Steve Cropper--"Big Bird" (mp3)
I'm pissed off at Eric Clapton. Recently, I've spent time with him in various airports and countries, working through his life story as told by him. Ultimately, it bored the crap out of me.
Maybe you don't know about the adulation heaped on Clapton in the 60's and 70's, when "Clapton is God" was written on walls all over London. Sure, Hendrix was otherwordly and there were other great players coming up, but E.C. was the one people worshipped. Maybe he's writing away from that because it contributed to the drug use that nearly destroyed his life. I don't know. All I know is that those are the interesting years and that finding God and the love of a good woman is not nearly as engaging a narrative. Sorry, this isn't Oprah; it's rock and roll.
A brief synopsis: man learns guitar, man gets fame, man takes drugs, man covets neighbor's wife, man takes more drugs, man marries neighbor's wife, man takes more drugs, man tries to clean up, man drifts apart from neighbor's wife, man takes drugs, man has a lot of women and drugs, man's son falls out of window, man tries to clean up again, man finds God. I thought this guy was supposed to be a musician! He spends more time talking about auctioning his guitars off for charity than he does about playing them.
Here's the bad news, Eric. Anyone who has an interest in music and picks up your book wants to know one thing and one thing only: How did you come up with the music of "Layla," both song and album and why did the interplay with Duane Allman work so well? We get about a page and a half of that. He does acknowledge that when the band went on the road without Allman, things fell apart. But he doesn't address the rumors that Allman was the creative force behind the incredible music produced on that album. He doesn't explain who did what. Well, maybe I don't blame him for that, especially if Duane was the spark.
But Clapton seems mystified or unwilling to discuss either his songwriting process or the evolution of his playing. He has more to say about recording Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff" than he does any song he wrote himself. Maybe I expected too much--but he is a musician and I was hoping for a musician's biography. The album Slowhand, one of his last great moments, barely gets a mention, except for how he dashed off "Wonderful Tonight" while waiting for Patti to get ready.
Of course, I'm probably the one who is out of the mainstream on this one, as usual. How many books could Clapton hope to sell to guitarists? Not as many as he can to those looking for a middle aged tale of sin and redemption, that's for sure. Heck, my mother-in-law was talking about this book and Clapton's appearance on the talk show circuit a year or so ago, and I doubt she's ever heard even one of his songs, except in the background of a supermarket.
The other reality, to me, is simply that I don't find the last 25 years of Clapton's life particularly interesting musically, and so the other details don't come alive either. I mean, heck, for a couple of albums he reliquishes creative control to Phil Collins! He goes through a lot of women; his muse, Patti Boyd/ Harrsion/ Clapton doesn't hold his interest much once he gets her. He goes through a lot of drugs. Some years he barely makes it out of his house. So I guess it's a tragic life, a lot of it, and one that he barely remembers. But, I guess that doesn't make him that different than the rest. With the exception of some Dylan and some Neil Young, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of creative juice left in the old guys, so most of their last 25 years ain't too fascinating either.
By contrast, Clapton's early years, which usually bore me in biographies, are among the most fascinating. He's a bastard who has to pretend that his mother is his sister and that his grandparents are his parents in order to preserve dignity in a small town. That's got to be tough. He finds solace in the guitar. He pins down one embarassing experience as the key to a variety of sexual problems later on. He mentions bandmates and songs and explains why he quit the Yardbirds at their peak. But then, those are years that he remembers the best.
If you want to read a great rock "biography," may I suggest the never-gets-old Hammer Of The Gods about Led Zeppelin. It probably won't make you like those guys, but you'll understand better how the music and the self-destructive, hedonistic lifestyle feed each other. They also got someone else to write it.
For all you kids out there thinking about experimenting with drugs, learn from Uncle Eric. If you plan to tell your story someday and you use a lot of drugs, you won't be able to remember the interesting parts. And then, like James Frey in A Million Little Pieces, you'll have to make them up. And then you'll have to face Angry Oprah, not Supportive Oprah.
Other guitar gods like Roy Buchanan and Steve Cropper have their music, in various forms, available at Itunes.