Focusing On The Good

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight

Those words echo across the piano bar inside the Neon Cactus in West Lafayette on any given Thirsty Thursday or Breakfast Club Saturday throughout the year. But this week, and for an indefinite period of time to come, the piano bar remained eerily silent.

Bruce Barker, who has been the piano-man-in-residence at the Neon Cactus since 1995, had the idea to host “Bruce’s Basement Cactus” on Thursday night, streaming on Facebook Live, as his “little experiment to bring Boilermakers past and present a little bit of joy in relatively crazy times.”

And so he played and he sang just like he would every Thursday night. Pausing in all the same places he normally would to let the raucous audience inside the piano bar take the lead.

Except this Thursday night, he wasn’t playing in front of a capacity crowd of approximately 300. Instead, with a scant 24 hours of notice, “advertising” limited to retweets and Facebook shares, Bruce played for a crowd that could have nearly filled Mackey Arena, as viewership peaked with around 14,000 unique viewers. Boilers from across the country filling their Cactus cups, making song requests and singing in their own homes.

These are extraordinary circumstances for us all, and it is as important as ever to find some reasons to smile. It brought me great joy to see so many people come together when human contact is at a premium. I enjoyed seeing the comments scroll by as people added their graduation years and current locations, reminiscing on great times from both long ago and recently.

I did not go to Purdue (though I still spent more than a few Thursday nights and Saturday mornings at the Cactus), so there are others that felt Bruce’s impact even more than me, but I went to bed after his performance with a smile on my face. I went to bed with a little extra energy to face the next day of social distancing and the slog of working from home.

Through the tough times that this last year month week(???) has brought, this was just the latest thing to bring a smile to my face. I think it’s important to share some of them, so here are a few highlights that have popped up during a week with too many lowlights:

  • Italians in Northern Italy, who have been on true lockdown longer than we have, joining in and singing the national anthem, chanting, and remaining just generally upbeat.
  • Spanish musicians on nearby balconies join to play “My Heart Will Go On.”
  • Tony-winning actress and performer Laura Benanti, feeling for the disappointment of the many high-schoolers across the country who have been preparing for their now-canceled spring musicals, asked the students to send her their performances so she could watch them.
  • The origin of Roundball Rock.
  • The 19-year-old NBA rookie Zion Williamson pledging to cover the salaries of the support staff of the Smoothie King Center (where the Pelicans play) for 30 days.
  • Because so many people have stepped up to the plate, I hesitate to single any one person out, but Ed Sahm was one of the first I saw in Indy make a commitment to doing his part to making sure families in Central Indiana stay fed in trying times.
  • Speaking of: Guest Celebrity Superstar Awesome Blogger (his words) Derek Schultz’s “Support Local” thread.
  • Disney+ releasing Frozen II three months ahead of schedule to help parents placate kids who are all of a sudden cooped up at home.
  • All the teachers I see on Facebook offering to help parents and other teachers who stopped being subject-matter experts on elementary or middle school math/science/anything 20+ years ago.
  • The penguins at Shedd Aquarium taking a field trip.
  • And all the museums and historic sites that are offering free virtual tours to keep people entertained.

So thank you, Bruce, and thank to anyone else who has endeavored to find the positive during a tough time. Keep up the good work, and I’ll see you all next Thursday night, Cactus cup in hand. Because despite it all …

Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feelin’ all right