Monday, November 30, 2015

Eric Clapton: Clawing back a life

Read Eric Clapton's autobiography to learn how to enjoy life.

I am a fan of Eric Clapton's music.  I grew up listening to the Rainbow Concert and Bluesbreakers on endless repeat.  I sang the praise of Clapton through school years, debating his prowess over other guitarists.  Clapton was a role-model for my guitar playing: both for a choice of instruments, and the choice of music.

So it is surprising that I held off reading his biography till much later.  A few months ago, to be precise, I started reading it.   I knew about much of his life, I had memorized early details of his career.  So I was pleasantly surprised that there was much to learn.  Now that I am a father, I found myself identifying with his later years.  Clapton's love of life, and his joy in family struck me more than his prowess with the guitar.

I started out loving Clapton, the guitar God.  Now I am in awe of Clapton, the daddy.

Clapton's book goes in chronological order through his life.  His early years, a tough childhood, and his early success at music.  The writing style is easy, and his honesty comes through.  He is honest on his academic failure, and his eagerness to regain a life through music.  He is honest about his shaky relationship with women, and his hesitation in approaching them.  He is honest about the success of other musicians around him, and how much they helped him.

The most gripping parts were his middle years, "Lost Years" as he calls it.  While I knew that Clapton had struggled with substance abuse, the extent of the abuse shocked me.  The damage it caused to his family and friends, and his life was horrifying.    And his recovery and relapse into alcohol addiction was equally saddening.  One of the most brilliant guitarists of our age, a God, struggling with such a mortal weakness!  Clapton's frequent references to his diary are impressive.  Having kept a journal, he was able to dig back into those years and paint a clear picture.  Deep in the midst of his substance abuse, he frequently forgets entire days and even concerts that he played at.

Clapton's recent years are the most mysterious to me.  In the recent past, I started listening to more blues, B.B. King, more jazz, Louis Armstrong.  Over time, my own musical interests have changed.  While I still enjoy the older albums, I find the recent Clapton albums much more to my taste.  "Riding with the King" with B.B. King and Clapton was stellar, as was "Reptile" and "Me and Mr. Johnson".  I found myself identifying more with the cleaner blues sound.  However, by this time I had lost touch with Clapton's life, and didn't idolize him as much.  So it was a complete surprise to find that Eric Clapton had not just recovered from substance abuse, but had found a satisfying family life.  There was an adorable picture of Clapton playing guitar in his children's room.  The mother is sitting on a couch reading a book as the children play by.  It nearly brought a tear to my eye.  I identified with the joy of playing the simplest melody to my kids, and reflecting in their wonder.  I could see my own daughter sing happily at the top of her voice while I struggle to play along.  I could see my son asking me to strum his favorite song, no matter how poorly.

I found that Clapton was a new role model to me.  Not a guitar god who is aloof from humanity.  But a gentler, kinder man.  A person who has prevailed over harsh times.  A parent who provides comfort.  A parent who is glad just to be around the children.

A guitarist who plays for himself and his kids.

Image, courtesy Amazon.