Broadway Books, 2007
It was the music. Music is what inspired, sustained, and provided the atmosphere that made him, broke him and made him again. Clapton had an early sense of himself as an unusual outsider being brought up by his grandparents who acted as his natural parents while his mother disappeared to raise another family without the stigma of an illegitimate boy. Like many of us, his emotional-life trajectory seems to have been born in these early years.
When he discovered the comfort and power of music as a boy he never let it go and it became his first of many obsessions. For if there is one thing Clapton appears to to be, it is obsessive. He was obsessive with learning the guitar and playing in bands that suited him, obsessive in his choices of women and how he pursued them, obsessive with heroin, alcohol, love of his home Hurtwood Estate, designer clothes, fast cars, journal writing, effusively recalling every musician he ever met and played with, and finally with turning his life around to be an involved philanthropist, recovered alcoholic, and devoted family man.
Wow, what a life. The physical constitution of people like Clapton who can live as crazy fast and bad as they do, leave me in awe. After the amount of drugs his body endured and the ocean full of booze he flushed through his system, I will forever note Eric Clapton as an example of the power of human beings to endure.
At the end of it he ambles into his sixties, missing only a step or two to deafness. He is lucid and magazine-writing honest though the written word renders even his son’s tragic death in a few straightforward paragraphs. Readers who want the guts of Clapton’s emotions are more likely to find it in his music. The last two chapters of the book are evidence that it is much more interesting to read about people’s problems than the boring, happy life he writes about in the end.
Clapton appears to be enough of a control freak to not have the usual ghost writer for his biography which would add this autobiography to his list of obsessions. But there is credit to be given. His recitation is clear, easy to read, and surely an excellent reference for music fans. Both his emotions and sentences of self-assessment were stiff. He wrote of his grandfather, “In my arrogance, I believed I had somehow contributed to his decline by having bought him a house and giving him enough money to take early retirement.” The paragraph ends with, “perhaps I wasn’t responsible for everything that happened in the world.” There is humor, yes, and good self-assessment, but I also hear the language of his very good therapist. Thank God for good therapists. They send people on their way with trite, comforting phrases.
Clapton did what he set out to do. After considering the lives of Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, and Robert Johnson, he deliberately kept walking into his own dark times with the purpose of creating music and, “I also wanted to prove that I could do it and come out the other side alive.”
My lingering question is, “But what about the guy driving the laundry van he broadsided at ninety miles an hour?” Did he come out alive? Only Clapton’s injuries were listed.