I should confess, I've been a huge Eric Clapton fan for far more years than I care to admit. When I was in high school, I played guitar, and just about everything I learned came from Clapton albums: Just One Night, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Slowhand. The list goes on.
My 17 year-old self would have been perfectly happy if Eric Clapton had written a detailed account of each album: "Well, on `Crossroads,' I was planning to use my Gibson Les Paul, but somebody stole it, so I used an ES-335, run through a Marshall stack amp..."
Total music geek heaven.
Since my music-geek days, a whole lot of life has happened to me. I've had some bad relationships with even worse breakups, various problems with various things, and other assorted issues.
So has Eric Clapton, and the bulk of "Clapton" deals less with guitar and amp selection than with his mental and emotional life. There are chapters devoted to his various bands--The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek & The Dominoes, etc--but most of these chapters deal less with the production, and more with his decades-long emotional collapse.
Eric Clapton was born to an unwed mother, and he grew up thinking his grandparents were his actual parents. Eventually, he met his birth mother and her new husband and kids, though he and his "biological" were never really close.
From an early age, he loved music. He worked at it constantly, and ended up in a series of bands in his teens and 20's. When he was still essentially a kid, playing with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, people were writing "Clapton is God" on London walls.
Again, the main thrust of "Clapton" is his state of mind, which naturally leads to discussion of his addictions and relationships. It is pretty widely known that "Layla" was written about Pattie Boyd, who was married to George Harrison at the time. He was smitten with her, but his partner in a years-long descent into heroin addiction was a girl named Alice. She was there for the bad times.
After finally beating heroin, Clapton began his main abuse career as an alcoholic. A bad one.
He writes movingly of his attempts to quit, and how he relapsed. During his second time through Hazelden, something clicked, and he hasn't had a drink since.
Much of "Clapton"s second half is devoted to his recovery, specifically how he rigorously works the AA program. He works with other addicts in their recovery, and even built the Crossroads Centre in Antigua. He's auctioned off hundreds of guitars to fund Crossroads, in addition to doing huge benefit festivals each year. His sobriety is the most important thing.
A close second is his new family. After decades of toxic relationships, Clapton finally met Melia, a much-younger woman, at a Giorgio Armani party in L.A. They dated, fell in love, married, and had three daughters. They are still happy.
The basic theme of "Clapton", again, is not the music. Music, on one hand, was his life, but it often took a back seat to drinking. The party became the driver. Once Clapton sobered up and entered recovery, he succeeded in dealing with his demons--his lifelong feelings of inadequacy, etc. Once his mind and soul became healthy, he was ready for a healthy, grown-up relationship.
"Clapton" is a wonderful tale, so much more so because it has a happy ending.
The only thing that bothered me was all the names in it. It's not his fellow musicians I'm talking about--George Harrison and Pete Townshend were good friends. Rather, Clapton lists so many different handlers, employees, lawyers, caretakers, et cetera, that I could hardly keep track of them all. I have no doubt that I probably mixed up a lawyer with his landscaper at some point. A lot of these people could have been excised without affecting the story.
Eric Clapton's musical life has been about the blues. For far too many years, he was living the blues. It's nice, here in the 21st Century, just to hear the man be happy playing sad music.
(Recommended, unless you're only interested in the music. In that case, you may feel shortchanged)