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Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars

Doug Collette By

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Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars
Eagle Vision

There's a point right near the end of Lili Fini Zanuck's film devoted to Eric Clapton where the archetypal guitar hero makes a solemn statement regarding the profound importance of music in his life. His declaration strikes an unusually resounding chord because it points up, with eye-opening clarity, how much the man's musical endeavors are a secondary theme to his personal travails in Life In 12 Bars.

Intentional or not, this is a film for Eric Clapton fans who can fill in the blanks in a story line where the evolution of the man's music does not directly reflect the erratic pattern of his private life. Zanuck and, by extension Clapton himself, could have vividly clarified the connections and reflections thereof over the course of these roughly two hours running time, That the film does not accomplish such an end begs all manner of questions, including most prominently, how familiar is the filmmaker with Slowhand's career and only slightly less so, why the subject did not want to help craft for posterity a more discerning all-around perspective?

A film devoted to the life and times of Eric Clapton might well seem redundant given how extensively his career and personal life has been documented via the press, the personal nature of his work (and critical examination thereof), not to mention the inspection of his various and sundry creative collaborations, all in addition to his own autobiography. Nevertheless, Life in 12 Bars presented the opportunity to collate all the threads of Slowhand's history, right in line with all the various interpretations its title implies.

Unfortunately, while the film overflows with priceless video footage, combined with more than a few insightful interviews conducted with family, friends and collaborators of EC's, what initially purports to be a meticulous and exhaustive depiction of his existence devolves rather quickly into soap opera melodrama. For instance, is watching an already inebriated man snort powder really necessary? Or close to five minutes of a rock star drunkenly berating his audience(s), interspersed with headlines of concerts cut short?

And while it's all well and good to hear Eric complain about his displeasure with the friction in Cream between bassist/vocalist/composer Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, but given the documented fact the guitarist has previously admitted to his awareness of the personality conflicts between the pair at the time of the group's formation (which it should be noted, occurred without disclosure to Clapton's bandleader at the time, John Mayall, causing a rift between those two that lasted decades itself), he sounds more than a little disingenuous.

At that point, the chronology becomes further distorted by any mention of the epiphany Eric is reported to have experienced in hearing for the Band's debut album, Music From Big Pink (Capitol, 1968). The soulful economy of that music presented a marked contrast, not to mention an inviting alternative, to open-ended improvisations he was engaging in with the seminal power trio, an approach that had become altogether self-indulgent before the announcement of Cream's disbanding in late 1968.

A similar shortfall occurs with the surprisingly brief discussion of Eric's alliance with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith. This passage crucially overlooks the bond Clapton's developed with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, who opened the supergroup's sole US tour, a link that subsequently led to the Bramlett's production of Eric's eponymous solo album, during which process the Southern musician and songwriter vehemently encouraged Clapton to more forthrightly use his singing voice. The formation of Derek & the Dominos came about during that time as well, another important happenstance given only superficial mention except as an adjunct to recording with the Beatles' George Harrison for his initial solo album, All Things Must Pass (Capitol, 1970).


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