Creative What-Ifs

The Atlantic recently carried a fascinating article on the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team.  It’s hard to imagine that anything new could be written about the Beatles, but the writer’s thesis is that it’s silly to try to figure out whether John Lennon or Paul McCartney wrote most or all of a particular song, because that ignores the impact of the partnership itself and the broader relationship between these two gigantic talents.  They wouldn’t have produced so much good music, the theory goes, if they hadn’t been pushing and challenging and trying to outdo one another.

Sometimes partnerships work, sometimes they can become poisonous.  Creativity comes in all forms:  solitary geniuses, brilliant but self-destructive alcoholics, a sudden burst of novelty that causes an entire artistic community to realize that old boundaries should fall and experimentation and new approaches should replace the calcified prior techniques.  I’m not sure that it’s possible to really draw broad conclusions from a songwriting partnership like Lennon and McCartney.

What most intrigued me about the article, however, was the last part of it, when the writer explains that, according to his producer, Lennon was actively planning on collaborating with McCartney after he finished Double Fantasy.  Of course, the murderous actions of Mark David Chapman prevented that from happening — but what if Chapman hadn’t killed John Lennon?  Could Lennon and McCartney have successfully teamed up again, or would the magic had been gone?

There are lots of similar artistic what-ifs that are tantalizing to consider.  What if Mozart hadn’t died at such an early age and had a composing career that was as long as Haydn’s?  What if Charlie Parker hadn’t become addicted to morphine and heroin and had carried the jazz torch rather than Miles Davis?  What if J.D. Salinger had been as prolific as, say, Stephen King?  What if Vincent Van Gogh hadn’t committed suicide?  We’ll never know.

Is The Red Head Dead?

Climate change advocates have made a lot of dire predictions about irreversible increases in global temperature, seas rising and swallowing island nations, and other catastrophes wrought by the nefarious greenhouse gas emissions of humanity.  But now they may have crossed the line:  they’re predicting the extinction of redheads due to climate change.

The theory is that red hair is an evolutionary response to the lack of sunlight in areas like Scotland, where red heads make up a sizable chunk of the population, because red hair and fair skin allows people to get the maximum amount of vitamin D from a minimum amount of sunlight.  If gloomy places like Scotland starts to get more sunlight due to global warming, the theory goes, then the evolutionary advantage red hair provides will be lost, and redheads will vanish from the human gene pool.

There’s some facial rationality to this theory.  If you’ve ever seen a redhead in a hothouse climate like Florida, you know that gingers wouldn’t flourish in perpetually sunny conditions and instead would retreat indoors, bemoaning their apparently permanent sunburns.  There obviously will be less inclination to engage in the physical activity needed to pass on those redhead genes if your skin is burned to a brick red color and feels like it’s on fire.

I’m hoping the climate change scientists are wrong on this very upsetting prediction.  I’m a fan of redheads, and not just because I married one and Kish’s family tree is full of them.  The world would be a poorer place without Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara, Vincent Van Gogh and Winston Churchill, Ron Howard and Willie Nelson.  With a lineup like that, we’ll even take a clinker like Carrot Top now and then.