Magazine article The Spectator

Rock'n'roll, Drugs and a Good Roast

Magazine article The Spectator

Rock'n'roll, Drugs and a Good Roast

Article excerpt

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Eric Clapton Century, £20, pp. 392 ISBN 9781846051609 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

RONNIE by Ronnie Wood Macmillan, £20, pp. 358 ISBN 9780230701311 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

BAREFACED LIES AND BOOGIE-WOOGIE BOASTS by Jools Holland Michael Joseph, £18.99, pp. 354 ISBN 9780718149154 £15.19 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Eric Clapton lost his virginity to 'a girl called Lucy who was older than me, and whose boyfriend was out of town'. Lucky chap, you immediately think, and indeed, he seems to have lived a charmed life, which he hasn't enjoyed one bit. 'Something more profound also happened when I got this guitar. As soon as I got it, I suddenly didn't want it any more. This was a phenomenon which was to rear its head throughout my life, and cause many difficulties in the future.' He first saw the Beatles in the audience at the Crawdaddy club in Richmond: 'I suppose that it was only natural that I would be jealous, and think of them as a bunch of w***ers.' He explains himself with reference to his grandfather Jack: 'Like me in later years, he was slightly unpopular and was a bit of an outcast.' By temperament alone, Clapton is certainly qualified to play the blues.

He is, of course, one of the greatest of all rock guitarists. As Steve van Zandt once wrote, 'He had seven years of the most extraordinary, historic guitar-playing ever -- and 35 years of doing good work.' Clapton's autobiography bears this out. It is fascinating on the early years -- the 'Clapton Is God' phase -- and rather less gripping thereafter. When Cream were going to America for the first time we were all so excited. . . . The first thing I did when I knew we were going was to make a short list of all the things I had fantasised about doing if I ever went there. I was going to buy a fringed cowboy jacket, for example, and some cowboy boots. I was going to have a milkshake and a hamburger.

Clapton remembers his innocence, a useful skill in an autobiographer. And although he was clearly wilful and self-centred, you believe him when he says he was driven by love of the music rather than by personal ambition.

But then, in the early 1970s, Clapton discovered heroin. It wasn't pretty. 'I soon became not only overweight, but spotty and generally unfit. Heroin also completely took away my libido, so there was no sexual activity of any kind, and I became chronically constipated.' Having weaned himself off this, he became a chronic drunk. 'There was always this madman inside of me trying to get out, and drink gave him permission.' He knows that he was a monster for much of this time, but the drinking tales become repetitive and dull, as coincidentally did the music. 'Like most alcoholics I have met since, I didn't like the taste of alcohol.' He comes over as a sad, rather ordinary man who had an astonishing gift but no means of dealing with the ensuing pressure whatsoever.

His book, efficiently ghosted by Christopher Simon Sykes, is a surprisingly serious attempt to make sense of it all -- which may, now I come to think of it, be why he has relatively little to say about the one genuine tragedy in his life, the accidental death of his four-year-old son Conor in 1991. There's no making sense of something like that.

Clapton looks bruised and slightly battered on his front cover, while Ronnie Wood looks as though he has just come back from an amazing party. Which in one sense, I suppose, he has, for his book is a tale of an almost completely frivolous life, relished to the full. …

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