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Reptile is his latest release and while it deviates significantly in some ways from previous work, it is a logical progression, and still very much Eric Clapton. Now Clapton is no Boomer - he's a war baby, a couple years older than the oldest Boomers, but he shaped our Late Boomer psyches directly through his music and indirectly by the focus of his lyrics and the music of earlier musicians he introduced us to through his covers.
The Clapton who appeared on stage seems well integrated these days. He selected from most of his past and current musical personas, without bias, to give the audience his current take on his career and the music he still wants to play for us. The young man in Cream was there, Derek was there, the solo artist in all his various incarnations: the lover, the blues man, the partier, the grieving father, the proud surrogate son and even the drug using, boozing self of which he isn't proud, were represented. The integration seemed a complete and an accepting one. This is good, probably not just for him, but for those of us who associate his music with personal milestones at various stages of our lives. It means we can continue to do so without trepidation. It is wonderful tonight to be able to reflect on one of the larger than life icons of our generational milieu who finally got it together. It suggests that any of us can.
The Twentieth Century was a tough time to come of age. Information expanded at a much faster rate than our cultural filtering mechanisms could handle. Huge segments of society were dealt hands with cards in them that no one had ever played before. Some kept the cards close to their vests and waited to see how the bidding would go. Sadly, some folded. Some bravely played them when they saw how these new cards resembled the pattern of the suits. Clapton was one of the ones who saw the pattern, played the cards, and walked away with the life changing kitty. He seems to have survived those life changing events too. Thank God he's still here with us. So many faded out, so many faded away. We can learn from him that you can survive losing, and you can even survive winning.
There is a mini-industry based on Boomer bashing and generational conflict. It need not be this way. This is how it is supposed to work: Our older brothers and sisters are supposed to teach us through their examples, both good and bad. We are supposed to learn from their experiences almost as from our own. Hurts when you do that? Don't do that. A friend living in Slovenia recently wrote of his experiences at a Patti Smith concert. He was awed and inspired by her effortless stage transitions between poetry-reading, bespectacled matron and kick-ass rocker. She too has integrated all her experiences in such a way that she can continue to give guidance to those who follow.
The same might be said of Laurie Anderson and her current intrigue with Melville's Moby Dick. Proto-minimalist, major deconstructionist does Ishmael. What's next? Will Phil Glass do War and Peace? But that'd be okay. Our creative leaders, and that is really what we are talking about here, show us how to grow. They stretch. We learn. We grow. We stretch further. That's the role icons should play. I'm heartened to see some of the idols of our youth growing into attitudes and roles that continue to be worth emulating even if there were some rocky spots along the way.One of these rocky spots obviously involved egos in this tour. If you were proletarian enough to have seats fairly high up in the arena, one playful meta-level fact communicated with humor and style was just who's concert tour this is. As the roadies set up the stage for Eric and company, after Doyle Bramhall II & Smokestack (abviously influenced by Hendrix and Trower) played, you could see them unfurling a rug that turned out to be a well worn, room-size Persian carpet in center stage in what was obviously the great Mr. Clapton's place. To Clapton's right where the rhythm guitarist, Andy Fairweather, would sit a small place mat size carpet of the same ilk design ilk as the larger one of Clapton's was laid out just in front of the chair on the floor where it would be between Fairweather's feet. To Clapton's left where the bass guitarist, Nathan East, was to sit had a teensy, tiny coaster size rug placed where it would be between his feet when seated. Perhaps it was just mandala, but I don't think so. Major statements and reminders can be made tactfully and quietly. We learn that as we gain wisdom and square feet of carpet. So much for Eric's "rug problem." Emily Latella, where are you when we need you?
John Lennon made that infamous, unwise "bigger than Jesus" remark 35 years ago. Like so many of his words, he couldn't possibly fathom the meaning they would attain. Meaning is negotiated through time as people interpret messages in various ways, and in ways which differ distinctly through time. Music did come to be a bigger cultural phenomena than religion for a while in the middle of this last century. It certainly didn't supplant it, it wasn't ever intended to (and it wasn't a communist plot, either) but it did overshadow it for a while. But what does that really mean? Too many people in our world's current ever-escalating stream of life currents seem to want to instantly evaluate phenomena, processes, and people. I grew up, thank heavens, in a backwater of near 19th century tempo, where people still had porches and folks often uttered statements such as "time will tell" to comment upon situations or views with which they didn't agree. These folks understood that although they may or may not like something, ultimately judgment and reward are far beyond the influence of anything they might say or do. Some of the phenomena which at first seemed to conservative elements of society to be, at best, disruptive to our society have at their mature core an unparalleled goodness when looked at from a larger viewpoint through time.
We all serve unknowing karmic roles for each other; this seems true of individuals and of cohorts. Those of us who see divine influence in life would say that some are meant to show us the way. Others of us, less metaphysical types, would simply say that some parts of a system explore so that others may colonize. In either case, it stands to reason that those who live to tell the tale have much more to contribute to society than those who made the wrong choices and are no longer with us. That is, if they are still story tellers. And Eric is. Some of the old rockers who are still around merely perform rote pieces in a ritual fashion. Others routinely bring new insights to bear with the same story told with fresh twists and juxtaposed against new contexts. Others shown brightly for but an instant illuminating, primarily, what paths not to walk.
I wouldn't know about Robert Johnson's music, and I suspect a good many of us wouldn't, if it hadn't been for Clapton. I learned to love the blues through Clapton's music. Well, okay, growing up near Chicago didn't hinder that encounter. Anyway, Mr. Johnson did some very unwise things that landed him stone cold dead at age 26. He wasn't successful at personally sharing his unique gifts, but with Clapton as cultural filter, and perhaps an after-the-fact pay off for a little business done down at the crossroads, Johnson nears immortality. Yes, I would say that Mr. C is a genius, but then he chooses truly phenomenal inspirations to draw upon as well. When I first heard the sounds of Clapton's new pieces coming from my Mac's speakers I was puzzled. Was this really Clapton? Then it coalesced, this was tribute to what had shaped him early on, even before he discovered the blues. Blues, rhythm and blues, rock, and now, JAZZ. As Billy Preston's encore, (Did I mention that Billy Preston played keyboards with Clapton at America West?) pointed out, "Will it go round in circles?" And the answer is a resounding, " Yes." We may even have some of these people capable of seeing, drawing upon and reinterpreting the gamut of human experience in our ranks of later born Boomers. But determining who among our own ranks these folks might be is not for us, but for the following cohorts and generations to determine. We may not ever know who they are, that is just how cultural cycles work.
One thing we later born Boomers understand is that compartmentalization and predictability don't work. All influences all. There are no unidirectional processes. Clapton's presentation and performance of music, as strange as it may sound to those now octogenarian nay sayers of our youth, has evolved to a point where it shines light on the essential goodness, the sameness of all people, the hope for tomorrow in spite of the troubles of the past. This is what we should expect from the more creative, enlightened troubadours of the generation that preceded us. At times I'm tempted to bash all that underlies the older Boomer, Hippie, misapplied to us, stereotypes - then I experience something like the Clapton concert that reminds me that life is about sharing experiences, learning from each other, and celebrating life through art and beauty. We are distinct, sure, but we are also appreciative of what shaped us, as we're turning out just fine - with a little help from our friends.
I don't mean to elevate Clapton to the ranks of demi-god. (Yes, yes, I know many of you think "Clapton is God.") If his very public life has taught us anything about him, it is that he is a man like any other, facing all the forks and landslides that life's road brings. His road was mapped to show what it shows. Other musicians, just as wonderful but with less fame, also follow maps which unfold in front of them only as they take the next step toward a small out of the way venue where someone needs a bit of inspiration or reminder that we all walk similar roads. Music unites and inspires people. My friend Carrie who has been on the road pretty much constantly for the last decade or so, wrote what I think may well be the perfect song for a later born boomer anthem, The Age of Possibility, from the CD of the same name, in which she talks about and to those of us who grew up with "Cheap gas, John Glenn and tube TV." She has a good solid folk circuit following, venues stay small and intimate as her map seems to unfold, like those of so many contemporary troubadours, to take her to places where the sparkle in her eye and the soft spoken stories about life between sets are just as important, inspiring and comforting, as the music she offers up.
Clapton is just a man, but a man with much to share. I wish I could have seen him in the days when he and his "reptiles" engaged in between set chatter. Few did. But that's okay, they put those frets all the way down at the bottom of the neck for someone to use and it was his lot in life to show us how to use them. I sincerely hope he makes it full circle to an age where he is a wizened old grouchy blues man, so we can follow his lead down a curmudgeony yellow brick road. As Eric Clapton's final encore number in the US leg of the Reptile tour, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" suggests, there is timeless music, meaningful music, music that has come before, and there are always more dreams to dream.
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Jul 24 2002, 14:19:49
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