Growing up, I listened to my mom and dad’s old collection of 45s, the stuff that’s now considered Golden Oldies: Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison… then the later songs of the early to mid-60s: The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, The Supremes. One of my favorite groups of the era, one of the few groups to survive until the 70’s, was The Four Seasons. No group sang songs like The Four Seasons: tunes about girls being petty and manipulated; or broken hearted because of a break-up; or lacking in self-esteem because of their economic background. No singer sang songs like Frankie Valli: a warm, throaty tenor crooning love before piercing the music and backing vocals with a crystal-clear falsetto that soared above the score. Bad decisions and a falling out turned Valli into a solo act and the Four Season into paid session men acting as his backing band and singers, but for a brief, shining moment the group could do no wrong.
A decade back, The Four Seasons and their music became the basis for the hit Broadway show, Jersey Boys, later made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. I missed the show, but caught the movie. I liked it, but I could tell I’d have preferred to hear the music performed live (I’m weird that way). There’s a quote at the end of the movie that has stuck in my craw the last couple of years, though. Nick Massi, who sang the bass part in the group, is reminiscing about how he answers people when they ask how it was he could just quit and walk away from the group:
“I’ll be honest with you. It could have been an ego thing, everybody wants to be up front, right? But if there’s four guys, and you’re Ringo? Better I should spend time with my kids.”
I appreciate Massi’s honesty, but at the same time, I hate the sentiment. Because there’s another quote people love to bring up in interviews, especially when they are being asked about their success:
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.”
People like Micheal Dell will tell you at least part of their success is because they always surrounded themselves with people smarter than themselves. People they could learn from. People who inspired them to try harder and be more inventive. When you aren’t the smartest person in the room, you get to ask questions because you don’t know how things work. When you don’t know how things are supposed to work, you can make outrageous suggestions that just might facilitate a new line of thinking. No one expects you to have all the answers, so no one requires you to have all the answers. You get learn while you participate.
When you are the smartest person in the room, you are expected to have all the answers. You don’t get to question why the system works the way it works – you know why, it was your call to do it that way in the first place. The pressure is always on you to have the best course of action at your fingertips. Worst of all, if you are the smartest person in the room, that’s as smart as the room can ever be – you are the pinnacle.
I look around and realize I’m in a band with John, Paul, and George, I count myself lucky and do whatever I can to start making myself indispensable – the last thing I do is get an attitude because my name comes fourth.
And with all due respect to Mr. Massi, who is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, after all… but Ringo? He’s in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, too.