I am not a huge fan of autobiographies, but for some reason I was curious about this one. I put it on my Christmas list, and Pun Daughter provided.
I have been a Clapton fan for an official Real Long Time. Could have been even longer: even though I was aware of Cream in high school, my musical tastes ran in different directions at that time. But in college, I was enraptured with Derek and the Dominos, and I've picked up his albums ever since.
I was also, more vaguely, aware of the trajectory of his personal life: his initially-unrewarded love for Pattie Harrison, George's wife, followed by their acrimonious marriage and eventual divorce; his battles with substance abuse; the loss of his son, Conor, in a horrible accident; his eventual transformation into a sober family man.
The book fleshes out that story with hideous detail, starting with his unconventional upbringing: his bio-mom decided not to be in the picture, so he was raised by grandma, who posed as his mother. He might have been on track to become a faceless graphic designer, but instead (page 22) he gets his first guitar. By page 46, he's in the Yardbirds. And on page 65, the graffitists are scrawling "Clapton is God" on train station walls. So, pretty close to overnight success. He doesn't mention, I'm pretty sure, any formal guitar training. He just learns by watching others, and trying to sound like the blues musicians he admires. Easy peasy!
From there on, Clapton's life is pretty much the "sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll" cliché; he's much more successful at the third than the first two. His relationship with Pattie is agonizing: an untold love for his best friend's wife, eventually winning her hand, and nearly immediately cheating on her, even impregnating other women, followed by a long and bitter dissolution of their marriage. Yeesh! I'm thinking: this story would make the worst romantic comedy ever.
Even worse is Clapton's abusive relationship with substances. After some dabbling, there's a quick descent into heroin. After he shakes that, there's booze. Finally, he gets away from that too. And he even manages to stop smoking (page 256). There are plenty stories of bad/pathetic behavior and close shaves with disaster. Now, when listening to him on the iPod, I tend to classify the music as coming from his Heroin Era, his Booze Period, or his Clean Time.
On page 243 he notes: "Bad choices were my specialty…" I think just about any reader paying the slightest bit of attention has to chuckle at that. "Eric, you finally noticed?"
So we're fortunate that he survived all that, and managed to make good-to-great music throughout. I have his next album pre-ordered on Amazon.