I should have known — I remember when “Clapton is God” was a common phrase among the guitarists I knew. No more.
But when he saw Clapton at the Odeon theater in Birmingham in August 1976, Wakeling was gob-smacked. A clearly inebriated Clapton, who unlike most of his rock brethren hadn’t weighed in on topics like the Vietnam War, began grousing about immigration. The concert was neither filmed nor recorded, but based on published accounts at the time (and Wakeling’s recollection), Clapton began making vile, racist comments from the stage. In remarks he has never denied, he talked about how the influx of immigrants in the U.K. would result in the country “being a colony within 10 years.” He also went on an extended jag about how “foreigners” should leave Great Britain: “Get the wogs out . . . get the coons out.” (Wog, shorthand for golliwog, was a slur against dark-skinned nonwhites.)
A citizen of the pre-eminent colonizing nation now thinks being a colony is bad? OK.
That was in 1976. Now, though, he’s jumped on the wacky anti-vax bandwagon.
Clapton does appear to have a credulous side: In the book, he detailed the bizarre incident in the Eighties when “a lady with a strong European accent” called him at home, told him she knew all about his difficulties with Pattie Boyd (his wife by then), and persuaded him to try all sorts of odd rituals — like “cut my finger to draw blood, smear it onto a cross with Pattie’s and my name written on it, and read weird incantations at night.” (At her suggestion, he also flew to New York and slept with her before realizing that none of that madness would bring Boyd back.)
Clapton’s current public views are a hot mess of those tendencies churned up by a global pandemic, fake news, and his own health issues. In the past few years, Clapton’s health — his hands in particular — have made more headlines than his most recent albums. In 2016, he confessed to Rolling Stone that he was having “a neurological thing that is tricky, that affects my hands.” The following year, he told the magazine he was having “eczema from head to foot. The palms of my hand were coming off.” He also was dealing with peripheral neuropathy — damage to a person’s peripheral nerves, leading to burning or aching pain in the arms and legs.
Last year, Clapton began watching videos by Ivor Cummins, a chemical engineer and author who has questioned the British government’s handling of the pandemic. “I was trying to keep my mouth shut, but I was following the channel avidly,” Clapton confessed. Clapton made his own feelings first known by joining with Morrison for “Stand and Deliver,” a single that connected the lockdown to individual freedom: “Do you want to be a free man/Or do you want to be a slave?” Clapton issued a statement about the collaboration, “We must stand up and be counted because we need to find a way out of this mess. The alternative is not worth thinking about.” (In a strange coincidence, Morrison was a special guest star at Clapton’s Birmingham show in 1976.)
I guess Clapton is not god, which is a good thing: we don’t have to kill him. We should just ignore him.