Eric Clapton – Clapton: The Autobiography

I had a really good time reading this book. Of course, I knew most of the major details of Clapton’s life, having been a fan (mostly) for all these years. It’s pretty hard not to have heard these tales already, since when you’re a star as big as he is, the world just makes it their business.

So, I knew all about the different bands over the decades, and most of the reasons why they worked (or didn’t), just from having paid half-assed attention to rock history. It also helped to have already heard most of the music being discussed. I found it played in my head while reading, thus providing an excellent soundtrack.

The tales of his childhood are interesting (I hadn’t really known about the Canadian connection, so that’s cool). We are all shaped by our experiences (duh!), and Clapton is no different. And so I wasn’t too surprised when I read through his tales of messed up relationships (especially lusting after another man’s wife), and of his massive substance abuse problems, because these, too, are well documented in a million places. They say artists must suffer for their art, and Clapton surely did suffer, but c’mon, most of it was self-inflicted. Well, we all make choices, don’t we! At least he owns up to this in the book.

So, I read through his tales of trying to get clean, the horrific death of his son, his falling off the wagon and then finally getting clear of the shit for good. I had known, somewhat peripherally, of his subsequent auctioning off of a lot of guitars. But I hadn’t realized just how many, or how much money he actually raised. Jeez. Well, good for him. Especially since the money went to a healthy place, even if that place can only be reached by (surely hand-selected) locals and an elite few rich folks. I mean, when was the last time you passed through Antigua, for any reason? Exactly.

I hadn’t known much about the more recent parts of his life – his new wife, their daughters, etc, so it was good to get caught up with the man. Frankly, I hadn’t been paying too much attention to him in the last few years, as his albums have generally left me cold. Even the blues ones, which should appeal to me to no end. Tastes change, I know, but I still love the blues, and he plays them incredibly well. He even claims that the blues are still his number one mission. So I don’t know why I find he just sounds like a professional going through the motions, tossing off the riffs in a studio, these days. I guess I just can’t feel it from him anymore. Which is not to say the music is not technically brilliant, because it surely is. But there’s a difference between that and soul. Maybe it’s age, or that he’s happier now than he’s maybe ever been, or it’s the sobriety, or his shift from player to legend (and all the attendant hype)? Maybe a little bit of all of that. Who knows? Of course, it’s probably unreasonable of me to expect he’d solely make pure, raw blues records – they never sell as well. After all, he’s got a massive boat to pay for now, you know?

Anyway, the best part about this book is the level of self-effacing humility that he has reached at this point in his life. Oh sure, he is still living a life most of us can only imagine, but he really seems pretty humble about his talent, about his accomplishments, and even somewhat mystified, at points, about the reverence people hold for him as a person and as a musician. Of course, it’s his book and he can write what he wants (he might kick his dog, for all we know), but it’s still refreshing to read that he’s not still all full of himself, that all of his experiences have finally led him to grow up a little, and to see the world through increasingly balanced eyes. The fact that he’s had to live into his 60’s to reach this position is beside the point. At least he’s doing it.

I highly recommend this book.

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