Circa 1991, writing under an assumed name for the long out-of-print photocopied, folded, and stapled publication HEADline, Townsman E. Pluribus Gergely wrote the following piece on Eric Clapton. We’ve uncovered a rare copy of said publication and transcribed this piece to accompany this week’s discussion. Enjoy.
Must I wake up everyday with a splitting headache? The gods believe I should, or they would have done something about it long ago. I envy their sense of humor. To play with my existence as if it were nothing but a mere tinker toy obviously provides them with much delight. They will live eternally, knowing they have plenty of time to continually create things of value. I have not been allotted this time. The possiblilty that I will create anything even remotely beneficial to humanity is most probably improbable. Much precious time is indeed wasted on the so called practicalities of life, negatives in my book. If only I could learn the trick of creating something, anything, from the purely negative. The Judeo-Christian God supposedly created man from mere dirt (yeah, dirt, earth is way too kind). Celine, doctor and author of one my all-time favorite tomes, Death on the Installment Plan, earned a whole lot of extra money by showing the public what real filth is all about. Come to think about it, maybe there’s an angle to all this after all. Continue to follow me through this insufferable rambling, dear reader, and you’ll soon see what I’m getting at.
When I awoke yesterday, around 3:00 in the afternoon, my world appeared to be out of focus. Some commonplace images around the perimenter of my bed – a half-eaten bag of pork rinds and a well-thumbed copy of a late ’70s wrestling magazine, to name two – appeared to be blurry. The problem? No glasses! After placing my spectacles on the bridge of my nose the objects now had the illusion of being in focus. I use the word “illusion” because everything had the appearance of clarity, but old E. Pluribus knew better. He knew that a polished apple can be rotten to the core. He knew there was still something out of kilter, and the faint sound of a radio in the adjoining apartment provided the plausibilty for his inklings. Imagine the ensuing nausea that occurs when one is forced to start his day with a broadcast of “I Shot the Sheriff” by Mr. Eric Clapton, the so-called “bluesman”. Now there’s a word out of focus! Let me and my howitzer have have 5 minutes with Mr. Clapton, and he’ll find out what real shooting is all about!
Doris, my ball and chain, says that Eric Clapton has made a career out of singing through his beard. What she’s getting at is this: the beard is more or less a mask, or disguise of sorts, to cover up the fact that he is none of the things he thinks or says he is.
Crapton, my friend, you are not a bluesman. Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller, Howlin’ Wolf – they are the real thing. Believe me, they know what it’s like to have the blues, real blues, not the kind of blues one gets from not being able to part your hair in the middle or signing a two instead of three million dollar record contract with RSO, home of Yvonne Elliman and Andy Gibb. Being a bluesman requires two main things: 1) being born in the earlier part of the 20th century, and 2) having serious problems concerning money, liquor, and/or women. Stealing George Harrison’s wife does not qualify here because Harrison’s peacenik/Krishna/Shankar/? (reader, feel free to tell me what was going on there) mindset allowed the theft to be more like a gift. No real blues were involved whatseoever. Patti was probably anxious as hell to get away from all the chanting.
Real feeling is also of the utomost importance, and as stated previously, this “feeling” is something gained through years and years of toil and suffering. Very rarely is it expressed through the bending of guitar strings. Once in a while, though, it does indeed happen. Check out Pat Hare back up James Cotton on “Cotton Crop Blues” (Sun 206). Look, Crapton, you can go ahead and keep on playing as many notes as you want. If they don’t say anything, you suck. In other words, you suck.
The whole argument of whether or not you’re a bluesman is really futile when we look at the real meat of the matter…Skip all that. You aren’t any good no matter how you look at it. What in God’s name did you ever do that was so earth-shattering anyway? And if you think it’s “Layla”, you’re dead wrong. “Layla” is the quintessential Moby Dick of rock. The truth of the matter is that it feels longer and more boring than Moby Dick. I stopped using it as a sleeping pill for the kids on long trips in the car because it was putting me to sleep as well.
You left The Yardbirds because they were moving away from the blues. In other words, they were smart enought to realize it was sort of silly to go parading around in the pretense that they were blues musicians. They got wise and finally saw themselves for what they really were -a bunch of high strung pimply white kids who liked playing pop music and the possibility of making real money even more. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. At least they were being honest with themselves.
You, on the other hand were determined to remain a buffoon, and as these things happen in the pop world, it paid off. You made a handful of mediocre records with John Mayall, Cream, and Blind Faith (we’ll get to your fans in a minute), and Derek and the Dominos (Here’s another Moby Dick award for your version of “Little Wing”). The majority of English and American teenagers enjoyed/enjoy the whole sham because the fact of the matter is they don’t really care whether they’re getting the real thing or not. Most horrifying is the fact that they’d most probably prefer your take on “Train Kept a Rollin'” over the original and far superior version by The Johnny Burnette Trio. Yet another example of your modus operandi – creating rotten imitations of things that are inherently good.
Your whole reputation is indeed based on these imitations of other people’s efforts. At first, you tried imitating sides from the finest electric blues guitarists. Freddy King’s “Hideaway” (Federal 12401) is a good example. Yeah, you did an admirable job, but what’s the point of making or listening to a note for note copy of the original? Congratulations again! Add a paint-by-number award to your trophy cabinet! (By the way, Otis Rush will be sending you another paint-by-number trophy as well for replicating his larynx. His voice has served you well for the last 40 or so years. See video, above, paying particularly close attention at the 2:27 mark [counting toward the song’s end, that is]) With Cream, you tried the same thing with “Crossroads” but thought it wise to increase your guitar’s distortion and add a sprinkle of psychedelia to the whole affair (granted, I have no idea what that actually means, but it does sound utterly ridiculous. And since you represent all that is utterly ridiculous, I’m gonna let the conjecture about what occurred at the recording session remain unchanged, i.e., after a toke of dirtweed, you might have said, “Let’s add a sprinkle of psychedelia to the whole affair.”…Yeah, call me crazy, but I really do believe you might have said something as dumb as that). Your decision to add distortion opened the door to a much larger audience. Any move to lessen clarity is appreciated by the dolt, and you quicky learned that there are many of them with lots of money stuffed in their wallets. The phrase “the blind leading the blind” makes more sense here than it ever did.
At some point later in your career, after your heroin period (who in their right mind opts for such a plan to artificially experience what a real bluesman might have gone through? Once again, the answer is only you. In the words of my beloved grandfather, “You are one hell of a prize.”), you got to the point where you’d try to imitate just about anybody, Marley for example. And again I congratulate you, I didn’t think it was possible to take a reggae song and make it even more boring the second time around. Know that I enjoyed being proved wrong after hearing your version of “I Shot the Sheriff.” That supply of Moby Dick awards is running low.
Hell, I don’t even know what kind of award to give you for covering the “work” of J.J. Cale. What kind of person listens to a song like “After Midnight” or “Cocaine” and says, “Yeah, that’d be a great song to do.” The answer? You.
You’re more or less the very thing you were once paid millions of dollars to advertise: Michelob -a beer said to have a flavor reminiscent of legendary German lagers but more likely, upon closer inspection, to be watered down skunk piss.