S y d n e y T r a d s

Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum

Thinking Right About Pop Culture: Eric Clapton – My Father’s Eyes

What follows are programme notes for the “Conservative Song” segment of Radio Carpe Diem compiled by Dominik Giemza. The notes were produced for a broadcast of Monday, 6 September 2010, and form the basis of a live on-air discussion about conservative and traditionalist themes that can be inferred from items of popular music. Radio Carpe Diem is Australia’s only paleoconservative and traditionalist radio programme and can be accessed online or free to air at 88.9FM at 8:00pm to 10:00pm Mondays (Sydney, Australia). Readers’ comments are welcome here at SydneyTrads. Listeners are encouraged to tune in and engage in the discussion.

The Universal Father

Eric-Clapton-My-Fathers-EyesWith father’s day just having passed its time for a ‘father’ conservative song. We have done a lot of songs about family but tonight’s song is about those more universal aspects of fatherhood. Ultimately everyone has a father and a mother and each has a special role to play in ones’ life. Even when our blood father may not be there it is the intention of Christian scripture and belief that our heavenly father can take his place guiding our lives in that period from ones orphaning (as all parents must pass) to meeting our universal mortality. Thus fatherhood is not just existential (i.e. looking for our immediate origin) but also spiritual in the hope that our heavenly father gives us.

Introduction

According to Wikipedia:

“My Father’s Eyes” is a song written and performed by Eric Clapton and produced by Clapton himself and Simon Climie (of 80’s pop group “Climie Fisher” fame). It was released as a single in 1998 and was featured on the 1998 album Pilgrim. The song reached the top 40 and won a Grammy award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The song is inspired by the fact that Clapton never met his father, who died in 1985. It also refers to the brief life of Clapton’s son Conor, who died at age four after falling from an apartment window. “In it I tried to describe the parallel between looking through the eyes of my son, and the eyes of the father that I never met, through the chain of our blood”, said Clapton in his autobiography.

In respect of the album “Pilgrim” Rolling Stone‘s David Wild gave it four out of five stars, stating, “‘Pilgrim’ is the work of someone who has learned in the hardest way imaginable that although he cannot change the world, he might be able to change himself.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought (probably unintentionally from that secularist magazine) as changing oneself is indeed the path to Christian redemption.

From the two quotes above we already see the songs undeniable conservative credentials but as always a detailed examination of the text of the lyrics show a myriad of conservative messages woven within its wholesome hand stitched fibres. Of note is that the keyboards on the song are played by Paul Carrack of “Mike & The Mechanics” whose song “In the Living Years” was our conservative song two weeks ago.

Notes for the Discussion

Luke without the benefit of the wiki analysis had already been thinking about this tune when he observed:

It seems to cover three stages of life – finding relationships, in this case with one’s father, raising a child and confronting death. The question is – ‘Who is the father?’ The literal ‘spirit’ of a deceased father? God? Both? Could it be a call to follow in the footsteps of one’s father – or the singer’s father in particular, as it is a kind of ode to him? Any of the above is a Conservative result isn’t it?

My response is that it is both, the singer’s father and God and even more importantly the singer’s own experience of fatherhood are inextricably woven into the lyric. This triptych (or trinity!) has to be covered in its entirety by the song as the only links between the singer, the deceased son and the missing father are the faith (in God the father) that unites these in the consciousness of the singer. Yes there is a chain of blood too but it’s the consciousness of Christian concepts and duties of fatherhood that makes the three fathers a unity.

The first verse starts off with a dose of Christianity:

Waiting for my prince to come,
Praying for the healing rain,
To restore my soul again.

The singer is waiting for his prince to heal and restore his soul. This can be seen at several levels. The prince being the missing son to heal the anguish of a father that lost his son (presumably to be met in heaven as per the other Clapton song on this topic “Tears in Heaven”). Or the lost father healing the anguish of the singer, also a son lost (but in a different sense). But it could also be meeting the prince of peace the redeemer of sin upon death. Either way restoration of the soul involves both death and the spiritual meeting of these individuals.

The first chorus reflects on the singer’s identity as a son:

Just a toerag on the run,
How did I get here?
What have I done?
When will all my hopes arise?
How will I know him?
When I look in my father’s eyes.

You see a reference to the question we all must pose “how did I get here?” – a question which again has a duality of contexts – being both a reference to questions about one’s immediate origin (in respect of one’s own father) and the existential question of origin (i.e. God our immediate father writ large). The duality again repeats in the question of recognising one’s father in the afterlife – it is both seeing one’s own lost father (the person) but also a bigger question for a “toerag”, perhaps a sinner of recognising his heavenly father at the moment of judgement.

The second verse develops the singer’s understanding of his own fatherhood:

Then the light begins to shine,
And I hear those ancient lullabies,
And as I watch this seedling grow,
Feel my heart start to overflow.

These words express both a father’s joy at watching his son grow and a reference to ancient lullabies which may be both a reference to the singer’s past (the lost lullaby’s of his father) or a biblical reference (ancient?) which can also make one’s heart overflow.

The second chorus looks at fatherly guidance:

Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Bit by bit, I’ve realized,
That’s when I need them,
That’s when I need my father’s eyes.

Again we see a duality of meanings living together – a search for the lost father and the example he could have set in teaching his son things to pass onto his son, but also the deeper spiritual teaching that comes from the teachings of God.

The last verse looks at death:

Then the jagged edge appears,
Through the distant clouds of tears,
I’m like a bridge that was washed away,
My foundations were made of clay.

The “jagged edge” appears to be a metaphor for the end of life. Is the singer feeling spiritually inadequate – has he lost hope or are his material concerns meaningless when faced with the cycle of life and death? Certainly the distant clouds of tears indicate a despair and hopelessness regarding the past.

This continues to the last chorus:

As my soul slides down to die,
How could I lose him?
What did I try?
Bit by bit, I’ve realized,
That he was here with me,
I looked into my father’s eyes.

Sliding down to die is a strange metaphor. Sliding into the abyss is understandable but souls do not die – unless perhaps the singer is referring to a spiritual death after losing – not the birth father but our heavenly father and the hope that is lost when that happens. The line “what did I try” suggests ‘don’t be a victim and blame others for your failures’ a good conservative concept – also maybe the singer did not try hard enough to be in touch with his spiritual father – a fact that may cause ones soul to “die”.

Perhaps. But the passage ends with redemption as the singer realises that his father was there all along – either in spirit or in the hope that faith however distant gives when it is realised. As Luke pointed out to me in our discussions , at the last part, where at the end of his life the singer is contemplating where God is and has been we get : “Bingo! You turn around and realise he’s been there all along. It’s a variation on the 1936 poem Footprints in the Sand by Mary Stevenson.

So in conclusion, this is a much layered song about the meaning of fatherhood be it spiritual or existential. Clapton really outdoes himself by interweaving these layers which shows a profound understanding of the nature of fatherhood that can only be experienced through personal loss and through questioning the hope that on occasion went missing due to the loss. This is a journey of rediscovery through pain and I hope that the fathers out there (or those men who want to be fathers) discover the joys, duties and spirituality of fatherhood for themselves without enduring the pain of loss other than vicariously through the words of Mr Clapton.

Lyrics

Sailing down behind the sun,
Waiting for my prince to come,
Praying for the healing rain,
To restore my soul again.

Just a toerag on the run,
How did I get here?
What have I done?
When will all my hopes arise?
How will I know him?
When I look in my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes,
When I look in my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes.

Then the light begins to shine,
And I hear those ancient lullabies,
And as I watch this seedling grow,
Feel my heart start to overflow.

Where do I find the words to say?
How do I teach him?
What do we play?
Bit by bit, I’ve realized,
That’s when I need them,
That’s when I need my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes,
That’s when I need my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes.

Then the jagged edge appears,
Through the distant clouds of tears,
I’m like a bridge that was washed away,
My foundations were made of clay.

As my soul slides down to die,
How could I lose him?
What did I try?
Bit by bit, I’ve realized,
That he was here with me,
I looked into my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes,
I looked into my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes.

My father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes,
I looked into my father’s eyes,
My father’s eyes.

– Dominik Giemza

The writer is a legal practitioner and the co-host of Carpe Diem Radio’s regular segment: the “Conservative Song” . The above notes were drafted for a live and on air debate about conservative and traditionalist themes which can be found in popular music. Listeners can access Radio Carpe Diem either on air at 2RSR 88.9FM in the greater Sydney region, each Monday between 8:00pm and 10:00pm, or streaming live via TuneIn.com. Feedback is welcome.

SydneyTrads is the internet portal and communication page of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum: an association of young professionals who form part of the Australian paleoconservative, traditionalist conservative, and independent right.
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