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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Entertainment Reviewer Talks about Book on Eric Clapton, George Harrison and More

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me
(Titled Wonderful Today for U.K. edition.)
By Patti Boyd and Penny Junor
Harmony Books, Aug. 2007

Reviewed by: Wesley Britton originally posted at Wesley Britton’s Entertainment Scrapbook

Rock muses are a unique breed of women, at least in terms of those who’ve been immortalized in the words and melodies of those they inspired. Perhaps the best sampling would be the most select of all rock and roll women’s clubs—Beatle wives. After all, they came from a wide range of backgrounds—a Japanese artist, New York photographer, a Liverpool-bred hairdresser . . . there was even Heather Mills, once a seemingly fairy-tale consolation for a grieving songster. Then, in a flash, she publicly devolved into a shrill gold-digger of epic proportions. Mills not only made Nicole Smith seem a rank amateur in the profession, her stint on Dancing With The Stars made it clear, if anyone needed further evidence, that the term “star” now has less meaning than many rocker’s vows of marital fidelity. But I digress.

Going back in time, there were the ballads of John and Yoko, Paul and Linda, and then the apparently mature unions of Ringo and Barbara, George and Olivia. Each of these are stories unto themselves, each as distinct as the couples involved. And before them were the ballads of the first Beatle wives—Cynthia, Maureen, Patti Boyd, and, more or less, Jane Asher. All their stories are as well known as any aspect of the Beatle myth and each shared something in common—being married to big-time rock stars meant dealing with young men enjoying sexual opportunities that were the envy of mere mortals like thee and me. In addition, these women lived with huge chunks of lonely time where their mates were out on the road or lost in their own worlds when they did come home. All this is on record, as it were, in multiple books and histories. So, what can another autobiography offer that pulls back the curtains and shed new light on the old legends?

In terms of who did what and when and with whom, Patti Boyd doesn’t have much new to share. How could she? Even before meeting George Harrison on the set of A Hard Day’s Night, she was becoming a “star” in her own right, a model with a growing list of impressive photographic credentials. As Cynthia Lennon observed in her own memoir, A Twist of Lennon (1978), this was one reason the Liverpool wives—Cyn and Maureen—had misgivings about the new Beatle lass. After all, they had been there from the beginning and George bringing a sexy model into the fold seemed a bit of showing off. No wonder that Patti’s memories don’t focus much on Cynthia, but Maureen turns out to be the picture of betrayal—first a seeming close friend, then the Beatle wife who jumped beds from the drummer to the guitarist, not only under Patti’s nose but in her own house.

Again, nothing new in these stories. They simply remind us that in this circle of friends, women were as disposable as pillowcases, and the male bonds of musicians trumped all else. How else could Ringo, George, and then Eric Clapton remain close collaborators for decades after their best mates stole their girls? Patti’s descriptions of life with George does shed some insight into this mindset largely because of her own perseverance and own repeated forgiveness of her men. After all, life with George did bring with it the highest of highs in every sense of the word. Patti’s travelogue of her adventures in the ‘60s is filled with some of the excitement of those days, especially the physical and spiritual journeys in India. The years of 1966 and 1967 were expansive for both the Harrisons, with Patti joining her husband in vegetarianism, TM, and Eastern mysticism. Well, it was actually Patti who introduced George to the idea of meeting the maharishi mahesh yogi which means she was the one to light the spark that became the “Year of the Guru” which, in turn, opened the doors for all things ultimately called New Age.

Then, as with all Beatle matters, things fell apart on the home front. Here, I did get the sense I was getting new glimpses into the psychology of George. What is clear is his obsessive nature that led him into taking hours to chant and meditate, then party to the hilt, then meditate and chant to the extreme, and so on. Patti understood the withdrawal she felt when George was apparently in a creative state, but saw herself shut out when, even sharing the same house, she didn’t have a husband to communicate with. Later, she blames herself for not putting her foot down and insisting on the pair working on their relationship. But there was this fella named Eric Clapton and a song called “Layla.”

In Patti’s account, and I doubt she intended this, EC comes across as even less sympathetic than he did in his own autobiography, which coincidently was published at the same time. (See my review posted here Nov. 24, 2009.) In Clapton’s own words, the ‘70s onward were all periods of addiction, first heroine, then alcohol. He admits that wooing Patti was torturous, but once he had her, he relegated her to being his domestic housekeeper for whom appreciation just wasn’t in him. Patti was in a position where the house gardener ignored her and her allowance was entirely dependent on Clapton’s management. For me, one moment said it all—when Clapton’s son Connor was born. For Eric, he was consumed with joy. For Patti, it was astonishing her husband would want her to share his feelings considering Connor was born to another woman with whom Eric still wanted to share time. Here was Patti, childless, seeking medical help for the miracle that would make her a mother. Here was Eric, trumpeting a birth that should have prompted Patti to send him packing.

That finally does happen, and here’s where the comparison with Heather Mills comes in. After years of Patti suffering with Eric’s nearly monthly brushes with death, Clapton and his manager, Roger Forrester, hung her out to dry with minimal support. To a degree, this ended up being to Patti’s betterment as she was forced to find a new career, and she found creative fulfillment switching from modeling to photography.

While she didn’t make this comparison herself, one of her final passages struck me. Patti described the difference between illusion and reality, that of being a model posing for pictures and being the woman who had to try to live up to the expectations people had of the faces they saw on magazine covers. In her later years, Patti had found contentment not trying to live the image. For me, this seemed a parallel for the woman called “Layla” created by EC and the woman he finally conquered. The image inside his creative heart inspired him—but the real Patti Boyd was just another needle in his arm. We listeners have a similar relationship with the musicians who gave us the songs that defined our lives. We have the imagery and sounds we treasure juxtaposed against the reality upon which the transcendent was based. For Patti and Eric, the song “Wonderful Tonight” had a power only those two can understand, joyous when things are good, painful when they weren’t. For most of us, the lady who looks wonderful tonight is someone in the here and now, at least hopefully so. For me, all these years “Something” was just one of George’s classic songs—now I hear it wondering how George Harrison could have neglected, ignored, and then lost this wonderful muse. Likewise, in the harsh light of day, do we listeners lose the creative mysteries immortalized in the songs we brought into our hearts?

Well, a survivor named Patti Boyd didn’t. The best thing about her book is that she is now her own muse. Not a bad place to end up.


Dr. Wesley Britton is co-host of online radio’s “Dave White Presents” which features interviews with a wide range of entertainers. Past programs are archived at He is also author of four books on espionage and runs Wes teaches English at Harrisburg Area Community College.

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