Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton (Three Rivers Press, $15.99, 352 pages)
Ethically, it was never a problem for me…
The noted writer-reviewer John Updike once said, “Review the book, not the reputation.” If this memoir had been written by an average Joe, it would likely draw comparisons to James Frey’s fake memoir (now labeled fiction), A Million Little Pieces. Like that work, this account is filled with descriptions of inhaling massive quantities of illegal substances, of dangerous behavior and of hurting oneself and others no matter the consequences. But this memoir is written by a multi-millionaire musician, one who treats near-priceless Ferrari automobiles like disposable coffee cups, one who walks on 30-story hotel ledges, and one who repeatedly and tragically hurt others: “I suddenly told Pattie I was leaving… I was like a flame in the wind, being blown all over the place, with no concern for other people’s feelings or for the consequences of my actions…”
Suffice it to say that the Eric Clapton found here is not a very nice or likeable person. He’s a person, who until the end of this account in near present times, sees the world as existing to serve only his own pleasures; so this is at times both an immoral and an amoral telling of the events in his life. If this sounds too harsh, here are Clapton’s own words: “I was off having one-night stands and behaving outrageously with any woman who happened to come my way, so my moral health was in appaling condition and only likely to get worse… I was already trying to sabotage my relationship with Pattie, as if now that I had her, I didn’t want her anymore.” (emphasis added)
The person who knows little about Clapton prior to picking up this book – something that is not recommended – likely is aware that Clapton took Pattie Boyd Harrison away from George, one of Clapton’s very best friends. That says volumes about his behavior, behavior which is only ampiflied in the 328 pages of this autobiography. One might hope that this version of events, written by a spirited musician, would contain some life in it, but it’s flat and omits many of the details that were provided in Pattie Boyd’s earlier-penned memoir, Wonderful Tonight.
We must presume that Clapton wrote this memoir on his own as there’s no attribution to another writer (“Eric Clapton with…”) nor an “as told to” credit. Frankly it reads as if it were dictated to a stenographer or into a recording device.
There’s little for the rock music lover to discover here, as Clapton’s accounts of playing with certain bands/musicians are sparse, and he never does describe how he came to learn his own brand of playing. A lot of time – too much, it seems – is devoted to explaining his love of the blues, even though (despite his insistence here) most of his career has centered on playing rock rather than traditional blues music. And there are many odd and questionable statements throughout the book… For example, when Cream plays one of its first dates opening for The Who. Clapton wonders then whether Cream could possibly succeed with just three musicians in the band, even though they saw that The Who (a musical trio – Roger Daltrey generally being just a vocalist) had already proven the success of this musical business model. Odd.
Bad choices were my specialty, and if something honest and decent came along, I would shun it or run the other way.
Ah, yes, Clapton (in a style reminiscent of John Lennon) blames his bad choices in life on the fact that a parent abandoned him “all those years ago.” This seems like an excuse that was used for far too many decades. In his mind, because his mother abandoned him, he was free to seek revenge by abandoning everyone who came into his life; except, of course, that he’s now happy with a third wife and four daughters. Good for him.
I remember when I was considering reading Boyd’s memoir Wonderful Tonight, and I came across an online comment to the effect that if one read her book one might well cease to be a fan of the musician Eric Clapton. I feel the same way here – it will be much harder to listen to Disraeli Gears or 24 Nights or Derek and the Dominoes or Journeyman after this. At one point, Eric Clapton seemed like Forever Man. In this autobiography, he comes across more like Nowhere Man.
The reviewer was lent a copy of this book.