Guitar gods rock new memoirs
Vail, CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” Sure, being a rock star may get you fame and fortune, but it won’t necessarily get you a book deal. That hallowed ground is reserved for Rock Gods.
So for those about to rock there are two new autobiographies from deities of the six string to guide you through the life and times, highs (lots and lots of highs) and lows, and, oh yeah, the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll of a Guitar God. Released just weeks apart, “Eric Clapton: The Autobiography” and “Slash” trace the careers of two guitarists with resumes ready for Rock ‘n Roll Rushmore.
Beginning with the tangled branches of his family tree, Clapton traces the arc of a career closing in on its sixth decade. Anointed as ‘God’ by vandals in the London Underground, Clapton spends a sizable chunk of his memoir discussing his rise to rock prominence, the formation and destruction of Cream in a little more than a calendar year, and the bustling music scene of 1960s and 1970s London.
Clapton, also dubbed “Slowhand” by scenesters, has no shortage of stories about jamming with The Beatles, The Stones, and just about any other relevant musician of the times. His kinship with Duane Allman and everyone’s inferiority complex when Jimi Hendrix arrived are particularly entertaining. As Clapton famously says upon seeing Hendrix for the first time: “If I’m supposed to be God, then who’s that?”
In between hit singles and short-lived super groups, Clapton managed a debilitating heroin and alcohol problem. He also lusted after rock muse Pattie Boyd, who just happened to be married to his good buddy George Harrison. This would be the basis for Clapton’s “Layla,” which is easily the best song ever written about wanting to bed your best friend’s wife.
Perhaps (un)coincidentally, Boyd released her memoir “Wonderful Tonight” earlier this fall, giving us two drastically different accounts of rock’s most bizarre love triangle. Boyd did indeed dump The Quiet Beatle for Slowhand, with the ensuing marriage lasting until 1989. Clapton gets the last laugh by admitting that his serenade “Wonderful Tonight” was not inspired by Boyd. Ouch.
Through heartbreak, addiction, and the death of several of his contemporaries, nothing compared to the death of Clapton’s infant son Conor, who crawled out a high rise window. Emotional and intense, Clapton candidly recalls the tragedy and his decision to write, and perform, “Tears in Heaven,” a wrenching ballad dedicated to his son. The song re-launched Clapton’s career and earned him several Grammys.
Living in a different time, playing a different style of rock ‘n roll, Guns ‘N Roses axeman Slash led a life remarkably parallel to Clapton. Slash, whose driver license is issued to Saul Hudson, easily the most un-rocking name ever for a Rock God, is perhaps the most accomplished player of his era, and certainly the most recognizable (nobody has done more for the top hat aesthetic since Abraham Lincoln).
The offspring of biracial, bohemian parents, Slash struggled to find his niche in Los Angeles. His companions quickly became the guitar and drugs, and later the fine fellows that formed Guns ‘N Roses, a band pundits and suburban mothers alike deemed volatile, explosive, and dangerous. Though both will never deny that Guns rocked. Hard.
Slash spares no detail of his somewhat depraved life. His constant struggle with heroin, and subsequent relapses are the backbone, somewhat unfortunately, to this memoir. But Slash also offers plenty of insight into the creation of Guns’ lauded debut, “Appetite for Destruction,” which would sell more than 20 million units as well as the double disc opus of “Use Your Illusion.” He’s also chock full of stories from the Sunset Strip of the 1980s, as well as from relentlessly touring the world for nearly three straight years.
Frank and honest about the lifestyle Guns led (women’s activists beware), he’s also candid as to the band’s implosion at the hands of lead singer Axl Rose. Mercurial and moody, Axl is described as Slash’s “fishing buddy, two guys who have nothing in common when they’re not fishing.”
Slash offers no insight as to Rose’s strange behavior, which may make for a nice moral high ground but makes for boring reading on a dynamic personality. Once and for all, Slash also douses the flames of any reunion talk. Besides, as he points out, he’s too busy rocking with his latest band, the very average Velvet Revolver.
While both memoirs are virtually devoid of any literary merit (but, come on, is that what anyone would be after with these offerings?), they are loaded with anecdotes of two of the three most important rock ‘n roll scenes (Seattle of the mid 1990s being the third) of modern history. At times, both Clapton and Slash seem to string together a bunch of little stories together, making for formulaic but thoroughly interesting reading.
Clapton played with just about everybody, and was always rumored to be joining this group or that, effectively making him a prodigy for hire. Slash’s outside collaborations are startling to the Guns layperson. In roughly a 10-year span, Slash cut tracks with everyone from Iggy Pop to Ray Charles, and was even Michael Jackson’s touring guitarist during the Black and White Tour.
Both also seem to reaffirm the rock adage that the classic tunes are the easiest to write. For example, “Layla” was written on the fly while just about every track on “Appetite for Destruction” was written in an afternoon. Slash and Axl’s ode to women, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” was actually written by accident yet still hit No. 1 on the charts.
It’s also easy to take umbrage with the clarity of both memoirs. These icons make no secret of their drug habits, and admit to spending much of their free time hunched over coffee tables or locked in bathrooms consuming massive quantities of whatever was put in front of them. This begs the question, how can someone so dependent on illicit substances all the time provide a salient memoir? Hmmm.
Neither quite cop to the method used in David Crosby’s memoir issued last year. Crosby fully admitted to not remembering stretches of his life because of drugs. Clapton nor Slash are willing to concede that level of honesty.
Both, though, do conquer addiction after several tries. Clapton celebrates his cleanliness by opening his Crossroads treatment facility in the Caribbean. Slash opts for a cardio defibrillator surgically implanted in his chest. He also, astutely, notes this was a somewhat radical procedure at the time. Again, neither seem to take a firm anti-drug stance, which is troubling especially to the potential younger, impressionable readers.
Slash’s memoir, however, suffers dearly from design flaws. The decisions to use random block print letters and randomly disperse photos throughout, as well as incorporate some of Slash’s, um, insightful essays/free verse poetry, are disappointing, and probably hurt the book’s credibility. However, it is nowhere nearly as gratuitous and ridiculous as the memoir just issued by Motley Crue founder Nikki Sixx.
Clapton is overtly concerned with his largesse, both musically and monetarily, which comes off as arrogant at times. Yes, you’re awesome and rich, we get it. He seems to want readers to understand just how vital he was, and still is.
Slash, meanwhile, understands that it’s meaningless to make compelling music if nobody hears it, making this an unofficial thank you to his legions of fans.
Both are now proud parents, at peace with their once reckless lifestyles and entirely at ease with their legacies. Sure, they’re older and wiser and, by both accounts, lucky to be alive, but they want you to know that they still indeed rock.
Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm in Edwards.