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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

The Search for Authenticity

J.J. Cale passed away. The headline on MSNBC bleats: “Songwriter on Eric Clapton’s Cocaine.”

That ain’t English, son, as I’m wont to say. It’s not Eric Clapton’s song. It’s J.J. Cale’s song. He wrote it. He’d be the songwriter of, not on, anyway. Since Cale both wrote and recorded the song originally, Eric Clapton was performing a cover of J.J. Cale’s Cocaine.  That’s the way English works. It’s the way the music business functions, as well.

Eric Clapton is a scholar of music. He’s mostly a syncretist. He studies and absorbs, then lets it loose in a mashup. Like many syncretists, he searches for and prizes authenticity. J.J. Cale had that. He absorbed what Tulsa, Oklahoma had to offer, boiled it down into an identifiable mixture, and then let it back out. Leon Russell was from Tulsa, too, and they both went out to Los Angeles in the sixties and peddled their authenticity as best they could. Eric Clapton couldn’t compose like Tulsa, but he could hire it out. He was a J. J. Cale tribute band for a few years, more or less.

Hipsters like authenticity. Interestingly, they have a tendency to despise and revile the cultures that produce that authenticity. Tulsa’s flyover country. Redstate. Redneck. Oil patch yokel. The actual culture that produced J. J. Cale would make everybody at the record company’s flesh crawl.

Pop culture is mostly vampiric. It sucks the life out of real culture without getting any nourishment from it, infects it in turn with its lack of real life by interacting with it, and then moves on from the shambles it’s created when its finished. It’s the same attitude that inserts 45 minutes of raging Catholicism into movies made by unbelievers. See: Cimino, Michael, or Coppola, Francis.

J. J. Cale was the real thing, nourished on the real thing. He deserves more respect than tortured grammar and an ad for a Clapton record on his tombstone. RIP John Weldon Cale.

(Thanks to Mark Miller for sending that one along)

13 Responses

  1. Oh, damn. That's sad.
    Back in '72, "Naturally" was practically our theme up there in Woody Creek while the good Dr. was brewing up Gonzo journalism at the bar. I about wore out the 8-track in my pickmeup on it.
    Those were the days. And then some.

  2. JJ was born two years after Buddy Holly was born.

    He was two years younger than Mr. Holly.

    Damn, those lousy planes with bad pilots in snow storms in Iowa.

  3. J J Cale is gone, and I can't believe it. He was an incredible talent, one of the very best, at creating his own sound, his own songs. I bought "Naturally" when it was first released, and listened to it constantly, as well as most of his other releases. Great songwriter, loved his singing, but his guitar work was really, really special. Just ask Mark Knopfler, Clapton, and most other masters you can think of. He played with great economy, what he didn't play was as important as what notes came out, and his tone was amazing.

    Look on Youtube for his performances, especially in the '70's with Leon Russell sitting in, or from his 2010 tour with Clapton, or Jools Holland show. Just outstanding, he could lead a band or play it all himself in the studio.

    John was authentic, lived his own life and didn't care about fame and its trappings. A great artist for certain, RIP, and condolences to Christine Lakeland, his wife.

  4. I remember hearing "Cajun Moon" when it was released and was overwhelmed by it's simple majesty. It was only later that I learned that Clapton and others were making hits out of his songs.
    After I introduced my then-10-year-old daughter to his music she kept hoping she'd get to hear him live. Sadly that never happened and now won't in this life.

  5. "Hipsters like authenticity. Interestingly, they have a tendency to despise and revile the cultures that produce that authenticity."


    One of the worst things about getting addicted to bluegrass in the '50s was its subsequent adoption by hipsters. Nothin like singing gospel for atheists.

  6. Hipsters like authenticity. Interestingly, they have a tendency to despise and revile the cultures that produce that authenticity.

    Clapton sounded his tribute because he loved that music and hoped he might produce something authentic from it; today's hipsters may love that music but have no hope that they will produce anything authentic.

    They're hopeless – really helpless. They hate the fact that what they despise – or are told they should – was capable of spontaneously creating what they find beautiful without setting out to be "authentic". Those cultures were unselfconscious and sincere. Sincerity terrifies hipsters.

    Today's hipsters annoy me, but they're lost, way more lost I think than their immediate predecessors of the '90s. The ones I know around here, when you get down to it, are scared and I can't hold them in contempt for it because they've been given nothing of their own to make sense of their lives. So they've scraped together bits and pieces of others' lives that seemed to make sense to them. It's like a culture cargo cult.

    Wasn't it you awhile back that stated something like "we are living in the ruins of a civilization we could not build"?

    Heck you probably said what I just said in this comment. Anyway. It breaks my heart.

  7. Aww. JJ Cale — I too had his album and played it in my dorm room.

    I loved his music. I saw a clip of him playing with Clapton about a year ago — Clapton gave him the nod. He should.

    I loved "After Midnight." The way he crooned that song…

  8. Hi SamArt- I love remembering the KA-CHUNK sound of an 8-track swapping tracks.

    Hi Gringo- We like Bob Wills here at the Cottage. It's happy music.

    Hi Sixty Grit- That's an interesting timeline.

    Hi Seppo- JJ was like a prototype of a million roadhouse musicians. An archetype.

    Hi Johnathan- Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Hi Rob- Interestingly, "Gospel For Atheists" is the name of my Black Oak Arkansas tribute band. But I digress.

    Hi TK- If I said that, I must be perceptive.

    Hi Cletus- Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Hi Sam- Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Hi Anon- The boys are most definitely still " a thing." They're preparing for several shows this late summer. More news ahead.

    Hi Harriet- A hipster is anyone that eats artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches.

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