To God Through Pain and Music

I have to admit that I do like RnB music. Plugging in my guitar and ‘playing along’ with BB King really does take me to a peaceful place. Of course, that place stays strictly in my study, buried between my books and desk. But it is there, nestled between my piano and library.

But this quiet past-time of mine meant that when I received Eric Clapton’s autobiography as a gift (thank you, son), I was genuinely interested. I carefully put it into one of the ‘to read piles’ (I have different piles for different reading reasons). That time came while on our summer holidays this year.

The book is an easy read, but not clumsy. It is not short, but not burdensome. It does give a vivid account of life in the earliest times of the British (and then American) electric music scenes. The names that Clapton drops almost becomes heady – he truly did grow up with the like of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, because he was putting in the hard work of learning to play and perform, as did they.

But the personal lifestyle that he describes is basically sadness amidst a ‘secular saviour’, which is Clapton’s focus on something transcendent – and initially that is his music. The mixed life of grief and joy starts with his point of origin and extends into the alcohol and other drug fuelled patterns of life that he drops in and out of for much of his early years and the first half of his adulthood. Liaisons and partnerships come and go at an almost giddy pace, while Clapton continues to write, perform, and record music that lives on today. What is fascinating, and perhaps not surprising, is that so much of that music comes from his confusion, disorientation, and pain. Is that not often what brings out the creative soul of humanity (Psalm 51 comes to mind)?

His search for fulfilment within his chaotic creativity and sensuous relationships brings back two memories for me. One is that the pattern he describes is the same as all the serious addicts with which I engaged in a previous chapter of my life. The second memory comes from a summary statement the apostle Paul gave when explaining the implications of faith in Jesus Christ, when he was writing to the Ephesians:

18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

Ephesians 4:18-19, NIV

The end part of this teaching is such an accurate and concise description of the addict – which can be described as a heart that has given up on God and people, and casts around for a facsimile. The difficulty is that these false hopes make them less sensitive in relationships (while they hunger for the next and better one), so that they go to the next best feeling option, which is making their senses falsely stimulated (through central nervous system drugs, and dopamine-driven sex). Such futile thinking leads them to greedily taking whatever options are offered to them, as long as it makes them feel better for a while.

Clapton gradually opens up to his own realisations of these realities in his life as he describes his music and relationship journey. Part of this unpacking of his desperate state is accepting the advice that he needs help. Eventually, on page 257, Clapton beautifully unpacks what happens at a treatment centre he is attending (again):

I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair. At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way and I fell on my knees. In the privacy of my room I begged for help. … I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do … but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered.

Clapton goes on to describe how he still starts and ends each day on his knees in surrender, and how this was the start of relational healing as well – with his existing family, in starting a fruitful married life, and in giving up cigarettes, of which he wrote that it was about “spiritual application, no matter how poverty- stricken I feel my application may be.” (p.280)

Facing the death of his son from a terrible accident is a moving account. It occurred after his commencement of continuous surrender. Part of this surrender, records Clapton, was accepting the love he received at the meetings he has continuously attended. It was when chairing a meeting about ‘step 3’ (surrender) that Clapton acknowledges that “handing your will over to the care of God” with his alcohol desires enabled him to know, with God’s help expressed through those around him, that he could get through even this tragedy.

You will not find a full Biblical Gospel account in Eric Clapton’s autobiography. But you will find honesty amidst creative chaos, and a life learning to surrender to God. And for that, I am thankful.