Eric Clapton on Eric Clapton

It's a goddammed impossible life
- Robbie Robertson

So described Robbie to Clapton the life on the road as a musician. It also neatly describes Clapton's own life. The facts of EC's life are well-known and there are no facts out of the ordinary and known in his autobiography - Clapton, the Autobiography . Yet, the book is a marvelous, fascinating read of an impossible life told by the incredible artist himself. It's not just what happened, but how it happened that interests me. The book is organized chronologically along the big events in his life. Clapton arrived and left quickly, often at the peak of a band's popularity. These quick, short events are convenient for breaking up the story in neat chapters. But, that is on the surface. Like his own songs, in which there is a main riff and then dizzying solos, the book is largely a rambling account, with years, events, and names flashing forward and backward. It feels like listening to an extempore narration of Clapton recounting his life based on bullet points printed on a 4x3 inch index card. There are no footnotes to help you along, as EC talks about people using their first names - e.g. Mick, Keith, Roger John - without introducing them appropriately. Sometimes there are lots of details that would have been excised by a more careful editor. It is quite unlikely that the book was ghost-written, and the somewhat poor editing gives the autobiography a rough authentic feel.

His musical wandering has been relentless - Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes. Life has been a constant journey and search. Is Clapton a seeker or just a wanderer? It depends on your point of view. He was an illegitimate child, told that his grandparents were his parents and his mother his sister. When the truth was told he was unable to handle it. He constantly wanted to hide, constantly felt he was being judged. That made him a perfectionist and made the desire to pursue music and play it the best he can his prime obsession (with the drugs and alcohol getting in the way, of course).

But, satisfaction and comfort came late. Subway graffiti proclaiming - 'Clapton is God' only made Clapton feel that he had some street cred, but did not give him the feeling of guitar divinity. He always felt uncomfortable with the 'guitar-hero' tag. His problem was always been about being comfortable in his own shoes. He writes that it was confidence that he lacked, not the chops to be a bandleader and a singer. He took him more than 50 years to really find his footing and come to grips with his talent, his origin, and his addictions. At the same time, he writes, "Once, I got what I wanted, I realized I did not want it any more." It's the same story with guitars, women, and success. And he had a lot of all three while riding on one form of addiction or another.

Throughout the book there is not one harsh word about anyone; Clapton reserves it mostly for himself. It wasn't about them, it was about that inner demon that lead him to both glory and despair. He writes, "There is a madman inside me that gets out under the influence." EC did a whole lot of wild things, but the tone of the whole book and every episode is even and matter-of-fact. He does not gloat over his crazy episodes or failures in relationships. They, sort of just happened. It hurt, and it hurt like hell, but he moved on, for the most part.

The Epilogue is one of the finest chapters in the book after rather anti-climactic last three chapters of domestic bliss with Melia (his current wife). If they ever make a movie about his life (which they will) it would start here.
As I write this, I am sixty-two years old, twenty years sober, and busier than I have ever been.... I am virtually deaf, but refuse to wear a hearing aid because I like the the way things sound naturally, even if I can hardly hear them.

After having been sober and clean for 20 year, he blames his addictions for not being able to forge close relationships with people during those years, especially Muddy Waters. Some the most famous concerts, he writes, he was too stoned to remember.

I was curious to know what he had to say about his relationship with Jimi Hendrix. Clapton says, he was devastated when he first heard Hendrix play. "I remember thinking here was a force to be reckoned with. It scared me, because he was clearly going to be a huge star, and just as we were finding our own speed, here was the real thing." Jimi and Clapton used to crash random bars, walk up onto to the stage and wipe everyone out. What would I not give to see this happen? Clapton was deeply shocked and saddened by Jimi's early death. He was going to present him a guitar the next day.

He has nothing but good things to say about musicians, and even managers, in the entire book. He hated the 'music machine' when he first started and he still hates it now. We like to glorify the 60s and 70s and think of that time as some sort of golden period of rock music, but he puts it into perspective.
The music scene as I look at it today is little different from when I was growing up. The percentages are roughly the same - 95 percent rubbish, 5 percent pure However, the systems of marketing and distribution are in the middle of a huge shift, and by then end of this decade I think it's unlikely that any of the existing record companies will still be in business. With the greatest respect to all involved, that would be no great loss. Music will always find its way to us, with or without business, politics, or any other bullshit attached. Music survives everything, and like God is always present. It needs no help, and suffers no hindrance. It has always found me, and with God's blessing and permission, it always will.

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