Friday, April 6, 2018

Review: Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

The following is my opinion...

Rock stars are arrogant. By and large, the statement I just made would most certainly be true. Successful recording artists are gifted with free everything from the onset of their first big hit. Most of us who love their music don't much care if they are arrogant. Many of them are also selfish. Reading biographies, watching documentaries or browsing through an interview would most assuredly make that statement pretty much true as well. Again, by and large, fans rarely, if ever, bother to care. Just play "Layla," since hearing it 40,000 times over the last forty plus years isn't enough!

Eric Clapton has led an interesting life. He hasn't necessarily led a fulfilling life looking in from the outside, but interesting would be more than a modest understatement. He became a guitar icon during a time when music mattered. He was raised by his grandparents, thinking they were his parents. (as a side note, both actor Jack Nicholson and singer Bobby Darin were also both raised by women they thought were their mothers, but were in reality their respective grandmothers, so Clapton shares this with them). His mother left the household as a teen-aged girl once she had given birth to Eric Clapton. He eventually sold enough records over his 55 year career to land him in the top 40 of all-time best-selling album artists. He became a heroin addict and an alcoholic and he overcame both substances. He was a notorious womanizer and he fell in love (but was it love?) with his best friend's wife. He started his own rehab center in Antigua. By the time the documentary has concluded you find yourself asking how is he still alive? It is a realistic question to ask. Has he led an interesting life? Yes, he has.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars was produced by Lili Fini Zanuck. Zanuck married into show business royalty (if you will) and became a producer. She and Clapton bonded years ago and it was to her that he allowed his life story to be told. Somewhere, you just know Clapton must have had a thing for the attractive and intelligent blond producer. Keep in mind he spent much of his life as a womanizer, so I assume there was more than met the eye, at least from his perspective, regarding their long relationship (no known romance between these two).

Zanuck's production team reportedly spent several years gathering archival footage of Clapton to include in this somewhat all-encompassing documentary. For those of us who have read multiple biographies on Clapton you realize quickly that much is not included, but we all are intelligent enough to know that everything cannot be included in a 2:15 documentary. For example: the inspiring people behind Clapton's recovery from heroin addiction are not even briefly shared which is highly unfortunate. The people behind his somewhat speedy healing were remarkable people, but no one on this team thought they were worthy of discussion.

The wild and rock star wacky story between Clapton and Pattie Boyd Harrison (George Harrison's first wife) is addressed somewhat fully in this documentary.  Clapton was not kind to Boyd. Boyd, in her autobiography stated she should have pulled a Jane Asher when it came to George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Jane Asher famously dumped Paul McCartney when she caught him cheating on her. Yes, the lovely Pattie should have dumped them both!  Clapton caroused, cheated voraciously and was so dismissive to Boyd you have to question why she would stick around for as long as she did. He claims he was once madly in love with Boyd, but this couldn't have been love. No one that loves would possibly treat a human the way he treated Boyd. For further reference, all of this is referenced in Boyd's autobiography and Clapton mentions this in his autobiography as well.

Obviously, Clapton has a long legacy for musical brilliance. He began his career with The Yardbirds then joined John Mahall and his blues band. He left to form Cream (at one point in the documentary, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegan claims Cream was bigger than the Rolling Stones and then he goes on to laughably say they were bigger than the Beatles. Needless to say, the average 40 year old today has no idea who Cream is, let alone anyone younger than 40, so the quote is beyond silly). Once he left Cream he formed Blind Faith for one album and then went on to perform as Derek and the Dominoes and finally settled into his long and illustrious solo career. He is surely one of the three or four greatest guitarists of the rock era. This documentary is highly infotaining, but it still fails on many fronts, but Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars moves along quite smoothly and quickly.

The most annoying part is the complete lack of talking heads. No one wants to sit through non-stop talking heads, but a few would be helpful. This tactic of not using any talking heads got started annoyingly in the HBO two part documentary series, Frank Sinatra: All or Nothing At All a couple of years ago. It didn't work then and it hinders the viewer from attaching self to the life story flashing before you.

The viewer walks away from this documentary not liking Clapton much. These folks who have been pandered to by everyone in their walkways appear to be selfish and arrogant humans. Why I may be shocked at this proves naivete may never die.

If you have spent a certain part of your life listening to classic rock and to Clapton's music specifically, this is a highly worthwhile couple of television hours. Clapton was a passionate blues-minded, gifted and in many ways nearly unequaled guitarist.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars can be found on Showtime.

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2018