This weekend I picked up Reprise! When jazz meets pop, a mixed-bag compilation CD of jazz (Wes Montgomery, Brad Meldhau) and jazz(ish) (Jamie Cullum, Bobby McFerrin) musicians covering rock songs (Madonna, Hendrix, Radiohead, Bowie...) Some are good: Herbie Hancock finds the fingersnapping potential that Kurt missed in 'All Apologies'; the delicious Senor Coconut shows that some jokes have legs, hitting Deep Purple square in the castanets. Some are middling; and then there's Joshua Redman. The saxophonist pulls off the prodigious feat of turning in a muzak version of 'Tears In Heaven' even more grotesque and emetic than the one perpetrated by its originator, Eric Clapton.
But of course, you're not allowed to say that are you? Because 'Tears In Heaven' was precipitated by a personal tragedy, so whenever EC picks up his trusty acoustic, we're supposed to think about how sad it was that his son fell out of that window, and forget what a bland sap the man once known as "God" has become.
Time was when Clapton transmuted his personal tragedies and traumas (drug addiction; forbidden love for his best friend's wife; being Caucasian) into songs of genuine passion, power and imagination. It's easy to forget what an innovator he was, looking at the anaemic dullard he's become, boring, performing pale blues for paler people. But that's about as popular a sentiment as arguing that Princess Diana was a slightly dim serial shagger with a martyr complex; or that the World Trade Center was an architectural abomination.
Just compare the ache of the original version of 'Layla' with his Unplugged take. E.C. (C.B.E.) now sounds like George Formby feeling a wee bit melancholy, backed by a Chas 'n' Dave tribute band. But then, real tragedy always contains a drizzle of farce.