Thorn Tree in the Garden (YGtCTO Music #5)

Song performed by Derek and the Dominoes
Written by Bobby Whitlock

From the opening guitar harmonics through the finger picking end, I can’t hear this song without a rush of reminisce, not exactly regret as much as a view down the road not travelled. Let me elaborate…

Back in college, I rented my first apartment ever with a friend and an acquaintance. The place was the top floor of a multi-use building with all the nooks and crannies you might expect. The ancient structure sported gables, leading to odd alcoves and weird layout. We created a common area on one side and placed the holy of holies there- the stereo (back then this meant a record player, cassette player, and amp). We had no television. Having a computer was not a thing. We had a typewriter.

Being of an age when time meant nothing, we tended to burn the midnight oil either working or schooling or playing. In order to wind down at the end of daily exertions, I would stumble up to our third floor, find food, and pop on headphones in a nod to the off chance that someone was sleeping somewhere in the building and I liked the music loud.

We had filled the nearby alcove with a few pillows and I would settle down to munch and stare out the window, enjoying the soundtrack in my ears that played along with whatever silliness was happening after midnight in the small downtown spread out below.

Layla is an album of love songs that mostly build and build in energy, as well as an album about a relationship that cannot work– that whole being in love with your best mate’s wife. Perhaps that was not the ideal choice for chilling out, but I had it on heavy rotation, even with it being a two record set that required three schleps to the record player in order to listen to the whole thing. And I had to listen to the whole thing because I wanted those last two and a half minutes with the song I thought was one of the most beautiful pieces in this world- still do, to be honest.

Everyone knows that the guitar playing on Layla is magnificent, but the vocals, especially Bobby Whitlock, reach in and grab my heart, as often as Duane Allman and Eric Clapton do with their strings. After all that “will he or won’t he get the girl”, Layla ends with a song looking back on her departure, sung with an ache in the throat that might make you weep. In the end, Layla does not seem to be about desire and lust as much as about acknowledging that so much is ephemera. Surely, it is a thematic album, but the girl gets further and further away as the songs break down the distant longing and she becomes a symbol of the unattainable. Perhaps even in real life, once attained, she proved to be unlike the woman on the pedestal. Thorn Tree in the Garden may very well be about that woman up there on the pedestal, the next one barely glimpsed in passing.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 287 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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