Recently, on Facebook (where I still dwell in a love/hate “it’s complicated” sort of way), I saw a group called “ARW is Not Yes Because 3/18 of Yes is NOT Yes.” A string of several loosely related thoughts (some of them a bit smart-assy) tumbled forth when I saw that group name:
- At what point in time did Yes have 18 members?
- If you count 18 members over time, what is the minimum subset of those 18 that would at a given moment be Yes, as opposed to falling short and NOT being Yes?
- Are there some of the 18 that would be more essential than others?
- Ah, ESSENTIAL! Does Yes have an essence?
- Lots of Yes fans believe that Yes has an essence, but doesn’t that just mean “THIS is my FAVORITE Yes”?
- Would Yes have an essence that is something other than any of the versions of “the essence of Yes” posited by argumentative fans?
- Philosophers worry about essences, and when they do, they don’t think they’re worrying about their “favorite” versions/aspects/incarnations/whatever of the sort of things they believe have essences.
- But do they have a way of making sure that they are getting at the essence of something rather than just privileging something that they favor?
- Gee, I could make one of my Looks at The Lamb about essences! (And now here you are reading it.)
This line of thought simmered in my thinking for about a day. Then I read some Facebook posts and Tweets about how Fleetwood Mac without Lindsay Buckingham would not be Fleetwood Mac. This struck me as downright funny, due to my familiarity with the many albums released by Fleetwood Mac before Buckingham was around. If there is an essence to Fleetwood Mac, it is Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, no?
Is anyone besides Robert Fripp essential to King Crimson? (Here my temptation is to see Bruford and Wetton as essential as well, since that is my favorite KC. It sounds much more authoritative to say “essential,” than it does to say “favorite,” you see?)
But what is “essential”? What is an essence?
I could go into a bunch of philosophy here, but if you’re willing to trust me, I’ll give you a bit of an upshot without going into what gets me there. Consider the idea that an essence is just “the way in which something is what it is.” Not what it’s made of. Not the sum of its parts (whatever they might be). How it goes about being. The word ‘essence’ has its etymological roots in a word that just means “to be.” It is the thing’s way to be.
I sometimes urge my students to think of ‘essence’ as a verb. It’s bad grammar, and can’t really be written exactly, but think of the essence of something as “the way in which it bes what it is.” The word I’m putting down as “bes” is prounounced like “beeze.” If there is a certain way in which I be (that’s a verb, remember?), then you would say that’s the way that Pete Blum bes.
Will all of this help with the matter of whether a particular band is still the same band without member X, Y, or Z? Well, it could; but that’s not really where I want to go. This is a Look at The Lamb, right? So…
What is the essence of The Lamb? What is its way to be?
While I don’t have an answer to lay out for you, I do have some suggestions regarding how to listen for the essence:
- Try listening for things that you don’t like about it, and reflect on the thesis that it would not be The Lamb without those things.
- Listen to The Lamb as if you’ve been told that the band performing thereon is not Genesis, but some other band. Your job is to figure out what band it is. It can be any band that does not include any of the members of Genesis.
- Listen as if The Lamb does not yet have a cover or any accompanying art, and no liner notes (including the printed story) and you have to decide what what the packaging should be like.
- Listen as if you have to create some other work — a painting, a poem, a novel, anything except music) that arguably has the same essence. Resist the temptation to think that you have to tell the same story.
- If you can find a way, listen to The Lamb in mono, in as low-quality audio as possible.
Pick one. Or maybe two.
Or more, if how it bes draws you in.
[No pictures or explicit references to the content of The Lamb this time?! Yes, that’s deliberate.]