The human brain, that incessant maker of meaning and perceiver of patterns, is wont to seek engagement rather than endure monotony. Even when there is little at hand to provide mental stimulation, the mind will resourcefully make do with whatever it finds. I am reminded of a particular instance of this phenomenon that occurred, of all places, high in the balcony seating of a sold-out pop concert.
We had been enjoying an entertaining set by Elton John, who was touring to promote his 2004 release, Peachtree Road. It was a great and engrossing performance until we heard the opening lyric, "She packed my bags last night, pre-flight." The audience responded predictably, greeting Rocket Man with a resounding ovation, but we were less than thrilled. Having seen Sir Elton a few times before, we knew that he had just embarked on a journey that would, indeed, last "a long, long time."
With brotherhood, from C to shining C.
Among the indignities that Brian suffered during his teenage years, accompanying his kid brother to our piano lessons must have been one of the most painful. The eight years that separate us were a vast chasm in those days, and we had little in common beyond our genetics and home address. My brother seemed aloof and foreign to me then. As neurotic and quirky as I was in my formative years, Brian must have seen me as an inscrutably strange and pesky little alien for whom he was occasionally responsible. Every week, we would amble down the street with piano books in hand, ready (or not) for another lesson with Mrs. O'Neil.
A wall of bookshelves and a large picture window defined Mrs. O'Neil's front room, where Brian and I would take turns sitting on the sofa during each other's lesson. Sometimes I would peruse the small stack of children's books and comics while Brian played, but more often I tilted my head back upon the sofa cushion and gazed at the ceiling, which sparkled with a dusting of golden glitter. I would let my eyes relax their focus until the sparkling ceiling dissolved into an infinite cosmos, and the music whirled around me like orbiting planets as I stared into the outer reaches of the universe. Then it would be my turn.
The Beatles: indispensable leads, colorful supporting characters, and no extras?
Imagine the public outrage that would ensue if Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were to announce their intention to reunite and tour as The Beatles. Though they would have no trouble selling tickets, a critical consensus would condemn the endeavor as false advertising, even though the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison obviously would have prevented them from participating. Yet there is no hue and cry over Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend appearing as The Who in spite of the unavailability of late bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Why? The answer rests in the peculiarities of rock group dynamics, by which the members of most bands can be subdivided into indispensable leads, colorful supporting characters, and extras.
Now let us entertain an alternative history in which Lennon and McCartney are today's surviving Fab Two. They hold a press conference under a giant Beatles logo and announce a reunion tour. The world rejoices. Everyone laments the losses of Harrison and Starr, but few seem to mind Lennon and McCartney hiring session players and billing themselves as The Beatles. This is because within Beatle group dynamics, Lennon and McCartney were the indispensable leads. You can't have The Beatles without either of them, but you conceivably could have The Beatles with both of them and some hired hands.