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,

A Drink and a Poem (The Mudslide and The Emperor of Ice Cream)

NOTE: This was first published on my old blog July 15th, 2016.

NOTE: This was first published on my old blog July 15th, 2016.
The Emperor of Ice Cream
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Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
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Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
–Wallace Stevens, 1922
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I read somewhere that the true use of literature is to help us understand why we do what we do, to uncover our true motives.
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And here are the motivations uncovered — ice cream.
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It’s hardly a surprise that lofty ideas sometimes lead to disappointment, and, in truth, our appetites can lead us to strange situations, not necessarily bad ones. They may lead us to do the right thing. They probably won’t, but they might. Even a small act of kindness — attending a funeral one doesn’t want to attend — can have good results.
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Stevens and I are both New Englanders and we all have an extravagant taste for ice cream. We eat a lot of it. One might think that Hawai’i would eat more but that isn’t really the case. Where we come from, ice cream is for all occasions — dolorous ones included.
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This poem is likely set in some place where people roll cigars, since there is a cigar roller (also Stevens used to vacation in a place with palm trees)  but I understand his impulse, because the impulse to ice cream belongs to the north.
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It is in this fine ice cream eating tradition that we drink the mudslide. In other places mudslides are a kind of gross cocktail with a cool name, because most people don’t know how to make them. The proper Mudslide (or Frozen Mudslide as it is sometimes called) is made in a blender with ice cream.
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Stevens — although he likely never had a mudslide in the prohibition-era stage in his  writing career  — would surly understand the overabundance and decadence of the mixed ice cream and booze.  It isn’t a way to stave off death, or forget one’s sorrows,  but a way to get all of one’s desires in a single glass, and to take it all in at once  — to be buried, perhaps smothered, by desire.
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Repent. Repent. Repent.
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Notes:
* People who roll cigars are not called ‘rollists’ although they should be.
* Some simple drinks — like the first two discussed in the series — had been around since Victorian times.
* This is when complex mixed drinks were first coming into vogue so I guess the possibility that he had a mudslide is still there, but it seems unlikely.
* As far as lofty ideas go, I assume that for most of you ice cream in this case is a disappointment but what do I know?
* I really don’t like the word ‘decadence’ the way contemporary people use it. I may give into my appetites, but those appetites don’t involve anything decaying.
* The notes in this series don’t follow any particular order but nobody seems to have noticed.
* So you are wondering how it is made? a blender full of  vanilla ice cream, and a couple shots each of coffee liquor and vodka. I suggest some home made whipped cream for the top.
* This blog does not endorse doing the right thing for the wrong reasons on moral grounds.