He stands offstage, cradling his acoustic guitar in the dark. A silver chain dangles from his neck. A thick black mustache punctuates his full-face stubble and shaggy tangle of hair. The last time he was on Ireland’s “The Late Late Show,” he and the band played for a packed house. Now he stares out at the empty seats and waits, breathing a nervous sigh.
It’s April 17, 2020, and The Coronas would be on a world tour if COVID-19 hadn’t bumped them. Instead, the lead singer walks onstage alone to play a song he co-wrote years ago that’s resurfaced as a sort of anthem for the pandemic. “With a gorgeous rendition of ‘Heroes or Ghosts,’” host Ryan Tubridy tells the cameras, “it’s Danny O’Reilly.”
White light illuminates curtains and a single spotlight shines on him. “So here we go,” Danny begins, as a pleasant-but-somber tune flows from his guitar strings. “Heroes or ghosts. One man’s mood; can break another man’s soul.” In the quiet of an empty studio, it feels like he’s talking to you in your living room, with his straightforward delivery complementing the slow, intimate strokes of his strings.
In Ireland, The Coronas are a chart-topping act that has beat out bigger names like U2 and Snow Patrol for national awards. The group’s Twitter account recently quipped, “The Coronas are a 3 piece band from Dublin, Ireland with the most unfortunate name in the world right now…” The name, inspired by an old-school typewriter used by a music-obsessed teenager in a movie called “Almost Famous,” has become rather awkward. “I suppose if we were a new band,” Danny admits, “I think maybe we would consider rebranding.”
Danny first heard about the virus in December, when it starting showing up in Google alerts for “Corona” on his phone. He watched the momentum build through January and February before exploding in March, when he and the band flew to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Their concert was moved to a smaller venue where the crowd bumped elbows instead of shaking hands. Danny thanked them for coming out to what felt like a dystopian movie. “It could be worse,” he joked. “You could be in a band that shares its name with the virus.”
Back in Ireland, Danny took refuge at his family’s vacation home in Dingle, on the southwest coast. He isolated there amid lush greenery and mountain views, with the blue sea motionless in the distance. “Properly cinematic,” he calls it. Hours from his band mates, he spent time with them on Zoom calls, doing virtual performances, separately recording their parts for songs, and figuring out how to keep their fans engaged on social media.
Onstage, still introspective and gently strumming, he finishes the first verse: “Or am I just too cynical for my own good; Am I too scared to say, we’ll get there if we should.”
In the hours and days after Danny’s performance, many fans will share their own interpretations of the lyrics, from The Coronas’ first album in 2007. Danny wrote the song about a band at a turning point, but he thinks music is made for the listener. “I think that’s what music is for,” he says later. “To help people get through whatever’s going on.”
For Danny, that means mourning his 96-year-old grandmother, who died recently, though not from COVID-19. At the funeral, he couldn’t shake hands with his uncles; couldn’t celebrate her life properly.
It means living without sports and live music, which both mean a lot to him. “If that doesn’t come back,” he says, “I think there will be a serious void in people’s lives.”
Still standing in the spotlight, with a row of spotlights shooting toward the roof behind him, Danny tries to manufacture connection in connection’s absence. “We’ll get there if we should,” he says, before one last strum of his guitar. “We’ll get there if we should.”