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A Short Essay: Little Wing

poplar leaves cover image - 2013-11-01 at 15-43-13

Cover image for “Poplar Leaf Study: Version One” – acrylic on paper, 11″ X 4″, 2013, Mark W. McGinnis

I sit in my studio contentedly working on my paintings as I do six days a week nearly 52 weeks a year. My iPad is playing one of the many Blues stations I have programmed on Pandora. A piece comes on by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood live at Madison Square Garden. My mind is taken back to all the Eric Clapton music I have had over the decades — the vinyl, the cassettes, the CDs. I think about playing one of the first Cream albums on the stereo in the shoe store where I worked in the late 60’s while doing my undergraduate art studies — selling platform shoes and listening to Cream — life was good.

I have a couple Clapton albums in my digital collection on my iPad but nothing live, and for me Clapton, like Springsteen, has a special energy live that cannot be found in studio recordings. With the seamless magic of Apple’s world in a few seconds I am sampling the full 2009 album on iTunes – I buy it.

Back in the flow of my work I listen to track after track with pleasure, then Clapton begins Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing. My eyes well-up with tears, I stop my work and am completely absorbed by the sound. It is not only an emotional experience, it is also a spiritual experience. This experience is created by many factors, not the least is the combined talents of three artistic geniuses — Hendrix’s original creation, Clapton’s remarkable interpretation, and Winwood’s symbiotic keyboard work that is so subtle and perfect. There is also something in the lyrics —

Well she’s walking through the clouds With a circus mind that’s running round Butterflies and zebras And moonbeams and fairy tales That’s all she ever thinks about Riding with the wind.

The words seem to embody that brief time in the late 60’s and early 70’s when there seemed an alternative way. A possibility of breaking free of the dominant culture, of becoming more concerned with love than money. Yes, I am feeling loss. Surely not all those involved with the counterculture of the time lost – some stayed with it. But most were quite rapidly absorbed in the powerful current of consumer culture. For the most part I certainly was swept into family responsibilities and career path.

Loss can certainly be part of aesthetic experience. Fast burning flashes of genius like Hendrix or the complex long-maturing richness of Clapton’s talent show us the potential of art to bring understanding of ourselves. I continue to sit at my table and apply paint — washes and overlays. I hope once in a while they might give someone some insight. They keep me busy and I am grateful for that.

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