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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2005/11/13
by Mike Gruenberg

CREAM at MSG

So much has happened in the world since I wrote my last column from last month, which was published on October 12th. There continues to be rioting in the streets of Paris, the war in Iraq seems to have no end, an influential advisor to the President whose name is Scooter is forced to resign amidst allegations of wrongdoing, a devastating earthquake in Pakistan causes enormous damage and it looks like CBGB’s will really be forced to shut it’s doors forever. All this within the span of a month! Yikes! Given the grim state of the world, I sure needed something to take my mind off the events of the day or at the very least provide me with a reason to smile.
Back in May, I reported on the reunion concert of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker a.k.a. Cream at Royal Albert Hall in England. Critics hailed the reunion and glowingly wrote about the concert. When the two disc CD of that concert was released, I bought it and was blown away by the beauty of that record. It brought me back to the days when I first heard the group in the 60’s. At that time, they were heralded as the first "authentic super group." The definition at that time for a supergroup was a band formed by musicians who were previously well known by virtue of their work with other groups.
Hearing the CD of the Royal Albert Hall concert also made me think back to the time when I taught my daughter about the virtues of rock ‘n’ roll when she was a small kid. At a young age, she not only knew about John, Paul, George and Ringo, but also knew their songs and who wrote them and who was the lead singer. She knew about Mick and The Stones, Pete and the Who, Rod and the Faces and that Simon & Garfunkel grew up in the same neighborhood as her father did in Queens. However, most of all, she knew that in our house, Eric Clapton was to be always referred to as Mr. Clapton because he occupied a special place of reverence above all other guitarists due to his incredible skills.
So against this backdrop of wanting to spend an evening forgetting about the plethora of regrettable world events and being somewhat nostalgic in remembering how I taught my kid about Cream, I entered Madison Square Garden. On October 24th, I went to see a band that had broken up in 1968 and had only gotten together a few months prior to this concert.
Upon entering the Garden, I was taken by the mellow attitude of the crowd. I immediately realized that one of the reasons for this feeling was the aroma of marijuana that was being consumed by many members of the audience. Upon further investigation, I was pleased to see that the majority of attendees were from my age group. It’s a good thing to get some older rockers together for a night on the town. It was also comforting to fit in perfectly with the crowd.

From the first chord to the last drum roll, Cream performed straight through for 2 1/2 hours. At no time did I glance at my watch to see the time because I was too busy enjoying the band. It was as though they were never apart. Jack immediately took control as the lead singer. Mr. Clapton not only looked better than I have ever seen him, but also played and sang with incredible verve and grace. Now I am not one to enjoy drum solos. I often find them tedious and self-serving. On this night however, Ginger backed his mates magnificently and when it came to his solo, I stood in awe.
In sports, success is not a given by the amount of money you spend on acquiring the athletes. Success is also not assured even if you have superstars at every position. Yankee fans can attest to these facts. Winning teams win when everyone works together for the victory. In their own rights, Clapton, Bruce and Baker would be the "stars" of whatever group they wanted to be in. On the three nights they played Royal Albert Hall in London and the three nights they played at Madison Square Garden in New York, they became singular. They united themselves to play the blues oriented music that originally brought them together in the 60’s. No frills, no nonsense, just straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll.
On a Monday night in October at Madison Square Garden, I witnessed the past, reveled in the present and caught a glimpse of what I hope will be part of the future of rock music. If you were unable to be there, get the CD and the DVD as well and hope that the group will some day play together again on a stage near you.

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