An interview with Eric Clapton conducted by Sir David Frost on June 16, 1994
DAVID FROST: But first of all a question. How is it possible that an affluent white man from Surrey, England, could become the greatest blues guitarist in the world. When blues was after all the music of oppressed black people in the American South? Well it happened and he was awarded the status of a deity by the time he was 25. Clapton is God they said. Clapton is here we say. Ladies and gentleman Eric Clapton.
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes lovely.
DAVID FROST: Rocketing, rocketing out of the folks. Actually the thing I was saying about blues and so on, and the illogic of Surrey and Mississippi and all of that, actually there was something you said once about, the first time you heard blues you identified with that music the way you had with nothing else, is that right?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes, yes, as long, well I think I was about eight or nine years old, as long back as then. I think it was Uncle Mac, do you remember Uncle Mac on Saturday mornings used to play, every now and then he'd play one sort of off-beat tune. It used to be usually things like the Runaway Train Came Over The Hill and She Blew or something like, or novelty music, very much novelty music. And every now and then he'd play something, and I think it was Chuck Berry, Memphis or something like that or maybe it was.. Terry and Brownie McGhee and I didn't even know that it was black music. I could, you know I didn't know about black and white being different stuff, you know, just something got me about it. Something stirred me and I responded and I just, from then on I became a student really of that.
DAVID FROST: And was that, you said looking back on it, it was, was it the cry of pain in the music?
ERIC CLAPTON: Well, in retrospect...
DAVID FROST: In retrospect?
ERIC CLAPTON: I can see that that's probably what it was, it was some kind of...it was me identifying with some, some kind of cry of suffering yes, pain, because I had a very confused, tumultuous childhood, I mean no one has a perfect childhood but mine...
DAVID FROST: Yours was outstandingly tumultuous wasn't it?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes pretty strange...
DAVID FROST: You thought your grandparents were your parents?
ERIC CLAPTON: My parents yes.
DAVID FROST: For years?
ERIC CLAPTON: Uhm
DAVID FROST: And you thought your sister, your mother was your sister?
ERIC CLAPTON: yes.
DAVID FROST: Is that the right way round?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: I'm getting confused, you must have been very confused?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes, I'm still confused, I'm still trying to unravel it and actually the more I find out about my family the more I found out that it was actually pretty widespread around, all over the place in England, especially during the war, during the end of the war.
DAVID FROST: Oh yes because you were born in '45 weren't you yes.
ERIC CLAPTON: And it seemed to be that a lot of things were going on that had to be covered up, you know, one way or another. It was like illegitimacy and just sort of tangled webs of deceit inside families, that I, I was just really one of those.
DAVID FROST: Yes and that was, that was why they said grandparents were parents and so on, was to cover up the...
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes to preserve the status quo.
DAVID FROST: Yes because it was really shocking in those days rather than much more common then wasn't it?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: And you said that a lot of your confusion, well you've said that you're not very good at relationships and so on, and a lot of it goes right back to day one you said, does it?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes I think I'm still really trying to come to terms with how I feel about, you know, about human relationships. And developing trust, developing trust and feeling safe with intimacy you know, which is, I suppose most people take for granted or maybe they don't I don't know. But for me it's very difficult for me to completely open up and trust somebody, I'm very suspicious and that's why I went to music, I found that to be a safe place to go you see.
DAVID FROST: And you said, you didn't, before you can love anyone else you've got to love me as it were, you've got to love yourself and that was one of the things you...
ERIC CLAPTON: Well that's the hardest thing to do isn't it, I've found.
DAVID FROST: And you think that insecurity goes back, or that not loving yourself goes back, right back to...?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes I'll tell you a funny story actually, that I mean when I was about, when I discovered most of this stuff and I don't really remember specifically how, maybe it was a letter or other kids, you know how these things sort of come to light, that my parents weren't actually my parents. About that time I was, I was playing around with my grandma's compact, with a little mirror you know, and I saw myself in two mirrors for the first time and I don't know about you but it was like hearing your voice on a tape machine for the first...and I didn't, I, I was so upset. I saw a receding chin and a broken nose and I thought my life is over, this is like at the age of eight you know.
DAVID FROST: Yes, yes.
ERIC CLAPTON: And I ran away from me at that, I didn't want anything to do with me then, from that point on.
DAVID FROST: And you, you're not still running are you?
ERIC CLAPTON: I think I'm sort of finally coming to find out who I am, it's taken me a long time, I'm nearly 50 years old and I don't really know who I am you know. But I don't know if that's so uncommon either.
DAVID FROST: No, what have you found out so far?
ERIC CLAPTON: Well I'm not a bad bloke after all.
DAVID FROST: Good, you see you're starting...no actually and you wouldn't have said that a few years ago actually, you had some self-hate there a few years ago?
ERIC CLAPTON: No I wouldn't, oh I did yes, yes.
DAVID FROST: And that's probably why you did some of those diabolical things to your body wasn't it?
ERIC CLAPTON: Uhm. Quite a lot of them yes.
DAVID FROST: Yes.
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: The, I mean was that because you had a naturally addictive character or what?
ERIC CLAPTON: Well I think it ties in with that, you know having discovered that I didn't like who I was that I had to go and you know and bend myself to make myself attractive to other people. And I found that when I drank or took drugs or whatever or changed myself from the inside out that I felt I was more acceptable to other people.
DAVID FROST: And so that was with well drugs was that was it, but drink is partially to do with getting rid of inhibitions is it?
ERIC CLAPTON: I think so yes. I mean my experience was that if I had a few drinks I could do things that I couldn't, I wouldn't normally be able to do otherwise. I mean my tongue would get loose and I'd be able to talk to girls and you know that sort of thing.
DAVID FROST: You have never had much trouble about talking it girls really?
ERIC CLAPTON: Well actually, I have I actually have I mean but that's, one of the first things I did want to overcome I must admit.
DAVID FROST: Yes, you were eight at the time yes. Which is more difficult to kick drugs or drink?
ERIC CLAPTON: In my case alcohol was very hard because I was so, I loved drinking, I mean being an Englishman I think drinking's so much much part of our heritage, especially the country pub, and on a summer's day. Today, I mean you see people sitting outside pubs with lager, you know pints of lager and it looks so attractive to me you know. And I don't , really I'd love to do that but unfortunately I wouldn't be able to stop you see, I'd just go on and on and on.
DAVID FROST: Yes so it's six or seven years since you had a drink isn't it?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes it'll be seven years in November yes.
DAVID FROST: Yes, we'll have a party.
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: Non-alcoholic party.
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: With Santogen and Wincarnis and... now the, you, you said the other day somewhere that you had really made a discovery also in your journey of discovery, talking about the beautiful things you do to the body as well,that, that you said you decided that sex is really meant just for procreation?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes someone else told me that I'd said that... I don't remember saying...
DAVID FROST: And that you were much happier in a monogamous relationship?
ERIC CLAPTON: That's true actually.
DAVID FROST: But the combination of the two quotes I thought when I read it in a magazine, and I thought well there's young people who'll read that and say, it's all right for Eric to say that now he's 49 and had 30 years of it but... I'm 18 if I follow my hero I'm not going to get much at all?
ERIC CLAPTON: Not true because if the follow their hero they'll do what I did and come to the same realization...
DAVID FROST: At the end yes.
ERIC CLAPTON: In the end.
DAVID FROST: But now, but now you're, but now you're much happier in a monogamous relationship with no, no messing about?
ERIC CLAPTON: It's very hard, I find it very, very difficult, very difficult. I mean it's the hardest work, just, I mean just being true to one person and thinking, thinking of somebody else. I mean I'm a very, very selfish man when it comes down to it and I think part of al that Don Juanism is about self-indulgence and selfishness isn't it. And not really wanting to think of anybody but yourself really, and not giving. And to be in a monogamous relationship as I'm sure you know David, is like self-sacrifice isn't it, a lot of the time isn't it?
DAVID FROST: But it is terrific too?
ERIC CLAPTON: Oh the rewards are unbelievable.
DAVID FROST: So would you like to get married again?
ERIC CLAPTON: I would love to get married, yes I would actually, I would.
DAVID FROST: And then in a totally sort of old-fashioned way, you could have a family in that way, I mean just...?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes, I mean that's, that's ideal isn't it, but it doesn't matter, I don't mind actually so much anymore, for me anyway.
DAVID FROST: No you'd just like to have children if it happens?
ERIC CLAPTON: If it happened it would be wonderful but if it doesn't I wouldn't be at all surprised. I mean if it just ends up with me having a bunch of pals and a girlfriend, I mean that would be, that's enough isn't it? I'm very lucky to have what I have really.
DAVID FROST: Having what you have, you decided at some stage that just money and success weren't it, didn't do it for you enough really...
ERIC CLAPTON: No.
DAVID FROST: You decided those were sort of empty did you?
ERIC CLAPTON: Well this is all external stuff and I mean it's a long journey to find that out. I mean it doesn't make you happy at the end of the day. I had everything a man could have at the age of 25, I was, you know with a wonderful wife, cars and a beautiful home, a successful career but I wanted to die and I don't understand that. So I mean there's, and I tried, you know trying to kill myself with drink and drugs, so there was something missing in my life which, which I've sort of come to, to look upon as some kind of spiritual, spiritual goal really.
DAVID FROST: And you found that was all empty ans what's the spiritual goal, is it actually God or is it a...?
ERIC CLAPTON: Well I don't know what it is, I believe that there is something in charge of it all and that it's not me, I mean that's, that's all I have to remember. In order to get some kind of peace of mind and be fairly happy is that all I need to know is that I'm not running the show and that's, that's when things start to get better for me.
DAVID FROST: And you think that whoever he is, or she we should say, Ms or Mr, that whoever is running this, you thought, you decided after what you'd lived through and then the plane crash you were nearly on and all of that, that he probably wants you around for a bit longer?
ERIC CLAPTON: I think so...
DAVID FROST: To do what?
ERIC CLAPTON: I think that seems to be the case. Well I suppose
to do his work, whatever it is that seems to be the next right thing. I don't
know, I just know that when I ran on my own willpower and tried to do it my way
I got in an awful mess you know. And when I came to realize that I really didn't
know what was going on and the more I discovered that the better I am, the
happier I am, when I just know that today's the day and I've got something to do
and I'll do it to the best of my ability and not worry about the outcome. I'm
having a much better time when it's like that.
DAVID FROST: That's great news, at the same time it's odd isn't it, some of your greater songs have, have come out of your most down moments haven't they?
ERIC CLAPTON: Uhm, uhm.
DAVID FROST: Why is that? Does pain, is pain easier to write about and compose about than happiness?
ERIC CLAPTON: What makes them great, I think that's what we're, you have to look at, is what makes them great? What makes them great if there's any definition of that is that they are acceptable to other people. That other people find them easy to identify with or they get something from it and so would it be...I mean for instance that song that I wrote about my son...
DAVID FROST: Right.
ERIC CLAPTON: Well I mean when I wrote that I was writing about my own grief and my pain but what happened is that it touched thousands of people who've suffered similar things. That's what made it great, it wasn't such a great song but what made it great was that it meant something to people who felt the same way.
DAVID FROST: But as you wrote it was it a catharsis for you...
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: Was it a healing process for you?
ERIC CLAPTON: It was the only thing I could do, it was, the only thing that made sense to me was to not only bring it out but to share it with people because I found that my natural tendency as a human being, as a very faulty human being is to isolate in these sort of situations and to go and hibernate and bury myself and feel sorry for myself and generally, well generally become very self-destructive. And the healthiest thing for me do do in actual fact is the opposite of that which is to produce something and share it with everybody.
DAVID FROST: Face up to it?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes.
DAVID FROST: Rather than run away from it, yes. And did in fact the tragedy that happened to your son, did that affect your, your attitude to your daughter?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes, yes it did.
DAVID FROST: Has it made...
ERIC CLAPTON: I think it, not just my daughter but to by whole life, to my whole attitude towards the human race and life as, as an existence. I saw the importance of it and how every minute is important and how powerless I truly am over events.
DAVID FROST: Powerless?
ERIC CLAPTON: Uhm.
DAVID FROST: What if you had some power over your life and it wasn't all the man up, there, if you weren't totally powerless what way would you want your life to go now, what directions? We mentioned in personal terms if it happened marriage, children would be great. What about the professional part of your life, I mean do you have plans for that or do you play it, play it by ear?
ERIC CLAPTON: I think I just want to be true to myself, to
myself as it happens. I've, I've given up really trying to think about what I
want to be in five years' time, I don't really know. I'm happy being who I am
right now and I'd like to, what I'd like is for that to continue I suppose, you
know just to be happy being who I am. I mean what I'm doing right now is,
probably what, I've come full circle from when I was 21 years old making, making
records with a blues band and I've come back to that. I'm making, I'm playing
blues again, I've kind of really, I mean musically speaking I've got back to
being a purist and I really want to stay that way now.
DAVID FROST: And having survived, the great survivor, people who're watching this now, I mean in terms of people, young people who are thinking of delving into drugs and so on, would you, would you say "learn from my experience that it's, that it can destroy you', or?
ERIC CLAPTON: Wouldn't that be wonderful if I could, I mean, but I mean I hung around with people from when I was in my early 20s who were taking very heavy drugs and who would say to me 'never do this'. And I would say to myself, 'I'll never do that'. And within five years I was doing it. So I don't know what difference it makes to say anything. I can absolutely assure you that if you take drugs and you've got the slightest resemblance of an addictive personality you'll end up in a lot of trouble, that's a guarantee from my experience. But I don't have any, any belief that anyone will take any notice of it. Because if you've got that kind of curiosity you'll do it and the more...
DAVID FROST: What you put it though was very definite in terms of people who admire you and so on. You also kicked the smoking habit didn't you?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes about ten months ago I stopped smoking, yes. That was, actually I went to a hypnotherapist, I have to say, and I found that was very useful, very useful. In about an hour and a half it was over and I, I probably had about two or three days that were, that were tough and then it was fine.
DAVID FROST: That's fantastic because some people find it incredibly difficult?
ERIC CLAPTON: They do, I think if you've had enough you've had enough you know.
DAVID FROST: Yes, yes, you were starting to wheeze were you?
ERIC CLAPTON: Oh yes, I was rattling you know, and you're taking someone out to dinner and you've got that rattle going on in where...
DAVID FROST: Not very romantic?
ERIC CLAPTON: No it isn't, no.
DAVID FROST: Not if you're so shy with girls, it must be very...very difficult indeed. But now we've come through this whole journey and it's an extraordinary journey, a journey of survival and so on, and I really think, I mean you really went to the brink so many times and something pulled you back and I think you are, you really are, I mean it's a joyous moment, you really are happy at this moment aren't you?
ERIC CLAPTON: Yes I am, yes. I am very happy, I think I've found a way to live as a result of all these near disasters which keeps me remembering how fortunate I am and how lucky I am and how much of a responsibility I have to stay the way I am right now.
DAVID FROST: Terrific, this has been a really happy experience for me. We hope that all of you at home will be as happy as Eric without having to go through everything he went through. Eric thanks a million.
ERIC CLAPTON: Thank you David.