Video Fridays: The Search For “Presence of the Lord”

blind-faith
Blind Faith

The strangest thing happened to me last night.

A fragment of a song that I hadn’t listened to in years popped into my head in the early evening, a very small fragment, a simple descending chord progression…

C  F/C  Em/B  Dm/A  C

…that opens the song and repeats as a kind of theme throughout.

The strange thing: I knew exactly what song this fragment was from — Presence of the Lord, by Blind Faith — I’d heard it many, many times and have loved it, I’d known all of the lyrics, all of the particulars of the arrangement — the gorgeous, pining vocals and Hammond B-3 organ of Steve Winwood, the swirling guitar work of Eric Clapton, the expressive drums of Ginger Baker that threatened to deliver thunder like Thor at any moment, and the steady bass of Ric Grech — but as this fragment popped into my head, inexplicably, I could not conjure up anything else from the song, and…

…it nearly drove me crazy!!!

Part of the problem stems from the fact that this fragment — these few descending chords — is a common musical element used in many songs, and every time I tried to pry the rest of Presence of the Lord from some mysterious, dimly-lit place in my brain, I stumbled upon other songs, but not the one I was looking for.

Despite my best efforts, I could not find the opening lyrics — “I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before…” — perhaps because the lyric describes the finding of something, the exact opposite of what was happening to me.

I did have a memory that there was a dramatic instrumental bridge in the song, with a corresponding tempo change, but I couldn’t quite make it out.

I thought if I could only recall one other fragment — a slice of that bridge, a snippet of melody from a verse or chorus, some riff or phrase from Clapton’s epic solo — then I could follow it like a breadcrumb left behind by Hansel and find my way back home (Blind Faith fans will know that the pun here is intended) to the rest of the song.

But no, I could find nothing, and it tortured me.

At 2:00 AM, I awoke for some reason and immediately heard the presence of the Presence of the Lord, and my brain set to work straight away, continuing the search for the rest of the song, consequently preventing me from falling back to sleep for nearly two hours … on a work night!

Finally, over breakfast, I gave up, opened YouTube on my iPhone, searched for the song, found it, played it, and put myself out of my misery.

And, oh what a song to relieve misery!

I chose to listen to the version of Presence from the 1969 Concert in Hyde Park (video below), because, though I am by no means a religious man, if the Lord does happen to be real, his/hers/its presence is most certainly revealed in the tone of Eric Clapton’s Fender Telecaster guitar in that performance.

Interestingly, Presence of the Lord, and this experience I had with it, are symbolic — in a number of ways — of the meteoric history of Blind Faith, centered around the theme of brevity:

  • I could only remember a simple 5-chord instrumental sequence from a 4:5o-long song.
  • Trying to remember the song left me with too little sleep.
  • The song only has, essentially, one verse and one chorus, repeated three times respectively.
  • Blind Faith formed, recorded their one and only album which went to the top of the charts, toured Europe and the U.S., and disbanded … ALL between January and October of 1969.
  • The eponymous album contained only 6 songs, for a total running time of 42:12, average in those days, but all you have to do is subtract one song, the 15:20-long cut titled Do What You Like, and what remains would be an EP by today’s standards.
  • The very fact that Blind Faith had so few songs on their album was a contributing factor to their demise. Eric Clapton had quit his previous band, Cream, because he was tired of playing their songs and the baggage that came with being in that band, and yet, when Blind Faith toured, since there were so few Blind Faith songs, the band filled out their concerts with songs by Cream and Steve Winwood’s former band, Traffic. By the end of their U.S. tour, Clapton had had enough and moved on.
  • The first rehearsals of what would become Blind Faith, with Winwood, and Clapton & Ginger Baker, both from Cream, occurred just 9 weeks after Cream disbanded, despite Clapton’s promise to Cream bassist Jack Bruce that if any of the three members played again together all three would be involved.
  • The version of Presence in the video below, was performed before their album was even released, and Clapton was very unhappy with the concert, feeling that the band had not had enough time to rehearse.

So, ironically, all this talk of brevity and it’s taken me this long to get to what put the “video” in this installment of Video Fridays.

Enjoy the music, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Belated R.I.P.s: Leonard & Leon

leonard_leonIf all you did was compare the musical styles of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, both of whom, this past week, sadly departed this world, you might not see all that much in common between the two.

But delve just beneath surface and you find two prolific songwriters acclaimed for their lyrics as much as their music, two songwriters who had long-lasting and wide-ranging influence on other musicians, the latter resulting in their songs having been performed by an astonishing list of their peers.

Just two examples:

Leonard’s Hallelujah: Bob Dylan, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang, Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Bono

Leon’s A Song For You: Billy Eckstine, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, Christina Aguilera

Additionally, both Leonard and Leon went through fairly dramatic transformations over the course of their careers:

Leon, from one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound; to a member of the legendary group of Los Angeles session musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew, who recorded pop hits by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Sonny & Cher to The Monkeys and The Beach Boys; to hippie soul man bandleader, piano and guitar player on Joe Cocker’s epic Mad Dogs & Englishman tour, the album from which I happen to consider the best Rock & Roll live recording ever, and my deep love of which I mention in the obit I wrote upon Joe Cocker’s passing.

Leonard, from published poet and novelist; to folk music singer-songwriter; to elegant elder statesman of sophisticated literary pop music; to Zen monk.

But, of all the things they had in common, my absolute favorite was Leonard’s song Bird on the Wire, the greatest version of which, in my opinion and no surprise given what I said above, comes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, on which you can hear Leon’s gorgeous, dare I say Liberace-esque, piano playing.

So, thanks Leonard and Leon for all you shared with the world. May all drunks in midnight choirs rejoice in your work!

Happy 50th Birthday, Revolver!

RevolverWow! The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver is 50 years old today!

Just two years younger than me, and a masterpiece that has aged very, very well.

I’m in good company!

Lots of great stuff about Revolver out on the interwebs today, on this momentous occasion, so have fun googling.

I mostly really enjoyed Rob Sheffield’s piece in Rolling Stone. He makes a convincing case for the album’s greatness, and offers wonderful historical context, but I have to point out one serious overreach (my emphasis added in bold):

“The Beatles are so confident of their superhuman hipness it doesn’t even occur to them to argue the point, which is how Revolver can sound so arrogant yet so suffused with warmth. If you play “And Your Bird Can Sing” or “Love You To” back to back with “Ballad of a Thin Man” or “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown,” Dylan and the Stones sound like sophomores trying a little too hard to impress the seniors.”

I’ve never been a big fan of Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown, don’t dislike it, just nowhere near the top of my favorite Rolling Stones songs, so I won’t speak to that.

But, Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man, which was recorded a year and three days before Revolver was released, is an epic of confidence, and calling it sophomoric compared to Revolver is a ridiculous insult.

As critic Andy Gill wrote:

“[Ballad of a Thin Man is] one of Dylan’s most unrelenting inquisitions, a furious, sneering, dressing-down of a hapless bourgeois intruder into the hipster world of freaks and weirdos…”

–via Wikipedia

Nonetheless, Sheffield’s homage is otherwise a fun, fun read, so check it out!

 

Comes A Time. Not THAT Comes A Time. So Beautiful It Aches.

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill”

Been walkin’ all mornin’, went walkin’ all night
I can’t see much difference between the dark and light
And I feel the wind and I taste the rain
Never in my mind to cause so much pain

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
Only love can fill, only love can fill”

From day to day just letting it ride
You get so far away from how it feels inside
You can’t let go ’cause you’re afraid to fall
But the day may come when you can’t feel at all

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill, only love can fill”

–Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead, “Comes A Time”

Punk’s Legacy?

Punk-27947The conventional wisdom amongst many musicologists, music journalists, and music fans is that Punk Rock was a seachange, a musical and cultural revolt against highly-produced and highly popular Glam Rock, Prog Rock, Disco, and the music of aging 1960s rockers who didn’t heed The Who’s call to die before they got old.

Punk was raw, unpolished, occasionally violent, and yet strangely intimate, a stark contrast to the aloof prettiness and preciousness of its predecessors. And most importantly, Punk endured and spawned many variations, and its attitude and Lo-Fi sensibilities inspired musicians working in other genres to get back to basics, to shed excess, and to speak with courageous abandon.

The Noisey article I tweeted today puts forth the argument that Punk was, musically speaking, not very good, and that it did not ultimately change anything. It’s a flimsy-if-earnest attempt to make a point, spurious in its use of two lazy rhetorical tricks:

  1. The vast majority of the article is phrased in general terms, referring throughout to all Punk music, but with a buried qualification at one point stating that it’s really referring to only the first wave of British Punk.
  2. On the question of whether or not Punk actually changed anything, the article criticized Punk for not having spurred a wider and lasting political revolution, as if Punks ever really claimed that they were out to change the world — as opposed to venting their disdain for the state it was in — and ignoring the fact that the conventional wisdom narrative about the Punk seachange is almost entirely limited to the impact it had, not on politics, but on music, art, fashion, etc.

Anyway, its worth reading for the very fact that it so miserably failed to convince, and rather, ironically, strengthened my belief in Punk’s lasting, powerful legacy.

R.I.P., #GeorgeMartin

#TooManyChefs