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Book Review: Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton

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The blues resonated with Eric Clapton at a very young age. In this primal form of music, he viscerally responded to its themes of sorrow and loss, themes that in time would permeate his own music and, as fate would have it, his life.

In Clapton: The Autobiography, Eric Clapton comes clean with a memoir inundated with tragedy, substance abuse, and rampant sexual affairs. Whilst depicting such turmoil, he recounts his multifaceted career, one that even in its early stages saw him hailed as one of rock’s preeminent guitarists.

Forthright and with an unassuming sense of self-awareness, Clapton writes with remarkable clarity in not only narrating his personal evolution, but also describing his relative state of mind throughout that evolution. Exhibiting a wisdom learned the hard way, he comes across as a man consciously putting his complicated past into a coherent context.

In chronicling his career, Clapton offers reflective insight and assessment as opposed to specific analysis of technique or performance. Calling upon his purist conviction for the blues, he writes how that passion consistently guided his maturation as a musician. In an era when British pop groups flourished, he notes how he sought a divergent course altogether, purposely shunning music endeavors that didn’t correspond to his rigid sense of purpose. Even while his virtuosity as a guitarist in rock bands like Cream and Blind Faith garnered him immense acclaim and recognition, he seems to have perceived himself as pursuing an individual objective.

While music comprises his career and defines much of his life, Clapton’s substance addictions form the narrative arc of this autobiography. He openly describes the magnitude and the consequences of his alcoholism, from inciting drunken fights to crashing luxury sports cars. He also portrays his extensive abuse of drugs, heroin in particular, which wreaked havoc on his relationships as well as his mental state. While instances of substance abuse and addiction are not uncommon in the realm of rock and roll, Clapton’s addictions appear to have been sparked by uniquely traumatic origins. A series of shocking crises that occurred in his childhood elicited profound feelings of disillusionment and contempt, yielding an addictive impulse that would manifest in his behavior for decades. So whereas his friends and acquaintances perhaps indulged in drugs for pleasure or creative stimuli, Clapton succumbed to substance abuse, for the most part, as a means for coping with his conflicted emotions. His passages pertaining to his struggles to conquer his addictions and his ultimate rehabilitation are among the most touching accounts in the book.

Now with the benefit of sobriety and hindsight, Clapton acknowledges how his addictive tendencies influenced his often-chaotic relationships with women. Predominantly, he focuses on his romance and marriage with Pattie Boyd, his inspiration for “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight.” He recounts his initial obsession and unrequited advances toward the woman while she was married to his best friend, George Harrison. Clapton then traces their eventual courtship and marriage, which he now admits was doomed by drug abuse and infidelity.

While Clapton exhibits a capacity for putting his past weaknesses and faults into a constructive perspective, he understandably offers no such rationalization regarding the death of his young son. It’s the only instance in the book where Clapton’s present expression mirrors the anguish he must have felt during the circumstance he’s recalling. Sounding like a haunted man, he methodically retraces the events surrounding the tragedy in gripping and unnerving detail. His enduring grief is palpable and profound.

As harrowing as it is fascinating, Clapton: The Autobiography renders a valiant portrait of an enigmatic music legend. Unsparingly honest and candid, Eric Clapton confides his life story with much the same sincerity that distinguishes his greatest music.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Rickie Lee Jones, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • jen

    Id love to read this
    he rocks

  • moonraven

    Hmmm. I hope that the rest of the book is better than the Vanity Fair excerpt.

    It sucked.

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!

  • Thank you very much, Natalie. I appreciate it.


  • James Carson

    I’m planning to read this at some point, and your review has confirmed that it’s worth a look. Many thanks.