Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Wonderful Tonight

“Let me leave you under no misapprehensions: Eric Clapton,” Tom said, “is fucking shit.”

Gig 1, rehearsal 1. Things were not going well.

“His 40-year ‘career’,” and here Tom did little enraged bunny ears, “is perhaps one of the worst crimes perpetrated by one human on his fellow man since the second world war.”

The eye that wasn’t hidden by a lank lock of hair shone with a genuinely frightening zeal, like a rat about to attack a dog. I tried to avoid his gaze. As a bassist, this is par for the course.

“I’m serious. If I could rid mankind of the curse of malaria or the curse of yet another Eric fucking Clapton record, I’d choose Clapton every time.”

We bassists are often described as the glue that holds the band together. I’d like to think of myself in more historical terms, as a sort of indie Joseph Bazalgette. Our work may not be glamorous but it is important, and it underpins everything done by everyone else. And without it they’d all be knee-deep in shit in five minutes.

“His records are not just one of the worst things in the history of popular music, they are one of the worst things in the history of sound. No – wait – vibration. Ever since the Big Bang, nothing has vibrated with such undiluted fucking malignancy of consequence as Eric Clapton’s frigging guitar strings.”

Flecks of spit began to gather at the corner of his mouth. Even at the best of times Tom looked like cherub who’d been living on the streets being resentfully abased into licking vinegar off a battery for money.

“Answer me this: if Eric Clapton plays in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does he really make a sound?”

“Well – ”

“Who gives a fucking shit? Eric Clapton fucking doesn’t. If he were here right now, in the midst of one of his interminable wankfest fucking solos, we could all – all of us – piss off back to yours for dinner, leave him on his own, come back an hour later, and he wouldn’t have noticed. He wouldn’t even have moved on to a new song.”

“Well – ” I tried again.

“And anyway” - too late - “there wouldn’t be a forest there, because all the trees would’ve committed suicide rather than risk absorbing one of his mediocre, MOR, AOR, imagination-free, passion-free, pretend rock bullshit drearathons.”

I opted to let Tom’s rage run its course. We bassists are a noble breed like that. We allow the common good to come before our ego. Or, indeed, self-esteem.

His rant had found a second wind. “Ooh-ooh, here’s an idea: let’s take a group of people who’ve been stolen from their homes, shipped to another continent, made to work as slaves and put through unimaginable degradation and hardship in order to make some money for some fat fucking white men. Let’s then steal their music off them and then turn that into a new way of making money for fat fucking white men. Let them do all the hard work, let them invent a new fucking note for fuck’s sake, and then let’s cash in big time. Then let’s do it again with fucking reggae. Ripping off the poor and disen-fucking-franchised, you Slow Hands twat – real fucking classy.”

I felt this was a bit much. “Now, I think Clapton was a genuine fan of the blues – ”

“Who fucking cares? You? Your nan? Your big fat fucking sister?” – for the record, my sister (Hello, Becky, if you’re reading this) is not fat. Tom would later try to finger her after a gig, so I know this was just something he said while carried by the wave of his tirade – “Here is a man who has confused an attempt to express pain, suffering and the human condition with being able to play the guitar quite well. And not particularly quickly.

“He’s a wife-stealing, Enoch-Powell-loving turd with shit hair and a shit beard in a shit suit and he can fucking go and fucking fuck himself the fucking fuck. Fuck!”

The room fell silent. I can say, with some confidence, that I had never heard so much swearing coming from someone wearing a cardigan. Grandpa John near the end excepted.

I cleared my throat.

“So,” I ventured, “are we doing Tears in Heaven or not?”

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