Commentary: My band of brothers



By Todd R. Nelson

What makes happy people? Having friends, social connections, interactions between people with commonality. As E.M. Forster wrote, “Only connect.”

In a recent column on the subject, David Brooks put a finer point on the skills required.

“A lot of the important skills are day-to-day communications skills: throwing the conversation back and forth without interrupting, adding something meaningful to what the other person just said, telling jokes, reminiscing about the past, anticipating how the other person might react to your comment so you can frame it in a way that’s most helpful.”

I realized my good fortune having pals who text me every day: my best buddies from high school — long ago and far away. These rock ‘n’ roll bandmates from London, 1972, Marc and Jeff, remain stalwarts for daily conversation about music, politics and our youthful memories and diversions. Despite very divergent paths in later life, we’re still connected to our youths. We have things in common. Still.

We were a band of American teenagers in London, thanks to our fathers’ careers, and attending the same school. More importantly, Marc, Jeff and I were devoted to the same vibrant rock music scene. Though from different backgrounds of the U.S., in truth we hailed from our affection for the rock ‘n’ roll we witnessed in the concert halls of the great city. As bandmates we had a deep affinity.

Our best memories coalesce around Royal Albert Hall. Jeff and Marc can regale with memories of Cream’s farewell concert, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. We all saw The Band, Yes, Jethro Tull, Iron Butterfly. Add outdoor concerts in Hyde Park with The Rolling Stones, Humble Pie or Grand Funk Railroad. I was in the front row when Johnny Winter played a surprise encore with Traffic. Name any ascendant band of the era — we were there. We remember. We connect.

We’ll always have the day Jeff and I strolled past Crosby, Stills and Nash looking disoriented in the silver department at Harrod’s, or happened to be at the Hard Rock Café when the Grateful Dead came in to be seated at the large round table by the front door. We tried not to be obnoxious while trolling for tickets to that night’s concert. Or the day Marc returned from summer vacation with a new Gibson Fire Bird guitar.

We were trying to be rockers; to sound like our idols; to adore a band or song and put effort into imitation. We might as well have been a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young/Buffalo Springfield tribute band, whose songs we played at Friday night basement band practice and school dances.

We were dispersed by parental transfers and graduations. Sure, there was a 20-year hiatus while we went to college, married, had families and developed careers. Then an accidental reunion occurred. I was dining at the Lucky Platter in Evanston, Ill., in 1996 when Jeff walked in. Instant recognition. We picked up where we left off…just as we do every day today; just as we did every day in 1972 at band practice.

Technology that didn’t exist in our youth helps — updates on singer songwriters of our vintage, new album releases and, sadly, lots of obituaries (increasingly frequent) for our favorite rockers. Jeff just texted: “Keef is on Sunday Morning!” Last week: “The best albums turning 50 this year.” Our vintage! Can Neil Young’s “Harvest” truly be that old? Yes. We were covering his tunes when we were 16. Do the math. I conjure the album cover with a pang.

Marc keeps tabs on the BBC, sharing articles of interest from royals to rockers and curiosities of British life developed during his many school years in London — uniquely British stories to tweak nostalgia. He also curates an Instagram account devoted to classic rock guitar players. I curate political cartoons. Jeff keeps in touch with London guitar shop mavens in Soho instrument shops. We have discovered emojis. We laugh at the same, sometimes juvenile, things. We can complete each other’s sentences, especially if they are song lyrics.

Though dispersed coast-to-coast, retired geezers, the world of memory never retires. It’s flat and asynchronous. We each continue to inhabit London, 1970s, and travel back and forth from present to past. And such rich, ongoing friendships are a good remedy for isolation and loneliness. Or is it the music? As Jack Black says in “School of Rock,” “I pledge allegiance to the band.” Time for a 50th anniversary reunion tour. Just like Keef.

 

Todd R. Nelson is an essayist and former educator. He lives in Penobscot.

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