woensdag 23 augustus 2017

Clapton. The Autobiography. Eric Clapton

A nice book for the holiday, this autobiography is. Years ago a friend gave it to me for my birthday and this year I put it in the bag filled to the brim with books to take with me

Am I a giant Clapton fan? No, never have been, but there certainly were periods in his career that I appreciated what he was doing or learned it in hindsight, working my way back. When all is said and done I like him best when he plays the blues or the psychedelic variations of it as with Cream and later on Derek & the Dominos. The last two decennia, parts of the 70s and 80s could have passed me by easily and they did. But there always were some great songs, somewhere in between. I faintly remember reading another biography, a few decades back, having picked up 'Survivor' second hand at a book fair on far off continent.

Clapton reads away easily. It is written with a pen for speed. At the same time it is not extremely well written. For that it has a too high "and then" element, topics change totally unexpectedly, as well as the introspection that never runs very deep. On the other hand, I am not overly interested in his inner struggles, no matter how defining they are for the person Eric Clapton. I would have liked to have learned a little bit more about how the music was made, what choices had to be made there. What is utterly annoying in the Dutch translation I read, is the many mistakes that were not taken out when editing the book. Especially in the final part of the book the mistakes becomes abundant.

What Clapton shows quite well, is the decent of Eric Clapton. The mysteries surrounding his parents and grandparents are well explained and written in an interesting way. It certainly explains something about the man and how the secretiveness surrounding his origins worked its way into what kind of person Eric Clapton became: uncertain, closed up and keeping things hid. When parents turn out to be (step)grandparents and aunts grandaunts, things become confusing. Still, it is clear that his family was supportive of him, loving and caring and that he received the support needed to make his steps into the musical world of the early 1960s in London.

This part of his career is also well documented. The slow steps upwards, the mixing of the minds and the ones that got lucky and rose to the top. Almost all with an enduring career are mentioned, with the exception of The Kinks. What struck me most is how much The Beatles were the top of the tops. They are more or less looked upon as kings. Underneath them are The Rolling Stones, but way, way below. The Rolling Stones were approachable, The Beatles approached. The hierarchy in the 1960s, no matter how big others became, was evident for all. "Clapton = God" was written on walls in London. Sure, but then there were The Beatles.

And then an outsider flew in from the U.S. Again, it becomes clear how large the impact of Jimi Hendrix was on all things British. He blew everyone away with this playing, his skills, his show. Pete Townsend hid under a stone for three years (and wrote his masterpiece 'Tommy' any way). Eric Clapton met his match in each and every way. He ran into the candy of the week phenomenon with the release of Cream's album that hardly received attention because 'Are You Experienced' was the candy. By way of the U.S. Cream found its place in the pantheon any way.

Looking at how important Cream was for Clapton's career path, it amazes me how little is written on the band. Its biggest hit, 'White Room' isn't mentioned at all. Sure, of course a chapter is filled with words on Cream, but I would have liked to learn more. The famed clash of the characters, etc.

Following the acclaimed Derek & the Dominos album Clapton fell into a heroin addiction lasting years, followed by an alcohol addiction of about a decade and some more. In this period he has made several songs that are very much worthwhile, but basically leaned on others mostly and gave them the room to have their place by removing himself. It is a period in which he seems to not dare expose and explore his greatest talent: playing the guitar. Clapton gives some explanations for this, but it makes me wonder what his work could have sounded like, had he worked like he could have in his prime years. We will never know, except, perhaps, in some later live versions of the work.

From there on this is more and more the case. Clapton nosedives into addictions of various kinds, towards the end of the book he's clean for years, but clearly has a buying addiction and the money to afford it. I have heard about all that and it is close to a miracle the man is still alive today. It's too bad, as we will never know what he could have produced if he had not succumbed to heroin and then alcohol. Years of nothing and then years of the uncertainty of not wanting to be the front man. Something he did become in the 80s. I remember hearing a great live show on the radio somewhere around the 'Behind The Sun' album, with great blues tracks, Cream songs and solo work like 'Forever Man'. This is the song where his guitar really soars again, perhaps matching 'Layla' for the first time. In the 90s I saw Clapton live in a stadium with Elton John and in an arena following the 'From The Cradle' album playing a great blues show. That was enough.

What also is illuminating, is how others keep the falling artist upright just enough to pursue his career. People who work tirelessly, for a good salary, no doubt, to keep things on track and the permanently drunk artist upright just enough so he shows up in time to do what he has to do: record, play, talk to the press, etc. Also in this case there is hardly anyone trying to steer him in another direction. Clapton is the boss, the chicken with the golden eggs. In this case nobody had to say with famous hindsight, "if only I had ....". Eric Clapton lived to tell and more.

Clapton finally truly fell in love, settled down and raised a family with wife and three daughters. The point where all the unrest in his head settled down, allowing him to appreciate what he has. It seems also like he ran out of ambition, condition and ideas around 2007. That is fine. Whatever was released after the release of this book, did not keep my attention for long. Clapton's days were already over as far as I am concerned. Every once in a while I play one of his old albums. In general I need something with a little more spark in it these days.

The book sort of peters out like his music did, for me. I'm glad for Eric Clapton that he found what he was looking for though.


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