Like so many poets and songwriters, successful (especially in the early 1970s) lyricist Harry Nilsson had a distinct way of taking a simple concept and keeping it, um, simple. “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do” Nilsson crooned in 1968. When the popular band Three Dog Night covered the song a year later, it exploded as an international hit. The uncomplicated song, with its equally uncomplicated, resonated with millions of listeners around the globe.
We all need the association of others. We all, even the introverts, are social animals. We all need a pack to survive. Somewhere around the first day of school, we come to know the effect of social isolation, ostracization and, alternatively, of acceptance. We stand in line waiting to be picked for second-grade baseball only to have our name called out last. Or maybe we are the team captain tasked with putting together a winning program or just picking our friends first. Does winning trump besties?
Today, we are more challenged by the COVID-19 lockdown to stay connected. Will anyone remember that we exist when they don’t see us anymore? Is Zoom enough? Sure, it is. Well, probably. Even so, are we returning to a world so increasingly fractured by identity politics and we/they tribalism that we can scarcely know if we can ever again hope to be picked for the team, whether first or last?
Nilsson wrote, “Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” While one could assume that he was talking about a romance gone bad, it occurs that it might likewise apply to a state where two people so misunderstand each other that they find only isolation where companionship could be. Have we come to be alone together?