination, and creativity, improved fine motor skills, and the ability to focus on a task. Teachers believe playing and learning outdoors helps children in their learning, through improved behavior and by enabling them to retain information. Playing outdoors and outdoor education makes children happier. I lived in the outdoors as a child, and I suspect many others spent a great deal of your childhood free time outdoors too. My brothers and roamed for hours across the hills of northern Allegheny County, climbing trees, building forts, and dams in the creek. Despite the troubling trends, overwhelmingly, mothers in surveys recognized the significant benefits of children spending more time out-
doors for health and motor skill development reasons. Most agreed that it improved childhood social skills and believed outdoor play as a way to enhance a child's sense of self-worth. Years ago, kids burned plenty of calories playing outdoors. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics, "Physical Activity Recommendations for School-Age Youth," found that "our children are just not burning up those calories today." The Centers for Disease Control notes that an hour per day engaged in unstructured activity is the missing ingredient. Researchers in such places as Chicago and Boston studied how the nationwide childhood obesity epidemic may cause shorter life-spans for the next generation. While we have enjoyed increases in the expected lifespan for several decades, the new lack of childhood activity and its extra pounds can lead to adult-onset diabetes. They can shorten the average lifespan from three to five years. Time in nature is therapeutic for us all. Lee Willard shared her recent experience, “On a sunny day, I decided to escape the boredom of being home by exploring Frick Park trails. Curious to discover what was down the path. When I was a little girl, I had a rough childhood, and the woods were my safe haven. Imagination sweeps sadness and fears away. I even found a waterfall and named it my secret place. My inner child is feeling the same wonder today. Escaping reality and letting nature restore while listening to the gentle wind blowing. I also hear the nearby creek trickling over rocks. The birds are singing as the sun gently kisses my face, and I smile. Smiling isn't as easy to do these days.” Nature is open to all. Rue Mapp is the founding director of Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit organization with leadership networks around the country. Rue inspires minorities to connect with nature and encourages us all to take better care of our health by spending time in nature. She believes spending time in nature is an essential step to protecting communities and our planet. Rue also has a useful video encouraging the use of the natural world to explore science. This is a timely reminder for all of us to connect with nature during times of stress. Perhaps in so doing we may discover how our lifestyles are out of step with the life-supporting natural world. Let’s all take this time to be out there.
ART & ENTERTAINMENT
A glimpse inside 25 Carrick Ave (Photo courtesy of Maddy Lafferty) For more information visit 25carrickave.com
25 CARRICK AVE. WANTS TO KEEP LIVE MUSIC GOING THROUGH COVID-19 PANDEMIC BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR MARGARET@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
When the idea for Live at 25 concert series first came up earlier this month, the world was -- as we all know -- already starting to look a lot different. A joint effort of the relatively new community-based non-profit 25 Carrick Ave. and concert production company Hear Corp, the original idea was to put on 25 days of livestreamed, audience-less concerts from the Carrick-based venue used by both organizations. “We have this beautiful venue, we have all this gear,” says Maddie Lafferty, a concert photographer who works for Hear Corp doing a little bit of everything. “Originally we wanted to have a very small production team and
bring these artists in.” But as quarantine rules change by the day, Live at 25 has been quick and eager to adapt, remaining dedicated to providing live entertainment and support for artists while keeping everyone safe at home. Last Friday, when restrictions were still a bit lighter, teams of under five people worked together on graphics and getting artists set up on Facebook live. From there they’ve experimented with other video-conferencing technology, and have since started producing concerts from their individual houses. “Hear Corp has been kind enough to let us use their gear and we’re able to take home whatever is
necessary to keep this thing going,” says Lafferty. The diverse lineup of Pittsburgh artists began on St. Patrick’s Day with a performance by the Bastard Bearded Irishmen. The next night’s stream featured members of the funk band Beauty Slap, which included a virtual Q&A with fans. Following that, the Pittsburgh Circus Arts Collaborative appeared along with Lawrenceville grassroots arts collective Redfishbowl. “The extent that the performers are going to is pretty amazing,” says Lafferty. Juggling Zero and fire breather Jo Kerr broadcasted their performance from an abandoned warehouse.
Contortionist Camille Zamboni appeared with her kids from her in-home studio. O’Ryan the O’Mazing taught some simple circus tricks to the viewers at home. Artists, too, have been hugely supportive and flexible. When Live at 25 was no longer able to broadcast from the studio, Lafferty says, the crew sent out emails asking artists if they’d be ok with a different livestream setup. “And we got over 100 email responses, like, ‘We don’t have anything else going on, just give us a time, let us know what time to log on and we’ll be there.’ And everyone I’ve worked with, everyone I’ve talked to, it’s an overwhelming amount of support.” The schedule and the streaming methods are, like everything else these days, in constant flux, so keep an eye on the Live at 25 Facebook page for daily updates. What doesn’t change is the goal to provide financial support to artists who are currently struggling. So far nearly $5,400 has been donated to the project’s GoFundMe page, which has a goal of $25,000, or $1000 a show. Each individual participant will get a cut of the final amount raised. The Live at 25 crew is also sharing links to artists’ merch and social media pages. After the Pittsburgh Circus Arts Collaborative show, Lafferty says, each artist made around $60 in Venmo and Paypal tips from people watching on their personal feeds. “We’re just doing everything we can to really make sure everyone is ok during this time. “Everyone is just really focused on supporting our community,” she adds. “I'm just really focused on staying positive, running on a bit of adrenaline … It's been pretty amazing, it really shows you how people come together when we can’t physically.”
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 15
ART & ENTERTAINMENT
A CONVERSATION WITH BRYAN QUINBY OF STREET FIGHT RADIO BY MARGARET WELSH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC EDITOR MARGARET@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
he first time “Murder” Bryan Quinby and Brett Payne brought Street Fight Radio to Pittsburgh was in 2017. The recent presidential election had pushed a lot of people to the left, and reinvigorated many who had long called themselves leftists, so Spirit, in Lawrenceville, was packed on that Sunday afternoon in early spring. The hosts of the popular “dirtbag left” podcast Chapo Trap House, which was then a little more than a year old, were the headliners. But Quinby and Payne were the afternoon’s
veterine broadcasters, having hosted their Columbus, Ohiobased radio show for, at that point, about 6 years. Then, Street Fight Radio had around 450 Patreon subscribers, all paying a few dollars a month for additional content. Now they’re at nearly 3000. Quinby and Payne no longer have to work day jobs, because Street Fight -- which they bill as “the #1 anarcho-comedy show on any station across the nation” -- makes enough money to pay the bills. And they work hard at it: In addition to the original
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Basement Show which the duo hosts every Wednesday, there’s a call-in show on Sundays, which puts a worker-solidairty spin on the classic talk-radio format, and sometimes limits callers to women and non-binary people. Plus there’s the weekly subscriber-only bonus show, as well as Quinby’s personal podcast mini-series, which have included deep-dives into such cultural phenomena as shock jocks (Shocktober), sports talk radio (March Madness) and Kid Rock (American Podcass). Later this year, they plan to launch a
television show on the anti-capitalist, worker-owned streaming service MEANS TV. The Current chatted with Quinby ahead of a live Street Fight show scheduled for March 18 at Club Cafe. That show was postponed, of course. But even in the quarantine, Street Fight is going strong, still broadcasting from the basement. Rooted in a worldview of radical leftist politics and informed by decades of personal economic struggle, Street Fight Radio is a balm, a welcome distraction, and often a source of hope and community. “The service industry is fucked, and those are our people,” Quinby lamented on a recent episode, and Payne asked listeners to reach out if they needed special crisis support. “If you have nobody to go to, we would love to utilize our resources.” (Payne also warned listeners avoid MDMA for the time being: “It’s an immunosuppressive, so it could leave you in a vulnerable state,” said, adding, “based on my personal experience, acid is best way to go during this thing.”) Fans will have to wait to see Street Fight live, but for now, there’s plenty of time to catch up on the archives at www.streetfightradio.com You guys have had a significant increase in listeners in the last couple years. Obviously that represents a big financial change for you guys, but can you say a bit about how that expansion has affected your lives and the show? It’s allowed us to do a lot of new stuff. It allows us to do a bunch of things that we always wanted to do. I’ve been doing more podcasting -- I’m doing specialized stuff like the mini-series, and also it helped us get the studio set up so we can do the
Pandemic Resturant Guide Open for Business
A partical list of restuarants serving during the COVID19 pandemic.
Photo - Bigham Tavern
To have your restaurant included in our guide, fill out the form here: tinyurl.com/PC-restaurantguide
Photo - Bistro To Go
RESTURANT GUIDE THE SHINY BEAN 333 BUTLER ST, ETNA 412-799-2326 www.theshinybean.com, #theshinybean
Coffee, tea, quarts of homemade soup and some grocery items (milk, bread, eggs, butter, etc)
NORTH SHORE DELI
539 E OHIO STREET, NORTH SIDE 412-231-2812 northshoredeli.com Facebook:North Shore Deli
21 different sandwiches. Outside grill serving Hot sausage, kielbasa and hot dogs. Please support small business.
616 SOUTH AVE, WILKINSBURG 412 242 3447
CARRYOUT & DOORDASH
Breakfast and lunch We offer carryout and delivery both by our staff and third parties. We also have Grubhub and Doordash.
2 | MARCH 24, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
PLEASURE BAR & RESTAURANT
4729 LIBERTY AVE, BLOOMFIELD 412-682-9603 pleasurebarpittsburgh.com/
CARRYOUT & POSTMATES
Traditional Italian fare and 6-packs to go. Modified hours, 12-8pm call ahead 1 hour to order.
BISTRO TO GO CAFE & CATERING 415 EAST OHIO STREET, NORTH SIDE 412-231-0218
Bistroandcompany.com, FB: @bistrotogoandcompany, Insta: @bistrotogo_
We are offering curbside pickup to your trunk (carryout) as well as delivery through our restaurant's drivers. Our “Deliciousness Delivered” menu offers five traditional specials, along with two vegetarian/vegan options, along with several of our sandwiches, staples and sides. It’s Healthy comfort food. We're offering a “Bistro Fish Fry To Go” on Fridays during lent. $44 for a family of four, batter fried or "oven fried' baked (what we're known for) with mac & cheese and coleslaw..
FOOD PEOPLES INDIAN RESTAURANT
5147 PENN AVENUE. GARFIELD 412-862-7500 Search for us on Facebook Delivery through GrubHub
THE LUNCH BOX
1307 FEDERAL ST. NORTH SIDE 412-378-7427 www.thelunchboxpgh.com
Made to order Sandwiches, soups, salads, etc..
4221 OHIO RIVER BOULEVARD, NORTH SIDE 412-761-3400 Beanthru.com @beanthru
CARRYOUT & DOORDASH
Premium drive through coffee and espresso with a lot of delicious food options as well! You have to try our oat milk lattes! Your life will be changed!!
1921 WILLIAM FLYNN HWY, GLENSHAW 412-486-9400 BeanThru.com @beanthru
CARRYOUT & DOORDASH
Premium drive through coffee and espresso shop with lots of delicious food options as well! We also deliver via DoorDash! Brown Sugar Cinnamon Lattes are amazing! Try it made with oat milk!!
Photo - Yinzburgh BBQ
321 BIGHAM STREET, MT. WASHINGTON 4124319313
217 SOUTH HIGHLAND AVE, HIGHLAND PARK 412-441-6600
www.pizzaparma.us Delivery through restaurant's drivers & Uber Eats
963 LIBERTY AVE., DOWNTOWN 412-577-7300 www.pizzaparma.us Delivery through restaurant's drivers & Uber Eats
CORNER MERCANTILE 472 WOOD ST., DOWNTOWN 412-586-5738 cornermercantile.com
Grab-and-go salads, sandwiches and prepared foods $1 off any size drip coffee 7:30- 10 am
BIGHAM TAVERN www.bighamtavern.com @bighamtavern Delivery through restaurant's drivers. Known for our award winning wings with over 30 flavors! Now delivering breakfast in bed Saturdays and Sundays! We are also open for carryout and delivery
Award-Winning American diner serving breakfast and lunch, known best for our burgers and mixed grills! We will be offering Delivery during the quarantine!
1580 MCLAUGHLIN RUN ROAD, UPPER ST. CLAIR 4122216040
A variety of comfort food all made from scratch Daily specials, please call for more details. 10 percent off for return customers
GAB & EAT
Gab & Eat Restaurant on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/ GabNEat1999
1073 WASHINGTON AVENUE, CARNEGIE 4122768808 CARRYOUT
4715 LIBERTY AVE., BLOOMFIELD 412-586-4241
CARRYOUT & GRUBHUB
Portuguese Cuisine. Full menu available
Buy one entree get second for half price Free coffee with Breakfast
5997 CENTRE AVENUE, EAST LIBERTY 412-362-2333
CARRYOUT & GRUBHUB
Burgers, fries, salads, shakes
SPICE AFFAIR INDIAN CUISINE
6 BRILLIANT AVE, ASPINWALL 412-847-7423
Spiceaffairpittsburgh.com Delivery through restaurant's drivers & GrubHub We serve north Indian food Free lunch or dinner for senior citizens in Fox Chapel area.
KRISTA'S CANTINA 2650 CALIFORNIA AVE.,
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 3
FOOD NOODLES & COMPANY MARKET SQUARE 476 MCMASTERS WAY, DOWNTOWN 412-562-2191 www.noodles.com/order
CARRYOUT & UBER EATS
Noodles, Soups & Salads Free delivery through DoorDash, Uber Eats and when ordering directly through our Rewards app. Sign up for the app and get special offers sent out through the end of the month
6114 CENTRE AVENUE, EAST LIBERTY 4125037797
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MIKE'S BEER BAR 110 FEDERAL STREET, NORTH SIDE 4123222337 mikesbeerbar.com
Sandwiches and Salads $10 for Sandwich, side and soft drink
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4 | MARCH 24, 2020 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
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FOOD CARRYOUT & UBER EATS Deli foods
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DENTED KEG BREWING COMPANY 700 ADAMS SHOPPES, MARS 724-591-5511
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We are selling our beer and cider to go only. No food at this time.
3715 FORBES AVE, OAKLAND 4126212140
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1137 FREEPORT ROAD, FOX CHAPEL 412-432-8712
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SMALLMAN STREET DELI 2840 SMALLMAN STREET, STRIP DISTRICT 412-434-5800
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hellobistro.com New expanded delivery service to all customers. Rapid pickup shelves. Order online or with the Hello Bistro app. Entire menu available for delivery. Signature salads, make-your-own salads, fresh-cut fries and burgers. Hello Bistro’s locations and modified hours include: Downtown (292 Forbes Avenue) Monday – Friday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Oakland (3605 Forbes Avenue) Daily: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; South Side (1922 East Carson Street) Daily: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Pine (1000 Village Run Road) Daily: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; McCandless (701 Providence Boulevard) Daily: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Monroeville (4100 William Penn Highway) Daily: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 5
Cafe on the Corner
Dented Keg Brewing Company
Mike's Beer Bar
Nana's New York Hot Dogs
Nicky’s Thai Kitchen
Noodles & Company
North Shore Deli
Peoples Indian Restaurant
Pleasure Bar Pittsburgh
Smallman Street Deli
Spice Affair Indian Cuisine
The Lunch Box
The Shiny bean
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 6
ART & ENTERTAINMENT call-in show reliably. There was a period where we were doing it in the studio at the radio station, and it worked like 50% of the time. So we were able to buy all the stuff to have it done at Brett’s house. It's crazy what can happen when you don’t have to give all your time in a job that you don’t care about, what happens when you can create that space. Yeah, in  I wasn't able to put everything into it. I was still working as a Lyft driver and stuff like that. So now it’s like, I have 24 hours, I can make these mini-series that people love. I can be on tour. That is my job. I think it makes the whole thing better: being able to build out the world and stuff. And launching the TV show, we couldn’t do that if we had real jobs. How does having regular call-in shows shape the way you approach things? Brett and I always talk about how he and I are not working class, broke people any more. When we started the show we got a lot of credit for honesty about what it’s really like to work, what it's like to be broke. What it's like to struggle. I don't struggle as much anymore. I mean, I still do because I'm bad with money, but my life is a lot more comfortable than it was in 2017. And I think the call-in show keeps that element on the show. I think also we’re able to relay our experiences from the past in order to supplement the stories that people are telling. I really think that the call-in show has led to some of the most realistic conversations about work and about struggle that, I think, has ever been done on the radio. A realistic, true vision of what it is like to be in America in 2020. I get messages and emails from
people all the time, like, “Listening to the call-in show made me feel less alone.” And I don't think me and Brett can do that on the Basement Show any more. We have the same political opinions or whatever. But i think the call-in show is special in that it makes me feel less alone, it makes me feel less weird. For years I thought that I was some unique case of a guy who worked a real job and wasn’t able to fit in that space. Or that I was someone who capitalism kind of forgot. And that it was my fault, and it was because I was contentious and it was because my anxiety was a weakness on my part. But as you talked to hundreds of people, thousands of people, and they tell you they have the same feelings you did when you were there, you’re like, “Naw, this is a systemic problem, this isn’t my personal mental problem.”
thousand dollars a year. And the fact that somebody at Rolling Stone could listen to what we do and say that’s too niche kind of illustrates that. Because I feel like what we do is so mainstream. When you started to be able to live off of Street Fight did you have to deal with questions from people, or any inner conflict with being comfortable and not scraping by? Well, I think early on, yes. Very early on when I started making pretty good money, people started criticizing us for making pretty good money … But people were criticizing me for making too much money when I was making $2000 a month. So i don’t know really know what to say. I only make $3600 a month now, we don’t take home that whole [monthly
subscriber amount]. We’ve hired a ton of people on this show. We pay a lot of people $20 an hour and I dont think people know that. And I also believe that, like, I came from nothing and Brett came from nothing, we’re in Columbus, Ohio, and every one of the odds of making it in show business are against us. And for somebody to say that we don’t deserve what we have, to me, feels like somebody saying working people don’t deserve a chance to get out of that world, you know? Like, a Lyft driver doesn’t deserve the opportunity to lift themselves up out of that world. And from my experience, when I was doing a lot of working class jobs and stuff, everyone wanted to get out of that world. … I understand the critique of making money, I guess, but
I have close friends who would say the call-in show helps keep them sane. [Journalist] Alex Press ... another Pittsburgh native! She pitched a story -- which, this is what makes it so clear that we were on to something -- but she wanted to do a profile of Street Fight. … She wanted to write about how we talk about work in a brutally honest way, and how we get other people’s stories. And she pitched it to Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone said we were “too niche.” It's something that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time. On the show we read these chilling advice-for-management-and- workers blog posts on LinkedIn and make fun of them, and stuff. That kind of thing really makes me think that everything that is written about work is written by people who make 70 thousand to a hundred PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 17
ART & ENTERTAINMENT I also think that socialists and anarchists and communists deserve stuff that is kind of tailored to their tastes, and the people doing it can’t do it as good as possible if they’re not getting paid to do it. Like, I don't feel as bad anymore because I think I work very hard on the stuff that people pay for on Patreon. You know, Shocktober and March Madness and American Podcass, these are deep dives into, like, a specific subculture or person, these shows take a lot of time to make. So i don’t feel like i'm ripping people off by asking them for $5 a month to listen to something that I am working on sometimes 12 hours a day … whether they think that listening to Opie and Anthony for 12 hours is work or not -- and it is work, i promise you -- but it's what I have to do. If you were a doctor, even if you said ‘I’m a socialist,’ people wouldn’t question it as much. But there’s a prejudice against doing something that might seem fun. It's like, if you care about it, that should be enough and you shouldn't profit. I see that too, and I think that’s a specific kind of thing that comes from being on Twitter. Because on Twitter there’s an expectation of free content. People aren’t mad that standup comics make money, people aren’t mad that actors make money. For some reason, it bothers them that podcasters make money. That we don’t deserve it, that we’re amateurs. We work very hard to do a professional thing, and a thing that is fun and vital, commenting on the times as things happen. I just think, I don't think there was a time people were saying, “Howard Stern doesn’t deserve to make any money from his radio show.”
I tweeted something a few days ago about Street Fight being the Rush Limbaugh of the left, if only in terms of the format. I think you said once that at some point in your life you weren’t really aware of the politics and just thought Limbaugh was a funny political show, which is sort of my experience as well. Obviously Rush is a totally shitty person, but he’s a good entertainer. Oh no, I agree with you. I’ve said it before, and me and [Chapo Trap House host] Felix [Biederman] said it on our [Shocktober] series that we do together, that this stuff is inspired by, like, Opie and Anthony, stuff like that. Maybe not Rush Limbaugh, because i had kind of gotten away from it, but i’d always found him to be an interesting and entertaining guy. This stuff is inspired by those five-hour shows. Those shows had a definite impact on the culture that I think most people don’t give them credit for. Writers rooms were listening to this stuff. It was informing pretty much all of edgy pop culture. And all I wanted to do when Brett and I started to do Street Fight was, I wanted to do Opie and Anthony. But I want to be good, and I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I want to be as inclusive as I possibly can. But I want to be funny, I want to push buttons and I want to cross lines. The criticism that we’re all like Rush Limbaugh or any type of news show, or that we believe our shows are influential and result in activism ... I think that's such a stretch because I know the people who make all these shows and they all feel like me, like, people probably listen and laugh and have a good time, and maybe it leads them to do things, I've heard people say that our show has led them to
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Bryan Quinby from a YouTube screen capture
do things. But it's not activism. I make money and my first goal with Street Fight was to make money. But the material and the politics oozes from the part where I'm funny. I just want to be funny. I have to say, the funny thing about Limbaugh being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom is, like, well there’s another thing that no longer means anything. [Laughs] I mean, maybe I’ll get it someday. That’s what it made me think. Going back to the idea that Street Fight makes people feel less alone, listening to your deep-dives into these cultural things that “smart” people aren’t supposed to like, or aren't really supposed to know about, it's like, “Oh, its ok that I have all this weird knowledge of talk radio,’ or other things that i wouldn’t necessarily mention in “polite” conversation. The funniest thing about Shocktober to me is … that thing is so popular, it's one of the most popular things I’ve ever done. People just really love it. But one of the things that hap-
pens a lot of times is, women in their 20s, they would come up to me after [live] shows and be like, “I did not know that any of that stuff existed, and i am so fascinated by it, I’m excited every time a new show is coming out.” It never occurred to me, because everyone in my life was familiar with that stuff, but it is very under-studied. People don’t really talk about that stuff. It’s also a great historical archive. When people talk about how un-civil we’ve become, it’s like, ‘Well, no.’ It's always been this insane mean streak through our culture. The kinds of things that lead to Trump, you can watch them happen -- millions of young men were listening to that stuff. Besides the fact that Donald Trump has been on every shock jock radio show. And every sports radio show. They helped build his aura. I think it's important to look at that era … Like, the world is so different from when those guys were at the top of their game. They’re all on the wind-down now, and it's fun to be mean to them because they were so mean to people when they were on top.
ART & ENTERTAINMENT FIRST/LAST: SHAQ NICHOLSON BY HUGH TWYMAN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
"When asked to describe their sound, it’s not a simple answer, because it carries across multiple genres. Not to be put into a box, their sound is a psychedelic groove with soul and funk influences, a sprinkle of blues, and a dash of “we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” Shaq Nicholson is a Pittsburgh based genre-bending quintet who have been hustling around the local music landscape for several years now. With their debut album entitled Shaqueducts from August 2019 out in the world, the band continues to perform all around the city. Catch them next on Saturday, April 11 at a fundraising concert dubbed Spring Water Jam for the non-profit organization MissionCleanWater at the Ace Hotel Ballroom. I want to thank Sarah Jane Kirkland (Vocals) and Anthony Gima (Rhythm Guitar) for taking the time to participate in this edition of First/Last. The first album you ever bought? Sarah Jane Kirkland: Norah Jones - Come Away With Me. Anthony Gima: Sum 41 - Fat Lip. Your last album bought? SJ: Frank Ocean - Blonde. Anthony: Town Mountain Leave the Bottle. Favorite album of all time? SJ: Amy Winehouse - Frank. Anthony: Gang Starr - Moment of Truth.
Least favorite/most disappointing album? SJ: Anything by LFO. Anthony: Chumbawumba? First Concert Attended? SJ: Jason Mraz in 2004. Anthony: Slighty Stoopid. Last Concert? SJ: Soulive at the Roxian 2020. Anthony: Tauk. Favorite concert ever? SJ: Dweezil plays Zappa at the Rex or Tauk does Tauking Beatles at Resonance in 2018 . Anthony: Snarky Puppy at the Rex Theater in 2014. Least favorite concert? SJ: Tough call to make but for technical reasons alone Disco Biscuits night one at the Roxian in 2019. Anthony: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, because they only played for 50 minutes. Good music, but disappointingly short set. Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh? SJ: This town definitely has had its ups and down for me over the years. The current climate of gentrification is palpable and laughable at this point. All of the obvious set aside, I’ve called this place home for 25 years and I will love it with all my heart always. The music scene here shaped my adulthood and I couldn’t be more grateful for it!
Anthony: Grassroots city of friends with everyone trying to help each other grow. Small enough to be heard, large enough to be appreciated. Hugh’s Take: Thanks, both. It is interesting to me, Sarah, that the problems in this city, including gentrification, are exponentially becoming more and more apparent over the last few years. They were always there but something seems to be happening to make these things more aware to everyone and I for one am grateful for whatever that is.
Hugh Twyman (AKA HughShows) has been documenting the Pittsburgh music scene since 2004. His website (www.hughshows.com) features a comprehensive Pittsburgh Concert Calendar, episodes of HughShowsTV, a newly launched public Pittsburgh music database, exclusive audio streams from local bands, thousands of his concert photos and his trademark First/Last interview series. Support Shaq Nicholson: https://www.facebook.com/ ShaqNicholson/ Support MissionCleanWater: https://missioncleanwater.org
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 19
ART & ENTERTAINMENT STILL ROARING
AFTER 59 YEARS, JAY SIEGEL STILL LOVES 'THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT' BY CHARLIE DEITCH - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDITOR CHARLIE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ay Siegel remembers exactly what he was thinking after his band, The Tokens, saw their 1961 single, “Tonight I Fell in Love,” hit number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. “I just didn’t want us to be known as a one-hit wonder,” Siegel told the Current recently by phone from his home in Rockland County, New York. “One of those artists you never hear from again after one big song.” Then later that year, they would record this odd, but catchy little tune that the band sang on the street corners of Brooklyn and Brighton Beach. That song was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” “We really embraced that song, that music,” Siegel says. “We would sing it in the gymnasium, on the corners, on the boardwalk, in the subways. We were four guys who, when we sang together, sounded like eight. “But back in those days we were singing mainly to get girlfriends.” Siegel had heard the song, called “Mbube” (Lion) which was written improvisationally in 1939 by South African musician Solomon Linda. Linda was working as a record packer at Gallo Records in Johannesburg when he and his band, The Evening Birds, were discovered by a company talent scout. In 1951, folk singer Pete Seager adapted a version of the song called “Wimoweh.” In 1961, it was turned into the pop song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The song, originally a B-side for the Tokens’ “Tina,” sold a
The Tokens: Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian, Jay Siegel and Billy Reid
million copies and was a certified gold record and number-one hit. But, Siegel says, it almost didn’t happen. “I always felt this record had a shot to be really successful,” Siegel says. “I brought them the song [“Wimoweh”], and taught it to them.” But not everyone agreed, they thought it was too strange, too weird. “They thought it was a novelty song.” The Tokens’ version, however, would be different. “Wimoweh,” always featured those famous high notes. With “The Lion Sleeps tonight,” however, Siegel put his four-actave range to
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work and developed arguably the most recognizable falsetto performance in rock and roll. “I’ve always joked with people that I don’t actually speak in falsetto,” Siegel said. “Even today when I sing it at our shows, 3040 times a year, I sing it in the same key as the original.” Technically, as we speak, Pittsburghers may get the chance to hear Jay Siegel’s Tokens along with several other classic rock acts on April 11 at the Benedum Center. Due to the restrictions enacted during the COVID-19 crisis, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust canceled all events through April 4. But if you plan
to go, check to make sure the show is still going on before buying tickets. Also, as the virus continues to spread, cancelations are very likely. The Tokens got their start in 1956 at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School. Siegel joined a group with now-legendary singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka and, most notably, Hank Medress. Sedaka who was a year older than Siegel, left the group and Siegel and Medress formerd another group before forming in 1960 what would be the most famous lineup of the Tokens, along with brothers Mitch and Phil Margo.
ART & ENTERTAINMENT “Lincoln High School turned out some very talented people,” Siegel says. Besides Sedaka, other notable alumni were actor Harvey Keitel, playwright Arthur Miller and singer Neil Diamond, to name just a few. “Maybe there was something in the water over there.” The Tokens continued to turn out hits after “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Not only as performers, but as producers for other acts. Not just one of the members, but all four as a team. “After ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ the label was impressed and they signed us on to produce ten singles,” Siegel says. “We hadn’t done anything like that before, but we learned on their dime. So, we did nine singles for them, not one of them was successful. But on that tenth single, we became the first vocal group ever to produce a number one hit for another artist, ‘He’s so Fine’ by The Chiffons. “Apparently,” Siegel adds with a laugh, “we were so green we didn’t even know what we knew. It came natural to us.” Siegel says the four Tokens each did 25 percent of the work when they produced other artists. “One guy handled the mixing in the studio, two guys worked on instrumentation and I worked on vocals and harmonies,” Siegel said. “We loved working with other artists. Probably more than we loved working with each other.” They would go on to produce hits for Tony Orlando and Dawn, Randy and the Rainbows, the Chiffons, The Happenings and the Del-Satins. The current lineup of the Tokens is at two-thirds the same as it's been for the past 25 years. That’s how long Siegel has been with famed background singer Billy Reid. Reid got his start at age 15, around the same time the original Tokens were pre-
former actor and singer who appeared in the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar. Of all the accolades that Siegle and the song have received, There is one thing that makes him stand out from a lot of his peers -- fans of all ages are still singing his song. “Listen, I have faans in the 60s, 70s and 80s but I also have a ton of fans who are threeyears-old,” Sigel says. “Because of the Lion King, there isn’t a kid alive anywhere who doesn’t know that song. Someone sent me a video the other day of a Lithuanian boy’s choir singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’ “It was something. We recorded a lot of songs. That’s the one that made history.”
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paring to breakout. Reid, from the Bronx, and his twin brother grew up singing on the street corners and subways, like Tokens and countless other groups. The Reid Brothers were performing in a group and doing background work when a record company executive wanted to make them a “brother duo,” a
niche that had few acts except for, most famously, the Everly Brothers. But the Reids turned it down because they wanted to sing group harmonies. Reid was signed as a contract background singer at age 15 and sang on countless hits since then. The third spot is filled by Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian, a
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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 21
ART & ENTERTAINMENT
Jonathan Richman (Photo courtesy of Driely S.)
JONATHAN RICHMAN SPEAKS...SORT OF BY MIKE SHANLEY- PITTSBURGH CURRENT MUSIC WRITER MIKE@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
onathan Richman was scheduled to perform at the Carnegie Music Hall on Wednesday, March 25. Like everything in the upcoming weeks, the show has been cancelled. But prior to that turn of events, Richman engaged in an interview via email in anticipation of the show. It’s always a shame to let a good interview go to waste, especially when the subject is a perpetually youthful and enthu-
siastic character like him. We at Pittsburgh Current thought we’d present his thoughts to you anyway, and maybe inspire some Jonathan playlists at home. The original Modern Lovers only recorded a few demos sessions before they disbanded and frontman/guitarist Richman revamped his musical approach. But when those sessions were released in 1976, songs like “Roadrunner,” “Pablo Picasso,”
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and “Hospital” inspired legions of musicians, in much the same way Richman himself had been inspired by the Velvet Underground. (VU member John Cale produced what became the Modern Lovers album, and the band included future Talking Head Jerry Harrison on keyboards.) Since then, Richman has continued playing songs that can be deeply romantic, literary
or childlike. Along with albums like Jonathan Sings, Back In Your Life and Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild, several albums have translated his unique outlook into other languages, leaving all the power of his delivery intact. In 2018, SA! found him dabbling with Indian music, and bringing Harrison back into the studio with him. What follows is Richman’s description of his new musical
ART & ENTERTAINMENT experiments, a look back at his career, and the explanation for why the seemingly loquacious Richman would rather speak via the printed word rather than by phone. Tell me about SA. What inspired the songs and the arrangements on that album and how did the album come together? SA, the root note in Indian ragas, was what Ramakrishna, the much beloved mystic, told his spiritual students to search for underneath all things of this world. One night when I put my arm around the waist of my certain someone…I felt the “vibe” underneath the usual mental one. This “vibe” was so soothing and so all-encompassing that I made up the song “SA” right there. Shortly after this song came to me, four of us went into a studio in Chico, California, sat down on a rug on the floor and recorded it. I soon started making up more verses after this so we have two versions on this record. The Chico one starts it, the other one ends it. In the recording that followed the Chico SA sessions, one of the studios was Coyote Hearing in Oakland. There was a Mellotron there — a big white electronic thing like the Beatles used on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Well, I thought Jerry Harrison, my old band mate, might sound good on it so he came down. And later he brought a harmonium to the next sessions, both keyboards sounding good with Nicole [Montalbano]’s tambura and the record changed a lot from how it had been into something else: me and Nicole sitting next to each other with the sound of the guitar and the tambura making this whining twang, and Jerry across the room with all these low midrange tones and then, on the left, [drummer] Tommy Larkins be-
ing the other force. Or, at other times, he was next to Jerry with percussionist Pat Spurgeon. How do you approach songwriting these days? Do you have a notebook of lyrics that you write down and put to music later? Do you sit down with the guitar and bang out and come up with melodies? I never saw myself as a songwriter so much as a singer who makes up songs to give himself something to sing. For me, a guitar is not part of the song. It’s part of the arrangement. How does this approach compare to the way you've written throughout the years that you've been performing? I haven’t changed much. An idea comes to me, I might write it out and might not, and then I’ll pick up the guitar to accompany it. There have been a few exceptions over the years, especially when I was starting out, the guitar part “was” the song - (like “Roadrunner,” “Affection,” “Pablo Picasso.” ... Onstage, I've seen you put down the guitar and even step away from the microphone to dance to the song, singing the whole time. It seems like the music really possesses you. What goes through your mind while you're performing? Ever see Ladysmith Black Mambazo? They sing and dance to the song and never even picked up a guitar in the first place.
What was the first song you heard that really knocked your socks off? Probably Bizet’s “Carmen” when I was about 3. There are stories that have become legend about the early Modern Lovers sessions (the ones that John Cale produced in 1972) and about how you wanted to move away from more of a rock sound - for lack of a better description - toward something that was more gentle. Is that really how things happened? Why did you feel that way? Was this something you felt all along, which the band was getting away from? I’ve changed my idea of sound all the time. I still do. Back at the time you mean, I was thinking about acoustic sound, also reggae, also ’50s vocal groups like Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and Dion and The Belmonts, and also Little Richard and Bo Diddley and especially Buddy Holly. Also, “Venus” by Frankie Avalon. Your songs have inspired a
lot of people and your fans are pretty enthusiastic. What is like being approached by such enthusiastic fans? My fans are usually really nice and real sincere. (But put a few drinks in the same person and you’d be surprised.) How do you maintain such a bright, optimistic outlook these days? I don’t much try to maintain anything. Why do you prefer written interviews to person-to-person ones? I have to do written ones! When I did the other kind, I’d read what got published and sometimes it would have nothing to do at all with what I’d said. Fabrication! Anything else that we didn't touch on? Anything else? Yah, we don’t play too loud and don’t expect old songs and don’t bring your cell phone; it’s not that kind of show.
Do you plan your setlist prior to a show or do you figure it out as you go? No set list. How old were you when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? What helped you come to that conclusion? I didn’t choose it. It chose me. PITTSBURGH CURRENT | MARCH 24, 2020 | 23
Savage Love Love | sex | relationships
BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET
y question is on managing “gray area” intimacies during the pandemic. I have a lover/friend that I’ve been hanging out with—fucking, drinking tea, going on hikes, eating ice cream, watching movies, and other activities—for about nine months. He’s 36 and was married for ten years and due to that experience he's been a bit emotionally “boundaried” but he’s still really sweet and a good communicator. I’m in grad school doing a double masters, so the small amount of time we’ve been spending together has worked well for me. Here's the issue: he's also an ER doctor. Do I keep seeing him during this pandemic? I just moved to the city where we both live for my grad program and he’s my main source for connection, comfort, and support here. Every time I see him we both feel tremendously less stressed and our connection feels emotionally healthy. I just know he is bound to be at a huge risk for exposure and
since he's not a committed partner and we don't live together, I don't know if he falls within or outside of my physical distancing boundary. It seems like the best thing to do from a logistical perspective is hole up with my cat and not see another soul in person until a vaccine is invented or something, but I don't know when that will happen. Physical Distancing Do's And Don'ts “This is really a matter of a personal risk/benefit calculation,” said Dr. Daniel Summers, a pediatrician who lives and works near Boston. “What PDDAD is willing to accept as a risk may be different from what someone else would.” And there’s definitely a health benefit to getting together—we are social animals and isolation is bad for us—but your lover is at high risk of infection. And when front-line health care providers get
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infected, they tend to get sicker than the average person who gets infected, according to CNN, which is something else you need to factor into your risk/benefit calculation. Additionally, does your boyfriend’s workplace—I’m going to call him your boyfriend for clarity’s sake— have the protective gear he needs to minimize his risk of exposure? “We're all doing our best to take as many preventive steps to lower our risk of being exposed,” said Dr. Summers, “but there's still a maddeningly unacceptable shortage of personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves nationwide. I hope he has sufficient access to these things. But is there a risk he could get exposed to the virus at work? Definitely.” Dr. Summers lives with his husband and four children and in addition to the precautions he takes at work—where he may be seeing patients with coronavirus (he doesn't know for sure because tests still aren't available)—Dr. Summers strips down to his underwear on his front porch of his home when he gets home from work. His clothes go straight into the washing machine, he goes straight into the shower. “I'm still afraid of bringing it home,” said Dr. Summers. “But with four kids home from school, my husband's sanity depends on my being present as much as I can. So for me, staying away isn't an option. That's not the case for PDDAD. She has to decide whether the un-definable risk of exposure isn’t worth it. Or, alternatively, she can decide the connection she has with him is important enough to her own well being that the risk is worth it. But only she can make that decision for herself.” If you decide the risk of infection is too great—or if your boyfriend decides the risk of infecting you is too great—you can still be there for each other. You can Skype and Zoom, you can text and sext, you can leave groceries on his porch and wave to him from the sidewalk. But if you decide to
keep connecting with each other in person, PDDAD, you should minimize the amount of time you spend moving through the city to get to each other’s places. And that means—emotional boundaries be damned—picking one of your apartments to hole up in together for the duration. You can follow Dr. Summers on Twitter @WFKARS and you can read him at Slate’s Outward. I'm pro sex workers, and believe adults should do whatever they consent to, but I’m curious if that applies during the current pandemic. I know of a sex worker who's still offering himself to clients, who are apparently still hiring him. (He regularly posts his exploits on certain social media sites.) Should the authorities be made aware of this? Just Concerned If the authorities want to start rounding up reckless idiots who are endangering others, JC, the beaches of Florida might be a good place to start. Or the Oval Office. And if your first impulse is to involve the authorities then you aren’t “pro sex workers,” JC, because the authorities—particularly the police—are a danger to sex workers. Instead of calling the cops, reach out to this guy on those social media sites and encourage him to see his clients virtually, i.e. instead of face-to-face (or face-to-whatever) meetings, he should go full camwhore for the time being. So if you want to want to help, JC, and not just police or shame, you should hire this guy to do an online session. (And everyone should bear in mind that sex workers are suffering right now too because most are being responsible and not seeing clients. Their incomes have plummeted to zero and they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.) email@example.com Follow Dan on Twitter @FakeDanSavage www.savagelovecast.com
WILL IN NEW ORLEANS BY MATT WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTING WRITER INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ast month my friend, the artist Max Kuhn, had his second show at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas. The gallery specializes in folk and outsider art. I saw the pieces for it a few weeks prior to the opening as he was finishing them up in his studio in Richmond, Virginia. A little over two years ago I flew to Dallas where Max picked me up from the airport and we headed to Waxahachie for the opening of his first show there. He was successfully beginning an expansion from tattooing to being a gallery artist. I first met him when he was living in a leaky shack he was too tall to stand up in. It was in the backyard of a house a mutual friend of ours was renting. He was a nineteen-year-old dishwasher and my bandmates and I convinced him to quit his job and tour the country with us. My personal life was more or less a mess two years ago when he
convinced me to come to Texas to the show and go on a road trip to see another friend of ours in New Orleans, the photographer Chris Berntson. Chris was living in a house with a few roommates. Max and I stayed with him. A couple nights after arriving he explained we had to make a drive across town. The three of us crammed into Max’s truck and started driving over to the leather bar where Chris worked. He bartended there a few nights a week. We laughed at each other, watched the lights of the city through the windshield. Max had to reach between Chris’ legs to shift. We were supposed to meet up with Will there. Chris had asked around and gotten an asthma inhaler from a friend to give to Will, who said every time he smoked crack he had trouble breathing. Chris wanted to help, to make easier what he could for those he cared for. On the way he told us
he knew there wasn’t much longer, he knew Will would die soon. He was getting closer every time he saw him. We opened our doors and got out, crossed the street. “These guys are going to love you,” Chris said. It was dark inside, not very crowded, two older men sat at the bar. They saw Chris, they smiled and said hello, the three of them bantered back and forth while Chris leaned on one of their shoulders with his hand. Chris introduced us then went behind the bar and started talking to someone else. “You have a lot of tattoos,” the one with the leather vest said. “Yeah, I guess,” I said. “Is your whole body tattooed? Like what about, you know, your whole body.” “Oh leave him alone,” the other one said playfully. “What about you, cutie?” He turned to Max. This went on for a while, the two older guys sitting at the bar and taking turns hitting on us with the good-cop bad-cop thing they had going. There was a sort of sweetness to them, to their rehearsed bickering and flattery. Eventually Will came in. He was large, slow moving, his hair shaggy. He sort dragged his body from one step to the next. Chris came out from behind the bar and gave him a hug. “I’ll be right back,” Chris said. “Hang out with them, I’ll go get the inhaler.” “Okay Chris, man, thanks,” Will said. “Hey,” I said. “Hey man, I’m Will.” He shook my hand, shook Max’s hand. He didn’t remember me, that was alright. I had met him a few times. He stayed a couple times at the apartment I lived in when I was in New York. I had been sleeping on the couch for a few months, it was Chris’ apartment. Will had hopped a train up to New York or hitchhiked, I don’t remember, but he was selling Christmas trees
from this shack in Manhattan from some time after thanksgiving up till Christmas. We had talked a little, I watched him dance in the kitchen and fry some food on the stove. “Do you live down here now?” “Yeah I’m squatting in an abandoned funeral home,” he said. “How is it?” Chris came back and we followed Will outside. We walked down the sidewalk to where his bike was leaning against a sign post. It was small, I think it was a kid’s bike. He took the inhaler from Chris. He said his goodbyes and shook some hair out of his face. He turned around and started off. On the ride back Chris talked a lot about him, his adventures and creativity, his problems and where they were leading. He fleshed out a character remarkable and complicated, there was a whole person there, enormous in the love Chris had for him. The next morning Chris flew out to New York to interview for grad school. Max and I stayed on for a week in Chris’ house without him, drawing, picking each other apart, talking; He kept trying to get me to tell him about what was going on in my life and I kept trying to change the subject. I got ringworm on my face from the mattress pad I was sleeping on. Chris flew back to New Orleans. We spent a day at a cruising spot where he wanted to take pictures of us. Neither Max nor I are gay but we had fun with the pictures. The next time the three of us got together was in New Hampshire the following summer. Chris told us about Will’s memorial. Matthew Wallenstein is the author of the recently released short story collection Buckteeth (March 2020) as well as Tiny Alms, book of poetry published by Permanent Sleep Press (2017). His work has previously been published by the University of Maine Farmington, Albany Poets, the University of Chicago, Easy Village, Ryerson University, and others. He lives in Braddock Pennsylvania.
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PA R T I N G S H OT PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
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