Guitars

My gui­tar teacher Steve thumbed through the fold­er that con­tained all of the songs I have learned to play in the last decade.

“Let’s do Wonderful Tonight,” he sug­gest­ed. Izzie set down her acoustic and plugged her elec­tric into the amp. Together we do a killer cov­er. But not today.

I crossed my arms across my chest and said, “No Eric Clapton. He broke my heart.”

Steve holds that we should sep­a­rate artists from their human foibles. He believes the so-called can­cel cul­ture often goes too far in glee­ful­ly destroy­ing people’s liveli­hoods based on past mis­takes with­out regard to the fact that those peo­ple have often grown and matured since the inci­dent. I see his point. Many of the artists he adores – Neil Young, James Taylor, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry – have at one point been addicts, misog­y­nists, tantrum-throw­ers, and down­right ugly humans. Wagner was an anti-Semite. Picasso a misog­y­nist of the high­est order. James Brown an abu­sive preda­tor. Rudyard Kipling’s work dehu­man­ized peo­ple of col­or and Dr. Suess’s pic­ture books con­tained numer­ous racist characters.

A cre­ative life often draws those who are bro­ken or hurt in some way. Much of the world’s best art is a prod­uct of artists con­fronting their demons. Playing Art ver­sus the Artist is a dan­ger­ous rab­bit hole to wan­der down. If I threw out every song by an artist who had done some­thing real­ly stu­pid, I’d prob­a­bly only be left with Cat Stevens and Dolly Parton.

I am gen­er­al­ly will­ing to assume the best of peo­ple, give them lee­way for being a prod­uct of their time. I have always been able to sep­a­rate great art from the per­son who cre­at­ed it.

So why am I so upset with Eric Clapton? He trag­i­cal­ly lost his 4‑year-old son in 1991, when the tod­dler fell from a 53rd-floor apart­ment. As a par­ent myself, I can­not fath­om what this sort of loss does to your men­tal health. Shouldn’t he get a pass for act­ing like a grade‑A jerk occa­sion­al­ly? Why does play­ing his music now feel like such a betray­al of my values?

Maybe it was learn­ing that the three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame went on an alco­hol and drug-induced racist rant about “dark-skinned immi­grants” dur­ing a 1976 con­cert in England. “Do we have any for­eign­ers in the audi­ence tonight? I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our coun­try. I don’t want you here, in the room or in my coun­try.” This from a self-pro­claimed “blues purist.” I guess it’s a love black cul­ture, but hate blacks sort of thing.

Maybe it was Clapton’s much-pub­li­cized back­stage pho­to with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, known for his attacks on abor­tion, vot­ing rights, and vac­cine mandates.

The lyrics, “Do you want to be a free man? Do you want to be a slave?” seem espe­cial­ly dis­taste­ful com­ing from two rich, old, white men. They lit­er­al­ly check every patri­ar­chal box, but would have us believe they are speak­ing for the marginalized.

Maybe it was the pub­lic state­ment he made stat­ing that his AstraZeneca vac­cine caused dis­as­trous reac­tions. “My hands and feet were either frozen, numb or burn­ing, and pret­ty much use­less for two weeks… I feared I would nev­er play again,” he said online. What he didn’t add was that he was diag­nosed with periph­er­al neu­ropa­thy in 2013, a nerve dis­ease that caus­es those exact symp­toms. To blame symp­toms that have come and gone for almost a decade on a vac­cine received a few months ago seems mis­guid­ed at best and dis­hon­est at worst. Especially since the caus­es of periph­er­al neu­ropa­thy include tox­ins such as alco­hol and drug abuse. 

As Clapton had a hero­in, cocaine, and alco­hol addic­tion for many years, it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing that any drug intro­duced into his body at this time might cause such an immune response. Not sure it was the vac­cine so much as, you know, what Clapton him­self cal­cu­lates as a for­mer $16,000 a week hero­in problem.

Maybe it’s his com­plete dis­re­gard for sci­ence. You can find numer­ous YouTube videos from the last 18 months of Clapton claim­ing pub­lic health rec­om­men­da­tions and con­trolled, peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies on COVID-19 are noth­ing more than “pro­pa­gan­da.” He wrote and released a musi­cal­ly dis­as­trous anti-lock­down song with fel­low mis­an­thrope Van Morrison. The lyrics, “Do you want to be a free man? Do you want to be a slave?” seem espe­cial­ly dis­taste­ful com­ing from two rich, old, white men. They lit­er­al­ly check every patri­ar­chal box, but would have us believe they are speak­ing for the marginalized. 

Clapton recent­ly vowed to only per­form at venues with “dis­crim­i­nat­ed audi­ences” (i.e., no vac­cine or neg­a­tive test require­ments). While this deci­sion is com­plete­ly with­in his rights, it’s also com­plete­ly mer­it­less based sole­ly on his para­noid con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. His dis­re­gard for the safe­ty of his band, fans, and venue employ­ees is dis­ap­point­ing. He has an enor­mous plat­form and he’s using it to spread mis­in­for­ma­tion instead of try­ing to help edu­cate and save lives.

Maybe this shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing. In his 2021 mem­oir titled Eric Clapton: The Autobiography, the singer actu­al­ly admits to a ten­den­cy toward “con­spir­a­cy pho­bia in all things, includ­ing pol­i­tics.” But, it’s all just too much ter­ri­ble for me. I can’t dis­sect the art from the artist, can­not rec­on­cile his views and his music. Because what he writes, sings, and plays is a direct reflec­tion of who he is. If true artists pour their souls into their work, his soul seems too full of hatred and para­noia for this guitarist.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.