By definition, absence is the lack of presence in a place where someone should be or usually is, and in some cases, it seems impossible for those who stay, to look for the right place to find and fill that void that inevitably leaves the person taken away by the death. It’s a huge effort to find a loved one in every daily gesture, in the words spoken and even more in those that we would have liked to tell them. One always thinks of the things that could have been done but then, in reality, to soothe any form of pain it is enough to remember the things that have been, the emotions experienced together, the pains, the tears wanted and not, just remembering to keep that absence alive. Memory is the only way to go beyond death. And if we, listeners, music lovers, and fans in general, when an artist passes away ( someone who outlined and took us by the hand towards a road that seems to all intents and purposes ours, as if he was part of our family) feel to have a hole in our heart that we fill through the music he has given us through the years, perhaps it is a little more complicated if the person who passes away was, not only an artist but also a person who somehow walked with you, passed your story, shared your worst moments and stood beside you or one step behind, someone you know who understands more than anyone else what it means to pick up a guitar, someone who has been your friend despite the world around. And that’s the case with Eric Clapton after Jeff Beck passed away. It is also very complicated to really know what Eric Clapton feels, the only thing that can be written about is what he has shared since Jeff Beck has been gone. Not a day goes by without Clapton remembering him, whether it’s an interview or a photo to post on social media and is this, let’s call it “insistence”, in wanting to remember him that makes it understandable how much this death is not only inside and close to Clapton but is a death that he took on his shoulders, somehow. Remembering is never easy, because it can also be painful, it can also be subject to criticism, but Clapton knows very well that he has the task to remember Jeff in every possible way. He will do it in the two evenings dedicated to Jeff Beck in London, he does it, as we said before, continuously in the few interviews he releases, and in the photos that are posted on social networks, he did it by paying homage to him on the tour he has just concluded in Japan and he went even further with the track Moon River, that Eric and Jeff had recorded shortly before his death. Maybe it’s called destiny, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the fact is that Moon River represents the perfect piece to remember the passage because in any way it is played or sung, it has that serenity and that calm that gives back that breath one needs, to remember the path that has been travelled together and to underline that two of the most extraordinary and important guitarists on the international scene are still looking in the same direction, still walking on the same road, through two different guitars. But let’s take a step back, to the original version played by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where the enchantment of falling in love is reproduced, of two people who set off on a journey together, because love is also a journey and the river, water as an element that represents flowing, going forward despite everything. And it is also like this in the video of the song reinterpreted by Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, in a cartoon version. From that river that goes towards the sea, which shows the way, from that sea from which comes a giant hand that throws a plectrum in the air that then turns into a disc and then from the water a guitar rises and re-emerges that indicates another road, a road that branches out and that despite the different branches becomes a single tree, which in turn becomes a guitar that splits in two and those branches then become strings played by their hands. And then the steps, the walk together, the guitars like suitcases with Jeff who is always represented one step ahead, even when they stop to look at the long road before them, Jeff is in front, he observes first and at that moment the song underlines the importance of that journey undertaken together “Wherever you’re going I’m going your way. Two drifters off to see the world there’s such a lot of worlds to see. We’re after the same rainbow’s end”. And then the two hands come together, pull a string (of the guitar) and use it to play with the moon, bouncing it first on one side, then on the other and finally throwing it up there together. There’s not much to say about the performance, except to make a possible comparison with Frank Sinatra‘s version. Listen to Sinatra’s version and then immediately to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck’s: they have the same depth, the same passage from one memory to another, the same strength in wanting to remember something that you lived intensely with someone, even the ability to turn sadness into a kind of a dream from which we always wake up together, only Frank does it through his voice and Eric and Jeff through their guitars.
Years ago, it was 2018, I was lucky enough to attend a Jeff Beck concert in Ostia Antica. It was the most shocking concert I’ve attended, because Jeff Beck started to have a lot of nosebleeds, and when I say a lot I mean a lot of blood. He got on stage almost an hour late, we thought the concert was being postponed and, after finding him in front of us, we really hoped for his health that he would have postponed the event. He was wearing total white from head to toe, even his guitar was white. But he was bleeding like a river and all that red was hard to understand for those who looked at him (and I was right in front of him). But he kept going, he kept playing with his hands full of blood, someone threw him talcum powder, and handkerchiefs which he couldn’t use because he had to keep playing. At one point, full of blood, he held the handkerchief tightly between his teeth and with a gesture of anger he threw it away, as if to say that he didn’t need it, that he would have continued anyway, blood or not blood. He made a big impression on me when he apologized. He made a big impression on me when he took the handkerchief out of his mouth and threw it away because it seemed like he knew that the guitar recognized only his hands and the blood didn’t touch it at all. While many of us were afraid that something would have happened to him or that he would have died, he wasn’t and I didn’t understand this sort of challenge, which is why I have never listened to Jeff Beck since. I did it again yesterday, however, listening to Moon River and I think I now finally understand the importance of that handkerchief full of blood squeezed between his teeth and thrown away and the apology to the audience. Each of us has a mission, someone small, someone great, Jeff Beck’s was and is to play the guitar, wherever he is now.