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 (Gin-and-Tonic & Sympathy in White Major)

 NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog published June 10th, 2016

Sympathy in White Major

When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
In foaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge,
I lift the lot in private pledge:
He devoted his life to others.

While other people wore like clothes
The human beings in their days
I set myself to bring to those
Who thought I could the lost displays;
It didn’t work for them or me,
But all concerned were nearer thus
(Or so we thought) to all the fuss
Than if we’ d missed it separately.

A decent chap, a real good sort,
Straight as a die, one of the best,
A brick, a trump, a proper sport,
Head and shoulders above the rest;
How many lives would have been duller
Had he not been here below?
Here’s to the whitest man I know —
Though white is not my favourite colour.
–Philip Larkin, 1967

I once made three gin-and-tonics — one each for myself and two friends — according to the recipe in the poem. Each glass contained enough for all three of us. It was moment of indulgence that we weren’t quite ready for. But Larkin gets a pass on his American-sized cocktails, because he is British and the British like their gin.

People almost everywhere drink them. It is said that in some places the drink can kill a cow from miles off. Not only is this a fairly pointless use of a leisure-time (or at least non-military) beverage, but it obscures the only real point of these absurd little cocktails — bringing people together. These little drinks are for sitting around with friends and being unproductive (coffee is for doing things). And about making sure that the happening place is where you happen to be, hence all the odd ceremony regarding their making and consuming.

The anxiety of not being in the happening place is a feeling that I have written ofbefore, and one which seems rather unbecoming of a grown man, who should be more secure than that, at least when not thinking about his unworn dinner suit.  When I first read the poem I thought Larkin was a bit of a chump for writing about the subject, but now I think he displays the characteristic that he spent his career convincing us he didn’t have — courage.

But that night I did make it for myself and two friends (I keep better company in my life than he does in the poem), and we slowly sipped our drinks and talked all night. A night like that is worth as much as a fine poem or solitude.

Notes:

* I know that the spelling ‘gin and tonic’ is preferred over gin-and-tonic, but it is my article and I will format things how I wish. Gin-and-Tonic is clearly a single word and should be spelled as such. If “gin-and-tonic” were not a single word  the plural would be “gins and tonics” and few would ever commit that particular offense.

* Until I double-checked it, I thought this poem was Symphony in White Major — conflating it, I suppose, with Whistler’s painting. But the Poem isn’t that glum, even if it quite nearly as lonely.

* In British military history gin-and-tonic is counted as a medicinal remedy for malaria because of the quinine. If that were true why include the gin and garnish?

* On a second reading I realized that I assumed the reader would be up on Larkin-gossip. Forget the gossip, pour yourself a drink, and, for Heaven’s sake, use a lime.Wikipedia says British people often use lemon instead of lime. That is why you should never consult Wikipedia. This is a dangerous practice and pushes the gin-and-tonic close to Tom Collins’s domain. We will save our visit with Mr. Collins, However, for next week.

Tags: Cows * Malaria * Needlessly Prescriptive Opinions * Quinine * Symphony in White *Britain * Hyphens * Garnishes * Gossip * James McNeil Whistler * Lemons * Limes *