Millions of people around the world are stuck at home due to coronavirus, sometimes passing the time by starting a podcast or recording a song for YouTube. But not all of them are a member of a band that’s sold 80 million albums worldwide.
Michael Bluestein has played keyboard for Foreigner, best known for the legendary power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is,” since 2008. Before that he’s toured with Boz Scaggs and Enrique Iglesias. He’s played with Stevie Nicks and on the house band on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The East Coast native graduated from UC Berkeley and lived in San Francisco for 10 years. But for now he’s stuck at home in his Los Angeles apartment with his girlfriend and a lot of free time.
“We were at a casino outside Minneapolis; we had gotten there a little early and were scheduled to play,” Bluestein said in a recent call. “But that night the governor of Minnesota said all gatherings of 250 people or more were canceled. Obviously that included us. We were supposed to have two more weeks of touring, but after that we flew home and I’ve been here since.”
One project that’s kept Bluestein occupied during the shelter-in-place is an original song, “Why Corona?” Written and recorded during the pandemic, it’s an attempt to capture the national mood and its conflicting tones.
“It kinda started as a comedic thing,” he said. “I was on the phone with my friend in Germany, my co-writer Lisa Maria Feige, and I was having fun playing around with rhymes. All alone-a. Getting cold-a.”
Bluestein cites the outpouring of comic creativity on social media, especially TikTok, as an initial inspiration. He wanted there to be levity to it. But as the writing process went on, especially as he got to the chorus, it took on a more serious tone almost of its own volition. Which, as he saw it, mirrors both his and the nation’s mood through this crisis.
“It’s all a bummer, man,” he said. “People are locked down. People are losing work. People are dying. That’s all happening so it eventually all comes back to that, even if you’re trying to be funny.”
One benefit to the shelter-in-place, though, is that many people have free time as well. So if Bluestein needed a cello for his mostly comic song—which he did—and he knew someone who can play it—again, yes—odds are that person was not too busy.
“Dave Eggar, the guy in the video, he’s highly involved in all Foreigner orchestral performances,” Bluestein said. “We do shows with symphony orchestras all over the States and in Europe. It started in Lucerne, Switzerland a few years ago. Dave and his crew worked with [Foreigner frontman] Mick Jones on these arrangements. So when I needed a cello he came to mind.”
Another project he’s undertaking with his Foreigner bandmate and fellow craft beer aficionado Bruce Watson is a podcast and YouTube channel called VIB, or Very Important Beer. But unlike most podcasts that start online and eventually move into the real world, Bluestein and Watson had been hosting VIB live events while on tour.
When they had a night off they would find a local brewery to partner with, play an acoustic set of Foreigner songs, and hang out with fans over some beers. To date they’ve showcased a dozen or more breweries while getting a chance to meet with fans over a couple years. In fact, they had two VIB events scheduled, in Milwaukee and Des Moines, when their tour was canceled and the pandemic sent them all home.
They had been thinking about turning the events into a YouTube channel for a while, but the current situation obviously accelerated their plans. The five episodes so far have included interviews with Cheap Trick drummer Daxx Nielsen and their Foreigner bandmate, lead singer Kelly Hansen.
“Right now it’s all virtual, but eventually when it’s safe it’ll go back to being real and virtual,” he said. “When we get back on the road we’re going to do more, of course.”
Both the song and the podcast are examples of what Bluestein considers to be the silver lining, however small compared to the scale of the dark cloud, to our current situation. People who generally don’t have a lot of free time suddenly have nothing but, which, combined with modern technology and communication, has caused an explosion of creativity. Even people who aren’t professional musicians are getting the chance to showcase or even discover their talent.
“You’ve always gotta look for the positive in situations,” he said. “We do over 100 shows per year. Now we find ourselves with all this free time. We can write tunes, we can have ideas and actually follow through. All these things we’ve been wanting to do; to tackle, to develop—now’s the time to do it. Before we know it, we’ll be back to work, back on tour, which is fantastic but also means time goes back to being limited.”
When that day comes that things start to go back to normal, the first thing Bluestein is doing is going to his favorite bar, which is right downstairs on the ground floor of his apartment building. Then he’s going back on tour to make up the postponed dates and add some new ones. But until then, he’s got his plate full with collaborations with other artists and instrumental tracks for movies and TV.
After all, when will we have this much free time again?
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.