Let's Make The Best Of This Situation Before I Finally Go Insane: "Layla"

I hope we can all agree that Eric Clapton's (or Derek and the Dominos if you want to get pedantic) "Layla" is an amazing song.

It's got all the things: technical complexity and innovation, more than enough emotion to go around, and a backstory encompassing several grand figures of rock history.

It has several versions, including the studio original of 1971 and the Unplugged of 1993. (I'm not going to weigh in on which is better except to say, ORIGINAL RULES ACOUSTIC VERSION DROOLS!!!!!!!!!!


To be fair, I have a personal memory of the original version that makes it one of my favorite songs, period. It was a beautiful October day and I was driving through Pennsylvania with a good friend and we were driving much too fast. It's a hard one to beat.)

It's also been recorded live a number of times, although it is apparently notoriously difficult to perform (which makes sense).

Here's one that went very well.


The song: Eric Clapton with Phil Collins, "Layla"; live at Live Aid 1985

In my not very humble opinion, this is GREAT. I mean you can feel the electricity when the first riff starts up, also it must be said that Clapton is looking pretty fly in that safari shirt.

As I've been watching this video over the past few days, my attention has gone to a perhaps unexpected corner: not Clapton, not Phil Collins, but the tambourine girl.

She's the girl (woman, really, but "tambourine woman" sounds too much like a Bob Dylan song for my comfort) wearing a dress and banging a tambourine. You can tell she is, like all the musicians on that stage, reallllllllly feelin' it -- otherwise the performance wouldn't work as well as it does. Everybody has to be in it together.

The tambourine girl is a common presence on the rock stage, and she's almost always wearing a dress. When I Googled "tambourine girl" the other day (I just bought a tambourine) most of the definitions were to the effect of "Girl on stage whose main purpose is to look cute and shake a tambourine. Usually somebody's girlfriend."

Well, I'm not going to deny that the meat of that is technically true, but my question is. . .what's so wrong with that? So much of rock music is essentially about men. What they want. What they don't have.

I don't have a problem with that. The danger is in supposing that women can't feel the same things men do. But, as "Layla" demonstrates, a truly great rock song (just like a truly great pop song) transcends the personal and becomes universal. ("Layla" is a particularly interesting example of that in my eyes because Clapton himself was re-telling a story from the Muslim world; the song, after all, is about George Harrison's wife but he didn't call it "Patti". Some would say thankfully.)

The issues of women-in-rock-music and sexism-in-rock-criticism often circle back to the real crazy rock chicks of this world, the ones out in front: Joan Jett. Chrissie Hynde. Debbie Harry. Grace Slick.

Those rock chicks are one thing, but they are not every thing. Just look at the tambourine girl.