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,

MUSINGS FROM THE CHEAP SEATS

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s new book The View from the Cheap Seats, a sort of uncompleted compendium of his nonfiction from the 90s till now.  Actually I’ve been skipping over a lot of it, because I have already read it. And I’ve been thinking that it’s strange how much of single writer we can take in without realizing it.

 

And I’ve begun to wonder what influence it has.

 

I should hope that by now people are savvy enough to resist (or at least be aware of) commercials and ham-fisted political messages, but who is aware how much they are affected by the steady output of someone over the course ten or fifteen years?

 

My relationship with Gaiman is not the longest or the deepest that I have had with a writer, but it seems broader and deeper than I had ever suspected.

 

It is all for the best. Like almost everyone my age, he is one of my favorites, not only in his fiction, but here in his non-fiction as well.  Reading the book made me feel grateful in places.  I felt a special delight in finding out that someone else loves Memoirs of Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds as much I do; it is through Gaiman that I first found John Collier, one of my favorite writers.  A Gaiman essay made me remember how much I loved Ray Bradbury, whom I hadn’t read in years.

 

I cannot agree with him on some points: as much as I enjoy the artwork of Will Eisner his writing leaves me a little cold. But I didn’t pick this up out a desire to agree: if all I wanted was someone who would always agree with me. I wouldn’t need other people at all. This is a book of essays and it would be a poor book of essays if it just made the reader nod along in agreement.  We should all be seeking discourse instead of ideological purity.

 

Many of the pieces are introductions.  Even those pieces that are not introductions function as such, which is how it should be.  Criticism usually falls into one of two categories:  screeds about personal prejudices, and political posturing. There is no place or time in the English-speaking world when anyone expected that critics read what they reviewed, and, for the most part, they never have.

 

But, when writers introduce new readers to the best stuff, as Gaiman does here, they are doing the best work that critics can do.  People are smart enough to know what is good and what isn’t, but they do need to be pointed in the right direction.

 

I didn’t mean to write a book review so I will stop myself here, but this is a fine book.  You may find that you have read much of this book already, which is fine, or you may find that it is all new.  Either way there are likely many things in this book you have forgotten and many things you never knew.

 

This is a chance to remember and learn.