On Big Dreams and Being The Fifth Beatle

This is a fan letter.

As a slightly rabid Beatle fan, I often find myself dwelling within a recurring dream. It involves being an official 5th Beatle. The dream defies convention and I am probably prime fodder for some sort of Sigmund Freud Dream Symposium. Regardless, it’s a dream that pops up on my subconscious soundtrack.

Here’s the dreamscape scenario:

I am outside a grand and ornate concert hall located in a city of unknown origin. Emanating from the walls of this venue is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The music is serene yet uplifting in tone. I hear acoustic guitars, sitars, strings, bells, pianos, mellotrons, harps. Then, I hear familiar voices blended in stunning harmony. This piece of music sounds like a hybrid between “Across the Universe” and “Because,” two familiar Beatle songs. Somehow this music is new and different. I walk closer to the concert hall and I see a poster on the marquee. Pictured are familiar faces of The Beatles, yet they are older. It’s a reunion show. Then, I noticed myself pictured among them. Panic erupts in the recognition of my visage accompanying the Fab Four. I realize that I am supposed to be on stage with the band. I reach for the nearest door and it is locked. I begin to run around the perimeter of the building and furiously grab at any entry point. All doors are locked. I hear a familiar voice addressing the audience along the lines of, “We are not sure where our fifth bandmate is but we will carry on without him.” It’s Paul McCartney and he sounds irritated by my absence. I have let my band down and I am forming apologetic words hoping my four friends will allow me to remain with them.

I awaken with a numbing rawness at the realization that I could have been in The Beatles.

Now, please know that I am nowhere near the status of those who have been anointed 5th Beatle status. I do feel an affinity for the band having been a fan for forty of my forty-eight rotations on this planet. I am pretty certain that I am not the first to imagine being in the greatest band in the annals of music history. In my mind, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Sean has the nice ring to it. We could be bandmates, indeed, as I imagine running along side them during the cinematic opening of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the release of “The White Album, ” many esteemed authors and speakers will share the brilliance of this double album. An oft-told tale of Eric Clapton guesting on lead guitar for George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” will definitely be shared. Clapton is mentioned in Fifth Beatle Guessing Games as a logical addition to the band. Later, Clapton’s name is mentioned as a possible replacement by John Lennon during the angst of the “Get Back”/”Let It Be” Sessions. Clearly, Eric Clapton is the Fifth Beatle! Or, is he?

The Fifth Beatle conversation is a fascinating and rich conversation for fans and critics alike. Many names have been bandied about in debate proclaiming finality. Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Pete Best, Stu Sutcliffe are all names that have been clothed in Fifth Beatle regalia. Paul McCartney has mentioned Producer George Martin and Manager Brian Epstein as contenders for Fifth Beatle status.

I think of the beauty of The Beatles’ collaboration over their short life span as a band. They were a tight little band who immersed themselves in a brotherhood that few could enter during the course of their musical union. That tight brotherhood might have seeped into my subconscious that prevents me from joining the band in what is supposed to be a dream of my creation.

As I muse over the Fifth Beatle debate, I think of the band’s performance of “Hey Jude” on David Frost’s “Frost on Sunday” broadcast in 1968. This classic song has reached universal proportions as not only a huge hit for a pop band, but it has evolved into an anthem for solace and inspiration. The band’s performance on Frost’s program is iconic for many reasons. An enduring image from that performance is a throng of people surrounding The Beatles as they perform. They were invited to dwell among the band during their televised performance.

The array of audience members is diverse and eclectic. They represent our human family joined together by the universal language of music. The Beatles are interacting with this group in such an authentic and loving way as they sift through the musical marrow of “Hey Jude.” The members of the audience are not succumbing to past tenses of Beatlemania. There is an understanding between band and audience that is something special. The interaction is innocent and joyous.

As the camera pulls away at various intervals, it is sometimes difficult to determine where John, Paul, George and Ringo are located. The group is so large and they are literally immersed in the performance with the band. (Click Here for the performance.)

Then, it hits me like Ringo’s opening drum fill on “Hey Jude,” we are all the Fifth Beatle. 

We are all invited to join the band. All are welcome to this unit because The Beatles music transcends category. Their canon is universal and timeless. Reflecting our experiences, The Beatles invite us to embark upon “long and winding roads” that compel us to consider love, peace, loneliness, fantasy and many more keys embodying our collective humanity.

This lesson of inclusiveness has seeped into my leadership as a classroom teacher and principal. I took a page from my father who often rallied me to aspire to greatness with his wisdom: “Everybody plays. Everybody is off the bench. We are all starters.” I used the same line in my professional role as an educator. I guess I have been inviting kids and teachers to join our schoolhouse band for years. Everyone is in my version of The Beatles, too.

There are no locked doors at a fantasy reunion concert that prevent us from joining the band. We are a part of the music. We will always have that connection as long as there is sound and the sound is infinite, deep and beautiful.

Everyone is in the band.

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