Review – Eric Clapton: The Autobiography
When the liner notes describe this book as ‘disarmingly frank and honest’ they aren’t kidding. In his direct and simple style (which is actually quite articulate and very, very readable) Eric describes his life and relationships throughout the years with wine, women and song. The book is packed with intimate revelations (which sometimes make you wonder how some of his statements impact some of those mentioned who are still alive) and detailed introspection on his behavior throughout the years.
Guitarists hoping for a peek into ‘how he did it’, i.e. how he got to the top of his game as one of the world’s most widely respected and rated guitarists from a technical standpoint, how he approached practicing (honing his craft he refers to it as) and any other musical insights may be slightly disappointed. He describes his influences thoroughly but spends little time talking about the actual mechanics of his guitar playing, songwriting or soloing approach. Nevertheless this is a compelling read apart from the slightly ponderous ending chapter in which he describes the minutiae of his recent domestic life (the book goes right up to the end of 2007) though this does include a reference to his stop in Singapore last year which I was fortunate to attend at the Indoor Stadium.
The early chapters give a very detailed account of what it was (and maybe still is) like growing up in the London Home Counties and as a Londoner myself I identified with many of the locations and anecdotes very closely, occasionally laughing out loud. Americans may find these first few chapters boring. His battles with alcoholism are well documented here and all the tragedy, bad behavior and self-destructivism that resulted from it which adversely affected his lovers, friends, family and musical associates are here. Many of these passages are gritty and harrowing and go some way to deglamorizing the rock-star lifestyle and putting it into some very identifiable human perspectives from which I took comfort and inspiration when I examined my own addictions.
One of the most attractive aspects of the book is the rock-star name-dropping that gives you an insight into the inner circle of the music fraternity that his fame/notoriety made him privy too. There are numerous anecdotes involving nearly all the very famous characters from the early sixties-thru-eighties music scene, including The Beatles (especially George Harrison whom Clapton became very good friends with after stealing his wife Pattie), Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Winwood, etc. etc. etc.
It’s hard to make any moral judgement abouts Clapton while reading this book – in some ways he’s quite successful in deflecting self-blame and shirking responsibility from a lot of his appalling behavior as resulting from either not knowing any better, being an innocent (and ignorant) victim of circumstances and being almost entirely consumed by his requirement to get drunk for about half of his adult life, and from the honest way in which he writes, one is drawn for half of the time to think ‘Jesus – what an arsehole’ in equal measure as one feels bouts of severe sympathy.