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 Song (Bloody Caesar & Barrett’s Privateers)

NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.

NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.

Ten or so years ago I lent my copies of The Beautiful Losers and The Selected Poems of Leonard Cohen to a friend. When last I saw them a few years later they were on her bookshelf, which is as a good a place as any for them. I have so many books now that my living quarters are cramped and, no matter how hard I try, I really can’t stop new books from finding their way to me.

Still I would like to consult the Beautiful Losers every now and again. When I read it it seemed like all of Canada in a single book, and not in anyway that encouraged me to go there. If you have read the book you understand.

A few years after that I found myself at a New Year’s Eve party in Montreal with a Québécois Nationalist named Pierre, both of us literally moved to tears over the beauty and independent spirit of the province shackled to the brute and philistine Anglo-phonic world, while my much more sensible (and Canadian) friend calmly explained how independence would lead to social and economic ruin, not that we were listening — we were tipsily crying and calling out for freedom. That was, and will be, my last foray into foreign politics.  

Whether the book is definitive or not, Cohen, more than anyone else, represents Montreal but we didn’t sing Cohen’s songs going up (we had to sing naturally it being a road trip and all)if for no other reason than his songs are too personal and there is something a little skeevy about other people singing many of them. For instance “Famous Blue Rain Coat” not only is the only song written as a heart-felt thank you note to the man that who seduced and lead away his wife but is signed “Sincerely L. Cohen.”  For the most part his songs are his and we should be happy to keep them that way.  Whenever I have heard other people sing them it sounds tactless and intrusive.

More sensibly, we drove about singing “Barrett’s Privateers” by the great Stan Rogers. It is a boisterous mock sea chantey. It is perfect for people (at least one of whom needs a flawless memory for lyrics as there are many of them), to sing in groups, as it was written to be sung.

It should be dumb and kitschy, after all it is a 70s faux-folk tune about privateers and sea battles, but it is neither. There is something in the darkness of the lyrics and the rowdiness of the tune that has always agreed with me, ven touched me.  When I am listening to the album I sometimes have to skip the track because it can be too much, especially since it was written in the 70s and there is always the war in Viet Nam lurking behind it.

Our war for independence and freedom was just another imperial expedition for the boys on the other side, but we never really think about them.

We also never think of putting clams in our cocktails.  But that is also a very Canadian thing. The same friend who was trying to talk sense to me at that house party introduced me to the pride of Canadian cocktails: the Bloody Caesar. Clam Juice, Tomato(nonsensically you can get these two disparate liquids bottled together), Celery Salt, Worcestershire Sauce, and pepper, with a glug or so of vodka. The last time I made it an acquaintance from New Hampshire demanded hot sauce be added, and he added quite a bit.  I had half a glass and wasn’t sure that it improved the taste, but he had a pitcher-and-a-half and seemed quite pleased, so take it as an alternate recipe.

There is a bit more in common between “Barrett’s Privateers” and Bloody Caesars, than their pseudo-historical names. They are strong, bold, flavorful, and are the best remedies for those off-moments when the imagination strays north of the border and the body has to stay south for work the next day.

Notes:

* One may imagine from this article that I can speak French, and, while I was there, I imagined it too.

* The version of Famous Blue Rain Coat that I linked to is signed “Sincerely, A Friend.” But what does it matter,if one were to write the same letter over and over one would certainly make a few changes. I pretty sure the audience knew who he was anyway.

* I didn’t give the measurements because I don’t measure ingredients — it’s bourgeois.

*I may also add that the song was released in ‘76 — the year of our bicentennial. Maybe that is just a coincidence.

* There was also the war in the Falklands ahead of it. Things didn’t seem like they were getting better and they weren’t, but we are still hoping.