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September 28, 2022

I had the good fortune to attend the Doobie Brothers 50th Anniversary Tour at Radio City Music Hall on my first night back in NYC three weeks ago. And a big reason for my spontaneous decision to purchase a ticket was the fact Michael McDonald would be playing the entire show alongside founding member - and leader - Tom Johnston. I always wondered if the “China Grove” faction of the group ever truly got along with the far-different sounding “What a Fool Believes” gang. Conveniently, it seemed to me, Mr. Johnston hit the road when the band’s musical style changed completely. I figured those two musicians did not see eye to eye at all.

However, I happened to hear a podcast this past summer that made it seem as if no bad blood had ever existed between them; the reason for the lead singer’s departure back in 1977 was health-related. Still, the band reunited this past decade and even recorded a couple new albums of fresh material - with the notable lack of an appearance by Michael McDonald. So I wasn’t completely buying into the hype.

Which is why I thought it would be fascinating to watch how they interacted on this most recent tour, where they would all share a stage for the entire show.

And I also couldn’t help but wonder... why do these interactions between people I do not know personally seem to mean so much to me in the first place?

Well, for some reason they do. Maybe some deep psychological explanation exists for this phenomenon, but I’m clearly guilty of allowing non-pertinent thoughts a certain space in my own brain. And I always find myself rooting for the happy ending, where the warring factions somehow find a way to overcome their difficulties.

This has been true for me since the very beginning. I’d only seen a few Martin & Lewis movies as a child, but man - wasn’t it so nice to watch them bury the hatchet on live TV?…

John Lennon and Paul McCartney… Pleasing to imagine they could find a way to hang out together only four years after such an acrimonious breakup…

Even Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier… According to most accounts, Frazier’s resentment towards his old rival only grew deeper through the years. But then again, certain pictures tell a different story, and I’ve read random quotes attributed to Joe that makes for compelling evidence he had found a way to move beyond the hatred. Makes me smile to imagine this might have been true…

So I don’t really know what draws me into reading about the interpersonal relationships of the famous strangers of my youth and middle age, but there’s no denying this fascination exists. I even went to a Madison Square Garden reunion of Van Halen and David Lee Roth a few years ago (no pics necessary for that one…) and was happy to see them back to performing the old songs. (Although the body language between them, it seemed to me, was not overly warm and fuzzy.)

Which brings me back to The Doobie Brothers on Sept 8, 2022. They sounded amazing and yes, there was Tom Johnston, being a great sport by figuring out parts to play and sing during the many times Michael McDonald took over the spotlight. I found myself watching how often they actually intermingled (there weren’t many occasions) and tried to ascertain how much of what I was watching was show-biz professionalism or straight-from-the-heart artistry. And then, of course, I simply enjoyed the music.

But after the three-song encore, when the time came for all the band members to gather together for a final bow and wave to the crowd, I found myself gazing intently. And yes - there they were, Tom Johnston and Michael McDonald, taking positions together when they could have just as easily found themselves a few band members apart. I have to admit, it was nice to see…

I also found myself feeling curious; were the words they were now exchanging friendly or snide? Did they truly care for each other’s company?

And I’m not sure why this felt important to me…

But I guess, for me personally, these random thoughts about people I’ve never known and may never meet or see again are unlikely to subside anytime soon.

So, what the hell… I might as well keep on visualizing the happy ending!


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