Eric Clapton has lived quite a dramatic life. He infamously survived heroin, cocaine, pill, and alcohol addiction, with each one taking away large chunks of his life. He has outlived girlfriends and close friends like Jimi Hendrix. He lost his 4-year-old son in a tragic accident. He was the inspiration for the Sheryl Crow song “My Favorite Mistake.” Yet, it appears that serious back pain, which morphed into nerve damage, is why Clapton is now struggling to play guitar.
Could this pain be the reason why his latest album appears to be telling his adoring fans goodbye? Is Clapton quitting music?
Just a month ago, when his 23rd solo album, I Still Do, came out, Clapton confessed he was in “a lot of pain.” This past week, he elaborated on his health.
“I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year. It started with lower back pain, and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy – which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg. And I’ve had to figure out how to deal with some other things from getting old.”
About a month ago, Clapton had revealed other serious health issues. Over a years ago, when he set out to record his latest album with Slowhand producer Glyn Johns, he developed eczema that continued to grow. Soon, the skin condition was all over his body, from head to toe. This became so bad that he wound up wearing protective mitts and is photographed with a fingerless mitt on the backside of the new album.
“It was a nightmare. I started thinking that it was psychosomatic, that maybe I was nervous. And maybe I was. Who knows? I had full-body eczema and it ended up [on] my hands.”
The good news is that Clapton still loves to play. One of the best guitarists in the world, Clapton was a virtuoso at the age of 20, with the monicker “Clapton is God” firmly attached to the guitarist.
From the Yardbirds to Cream and eventually to his solo work, despite his extreme talent, he had a boatload of vices that threatened to take him away from his guitar and the spotlight. For years, there were even rumors that after he conquered heroin, he had to relearn how to his play his Strat. Now, the irony is that after his jet-set life, it is his health that is challenging him, just like any normal 71-year-old.
“I can still play. I mean, it’s hard work sometimes, the physical side of it – just getting old, man, is hard.”
Clapton does not take anything for granted. After years of addiction therapy and some remarkably good luck, he is grateful to have reached his seventh decade. While he acknowledges that the sands of time are ticking, he appreciates that he has the opportunity to still keep rocking.
“Because I’m in recovery from alcoholism and addiction to substances, I consider it a great thing to be alive at all. By rights I should have kicked the bucket a long time ago. For some reason I was plucked from the jaws of hell and given another chance.”
Sadly, Clapton’s addiction to alcohol could possibly be the reason he developed peripheral neuropathy. While Clapton did not reveal how he developed peripheral neuropathy in his recent interview, WebMD states that alcoholism, along with poor nutrition, diabetes, and medications, are all possible causes for this condition. While this condition will not cause death, it could possibly cause paralysis.
In addition, he did not explain how his former addictions could make treating his pain a challenge. With the recent death of Prince due to an accidental overdose from the opioids used to deal with hip pain, Clapton is sure to be cautious to continue this sobriety as he treats the serious pain.
Does his latest music reflect his life now? Odds are, yes. Over the years, Eric Clapton has been infamously autobiographical in his songs. From his iconic song “Layla,” the nickname he used for his best friend’s wife, Pattie Boyd Harrison, Clapton was the romantic, lovesick fool trying to woo her to leave her husband and run off with him. The husband: None other than Beatle George Harrison. The rock world went aflutter when this unrequited love triangle was revealed and Pattie left a shocked Harrison. Then, Clapton shared his heartbreak to the world with the sorrowful song “Tears in Heaven” that Clapton wrote for his late son Conor.
On his most recent album, EC performs the classic song “I’ll Be Seeing You,” leaving fans wondering if Clapton is trying to say goodbye. It sounds like perhaps Eric Clapton, like David Bowie, wants to make sure he musically expresses his goodbye.
“It’s one of those things that’s been haunting me. I love the song and I love the sentiment. Just in case I don’t cut another record, this is how I feel. I kind of might be saying goodbye. But I’ve been doing that for a while.”
Will this back pain stop 71-year-old Clapton from touring? According to a two-year-old conversation with Rolling Stone before the peripheral neuropathy became a physical issue, Clapton had already selected the perfect time to end touring.
“When I’m 70, I’ll stop. I won’t stop playing or doing one-offs, but I’ll stop touring, I think. The bit onstage, that’s easy. If I could do that around my neighborhood, that would be great. You have guys in Texas that play their circuit, and it keeps them alive. But for me, the struggle is the travel. And the only way you can beat that is by throwing so much money at it that you make a loss.”
As Eric Clapton is exerting so much effort and overcoming pain to continue to play his guitar, perhaps he has reconsidered. Like David Gilmour, he has teenage children at home and wants to watch them grow. Perhaps he will take the Pink Floyd guitarist’s lead and go on a mini-tour through North America and London and make that goodbye official.
Do you think Clapton is going to stop recording? Do you think he will quit performing live? Has Eric Clapton said goodbye?
[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]