By Dave Gebroe
If Eric Clapton ever gave a second thought to Disraeli Gears….
“If you were a 21-year-old kid stumbling around London with a guitar on your back, greeted at every turn by graffiti reminding you that you were the Almighty himself, I’m sure you’d like to think you’d remain supremely unaffected by the adulation. But the stark reality is, it’s impossible for it not to seep in at some level and screw with your sense of self-importance. You can take my word for that.
At least that was my experience. With all these years of recovery behind me, and the veil of illusion and self-deception lifted so as to make the truth of my life and career painfully apparent, I can look back on my stint in Cream with complete clarity. Yes, I’m well aware of the high regard in which we’re held—I can’t help what you all think, I just know I need to report the facts as I see them. If I was to do otherwise, I’d be putting my sobriety in jeopardy. With that in mind, and under my sponsor’s specific direction as part of my step work, it is incumbent upon me to lay bare the sad, pathetic truth about my old band.
The mess of my life can be traced back to the moment when everyone started making far too big of a fuss over me, which had the unfortunate effect of reducing John Mayall and his wonderful Bluesbreakers to nothing more than a breeding ground for future supergroups. Believe me, I still feel guilty about that. From this point forward, everything that happened in my career was based on the discomfort I felt toward this overenthusiastic fawning, and subsequently my reaction to my reaction, and so on. But there may have been no more abhorrent response to the swooning of the masses than my initial one. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call this phase of my acceptance “You are right…I am God.”
Of course, in order to fortify my stance on the matter, it was imperative that I join up with a couple other like-minded megalomaniacs who, too, believed their hype. Enter Bruce and Baker. The three of us got some way-out perms and donned ourselves in all the hippest, most swingin’ Carnaby Street duds, fluffing ourselves up like a gaggle of dandy fop poodles. And there I went, careening off the rails so regrettably far away from my true roots in the blues. In order to create a musical world in which the flamboyant limp-wristedness of our sartorial flair could comfortably exist, myself, Jack, and Ginger took the stark authenticity of the Blues and dolled it all up unnecessarily like bored little schoolgirls during playtime. Imagine Robert Johnson standing at the crossroads wearing a pink, ruffled satin shirt with a frilly collar and an ascot and maybe for just a moment you can step outside the blind idolatry you’ve all endowed us with over the years.
After our more basic 1966 debut, Fresh Cream, we mustered up the perfunctorily paisley Summer of Love offering—Disraeli Gears. Roundly considered our masterwork, these days all it takes is one quick peek at the cover to produce a gag reflex in me. Looking back with the clarity of a sober music biz veteran, I can tell you with unmitigated honesty that it’s the work of charlatans, attempting desperately to pull the wool over the medicated multitudes with its cod oil blend of oogaboo trash-psych and watered-down white-boy blues. Remember the band Blueshammer from that movie Ghost World? They easily could have been responsible for a work as godawfully uninspired as Disraeli Gears. As tossed off and unremarkable as music gets, to this day even the songs that’ve risen to legendary status make me hang my head in shame each and every time I hear them blaring from a radio. “Strange Brew” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” sound to me like a bunch of sneering kids steamrolling over the concept of free love with misogynistic glee and commandeering the blues form as a stamp of validity to justify their cause. Many a night I lay awake in horror at the musical sins I committed simply by taking part in recording those wretched, wretched songs. Come on, seriously…that riff in “Sunshine” was groin-grabbing garbage. And the fact that you all went gaga over it made it damn near impossible for me to create anything of substance for a long time. I’m not saying it’s your fault—if anything, I’m entirely to blame. Somewhere deep inside, I just couldn’t overcome the fact that if you were prepared to lap up anything I churned out, then why even bother trying?
Most of the rest of the songs on the record barely even warrant a mention. “SWLABR” is the most ludicrously pedestrian piece of twaddle to ever slither its way out of the psychedelia movement, and I can barely mention “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” without shuddering. That could be the worst song I’ve ever written. At least I was able to foist the vocal off on Jack so I could sidestep being too closely associated with it. Good decision, that.
So why, then, were we considered so important? Of all the luminaries from that time, we seem to be held in as high regard as Janis, Jimi, and the rest of the lot. I still can’t figure out the logic behind this. Frankly, we were no better than Vanilla Fudge, only with a slightly more psychedelically tainted cucumber shoved down the fronts of our jeans. These days, I try not to be too hard on us. We were kids. And besides, we really didn’t have much of a choice in who we’d become. We’d been showered with wealth, fame, and women, and we reacted as any three pompous, ignorant kids would have. We ate it all up. You’d have done the same.
Unfortunately, the end result of us believing that hype was Ginger’s sixteen-minute drum solo on “Toad”, the version from 1968’s Wheels Of Fire. Admittedly, we all went along with that, in fact we thought it a brilliant idea at the time, as we’d felt about all our other harebrained musical notions. I don’t have many regrets in my life, as they primarily tend to be a waste of energy, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t actively regret contributing to the propagation of self-indulgent non-musicianship that comes along with progressive rock. Although I’ve never disclosed this fact, I wound up pleading with the record company years later to re-title the track “Toad-ally Masturbatory” on all future pressings, so I could do my part to clear my name. Unfortunately, they laughed off the request as the booze-soaked ravings of a once-relevant artist looking to reclaim his glory days by tinkering with the past.
You see, once upon a time I do believe I did actually have talent. And I used that talent sparingly, with economy and passion. My days in Cream taught me how to put that talent to waste, by overdoing it in grand style. I don’t at all blame Jack and Ginger, they didn’t know any better either. Hell, they still love what we accomplished back then. They think every note we played was pure gold. In fact, they’re still adamant that we actually were a band, and not three guys solipsistically jerking off into our own individual black holes. See, they never got with the truth, like I did. Hell, I had to…my life depended on it.
Don’t get me wrong, I have overwhelming gratitude on a daily basis for the fact that you’ve all allowed me to make my living through music. But I’m under no illusions, I know I’ve done nothing of any groundshaking importance since the moment I made the decision to step foot from my junkie crash pad and rejoin the world of the living. A shame, that. But honestly, I wouldn’t go back and change a bit of it, as I’m comfortable in my own skin today. I don’t need to take the world by storm, or accomplish anything of any towering significance for that matter, in order to wake up, look in the mirror, and be okay with Eric today. I love myself. Recovery has taught me, amongst many other things, to not get all caught up in the outcome, and so no matter what I churn out to glut the shelves of the local compact disc megastore, I retain a sense of gratitude for simply being. And for now, I’ve come to accept that I have no choice but to settle for that.”
Editors note: The entire above commentary came from the wildly imaginative mind of Hooligan Dave Gebroe. Eric Clapton had no part in its writing.
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2 thoughts on “On Second Thought: “Disraeli Gears” (1967)”
Eric Clapton is a tool, but Ginger Baker is cool. He gave me cigarettes when I was 19 years old. For some reason he was living in New Jersey and drumming in a grunge band.
Cream were amusing for about ten seconds. I listened to them on mushrooms once and thought I made the worst mistake in my life and that was the last time I ever wanted to hear them.
Gimme Blueshammer any day.
Correction: Ginger played in Masters of Reality. They were not from New Jersey, they were from upstate New York. I saw them in New Jersey though.
Not a good band.