Ah, classic rock. It's the record-buying public's affordable friend. While the hip kids shamble after trends and take their Visa cards with them, classic rockers are all but spared the pain of updating their record collections. The stairs they huff up always lead to heaven, where Clapton is God and the guitar solos last longer than the eternity promised at the end of "Layla." It's possible to argue that classic rock is the only revolutionary popular music left: the one that not only says "screw you" to the prepackaged pap of the present, but also to the ideas that have stood at the foundation of the music since its beginning -- perpetual youth and constant change. But careers like Clapton's also complicate any take on classic rock as a great liberator for the trend-enslaved masses, even as the market segment sticks to its system, like a Stalinist on a five-year plan. Clapton and the rest of his arena-touring ilk are great perpetuators of harmful myths, from the one about how the best music from a time period actually survives it to the one that makes a misleading link between the rebellious poses that sell records and the social changes that happen while those records are playing, as if the Vietnam protest movement wouldn't have happened without the wah-wah cries of "White Room." Yes, Clapton is a virtuoso; even his long-in-the-tooth latest album, Reptile, attests to that fact. But to buy his current position as great white ambassador for the blues -- the most disturbing myth of all -- requires the kind of chemically induced blackout that led to his entire '70s output. It's more accurate to note that Clapton's core demographic is the same one that led white flight away from the city, and that Clapton himself -- and the media who made him -- had to wait 20 years to tell us about Robert Johnson. If, as one great writer said, "the blues is money for those who have none," Clapton is right to keep trying to give his blues away.
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