In Public

After Elena died I got used to crying in public.

I wasn’t embarrassed by it but I imagine often the people around me were.

I’d be sitting at a table in a coffee house alone working on my laptop. They’d see me just sitting there typing away like anyone else.

I probably wouldn’t see them. I’d have headphones on and be working on a book or code or slides.

I’d be sitting there nodding along to music they couldn’t hear typing away.

Then I’d pause.

It was as if someone tapped me on the shoulder.

Yesterday it was Eric Clapton.

No, he wasn’t there in the coffee house with me but his songs were in my ears.

Kim would always mispronounce his name, “Clampton”. She would say “Joe Crocker”. She had much better music taste than me. She was more likely to keep current. She usually got bands and song titles right but would often insert an extra consonant somewhere in a musician’s name.

When I worked in radio, listeners would call in requests. They would forget the artists name and insist on a title that wasn’t anywhere near correct.

My favorite is still one that happened to a colleague. The listener called and asked him for “Love Lifters”.

“Love Lifters?” my friend said, “we don’t have a song named anything like that.”

“Sure you do,” said the caller, “you play it all the time. You know,” the caller said trying to sing, “‘Love Lifters up where we belong’.”

You know the one. It’s sung by Joe Crocker.

But yesterday it was the opening bars of “Bell Bottom Blues” that tapped me on the shoulder. Back when every jock was playing the hell out of Layla and telling the story behind it I was wearing out “Bell Bottom Blues”.  Same woman. Same story. In those days of records and needles and grooves it felt like you could wear out a song by playing it over and over.

“Bell Bottom Blues” and “Layla”.  Same woman. Same story. But the heartbreaking guitar in “Bell Bottom Blues” was all Clapton. Allman wasn’t involved in it.

It starts gently. It’s a slow dance. Kim’s head on my chest.

Twelve seconds in Clapton gives us the briefest of hints of the lead guitar he’ll play later in the song and then sings…

“Bell bottom blues, you made me cry.”

Tears start streaming down my face.


I’m going to have to find another coffee house to hang out in.

“I don’t want to lose this feeling”

The words on the page are like a picture of the great outdoors. It reminds you of the thing it attempts to capture, but if you don’t know the original it just isn’t the same.

“If I could choose a place to die, it would be in your arms”

What are you, Daniel, twelve years old? Crying at lyrics like that.

Yes and no.

It’s Clapton’s voice – not deliberately trying to evoke sadness like “Tears in Heaven” but genuine, raw, love, pleading…

And if you don’t believe his words and you aren’t convinced by his voice listen to his guitar punctuate the song.

It’s not just the solo, though that’s restrained and beautiful, it’s the portion of the conversation that’s carried by that guitar wrapping itself around his voice.

And the song repeats and repeats and repeats

“I don’t want to fade away. Give me one more day please.”

And unlike so many songs of its era, it doesn’t fade away.

The guitar returns and ends it.

Published in: on December 2, 2016 at 9:33 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. First of all, I know about the public crying. I think I wrote when Elena died to tell you not to worry about what other people think of your tears…grief comes in waves and recedes most gently when you let yourself feel. I think you know that now.

    But also? Damn! You would have been a great writer for Rolling Stone or Creem back in its heyday. I love Bell Bottom Blues better too, and for the same reasons, but I’ve never read anybody write so well about what makes it special. You should mark that post for the anthology…

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