Sunday, July 28, 2013
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)