No. of Recommendations: 6
If you're a fan of Eric Clapton, you have by no doubt heard he has a new autobiography out simply entitled Clapton. After reading it, I can pretty much assure you that no matter what you would expect the material to cover or the perspective shed on that material, you'd probably be off by at least fifty percent.

Anyone who's followed his career knows the basic biographical mileposts:

* raised by his grandparents
* raced through several groups (Roosters, Yardbirds, Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith) in search of musical purity
* became obsessed with George Harrison's wife
* created a masterpiece (Laoals) over that obsession
* lost 3 years as a heroin addict
* revived his career for mid-70s success while continuing as an alcoholic
* nearly died several times in the early 80s from alcohol related ailments
* revived the third phase of his career in 1986 while leaving Patti and fathering a child
* lost his son in a freak accident in a New York Hotel
* launched a noticeably different phase of his career and life in 1992

The book spends virtually no time recollecting pure musical or technical details. You won't hear about decisions about Marshall versus Music Man versus Soldano amps, the switch from Les Pauls and ES-335 guitars to Strats, etc. You won't learn what happened to the beginning of the recording of Key to the Highway that required a fade-in on Laoals. The only photos in the book are the "cover pages" introducing each chapter, including one with Clapton and Alice Ormsby-Gore, the woman who holed up with Clapton from 70-73 and followed him into heroin addiction. At its worst, by Clapton's estimate now, they were using about 1000 British pounds worth of heroin a week. (Now about 8000 pounds or about $16,300).

One thought that comes out of reading the book involves the naiveté of virtually all of the famous rock starts of the 60s, including Clapton, as it related to their finances and business dealings. It seems clear now in hindsight that NO ONE at the time truly appreciated how much money could be made in rock. Many of the artists never got far in school and often weren't well off to begin with and had no appreciation of what to do with their money. Until Clapton bought his house at Hurtwood Edge, he got a monthly lump sum from RSO and they paid his rent on his apartment and all his other bills, like a parent still paying a child's expenses while at college.

The most surprising factoid in the entire book from a pure music trivia standpoint is that during his re-emergence in 1974 and recording of 461 Ocean Boulevard, he was initially pleasantly surprised by the inspiration of his song Let it Grow, only to realize a year or so later that he had subconsciously nicked much of the vibe of the song from Stairway to Heaven and that he felt bad about it, given that he never really "rated" Led Zeppelin's material.

What Clapton DOES spend a lot of time on in the book is putting himself under the psychological microscope, both in terms of the women in his life and his music and business dealings. To say the scrutiny is withering would be an understatement to say the least. At times, the perspective he conveys about what he did and whether he really understood at the time what he was doing and what its impacts would be seems to vary. Overall, however, the stories seem to indicate that even at the time, a part of his conscience understood the mechanics of the mistakes he was making but emotionally he was unable to change course.

In the last chapter, Eric writes about the 2006-2007 tour. While 100% pleased with the musical results (as was virtually anyone that saw shows from what I've heard), he pulls no punches about his dislike of touring, especially in a post-9/11 world of airport security hassles. The main book ends with this comment:

I have been trying all my life to retire, constantly vowing to give up the road and just stay at home, and maybe one day I will be forced to do that for one reason or another. For now, I will leave the door open, and maybe that will make it easier for me to stay inside -- a kind of reverse psychology, but who knows? All I am certain of right now is that I don't want to go anywhere, and that's not bad for someone who always used to run.

Reading the book really makes one think about the dynamics involved with almost any successful professional musician. With guitar as an example, I can think of no famous artist who learned and mastered the instrument in group classes. Mastery required HUNDREDS / THOUSANDS of hours of time spent alone. It seems the only way someone is going to stick with it and put in that time is for some combination of the following motivations:

1) using that skill to gain the center of attention
2) spending the time as an escape from public pressure, developing a freakish level of skill in the process
3) chicks dig it
4) having something you feel compelled to communicate, even if you don't normally feel comfortable in the spotlight

Probably nothing has changed in 300 years. Virtually any art capable of surviving the test of time involves a level of skill that required enormous personal sacrifices to hone, producing an artist less adapted to dealing with the multitudes who flock to enjoy the art, producing more of the conflict that fueled the development of the skill in the first place. A vicious cycle. The only difference is modern communications and marketing can produce one million times the attention and one million times the fortune for artists not capable of handling it to use destroying themselves and those around them. After reading Clapton's autobiography, one gets the sense he learned the lesson just in time, for his sake and for our sake as fans.

Get the book. Highly recommended.

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