(What?! Another asterisk in a 4-letter word?! I just couldn’t help myself! 🤪)
Intro, Part 1
Provocative title, huh?! Presence Of The Lord?
Pondering this, perhaps you’re thinking that, so close to death, I might have had some kind of religious epiphany, that maybe I’ve come to interpret as divine intervention my having reached the seventh month after having been given a prognosis of six months to live back in August?
Well, while I realize many readers would find that tremendously dramatic and exciting, and for others it might be a bit of a letdown, discovering that my epiphany was of a musical rather than strictly religious nature, those of you who have known me personally long enough, or who have read at least chapters 7-12 — the Just Like Tantalus’ Blues section — of my memoir, will not be terribly surprised.
It’s been a while since I last let my obsessive music geek freak flag fly, late December in fact, so please bear with me. If drilling down into the details of music — talk of notes and chords and song structure, band history, musicians and the instruments they play, song lyrics, etc. — isn’t your, um, jam 🤣, I’d welcome you to skim or skip … BUT, I would encourage you to at least watch the video at the end if you want to see what all the fuss here is about, or if you care to observe what I consider to be a transcendent spiritual experience every bit as legitimate as anything that might occur in a church, synagogue, or temple.
Intro, Part 2
One of the fun things about blogging: By putting your work out on the interwebs for all to see, it’s possible to attract readers from all over the world.
WordPress, the blog hosting service I use, provides robust statistics on the traffic that your blog attracts, and my favorite component of this service is a map showing where in the world the visitors to your site hail from. For example, here’s the map for the entire year of 2012, my busiest, over 29K views, at my prior blog, Fish & Bicycles:
As you can see, only Greenland, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and most of West Africa prevented me from achieving total global domination.
Those bastards! 🤪
ANYWAY … I hope you enjoyed that detour along the scenic route to the following piece of information concerning the catalyst for today’s Owl Journal entry: Somewhere on that map is Manchester, U.K., home of Andy, author of the excellent blog City Jackdaw, who has graciously visited me here, clicked the Like button and left very kind comments on occasion. In an effort of reciprocation, I read his wonderful and most recent post and discovered that he and I are kindred spirits, at least musically speaking, though I suspect in other ways as well.
I’m sure that there’s lots of great new music out there just waiting for me to discover it. But when I want to pass a certain amount of time I always seem to return to the era I love the best, which basically runs from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies.
I’m listening to John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things as I type this, started the day with Bach’s Goldberg Variations performed by Glenn Gould, and will likely soon return to an amazing performance by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at the 2008 Newport Folk Festival that I started to watch a few days ago but couldn’t finish. And yet, home base, where I always wind up, is always Rock ‘n’ Roll from the mid-1960s to roughly mid-1970s, and it was a certain song from that period that made a surprise appearance in my consciousness the night after I read Andy’s post.
And now, without further verbose ado…
Searching For Presence
Years ago, when I first learned of the term “earworm” — a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind — I simultaneously: 1.) recognized its meaning, having experienced the phenomenon many times, and; 2.) was creeped out by the image of a worm tunneling into an ear canal. Ewwwwww!
Nevertheless, our story here begins with one such earworm, at first pernicious, but in the end soothing and healing.
Nestling into bed the other night, still thinking of Rock ‘n’ Roll from 1965-1975, a fragment of a song popped into my head, a very small fragment, a simple descending chord progression:
C F Em Dm C
For much of my adolescent and adult life, I knew exactly what song this fragment was from — Presence of the Lord, by Blind Faith, circa 1969 — I’d heard it many, many times and LOVED it. I’d known, at one time, all of the lyrics, and all of the particulars of the arrangement — the gorgeous, pining vocals and Hammond B-3 organ of Steve Winwood, the lush 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, try as I might, lying in bed in the dark that night, I could not conjure up anything else from the song beside that tiny fragment, and…
…it very nearly drove me crazy!!!
Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that these few descending chords are a common musical device used in many songs by many songwriters, and every time I tried to pry anything from some mysterious, dimly-lit place in my brain, I stumbled upon other songs, only not the one I was looking for.
Despite my best efforts, fumbling around in the dark, I could not find the opening lyrics, which ironically begin: I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before.
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 one instrument or another — then I could follow it like a breadcrumb and find my way back home (Blind Faith pun intended) to the rest of the song. But no, I could find nothing, it tortured me until sleep took me.
At around 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, piecing the song back together again from constituent parts that nearly magically started to come back to me. First detail: Steve Winwood, for sure, sang it, though it took a little longer to recall any lyrics or to remember whether the song was from his days in the band Traffic, or from his brief time in Blind Faith. Much of the aforementioned bridge came to me next, thanks to it containing one of my all-time favorite Eric Clapton solos. And finally, enough of the lyrics surfaced for me to retrieve the song’s title.
I tried to run through the entire song in my head, but bits and pieces were missing, and I eventually drifted back to sleep.
During breakfast the next morning, a little sleep-deprived and haunted by those missing bits and pieces, I 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, I imagine his/her/its voice might sound something quite like the Holy Grail guitar tone of Eric Clapton’s Fender Telecaster, playing through a slightly overdriven Marshall tube amplifier, 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 the band Blind Faith, and my pending demise at the tender age of 56, centered around the themes of brevity and scarcity:
- I could only remember a simple 4-chord instrumental sequence from a 4:50-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, with just a few select words changed each time.
- Blind Faith formed, recorded their one and only album, toured Europe and the U.S., and then disbanded … ALL between January and October of 1969.
- The first rehearsals of what would become Blind Faith, with Winwood, and Clapton & Ginger Baker, both from the band Cream, occurred just 9 weeks after Cream disbanded.
- 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 jam 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 Cream, partly because he was tired of playing their songs, and yet, when Blind Faith toured, since there were so few Blind Faith songs, the band filled out their concerts partly Cream songs. By the end of their U.S. tour, Clapton had had enough and moved on.
- 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.
FINALLY, it’s time to set the controls of our time machine to June 7, 1969, London, U.K., from where, for the prior 3-4 years, millions of minds were blown, by Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in the quintessential psychedelic power trio, Cream, and by England’s own Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, in The Spencer Davis Group, until one day both bands were suddenly no more, and rumors started buzzing about a new supergroup forming from the fallout, rumors that attracted 100,000 people to a free concert in Hyde Park, despite having not heard a single recording of the new band, 100,000 people who showed up, you might say, based purely on blind faith.