Last week, Memphis multi-genre artist Lawrence Matthews, who performs as Don Lifted, announced he'd been invited to join the Recording Academy, host of the Grammy Awards. So I called to talk with him about the invite, the potential risks of performing in a pandemic, and the importance of knowing when to take time and to listen.
As for what he’s been up to in quarantine, the prolific artist sounds almost meditative: “I’m taking time.”
“I’ve been working on music. I’ve been recording, doing the social distance thing,” Matthews continues. “I’ve been showing up to people’s houses, running cords into their house or into backyards, recording from a safe distance.”
“As far as performing, I’m not going anywhere until Live Nation starts doing stuff. That’s been the barometer for me,” Matthews says, explaining that he’s watching the mainstream music industry and sports, keeping an eye on sites like Ticketmaster and Live Nation. Contrasted against responses that include cries to “LIBERATE!” states, reopen business, resume school in the fall, and get back to normal — seemingly at all costs — Matthews’ measured assessment is a welcome dose of sobriety in what has become a charged discourse over how to handle living with the coronavirus.
Matthews’ work has already been affected by the current health crisis. His photography exhibition “To Disappear Away (Places Soon to Be No More),” which was on view at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, closed about the same time the coronavirus showed up in Shelby County. “I’m hoping that by next year we can navigate this a little differently,” Matthews says. “People’s livelihoods depend on group things, especially artists.”
Matthews says he’s given the matter of safe, socially distanced concerts some thought, but when it comes down to it, he’s not ready to try something like that. “For me, I’m thinking about ‘What do I gain from that? What does the viewer gain?’” Matthews says artists have a responsibility to weigh the possible risks against any rewards, be they financial or artistic fulfillment. “It’s potentially life-risking. You’re thinking individualistically. You’re like, ‘What can I get out of this? How much money will I make? It’s their personal choice if they choose to do a thing or not.’ But that’s being irresponsible.