WHEN Eric Clapton, who celebrates his birthday today, was playing blistering guitar lines with the legendary John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the heady 1960s, someone spray painted the slogan “Clapton is God” on the wall of a London train station.
The graffiti began to appear in other areas in the city and the phrase became a catchcry at Clapton’s concerts. The guitarist accepted it as a compliment, even though privately he was descending into a personal hell.
Clapton, despite a remarkable talent for squeezing wonderful tones from his Gibson guitar, was anything but godly. He was a drug addict, womaniser, drunk and a racist and made some pretty bad career choices.
But the time-ravaged guitar deity has grown up. At 68, Eric Clapton proclaims that he is mortal after all and revealed a spiritual side to his life and art in his excruciatingly honest memoir Clapton: The Autobiography. He revealed that he has found God
Clapton admits that he was drawn to the grittiness of the blues because of insecurity and feelings of isolation that haunted him as a child and teenager. As a member of the rock nobility, he was seduced by the booze, the drugs – cocaine and heroin mainly and by the groups of willing women who threw themselves at him.
In 1987, he hit rock bottom and went to rehab. The first attempt failed. While on an Australian tour the same year, he came to a realization. “There had been such an erosion of my capabilities that I couldn’t stop shaking. Cooped up in my hotel room, a long way from home, with nothing to think about but my own pain and misery, I suddenly knew that I had to go back into treatment. I thought to myself, “This has got to stop.”
Back in rehab, he fell to his knees and “surrendered to God.
“I was in complete despair,” Clapton writes in his autobiography. “The noise in my head was deafening, and drinking was in my thoughts all the time. It shocked me to realize that here I was in a treatment centre, a supposedly safe environment, and I was in serious danger. I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair.
“Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do my pride just wouldn’t allow it but I knew that on my own I wasnt going to make it, so I asked for help.
“At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no idea who I thought I was talking to,I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with.’’
Clapton says within a few days, he realized that something remarkable had taken place. “An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude, and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was much more to it than that. I had found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in.’’
Four years after his surrender to God, Clapton’s four-year-old son Connor died in a fall from the window of a 53rd floor of a Park Avenue apartment. It could have destroyed his faith. He remembers that period in his life as if he was in a fog. He withdrew from his family and friends and admits his faith was seriously challenged. In the end, he survived both emotionally and spiritually.
Clapton has 20 years of sobriety behind him, a happy marriage and three young daughters. He is as great a player as ever.
But he has discovered that the blues is a dialogue of both pain and redemption, of suffering and joy.
Here is Clapton in a blistering recent performance