In a much-quoted passage of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare poses the eternal question,“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” Little did Shakespeare know that, almost four centuries later, his words would fit as perfectly as they did when they were first introduced to paper in 1597. For now, in this year of 1990, we have been presented with two milestone movements.
In February, South African political prisoner Nelson Mandela was freed after twenty-seven years in jail; while in June, pretty blonde twin rockers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson released their debut album, After the Rain. Truly, no two groups of similarly named people since the early 80’s outfield heyday of Gary Matthews and Garry Maddox have had as much in common as the two groups of Nelsons—Mandela on the one hand and Matthew and Gunnar on the other.
Apparently, both Nelsons were oppressed in their pasts. Mandela, imprisoned in 1963 for his militant leanings in the African National Congress (ANC), his self-formed radical anti-apartheid group, suffered through beatings, rigid discipline, and hard work in the institution; often, he had little hope of seeing his wife, Winnie, or his family ever again. Similarly, Gunnar and Matthew were beset with injustices: In 1982, at the tender ages of fourteen, their mother unmercifully would not let them play their guitars in the house. Fortunately, such unfairness was eluded by the clever young Nelsons. “As a result of her trying to sabotage our relationship with our music…she actually brought us closer [to it],” Gunnar later emphasized, with no small amount of scorn in his voice.
Perhaps it is their mutual popularity that makes the two Nelsons seem so similar. When Mandela visited the United States in July, 750,000 New Yorkers stormed to catch a glimpse of his face. In the same way, After the Rain has charted at number thirty on the Billboard Top Fifty—and the first release, the poignant and beautiful “Love and Affection,” has already risen to the eighth place on the U.S. Singles chart.
Matthew Nelson is described in Seventeen as “spiritual [and] metaphysical.” Could there be, then, a mental link between the Nelsons? Mandela’s faith in the spirit is not well publicized, but during his visit to New York he was described by Paul Mondesire as “as close to a devine human being as we’ll ever see.”
Maybe the obvious congruence between these men rests on more material matters. When in New York, Mandela was driven through the ticker-tape parade in a flatbed truck with a bullet-proof plexiglass shield atop it; New York police affectionately labelled it “The Mandelamobile.” Meanwhile, Gunnar and Matthew’s love for vintage Mustangs is well publicized. And in another similarity, Mandela voiced his love for the rock music of Tracy Chapman and Richie Havens while attending his anti-apartheid benefit concert at Yankee Stadium, and was described by Pastor Gardener Taylor as “the drum major in the music of freedom.” Gunnar and Matthew also possess deep rock roots—in addition to being the sons of 1950’s late rock legend Rick (“Hello Mary Lou”) Nelson, they claim that they are firmly influenced by such notable megabands as Foreigner.
The likeness betwixt Nelsons exists on an aesthetic level as well. Mandela, with his high forehead and long cheekbones, could easily be mistaken for either Gunnar or Matthew, who are identical twins. Mandela, rumor has it, has even begun to grow his hair to the waist-length stature the Nelson boys are able to boast. Or could the comparison rest purely upon the notion that all three men have the same color eyes?
But whether or not the Nelsons are triplets, it is obvious that their life theories rest upon the same principles of love and respect. When questioned about his sympathy for Fidel Castro, Mandela explained that he admired the Cuban leader for his “love of human rights and freedom.” While Nelson may not approach as political a topic (“Hey, we write about what we know,” Gunnar defends), anyone who watches MTV knows that the two singers simply “can’t live without your love.” Surely, there is no better way to agree with someone than over the feelings of love (and affection).