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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

(Let’s Listen To Some) Hydraulic License Rock (Again)

[Editor’s note: First offered in 2006. For all you young kids out there: That’s not George Lucas, Dumbledore, and Grandpa Simpson playing in a band together.]

[Author’s Note: Never mind that; I’m still trying to get over the fact that someone is still playing a sizzle ride cymbal. And there is no editor.]

The quality of this YouTube DailyMotion feed is better than most. (It’s not all that high quality, but everything is pulled off of YouTube after five minutes now.)The quality of the music is too:

That’s Cream re-united and performing “White Room,” probably their best known song. I’ve watched it many times. It occurs to me that it explains a lot about rock music.

Those are old men. Eric Clapton, playing the black stratocaster, has his hair mussed just so as a sop to youth, but they’re old farts. Old farts playing rock music are lame. Cream is not. Here’s why:

The term rock music has been twisted and stretched to cover just about any set of noises organized to sell discs. It’s as if forty or fifty years ago a religion was founded, and you had to get the A and R rabbis at the record companies and radio stations to announce you were kosher, ie: rock and roll, to be consumed.

If there’s anything lamer than old, bald men in spandex still yelping about the discontents of teenagers as if they were still in junior high, I haven’t seen it. “Hope I die before I get old” only stirs the blood if the blood doesn’t require Geritol. You’re not allowed to pick that gauntlet back up and complain about your backache while doing so, too.

Performers used to acknowledge that their shelf life as young rebels “fighting the man” was short, and if they wanted to keep performing afer it expired, they’d have to become part of the nostalgia industry. Listening to Peter Frampton in 1976 is excusable. Listening to Peter Frampton to remind you of 1976 is excusable. Listening to Peter Frampton as anything else is kinda silly.

Cream is a part of a tradition of adult music. they listened to music from America’s black musical tradition, where it is was plenty acceptable to be an adult, and consider adult themes. When they were young, they were striving to be old. Now they are old, and need not strive.

I watched them, and knew that I had seen their like before; but not where you’d think. They were operating their machinery, and I had seen men operate familiar machinery before. I’ve known many men, skilled in the rough arts: masonry and concrete finishing and excavation and demolition and blasting–men past their physical prime, but still tough as nails, and wise; and able to leave any three youngsters in their dust.

They sit in the chair in the excavator, their knobby hands move the levers just so, and they move the bucket with the delicacy of the teaspoon. They wake up tired, and yet they never fade while working, because they husband their energies where the young and strong and dumb flail away and drop out.

They stand in the shade whenever possible, and rest when it is offered, but do not flag.

And they smile at one another at the end of the day’s work, exactly the same smile exchanged at the end of this song; a knowing smile among those who have earned the respect of a fellow adult man.

And the young men watch them and learn.

19 Responses

  1. That was a great way to start the day – thanks for sharing! "Badge" is still one of my all time favorite songs.

  2. Many important points in this post. I am reminded of the early Rolling Stones, who were simply trying to imitate their blues heroes, whose music was by and for adults.

    In fact, when the Stones appeared on the teen show Shindig in 1965, they insisted that Howlin' Wolf — who was 55 at the time — be booked as well, because they wanted to meet him. It's hard to think of the Stones being wide-eyed and innocent, but check out their worshipful reactions in this clip. Wolf's music was so far from the typical Shindig fare, that it's a positively surreal juxtaposition.

    (Cream did at least a couple covers of Wolf songs, including Spoonful and Sitting on Top of the World.]

  3. You've also reminded me of something John Lennon once said: "The blues is a chair, not a design for a chair or a better chair… it is the first chair. It is a chair for sitting on, not for looking at. You sit on that music.”

  4. As a kid I helped my grandfather frame a house and watched him use a framing hammer at nearly the speed of a man with a pneumatic gun. Set, bang, bang, BANG. Over and over for hours without breaking rhythm. Transferring the nails from the pouch on his belt to his mouth then to the board between the beats of the hammer. My job was to shut up, watch and listen, and keep his pouch full of sinkers. Doesn't seem like much but if my mind wondered, as it did once or twice, and his nail supply ran dry, he treated the break in rhythm as if I had swore at my Grandmother. If I did my job well, that smile at the end of the day you mentioned was all the pay I needed.

  5. I purchased the Cream concert DVD shortly after seeing your previous post on this. What was striking to me was how much better musicians they were now than 30-odd years ago — there is a maturity in their playing, a lack of the need to prove anything to anyone, to simply play, very well, together. One of life's real joys is to experience that, either personally or in others.

  6. Not enough comments for such a cosmically important subject, so I'll add another.

    It is no coincidence that virtually all of the greats of rock — and there haven't been that many — apprenticed themselves to a living musical tradition that no single man invented, and certainly wasn't invented for commercial motives. These living traditions are the terrestrial equivalent of celestial revelations; it is as if they arise "out of the earth" through the collective experience of mankind.

    Thus, you see Dylan coming out of folk, or the Stones coming out of the blues, or Van Morrison coming out of R & B, jazz, and other idioms, or virtually all of the soul greats coming out of gospel. Obviously, Clapton had a lengthy blues apprenticeship before forming Cream, and Hendrix played for years on the chitlin' circuit. Listen to the Four Freshmen, and you can hear exactly where Brian Wilson got his harmonic conception. Listen to John Fogerty and you hear Pop Staples'. Etc.

    But today, it seams that few musicians drink from the original archetypal streams, so you end up with copies of copies of copies…..

  7. The nicest people read my scribblings and say the most pleasant and interesting things here.

    Golden West reminds me of decades past in Southern California and her webpage never fails. I miss it sometimes. I could use a snort of ozone and sunshine right now.It's dark here, day and night, and not just in the literal sense.

    I have no idea if Gagdad Bob can play, but he sure can listen.

    You can all rest assured that Westsound knows exactly what he's talking about because he referred to framing spikes as sinkers.

    I'm always amazed at what Ruth Anne remembers. I read that item like a stranger wrote it. She must be a terror as a lawyer, remembering everything like that.

    I do believe Dr. Bob is another plankspanker. Like him, I'm amazed at just how much noise those three old men can still make.

    Like Bob, I think that music can and should be a sort of channeling. Not a buffet, but a stewpot. You taste, add a few ingredients of your own, heat and serve. There's always room to continue the string of tradition that runs through it as the old people fall away, and the new kids take their place.

    That's why that glorified gong show with the voting is such a turd. Every person and every song they sing is like a chicken pecking a toy piano. No soul. No anima. The dead husk of songs wearing too much makeup.

  8. Interesting you should mention music as a channeling. I recall years ago when Stevie Ray Vaughn first came on the scene an interview by Clapton in which he said that he was awed by Stevie Ray and regarded his playing as an open channel from somewhere else. There were no hesitations or musical bookmarks while searching for that next chord or the direction of an improvisation. He had reached a point where there was no thinking involved in his music, just pure playing. It's been awhile since I read it but I think that Mr.Gagdad Bob has written about the differences between virtuosity and trascendant genius in this context.

    I do remember 'His Hammer Don't Ring" Ruth Ann. Thanks for linking it for another read. I did some time at a boat yard in my youth and worked around an old Seam Corker. I can't remember if his hammer rung but he could drink more warm beer in the course of a day than I thought humanly possible.

  9. ed in texas

    Or as Joe Walsh said at the Crossroads Guitar festival, right before starting 'Rocky Mountain Way' : "If I'd known I was gonna have to play this song over and over for the rest of my life, I could have wrote something better."

  10. vanski in SF

    I saw Cream in early summer of '68 at the renowned and now derelict Grande Ballroom in Detroit. I wasn't that familiar with them, but when they opened up steaming with CROSSROADS, an energy shot up my spine that only occurred before when I first heard the Beatles' SHE LOVES YOU and later when the WHO played SHAKIN' ALL OVER at the Grande. When Eric Clapton stripped off his shirt (it was gawdawful hot in there)and stood their in his tanktop with that long streaming hair and moustache I was struck dumb. Then he calmly ripped into an otherworldly solo. The Cream's energy could have lit up ol' Detroit Rock City that night! Next day I immediately bought their WHEELS OF FIRE double album and thus began a new era and fabulous summer for my friends & I…

  11. Ed in Texas- Tee Hee. Aint' it the truth.

    A friend of mine told me he played at Joe Walsh's wedding. (I don't know if he's had more than one) He said he was playing in a bar band and Joe Walsh came in, gave the owner a big wad of cash, and they closed the place and had a reception. He said there was a great deal of Peruvian Marching Powder on display. Not sure if it was a tall story or not, but it's too good to check.

    Vanski- A wonderful remembrance. I'm afraid I"m not old enough for any of that; I got turned on to most sixties stuff by my older brother, who is a real,live, proper musician, not a fraud like me.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. Another good one you don't hear about much is Al Stewart. He's an excellent guitar player, and a good songwriter. He's also a student of history and many of his songs have historical themes or references. A thinking man's songwriter.

    And his voice still sounds exactly the same as it did on his 1976 mega-hit, "Year of the Cat".

    He's still plugging away, playing gigs and releasing new CDs from time to time.

  13. S,
    Great reflextions on Cream and age and professionalism not matter what the field. I saw an earlier (1968) video of cream playing on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show. They also smile at each other at the end of Tales of Brave Ulysses. I think these guys really like playing together.

  14. Cream is and was awesome.

    Thanks for posting that.

    It looks like Jack Bruce is a bit more mobile – maybe he is getting used to his liver transplant.

    Clapton – what can I say. I saw him on his blues tour back in '92, never saw Cream, sad to say, but when I watched the Cream reunion on television I must say I was pleased to see that he had not forgotten how to rock. The ol' boy still has it. Sure, he plays blues just fine (and there is a bit of water in the ocean) but he can play rock and roll as few others ever could. Long live Clapton, long live rock.

  15. Dropped in and am perusing your archives, Sippican. This post is magnificent and being late to the party I have nothing original to add to what's already been said… other than the fact I'm a geezer of some 64 years of age and grew up with these guys, in a manner of speaking.

    And yeah, I bought the Cream reunion concert CDs and watched the shows. They still get it and they still got it, too. It ain't "nostalgia."

  16. There is something transcendent with some of the real "stars" (really virtuosos):

    Clapton (Slowhand)
    The Who (when Ringo's boy Zack sounds just like Keith Moon)
    Led Zeppelin – Page & Plant

    that just has to be seem to be believed.

    I remember being in Mannheim on Thanksgiving night 1974. It was the "461 Ocean Boulevard" band. Clapton introduced his bass player as Harry Georgison. They killed that night and played for hours and hours. The opening band was introduced as 'a band from America'. It was Stills and America. Crap, what a night.

    Same for the night in Frankfurt at the Opera House where Jethro Tull played "A Passion Play". Start to finish with no break. Then came back out and covered Benefit and Aqualung for a couple of hours until 3 am or so.

  17. You've got to remember, Cream was made up of superlative musicians to begin with–Baker and Bruce had a serious jazz background and arrived in Cream after a tumultuous stint with the wonderful Graham Bond, who may have been a nutcase but was a flat-out brilliant musician (and they were wonderful working with him, though history suggests he drove them both a bit crazy). As for Clapton–hadn't he already been declared The Deity by the time he got together with these two?

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