60 Minutes Interview

The Australian Nine Network's "60 Minutes" program on the 5th of April, 1998 featured an interview with Eric Clapton.

The following is from the 60 Minutes website:

"Virtually since rock and roll began, Eric Clapton has been its pre-eminent guitarist. The legendary lead with Cream and Derek and the Dominoes, Clapton has written and played some of the major anthems of the rock era. And now he admits that for most of the time he was either stoned out of his mind or drunk to the eyeballs. In this rare interview, the rock guitarist talks candidly about his drug-crazed past, saying he so thoroughly despised the person he once was that he regularly contemplated suicide. Amazingly, he talks openly about Patti Boyd, the wife he stole from Beatle George Harrison. And he talks movingly about the death of his four-year-old son, Conor, and the hit song he wrote to help him overcome his grief. Free of drugs now and no longer drinking, Eric Clapton is, for the first time in his career, being himself and for him itís like a magical discovery tour."

Don't be put off by the above hype though. The interview itself was excellent.

60 Minutes voice over: Eric Clapton, the legendary guitarist of Cream and Derek And The Dominos fame has just come off a thirty year drug and booze binge and he's now using some of his personal fortune to set up a rehabilitation clinic to help other musos claw back from the brink. For the first time in his career Eric Clapton is himself, and ready and able to talk about it. Even when he was stoned out of his mind old Slowhand always made it sound so easy. Everyone, it seems, knew who Eric Clapton was, except Eric.

EC: In the end I, I was pretty well suicidal a lot of the time. I mean my days every day I would say to myself "Well, I'll give up tomorrow. I really can't live like this anymore but I can't stop today I'll just have a drink, I'll just have a line of coke, and then, and tomorrow we'll look at this, as a serious proposition". And of course that's, tomorrow never comes as we know. I had, believe you me, by that time, acquired enough stuff that most people thought would make your dreams come true. I had the beautiful wife, I had a home, a solid gold reputation and career, cars, money to burn, and every night I wanted to die.

60 Minutes voice over: At fifty two Eric Clapton is one of rock's great survivors. Having beaten heroin and booze he can now see how close they came to destroying him and his music.

60 Minutes: Do you think it's a myth that musicians play better when stoned?

EC: I think it's an absolute, um it's a farce to, to, to... I subscribed to that because I had no choice for a good deal of my I mean that was a fantastic defence mechanism, which I think artists use to cover the fact that they're not too sure of how good they are.

60 Minutes: Do you think you wasted time?

EC: I do, yes I do. The problematic thing with drugs is that at the onset it feels so damn great you don't believe there is a price. My experience is there is, and it far outweighs the moments of pleasure that you get.

60 Minutes voice over: The Clapton legend began here in London over thirty years ago.

EC: I came here in the 60's, about the mid 60's with a bunch of Aussies actually, ah...

60 Minutes: Oh no.

EC: Yeah, Martin Sharp, a guy called Philip Moira, and his girlfriend...

60 Minutes: These were the days of the Oz magazine, Martin was...

EC: That's right. Yeah. That's right. Martin was in the...

60 Minutes: So you can blame the Australians for those wild days.

EC: Well I had a lovely time. I thought I'd, I thought they were excellent people. I mean, um, we were great pals. In fact we wrote a really good couple of songs together.

60 Minutes voice over: When Eric finally came out to Australia in the seventies he was so stoned he was almost deported.

60 Minutes: It wasn't a particularly happy tour was it, the first one?

EC: Well it's almost like a blackout for me because I was so deep into using drugs and take... and alcoholism that a lot of it was a blackout you know? Very badly behaved. And I saw the, you know, my kind of arrogant attitude and I was a, a nasty piece of work in those days, was ah this is where people can... you can do whatever you like down here, and I gave myself licence to behave very badly.

60 Minutes voice over: When Eric was bad he was very bad. Like stealing the wife of his then closest friend George Harrison.

EC: Well this is really confidential and I have to be careful in a way that I'm not treading on anyone's toes but, my way of looking back at it I have to undo some of my own cause because it wasn't all my doing.

60 Minutes voice over: Patti Boyd had stolen The Beatles heart on the set of their movie, A Hard Day's Night. George and Patti appeared to be happily married, until Eric came along.

60 Minutes: Looking back on it, I mean have you worried perhaps that you might have ruined his chance of sort of lasting love?

EC: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. But then I go back and remember well at the time he didn't put up too much of a fight, he actually...

60 Minutes: What did he say to you, your great mate?

EC: The very words were, I mean when I first announced that I was in love with her, he said "Well fine", you know, "You go ahead and do it". Which wasn't, I believe now, what he truly felt, but there was a certain, you know, he didn't want to appear to be, I guess, upset. The fact was he was very upset, I'm sure. I believe.

60 Minutes voice over: Some of rock's most famous love songs were about his obsession with Patti. But in the middle of Eric's drug phase their marriage ended, and Eric went back to the blues, drifting through a procession of failed relationships with glamorous women.

60 Minutes: You have known so many beautiful women. Why has love not lasted for you?

EC: Because I don't believe I've really known them. I've often used women for very, very ulterior motives. As a crutch, as a means of kind of securing my identity, as a way of elevating my status, as a way of making my feel good about myself, um, or just to be mothered, you know, or for sex, there's a lot of different motives.

60 Minutes voice over: Clapton's first and lasting love is the guitar.

60 Minutes: When as a kid you picked up the guitar and finally could play it well did you feel a sense of identity? Did you feel...

EC: I began to feel like I had something. I began to feel like I, um, I had a place to stand, and a place to communicate from.

60 Minutes: What is it about the guitar then? Why that instrument?

EC: I liked, um, trumpet, I liked violin, I liked the piano. Accordian. Well it was a neighbour who had an accordian, which I really liked the look of because it had mother of pearl inlay and it was flashy and...

60 Minutes: Thank God you didn't stay with that

EC: I know! I mean can you imagine? But, but, um, the guitar. There was an ease... I mean it was easy... it was made to look easy. Of course they said I could play in a day which I found out was a complete pack of lies, but it was incredibly attractive.

60 Minutes: Does the guitar still turn you on like that.

EC: Um. Yes it does.

60 Minutes: Do you chuckle when you hear people say you are God?

EC: Oh It's nonsense.

60 Minutes: The world's greatest guitar player

EC: Well it's nonsense. Isn't it? It's nonsense. I think I have a gift which I've, um, which I've developed as best I can, it could... I mean if I hadn't spent all that time that I did, you know, getting off my head, I may have been, I may be a little bit better, um, probably quite a lot better, but we'll never know.

60 Minutes voice over: It's said that to play the blues you have to live them, and feel them. When Eric's four year old son, Conor, fell to his death from an apartment building in 1991, we could all share Eric's blues.

60 Minutes: When you now play Tears In Heaven, I think we all know what you feel. At that moment you don't really have to tell us anything more.

EC: Yeah. Yeah. It's an interesting phenomenon. I mean my mail for the next year was phenomenal. I got at least 150 letters a day directly dealing with their own, ah, with their own grief and not, and not having really the tools to deal with it and a lot of people don't know how to deal with death. It's not something that we're taught in school. I was never taught in school about either relationships, parenting, or life or death, so when I come to see... when I come to the day when I had to go and look at my own son dead, um in his coffin, I had no, absolutely no preparation for that in any life skill department whatsoever, which I think is a criminal thing.

60 Minutes: Was writing about Conor your way of dealing with it?

EC: Yeah. Writing and playing. Playing... well first and foremost the most healing experience was for me just to hold my guitar and play and make music. Make music that made... that took me away. The key thing that I learnt about life from the death of my son was that we only have this moment. That we don't have tomorrow. Tomorrow doesn't exist and you can... and anything can happen even before the sun sets.

60 Minutes: Were you still, though, surprised that so many people, perhaps the world in a way, was on your wavelength in that song that we could all genuinely feel what you were going through. It was a kind of a global grieving for your individual loss.

EC: I was astonished actually. I mean I had no idea that this would reach people like that. They... people know what they were, they were... I meet people say "Oh yeah, I was, I remember where I was on that day. I was.. you know, in a... going into a grocer shop to get some... and I heard" . And I think it's incredible you know this young boy had that much effect on people. It was incredible.

60 Minutes: In that song, the thought that you have of, would your son know your name in heaven, is um, it's not guilt but it's reflection about, to me, were you there, were you there enough, were you there for enough moments in that short life.

EC: Yeah. My question was will I see you again. It was very simple. I mean in a sense it wasn't even a sad song, It was a song of belief. It was a song of, I mean, I think where it talks about there will be no more tears in Heaven, you know. And I think it was, I think, a song of optimism.

60 Minutes: Of reunion.

EC: Of reunion. And like, you know, what was worrying me was... I ok... we won't be re... but will I know... will we re... I hope to God we don't meet up in some kind of Heaven's hotel lobby and just walk by one another. How will I know?

60 Minutes: Maybe he'll hear that guitar and know it's you.

EC: Maybe.

60 Minutes voice over: This father's loss of a son was his darkest hour, but also the moment in music where he became a universal artist. Now clean and sober, singing and playing better than ever, Eric's new album, The Pilgrim, is perhaps his strongest work, but for a blues man it never comes easy.

EC: I don't know if I have a very clear idea of what the pilgrimage is, I just know that it's like been a long, long search and it goes on.

60 Minutes: Do you think the search has been for identity really, to find out who you are?

EC: There's a good way of putting it I think. I need someone else to tell me. You've told me what I've been trying to say all this time and that's what it is. Yeah, you're right.

60 Minutes: What made you then, Eric, survive?

EC: I believe I've got some reason to be here otherwise, I... otherwise it doesn't make sense. I ask myself that question a lot. Why me? In the end, um, the closest I can come to is I might have something left to do which is of use to somebody else. And I don't mean on a global scale. I'm talking about maybe one other person can benefit from my existence that makes it worth God keeping me alive.