Most people who are fans of Eric Clapton’s music know that he wrote the 1992 song “Tears in Heaven” about the tragic death of his four-year-old son Conor. Clapton believed that artists of any kind have a responsibility to bare their souls and to deal with difficulty and sadness through their craft, thus making their pain and loss something to which audiences could relate and might subsequently embrace. It was a responsibility about which Clapton felt very strong, so when he began to write the song “My Father’s Eyes” as a means of processing his deep seated grief over never having known his father, he wanted to present the best possible version of the song to the world. Although it was first performed in 1992 at the taping of MTV’s Unplugged, it never appeared as a track on the actual album of the same name. It was not released until 1998 as part of Pilgrim. In a 2011 interview with Guitar World, Clapton explained the struggle he had with writing and rewriting this song, and how the first version of it “came out sounding pretty petulant. The lyrics were too angry and childish. Where the art and craft came in was in being able to shape the anger into something people could empathize with. It wouldn’t work for me to just kind of sulk in the song, because it wouldn’t have communicated. Instead of feeling an affinity, people would’ve been repelled.”
I’ve listened to “My Father’s Eyes” many times without really knowing the meaning behind it. I suspected that it was related to a sense of disconnection Clapton felt from his father, but I was unaware that they’d never had any relationship at all. I was even more surprised to learn that the song was also closely tied to the way in which his son’s death helped him to process his feelings about this non-existent relationship. After losing his son, Clapton came to realize the sense of continuity he’d felt between the generations, calling it a “strange kind of cycle thing” that he felt compelled to share.“I had a kind of revelation about my son. It’s a very personal matter but I never met my father and I realized that the closest I ever came to looking into my father’s eyes was when I looked into my son’s eyes. So I wrote this song about that.”
This insight elevates the lyrics to a new level of poignancy. Clapton takes us through three levels of questioning in the song that begin with his wondering how he’ll ever know his own identity without the chance to know his father. “How will I know him? / When I look in my father’s eyes.” The arrival of his son leads him to ask, “Where do I find the words to say? / How do I teach him? / What do we play?” The answer would have been, of course, in his father’s eyes. Isn’t it true that we come to understand so much about our own role as parents from the experience we had as children? Finally, after his son’s death he questions, “As my soul slides down to die. / How could I lose him? / What did I try?” and finds some peace in the realization that his son’s eyes gave him that window through which he could see his father, and finally know him in some way. This magnifies the loss tremendously, but allows us to share in it, and to feel what Clapton called the “upside,” or the knowledge that generational ties remain strong, no matter what the circumstances.
For today’s cocktail, I decided to use Riptide Cask Strength Rye from Cali Distillery as my base spirit to represent the power that exists between generations. I knew that I also wanted to include my black cherry mushroom syrup because of its earthy quality, and the way in which it reminds me of roots and a sense of being grounded. That led me to Dolin Rouge Vermouth as a way to intensify the cherry flavor without adding too much extra sweetness. I surprised myself by preferring lime juice over lemon for the citrus component of this drink, but I was happy with how it worked symbolically as well. This song is filled with both the sting of loss, and the brightness of knowledge. I always feel that lime juice brings us both as a cocktail ingredient. Finally, this drink gave me with the opportunity to do a bit more experimentation with Bittercube’s sampler pack. The Cherry Bark Vanilla flavor was a given; I’d had that in mind from the moment I decided to use my syrup. The Blackstrap bitters were an afterthought, but they added just a hint of necessary spice that brought complexity and depth, as bitters always tend to do. This can true of life as well. Our darkest moments, even the ones that we barely have the courage to look at, often provide us with just the light we need to see the bottom and find our way up. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday! The link is at the bottom of the post to listen along with the lyrics.
Add all the ingredients to a shaker tin with ice and shake until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry. Enjoy!