Takin’ it to Zoom

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 25, 2020

If the novel coronavirus hadn’t brought the world to a halt this spring, Michael McDonald wouldn’t have been available to participate in the concert for the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (CADA) taking place this Thursday evening, June 25. That’s because the longtime Santa Barbara resident would have been out on the road as part of the long-awaited Doobie Brothers 50th-anniversary tour, which would have reunited the band with McDonald, its keyboardist and singer in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, along with co-founders Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons and guitarist John McFee.

Michael McDonald is one of the performers featured at the CADA Cares virtual fundraiser on Thursday, June 25

McDonald wrote and sang several of the Doobies biggest hits, including “What a Fool Believes,” “Minute By Minute,” and “Takin’ it to the Streets,” before departing for a solo career that spawned more successful singles such as “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” and “Sweet Freedom,” plus a sizeable catalog of hit duets. But with the reunion tour postponed for a year, the singer-songwriter-keyboardist has been sheltering in place in town and will join Alan Parsons, Peter and Natalie Noone, Dishwalla lead singer Justin Fox, Ambrosia’s David Pack, and other special guests for the 7 pm online interactive evening to raise funds for CADA’s efforts to help those struggling with addiction and mental health concerns that have only been exacerbated by pandemic-related isolation, job loss, and financial hardship. (Visit https://cadacares.cadasb.org for details and reservations.)

We caught up with the still soulful singer over the phone last weekend.

Q. I know you are very generous with your time and your music in helping out these causes both in town and around the country. CADA, it seems, might matter more to you. Is that true?

A. It does, because it’s a source of information and awareness for problems that societally we tend to hide. As in all areas of mental health, one of the biggest stigmas is to bring awareness to it and to get rid of the stigma so that people can actually communicate with each other in positive and productive ways. It doesn’t need to be a thing where you need to keep a deep dark secret or hide from the rest of society, because alcoholism and drug addiction are mental health issues. Society as a whole has been ashamed to openly discuss these issues, and instead it’s always been relegated as some moral deficiency or a lack of morality, and that’s really not good.

Overcoming addiction takes a certain amount of willpower, but what it really takes is a large amount of acceptance. The first biggest hurdle is accepting the truth so that you can actually look it in the face. What CADA does is to help people take that one day at a time, not trying to fix your whole life ahead of you. You really just have to look at it from what am I going to do about this today? The amazing part is that this is how whole lives are given back to people: one day at a time becomes 30 years, and your life has turned much more productive and enjoyable. 

It’s moving to hear you speak about this from that personal point of view, from your own experience. You’ve always been open about your own issues in the past, and it seems that it’s still in your heart to help others transcend addictions.

It’s probably the most important thing in my life today, to be of service to another alcoholic or addict. It’s not like I’m some great sage or selfless, but it is a priority for me. It’s the most important thing in my life. I’m still one of those people who has to think about “how much of this do I have to actually do to get what I need?” I think most of us who are addicts find that one of our biggest hurdles is that we tend to be self-centered to the extreme because we live in our own heads. So being of service to other people is the real key to actually finding sobriety for any length of time.

Can you say anything about the format for the event, and what you will be doing?

I think we’re each doing one song apiece. It’s all very homespun, to say the least, I mean literally from each of our homes. My wife (singer Amy Holland) and I did a version of one of my old songs. We’re all going to be performing stuff that you’re probably familiar with, but you’ll be hearing it in closer to the way it was written, originally at the piano on a ukulele. That makes it kind of interesting for both me and the audience. And we’re all doing a Beatles song at the end of “All You Need is Love,” with everybody participating all edited together so we’re in sync.

How has it been going for you in terms of coping with the pandemic? And how have the recent protests over racism resonated with you?

COVID is obviously something none of us have ever dealt with before. We’ve been staying at home, of course, and for a while I was doing a lot of writing, but I don’t think I’ve written anything in two weeks because I’ve been mostly just kind of catching up with video projects and music content projects that have been coming in. I would like to just slow down and work on something new of my own, but it’s been sitting on the shelf (during the pandemic). I’ve done some recording at home, but right now it’s on the back burner.

A friend of mine was saying that the protests and this particular movement, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, probably couldn’t have happened but for the pandemic. Here’s the injustice happening before our eyes and it really got our attention more so than ever because a situation where most everybody’s at home and people are out of work… If we would have brought the attention to the right perspective when those football players were taking a knee at the first game, if the news media had explained to us what it is these young men were doing and how in many ways it’s a positive thing, we probably wouldn’t have needed all these protests now.

But really society hasn’t really changed since the ‘60s. When I wrote “Takin’ it to the Streets,” it was about those times that we lived in Atlanta and a projection of the future. There were demonstrations and physical altercations on the street coming periodically since then, but unfortunately we seem (as a society) to learn at the speed of pain. Law and order is important, but not at the expense of freedom…

How does this country that supposedly is the representative of democracy and personal freedom and liberty to the rest of the world not understand the importance of that? How is the very day of emancipation where a large percentage of our population finally became free from the bondage of slavery not a national holiday? It’s beyond me that we don’t honor it as an important milestone for all of us, not just for Black people, but for the fact that we actually are standing up for our constitution and for freedom.


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