Thursday, January 20, 2011

What'll You Do When You Get Lonely

     Do you recognize this line?

     I recently read Wonderful Tonight, the autobiography of Pattie Boyd, who if you don't remember or never knew, was George Harrison's first wife. She went on to divorce him and marry Eric Clapton.

     Pattie Boyd was a London model in the mid-60s when she collared a job as an extra on the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night. She was on the set, sitting in a train car, when the Beatles boarded the train. George Harrison sat down next to her, took one look and asked, "Will you marry me?" Apparently this was a line the Beatles had used on women before; nevertheless George and Pattie were soon going out together and two years later, in 1966, they tied the knot.

     But a rock 'n roll marriage is hard on people, and before long Pattie and George were having problems. George was under a lot of pressure. When he wasn't out partying with fellow musicians and hanging out with pretty young women, he'd retreat to his home studio by himself to meditate and write music.

     One of Harrison's close friends was Eric Clapton, the already legendary guitarist from The Yardbirds and the short-lived but iconic band Cream.

     One day in 1970 Pattie was at home, outside London, when she received a letter. She opened it. It began, "dearest 1." It then went on to profess love for her and ask if she was still in love with George Harrison. The letter was signed, "e."

     Pattie assumed the letter came from some weirdo fan, until the phone rang that night. It was Eric Clapton, asking if she'd received his letter, and what did she think about it.

     After that, they saw each other a few times, but despite her estrangement from Harrison she insisted to Clapton that she was a married woman. One afternoon Clapton brought her to his London office, telling her he wanted to play a new song for her. He flipped on the tape. And Pattie heard that heart-wrenching guitar riff and the famous first line. Clapton based the lyrics on a Persian story about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him, but is unavailable.

     "Layla" was recorded by Clapton and his band at the time, Derek and the Dominos. Critics liked the song, but the public ignored it. Then Clapton re-released "Layla" in 1972, and it charted in the top ten in both the U.S. and the U.K. The song is defined by that jangly opening guitar riff, and a long piano coda (starting in this clip at 4 minutes) which brings the piece to a more mellow conclusion.

     Pattie Boyd divorced George Harrison in 1974. She joined Eric Clapton, who was on the road at the time and battling a heroin and alcohol addiction. Pattie and Eric married in 1979 and split up in 1984.

     In 1992 Clapton recorded an acoustic version of "Layla" which won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. The song has been featured on numerous "greatest ever" lists, including Rolling Stone which ranked it no. 27 in "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" and VH1 which placed it No. 16 on its "Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll."

     Take a listen. It is a great song.


Kay Dennison said...

I love Eric Clapton and "Layla" is probably my favorite of his prodigious legacy to music.

This video got me outta my chair and dancin'!!!! Back in the day one of my guy friends and I used to clear a dance floor with our routine for it. Now I have to go rest!!! Thanks!!! said...

Beautiful post today. Tragic for all concerned, however. Too many of these musicians fell victim to drugs. Only Paul McCartney survives, god bless his pea pickn hart.

Nance said...

Those beautiful men and their beautiful woman. That was a time of creativity and self-destruction that, in its own way, is reminiscent of a musical Neo-Impressionists era.

I'm getting the book.

June said...

I fear that this news will qualify as stooping into banality, but I've named you as a Stylish Blogger award winner.
Feel free to retrieve your award at your leisure.

Sightings said...

Well, June, thank you very much; and nice of you to think of me. I'm really grateful ... and thus my favorite blog has got to be Aging Gratefully! I will send on the award as suggested, but it may take me a little while since as I will say in my next blog post, I'm going to skip town for a cpl. of weeks.

Laura Lee Carter said...

I really enjoyed reading Patty Boyd's book too! If you ever wished you had been born into the life of a rock singer, this book can cure you of any illusions that their lives are so much easier than ours!