Eric Marsalis?

Rev. Steve Schlissel - October 3, 2018

Some folks wouldn’t allow that Eric could play like he is here playing. His seriousness seems to have been read (by them) as a mark on the forehead indicating TRESPASSER, a man who’s been wandering around territory he has no real right to explore. Add to Clapton’s seriousness his reverence for root blues—which pours fully salted from his pores, forehead and trunk, at every performance. Some critics gratuitously judge Eric’s genuflection before the Blues’ Fathers to be less sanctity than sanctimonious.

Others have mixed his seriousness with his deference and perversely reimagined the resulting product into justification for filing Eric under the surname ‘Marsalis,’ viz., thinking of him as artful (in both senses rather than just the better one) and rather soulless. These judge him a brilliant technician, to be sure, more than merely capable in mechanical dominion over his chosen instrument. But they will explain, not all who can repair guitars can play guitars. And not all who can play can ride their instrument to the place their Muse has directed them.

Therefore, they rank Eric high on their short list of 20th-21st six-string phenoms, but desideratum on the list of trusted guides to the Desired Destination. Whatever role incipient racism may play in such frosted vision, I suspect the nearer explanation for holdouts cool to Clapton’s fiery playing after 50+ years, has more to do with other -isms, like Romanticism, or Mysticism. Somehow—and I have not yet grasped the mechanics—critical expectations informed by a decidedly anti-objective worldview grew into a school of criticism which presupposed that real soul, or inspired playing, could never be authentically generated from any external source, much less through “slavish” devotion to an extant canon. A few moments meditation on the shape of this school of criticism, or even this manner of criticism, leads to a sure and unmistaken recognition of its female form—even to Feminism as a philosophy, as well as to some current favorite fairytales about fatherless pregnancies, or to the proposition that gender is self-originating. In fact, it leads, bends or sways toward most of the planks in the platform of the Democratic National Committee.

Against all this, I urge an intense listen to the attached performance. Someone here is playing from within the zone. He did not get there unlawfully, by scaling a wall or gate meant to keep him out, for example. He gained entry to the Narrow Way lawfully, though he may not have been privileged to it by birth. The permit came not by identity but by passion, by callous. The legitimacy and authenticity of his occupancy will be “amply” demonstrated from a careful listen. Pay particular attention when, toward the end of the break, he conducts a clinic of a single note. That note sounds the revelation of a certified refuge, a place all blues resort to sooner or later, a place all blues go on occasion to cry. If you watch and listen attentively, you shall see the hand of a master, a Trustworthy Guide (imagine that!) recorded in the act of delivering an empathetic audience to the zone. Most interestingly, the one who lawfully pled and played his objective way in as a leader, here delivers followers—in a state of ecstatic, subdued frenzy.

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