Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eric Clapton's Evil Speech

There's no mention of Eric Clapton on this blog. That makes sense--Clapton is not an especially relevant figure, and any honest assessment of his recent work must note how terrible it is (my dad occasionally buys Clapton releases, and this is certainly my impression). With a few exceptions, I don't care for his music, which I find boring and devoid of meaningful emotional content. Basically, I dislike Eric Clapton because I dislike Eric Clapton's music.

Recently, however, I came across a Clapton quote that almost defies words, and a very good reason to dislike Eric Clapton as a human being. It's from a 1976 concert in Birmingham, Enlgand:
Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I'm looking at you. Where are you? I'm sorry but some fucking wog...Arab grabbed my wife's bum, you know? Surely got to be said, yeah this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that's just the truth, yeah. So where are you? Well wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. You fucking (indecipherable). I don't want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell. Enoch's our man. I think Enoch's right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I'm into racism. It's much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking [indecipherable] don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck's sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he's a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white! [source]
It's an unusually clear statement of principles. You might note that an anti-immigration position doesn't necessarily imply racism, but that's an irrelevant argument here, given the torrent of racial slurs and white supremacist rhetoric.

Enoch Powell, incidentally, was a right-wing British politician, most famous for his "Rivers Of Blood" speech, which decried immigration to the UK in the harshest possible terms. In the speech, Powell, an M.P., quoted a constituent as saying "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man." Powell's assessment of that man was that he was "a decent, ordinary fellow-Englishman." The Times, not a liberal paper, called it "an evil speech."

Clapton came out of his would-be stump speech for Powell looking terrible, but he has remained unrepentant about his words. Later in 1976 he gave an interview to Sounds magazine, in which he says:
I thought it was quite funny actually. I don't know much about politics. I don't even know if it would be good or bad for him to get in. I don't even know who the Prime Minister is now. I just don't know what came over me that night. It must have been something that happened in the day but it came out in this garbled thing... I thought the whole thing was like Monty Python. There's this rock group playing on-stage and the singer starts talking about politics. It's so stupid. Those people who paid their money sittin' listening to this madman dribbling on and the band meanwhile getting fidgety thinking 'oh dear'.
There's nothing funny about incitements to racial violence. Clapton's attitude--that the incident was a big joke, what does he know he's just a rock star?--is deeply irresponsible, and it's a small miracle that no one was injured in Birmingham that night. It's a lame excuse anyway, since nothing in the Clapton persona suggests Pythonesque wit. Still, the Sounds interview gives Clapton a free pass. Barbara Charone barely mentions Clapton's comments, and does not quote or give any real indication of the content of his remarks. She attributes the comments to honesty on Clapton's part. Her selective take on Clapton's words is as follows:
Unlike other artistes of his stature, Clapton can't be bothered to disguise true feelings or adopt phony attitudes.
So one night in Birmingham someone said something that triggered off an unexpected part of Clapton's rowdier personality. Maybe it was the drink. Maybe it was just a bad day. But it was so human and typically Eric. How many times have you gotten a bit drunk and spouted out great truths and philosphies only to later blush the next morning?
Charone's excuses are logic-challenged--maybe he's just too honest! Sure, Eric just got drunk and said crazy, racist shit--but who doesn't! Let's laugh about it! Later in the article, Charone, jokingly and to Clapton's face, pins responsibility for his words on "the Arabs," probably a reference to the beginning of his diatribe. Clapton takes her bait, and criticizes Arabs for spending their riches poorly: "they're sinking a lot of money into England and we'll probably regain if we're clever enough. Then they'll have to go back and discover more oil." (No evidence of a rapier wit there).

Clapton and his apologists attribute his animus toward Arabs to a member of the Saudi royal famly taking a pass at his wife. Though Clapton was no stranger to adultery, one can understand his offense at a royal harassing his wife. Yet Clapton's actions blame all Arabs for the behavior of only one, as if his actions came from an inborn predisposition. That is essentialism. It's also present in his rant about "disgusting" foreigners, in which he names only dark-skinned immigrant groups. Clapton mentions one incident of a foreign-born person acting crudely, and extrapolates to the point where he can believe that "this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like."

Imagine for a moment: what if a young Prince Charles had made eyes at, say, Jimi Hendrix's wife? Would Hendrix then be justified in vocally hating all white people? Would he be justified in advocating that all Britons be barred from entering Washington State? Would we stop short of calling his comments racist, since he collaborated with many white musicians?

The comparison is imperfect, but I think it illustrates the point: those things are unimaginable--Hendrix would have been labeled a Black Panther and his career as a crossover artist would have been toast. But let's pretend Jimi Hendrix did do those things, and then spouted a hateful, nativist jeremiad, and ask a question more to my point: would the music press then explain away and ignore his hateful outburst?

Because that's what has happened with Clapton.* On the one hand, there are the apologists. One of them is Harry Shapiro, who in 1997 published a book about Eric Clapton, Lost In The Blues. His book discusses the controversy, but charitably refers to Clapton's hate speech as a faux pas. Shapiro prints a story, told by Clapton, in which he was approached by a Rastafarian two years after his Birmingham rant, and asked if he hates blacks. Clapton told him no. The guitarist is then quoted as saying "what started it, was the upsurge in London of Arab money-spending." Shapiro adds, "there was a story that one particular Arab had made a grab for Patti, not guaranteed to endear them to Eric at all."



The use of the guitarist's first name betrays the sympathy Shapiro has for his subject, to the exclusion of other concerns. He also dismisses the incident in subtle ways--Rock Against Racism, formed in response to outbursts like Clapton's, is just a "left-wing group"; he complains that the "publicity surrounding the controversy tended to overshadow what was a fine tour"; and, most tellingly, Shaprio devotes less than a page to Clapton's comments and their fallout.

Clapton has other apologists. The comments on this post at the website modernguitarplayer.com demonstrate the attitude some fans take. Clapton, they say, is a man steeped in black American music who has worked with many African-Americans. This makes racism on his part impossible. Commenter BluesRockGuitarist captured this disbelief well when he wrote "how can you say hes racist? One in his good friends is Buddy Guy.. which is black and BB King which is also black." That was written in July of this year. You can almost hear the thought process--but some of his best friends are black! But then, prejudice towards certain racial groups doesn't imply prejudice towards all non-white peoples.

On the other hand, Clapton has faced few questions about his words in Birmingham in the past 34 years. Most damning has been Rolling Stone's fecklessness. The magazine's efforts to promote Clapton in recent years include a 2009 cover story (with Jeff Beck), naming him as the fourth greatest guitarist of all time, and including eight albums featuring Clapton in its list of the 500 greatest LPs of all time. Only The Beatles, Dylan, The Stones, and Springsteen, have a larger presence on the list.

This fulsome praise has not been tempered by a willingness to ask Clapton difficult questions about his past remarks. A search of "
enoch powell eric clapton site:rollingstone.com" turns up zero instances in which the magazine has brought up the incident. Indeed, I can't even turn up an example of Rolling Stone mentioning Powell, apart from Clapton. In the magazine's 1991 Rolling Stone Interview with Clapton, James Henke doesn't avoid questions about the guitarist's recently deceased son, but never mentions the 1976 incident. Rolling Stone seems to have completely painted over the incident. I can't say for certain that the magazine has never covered the subject, since I can't afford to pay for complete access to its archives, but if they've ever asked the difficult and obvious question to the fifty-third greatest artist of all time, they're hiding it well. I imagine that the business relationship between Wenner's publication and Eric Clapton--Rolling Stone helps sell Clapton records, and Clapton helps sell magazines and keeps boomers renewing those subscriptions--would suffer were he to take issue with the magazine.

Clapton has given many interviews since 1976--including the Sounds puff piece--but very few of them touch on his views on immigration. On Twitter, I asked Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot why he didn't ask about the Birmingham incident when he spoke with Clapton in 2007. Kot responded "His standard answer: He was high/drunk in '76. Hard to argue." I find this difficult to swallow, if factually correct. Fellow Twitter-er flightjkt wrote "apparently @gregkot has never heard the phrase 'In vino veritas'," and I'm with him--drunken, anti-immigrant hate speech doesn't come from nowhere. Allowing Clapton to control the conversation by simply avoiding the issue is to cede victory to him. Such has been the complicity of critics.

Those of you who have made it this far down may be wondering "who gives a shit about something Clapton said over three decades ago?" It's a good question, if in fact anyone is still reading and thinking that. I find the comparison with Elvis Costello is illuminating. Unlike Costello--whose comments were wrong, but considerably less vitriolic--Clapton has never apologized for his stance. In fact, he's reaffirmed his words, and reiterated his support for Enoch Powell multiple times. Wikipedia features this astounding paragraph at the bottom of its Clapton page
In a 2004 interview with Uncut, Clapton referred to Powell as "outrageously brave", and stated that his "feeling about this has not changed", because the UK is still "... inviting people in as cheap labour and then putting them in ghettos." In 2004, Clapton told an interviewer for Scotland on Sunday, "There's no way I could be a racist. It would make no sense". In his 2007 autobiography, Clapton called himself "deliberately oblivious to it all" and wrote, "I had never really understood or been directly affected by racial conflict... when I listened to music, I was disinterested in where the players came from or what colour their skin was. Interesting, then, that 10 years later, I would be labelled a racist... Since then, I have learnt to keep my opinions to myself. Of course, it might also have had something to do with the fact that Pattie had just been leered at by a member of the Saudi royal family." In a December 2007 interview with Melvin Bragg on The South Bank Show, Clapton reiterated his support for Enoch Powell and again denied that Powell's views were "racist".
In other words, Clapton's position remains unchanged. The racial slurs have disappeared, and Clapton has been sporadically confronted, but he has never apologized for a single slur. He may find it "interesting" that he was labelled a racist, but I find it inevitable, given that Clapton self-identified as a one in front of an auditorium. But, let's let his words speak for themselves: "Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white."

Clapton's reaffirmation of his rant and continued support for Powell should have ignited further investigation, a campaign to bring hate speech to task. And still, the music press continues its campaign of quiet complicity.

There is no better summation of these events than the one I found on a white supremacist message board. On it, a poster wrote, "it would appear Eric Clapton is one of us".** If he's not, Eric Clapton has left the door open to that interpretation.



*This is not what happened with Elvis Costello or Public Enemy. Costello, who made an ignorant remark about Ray Charles, has apologized for his actions and worked with Rock Against Racism. Costello's remark--hateful, but mild compared to Clapton's words--is still a topic of conversation, including in a recent New Yorker profile. Or even compare Clapton's case to Public Enemy's. They have been dogged by questions about antisemitism since the early 90's--and rightfully so, given Professor Griff's statements, and some questionable lyrics. In both these cases, prejudiced statements have became an important part of the artist's career history, something Clapton has escaped.

**I'm uncomfortable with the idea that my blog could be sending traffic to a white power website, so I chose not to link this. If you provide your email in the comments, I will email you the link

29 comments:

  1. This is an excellent takedown (you should do more!). I may have a more charitable opinion of Clapton's pre-1972 work than you do, but otherwise you're preaching to the choir. As you note, I think it's particularly shameful how the media tacitly approved of the whole affair, especially compared to the Costello incident--it's people like Jann Wenner and his Rolling Stone that put Clapton up in this vaunted class of vapid "rock legends," impervious to criticism, that are ultimately culpable for giving Clapton a free pass for so long. That Costello is actually capable of expressing interesting opinions might have something to do with why people bring up the Ray Charles incident in 2010. Everything in your post suggests that Clapton is not only careless with racist invective, but also dumb and ignorant generally, the poster boy for British postcolonial racial panic.

    Also wanted to briefly note that his Enoch Powell comments don't exactly stand alone (as you probably know). Check the interview with RS when he calls his dead buddy Jimi Hendrix a "spade," etc.

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  2. The subject of celebrity behavior is an interesting topic to me. I wish we had the chance to sit down and talk about this face to face. In my opinion, it's unfair to scrutinize either Clapton or the aforementioned Morrissey. At the same time I'm glad to have another reason to hate Clapton. And did you know Morrissey only uses a fax machine as his means of telecommunication? Anyways, I'm really glad you guys are doing this and I feel it's easily the best blog out there. SELL OUT!

    Happy New Year,
    Cade

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    1. yes, another reason to hate clapton! piece of shit junkie must have sold his soul to satan, only way to explain his popularity. also explains the spectre of death that surrounds him, his son, stevie ray vaughan. it is rumored that clapton gave his seat to vaughan on the helicopter that fateful night...

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  3. Hey Cade, what's up? Is that true that Morrissey only communicates via fax? That's hilarious.

    Anyways, w/r/t Clapton and celebrity behavior in general, it's probably pretty clear that I think it's not only fair but important to call people out for the stupid (in this case racist/white supremacist) things they say. Fame can certainly distort people's personalities, but celebrities have the same responsibilities as human beings as everyone else.

    If you don't want to be criticized for your hatred of immigrants, then don't talk about it. Or get another job.

    Anyways, it sounds like maybe you wouldn't agree--I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. Happy 2011.

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  4. Apparently true according to this doc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zew85GRZLc&feature=related

    I think I was really trying to question the purpose of criticizing stars of their moralities. Does it really have any relation to their work? When it boils down to it that's what a celebrity amounts to. Maybe "White Room" is a Skinhead anthem. Probably not. Unless you get into the whole notion of "celebrity" in America currently. Then you are talking mainly about a persona rather than a body of work. Anyhow, I really love this topic and hope you post more such things. Thanks and keep up the good work AM and NS.

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  5. I was amazed and disgusted to recently learn of Eric Clapton's intemperate racist remarks. I had always admired his music, now I will never be able to listen to it again, without thinking of his hateful words. Even if this rant was an anomaly, and he was drunk, it does not explain his refusal to apologize and retract. Besides it is far too late now.

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  6. I have appreciated Clapton's music for over 40 years, and I can remember key moments in my life where his songs helped me get through some tough times. I only heard about his horrific comments a few years ago. I still appreciate his music, but always with a bit of melancholy for the repugnant and stupid comments he has made. Harold mentioned that it is far too late for Clapton to apologize now. However, I still hold out hope, as I am a big believer in personal redemption. As long as we draw a breath, we always have the capacity to sincerely apologize for past mistakes, and I hope he does someday. Never close the door to make amends.

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    1. As a black musician living in England for over forty years, I know all about racism and hypocritcal scumbags like clapton, the man who stole every lick from every black guitarist ever lived to make himself rich and famous. So I'm not surprised at all that the white media throughout the world has chosen to gloss over it like it never happened.That's how the world works,and I've always known that. But god works in mysterious ways so Clapton has paid a heavy price for his hurtful words, and he will continue to pay till the day he dies. Peace out
      T

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    2. In what sense do you believe Clapton has paid a heavy price?

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    3. probably referring to the tragic and IMHO unrelated the loss of his son?

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    4. God botherers are almost as bad as racists.

      "It's cool his son died, god did it because he was mean to me".

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. He is a tight-wad, prick as well. I once worked the front drive (parking cars/bell hop) at a very high end hotel in LA where Clapton often stayed and that son-of-a-bitch never tipped. In all of my interactions with him (of which there were many, not just taking his keys), he was never once affable or even remotely decent. Not surprising he is a racist cunt.

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  9. He doesn't come off well in Chris O'Dell's book, 'Miss O'Dell'. I don't like Clapton at all except for a song or two with Cream or Blind Faith but those songs are by Steve Winwood or Jack Bruce.
    I do explain to fellow Rock And Roll fans about Clapton's inadvertent formation of Rock Against Racism. Not many people know the wogs speech.
    He's a jerk and a wanker who was lucky to be around people more talented than him.

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  10. Fuck Eric Clapton. Never trust a sneaker collector.

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  11. not defending what he said, but I should point out that '76 was clapton DEEP in the deepest part of his "HOLY SHIT COCAINE" Era. that guy probably had enough gack falling out of his nose to anesthetize a rhinos vagina.

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  12. He is a great person, as well as a great musician. And this guy sings like he was born down below Mississippi!
    B.B. King

    I think Clapton is brilliant. He's the only one who moved me. The only one who made me want to play the guitar.
    Eddie Van Halen

    His fingers are directly wired to his soul.
    Brian May

    I had a Les Paul before Eric but I didn't have a Marshall. And when Eric got all of that together he was a delight to listen to. He really undertstood the blues.
    Jimmy Page

    Just to be complete with your wikipedia copy/paste stuff ^^

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  13. Ho Ho Ho - I, Santa Clause, only listen to music by people whose entire lives have been lived bathed only in the purity of Little Baby Jesus' smile. I am incapable of seperating 'art' and 'life' and 'stupid human tricks'. Therefore, I demand that any 'art' be produced by robots, who do not suffer the vanities of humans. As we all know very well, _true_ art is only produced by perfect people. And nuns riding unicorns against a velvet sky.

    Thank-you Rockalizer for keeping the hate alive.

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  14. Oh, don't you know he was trying to be funny?

    HE WORKED WITH BLACK PEOPLE.

    Rock classicists are such pathetic fools, clawing and crawling over each other in the hopes of reflecting the pale glow of distant stars which have long since burned out. They'll swallow any stale, moldy excuse for sustenance. I KNOW - I WORK WITH THEM.

    Rolling Stone isn't a magazine, it's a museum pamphlet.

    Sincerely,
    Jann Simon Wenner

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  15. Clapton is coming to Nashville in a few months and I really hope I get to see him. I haven’t before and I know it would be something I would never forget. Clapton is god. Great post keep up the hard work. Check these out IStillGotMyGuitar.

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  16. Clapton is a phony egomaniac period. He is a user....meaning that he uses people for his own benefit so he looks good, gets off or can come off as something he isn't. Still putting out the greatest hits because he isn't much of a writer. He is moody, mean spirited & pretends to be politically correct, thus the BB is my good friend! What does BB & Buddy Guy know! Just that he kisses their ass like peole kiss his! If they weren't musicians, he'd step right over them. He's sickening and it is amazing how he gets away with his attitude. FYI...12/12/12 was a window into his attitude. Boring on stage and could he have been more obvious that he didn't want to be there! The worst act that night. Thanks for this blog and exposing the truth. We need more truth seekers out there!

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  17. Really good blog, can not believe that the still cover his ass til today

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  18. Yeah, he spouted obnoxious racist shit... but boy is his honesty refreshing? How many others with such views lurk in the music business, who would smile to your face and deny their true nature? He's a racist prick... but he's an honest racist prick.

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    1. Racism is an evolutionary survival strategy. It's just common sense that those not like me are a threat to me and my kind. To believe otherwise is to invite death. I've been where most commentors are now. I was a hardcore liberal for decades. I woke up. You should too. Read amren.com.

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  19. Are you sure Clapton's speech wasn't meant to be a parody? It sounds bad, I just can't see him actually believing this from the guy who always talked about his disgust in finding Muddy Waters mopping floors at Chess Records.

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  20. https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-lie-cannot-live/282242895156992#_=_

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  21. If Eric thought London was bad in 1976, I wonder what he thinks of it now. London today has been almost totally taken over by Saudis and dodgy foreigners of questionable background. And there's lots of natives who feel the same way as Eric.

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    1. And they are right. Multiculturalism always ends in war. Stupidest idea ever.

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  22. I don't get it? no one owns this earth, the dirt we live on. the places man has migrated to. we are just caretakers of this planet and where doing a lousy job at looking after it. I find it to be very very hypocritical to hear that people in England are worried about immigration???? they need to hit the history books hard! because I could of swore it was them that sent their own people to the far corners of the world and regardless of who was living where they turned up they took over. by any means necessary. now they whinge about it coming back there way!? what a joke! its the way of the world. once multiculturism takes hold in another couple of generations maybe then people will realize that we are all part of the human race. and accept it and make this place better for all regardless of where you are on this planet.

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