Saturday, May 21, 2016

In Praise of Layla, Jim Gordon and the Speechless

When I first met her, I had no idea Pattie Boyd would share so many important moments of my life. Well, to be fair, she and Jim Gordon.

Layla, you've got me on my knees.
Layla, I'm begging, darling please.
Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.

I listened to those lyrics and Eric Clapton's unmistakable guitar riff on a FM radio while in a car in the early 1970's. Once smitten with her, I fell hard. I bought the album with the distinctive cover art shortly thereafter. To be sure, at the time I did not know or care much about the backstory involving Pattie, Jim Gordon or the band whose moniker was Derek and the Dominos. I just really liked the song - and from the jump I was solidly in the camp favoring the piano coda.

In furtive, episodic details the backstory of Pattie Boyd and her alter ego, Layla, unfolded to me over the years. I read about the drug fueled sessions in Miami that led to the greatest rock love song of all time. The piano coda and co-writer status, I discovered, was credited to Jim Gordon, a noted session drummer of that time, who manned the piano while Duane Allman and Clapton hammered away at their guitars. Dispute has erupted about who actually wrote the coda, but Gordon remains credited.

Clapton (and Gordon) won a Grammy award in 1993 when Clapton released the acoustic version of Layla. The piano coda was not part of that version, and Clapton nary mentioned a word about Gordon when accepting the Grammy. By that time, Gordon was in a California prison - something I already knew.

I had randomly picked up a Rolling Stone (RS) magazine years before Clapton stood on that stage, and blundered upon a story, "When the Voices Took Over" by Barry Rehfeld about Jim Gordon. It turned out Jim not only had credit for co-writing the song that had become my favorite, but had also taken a hammer and knife to his mother in a schizophrenic psychotic break in 1983, and was serving a life sentence for her murder.

I remember thinking someone who had co-written one of the greatest rock songs in history would be out of prison sooner rather than later.

 I was way, way wrong.

In between reading that RS story and Clapton's acceptance speech, I had another memorable encounter with Layla. On November 8, 1985 I was in yet another car, this time with Randy Howry, a lawyer who 30 years later would run for President of same State Bar of Texas that had just sworn us in as licensed lawyers. We were with another, also now insanely successful lawyer, Morris Weiss, when those Clapton guitar riffs erupted on Randy's car radio. I began singing and Morris jumped in, providing backup vocals and air guitar riffs of his own. Morris, as it turned out, was a fan too. I found we who love Layla are kind of a geekish fraternity. We swapped Layla trivia whilst Randy chauffeured us around downtown Austin.

It was a great day.

I tried to give you consolation
When your old man had let you down.
Like a fool, I fell in love with you,
Turned my whole world upside down.

I have tried to keep track of Jim over the years. His clouded mind dovetails into the mental illness so often intersecting with the clients I represent. When I sit and speak to someone hearing or seeing voices, and look into eyes that I cannot understand, I think of Jim and the demons shouting behind those eyes. RS did another story on Jim in May, 2013 when Jim was denied parole. He will be up again in 2018. As I wrote earlier, I was way, way wrong.

Let's make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.
Please don't say we'll never find a way
And tell me all my love's in vain.

Then, yesterday, some 40 years after my first time, I was in yet another car, this time with my autistic, non-verbal son in the back seat. My Apple music shuffle had the good fortune of finding Layla on my playlist. I smiled to myself and cranked up the volume just a little louder. My little man took notice. Suddenly, deliberately, from the back seat I heard clapping, and during Gordon's methodical piano key strikes, he cackled in time. I pulled over into a parking lot and re-played the guitar and piano riffs so familiar to me. For a second time my son had the same reaction - the same clapping, and identical cackle during the piano coda.

Layla, you've got me on my knees.
Layla, I'm begging, darling please.
Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.

Damn, that boy has some kind of good taste.

1 comment:

  1. You tell the best of stories. Layla also whisks me back in time to a familiar and safe place.