As many rock fans know, Pattie Boyd is the former model turned travel
photographer who wed one of the greatest musical talents of the '60s, George
Harrison, inspiring him to write one of his most enduring Beatles songs,
"Something," before becoming entwined in a love triangle with her husband
and his friend and fellow guitar god, Eric Clapton, who in turn wrote the
immortal "Layla" about the intensity of his love.
It's a heck of a story
-- mythic in proportions, really -- and any music enthusiast intrigued
enough to tackle 342 pages of the newly published and much-hyped Clapton:
The Autobiography or 336 pages of Boyd's Wonderful Tonight: George
Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me (written with Penny Junor) is rightly
going to expect some profound insights into the nature of love -- real or
imagined, refreshingly straightforward or hopelessly complex.
Unfortunately, while Clapton and Boyd offer plenty of minor glimpses into
fascinating lives that took them from humble beginnings to worldwide fame,
the most telling example of why both books are ultimately unsatisfying can
be seen in the way each first-time author relates the climactic moment in
their relationship, when Clapton confessed his love for Boyd to Harrison
after the former mop-top arrived at a party to find the adulterous couple
intimately chatting in the garden.
"To my complete horror, Eric said, 'I have to tell you, man, that I'm in
love with your wife,' " Boyd writes. "I wanted to die. George was furious.
He turned to me and said, 'Well, are you going with him or coming with me?'
And I said, 'George, I'm coming home.' I followed him to his car, we got
into it, and he sped off. When we got home I went to bed and he disappeared
into his recording studio."
Whoa, Nelly! (That happens to be Clapton's nickname for Boyd, by the
way.) One of pop culture's biggest loves since Romeo and Juliet explodes
like an atomic bomb on a misty English morning, and no one says a word
afterward? We must be missing something! But Clapton's account of the
same scene is even sketchier and more elliptical -- and he doesn't even
mention Boyd's presence.
After he saw Harrison at the party, Clapton writes that he "blurted the
whole thing out to him: 'I'm in love with your wife.' The ensuing
conversation bordered on the absurd. Although I think he was deeply hurt --
I could see it in his eyes -- he preferred to make light of it, almost
turning it all into a Monty Python situation. I think he was relieved in
some way, though, because I'm sure all the time he knew what had been going
on, and now I was finally owning up to it."
Boyd eventually married Clapton and then divorced him because of his drug
addiction, alcoholism and many infidelities; Clapton and Harrison somehow
repaired their friendship and remained close until the latter's death in
2001. Boyd and Clapton both justify the casual, almost haphazard way they
tackle their fabled romance and the ruined marriages left in its wake by
noting that they only realized, more than three decades later, that the
emotional turmoil was exacerbated and possibly created by immature and
otherwise unhealthy young people living in a surreal bubble of wealth, fame
and cultural upheaval. She goes on at some length about finally finding
self-esteem through therapy, while Clapton slowly and inexorably marches
toward rehab shortly before the tragic death of his young son Conor.
To their credit, Clapton and Boyd both favor direct and generally
self-deprecating first-person prose mercifully short on the annoying
self-aggrandizement prevalent in so many celebiographies: lots of short
sentences; not much mythologizing. This actually serves Boyd better than
Clapton, since she was more of an observer, and she refrains from
romanticizing the huge talents in her life. In contrast, Ol' Slowhand's
just-the-facts accounts of some of the more amazing moments in his storied
career wind up making these events seem banal, if not downright boring.
Now clean and sober, Clapton is further plagued by bursts of
recovery-speak. "Addiction doesn't negotiate, and it gradually crept up on
me, like a fog," he writes. Yet for all of his 12-step re-examinations, the
deepest insight he ultimately offers is that addiction is "a mysterious
An even bigger mystery -- and the most serious hole in the center of the
guitarist's autobiography -- is the source of his creativity and the nature
of his relationship with music. The former leader of the Yardbirds, Cream
and Blind Faith turned fabulously successful solo artist writes very little
about songwriting and recording, or even about his musical fandom. The
passion inherent in the tortured vocal and gorgeous guitar solos of "Layla"
are ultimately more honest, inspiring and eloquent than Clapton's account of
In the end, the worst that can be said of Wonderful Tonight is
that Boyd would have been better served by a lengthy and well-balanced
magazine profile. But the biggest knock on Clapton: The Autobiography,
for which the author was reportedly paid almost $7 million, is that it just
doesn't resonate with the reader as effectively as his music moves the
GEORGE HARRISON, ERIC CLAPTON, AND ME
By Pattie Boyd
Harmony Books, 336 pages, $25.95
Broadway Books, 342 pages, $26