Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sixty five years of growing up. Sixty five years of love, darkness, loss , hope and enduring the pain of learning how to play guitar—inch by inch, yard by yard. In some ways Clapton reminds me of a farmer with a small land of his own and two bare, untiring hands to sow different crops. Again and again. Sometimes reaping gold, sometimes pure shit, but not ever questioning the smell of mud, the unexpected weeds, the graying hay pile, “Should I stop now?”
And after five decades of walking on a life full of some music which posterity sometimes compare with the creation of the Man above, the peasant who suddenly enters my post-Christmas ‘on-the-go’ playlist with a self-titled new album, is not the ‘God’ from Great Britain but a perceptive student walking through the hazy corridors of memory-- picking, assimilating tunes from his innocent times. And indeed it is only those who can cling to that warm sheet of memory in another cold night of reality, can cut an album like that. An album like ‘Clapton’: Not produced, not conceived, just made from the teardrops of an old man looking vacantly at the westbound sun, at the darkening horizon.
This learning of death knocks on many a tune here and makes me feel that ‘learning’ is the keyword in Eric’s career. And it’s not learning the music—although that famous remarks by B.B. King of wondering whether this pinkish Brit was actually born down Mississippi or by Brian May about having Clapton’s soul wired to his fingers withstanding—it is learning the life through music instead. It all suddenly starts to make sense about what Eric was doing all these days. I see his life as a student learning new form of music while circumventing British pop-rock, his ‘White Room’ days of psychedelia, his restless lessons of love in “Lylaa”, his tragedy in “My Father’s Eyes” and learning to branch out in unadulterated Blues with one or two occasional ballads for die-hard lovers , such as “Change The World”. And five decades later, I see him learning, with his slow hand and somehow slothy mind,to be joyful and anxious simultaneously of inevitable death. That learning does not come from looking far beyond the horizon with weary eyes. Clapton chooses to take a walk back to his forgotten lanes; chooses to select songs which are there like lullabies, like first sin, like first smell of a woman’s skin. This strategy of welcoming faint footsteps of death with songs which Eric might have heard when he was very young—is very much Clapton, very much wonderful—tonight or the other. So “Rocking Chair” talks of that old man and memories, so does the grieving “River Runs Deep” and then Eric looks at the inevitable mortality eye-to-eye, man-to-man when the mocking boogie starts with “Judgment Day”. With that pulsating “Yes , I’m Coming/Yes, I’m Coming”, Eric shows a good finger at redemption and loss and drags us into some well-covered standards(“When somebody”) or twisted jazz(“My Very Good Friend,The Milkman”).
But thoughts of the end-- in choosing a closing song that almost mourns to me “And soon I will hear old winter’s song”—lingers when the album ends and the last 2 minute long solo from “Autumn Leaves” keeps on whispering in my winter night. Keeps on whispering ‘ cause it’s a solo that only a student like Clapton can play. Can play to walk on the bridge between this life and another which is evidently giving him a faint yet gradually certain signal to crossover. We, the bystanders can only hope to keep him looking at the East, to keep him playing of life and love that he might never had but helped millions thru his thousand chords, thru his countless ballads, thru his solos of celebration. After all, what will be left there if ‘God of guitar’ stop his liquid fingers to touch those six immortal strings and to give us another long solo made straight from rain?