CLAPTON: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY, by Eric Clapton, Broadway Books, 343 pages, $26

Eric Clapton has lived a charmed life — a difficult one, to be sure, but charmed, nonetheless. In "Clapton: The Autobiography" we get an intimate and candid memoir of the rock 'n' roll legend in all his glory, squalor, desperation and ultimate redemption.

Born illegitimate in 1945, he was raised by his grandparents in humble circumstances in Ripley, England. He never knew his father and, at age 9, discovered that the woman he knew as his older sister was actually his mother.

As a teenager, Clapton found solace in guitar playing and the music that would influence the rest of his life: blues.

The author devotes a great deal of time to his spiraling addictions with sex, drugs and alcohol, but to his credit, Clapton candidly admits his wrongdoing as he recounts his wretched behavior as a drug-addled rock star who sleeps with nearly every woman who crosses his path.

While reading about all this depravity, you start to wonder, "How did this guy ever survive it?"

This is a question Clapton revisits often in the book, and he frankly admits he doesn't know why he was so blessed when so many of his friends and associates were permanently damaged or died of their excesses.

In the midst of his drug-induced shenanigans, the author discusses stints with some of the most influential rock bands in music history.

For guitar aficionados and music lovers alike, Clapton's reminiscing is historically priceless: The book is a veritable Who's Who of the greatest rock 'n' roll personalities, all of whom performed with the author, many on multiple occasions.

While all this is interesting reading, it is Clapton's reserve and lack of self-promotion that refreshes; he praises nearly everyone's talent but his own.

His frank treatment of his unrequited love for Pattie Boyd (the subject of his classic song "Layla"), wife of longtime friend George Harrison, is as painful to read as it must have been for Clapton to revisit and write. Their eventual marriage, dissolute life together and divorce are re-examined by the author in apologetic prose: He knows he was not the easiest man to live with.

In the '80s, after finding that alcohol was not only killing his relationships but also destroying his ability to make music, Clapton entered a treatment program. It was during his recovery period that he became a father.

When his cherished 4-year-old son, Conor, dies in a freak accident, you worry that Clapton will sink back into his self-destructive behavior, but he doesn't; he survives and shortly thereafter writes "Tears in Heaven," one of his best-selling compositions.

Today, he is happily married with four daughters, and it is this, as well as all the beneficial enterprises he's started since his recovery, that makes "Clapton: The Autobiography" such a compelling read.


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