Monday, November 10, 2008

Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton

Today I’m going to a funeral.

For the fourth time in my life, I am preparing to say goodbye to someone who was once in my life and now only lives in my memory and in my heart.

When someone passes on in our lives, most things in our lives are the same but when we think about that person, our memory reminds us that they are no longer here in our world. It doesn’t matter that you may not have seen that person every day when they were alive. Just knowing that someone is out there caring about us brings us comfort and being reminded of our loss makes our heart ache just s little bit, just enough to bring us back to how it felt to lose them. That feeling never leaves us and that is why "Tears In Heaven" is speaks so deeply to our souls.

Eric Clapton in known for many things. People wrote graffiti with the words “Clapton is God” in London and sarcastically nicknamed him “Slowhand” early in his career because of his virtuosic guitar skills. He composed some of most memorable guitar licks in popular music history and influenced generations of guitar players with his blues and rock infused playing.

Then in 1991 Eric Clapton’s four-year-old son, Conor fell from a 53rd-story window to his death. It was a tragic accident and Clapton was distraught for months afterward. He wrote this "Tears In Heaven" with a friend, Will Jennings for the film Rush. The song garnered critical and commercial success and Clapton featured it on his album Unplugged.

The lyrics are simple and understated but reveal great depth of emotion.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven
I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Clapton asks his son if he will recognize him in heaven and if there relationship would be intact if they met in heaven. What he is really asking is if his son will forgive him. There is a tragic level of self-blame. When coping with tragedy we often blame ourselves in an attempt convince ourselves that we had control over the uncontrollable. He is saying that his son is in heaven because he could not protect him. He hopes that his son will forgive him, but regardless he feels that he does not deserve to be with him in heaven.

After the instrumental break, Clapton reassures himself that his son is in a better place.

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more
Tears in heaven

Clapton is reassuring himself that his son will find peace as he know he is leaving his son taking his tears of loss with him.

Playing an instrument with a high level technical ability with incredible speed and accuracy takes years of practice. Notes however doing create meaning, it is how they are played. In the first 13 seconds of the song, Clapton is playing guitar with no other instruments. He balances lines in the lower strings with melodies in the higher strings. The lower notes and the higher notes are like two different instruments responding to each other, mostly playing apart and coming together at specific places. The guitar does not only provide harmony but depth and lines in a single instrument. The guitar responds every vocal line with slight subtle nuances and melodies. The guitar cannot communicate lyrics but reassures Clapton by being present. The guitar is like a friend in a time of need. Sometimes by simply being there makes all of the differences.

The instrumental break features a duet between Clapton’s guitar and a slide guitar. The slide guitar answers the melody that Clapton folds into his guitar lines. This playing may not seem impressive but it is mature. The song is not about Clapton’s guitar planning, it is about the emotion that he is trying to express. Through his artful, precise and careful playing of each note, we almost forget about the playing and focus on the emotion itself. Great musicians play in a way that the music disappears and all that we experience is pure emotion.

Clapton’s singing like his guitar playing is never overdone. It is simple, intimate, and mournful. The ease in which he slides up to the high note right before the instrumental break expresses a feeling that comes from the heart through a voice that is bare and open with nothing left to lose. The simplicity in his singing is all the more powerful because it doesn’t tell us how to feel but creates a palette for our own feelings.

One of my grandfathers died more then six years ago and I still don’t feel like I know what to do with those emotions. I don’t know if I’m really over it. I don’t know how I’m suppose to feel and I don’t know how to really make his death mean anything.

Music does not provide any answers.

The power in music is that it reassures us that we are not alone in our emotions. Listening to "Tears In Heaven" doesn’t make us miss that person any less but it does remind us that someone else out there feels the same way we do. We are reminded that we are not alone in our emotions and even though it doesn’t change our emotions it makes us feel better about our emotions knowing that they reflect the humanity and the experiences that we all share.

Today at the funeral, I will not be alone. I will mourn and be comforted sharing meaningful emotions with others. Sharing our lives with others honors the people who have passed on because it is the times that we shared our lives, our emotions and our hearts with ones we have lost that make the people we morn mean so much to us.

I miss the people and in some ways, it seems ungracious to hope for more time with these people in heaven when we have been so blessed to share in their lives. I don’t know if I belong in heaven, I would like to think so but I do know that it is the time spent sharing my life with the people around me that brings a piece of heaven into my life every day.

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