Recently, a colleague told me that he’d seen Paul McCartney’s tour. During our conversation, he pointed out that McCartney had put together a “really good Beatles’ cover band.” Which seemed somehow wrong to me. After all, is Paul McCartney covering the Beatles when he is doing a Beatles’ song that he wrote and sang and performed on despite the fact that the other three members are absent? What are the specific characteristics of a live performance that make it a performance of a group? When does it become something else, be it a tribute, a cover, or a parody?
Later this summer, the members of the Grateful Dead will perform. Sans Jerry, of course. They will not be going out as the Grateful Dead, but as “The Other Ones.” Another colleague, who has seen the Dead a multitude of times, has been receiving plenty of phone calls from his far-flung pals, all of whom are professionals of one sort or another, not the free-wheeling ne’er –do-wells that they were when they slept in the backs of cars and picked up hitchhiking women in Las Vegas. They are making plans to go to Alpine Valley to see the show. My colleague has gotten permission from his wife—which certainly wasn’t a requirement when he attended all of those other shows. Times change, of course. While the name of the band that will be performing is not the Dead, while he knows that Garcia is irreplaceable, fundamentally, I’m sure, although he may not admit it, he will probably add the attendance at the Wisconsin performance—or performances—to his list, if not publicly, then at least in his mind. Sure, it may have a mental asterisk, but it will certainly be a Dead show in his head.
So I began to think. . .
Imagine a musical group with four members. We’ll call each member B, A, N and D. These individuals record discs and play on stage. They gain both visibility and success. Admirers and acclaim. As a group, B, A, N and D are said to be more than the sum of the parts.
But as often happens, A decides she’s had enough. She leaves the group. She is replaced by O.
So B, O, N and D continue. Although the band was originally shakened by A’s departure, the mix works with barely a stir among their fans and sales. They perform their original music and record some new material that is similarly successful.
After a couple more years, D has had enough. So he leaves. He is replaced by E. B, O, N and E perform the music the group has been doing from the start and spend time in the studio doing more work that wins them awards and new fans.
Time marches on. An unfortunate accident-cum-drug overdose results in N’s bloated corpse to be pulled from a wrecked Tilt-A-Whirl car. Not wanting to let their fans down (to say nothing of their bank accounts), the remaining members of the band rapidly sign up a serious session player, P. Things go their way with nary a blip (although there is a number of fans who have turned N into an icon—of sorts).
After 10 years, B has burned out. Which is somewhat troubling. But the remaining members convince D to return. He has been doing solo work in the years since his departure and has been doing well. With his return, it is like lightning striking again. The success and adulation are at an all time high.
Here is the question: is D,O,P,E the same as B,A,N,D? If not, at what point did the change occur? Is it a cover band? Is it something else? And how can we know?