BOOK REVIEW: Motherless Child – The Definitive Biography of Eric Clapton by Paul Scott
Hachette Australia, rrp $35.00
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Paul Scott seems to only be a fan of Eric Clapton’s earliest blues work, writing much of his later efforts off as insipid, lazy, and undeserving of his talent – much of which is extremely hard to argue with.
More damning though is Scott’s depiction of Clapton’s personal life. Over-medicated by hard liquor and a rampaging heroin addiction for years, Clapton seems spoilt, angry, over-entitled, abusive to those who care for him, and completely undeserving of their love. So unappealing a picture does Scott paint that it’s hard to imagine why beauties the calibre of Alice Ormsby-Gore or Pattie Boyd (George Harrison’s wife, who Clapton pursued relentlessly then all but abandoned once he secured her affections) gave him the time of day to start with, let alone the best years of their lives.
Any biography is told from the author’s perspective, of course, and as Scott lays Clapton’s bad behaviour bare – including shattering the myth that Layla is one of the great love songs of all time – the man’s obsessiveness, possessiveness, dysfunction and despicable behaviour make it obvious that playing the “I was sick with an addiction” card is simply not a good enough excuse sometimes.
It says much of his selfishness (as painted by Scott) that cheating and disgracing his women meant little to Clapton, winning the heart of his idolised love meant next-to-nothing, cheating and ripping off friends was just another day at the office, and almost dying more than once saw him go straight back to his destructive habits. But having his pride dented in front of some men fishing prompted him to finally seek positive help.
Once Clapton did shake off the monkey(s) on his back he has sought to redeem himself by starting a family with Melia McEnery, acknowledging his illegitimate children, and establishing the Crossroads Centre for addiction in Antigua, but even then he seems detached emotionally, looking back with only a little remorse at the carnage both physical and emotional he left in his wake.
Whether Clapton is really as bad as he is made out to be here is impossible for we mere mortals to decide, but Scott has constructed a well written and engaging tale of an unpleasant man who has largely squandered his talent, riding on the coattails of his early innovation and success. This is other side of the glossy image, perhaps, and we can only hope for Clapton’s sake that the real truth lies somewhere between the two.
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