You don’t know who Frank Watkinson is. I don’t mean that in the snotty “Oh, you haven’t heard of him?” type of way; I mean, no one knows who he is, because he’s just some guy. Specifically, he’s an elderly English man with a YouTube channel (with about 3,700 subscribers) on which he posts a few acoustic covers a week. That’s it.
I think I found his channel at some point last year when someone posted one of his covers to a Sufjan Stevens fan group I’m in. I don’t know how that person found it. The video shows him, acoustic guitar in hand, singing Sufjan’s 2005 ballad “Casimir Pulaski Day.” That’s it — uncut, unedited and untouched. His dog sleeps behind him as he fingerpicks his guitar. In the 11 months it’s been on YouTube, it has become one of his most viewed covers, garnering over 11,000 views, over 1,000 likes and, most impressively, zero dislikes. Considering the vinegar and vitriol that runs through the veins of the modern internet, to see any video with an infinite like-to-dislike “ratio” is unheard of. You’d be hard to find many dislikes at all on any of his songs, and it’s not hard to understand why.
In the current zeitgeist, being on YouTube means you’re building something. It’s a tool used to further your career, company or channel. Scrolling through the “Trending” tab tonight, I see a new Drake song, a sponsored video game channel, a BBC video, a Formula 1 video and — well, you get the picture. YouTube used to be what the title says it is: You “tubing.” Streaming yourself into the great void called online, hoping to get some eyes back. That’s what makes Frank Watkinson such a special corner of this bloated website: He captures what makes this place so special to begin with. There’s no ulterior motive here; It’s just a guy playing music.
The comments on his videos make me smile. “I lost my father a month ago, and I find solace in your Sufjan Stevens covers. Thank you so much for the music and God bless your beautiful soul,” says “with yet another review” on one. “Sorry to hear that and thank you,” responds Frank. “you are so talented! Sufjan stevens is so close to my heart and all of your covers of his songs really make me teary eyed. thank you for creating beautiful music,” says Isabella Kate, just below that one. “Thank you,” responds Frank. There’s no memes, no flame wars, no anything. It’s almost like a private community, in a way.
A phrase I’ve heard thrown around in the past few weeks is that we need to be “alone, together,” of course referring to the social distancing guidelines we need to undertake to quell the growth of COVID-19 worldwide. At first this may have seemed easy to even the most ardent introvert, but man, not doing anything takes a toll. As seamless as digital interaction is getting, it’s still nothing compared to genuine human interaction. And so we all grasp in every which way, looking for anything resembling The Before Times. It’s calming to know that, across the sea, there’s a guy playing acoustic guitar in his home for anyone who wants to lend an ear. It reminds me that common humanity still exists.
Daniel Cohn is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.