I found a pattern in my behavior that had been repeating itself for years, decades even. Bad choices were my specialty, and if something honest and decent came along, I would shun it or run the other way.
– Eric Clapton, in Clapton: The Autobiography
I wanted to wait until I had an entire life to write about. And though I don’t think I’m quite done yet, my memory was starting to play tricks on me. I realized that if I didn’t do it now, I might have to rely on other people’s memories, and it might start to lose some of the accuracy.
To write this book, I had to be comfortable with my day-to-day existence. I like that I can look back and feel comfortable with my life.
– Eric Clapton, NY Times interview, October 7, 2007
First off – if you buy it to find out more about Clapton’s guitar playing, you’ll be disappointed. No real details about his guitars, amps or settings, nothing about his playing technique. If you want to know why the Nothing But The Blues Tour wasn’t released you’ll get no information, just a few words about this tour. No details about his gigs with Hendrix during Cream other than we used to crash random bars, walk up onto to the stage and wipe everyone out. So if you’re not interested about the man and his life himself, skip it.
However, although I was disappointed of finding no answers to my questions about the music, I’ve read the book within a few days. I’ve read the original release in English, and although it’s not my native language I found it easy to read.
EC first tried to work with a ghostwriter: Christopher Sykes, a longtime friend. But being unhappy with this version (It looked very defensive, judgmental, full of self-justification) he took over the writing himself. According to an NY Times article He put himself on a disciplined schedule, working in self-imposed exile in his hotel room every morning and afternoon. I found that I couldn’t wait to pick up the thread each time. I really enjoyed doing it; it was really fun to learn how to put a sentence and a paragraph together.”
With brutal honesty EC writes about his life and all his “bad choices”. In detail he describes his childhood, his love life and his addiction. That’s what it’s above all: the life of a drug and alcohol addict and the painful process of getting sober. He quit being drunk all the time not because he couldn’t play guitar anymore, it was because “I lost my balance [while fishing] and I fell over and I broke one of the rods in half. And something in me just died.”.
So although there’s not much about his songs in detail, one can easily say that his best playing was when he was in deep trouble – unfulfilled love (Pattie aka Layla), loss of his son Conor (Tears in heaven), friends (Jimi, Duane, Stevie,…) and ancestors (grandma Ruth, during the Nothing but the Blues tour) and trouble with his various girlfriends.
The first part of the book is the best: growing up, getting into the Blues, the Yardbirds, Cream. Then the drugs take over: from heroin to alcohol, one can wonder that he’s still alive. The book now concentrates on his addiction and the process of getting sober, first from heroin, then from alcohol, finally he even quit smoking. In the end he’s happy with his family, he mastered what only a few people with his “career” mastered: getting sober and having a family. Even more, he founded his Crossroads rehab center, which is also a main theme on the last pages of the book. He also defends his love for fishing and hunting (I am a hunter; it is in my genes, and I’m quite comfortable with that), and he’s bothering people wo are against hunting by assuming they’ve watched too many Disney movies.
The books ends with a prophetic view on music industry:
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.
– Eric Clapton, in Clapton: The Autobiography
After all, critics must be allowed. I’ve already mentioned the lack of details about his guitar playing, so an Autobiography, Vol. 2: The Music would be nice. Imagine this with a DVD containing previously unreleased material and amateur recordings like EC and Jimi in NYC…
More and better photos would also be nice. And finally, a usable index. The index provided is a joke – just computer generated. If you want to check out what he has written about his From the Cradle album and look simply at “F”, you’ll find nothing. Instead, you have to look at:
C: Clapton, Eric -> Clapton, Eric, musical career of, -> From the Cradle.
My recommendation is: read it, it’s great if you want to know more about his life, but also read other biographies. Some recommendations are:
- M. Roberty: Eric Clapton (Omnibus Press 1986, 1990). Great visual documentary.
- M. Roberty: Eric Clapton – Day by Day: The Early Years. Every day up to 1982.
- H. Shapiro: Lost In The Blues (Guiness Publishing, 1993). Great EC biography.
- Michael Schumacher: Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton (2003)
- C. Sandford: Eric Clapton – Edge Of Darkness (1994/96). Very critical but detailed biography.
- Pattie Boyd: Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me (2007). The other point of view.
- Dave Thompson: Cream: The World’s First Supergroup (2005). The reference.
- Chris Welch:Cream: The Legendary Sixties Supergroup (2000)
- Christopher Hjort: Strange Brew: Eric Clapton and the British Blues Boom: 1965-1970 (2007)
- Alan Clayson: The Yardbirds: The Band That Launched Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page (2002)
His Cream bandmates also released their biographies:
- Jack Bruce: Composing Himself – The Authorized Biography
- Ginger Baker: Hellraiser – The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Drummer
An inspiring story of struggle, setback and redemption, The early chapters bring vividly alive the mood and music of the times, and the young Clapton cuts a deceptively sympathetic figure: an idealist, dedicated to maintaining the ‘purity’ of his music; modest about his talents, candid about his professional jealousies, his shyness, his sexual insecurities.
Clapton bares his soul. Fascinating. It’s an absorbing read, like you’ve been granted access to a mind finally coming to terms with itself.
The Sunday Tribune (Ireland)
A powerfully honest and very moving insight into the life of a rock legend
The Herald (Glasgow)
Clapton provides an orderly account of life in which all other considerations are secondary to the frequently selfish needs of The Artist’
Clapton reveals all in this unflinching confessional.
Clapton relates what happened with painful honesty. In other rock stars, such plump contentment might seem hypocritical, even vulgar. But with Eric Clapton, you feel that a little comfort is the least he deserves.
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday (4 star review)
Eric Clapton has produced a gem of a rock memoir, in which he lays bare the painful roots of his music. Clapton speaks honestly and touchingly not only about the external course of his life but of what music has meant to him. That makes it much the best of this season’s rock memoirs. Clapton delivers himself profoundly. It’s extremely moving.
Difficult to put down
It is a pity more autobiographers don’t have Clapton’s grounding in the blues.
His story is certainly deserving of telling. What sets this book apart is Clapton’s sheer stature. His tale is frank, witty and engaging. Worth a read.
News of the World
This is a gripping read
It’s a raw and remarkable piece of self-exposure