A Week of Voracious Reading

In the past four days I've gobbled up three books, Clapton  the Autobiography by Eric Clapton, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—And the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller, and Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles.

Feeling a bit under-educated about the early blues movement of the late Fifties and early Sixties in England, I checked out the Clapton book as research for my trilogy. England's roots of Rock and Roll are completely different than ours here in the States and I felt I needed to submerse myself in that history. My main character comes out of it after all. Not only did I learn all I need to know (and from the master himself) I came to respect Clapton for more than the great guitarist he is, I closed his book filled with deep respect and great affection for him as a human being...

The book is so well written and is so candid; he faces himself and all of his inner demons with courage as he pins himself and his life under that penetrating gaze of his. Throughout the book he is a gentleman; while he treats himself and his past actions with his relatively newfound, unflinching standards, he handles people in his past with dignity and forgiveness. I sense that he has forgiven himself as well.

If you choose to read any of these books it should be this one. There's a kind of trailer (as well as a short interview with Clapton about it) on the Amazon website linked above.

The second book was good, but after reading Clapton's, the bar had been raised a bit. I'll admit that I checked it out purely for the chapters about Joni Mitchell; I've never been a Carly Simon fan and, although I have tremendous respect for Carole King as a songwriter beyond compare and her role in American music, I've just never been a fan.

Still, I learned a lot about all three of these women, and I particularly liked the architecture of the book. The voice seemed to be a little stilted at first, but that's probably because I still had Clapton's voice in my head. As I read, that became less noticeable.

Pinning down a woman like Mitchell could not have been easy—she has always shifted and metamorphosed like a wisp of incense in the breeze—but Weller accomplishes this beautifully. You sometimes like Mitchell and sometimes you don't, but you always feel her plight as a woman in a male-dominated field, and her eternal fight with her own inner demons. She is a fascinating human being.

It was especially fun for me to read about my own past—Joni and I skirted around each other unknowingly in the early Seventies, although we never met. Those of you who read this blog know to what I am referring.

I actually read the third book first. When I first read it a year or so ago it was just for the read, but I checked it out a second time because I remembered there was a lot of information about "Swinging London" in it. I got so much more out of it this time and I came to respect  McCartney in a way I didn't before, which came as a big shock to me.

There is so much more to him than Beatle history likes to let on; I'd never considered him an intellectual or a well-rounded man of the arts until this read, and for that I apologize; he's always been presented, as he says, "as the idiot Beatle" (I can tell you first-hand that he's not the empty-headed mop top that he's been made out to be). He was actually getting into art-oriented things in 1964 that John Lennon didn't get into until 1968. In those early London years he was friends with such notables as Bertrand Russell, Noel Coward, Rene Magritte, and many other writers, philosophers and painters. He attended the theatre more than he did the clubs, and he sat around formal literary salons more than he did houkahs. In a way, it was easy for me to picture him being from another time, sharing ideas with Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and  Dante Rossetti. This was an image of Paul that I'd never seen before, and I liked it.

Although not an autobiography, this book contains full pages by Paul. The author is an old friend, after all, and he spent a great deal of time interviewing him for it. I went into the book half-expecting Paul to steal the limelight from his fellow Beatles, especially John, but he doesn't. He goes through many of their hit songs, describing how each was written and giving percentages of who wrote what—so much percent John's contribution and so much his own. He does this fairly, unafraid to say when he had absolutely nothing to do with a Lennon-McCartney composition, and actually giving Yoko her due when it's appropriate.

Like Clapton, McCartney has learned to forgive both himself and others. I only wish a new edition would be released that covers the deaths of Linda (his wife of nearly 30 years) and of George Harrison. I was left feeling like I knew the tragedies that lay ahead, and I wanted to warn him. Such is the nature of literary time travel.