On a summer evening in 1971 I walked out of Yorkton Saskatchewan’s Tower theatre crossed the street and disappeared into myself. I reemerged a conjugate of Joe Cocker and Leon Russell and for months to come inhabited that blended persona. To this day, in spite of myself, I still carry the ghost of that warm summer evening. Not that I mimic the spasms of a young Joe Cocker (although I’ve tried this) or imitate the hazy-glare-under-hooded-lids, of a Leon Russell (although, rather comically, I’ve done this as well), instead I inhabit something of the message and intent of all those physical and mental mannerisms.
The impression that “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” had upon me was so strong that to this day I catch myself dreaming of its seedy glamour, its skewering of domesticity and seemingly wild and free flight for the sake of music and life. Right. Well, I was impressionable, at an impressionable age, living just a wink past Woodstock. I was a follower and I had about me the sponginess of youth.
But I’ve grown up. The eager mimicry of my late adolescence now behind me, I see myself as in control of what impresses me and able to choose what I will imitate, or rather, incorporate. Yet, at particular moments, almost always while in the presence of someone close to me, I see that I’ve left nothing of this behind. I mean, I’m still impressionable, still a follower, still a sponge. In other words, still dependent on receiving myself through the reception or rejection of others.
And now I discover that all of this has a basis in biology. It turns out that in that theatre as I sat gazing up, groups of mirror neurons were brightly firing inside my premotor cortex. These mirror(ing) neurons not only allowed me to mentally imitate the physical gyrations but also to ingest the complexity of intent, motives, goals, in other words, to mentalize the state of mind of my subject.
For this ability that we take for granted, there should be inexhaustible wonder. It is how social units and cultures are begotten. For good or bad, mirror neurons are the “welcoming gateway (JA)” through which your “I” is reproduced within me and through which my “self” is constituted by you.