Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Eric Clapton Problem, and Hopefully, Yours

I made a number of resolutions for the New Year.  You know, the usual - be more negative, appreciate things less, be less patient. 

And how to better put these resolutions into practice than to reconsider an old idol?   Especially one who has suffered great tragedy? 

So first let me say sorry, Eric, about what happened to your son.  And I’m glad you’re not drinking any more.  But god (remember your other name?), you were such a jackass.

Like any number of other artists who started out in the sixties, and managed to not die, Eric Clapton is still making music.  I wish he’d stop.  Baby boomers continue to buy his records when they could be listening to more worthy artists, many of whom can actually sing and write songs.

I’m not saying that he’s never written a great song, or sung well.  But Jesus Christ, he's been at it for almost fifty years.  I’ll bet you’ve written some good ones by now, too.

These nasty thoughts are prompted by a couple of things.  The first was my post last year about Led Zeppelin, where I sort of champion Eric over Jimmy Page.  The second is my reading of the Clapton autobiography,

So a few observations:

Way back when, Clapton seemed like the quintessential nice guy musician.  Always part of a band, didn’t sing much, but boy could he play guitar.  This period – with the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes - represents his high point.  He also did a lot of memorable work as a sideman on other people's records.  This seeming shyness was very winning, and made his subsequent addictions seem more forgivable. 

But based on his autobiography, I must conclude that Eric was a drunk stupid idiot, and I no longer have the patience for people like that, or their current and recalled misdeeds.

Yeah, I know he stopped drinking a while ago, and he’s done some good work with his foundation, but since his book has a happy ending for him, let me just speak for the humans who had the misfortune of crossing his path, just as a sort of rebuttal.

It’s not that he comes across as an asshole.  But given all the dumb things he recounts in his book, he does sound like someone who spent too much time around people who told him his sh*t didn’t stink.

Looking back on what I took for his shyness, I now see someone who couldn’t stay with one band for more than two years.  And once the records get labeled “Eric Clapton” I start to have problems.  Aside from the live stuff, which of his records do you play with any consistency?  And don't tell me about his blues records.  They all could have used a singer.  (Is it me, or did he actually sing better when he was younger?)

Looking back on that huge pile of mediocre solo albums, I can’t help but think that Eric should have always remained a sideman.  Another George Harrison, if you will – someone who can contribute the occasional gem, but who mainly plays guitar real good.  Then, every few years, they’d let him go make a pretty good solo record.

He mentions how he let everyone down at the concert for Bangladesh, because of his heroin addiction, where he at least showed up and did his job as a sideman, but not so during his 1974 tour – where he was the, uh, headliner - when he let hundreds of thousands of fans down by showing up drunk and playing  abbreviated sets. 

The typical fan – like me (no, I’m not too bitter) - spent hours standing in line for tickets, came to the shows hours early because of the general admission seating, only to see an seventy minute show.  In other words we each put in about six hours to Eric's 1 1/2.  Oh, and the money.  We probably paid about $7.50 per ticket – then a high price.  So Eric, I figure you owe us five bucks each.  I’ll take mine as an eggplant parmigiana hero from my local pizzeria, without the spit, thank you.

The bottom line here is that you shouldn't have hit the road until you were ready to play.  That's what people came for.  He even mentions how he played an entire show lying on the ground drunk, but rationalizes it by saying that everyone in the audience was drunk, too.  Well, I guess that’s what a drunk would say.

And what about the driver of the van you smashed into when you were driving drunk?  Was he okay?  You don't say.

And now that George Harrison is dead, you give the impression that you and he weren’t as close as we all thought.  Better to make the whole Patti Harrison episode appear a little more palatable, I guess.  What a jerk.

You express surprise that punk rockers saw you as part of the rock establishment, since you didn't consider yourself part of it.  But you were doing whatever you liked and getting paid a ton of money for it.  That’s sort of the definition of it, Eric.  If you weren't part of the rock establishment, who was?

I should have stopped buying your records after “EC was Here”, which I got because it was live and you actually play guitar on it.  Now I find out that you really were as sexist as the cover indicates.  And there I was, thinking it was a joke.  I was dumb enough to get “No Reason to Cry”, which was not terrible, by the way.  Just unnecessary.

Jon Landau’s criticism of your guitar playing while Cream was at the height of its fame is often cited as one of the reasons Cream broke up.  But you totally ignore it in your book.  You attribute it to hearing the Band and wanting to join them.  But they already had a guitar player, Eric.  And let’s face it, you would have quit after a couple years anyway. 

The sad fact is that Clapton made more memorable music between 1965 and 1970 than during the nearly forty years since then.  His electricity drenched circa-1968 solos were his signature sound.  Self indulgent?  Yes, but that was the order of the day.  His blues licks were awesome, but I’m in no position to say how original they were.  To someone like me, they were revelatory.  I’ve just been a little slow on finding their origins.  But just you wait.

So Eric, you should have enough money and adulation you need by now.  Some of it even earned.  So why not just join a band, let someone else sing and write the songs, make some records and tour?  I dare you to keep that up for five years.

Can’t?  Fine.  Then just go away.

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