autobiography chronicles story of a music legend

The arena was permeated with the pungent scent of pot. The sound, which reached maximum volume, bounced between the metal ceiling of the old hockey…

The arena was permeated with the pungent scent of pot.

The sound, which reached maximum volume, bounced between the metal ceiling of the old hockey arena and the mostly empty seats surrounding the playing area where hockey games were usually held.

Big floodlights illuminated the entire stage, which was positioned where one of the nets was usually placed on the ice.

Instead of skating across the blue line, I walked around on the ice-free cement surface. The building was capable of holding 10,000 or more when full; on that day, there may have been 1,600 young people in attendance.

It was the summer of 1968 in the Calgary Stampede Corral, and although we didn’t know it at the time, the audience was witnessing the performance of one of rock music’s premier axe men at the very beginning of a long and storied career.

I was there to check out the drummer of the trio, but there was no mistaking the talent of the guitar player standing centre stage. What a show it was.

The group was called Cream, and the guitarist was none other than Eric Clapton.

In the nearly 40 years since that performance, Clapton has gone on to produce some of the most iconic and recognizable rock and blues music of the 20th century.

Repeatedly, Clapton disappeared into a vortex of self-destructive behaviour, only to emerge in various incarnations to produce some of the most familiar anthems of his era.

After Christmas I sat down with his newly published autobiography and placed the companion CD onto my disc player. I was not disappointed.

With red lettering set against a deep black background, both the book cover and the CD are simple, attractive and eye catching.

What is found inside is worth every penny.

The autobiography was written by Clapton himself, and not by a ghostwriter, as is the practice with many celebrity autobios.

It is pleasingly clear, articulate and easy to read, from the table of contents at the beginning, to the index at the back.

Instead of containing clusters of photos placed at the centre of the book, the 18 thematic photos in this volume are strategically placed at the beginning of each chapter.

While it chronicles his career as one of the most famous and respected musicians in the world of rock and roll and blues music, this book is not a self congratulatory ode to the talents of a gifted musician; it is instead the confession of a flawed personality that, after a painful and twisted journey, eventually found its centre.

Eric Clapton was born illegitimate and raised by his grandparents in post-war England. His father was a Canadian service man overseas during the Second World War.

As a youth, Eric Clapton discovered music, and while it became his life, it also saved his life. He started his love affair with the six-string when rock music was coming into its own in Britain, and when, during the 1960s, Britain was the centre of the pop music universe.

Clapton chronicles his rapid ascent into the stratosphere of the rock music world with a rare humility that does justice to his talent. As a teenager, this self-taught musician graduated quickly from one musical genre to the next until he arrived at the epicentre of the music explosion of the mid-twentieth century.

Clapton played with the Yardbirds, then John Mayall, before moving on to seminal groups such as Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes.

During this period, he also developed addictions, first to narcotics, and then to alcohol, which almost killed him.

Clapton describes his decades of self-indulgent and self-destructive behaviour, as well as his numerous love affairs and obsession with Patti, the wife of another, even more famous guitarist, George Harrison.

Clapton surfaces from dark periods of addiction to produce some of the classic musical works of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

The story could have ended more abruptly and tragically, but he eventually overcame his addictions to emerge into a new world, in which he has eventually found his balance in life.

After decades of alcoholism, and two bouts in rehab, Clapton finally harnessed his demons.

Stricken then by the most painful tragedy of all, the loss of a child, he survived the ordeal without falling into an alcoholic chasm, and produced the most poignant and moving music in his career.

Underlying his troubled personality was a love of music, particularly the blues that eventually proved to be his salvation.

Late in life, he found new meaning in his relationships, and started a family that is now the centre of his world.

During his years as a musician, Eric Clapton played and made music with many of the giants of the twentieth century popular music: Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.

He also established himself as a blues purist, playing with the likes of Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and reviving the music of black blues man Robert Johnson.

Along the way, Clapton describes the author’s revealing encounters with many of the great names in popular music. This will be an added attraction for the rock music enthusiast.

Accompanying the book is a remarkable two-CD set that contains 36 of the most significant and recognizable works of his career with Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, as well as his solo career:  Badge, Presence of the Lord, Layla, After Midnight, I Shot the Sheriff and Tears in Heaven.

This collection also contains examples of finest virtuosity (Crossroads), and his strong connection to the tradition of blues music.

If I had any criticism of the selection for these two discs, it would be my disappointment by the absence of examples of his early work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall.

I have to give this book and accompanying album of music top marks, and recommend them to anybody with an interest in contemporary rock and blues music.

Clapton: The Autobiography (Broadway Books, New York: Hardcover, 343 pages, ISBN:978-0-385-51851-2). The CD is labelled Complete Clapton (Reprise Records: 2-294332).