(Disclaimer: My apologies to you who’ve been enjoying the survival job entries -- and I will return to it in June -- but right now, I’m focusing on my memoirist work which I’ll call, simply, “Pictures of Tommy” -- all about my psychotic brother and his legacy. It’s full of pathos, humor, and old family photos. If so inclined, please tell me what you think. . . )
YOUNG Vs. CLAPTON
There were times when I got snippy with my brother. I just had to push the boundaries, have a little fun, and get back at him. Sure, he was disturbed -- but I didn’t have to agree with him about music, did I? Since his early teens, Tom had been a huge fan of Cream and, especially, Eric Clapton. It got to the point I was sick of hearing about Eric Clapton, Clapton, Clapton. Enough!
So, one time when we were all at mom’s, in Queens, at a family gathering, I started saying to Tom, you know, I like Neil Young better than Eric Clapton. Neil’s not boring and he never plays too many notes. There’s real feeling in the music of ol’ Neil. . . I went on and on. My musician boyfriend was with me, and he didn’t say a thing, the eyebrows went up and he just kind of watched and listened, knowing full well that my brother might react by going into an argument, a tailspin, or get confused. You just never knew with brother Tom.
(the author plays favorites: Neil Young, above, circa the seventies)
“--And, you know, Neil Young’s a better songwriter, too.” I couldn’t stop myself from going on and on. For thirty years, I had put up with brother’s adulation of a guy I didn’t much care for at all. . . it just never moved me, and I couldn’t pretend or keep quiet any more. I might as well have been twisting a knife into his heart: my brother loved Eric Clapton’s music so much.
Things got tense. My boyfriend said something conciliatory, like, Well, Clapton’s all right -- like when he blah blah blah. Tommy’s face did the usual: no affect. He got quieter, maybe sadder.
Mom piped up: “Tommy, would you like some nice decaf -- some Sanka? I made a sugar-free chocolate pudding for you--“ Tom was diabetic on top of everything else. I started feeling bad for him again, but I stood my ground and said, again, Give me Neil Young any day -- he rocks.
Tom was dumbfounded. I don’t think anybody had ever stood up to him like that; we always pussyfooted around, being careful not to upset him. Well, that night, I felt compelled to play that devil’s advocate, compelled to see what would happen.
“Well, I don’t know, Laurie -- I need to think about that.” Again, his emotionless face registered just a hint of sadness, his haunted eyes regarded me tiredly. Then he accepted Sanka and dessert from mom, and soon after, we all said good night.
I felt kind of awful. Afterwards, on our way home to Manhattan in the train, I asked my boyfriend what he’d thought of the exchange.
“It was one of those sister-brother things. I couldn’t get in there and take sides for either of you. He’s all right, though. And you know you’ll never convince him that Clapton’s not his god.” Silly arguments, old grudges, fights about sibling stuff that went back to ancient history between us. . . how could there have been any winners?