After the War

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess who was mainly responsible for starting the Trojan War, because Paris determined that she was the fairest goddess and he gave her the golden apple.  Aphrodite promised Paris that he would have the love of Helen from Sparta who was the most beautiful woman in the world.  After Paris took Helen, the war lasted for ten years until Troy was defeated.  Most of the warriors returned home after the conflict, except Odysseus or the Romanized version of his name Ulysses, who provoked the wrath of Poseidon and Helios.  Ulysses was held captive, he was shipwrecked, he had many adventures, and he and his men had to face all types of different monsters and mythological creatures undergoing a series of trials, tribulations and setbacks that made his journey to get back home last for ten years.

Odysseus’ ship has to pass near the sirens, women who had the magic power to call passing sailors, causing them to lead their ships onto rocks nearby.  Odysseus has his crew tie him to the mast, so that he can hear their overwhelming, enchanting song without it causing him to wreck the ship or jump overboard.  These women were sometimes depicted as having various odd shapes, though more often involving bird parts like harpies, but in the Cream song, they are associated with mermaids, who have often been blamed for attracting passing ships into dangerous waters.

‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses’ came out in 1967 on Cream’s second album Disraeli Gears and it is one of the more psychedelic songs on the album, thanks in part to the wah-wah pedal Eric Clapton used on his guitar.  According to Felix Pappalardi, the group’s producer their first attempts to record the song fell flat.  Taking a break, he and Clapton went to Manny’s Music store, where they found some wah-wah pedals.  The first wah-wah pedal was invented in November 1966 and Clapton heard that Jimi Hendrix was experimenting with one on his song ‘The Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, and that gave Eric incentive to try it.  This guitar effect became a distinguishing feature of the song.

Like most early Cream songs, this one has lead vocals by their bass player Jack Bruce.  Clapton was experimenting with distortion devices on his guitar, using a fuzz-box and wah-wah pedal on this, as well as some echo.  Martin Sharp wrote the lyrics for this song and Clapton matched it to the music from a song he was already working on, which was based on the Loving Spoonful’s ‘Summer in the City’.  Clapton was at The Speakeasy Club with his girlfriend, French model Charlotte Martin, when he was introduced to Sharp, and they hit it off.  Sharp told Clapton that he’d just written a song, and Clapton replied that he’d just written some music, so Sharp wrote the lyrics down on a table napkin along with his address and handed them over.  Sharp wrote his lyrics to the tune of Judy Collins’ version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’. Sharp’s words fit the tune that Eric wrote and the song was born.

This song centers around the stories in Homer’s book Odyssey, who is destined to move on, but also doomed to be dissatisfied wherever he goes.  Martin Sharpe might have experienced the tiny purple fishes between his fingers when he was vacationing in Ibiza, as he wrote this just after he got back to London.  Aphrodite was often depicted as traveling on giant seashells.  I imagine it would be an unforgettable experience, getting to make love with Aphrodite, “And when your fingers find her, she drowns you in her body, Carving deep blue ripples in the tissues of your mind.”  Once Ulysses finally returns back home, he is restless and can’t be satisfied there, because he has “touched the distant sands” of foreign lands and he learned to live for adventure.

You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever,
But you rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun.
And the colors of the sea blind your eyes with trembling mermaids,
And you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses:
How his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing,
For the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips.
And you see a girl’s brown body dancing through the turquoise,
And her footprints make you follow where the sky loves the sea.
And when your fingers find her, she drowns you in her body,
Carving deep blue ripples in the tissues of your mind.
The tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers,
And you want to take her with you to the hard land of the winter.
Her name is Aphrodite and she rides a crimson shell,
And you know you cannot leave her for you touched the distant sands
With tales of brave Ulysses; how his naked ears were tortured
By the sirens sweetly singing.
The tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers,
And you want to take her with you to the hard land of the winter.

Written for Paula’s Thursday Inspiration 25 where this week’s theme is adventure.

9 thoughts on “After the War

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