I have a dawg. I have a bone. And I have a Wombat. You had to know that was coming if you read Courting, or Cooper actually.
How did the Wombat and I become friendly?
He was nineteen and I wasn’t. Don’t look at age in friendships. Intelligence, wit, sense of decency, and manners matter, and being esoteric gets extra points.
Usually I forget how young the Wombat is. Other times….
He brings me back to that time when everything was open for debate, in a civilized yet witty discourse. Or so it seemed after two Black Beauty’s. Kidding. Maybe.
The Wombat has the benefit of looking back, fresh. There’s no generation gap, as there was in the 60’s and 70’s. So he actually listens to us, older people, takes what he wants, discards the rest, and adds his own unique insights. Agree with him on Clapton’s best song, but have a personal favorite for each decade.
The Wombat’s an actor and very much looks at life in the tradition of some of my favorites.
We both love music. My first crush on a person who wasn’t Fidel Castro was on Eric Clapton, and it’s a life long thing. The Fidel thing happened when I was eight, and I never told my friends.
He wasn’t a pop star. Won’t say who I pretended to have a crush on. I liked different music than my friends did, Murray the K, taught me the history of rock & roll every Saturday night. He taught me that there was a tradition to rock & roll, and it was a hell of a lot better than Fabian.
The Wombat takes it a few steps further. Murray the K would be proud.
One of the things I’m most fond of where my childhood is concerned is my early music literacy. Good taste takes hold best if learned early, and at 7 I was already well schooled. I could distinguish between any number of the artists that got airplay on the classic rock stations that would always playing (when there wasn’t a Red Sox game) when I was in the car with my father. It was expected of me, in fact. To, for instance, mistake Bob Dylan for Neil Young was a striking failure. But I learned. It was my taste in music that first gave me my identity as a geek. I was the one kid who turned his nose up at whatever insipid sugar-enema pop song was getting radio play. It contributed to my status as an outcast, the lasting effects of which I’ve grown to relish. Parents, I implore you. Teach your children taste. You’ll thank me when they’ve skirted whichever insipid pop music fad is getting airplay.
My first CD was Timepieces, by Eric Clapton. If you’ve been hanging around here often you know how fond Pia is of the man, and for good reason. The sound of his guitar is such that were I blind I would find solace in it. Dave Marsh wrote that “there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder, or a suicide… to me, ‘Layla’ is the greatest of them.” When I heard it for the first time it was rapturous. The idea that pain could be beautiful was introduced to me by Clapton’s cutting guitar and impassioned vocals. It whet my appetite for his music, which I thereafter and to this day devour. It was also through Clapton that I became acquainted with reggae and, more importantly, the blues. I’d likely have been introduced to the likes of BB King, Buddy Guy, and Howlin Wolf were it not for him, but after hearing Slowhand’s renditions of Key to the Highway and Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out I made it a point to listen to Sunday Morning Blues on WZLX.
Blues distills the essence of the human condition. If Sid Gautama were around to hear it he’d understand it instantly. In it’s purest form it speaks to every burden on the spirit of every man, woman, and child. Today we have people calling themselves emotional hardcore who it seems want this mantle but honestly if you have to say emotion when you define yourself chances are it’s going to be insipid. I find it hard to believe that any of those eyeliner wearing weepy fucks was able to hear “Crossroads” without taking a long hard look at themselves and realizing that their life’s work, combined with the work of every other person like them, would never be worthy to be a footnote in a page containing any reference to it.
Speaking of Crossroads, and I assure you I didn’t intend to center this around Clapton but without him many of us wouldn’t know who the author of the song was. If one were to mention the name Robert Johnson a few years after his death amongst the blues scene the reaction would likely be “Robert Who?” And yet if you haven’t heard Sweet Home Chicago I don’t know what rock you’re hiding under. The legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for mastery of his instrument. In fact, that’s what “Crossroads” was about. As the myth goes, if one plays the guitar at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 at midnight, the devil approaches you. If you hand your guitar to him he retunes it and hands it back. At this point your soul is his and mastery over six strings is yours. If one is to believe the myth. When I met the devil at the crossroads we just smoked a bowl and listened to some Dylan. If you don’t know which album I’m talking about then I don’t know what to say. I asked him about the whole soul thing and in his weakened state he said it was a magic feather thing, a cheap trick to keep Hell stocked with good music. The long and the short of it is we hit the bars afterwards and let me tell you that asshole vastly overestimated his abilities as a wingman.
But I digress
Why all this about something you could just as easily hear from any other dude with fingers and web access? It’s always been a part of our music. Rock was built on it’s foundation. Especially the contributions of Robert Johnson. Much of 60’s British Rock was catalyzed by musicians over there discovering the blues. The Rolling Stones? Pink Floyd? Both started out as blues bands. How about the psychedelic rock? You already know I’m going to mention Cream. But how about Jimi Hendrix? He was a protege of blues legend Buddy Guy. Pink Floyd? Began as a blues band, and in fact were named after bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Heavy Metal? Black Sabbath started out as the Polka Tulk Blues Band. And Led Zeppelin grew out of the Yardbirds, the guitarist to whom their success was owed having been Eric Clapton, at whose suggestion Jimmy Page took up the position. It should also be noted that the first power trio was Cream, and that Sabbath Bassist Geezer Butler cited Jack Bruce as a primary influence. And how about the Seattle grunge movement? It should be self-evident given that the genre was characterized as a fusion of punk and metal, the basis for which I have already established, but consider this. Kurt Cobain’s favorite performer? Leadbelly.
And now? Fucking emo bands. I’m not saying that there isn’t good music out now. There is, and in abundance if you’re willing to go digging, but I wants me my blues back. In at least some form. Blues Traveler is still touring but lets just say that they don’t have another album like Four coming I don’t think. At least they likely won’t ever have that kind of exposure again.