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Clapton: The Autobiography

Clapton: The Autobiography

3.9 133
by Eric Clapton

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With striking intimacy and candor, Eric Clapton tells the story of his eventful and inspiring life in this poignant and honest autobiography.

More than a rock star, Eric Clapton is an icon, a living embodiment of the history of rock music. Well known for his reserve in a profession marked by self-promotion, flamboyance, and spin, he now chronicles, for


With striking intimacy and candor, Eric Clapton tells the story of his eventful and inspiring life in this poignant and honest autobiography.

More than a rock star, Eric Clapton is an icon, a living embodiment of the history of rock music. Well known for his reserve in a profession marked by self-promotion, flamboyance, and spin, he now chronicles, for the first time, his remarkable personal and professional journeys.

Born illegitimate in 1945 and raised by his grandparents, Eric never knew his father and, until the age of nine, believed his actual mother to be his sister. In his early teens his solace was the guitar, and his incredible talent would make him a cult hero in the clubs of Britain and inspire devoted fans to scrawl “Clapton is God” on the walls of London’s Underground. With the formation of Cream, the world's first supergroup, he became a worldwide superstar, but conflicting personalities tore the band apart within two years. His stints in Blind Faith, in Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and in Derek and the Dominos were also short-lived but yielded some of the most enduring songs in history, including the classic “Layla.”

During the late sixties he played as a guest with Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, as well as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and longtime friend George Harrison. It was while working with the latter that he fell for George’s wife, Pattie Boyd, a seemingly unrequited love that led him to the depths of despair, self-imposed seclusion, and drug addiction. By the early seventies he had overcome his addiction and released the bestselling album 461 Ocean Boulevard, with its massive hit “I Shot the Sheriff.” He followed that with the platinum album Slowhand, which included “Wonderful Tonight,” the touching love song to Pattie, whom he finally married at the end of 1979. A short time later, however, Eric had replaced heroin with alcohol as his preferred vice, following a pattern of behavior that not only was detrimental to his music but contributed to the eventual breakup of his marriage.

In the eighties he would battle and begin his recovery from alcoholism and become a father. But just as his life was coming together, he was struck by a terrible blow: His beloved four-year-old son, Conor, died in a freak accident. At an earlier time Eric might have coped with this tragedy by fleeing into a world of addiction. But now a much stronger man, he took refuge in music, responding with the achingly beautiful “Tears in Heaven.”

Clapton is the powerfully written story of a survivor, a man who has achieved the pinnacle of success despite extraordinary demons. It is one of the most compelling memoirs of our time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Like the bluesmen who inspired him, Clapton has his share of scars... his compelling memoir is... a soulful performance.”

 “An absorbing tale of artistry, decadence, and redemption.”
Los Angeles Times

“One of the very best rock autobiographies ever.”
Houston Chronicle

“A glorious rock history.”
New York Post

“This book does what many rock historians couldn’t: It debunks the legend... puts a lie to the glamour of what it means to be a rock star.”
—Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune

“Strong stuff. Clapton reveals its author’s journey to self-acceptance and manhood. Anyone who cares about the man and his music will want to take the trip with him.”
—Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone

“Clapton is honest... even searing and often witty, with a hard-won survivor’s humor... an honorable badge of a book.”
—Stephen King, New York Times Book Review

Boston Herald

“An even, unblinking sensibility defines the author’s voice.”
New York Times

“An unsparing self-portrait.”
USA Today

He never knew his father. He was past 9 when he was finally told that his "older sister" was actually his mother. Shy and moody, he communicated little with his family or peers. For his 13th birthday, he received an acoustic guitar. At first, the gift was a source of irritation. Then he began what would become thousands of hours of practice…. The autobiography of Eric Clapton is far more than the story of how one lonely boy became the greatest rock guitarist in history. It is the memoir of a man who somehow survived all his bad choices.
Stephen King
Most A.A. meetings begin with the chairman offering his qualifications at the head table next to the coffee maker. This qualification is more commonly known in the program as the drunkalogue. It's a good word, with its suggestions of inebriated travel, and it certainly fits Eric Clapton's account of his life. Clapton is nothing so literary as a memoir, but its dry, flat-stare honesty makes it a welcome antidote to the macho fantasies of recovery served up by James Frey in A Million Little Pieces…Clapton is honest—sometimes, as in the account of his son's death, even searing—and often witty, with a hard-won survivor's humor…He may not have the skill of a Mary Karr or Frank McCourt, but I'm sure he writes better than most memoirists play guitar. And sometimes the workmanlike flashes into the wonderful, as when he describes himself in his early days as "a green young scholar listening my way forward."
—The New York Times
Elliott Vanskike
The articulate, thoughtful rock-and-roller faces a dilemma when he sits down to write his autobiography. Does he give fans what they've come to expect by wallowing in the excesses of sex and drugs? Or does he write an intelligent, reflective book that actually assesses his life in the spotlight? Eric Clapton's autobiography leaves little doubt that he lived the rock-and-roll lifestyle, but there's hardly a trashed hotel room or sordid tryst to be found here. Chastened by his experience as a recovering alcoholic, Clapton writes in a restrained, self-critical, even humble mode.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Clapton's heartfelt memoir is given the perfect gift in its reader: acclaimed actor and fellow Brit Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean; Love, Actually). Nighy reads Clapton's tender, dignified remembrance of his legendary career as if it had all truly happened to him. He is simply a cut above the run-of-the-mill reader and ably handles the unvarnished first-person recounting of Clapton's rise to fame, his struggles with addiction and relationship problems, and his return to sobriety and musical success. Clapton picks through the wreckage of his past, including the tragic death of his son, Conor, and Nighy reads with vigor and restraint. Clapton's tone is apologetic and nostalgic, and Nighy admirably conveys both sentiments. Joining the two together is an audio match made in heaven. Simultaneous release with the Broadway Books hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 20). (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Guitar wizard Clapton bares his soul in a starkly honest first attempt at autobiography. Beginning with his childhood in rural Ripley, England, he describes growing up with his grandparents who led him to believe they were his parents, his mother's reappearance with a husband and two children, and her subsequent disappearance. Clapton relates his discovery of sexuality after reading a handmade pornographic comic book on the school-yard playground, which led to a thrashing from the headmaster and years of sexual dysfunction. He chronicles his liberation from confusion and loneliness through music, especially a purist version of the American blues, which resulted in stints with the Yardbirds and John Mayall. Retracing his ascent to stardom with Cream, Blind Faith, and then his solo career, Clapton also recounts his struggles with addiction, first with heroin and then his major 15-year battle with alcohol. He writes of the loss of his son and his destructive relationships with women, ending the book with his new life of sobriety with his wife, Melia, and his daughters. This bold, intimate, and revealing look at an icon of rock 'n' roll will satisfy all readers, especially his myriad fans. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/07.]
—Dave Szatmary

Kirkus Reviews
The celebrated rock guitarist pens an uneven yet engrossing memoir. Clapton has enjoyed a colorful and eventful career for four decades, and he has long been among the most reticent of interview subjects, so the English axeman's autobiography is cause for some celebration. The book will aggravate those who want to know more about the nuts and bolts of his long-lasting stardom, though he dutifully, if somewhat perfunctorily, marches through his musical history. Born illegitimate in rural Surrey and raised by his grandparents, Clapton became a blues fanatic and took up guitar as a youth. Barely in his 20s, he found immediate fame as a wizardly soloist in a succession of storied bands: the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & The Dominos. The ever-hesitant Clapton still appears uneasy about delving too deeply into the dynamics of these legendary groups, though here and there he offers an amusing backstage anecdote or a penetrating glimpse of such bandmates as drummer Ginger Baker and keyboardist Steve Winwood, or contemporaries like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. His tale is most compelling, and his narrative voice strongest, when he writes about the vicissitudes of his romantic life and his protracted struggle with heroin addiction and alcoholism. He emotionally replays his agonizing affair and long, rocky relationship with Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's wife when he met her, and he is bluntly honest about the years he lost to junk and drink before he finally sobered up for good 20 years ago. Clapton is also movingly candid about the accidental death of his son Conor in 1991. His account of the founding of his Antiguan drug-and-alcohol facility Crossroadspowerfully affirms the guitarist's commitment to recovery. The book peters out in its last pages, as Clapton muses on marital commitment and late-life parenthood. Weakest on musical recollections and career arcs, but some overwhelmingly poignant and wrenching personal meditations make the book a success.
Gavin Edwards
Clapton Is God, wrote the London graffiti artists in the '60s; if the message wasn't strictly accurate, it was more concise than "Eric Clapton is the leading innovator of blues-based lead guitar in rock 'n' roll." In Clapton: The Autobiography, our guitar-hero narrator confesses to some youthful ambivalence about this praise, before allowing that he thought it was "really quite nice."

Those three words typify the diffident tone of Clapton's memoir. When he remembers acclaim, it's bashfully. When he describes the various ways in which he made a disaster of his life, he sounds rueful rather than wracked with grief. Given Clapton's status as one of our most stoic rock stars -- he rarely unburdens himself in interviews -- the detailed history in this book will make it essential for Clapton worshippers and a pleasant surprise for casual readers.

Clapton may have been valorized by at least some of those graffiti writers for the wrong reason: his sheer instrumental virtuosity. One unfortunate side effect of his career is the notion that guitar wankery is heroic, culminating with such dubious rock icons as Steve Vai and Yngwie Malsteen. But unlike many of his successors, Clapton learned lessons from blues music that extended beyond guitar prowess, and pursued mastery in both singing and writing songs. That's what let him sustain a connection with the public across the decades, even if fans thought they were just genuflecting at the feet of a guitar god. Compare Clapton with the nimble-fingered Jeff Beck, who followed him as the Yardbirds' guitarist, and who, similarly, was never able to stay with one group for long. Beck, however, needed a vocal foil like Rod Stewart, and is now more vaguely admired than loved.

One version of Clapton's life is the musical odyssey from passionate young innovator to a self-styled "journeyman" churning out pop mush to a dignified third act as an aging bluesman. But the central narrative of this book is Clapton's battle with addiction: He spent years using heroin, and then moved on to alcohol. His art was marked by his virtuosity and control; his personal life, he makes clear, was where everything got messy. Clean today, he has devoted some serious personal resources to building treatment centers for alcoholism.

Clapton is clear-eyed about many of his bad choices and their consequences: Describing his junkie lifestyle, he writes, "The doors remained closed, the post went unopened, and we existed on a diet of chocolate and junk food, so I soon became not only overweight, but spotty and generally unfit. Heroin also completely took away my libido, so we had no sexual activity of any kind, and I became chronically constipated."

He's less forthright about some other aspects of his life, not addressing, for example, his decision to endorse Michelob while struggling with alcoholism. He also glosses over his years-long support for British anti-immigrant politician Enoch Powell as quickly as possible, deploying a rapid-fire series of excuses, pleading the effect of drink on some of his public statements and defending himself against charges of racism by asserting (for example) his sympathy with the plight of Jamaican immigrants, and mentioning that his girlfriend "had just been leered at by a member of the Saudi royal family."

Clapton has apparently been keeping a diary for at least some portion of his life; no coauthor is credited on The Autobiography, which reads smoothly if a touch blandly. (It presumably wasn't Clapton, however, who thought it was a good idea to add parenthetical notes for American readers explaining that "quid" means "pounds" and "crisps" are known to us as "potato chips.")

Clapton: The Autobiography is at its most vivid when he's describing road trips: the inside of the van he rode around in with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (Mayall built himself a bunk bed); a hippie adventure across Europe with a pickup band called the Glands (they got so hungry in Greece, they ate raw meat at a butcher shop); a whirlwind trip to Canada to play a rock festival with John Lennon (when they arrived at the Toronto airport, Lennon and Yoko Ono jumped into a limousine, leaving the rest of the band to travel with the luggage in a van).

At times, Clapton's prose can devolve into a dull list of British blues musicians. Better are the sections that unearth quirky details about his family, such as his uncle's invention of a vinegar dispenser that he could hide inside his clothing, with a tube coming down the sleeve. And Clapton deftly evokes the unique intellectual horizons of the 1960s, when Baudelaire and Tolkien seemed equally mind-expanding to him.

Perhaps the most emotionally potent aspect of the book deals with the great passion of Clapton's life (other than blues music), the fashion model Pattie Boyd. Boyd was married to his good friend George Harrison -- the Beatle who, like Clapton, was more comfortable expressing himself with a guitar than in conversation. "I think initially I was motivated by a mixture of lust and envy, but it all changed once I got to know her," Clapton writes. He wooed Boyd away from Harrison in 1974; they married in 1979 and divorced in 1989.

The Boyd/Harrison/Clapton triangle has become one of the mythic tales of rock -- not because it was particularly unusual for rock stars of the era to tumble in and out of each other's beds but because Clapton wrote one of the greatest rock songs ever, "Layla," about Boyd and his then-unrequited love for her.

As it happens, Boyd has published her own memoir, Wonderful Tonight (named for another song Clapton wrote for her -- there are many more, including "Bell Bottom Blues," inspired by some jeans he brought her from Miami). Public interest in one of rock's greatest muses hasn't flagged -- the book hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

It's not often that two books about a love affair that ended almost two decades ago come out within weeks of each other, and it provides a rare opportunity to play rock 'n' roll Rashomon, comparing the two accounts. Clapton and Boyd agree on most major points (allowing for some details being a touch fuzzy due to the passage of time and the prodigious amounts of drugs and booze they were consuming), but the differences are telling.

Some of the variances are just things that it's easier to judge from outside. While Clapton remembers that he won a school prize for "neatness and tidiness" (!), it falls to Boyd to report that as an adult, Clapton "was not a naturally tidy man.... The bedroom carpet was lamb's wool, and filthy, and the bath was full of his sweaters and shirts -- that was where he stored them."

Clapton is fuzzy on exactly when and how he began seriously pursuing Boyd, but she can pinpoint it: a passionate letter in the spring of 1970 "in small, immaculate writing, with no capital letters." Assuming it was from a crazed Beatles fan, she initially laughed it off, even showing it to Harrison.

They both say that Clapton ended up giving her an ultimatum: If she didn't leave Harrison for him, he would become a heroin addict. "He did as he threatened," Boyd says. But Clapton makes it clear that he was just bluffing: "In truth, of course, I had been taking [heroin] almost full-time for quite a while."

Clapton didn't treat Boyd well, they agree. Aside from the cruelty of telling a loved one that your heroin addiction is her fault, once he had successfully wooed her, he almost immediately started screwing around (bedding, among others, his backup singer Yvonne Elliman, who went on to have a No. 1 single in 1977 with the Barry Gibb composition "If I Can't Have You").

One of the most arresting turns of phrase in Clapton: The Autobiography concerns the state of Harrison and Boyd's marriage, which had become rocky after the Beatles returned from studying with the Maharishi in India: "[T]hey were living in virtual open warfare at Friar Park, with him flying the 'Om' flag at one end of the house and her flying a Jolly Roger at the other."

Wonderful Tonight, however, makes it clear that this is not metaphor, but (slightly mangled) fact: When Boyd found out Harrison was shagging Ringo Starr's wife, Maureen, she went to the top of the house and hauled down her husband's "Om" banner in favor of a skull and crossbones. Three decades down the road, it seems Boyd is still Clapton's greatest inspiration. --Gavin Edwards

Gavin Edwards is a regular contributor to Rolling Stone and Wired, among other publications and is the author of books including Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?

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Read an Excerpt

Growing Up

Early in my childhood, when I was about six or seven, I began to get the feeling that there was something different about me. Maybe it was the way people talked about me as if I weren’t in the room. My family lived at 1, the Green, a tiny house in Ripley, Surrey, which opened directly onto the village Green. It was part of what had once been almshouses and was divided into four rooms; two poky bedrooms upstairs, and a small front room and kitchen downstairs. The toilet was outside, in a corrugated iron shed at the bottom of the garden, and we had no bathtub, just a big zinc basin that hung on the back door. I don’t remember ever using it.

Twice a week my mum used to fill a smaller tin tub with water and sponge me down, and on Sunday afternoons I used to go and have a bath at my Auntie Audrey’s, my dad’s sister, who lived in the new flats on the main road. I lived with Mum and Dad, who slept in the main bedroom overlooking the Green, and my brother, Adrian, who had a room at the back. I slept on a camp bed, sometimes with my parents, sometimes downstairs, depending on who was staying at the time. The house had no electricity, and the gas lamps made a constant hissing sound. It amazes me now to think that whole families lived in these little houses.

My mum had six sisters: Nell, Elsie, Renie, Flossie, Cath, and Phyllis, and two brothers, Joe and Jack. On a Sunday it wasn’t unusual for two or three of these families to show up, and they would pass the gossip and get up–to–date with what was happening with us and with them. In the smallness of this house, conversations were always being carried on in front of me as if I didn’t exist, with whispers exchanged between the sisters. It was a house full of secrets. But bit by bit, by carefully listening to these exchanges, I slowly began to put together a picture of what was going on and to understand that the secrets were usually to do with me. One day I heard one of my aunties ask, “Have you heard from his mum?” and the truth dawned on me, that when Uncle Adrian jokingly called me a little bastard, he was telling the truth.

The full impact of this realization upon me was traumatic, because at the time I was born, in March 1945—in spite of the fact that it had become so common because of the large number of overseas soldiers and airmen passing through England—an enormous stigma was still attached to illegitimacy. Though this was true across the class divide, it was particularly so among working–class families such as ours, who, living in a small village community, knew little of the luxury of privacy. Because of this, I became intensely confused about my position, and alongside my deep feelings of love for my family there existed a suspicion that in a tiny place like Ripley, I might be an embarrassment to them that they always had to explain.

The truth I eventually discovered was that Mum and Dad, Rose and Jack Clapp, were in fact my grandparents, Adrian was my uncle, and Rose’s daughter, Patricia, from an earlier marriage, was my real mother and had given me the name Clapton. In the mid–1920s, Rose Mitchell, as she was then, had met and fallen in love with Reginald Cecil Clapton, known as Rex, the dashing and handsome, Oxford–educated son of an Indian army officer. They had married in February 1927, much against the wishes of his parents, who considered that Rex was marrying beneath him. The wedding took place a few weeks after Rose had given birth to their first child, my uncle Adrian. They set up home in Woking, but sadly, it was a short–lived marriage, as Rex died of consumption in 1932, three years after the birth of their second child, Patricia.

Rose was heartbroken. She returned to Ripley, and it was ten years before she was married again, after a long courtship on his part, to Jack Clapp, a master plasterer. They were married in 1942, and Jack, who as a child had badly injured his leg and therefore been exempt from call–up, found himself stepfather to Adrian and Patricia. In 1944, like many other towns in the south of England, Ripley found itself inundated with troops from the United States and Canada, and at some point Pat, age fifteen, enjoyed a brief affair with Edward Fryer, a Canadian airman stationed nearby. They had met at a dance where he was playing the piano in the band. He turned out to be married, so when she found out she was pregnant, she had to cope on her own. Rose and Jack protected her, and I was born secretly in the upstairs back bedroom of their house on March 30, 1945. As soon as it was practical, when I was in my second year, Pat left Ripley, and my grandparents brought me up as their own child. I was named Eric, but Ric was what they all called me.

Rose was petite with dark hair and sharp, delicate features, with a characteristic pointed nose, “the Mitchell nose,” as it was known in the family and which was inherited from her father, Jack Mitchell. Photographs of her as a young woman show her to have been very pretty, quite the beauty among her sisters. But at some point at the outset of the war, when she had just turned thirty, she underwent surgery for a serious problem with her palate. During the operation there was a power cut that resulted in the surgery having to be abandoned, leaving her with a massive scar underneath her left cheekbone that gave the impression that a piece of her cheek had been hollowed out. This left her with a certain amount of self-consciousness. In his song “Not Dark Yet,” Dylan wrote, “Behind every beautiful face there’s been some kind of pain.” Her suffering made her a very warm person with a deep compassion for other people's dilemmas. She was the focus of my life for much of my upbringing.

Jack, her second husband and the love of her life, was four years younger than Rose. A shy, handsome man, over six feet tall with strong features and very well built, he had a look of Lee Marvin about him and used to smoke his own roll–ups, made from a strong, dark tobacco called Black Beauty. He was authoritarian, as fathers were in those days, but he was kind, and very affectionate to me in his way, especially in my infant years. We didn’t have a very tactile relationship, as all the men in our family found it hard to express feelings of affection or warmth. Perhaps it was considered a sign of weakness. Jack made his living as a master plasterer, working for a local building contractor. He was a master carpenter and a master bricklayer, too, so he could actually build an entire house on his own.

An extremely conscientious man with a very strong work ethic, he brought in a very steady wage, which didn’t ever fluctuate for the whole time I was growing up, so although we could have been considered poor, we rarely had a shortage of money. When things occasionally did get tight, Rose would go out and clean other people’s houses, or work part–time at Stansfield’s, a bottling company with a factory on the outskirts of the village that produced fizzy drinks such as lemonade, orangeade, and cream soda. When I was older I used to do holiday jobs there, sticking on labels and helping with deliveries, to earn pocket money. The factory was like something out of Dickens, reminiscent of a workhouse, with rats running around and a fierce bull terrier that they kept locked up so it wouldn’t attack visitors.

Ripley, which is more like a suburb today, was deep in the country when I was born. It was a typical small rural community, with most of the residents being agricultural workers, and if you weren’t careful about what you said, then everybody knew your business. So it was important to be polite. Guildford was the main shopping town, which you could get to by bus, but Ripley had its own shops, too. There were two butchers, Conisbee’s and Russ’s, and two bakeries, Weller’s and Collins’s, a grocer’s, Jack Richardson’s, Green’s the paper shop, Noakes the ironmonger, a fish–and–chip shop, and five pubs. King and Olliers was the haberdashers where I got my first pair of long trousers, and it doubled as a post office, and we had a blacksmith where all the local farm horses came in for shoes.

Every village had a sweet shop; ours was run by two old-fashioned sisters, the Miss Farrs. We would go in there and the bell would go ding–a–ling–a–ling, and one of them would take so long to come out from the back of the shop that we could fill our pockets up before a movement of the curtain told us she was about to appear. I would buy two Sherbert Dabs or a few Flying Saucers, using the family ration book, and walk out with a pocketful of Horlicks or Ovaltine tablets, which had become my first addiction.

In spite of the fact that Ripley was, all in all, a happy place to grow up in, life was soured by what I had found out about my origins. The result was that I began to withdraw into myself. There seemed to have been some definite choices made within my family regarding how to deal with my circumstances, and I was not made privy to any of them. I observed the code of secrecy that existed in the house—“We don’t talk about what went on”—and there was also a strong disciplinarian authority in the household, which made me nervous about asking any questions. On reflection, it occurs to me that the family had no real idea of how to explain my own existence to me, and that the guilt attached to that made them very aware of their own shortcomings, which would go a long way in explaining the anger and awkwardness that my presence aroused in almost everybody. As a result I attached myself to the family dog, a black Labrador called Prince, and created a character for myself, whose name was “Johnny Malingo.” Johnny was a suave, devil–may–care man/boy of the world who rode roughshod over anyone who got in his way. I would escape into Johnny when things got too much for me, and stay there until the storm had passed. I also invented a fantasy friend called Bushbranch, a small horse who went with me everywhere. Sometimes Johnny would magically become a cowboy and climb onto Bushbranch, and together they would ride off into the sunset. At the same time, I started to draw quite obsessively. My first fascination was with pies. A man used to come to the village Green pushing a barrow, which was his container for hot pies. I had always loved pies—Rose was an excellent cook—and I produced hundreds of drawings of them and of the pie man. Then I turned to copying from comics.

Because I was illegitimate, Rose and Jack tended to spoil me. Jack actually made my toys for me. I remember, for example, a beautiful sword and shield that he made me by hand. It was the envy of all the other kids. Rose bought me all the comics I wanted. I seemed to get a different one every day, always The Topper, The Dandy, The Eagle, and The Beano. I particularly loved the Bash Street Kids, and I always used to notice when the artists would change and Lord Snooty’s top hat would be different in some way. Over the years I copied countless drawings from these comics—cowboys and Indians, Romans, gladiators, and knights in armor. Sometimes at school I did no classwork at all, and it became quite normal to see all of my textbooks full of nothing but drawings.

School for me began when I was five, at Ripley Church of England Primary School, which was situated in a flint building next to the village church. Opposite was the village hall, where I attended Sunday school, and where I first heard a lot of the old, beautiful English hymns, my favorite of which was “Jesus Bids Us Shine.” At first I was quite happy going to school. Most of the kids who lived on the Green next to us started at the same time, but as the months went by, and it dawned on me that this was it for the long haul, I began to panic. The feelings of insecurity I had about my home life made me hate school. All I wanted to be was anonymous, which kept me out of entering any kind of competitive event. I hated anything that would single me out and get me unwanted attention.

I also felt that sending me to school was just a way of getting me out of the house, and I became very resentful. One master, quite young, a Mr. Porter, seemed to have a real interest in unearthing the children's gifts or skills, and becoming acquainted with us in general. Whenever he tried this with me, I would become extremely resentful. I would stare at him with as much hatred as I could muster, until he eventually caned me for what he called “dumb insolence.” I don’t blame him now; anyone in a position of authority got that kind of treatment from me. Art was the only subject that I really enjoyed, though I did win an award for playing “Greensleeves” on the recorder, which was the first instrument I ever learned to play.

The headmaster, Mr. Dickson, was a Scotsman with a shock of red hair. I had very little to do with him until I was nine years old, when I was called up before him for making a lewd suggestion to one of the girls in my class. While playing on the Green, I had come across a piece of homemade pornography lying in the grass. It was a kind of book, made of pieces of paper crudely stapled together with rather amateurish drawings of genitalia and a typed text full of words I had never heard of. My curiosity was aroused because I hadn’t had any kind of sex education, and I had certainly never seen a woman’s genitalia. In fact, I wasn't even certain if boys were different from girls until I saw this book.

Once I recovered from the shock of seeing these drawings, I was determined to find out about girls. I was too shy to ask any of the girls I knew at school, but there was this new girl in class, and because she was new, it was open season on her. As luck would have it, she was put at the desk directly in front of me in the classroom, so one morning I plucked up courage and asked her, without any idea of what the words meant, “Do you fancy a shag?” She looked at me with a bemused expression, because she obviously didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, but at playtime she went and told another girl what I’d said, and asked what it meant. After lunch I was summoned to the headmaster’s office, where, after being quizzed as to exactly what I had said to her and being made to promise to apologize, I was bent over and given six of the best. I left in tears, and the whole episode had a dreadful effect on me, as from that point on I tended to associate sex with punishment, shame, and embarrassment, feelings that colored my sexual life for years.

Meet the Author

ERIC CLAPTON is married to Melia McEnery and is the father of four daughters. He lives outside London.

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Clapton [B&n Exclusive Version] 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 133 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Witty, sexy, romantic, fun: that's how Pattie Boyd described Clapton in her memoirs, Wonderful Tonight. I didn't get it in her book and I really don't get it in Clapton's. He goes from weird to downright frightening, sober or drunk. I was already aware of Clapton's ghastly views about women but was stunned by the depths of his demons, especially with respect to Boyd, his muse and whipping post. 'Clapton' makes me question the efficacy of the recovery movement because Sober Eric = Drunken Eric with all the same weird issues and a new batch of excuses. As another reviewer said he's now in a marriage that resembles the outcome of a contest. Despite years of AA, and an overwhelming tragedy, he isn't humbled enough to make amends for his many mistakes, including his racist outbursts in the 70's. I don't see the changed man he insists he is. Sorry, but a multimillionaire building a rehab for rich addicts doesn't impress me when he hasn't made amends to the people he directly hurt. My patience with the book and author wore thin fast. Too many gross descriptions of substance bingeing, too much self-serving recovery-speak, too many bimbos, and just too much freak show. Clapton's musical genius aside, he's led an embarrassing life and it makes for a cringe-inducing read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well I can repeat back almost every artist that inspired Mr. Clapton, but I can't tell you much about him besides the fact that he enjoyed drugs, women, and held a huge grudge against his mother. I feel disappointed I thought i'd really get an in depth read into his life, but honestly I still dont feel like this book is showing us the REAL Eric Clapton. Also his ghost writer wasn't that great, whoever it was skipped around from subject to subject, making it a unbearable read. The book seemed so fake, like he was just letting you know the surface, why write a book if your not going to pour yourself into, he should of stuck with interviews where its ok to be fake!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Cruel and vicious' is how Clapton describes himself, specifically, the day he threw wife Pattie Boyd out of their house for refusing to sleep with him after she learned his mistress was pregnant. If this is how Clapton treated Boyd -- indisputably, the great love of his life -- you can imagine his callous treatment of the multitudes of other women he bedded and discarded, and in some cases, got hooked on drugs and drink. Clapton notes the overdose death of his ex-fiancee with a smug 'It made me realize how lucky I am.' I guess she couldn't afford the pricey tab at Eric's Caribbean rehab. (You'd think he would have given her freebie admission, considering he's the guy who got her hooked on smack.) Clapton's treatment of women goes beyond chauvinism, beyond misogyny Eric Clapton is a sadist. Why am I writing about Clapton's mistreatment of women ad nauseam? Because he does. The woman Clapton thought was his sister was actually his mother, therefore, Clapton has been on a lifelong mission to punish every female in sight for his pregnant 15 year-old mother's 'betrayal.' It's page after page of loathsome confessions from a man with a perverse love for recounting his moral transgressions, yet who lacks any remorse for the damage he's inflicted. Clapton resents Boyd because her mere existence caused her to fall in love with him. He resents her for resisting his pleas to run off with him, then when she does, he resents her even more because he realizes he's not good enough for her. He demands Boyd join him on his drinking binges and then resents her for that. Eric resents Pattie for being so loyal to such a lout (him). Finally, Eric joins AA while Pattie joins Al-Anon. Happy ending, right? Wrong. Boyd is infertile and Clapton resents her for that, too, so he starts knocking up other women. Oh grow up, Eric! Clapton proves his new-found 'maturity' by comparison shopping for his next bride during a ménage a trois. Tellingly, he didn't propose to the winner until she was in her third trimester. (This guy is a homing pigeon for women with zero self-esteem.) Clapton is oblivious not only to how pathetically controlling he still is, but also to the fact that these concubines would never have competed for him -- a now middle-aged, grizzled sadsack -- if he weren't a wealthy rock star. I developed great respect for Pattie Boyd after reading her memoir. I now appreciate just how generously she treated Clapton in her book: she's said in interviews she omitted the graphic details of Clapton's abuse in her memoir. Turns out, Boyd didn't owe her ex-husband that enormous favor as he certainly never showed her any kindness. Clapton: The Autobiography is a confession without contrition from an arrested adolescent who never became a man because he wouldn't make the effort. I was going to give this two stars as some passages are very well-written, but this is a memoir, so it's character that counts and Clapton doesn't have any.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I went into reading this because I do like some of Clapton's music. After awhile it just seemed to be the following same old scenario over and over. "Drugs, alcohol, another woman, maybe I'll write a song but I can't because I'm on drugs and alcohol and I can't remember". That's about all this amounts to. Pretty boring. Find someone else to read about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After all he wrote about his hedonistic life (and I'm a child of the 70's), I never expected this. I knew I would encounter drug use, but I didn't know he would throw off responsibility for so much. I didn't know he would end up bragging about his boat, his island, and his oh-so-'generous' rehab unit for the stars. You're so vain, Clapton.
Beckyone More than 1 year ago
I feel Eric Clapton is the luckiest person in the world. I was so disappointed in him after I read his book. I was shocked he was a drunk, druggie and cheater. His music didn't give him away. I thought he truly loved the woman he wrote "Wonderful tonight" and I felt so bad for what I thought was him and his wife when his son dies. It was all a farce. Yet, now he is married to the prettiest woman ever in his life and has three beautiful daughters with her. God is a forgiving God for sure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If he has indeed come to his senses,then why does this thing seem like a thinly disguised attempt at bragging? When there is no reason....woman hater.
bbjpf More than 1 year ago
So much detail, not just of his mistakes and such, but of his heart, of his music, of those he listened to and how he admired their music. Excellent book. And a good reminder for those of you thinking of sleeping with musicians, don't. 
JDGraz More than 1 year ago
I am writing this review a couple of years after I read the book. I have to tell you that this book has staying power with me. Especially after recently finishing Keith Richard's "Life". Clapton does not feel narrated. At least, not obviously so. He relates his life in clear and effective prose. Not prone to the rambles of others on this genre. I found it entertaining, and very easy to enjoy. He relates clearly what the drug and alcohol did to him. (As brilliant as he played on "The concert for Bangledesh", he remembers none of some of his finest work) He pulled no punches when he spoke of the pain and processes he overcame to face recovery. How could anyone express more clearly the torture he endured when he lost his son, Connor. I can easily recommend this tome to one who loves Clapton's music as well as anyone that loves a great biography. I think I love his music even more now that before I read his book. I hope you enjoy it too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought the book Clapton was amazing. I learned a lot about Eric Clapton and his career. I found myself feeling badly for him with the drug addictions but inspired by how he overcame his addictions.
Anonymous 3 months ago
If you are a fan of Clapton's music, avoid this book. He comes across as a cruel abuser of most people in his life - female and professional - with no seeming remorse or contrition. There is little insight into his music other than a roll-call of the musicians he has crossed paths with. This is unfortunate, as the list is formidable, including: Hendrix, Duane Allman, George Harrison, BB King, Steve Winwood, Pete Townsend... He honestly relates an appalling litany of the women he mistreated; the babies he fathered then abandoned; the band members he left in the lurch; his boorish misbehaviour while wasted on every chemical available to him. While the honesty is admirable, he shows no remorse, issues no apologies, for the lives he ruined (some literally), the fans he disappointed, or the associates he callously misused. He comes across as petty, shallow, unreflective, selfish, narcissistic, juvenile, cruel, and uncaring - a detestable person. If this isn't bad enough, he ends the book bragging about his profligate spending: on art, on Farraris, on Philippe Patek watches, on numerous homes and mansions around the world, on a huge yacht. Yawn. As a fan of his music, I regret reading this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's not an easy read especially when the same old addictions are plaguing Clapton. It often feels like you're re-reading. If you can pursue it to the end the journey is worth the while. This is not a covered up rendition of a famous rocker. But a very honest journey, albeit, filled with the dark horrors of addition. Clapton describes the pure horror of losing his 3 yr old. Not a rendering for the faint of heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eric Clapton has become a rock and roll/blues superstar. For over forty years he has had a huge influence on other musicians. He is  indisputably one of the greatest guitarists of all times. Clapton was born in Surrey, England in 1945 to Patricia Molly Clapton but it was  his Grandmother Rose and her husband Jack Clapton who raised him. His autobiography chronicles his years with various blues and rock and roll bands including his early years with the John Mayall Band, Blind Faith, Cream, and Derek and the Dominos and ending with his days touring as a solo act. He was and continues to be instrumental in promoting the careers of other musicians. He also writes very candidly about the drug and alcohol addictions that haunted him for much of his life creating chaos in both his personal and professional life. A major theme throughout the book was the obstacles he had to overcome to "beat" these addictions and why he has put sobriety as his number one priority in life. Clapton's brutal honesty and "no excuse" approach to his addictions is shocking and at times tedious. The details he gives about his escapades leaves the reader wondering how he survived the early years of his career. His recollections of playing with other famous musicians give the reader insight into the life of a musician on the road and perhaps why it is so easy for them to turn to drugs, sex, and alcohol. It was particularly interesting to read about his relationship with Jimi Hendrix  and George Harrison. What is missing from this autobiography is how Clapton's reckless actions affected those around him. He has a  very self-centered and almost cavalier attitude about his behavior. If you're a Clapton fan, this is a "must-read" book. His words are  spoken from the heart. Blues fans and rock and roll fans will also enjoy this book. I would not, however, recommend this to those who are not music fans. At times, Clapton's amateur writing style becomes monotonous and gives the reader unnecessary information. Sometimes it reads like a diary written by an adventurous teenager. I would give the book an overall rating of 3 out of 5 stars. Other books that may be of interest to Clapton fans would be biographies written by Pete Townsend, Greg Allman and Ozzy Osbourne.    
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book about my guitar hero very interesting . Clapton has had one hell of a life . I find myself feeling sad for Clapton . Broken as a child , he wandered thru life seemingly unable to function normally as an adult . From his substance abuse to his awful somewhat pathetic professional and romantic relationships . Hmm familiar . Clapton and I proved to have a lot in common. Including finding ourselves in AA . The best thing that ever happened to either of us . Like mine , his story takes a turn for the better. I find myself inspired by his continued commitment to helping others seek sobriety . A beautiful example of what we in the program should strive to do everyday .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent fast read. Would recommend it to anyone interested in rock history.
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I guess it would be good if you believe he is a guitar god.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eric Clapton's book gives you a inside of a rock and roll celebrity status and the ups and downs throughout entire life. His life a child was very interesting and he could of just given up but did not because he found music and how to play the guitar very well. It's amazing of all the bands he was in which was amazing itself and good they were as bands. I am still surprised how is still alive with all the drugs and alcohol he has done in his lifetime. Talk about having 9 lives! He could had been Jimi Hendrix back in the 60's and early 70's which he died of a drug overdose. He needs to give the lord a huge thank that he is steal living today.
AJae More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for my husband who is a rabid Clapton Fan. He immersed himself in the book and didn't surface until he finished it which is very unusual for him. He said it was a great read and appreciated the background and life story of Clapton.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A bit difficult to get through towards the middle but improves toward the end. More anecdotes would be helpful. His struggle with addictions was bravely & authentically told.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book, outstanding insight. Must read for Clapton fans.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago