Saturday, November 10, 2007

Smack, Booze, & A Life of the Blues

First off, I am a longtime Eric Clapton fan.

Hence, from the “interest” level alone I was drawn to the autobiography like iron filings to a magnet.
I’ve waited for this book, for years.
And apparently, I’m not alone in this.
Clapton: The Autobiography has spent all four of its first weeks of release [since Oct.9th] on the Globe & Mail Non-Fiction Bestseller List, here in Canada.
The book has not disappointed me.
It is an engaging, enthralling read.

It starts at the start, with Eric, the illegitimate son of Patricia Clapton and Canadian airman, Edward Fryer, being raised by his grandparents [Patricia’s parents, Rose and Jack] in a little village called Ripley, in England.
Early on, he began to suspect the truth, and withdrew into himself. One year, just before Christmas, Pat visited and Eric blurted out, in front of his grandparents, "Can I call you Mummy now?"
She replied, "I think it's best, after all they've done for you, that you go on calling your grandparents Mum and Dad."
Clapton writes, "in that moment I felt total
The disappointment was too unbearable, and he traces his decades-long inability to form lasting relationships with women to this early sense of inadequacy.

His interests in art and creative expression soon led him towards an appreciation for music.
He writes: "It's very difficult to explain the effect the first blues record I heard had on me, except to say that I recognized it immediately. It was as if I were being reintroduced to something that I already knew, maybe from another, earlier, life."

His grandparents supported his passion, and supplied him with his first guitar, a Hoyer that was too big for him, the strings a mile from the fretboard.

Rather than provide a synopsis of his entire life here I will just say that the book goes on to chronicle his movement through a succession of bands, from The Roosters, to The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos, and a myriad of other projects and collaborations, where it seems his shyness and sense of inadequacy never so much as left him but became increasingly shoved into corners with the aid of narcotics.

The life story of Eric Clapton involves a lot of smack [heroin], cocaine, booze, women, real estate, and money. And always the music.
Even if he performed one or two concerts laying flat out on his back… he played.
Invited by George Harrison to appear at the benefit concert for Bangladesh, Clapton accepted only after being assured that he would be provided with enough heroin to feed his habit.

While some of his friends and lovers could keep their drug use in moderation, Clapton found that in his case, “…addiction doesn’t negotiate.”
Addiction wanted all of him. And got it.

The most moving and memorable parts of the book for me, are the ones in which Clapton so honestly opens up the darkest rooms of his life. I paused, as I read him say: “In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore if I was dead.”

This is definitely not a book wherein a man boasts of his accolades. [For instance, there is not one mention anywhere of Mr. Clapton’s 16 separate trips to the Grammy podium!]
It’s an unsparing, searing look at a very famous and wealthy man who could not even drive his Ferrari the 300 yards home from the pub, without smashing it into something along the way!

One thing that rings clear, throughout the history of Eric Clapton’s career and life, is that he was a blues purist.
His early frustrations with the bands he had formed always involved staying true to the purity of the music, to the blues. He despised selling-out. He despised trying to make the hit record, for the sake of sales.
His utmost desire was sincerity. Realness. To be real and true.
And yet, it was his very addictions to narcotics, and later, to alcohol, that kept him from being real and true to himself.
That was then.
Clapton is now 62 years old. And 20 years sober.
In this review I am not saying much about the good parts of his story. The recovery. But it’s all there, in the book’s home stretch, culminating in his marriage to Melia McEnery, who became the one stabilizing figure in his adult life. He and Melia have four daughters.
Admittedly, this book is not going to win the Pulitzer Prize or anything, but I do love how Stephen King put it, in his review of Clapton “…he writes better than most memoirists play guitar.”
Damn straight!
At one point, Clapton says, "When I try to take myself back to that time, to recall the terrible numbness that I lived in, I recoil in fear."
And yet this is exactly what he has done, with this book. Courageously, [I think] taken himself, and us, “back to that time.” To those times.

And shown us that he has more than survived. He has triumphed.

Read an excerpt CLICK
To purchase CLICK


Shark said...

Sounds quite familiar to my own days of rock and roll C... One of these day's I'll have to blog about it.

cipriano said...

It's a terrific book, Shark.
Yes, you should write a book about your own adventures.... drugs, booze, babes, and all!