By Madeline Barry / New York City
As one of the most-celebrated guitarists in rock history, Eric Clapton is used to an abundance of applause, Clapton is the only three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Rolling Stone’s pick for the second greatest guitarist of all time, only behind the iconic Jimi Hendrix. At 76, Clapton could easily be resting on his laurels, after having played with some of the most influential bands of all time, including the 1960’s psychedelic supergroup Cream, the Yardbirds (which featured Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, no slouch himself), as well as the blues-rock band Derek and the Dominos.
But instead, Clapton has become an avid anti-vaxxer, and the guitar legend’s vaccine bashing is damaging his standing in the music community.. Many fans and fellow artists have come forward to say that they are disappointed in the “Layla” guitarist, including fellow blues guitarist and five-time Grammy Award winner Robby Cray and New York City’s very own piano man Billy Joel. In an interview with Howard Stern, Joel told Stern he was shocked. “I didn’t know what his politics were, but it’s not pleasant.”
Not everyone is anti-Clapton however. In the wake of the U.K. lockdown in December, 2020, Clapton teamed up with the notoriously temperamental Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison to release “Stand and Deliver,” a protest song that lamented the way the British government was handling the deadly virus. Proceeds for the song, which contained the lyrics below, went to Morrison’s “Van Morrison Rhythm and Blues Foundation,” a fund for professional musicians struggling to make money in the wake of the Covid shutdowns.
Do you wanna be a free man
Or do you wanna be a slave?
Do you wanna wear these chains
Until you're lying in the grave?
And while you may not have heard “Stand and Deliver” on many radio stations, Clapton and Morrison are still at it. In June, the pair released a duet titled “The Rebels” under the moniker Slow Hand and Van. In a similar vein, “The Rebels,” a bluesy song with slow, heavy guitar riffs, mourns the times.
Where have all the rebels gone?
Hiding behind their computer screens
Where's the spirit, where is the soul?
Where have all the rebels gone?
It's not very rock and roll.
Clapton claims his anti-vax stance is a result of a bad reaction to his AstraZeneca shot. In a letter to Italian architect and fellow anti-lockdown pal Robin Monotti, Clapton wrote that after receiving his second AstraZeneca dose, the reactions were “disastrous” for two weeks. He said that his “hands and feet were either frozen, numb or burning, and pretty much useless.” Clapton also wrote Monotti, who published the letter with Clapton’s permission, that he feared he would “never play again.” In Clapton’s latest single, “This Has Gotta Stop.” which came out on August 27, Clapton sings, and repeats that he “can’t take this BS any longer.”
I can’t move my hands
I break out in sweat
I wanna cry
Can’t take it anymore
In his letter, Clapton went on to tell Monotti that he “should never have gone near the needle...but the propaganda said the vaccine was safe for everyone.” In fact, Clapton’s health issues are not new. In 2013, he told The Washington Post that he had been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy and that playing the guitar was “hard work.”
Last month, Clapton donated money to the group Jam for Freedom, a U.K.-based band which claims they are “[spearheading] the pro-freedom revolution happening globally as a response to restrictions on our basic human rights to work, travel, and live.” According to Rolling Stone, Clapton donated to the band’s GoFundMe page to help pay their touring fees and even let the group borrow his van after theirs broke down. Campbell McLaughlin, the 27-year-old leader of the group, admitted he was shocked when he found out it was really Clapton who had donated the money. But the two men seem to share many of the same opinions: “[Clapton] said we’re essentially doing what he and his contemporaries in the Sixties did, which was embracing freedom, getting out of government control and societal control.’
The singer’s reputation has never been pristine. In 1976, Clapton went on a racist rant while performing a concert in Birmingham, England. He called on voters to elect Enoch Powell, the divisive politician known for his scathing 1968 speech “Rivers of Blood”, which served to criticize the large numbers of immigrants who were entering the United Kingdom as well as the then- newly passed “Race Relations Act”, a law that made it illegal for Britons to refuse employment, housing, or public services to people based on their ethnicity. Clapton also spewed his own racist vitriol. He told the crowd that they had to “stop Britain from becoming a black colony” and to “keep Britain white.”
It wasn’t until 2018 at a Q & A in London that Clapton half-heartedly apologized for his behavior by blaming his hate-filled speech on his addiction to drugs and alcohol. “I was so ashamed of who I was, a kind of semi-racist, which didn’t make sense. Half of my friends were black, I dated a black woman, and I championed black music.”
Who knows? Perhaps a few years from now, Clapton, if he manages to duck Covid, will issue another semi-apology.