Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hydraulic License Rock

The quality of this YouTube feed is better than most. 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, and 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 tire 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.


David53 said...

"White Room" was originally released in 1968 or 1969 on the "Wheels of Fire" album. I was in high school then and remember Steven Piper, a wanna be guitarist whose Dad was a diplomat in Boliva, telling me that it was the greatest rock and roll song ever, best drums, best guitar. Funny how you remember details like that, but ask me what classes I took that year and I couldn't answer you.

Icepick said...

I once worked a few weeks in road construction. (The time was cut short by severe injuries received in a car accident, not because I quit or was fired. I would have loved to have worked there longer.) I had the opportunity a few times to work one of the front-end loaders. That job looks so easy when you're working in the trench with a shovel.

But I could not do the job well with the loader! I couldn't seem to get the bucket more than half full, while the other guy had heeping loads every scoop. The guys on site had a good-natured laugh at my expense.

Of course, the other guy had been in the business for almost 50 years at that point. He had built a construction company from scratch, turned it into a large multi-national business, and then sold it when he retired as a very wealthy man. After about a month of retirement, his wife threatened to kill him if he didn't get out of her hair. So he went back to work as a site foreman and grader operator for a small company. He was ecstatic to be working again.

Lesson Learned: The easy looking jobs can be really damned hard!

Bonus Lesson: Those old guys can run rings around the young guys.