Degrees of Separation

Some years back, there was an uptick of interest in what was known as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The game/concept was to take some actor, and by looking at films s/he had appeared in, and then looking at the casts of those films and those casts, making connections through films and casts until we found a film that included Mr. Bacon. Indeed, there’s a website that will do the heavy lifting for you, allowing you to discover, say, that Elmo Lincoln (first man to play Tarzan) is only three degrees removed from Mr. Bacon. (Lincoln was in Birth of A Nation along with Donald Crisp, who was in The Long Gray Line along with Betsy Palmer, who was in Friday the 13th with Mr. Bacon.)

Somewhat less known is the Erdos Number. The late Paul Erdos was an astoundingly prolific and peripatetic mathematician, authoring or co-authoring more than 1500 published papers. For example, a friend of mine is a math professor. His dissertation advisor co-wrote a paper with Erdos, giving him an Erdos Number of 1. If my friend were to co-write a paper with his advisor, my friend would then have an Erdos Number of 2. If I then were to co-author a paper with my friend (an exceedingly unlikely proposition, but humor me here), my Erdos Number would be 3. And so on.

Such concepts as the Erdos Number or the Bacon game (which also expresses in a Bacon Number — in the example above, Mr. Lincoln has a Bacon Number of 3) have been described as measures of what is called “collaborative distance” between the parties involved, and can be applied to a wide variety of fields. Allow me to demonstrate and have a bit of fun.

Consider the Beatles. For our purposes, we will assign John, Paul, George, and Ringo (and Pete and Stu, but that won’t mean much) a Beatle Number of zero. Alan White was a member of the Plastic Ono Band, and played drums on John’s album Imagine, giving Mr. White a Beatle Number of 1. (Incidentally, he also appears on George’s All Things Must Pass set, so we could do it that way, but chacun a son gout.)

Mr. White is probably best known, however, as the drummer for Yes since 1972. This gives the members of Yes (post-1972) a Beatle Number of 2. Yes has had a lot of members over the years, most significantly for our purpose, a singer named Jon Davison, who has been a member since 2012. Yes recruited Mr. Davison from another progressive rock band called Glass Hammer, giving the members of Glass Hammer Beatle Numbers of 3.

As it happens, a musician named Carl Groves has done the Grover Cleveland bit with Glass Hammer, serving as vocalist with the band from time to time as well, including (critically) an overlap with Davison in 2013. (Did Carl and Davison ever share a studio or stage? I dunno, but if it’s good enough for Wikipedia…)

In the above picture (from the spring of 1978), Carl is the guitarist at left. In the center, Michael Dearing is on bass, and the kid playing bongos behind them? Ahem. I’ve collaborated with Carl (and Mike) on a variety of occasions over the years (although I don’t think any of that work has seen release), and as evidenced above, have been in at least one band with him. I therefore claim for myself a Beatles Number of 4.

This in turn means that the other members of such groups as The Berries and the Groovy Kool have Beatles Numbers of 5.

Now I realize that all of this is statistically equivalent to claiming descent from Charlemagne, but I have to admit that I get a small charge out of the knowledge that there’s a connection (however tenuous) between the music I do and that of the greatest band in rock and roll history. We really are all in this together.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to Degrees of Separation

  1. Pingback: Degrees of Separation: Update/Addendum | Professor Mondo

  2. So a high school friend of mine is a backup singer (or was before COVID) doing a world tour with the Stone. I don’t know how many other acts she has worked with. She also did some Broadway. (I saw her as the Acid Queen in a touring company of the musical “Tommy.”) I wonder what that makes my Beatles number?

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