Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: ‘Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History’

Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History is to a sufficient biography of Eric Clapton what “Wonderful Tonight” is to “Layla”: a bland gesture rather than a work of insight and passion. Author Chris Welch is a friend of Clapton and goes much too far out of his way to avoid stepping on Slowhand’s toes. Even the most forgiving fans will recognize the multitudinous oversights in this book. They may not want to dwell on Clapton’s most painful moments—his unrequited obsession with Patti Boyd, his heroin addiction of the early ‘70s, the tragic death of his son Conor—but these were major events in his life that did impact his music, and Welch only gives them the most cursory attention. The guitarist’s most pitiful moments—the ramifications of wooing his best friend’s wife, his infamous racist tirade at a 1976 concert—aren’t mentioned at all. A biography shouldn’t be the sum of its subject’s greatest controversies, but to fail to acknowledge them at all is shabby journalism at best and irresponsible whitewashing of history at worst. Granted, this is an “illustrated history,” and such image-centric books are rarely substitutes for in-depth biographies, but Clapton is little more than a dry recitation of facts and dates only enlivened by occasional quotes from outside sources. And since Clapton was never as visually arresting as, say, Jimi Hendrix or The Who, the necessity for a visual history of his life is questionable to begin with. As is the case with its subject’s music career, Clapton is liveliest during the Cream years. Welch is bright enough to recognize this, devoting a full quarter of his 250-page book to Clapton’s mere four years in the super group. Cream’s psychedelic album covers and poster art and the guys’ far-out wardrobes are awesome eye candy. The rest of the book isn’t even deep enough to earn that distinction.

Get Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History at Amazon.com here.
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