Every day, every death, coronavirus reminds me more of the AIDS crisis than of SARS, or H1N1, or the 1918 flu. As HIV did before it, Covid-19 is stealing a generation of artists — though these are our elder statesmen, rather than our future. Hal Willner was some kind of a genius, a genius at recognizing genius at least (takes one to know one). He had brilliant, eccentric taste and chutzpah, celebrating the work of past visionaries such as Kurt Weill and Carl Stalling by bringing together such living artists as Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithfull, Sun Ra, and Lou Reed. He was an omnivorous omnipresence in New York when I lived there, someone who loved poetry as well as jazz, cartoons and opera. That relentless relishing of the artistic spirit is a rare, precious quality, now parted.
And then, John Prine — an American folk hero if there ever was one. Willner recognized and elevated genius — Prine was one, in a completely humble, plainspoken way, a crafter of unforgettable tunes. Thankfully he left us with his own funeral song, “When I Get to Heaven.” The band up there just gets better and better. Our loss.