I was pretty sure I would be done with Zoom before 2020 was even over.
Outside of a few live shows and interviews, the service everyone was using to stay connected during the early months of the pandemic hit me almost instantly. Why then, now in early 2022, am I still giddy about opening the program every one or two weeks?
Two words: Save the chat.
In April 2020, my cousin Joey, along with five of his high school friends — Scott, Anthony, Kevin, and brothers Nick and Peter — started what was then a weekly free-form online conversation about music. Someone would choose an album, then the following week each person would give a review and a rating between 1 and 10. The group of friends had mainly met on the Emmaus high school swim team, keeping in touch at university and beyond.
In those first few months, the albums varied wildly, from A Tribe Called Quest to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard popping up for chatting pleasure. In October, a funny thing happened – mainly due to scheduling conflicts, their friend Kevin couldn’t make Zoom calls anymore, so Joey thought of calling me, a rabid music fan who is also called Kevin. I knew the other four guys from close proximity to my extended family. When Joey’s family had get-togethers growing up, we would trade the same kind of banter you would have with a cousin’s friends at a party.
My membership couldn’t have come at a better time, structurally – instead of random albums, the band would follow a fitting theme, forcing participants to think a little outside of their respective comfort zones. This early theme of “movie soundtracks” was a rich vein to begin with, as Prince’s “Batman” soundtrack rubbed shoulders with Han Zimmer’s “Gladiator” score and my inaugural pick, the iconic “Stop Making Sense” soundtrack. from Talking Heads.
Anyone who has a long-time group of friends knows that you can very easily go in circles if you’re not careful. I really like my friends, but I’m sure they’re really sick of me talking about Steely Dan or NRBQ every chance I get. Joining this “new” group not only allowed me to be exposed to music that I didn’t know or had forgotten about, but it also allowed me to immerse myself in the musical theories of people with different tastes. of mine.
Nearly a year and a half later, we’ve impossibly maintained this thing, though now it may be more insular than ever. There’s a dedicated Whatsapp chat filled with homemade memes that only five other people would even like to understand. There are “offerings”, nonsensical doctrines like “Joey’s Gift Points” that allow us to go back and add or subtract a point from past scores. There’s even a full-fledged group deity, The Wheel, which we rely on to choose the order of reviews, themes, and anything else that requires multiple choices.
The themes also continued to evolve. We’ve done “latest albums”, “rapper albums”, “music for space travel” and the current theme, with rules so complex that I won’t waste time elaborating them: “Anthony’s House of Game Vol. 1: Shadow Tower.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve watched these five longtime friends grow closer despite their distance, with Nick in New York, Anthony in Washington, DC, and the others scattered in Pennsylvania. I’m happy to say that I also look like I was insinuated into this clique. Since October 2020 we have reunited for a summer camping trip and now two White Elephant Christmas vinyl record exchanges. Hilariously, when we’ve attempted in-person reviews at these meetups, they never seem as fun as when we’re on Zoom in our own living rooms.
This week’s album? A little gem called “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. What number out of 10 would you give him? And most importantly, what would you say about it, if you had the chance and a delighted audience of five people to hear you say it?
So, yes, I’d throw Zoom into a fire if it weren’t a flameproof digital app, but I have to thank at least for this recurring example. If there is ever a “post-pandemic,” I can absolutely see us continuing this conversation long into the future.
Hoping the other Kevin doesn’t come back for his place anytime soon.
“Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.