Of course, I’ve always been aware of Eric Clapton and known that I like him. That said, I really knew nothing about him, so I happily downloaded the Kindle version of his autobiography when it was on sale.
One of my biggest surprises is how many bands he was part of that I loved when I was a teenager: the Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and the Dominos. I think of him as a solo performer, yet he’s collaborated with hundreds of great musicians.
Here’s Layla, performed in 1999 at a concert at Madison Square Garden.
Another surprise, and not a pleasant one, is how addicted he was to drugs and alcohol. The first half of the book contains example after example of Clapton’s binges with cocaine, heroin, and other substances. Frankly, for half his life, he was a jerk, and it’s painful to read about it. I always wonder how it is possible for people who are so impaired to make beautiful music. I guess they focus the functional part of their brains on the music, and their relationships suffer the consequences of their drug and alcohol abuse. This was certainly the case in Clapton’s life.
The good news is that he beat his drug addiction around 1973, though he continued to drink until 1987.
One big motivation for getting sober was the birth of his son, Conor, in 1986, the result of a year-long affair. Conor died in 1991 from a fall from his apartment window. Clapton wrote “Tears in Heaven” in his memory. At the time, I wondered how anyone could have been so inattentive as to let a child fall out a window. Reading Clapton’s account in the book put some of my outrage to rest.
About remaining sober, Clapton writes that in the 1990s:
On recent trips to my house on Galleon Beach in Antiqua, I had become increasingly disillusioned by the number of addicts and drunks who were springing up, or maybe it was just that I was noticing them more now…Coming home from one trip there, I confided in Chris and Richard [Steele, who ran the rehab section of the London Priory Clinic] about this dilemma, saying that I was thinking of selling and not going back again, and they both said… “You’ve got the money; build a treatment center.”
…The object would be to build a clinic in Antigua, with a view to servicing the entire Caribbean area. It was accepted that few clients would initially come in from the local communities, and that we would need to promote the center elsewhere, drawing on people from America and Europe who would pay to come there and thus fund scholarship beds for the locals who couldn’t afford it. It was a Robin Hood scheme really; take from the rich to feed the poor…I was excited by the idea of doing something to pay back for all the good times and spiritual healing I’d got in Antigua…
There was absolutely no notion of what recovery was in the Caribbean. Alcoholism was still regarded as immoral or sinful behavior there, with jail time and social ostracism being the only practiced solutions. In order to set up a treatment center here, we were going to have to educate and to a certain extent emancipate the entire community…
What right did I have to try and bring these kinds of changes to a community that, on the face of it, just wanted to be left alone? …In order to stay sober, I had to help others get sober.
1998 marked the opening of the Crossroads Centre Antigua, which Clapton founded. I’ve watched Crossroad Guitar Festival concert videos on MTV without realizing these were benefits to raise money for the Crossroads Centre. This was the third big surprise Clapton revealed to me. After my disappointment in the first half of the book, learning how Clapton turned his life around made the story much more palatable.