portrait of a simple mortal saved by the blues


Poster ofEric Clapton. Life in 12 Bars (Life in blues, in VF) is misleading: a montage associates a mural by the British musician, in the posture of guitar hero with his Fender Stratocaster, and the graffiti that gave birth to his legend in the streets of London in the mid-1960s: « Clapton is God » (“Clapton is God”).

The merit of this documentary, released in theaters in early 2019, is to put an end to this divinity. At human height, the images uncompromisingly draw an intimate portrait of a baby boomer saved by the blues, before being caught up in his addictions (heroin then alcohol) and, finally, defeating them. Scheme of a great classicism concerning a septuagenarian rockstar.

Confidently, Clapton opened her archives to her friend producer Lili Fini Zanuck, director, in 1991, of Rush, a film about two cops who became drug addicts by infiltrating the world of drug dealers. “Slowhand” (his other nickname) had composed the soundtrack, including the song Tears in Heaven, one of his most beautiful and painful melodies, written in memory of his son, Conor, who died at 4 years old. This tragedy, which should have wiped out Clapton, preceded his triumph with the album Unplugged and its impeccable acoustic versions of blues standards.

Triangular relationship

In his autobiography published in 2007, Clapton did not spare himself, hiding nothing of his selfishness or his cowardice. Life in 12 Bars Sometimes shows it “shabby”, as we say for alcoholics. We see him haggard, his gaze lost, sniffing white during his years of imprisonment (1970-1973) in his property in Surrey, we hear him being bullied by a spectator and his ethylic diatribe against the “Niggas and the bamboulas”, during a concert in Birmingham in 1976, was not overlooked.

With a wealth of detail is recounted how he coveted and then seduced Pattie Boyd, wife of his great friend George Harrison. Fortunately, the film also dwells on the artistic consequence of this triangular relationship: Layla, this rock anthem devoured by passion.

Read also Eric Clapton and Robert Johnson, God’s Hand on the Devil’s Work

The rise of the prodigy is the most interesting part of Life in 12 Bars, the one that justifies this title referring to these 12 bars, canon of the blues. Self-centered and adored, Clapton is at the same time so little confident in himself that he blends in with the identity of groups without being too long, The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, then Blind Faith.

At least this unconditional love for the music of the descendants of slaves finds a good place. Other moments of his career are curiously sacrificed, starting with his renunciation of virtuosity in favor of the simplicity of country-rock, after the meeting, in 1969, of Delaney & Bonnie – whose name is not even mentioned. .

Eric Clapton. Life in blues, by Lili Fini Zanuck (UK, 2019, 126 min). Available on demand on Arte.tv until February 6.

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