A Drink and a Song (Tom Collins & Bell Bottom Blues)

NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog published June 17th, 2016

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NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog published June 17th, 2016
As a boy I used to scoff at Derek and the Dominos’ Bell Bottom Blues, because it was painfully dated. But I was a ten-year-old kid wearing a florescent-yellow shirt and a backwards baseball cap so the joke is on me I suppose. As I grew up I came to be really touched by the song.

It wasn’t dated anymore than Greensleeves.

I even came to understand the bell-bottomed thing. There is an odd tendency to associate people with their clothing and the incidental costume of their day can have a huge effect on how we perceive a figure — think of the mid-century male icons in their single-breasted double-buttoned suits or twenties women in their short skirts and bobs. When I was a snotty-nosed kid, these things meant a lot to me but now I can’t imagine why.

I am sure you readers have your own personal associations with these things. When I was a young boy a common insult was ‘your mother wears combat boots,’ but I was an adolescent in the 90s, and ever since, I have found combat boots cute and even feminine on women. I’m sure that nobody a day older or younger than me would understand that, but every individual is trapped in the aesthetics of his time and there isn’t much to be done about it, except to wait and see if these temporal prejudices ever fade.

While we all should be happy that the song was written in the era of bell bottoms and not combat boots, I suspect it wouldn’t matter all that much. But it was in the spirit of understanding the old-timerish ways that I first decided to try the Tom Collins.

I hadn’t heard of it till I was out-of-work for a while and I had a discussion with an affluent old Yankee who, while regaling me with tales of his yachting days, told me that the best breakfast a man could have was a lobster and a Tom Collins. I wrote Tom Collins, and yachting off at that moment, largely because I was unemployed and this guy came off like he moored next to J.F.K., and he may have. I’m not sure how we got to talking, or if he had any idea of the plight I was in, but, intentionally or not, there was a bit of taunting in his words.

Not long after that I tried ordering one at the Abbey Lounge in Somerville, but the bartender had forgotten how to make it. I did try it myself later, and learned to make it decently. And somehow the drink and the song got entwined in my conscience.

The Album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970), that Bell Bottom Blues is on, is an odd, uncomfortable piece. There was a lot of gossip around it because it is an offering to a woman to make her love a man and leave her husband. It’s weird to do such a thing so publicly, even if the Man is Eric Clapton. If you missed the subtext of the album it has a thesis statement in the song “Have You Ever Loved a Woman?.” I suppose now people may be made uncomfortable by its constrictive sexuality and proprietary assumptions about relationships.

But good art makes you uncomfortable sometimes, a little like a Tom Collins, which if made with a whole lemon (as it should be) if far tarter than most people can handle. They prefer the lemon juice from the plastic lemon which is false-tasting and bland. To enjoy some things, one has to learn to savor a little sting.

Notes:

* It occurs to me as I type that ‘your mother wears combat boots’ is a homophobic slur. I’m not sure why that took my 38 years to figure out.

*Is there a mixed drink to go with Greensleeves? I can’t think of one.

*How did this drink and this song got entwined in my conscience? I have no idea, but it gave birth to this blog series, so be grateful.

*Why I chose the Abbey I have no idea of that either. The closest thing they were used to for a mixed drink was a Black-and-Tan. If you want on make it at home,it isn’t complicated: shot of gin, ice, the juice of a whole lemon, and soda to the brim of the glass. I prefer to make three and only use the juice of two lemons I find it reduces the tartness a bit, and making them in sets of three can be a good excuse for making new friends.

* It seems that on copies newer than mine Bobby Whitlock is listed as a co-writer, which kind of throws a doubt onto my assumption that this song is a real cry from the heart.

Tags: Baseball Caps, Yachting, JFK, Soda Water, Lemons, Limes, Discomfort, Generations, Gin, Thesis Statements, Florescent Yellow, Juice from a Plastic Lemon, Bobs, Breakfast, Cri de Cœur, Co-Writers, The Yankee Ethnic Group, Lobsters, Constrictive Sexuality, Short Skirts, Single-Breasted Suits, Combat Boots, Gossip, Homophobic Slurs, Bell Bottom Blues, Bell Bottoms, Have You Ever Loved a Woman?, In My Snot-Nosed Youth, Cocktails,

AGAINST DRABBLES

NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog from August 5th, 2016

I don’t usually write gratis (out of principle this is one of my jobs) and I don’t usually write fast enough for commission, but I made an exception this week. I saw an open call for ‘drabbles,’  which are little hundred-word stories.  Collections of them are surprisingly common, this particular one had a Hallowe’en theme. So I gave it a try. It seemed like a challenge. It took nine seconds to write and another eleven to edit.  My home internet connection is a little slow so it took about fifteen seconds to send the submission by email.

I like the little story that I came up with, but I am not fond of the form. When laid out in textbooks the drabble looks as weird and arbitrary as the sonnet. But it isn’t — because the sonnet is not a set of arbitrary rules — poetic forms are made for the ear (and that mid-century America Literary critics couldn’t hear shows no problem with the sonnet, or any other form, but a problem with tin-eared critics).

Waltzes have value because when we hear them we have a background in waltzes, we know the dance.

The same is true with poetic forms. The cultural baggage is an aspect of the aesthetics and the meaning.  Whoever is experiencing the art provides  part of the meaning by knowing other things in the form. No one (or no one In-the-Know at least) has to count the beats to know the waltz, and no one has to count the lines to know the sonnet. They are just part of the world we live in.

The drabble, however, is just an arbitrary bit, it doesn’t have any distinction resulting from rhythm or repetition.  So a reader wouldn’t know what it is without counting the words, and there isn’t any reason  why a story with 100 words would differ in anyway from a story with 102.

Art has to have restraint, but the restraint has to have meaning for the both the one who experiences and the one who creates.  Which is to say you ought to know that you are reading a drabble, while you read the drabble, but there is nothing inherent in the drabble that would let you know this.

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Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on the drabble. I like what I wrote. I have read some by others that I liked. Maybe the discipline of word-counting is good practice.  And, if one is reading a book of drabbles, one is likely to acquire a drabblish sensibility.  The form does have a meaning in the context of an anthology, if not on its own.

And, reservations aside, I do look forward to seeing the other pieces by the other contributors, when the book is published.  And when it is I’ll post a link so that you may judge for yourself.

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: PRICELESS TREASURES AND GHASTLY

Next month The Oldstyle Tales Press will be issuing Priceless Treasures and Ghastly: a Slight Collection of Hallowe’en Tales and Miscellanea, a collection of five of my short stories, lavishly illustrated by author, scholar, and artist M. Grant Kellermeyer.

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It won’t be a book for everyone — those with mid-century mindsets will object to fantastika, and there is too much sex, alcohol, and Putin for it to be suitable for children. But it will be suitable for people waiting by the door giving out candy to their snot-nosed neighbors. And, because it’s only a chapbook, they will be able to read it before their own kids get back in.

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This is my first book to be published, and I can’t imagine a better place to publish it than the OSTP, a place where imagination, scholarship, and an unwholsome attraction to the uncanny sit quietly and beautifully in thoughtfully illustrated books. Even a cursory look at the website shows the care and attention given to the titles, and it is an honor to keep such company.
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Details such as price and release date, will be posted soon.