As most of you will already know, but I had forgotten, the line in Milton’s incomprehensible epic poem Samson… something or other, that ends “all passion spent” begins “Calm of mind”. Such calm still eludes me, but as yet not quite all passion has been spent, although the vein is open and the leak rapid.
The idea of passion, for so long dormant in this rusty mind, recently dragged itself from the corroding recesses of memory and limped around in conscious thought for a bit. I noticed it first when I reacquainted myself with Eric Clapton’s Layla, an album I wore smooth when I was 16. To my surprise, I find I have to really concentrate to listen to it now, I can’t just let it pour in. Why has listening become to difficult, I wondered? Why is it such an effort?
You won’t be surprised to hear that the root of the problem is that bloody awful, unturnoffable moment-by-moment audio commentary, now omnipresent in this idiot ‘mind’, ceaselessly obliterating this-moment-mind with a never-ending rattle of words. I feel like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. “Words! Words! Words” she sneers contemptuously as she describes the advent of the talkies, remember?
For example, at 16, I didn’t ever wonder who the other voice singing with Clapton belonged to. Or who played the other guitar(s). Or who wrote the songs. Or who the other members of Derek and the Dominos were. Or even if they made another album. None of these questions existed for me. I just gave myself up to the passionate responses the music inspired and to my longing for a relationship of such intensity that some kind of ‘art’ would be its product.
Yet, not having listened to the album for thirty-odd years (very odd some of them), a mere 30 seconds into the first track of side one (“I Looked Away”) and I was surfing the net to find out who wrote it and who Clapton was singing with. I went on to think about how different it is to listen to a playlist rather than a four sided double album at the same time as glancing through discographies, Clapton’s website, Bobby Whitlock’s website, Amazon’s website (to order Clapton and Pattie Boyd’s biographies—which I devoured, in spite their dreariness, his more than hers), and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum. Before I knew it, “Thorn Tree in the Garden” announced an hour and a quarter had passed and I’d barely listened to a note.
No wonder middle age zips past so quickly! That absurd, unstoppable roar of endless questions and commentaries drowns out all spontaneity and doodles over the pristine white page that distinguishes ‘youth’ from ‘maturity’. And all fed by the ease of the information highway. Goddamit!
One interesting distraction did come from all those mouse clicks: I discovered on youtube a ‘new’ song, or at least, one I hadn’t heard before, ‘Old Love’ and this performance of it. I’d edit out the latter half if it hadn’t been a youtube steal, but for 7 minutes or so it’s really not bad, for an old man.
Is it interesting to tell you that Mr Clapton is my 16-year old self’s ideal? I simply couldn’t resist men who were egocentric, desperately insecure, uncommunicative (except through their chosen art, usually music), chauvinistic (do you remember the term ‘male chauvinist pig?’), who had addictive personalities, were extraordinarily talented and harboured a death wish. Fortunately, I grew out of it after much bitter experience. In retrospect I realize I spent a massive chunk of my allotted passion on such creatures way before I hit 25. And only then discovered the vajrayana.