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April 26, 2008

Eric Clapton, White Power enthusiast
Posted by Patrick at 09:20 PM * 124 comments

The Observer looks back at the origins of Britain’s late-1970s “Rock Against Racism” movement, one of the things that made punk more than just a style and a set of aggro affectations:

Many of those who will gather in Victoria Park next Sunday to watch the Good, the Bad and the Queen, Hard-Fi, the View and the others on the bill were not even born 30 years ago. But for those who attended the original concert in 1978 it was a show that changed their lives and helped change Britain. Rock Against Racism radicalised a generation, it showed that music could do more than just entertain: it could make a difference. By demonstrating the power of music to effect change it inspired Live Aid and its supporters claim it helped destroy the National Front. It was the triumphant climax to a story that began two years earlier, following one hot August night in Birmingham.

It was 5 August 1976 and Eric Clapton was drunk, angry and on stage at the Birmingham Odeon. ‘Enoch was right,’ he told the audience, ‘I think we should send them all back.’ Britain was, he complained, in danger of becoming ‘a black colony’ and a vote for controversial Tory politician Enoch Powell whom he described as a prophet was needed to ‘keep Britain white’. Although the irony was possibly lost on Clapton, the Odeon in Birmingham is on New Street, minutes from the Midland Hotel where eight years earlier Powell had made his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. But if the coincidence was curious, the hypocrisy was breathtaking: Clapton’s career was based on appropriating black music, and he had recently had a hit with Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’.

In usual circumstances his comments would have been merely ill advised, but it was the social and political context which made Clapton’s intervention so chilling. The National Front had won 40 per cent of the votes in the spring elections in Blackburn. One month earlier an Asian teenager, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, had been murdered by a gang of white youths in Southall. ‘One down—a million to go’ was the response to the killing from John Kingsley Read of the National Front. Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux were sporting swastikas as fashion statements. David Bowie, who three months earlier had been photographed apparently giving a Nazi salute in Victoria Station, told Cameron Crowe in the September 1976 edition of Playboy ‘…yes I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air…is a right-wing totally dictatorial tyranny…’ In that same interview Bowie claimed that ‘Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.’ This was Britain then in the sweltering summer of 1976, and in that context Clapton’s comments were potentially incendiary.

I’m sorry to report that Clapton’s reappearance at the end of the article won’t improve your view of him:
This summer, in the last weekend of June, Eric Clapton will headline two shows in London and Leeds, the locations for the first and last Rock against Racism carnivals. While David Bowie had distanced himself from his pro-Nazi remarks, Clapton has not only never apologised for his outburst, but has continued to praise Powell; only last December on The South Bank Show he reiterated his support for the man and four years ago he told Uncut magazine that Powell had been ‘outrageously brave’.
The whole piece is worth reading; RAR really was one of those peculiar subcultural upwellings that actually made a difference, an act of coalition-building outreach that actually changed minds. (It also, as the article notes, got a lot of white and black musicians actually playing with each other, arguably feeding the later ska revival and the popularity of two-tone and other fruitful recombinations.) I knew most of that history already in a general way. But I hadn’t known what a creep Clapton was, and apparently still is.

Comments on Eric Clapton, White Power enthusiast:
#1 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:01 PM:

I didn't know all that.

It's saddening.

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:04 PM:

It's particularly annoying that Clapton, with his views, should cover Bob Marley, in particular because Marley was both black and anti-racist as he made clear in War.

#3 ::: Jon Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:18 PM:

There's a lot of great stuff about race and rock'n'roll in that era in America in Lester Bangs's Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:21 PM:

Ouch. The same guy who nearly single-handedly revived the memory of Robert Johnson talking that crap?

Despite the graffiti, Clapton is emphatically not God.

#5 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:27 PM:

Ewww. I was hoping that there would be a punch line of some kind --
that this was set in Jo Walton's "Small Change" world, or something
like that.

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:34 PM:

I should say, incidentally, that I subscribe entirely to George
Orwell's common-sense observation that it's perfectly possible for the
same individual to be a great artist and a lousy human being.

(Whether Clapton is a great artist is arguable, but he's
written some great songs--along with, of course, some utter
claptrap--and in the end, greatness in pop music is all about great

#7 ::: Another Damned Medie ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:48 PM:

So I guess Jerry Garcia wins this one? Seriously, it really does
boggle the mind. I can't get my head round this kind of cognitive

#8 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 10:59 PM:

He's not an isolated case. I gather Beethoven was frequently smelly and bad-tempered as well. Shocking I call it.

No, he's not God. Nobody down here is.

#9 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:16 PM:

I was ready to mark the 70's incident down to his being off his nut
on coke or something, but if he's still saying it now, sober, then
clearly it wasn't the drugs talking.

#10 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:18 PM:

Makes me wish I knew more about opera so I could bring Wagner into the discussion in a learned way rather than like this.

Emma and I watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch last night, which
reminded me that rock has always been the music of kink--Little
Richard, anyone?

But this reminds me that the intersection of kink and pop music has
always delighted fascists. Maybe we should watch Cabaret again.

#11 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:25 PM:

A small point (much less significant than Mr. Clapton's general
douchebaggery), but the phrase "make a difference" has been triggering
my gag reflex for a decade or so.

Every new moment makes a difference. I'm assuming those using this
phrase mean that the difference in question is a positive one, and
positive by whatever scale the author employs, but let's face it:
Jeffrey Dahmer made a difference. Pol Pot made a difference.

Can we retire that phrase now? Please?

#12 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:27 PM:

Zander @ 8: "He's not an isolated case. I gather Beethoven
was frequently smelly and bad-tempered as well. Shocking I call it. No,
he's not God. Nobody down here is.

There is, I think, a substantial difference between an artist's
personal grooming and political beliefs. An artist's grooming rarely
affects his or her art, but political beliefs usually reflect one's
fundamental view of the universe, and one's ideas of how the world
works definitely affects one's art. We trust artists with a fairly
direct access to our subconscious minds, and having that trust
betrayed, or finding out that it might have been, is a pretty shocking
and disheartening thing.

None of this means I'm going to stop listening to Clapton. But when I do, I'm going to do so far more warily.

#13 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:35 PM:

The only explanation for the hypocrisy I can think of would be that
it has something to do with Britain and maintaining it as it 'used to
be', and 'too many blacks' wouldn't be compatible with that.

ie, if Clapton moved to Chicago, he might not be wishing for there
to be fewer black people around, because his idea of Chicago is a city
with a large black population.

Which is messed up, but it would be more compatible with his history
of playing the blues, playing with BB King, Buddy Guy, etc than if he
had a more generalized animosity towards black people.

People are weird. In other weirdness, some of the immigrants Enoch
Powell was complaining about in 1968 are now complaining about today's

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:41 PM:

#11, Jason: I'll consider abjuring "make a difference" if you'll put
a moratorium on "let's face it," a phrase redolent with shameless
self-congratulation of the most odious sort.

#15 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:51 PM:

" Jeffrey Dahmer made a difference."

And a mean stew, I bet.

#16 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:55 PM:

#10 will shetterly: Emma and I watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch
last night, which reminded me that rock has always been the music of
kink--Little Richard, anyone?

And speaking of immigration, IIRC it was an African-American G.I.
who sponsored Hedwig's botched sex-change operation and then married
her so she could from East Germany to America and become a rock star.

Wonder what Mr. Enoch Clapton, Esq., who has Views, would have had to say about that?

#17 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:14 AM:

Wow. That surprised me. I kept waiting for the punch line- just kidding, kids.

Although I'm more disappointed to hear Bowie's comments; at least he has reneged on those.

#18 ::: CosmicDog ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Call me naive, or at least desparate to hold my heroes blameless,
but my understanding of Clapton's view in this matter isn't about white
supremacy or not wanting blacks around. From what I've read, he has a
problem with the UK encouraging people to immigrate from Africa and
then exploiting them for cheap labor.

“My feeling about this has not changed really. We have always been
up to some funny business in this country, inviting people in as cheap
labour and then putting them in ghettos.”

The irony of the above quote is that putting black people in ghettos
was exactly what Powell wanted, or at least he wanted to keep blacks
out of white neighborhoods. I believe that Clapton is woefully
misinformed about Powell's views. It's unlikely that Clapton is the
most informed person around, given his lifestyle.

Now, it would seem to me, given the company that Clapton keeps and
the music that he loves, that he is not (intentionally) racist.

Racism, sexism, ageism...there are a lot of negative views and
prejudices that sit below the surface of many otherwise nice and caring
people. I know for myself, that my family upbringing and culture has
programmed some crappy ideas and prejudices about certain groups of
people. I have to consciously and deliberately choose not to think that
way (change my mind). Over time, this is slowly working, I am changing.
However, if I were the type to go around getting drunk or high or
otherwise losing control, it's not hard for me to imagine saying
horrible things about people that are different than me. I try not to
think or act that way, but I am aware of what's going on inside me and
what I am capable of.

All of that to say that I give Clapton a little grace. I know he's
not necessarily the greatest human being on earth, he did sleep with
his best friend's wife after all, but I am not ready to label him a
creep or a bad guy.

#19 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:23 AM:

It's not wise to expect an artist's talent to be any measure of
their personal quality; there's no correlation at all. I didn't know
that about Clapton, but much as I like his guitar-playing, and some of
his songs*, I've been seriously put off by some of the things he's said
and done in the last 10 or 15 years anyway. So I'm not surprised.

* I have never liked "You Look Wonderful Tonight". It sounds far too much to me like the song of an alcoholic to his enabler.

#20 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:34 AM:

Will at 10: hoo boy, Wagner. Patrick's right, there is no
correlation between great artistry and humane behavior and attitudes,
and no one exemplifies that more than Wagner -- not just the
antisemitism, but stealing his best friend's wife (Cosima then-von Bulow,
no prize herself), shameless mooching off anyone he could get money
from and then fleeing his creditors, fighting in the 1848 Revolution
and then kissing up to mad King Ludwig of Bavaria when he offered his
patronage as a fan...the guy was one of the most amazing specimens this
species has ever produced. He truly thought it was all about him, but
he had the chops to convince others of the same thing. Thank goodness
he bent these talents to opera.

For all I know, Clapton is just as much of a narcissist, but not as ambitious.

#21 ::: Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:38 AM:

I wouldn't put too much stock in the Bowie statement. He used to say
and do anything to get exposure. The more outrageous the better. The
statement doesn't even make sense.

Also, Sid Vicious and Souixsie didn't wear swastikas as a political
statement but rather a childish poke in the eye of Britain's polite
society. Several Sex Pistols' songs complain about the British
government being fascist.

Eric Clapton, it would appear, is just a dick.

#22 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:40 AM:

Cosmic Dog at 18: I was writing my post about Wagner before your
post appeared -- the best friend's wife parallel is striking. Though
there aren't necessarily any further implications.

#23 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:07 AM:

Jon H @#13:

ie, if Clapton moved to Chicago, he might not be wishing for
there to be fewer black people around, because his idea of Chicago is a
city with a large black population.

Presumably his idea of Africa also includes a large black
population. Hence "back to Africa." Believing that certain places
belong to certain races is classic, old-fashioned bigotry.

#24 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:13 AM:

PNH : #14

You're both right and correct. I'm an ass. I will no longer use that
phrase, and I will maintain an openness to further correction. Thank
you, sir, for your timely discipline.

(Of course, I'm still an insufferable ass, but now I have one less annoying habit).

#25 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:21 AM:

Jon H #15:

You are an evil man. I like you.

#26 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:24 AM:

What, if anything, does Clapton say about this issue in his autobiography? If anyone here has it handy? I don't care for any of his music that I've heard, but I'd like to know a little more about what he has to say for himself.

#27 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 02:12 AM:

David Bratman @#26:

Wikipedia's article on Clapton quotes from his autobiography: "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."

Which, to me, sounds like it falls somewhere on the continuum between entrenched white privelege and utter douchebaggery.

#28 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 02:31 AM:

ComicDog, no one is intentionally racist. Racists believe they see
the world clearer than anyone else. In Clapton's case, we've just got
another example of something flowering from the root of all evil.

#29 ::: Farah ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 03:12 AM:

Two memories for you:

My own experience of getting into huge trouble in elementary school
wearing Rock Against Racism badges because they were "political".

My grandma as one of the Jewish and Asian stallholders in Stockport
market who for the first time ever started speak to each other, so they
could organise a barricade of the market and prevent the National Front
marching through.

#30 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 03:35 AM:

I sincerely doubt Bowie holds Nazi views any longer, if he ever did
at the time. He's been married to Iman for 16 years now, has a daughter
with her, and donated $10G to the NAACP for the defense of the Jena Six.

#31 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 04:09 AM:

I read Bowie's comments as "liberalism is lying around rotting and
what it needs to get up and dance again is a terrible facist government
to react to". Same stuff we were getting here from some liberals a
couple years ago, people who were trying to find a silver lining in the
crappy situation in America. As for the "Hitler was the first rock
star"... He kinda was, if you're talking "a guy who consciously makes
himself an image that involves going up in front of crowds of screaming
fans". It's not like rock stars are known for being good people.

Still, I'm glad that he backed away from those garishy-worded messes.

#32 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 05:16 AM:

Bowie did go through a period of obsession with Nazi occultism;
check out the track "Quicksand" (which is, by the way, a pretty great
song) for an example; but I can't imagine it to be a statement in favor
of the Nazis -- more a flirtation with the insanity that lies in the
search for power.

And yes, Siouxsie's usage was the punk/protest usage. She's also
Jewish, I've heard. (I went through my own fascination with all things
Nazi for a while, as a half-Jewish young adult.)

I am not well versed regarding Eric Clapton, but I am wondering what
he would say if someone asked him point blank. Those remarks are

#33 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 05:34 AM:

I seem to remember reading somewhere that Powell, before his turn to racism, was progressive in his views.

#34 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 06:18 AM:

To be free, one must give up a little piece of oneself.

#35 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 06:23 AM:

I was ten years old when Powell did his "rivers of blood" thing. I don't think I noticed it.

I don't think I noticed the Watts Riots either, though I'm told that
I was reading newspaper headlines in 1963. Africans could easily get a
reputation for doing bad things when the newspaper headlines were about

I think there was enough in the Sixties that Enoch Powell didn't sound irrational.

None of us then are the same people as we are now.

#36 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 07:09 AM:

bryan @ 33: Enoch Powell
was a fascinating mix of contradictions. Intellectually surely one of
the most brilliant people ever to enter Parliament, he supported such
liberal causes as the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the
abolition of the death penalty, but after the rivers of blood speech
became a hero to the National Front. The link above goes to the
Guardian obituary, which gives a fairly balanced view.

#37 ::: Kimberley Verburg ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 07:26 AM:

Elections for the Greater London Assembly will take place on May 1,
along with the mayoral election. A National Front candidate is standing
in my constituency of City and East. But the NF have long been
surpassed by the British National Party, also standing in my
constituency. Then there's the English Democrats and ... well, the list
of hateful parties goes on.

I live close to Victoria Park and will be going to the concert. Possibly with an umbrella. :-)

#38 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 07:33 AM:

You know, suddenly I understand much more distinctly what the last act of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" was going on about.

#39 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 07:40 AM:

...Also, from an American perspective it's amazing that a group devoted to defeating Tories could actually call itself "Red Wedge".
Here, the power of red-baiting is still so immense that anyone left of
center who hopes for influence has to steer as far from Communist
associations and iconography as possible (for better or for worse, I'll
leave others to argue)--to the extent that "red" now means Republican.

#40 ::: Francis D ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 07:41 AM:

I seem to remember reading somewhere that Powell, before his turn to racism, was progressive in his views.

Stupid two-party political axes. As I understand it, Powell was a
benevolent paternalistic nationalist - or a "One Nation Tory". He
believed in doing what was best for the people he represented - which
was his constituency and its voters, Britain, the wider organisations
to which Britain belonged (Empire/Commonwealth, Europe), and the world.
In that order.

As such, his views were often progressive (although he was a rampant
free-marketeer (albeit with decent labour laws and other such
progressive controls on the rapacity of unregulated markets) in the
days it was an unpopular belief) as progressive policies would be best
for those he represented and the wider community of Britain. But when
he saw something that he felt threatened Britain (i.e. immigration from
the former colonies in the wake of the dissolution of the Empire) it
was exactly the same logic that caused him to speak out here as caused
him to act when people were working in uncivilised conditions and
otehrwise oppose forms of injustice.

#41 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 09:38 AM:

One wonders if Clapton might have meant that Enoch was right to
recruit bus drivers for (what was then) London Transport in Barbados.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 09:42 AM:

Francis D. #40: You might recall that in the 1950s, Powell was one
of the Tories who encouraged immigration from the West Indies to solve
Britain's labour shortage.

#43 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 09:52 AM:

will #28: On the contrary, there are a fair number of overtly racist
people who are explicit in their beliefs. Among basically decent
mainstream people in the US and Western Europe, very few are overt
racists, because that's a socially unacceptable viewpoint here. But the
web and world are full of folks outside that mainstream. Among those
are white supremicists, black nationalists, and folks who put race at
the top of their list of important things about a person from every
other racial group.

Mary Dell #23: I gather that this belief plays quite a part in a lot
of African politics, and some South American politics, in the opposite
direction. One of the first things that happened after former European
colonies became independent, in a lot of places, was getting rid of
annoying imported ethnic minorities (overseas Chinese, Indians,
Lebanese, etc.). I think this is something pretty fundamental in human
nature, to break the world down into "us" and "them" and then be
willing to demonize and screw over "them" in favor of "us"

#44 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:02 AM:

A.J. Luxton #32: Bowie did go through a period of obsession with Nazi occultism; check out the track "Quicksand"

Or "The Supermen". Or "Station to Station". I think the thing with
Bowie is that he had a strong aesthetic attraction to aspects of Nazism
(and I think actual belief in a very similar occultism to theirs)
combined with a deeply ironic (perhaps so ironic that it went around a
few times and occasionally became indistinguishable from sincerity)
view of Britain's fascist tendencies--very similar to Siouxsie and
other punks' relationship with Nazism.

That, and a crippling fear of sleep that led to so much cocaine use
that he now claims to have no memories whatsoever from the year 1975.
He probably wasn't sane enough to articulate all that in a way that
made sense.

#45 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:07 AM:

I have very fond memories of Rock against Racism, which was about the time I was first coming to political consciousness.

#46 ::: Arwel Parry ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:18 AM:

Like Dave Bell, I was about 10 when Powell made his "Rivers of
Blood" speech and didn't particularly notice it at the time - race
relations weren't a pressing issue in rural North Wales at the time, I
was 11 before I met my first non-white person, and Himanshu's doctor
parents moved back to India a year later.

There was an interesting series of documentaries on Channel 4 in the
last month, "Immigration: An Inconvenient Truth" by Rageh Omaar, which
looked back on Powell's speech from 40 years on, and on how his
predictions have turned out. An amusing-in-a-way part of the
documentary was seeing second and third generation descendants of
Indian and Caribbean immigrants expressing, in strong local accents,
pretty much the same views about the current wave of Polish immigrants
as was said about their ancestors. Powell certainly wasn't all wrong in
his speech - he warned against immigrant communities setting up their
own closed communities, which has happened in some areas, but the main
effect of his speech was to render it impossible to have a rational
debate about immigration in the UK.

It would be wrong to characterise Powell as just a right-wing looney
- he was a polymath, beginning learning his 12th language, Hebrew, when
he was 70; he learned Urdu to improve his chances of becoming Viceroy
of India, he was the youngest university professor in the Empire -
appointed Professor of Greek at Sydney University at age 25, two years
later on the outbreak of WW2 he joined the army as a private, and
finished the war as its youngest Brigadier (the only man in the entire
army to have so many promotions). As Health Minister he promoted the
policy of closing the huge Victorian mental asylums, and started the
"Care in the Community" policy instead (though he complained that later
governments didn't adequately fund the system). Ironically it was in
his time as Health Minister that many West Indians arrived in Britain
to work for the Health Service. He was a sponsor of homosexual law
reform, opposed the death penalty, and though coming from Birmingham he
warned against passing anti-terrorism legislation in haste after the
1974 Birmingham pub bombings. Powell was a complex personality and a
review of his career is fascinating.

#47 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:39 AM:

Another damned medie @ 7: Garcia had sufficient first-hand experience of racism to be wise.

He is, however, an example of a broader point about Famous
Musicians: their feet of clay can extend to pretty much every part of
their being not actively employed in making music at the time. They are
capable of stupidity and self-destructive impulses in common with the
rest of us, and tend to be surrounded by people who enhance and
reinforce their errors of thought and defects of character rather than
smacking them down when they're being assholes.

#49 ::: CosmicDog ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:30 AM:

Scraps @ 48

I was referring to his current, sober views on the subject, not his
drunken ramblings of more than 30 years ago. I've met many other
British folk that are much more level headed and clear when expressing
their hatred of 'foreigners'. It takes a long time for cultural values
to change, no matter how loud the cries for change are. Cultural values
have a strong influence on personal values and can manifest themselves
in some interesting and dreadful ways.

#50 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:40 AM:

albatross @43, apologies for not clarifying that. There are two
kinds of racists, those who deny their racism and those who embrace it,
but I wouldn't call either "intentional." Both think they're realists.

Now, there are politicians and capitalists who use racism to advance
their causes, so I could call them intentional racists--Bill Clinton
connecting a progressive Democrat like Jesse Jackson with a
DLC-approved one like Barack Obama is intentional racism. But whatever
his views, Eric Clapton doesn't fall into the intentional camp. Based
on the evidence so far, he's just a racist.

#51 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Most of the right-leaning stuff from that era was either forgettable
or forgivable, but Clapton remains both a piece of racist shit and (as
the Cream reunion concert shows) a great musician.

A teacher once told my class about the controversy over awarding the
Bollinger Prize to Ezra Pound. Some thought he deserved the award,
while others thought he should hang for aiding the Fascists.

I asked if they hadn't considered a compromise: Give him the award, and then hang him.

My teacher shook his head.

#52 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:42 AM:

#19 BC(STM) I have never liked "You Look Wonderful Tonight". It sounds far too much to me like the song of an alcoholic to his enabler.

Absolutely spot-on.

Bruce, it's funny that you bring that up, considering something I've
noticed in my years at Detox. There is an amazing (and thoroughly
depressing) amount of ethnic bigotry among the chronic alcoholics I
work with. Whether it's minority-to-minority hatred, or white power
idiots yelling down the hallways, this is the one issue that has
consistently presented us with the most dangerous (potentially violent)

Why this is so remains an open topic, but the phenomenon seems
pretty consistent across the U.S. at least. So I guess it isn't
surprising (just, again, thoroughly depressing) that someone like
Clapton who has spent so long in that population should hold ugly
racist views... sigh.


Several people on this thread have attempted some very lame attempts
to excuse, explain, psychoanalyze or moderate Clapton's ongoing bigotry
issues, but none of these wash. Period.

A big part of the addiction recovery process is making amends for
the wrongs you've done, and apologizing to the people you've wronged.
You have to show a clear break with the "old you" and embrace a better

That Clapton still shows any support for Powell, and has not publicly acknowledged and repudiated his racist stances, shows he is still, to a significant degree, still a willing participant in his old thought patterns. To reiterate a rebuttal made upthread, there are many people who are consciously and willingly racist, and quite proud of it.

There are levels of racism. Some who disparage an entire group may
still be able to function with individuals of that group. I will always
enjoy his music, and I hope for his own sake that his views have
moderated at least a little in the last thirty years, but a nice guy,
hero, and role model he isn't, never was, and never will be.

#53 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:56 AM:

#50 -- Will, I'm still not tracking what you mean by intentional vs.
non-intentional. Consider that in order to advance a Blues-based
career, Clapton has had to mingle with, perform with, and appear to get
along with the predominantly black Blues community. If he still (not so
secretly) harbours racist views, wouldn't that qualify as intentional
under your definition?

#54 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Matt McIrvin, 39: "red" now means Republican.

This has always struck me as ironic on multiple levels: the
Trotskyite background of the first neoconservatives, Grover Norquist's
admiration of Lenin's tactics -- heck, didn't Nixon envy Mao?

I treat it as an inadvertent admission of their anti-American philosophical underpinnings, myself.

#55 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Edward @52, just about everyone who's poor is smart enough to figure
out that the system sucks. Some of them just don't have a better model
than race to explain why. Frustrated people need to blame someone.

Edward @53, maybe I'm reading too much into "intentional," but for
me, that means you choose racism rather than fall into it because you
don't have a better way to understand the world. Lots of white racists
like things about black culture. Lots of white racists like individual
blacks, so long as they stay in their place, however that place might
be defined. Some racists make complex decisions in their racism:
Clapton might think US blacks are better than Africans or
Indians--since he's British, his racism would be different than you
find in the US. I don't know the UK all that well, but I would expect
British racism to be at least as complex as US racism, which has social
and regional nuances. Clapton doesn't have to be the worst sort of
skinhead to be a British racist.

#56 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:40 PM:

P.S. Just reread what I wrote @ 55. I don't mean that skinhead thugs
are the worst Brit racists. They're just the most obvious ones. The
worst are the rich who play to racist fears. I haven't noticed any of
that in Clapton's work--his lyrics seem to range from the vapid to the
insipid--so I'm comfortable keeping him in the unintentional racist
camp for now.

And I still think "Layla" is a great song. Vapid and insipid
combined with a memorable riff and a heartfelt delivery can be all rock
greatness requires.

#57 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 12:49 PM:

Just read the lyrics for "Layla." A smart woman would move as far as
her money would take her and change her name and dye her hair, 'cause
that song is all about him.

#58 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:29 PM:

#55 - Ok, I pretty much agree with it now, although I think that
here in the U.S., the information is out there, and many racists do
have a better way to understand the world, they just choose not to in a
form of intellectual self-denial of responsibility. Or perhaps sheer
laziness. Thanks for the clarify!

BTW: Bingo on Layla... You'll never see his picture next to the definition of "empathy."

#59 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:50 PM:

Edward #52: Presumably, you only repudiate things you think are
evil. If he thinks racism of some sort (say, the kind that was the
vanilla belief system in a small town in England in 1940) isn't evil,
he's not going to stop believing it, for the same sort of reasons that
an alcoholic biologist isn't going to discard his belief in evolution
as part of drying out. So the natural guess is that he now doesn't see
those old statements as some shameful and bad things he said under the
influence of drink, but rather some true but impolitic things he said
under the influence of drink. (But I'll admit I don't know anything at
all about rehab/12 step programs/etc.)

#60 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 01:56 PM:

will shetterly @#57: Well yeah, that's part of what makes it such a great song. It's not a love could as easily be about heroin.

#61 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Mary @60, Wikipedia's account here sounds right to me: He just wanted George's woman. I think it's a case of the artist lucking into a metaphor, not planning one.

#62 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 02:27 PM:

I'm sorry that Eric Clapton was and possibly is a racist, but
knowing that will not change my delight in his music or my respect for
him as a musician. I will still listen to "Badge" with the same
hairs up on the back of the neck feeling. It is, after all, only one
fact in the man's life, and it is not a simple one.

BTW, Eric Clapton is 63 years old.

#63 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 02:28 PM:

will #55:

So you're thinking of racism in terms of (incorrect) factual claims
or ideas about the world. I'd say the underlying core of racism is a
set of moral[1] claims, amounting to the idea that you should care more
about members of your race than members of other races, that you owe
some allegiance to your race, etc. That all seems like nonsense to me,
but it's a thread you see underlying all kinds of racist thought. (For
example, the concept that someone could be a traitor to their race, or
should consider the future and well-being of their race in making
decisions, is nonsense without such a set of starting moral

ISTM that both racism and anti-racism are moral positions, not
directly involving empirical statements. People being people, they
often get linked with empirical statements (so if you're a white racist
who hates blacks, IQ tests are proof of your superiority, while if
you're a white racist who hates Jews, IQ tests are proof of a Jewish
conspiracy). But it's the moral positions that dominate the empirical
ones for most people, which is why you can more-or-less predict
someone's beliefs about various empirical stuff (how does gun control
affect crime, how many excess deaths have there really been in Iraq,
how harmful to a child is it to be raised by a single mother) by
knowing whether they're a registered Democrat or Republican.

[1] "Moral claims" in the sense that they're claims by morality.
Racist moral claims contradict pretty much everything I believe
morally, but they're claims about what is or is not right to do.

#64 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 02:31 PM:

More detail on the political background of Rock Against Racism and
the Anti-Nazi League at the website promoting David Renton's history of
the ANL, When We Touched the Sky.

#65 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 03:33 PM:

albatross at 63: I think we agree. If racism is a belief
system--which I believe--it's hard to talk about intentional belief. We
all have models for understanding the world. The more conscientious of
us test the models, but since we're testing durable models from within,
it's hard to break out. And some people get so scared of the other
models that they run back inside.

#66 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 03:51 PM:

albatross @ 63, I'm not quite sure how I accidentally posted #65. But I was about to erase it and start again:

Your morality is based on your model. I was recently reading about
Tibet's feudal system under the Dalai Lamas, where the law spelled out
that the value in silver of a drop of blood of a lower class person was
worth 1/10th of the value of an upper class person's. That moral system
is just going to creep out some of us. But does that mean the Dalai
Lamas were intentionally feudal, or did they simply fail to question
something that seemed to benefit them?

Hmm. Wandering kind of far from Clapton and racists who rock. Sorry 'bout that.

#67 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 04:42 PM:

I got used to the idea of "like the music, dislike the musician"
with Jim Morrison, so this sort of thing is nothing new to me. Yes,
it's regrettable that a lot of talented artists are creepy in their
personal lives and/or beliefs. (Science fiction, BTW, is in no way
immune to this; there are writers that I will only buy from
used-book stores because I don't want to contribute to their
royalties.) And I'm sorry to hear that Clapton is one of them. This is
not going to change my opinion that "Layla" has one of the top musical
hooks of all time.

Matt, #39: It continues to amaze me that the Republicans didn't make
sure to grab Blue for themselves and leave Red to the Democrats as yet
another smear tactic.

Edward, #52: Hear, hear! Very well put.

#68 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 04:51 PM:

In one of those odd little coincidences that happen all the time,
just before visiting this site I'd been listening to 'The Archive Hour:
A Rage in Dalston' on the Radio 4 section of the BBC website. This is a
documentary about the 43 Group, a bunch of Jewish ex-servicemen and
others including a young Vidal Sassoon (yes, the hairdresser) who took
on the fascists in streetfights in post-war 1940s London. What made me
seek it out was speaking at a BSFA meeting dedicated to the memory of
Ken Slater and recalling how I'd heard he had helped bust-up pre-war
meetings of Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists and how I
regretted never having quizzed him about this.

#69 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 05:14 PM:

will shetterly @#61:

I think it's a case of the artist lucking into a metaphor, not planning one.

Totally agree with you.

#70 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Lee @ 67: Science fiction, BTW, is in no way immune to this;
there are writers that I will only buy from used-book stores because I
don't want to contribute to their royalties.

I have exactly the same reaction to some of them, and engage in the
same practice with regard to purchasing their works. Sadly, one such
author is one that I used to list among my all time favorites. I now
find it difficult to do so both because of his stated personal views
and the fact that ISTM that the quality and clarity of his writing has
suffered a serious decline over the past decade (ironically coinciding
with his publicizing the aforementioned views, though I noticed the
decline in his writing before I became aware of his POV).

#71 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 06:21 PM:

#59 Albatross -- I think you're on to something there...
Theoretically, in the 12 step programs (most of which are spiritually
based), one should hear the message that racism is always evil. But
then it occurred to me that in most of the meetings i see happening,
the participants are primarily white (even though our population of
chronics is no more than 25% white).

I don't sit in on many of the meetings myself, so it is quite
possible that the issue slides, or falls victim to the 1940's style
"casual" or "passive" racism you mentioned. After all, that describes
my mother perfectly, and she has never gotten over her fear/dislike of
dealing with minorities as groups. With individuals she is outwardly
egalitarian at the least.

Perhaps Clapton is the same. I still love my mother, knowing that
sizable flaw, and I suppose I will still always call the local FM
station at night to request "Cocaine" for my peeps at Detox.

#72 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 06:59 PM:

ObScience Fiction: to get some idea of what late seventies England was like, Christopher Priest's Fugue for a Darkening Island might be interesting. It's not a nice book, however, one of those sf novels straight from the id.

#73 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Summer, I think most writers hit a magic moment where what we want
to say and our ability to say it come together. After that, we're
riffing on what we've done before and admiring the writers who manage
to keep doing work that's brilliantly new.

And sometimes writers get better at something a reader isn't
interested in. If you're in it for the big bucks, you worry about your
market share. But if you're not, all you want is some folks who
appreciate what you're interested in now.

#74 ::: IWH ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:45 AM:

I think we're all missing a very important point. Paul Simonon was the bassist, not the guitarist. /musicnerdRAGE

#75 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:55 AM:

Summer Storms@70: The initials of your writer wouldn't happen to be
OSC, would they? If so, I feel much the same way -- although I'd put
the decline at more like two decades back than one.

#76 ::: Richard Klin ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:16 AM:

I remember reading about Clapton's outburst at the time; since then
I've had a deep distaste for him. It hasn't stopped me, though, from
thinking Blind Faith and some of Cream was sheer brilliance. The dirty
little secret is that there always has been a fascist and racist
zeitgeist--artists are not immune. In fact, quite the contrary.

#77 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:03 AM:

albatross @ 63: "So you're thinking of racism in terms of
(incorrect) factual claims or ideas about the world. I'd say the
underlying core of racism is a set of moral[1] claims, amounting to the
idea that you should care more about members of your race than members
of other races, that you owe some allegiance to your race, etc."

That's interesting. I would have described racism as a fundamentally
empirical claim: that one's own race is, in fact, stronger, faster,
smarter, or just plain better than those other races. The moral claims,
about who ought to be in charge, about who you ought to be loyal to,
etc. all follow from the basic belief in the demonstrable superiority
of your own race.

Perhaps this is what will was getting at in the distinction between
intentional vs. unintentional racists? An unintentional racist believes
that blacks score worse on tests because they are really truly
genetically dumber than whites. An intentional racist doesn't care
what the empirical evidence is--his agenda is simply to forward the
cause of the white race,* by whatever means possible, and whatever
facts are convenient. (An example of the second case is in the movie Munich--there's a Israeli operative who says outright that the only blood he cares about is Jewish blood, fuck all the rest.)

The distinction is probably blurry at best--most racists probably
blur the two together. It does suggest very different approaches for
trying to change their minds, though. An unintentional racist might be
converted by confronting them with enough of the right evidence, while
the intentional racist's mind will never be changed.

*whatever that is

#78 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:51 AM:

On a slightly related note, does anyone agree with me that Clapton doesn't understand
Robert Johnson's lyrics? When he sings "Crossroads," I don't think he
gets it that the singer is a spirit, already dead. I think Clapton
thinks it's a hitchhiking song.

#79 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:01 PM:

David @75: Please don't encourage speculation! There are people who
would put my name on the list, which is cool, but some would put Emma's
on it, and then I would lose all pretense of being the serene fellow I
play on the web and have to make sure their suffering was biblical.

And, oh, the list of writers whose later work and principles makes some readers think they've lost it is very, very long.

heresiarch @77, that definition is a little softer than I had in
mind, but it works for me. When I think of intentional racists, I think
of people like George Wallace and his infamous "Seymore, you know why I
lost that governor's race?... I was outniggered by John Patterson. And
I'll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again." He
played to racism to win...and then, in his time in office, he was
generally seen by the blacks of his state as a decent governor, because
his policies were better than his words.

And then there's Pat Buchanan, whose running mate was Ezola Foster.
I had thought that was a pretty clear statement that for Buchanan, what
mattered was class, not race. But his recent fondness for quoting
black-on-white crime stats without factoring in class says pretty
clearly that he'll play the race card when it's handy.

#80 ::: sm ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:02 PM:

Doesn't anyone here remember the Who song from the 60s, "substitute":

"I see right through your plastic mac,

I look all white but my dad was black"

Or the other way around.

#81 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:10 PM:

heresiarch, an afterthought:

"An unintentional racist might be converted by confronting them with
enough of the right evidence, while the intentional racist's mind will
never be changed."

Totally agree with the first part, but I think the intentional
racist's mind can be changed, if you can show them their self-interest
is better served by changing their ways--see George Wallace's last term
in office.

#82 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:23 PM:

Richard, I doubt I'll ever lose my love of Cream. Now I must play some.

rm, excellent point! Now I must play some Robert Johnson too.

Youtube helps out. A Cream version here and Robert Johnson's here.

And to add to the fun, Rory Block covers it here.

#83 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Can't resist another quick musical sidenote: Since I was crazy about
some San Francisco guitarists (no, not Garcia), I was pretty lukewarm
about Clapton, but I found out why I loved some Cream material: Jack
Bruce! Great voice, great songwriting, and his solo LPs can be
brilliant. ("We're Going Wrong" perfectly mirrors a breakup in its
strange melody.)

#84 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:40 PM:

will at #79 -- I forgot about that George Wallace quotation, but now
I suddenly remember reading about the first time George W. Bush lost a
congressional race -- he said he'd "never be outcountried again," and
commenced speaking like a lobotomized cowpoke. Surely Bush knew he was
rhyming with Wallace when he said that. He was gesturing at the fact
that "n*gg*r" has been replaced by less-obvious code words like "city"
and "Northern" that mean the same thing.

Google says this info came from the Kitty Kelly gossip book:

Kitty Kelly, _The Family_, ch. 24, pp. 545-548

Nobody "talked Texas" better than Kent Hance, who entertained rural farmers with country jokes, usually at George's (W Bush) expense. For example: "I was on a ranch in Dimmitt during my high-school days, and a guy drove up and asked for directions to the next ranch. I said, 'Go north five miles, turn and go east five miles, then turn again after you pass a cattle guard.' As he turned around, I noticed he had Connecticut license plates. He stopped and said, 'Just one more question. What color uniform will that cattle guard be wearing?'" The West Texas farmers voted for the down-home guy, who won 53 percent to 47 percent and taught George something he would never forget. "Kent Hance gave me a lesson on country-boy politics." Bush said. "He was the master at it, funny and belittling. I vowed never to be outcountried again." Fifteen years later George was seen on national television sitting behind the Rangers' dougout picking his nose. He was unembarrassed. "Anything that makes me look like the common man is great," he said, "Just great."

During the 1978 campaign he had vehemently opposed abortion rights,
gay rights ("I have done nothing to promote homosexuality in our
society"), and affirmative action.

He called the appointment of Andrew Young, the African American preacher from Atlanta, Georgia, as UN Ambassador "a mistake."

Fitting in the Bush family's view of women, W. said the Equal Rights Amendment was "unnecessary".

#85 ::: RobW ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:18 PM:

@50: Consider that in order to advance a Blues-based career,
Clapton has had to mingle with, perform with, and appear to get along
with the predominantly black Blues community.

You mean the predominantly American black Blues community?
Musicians like B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and Buddy Guy are perfectly
fine because they are foriegners to him. Don't forget the strong
element of nationalist racism here. It doesn't seem from those comments
that he despises blacks per se, it's that he despises having too many
of them in his own lily-white country. He seems to be perfectly fine
with blacks in their place. That place apparently is Africa, America,
Jamaica, or anywhere but the UK.

Of course it's racism; it's just disguised as nationalism. Aah,
nationalism: isn't there any inhumane nastiness you can't justify?

#86 ::: Richard Klin ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:19 PM:

#83--it's funny; Bruce is by and large what makes me NOT like some
of Cream. I think one reason I liked Blind Faith so much was Steve
Winwood in Bruce's place. "We're Going Wrong" is, though, pretty
amazing. But there was something about that high-pitched yowl.... No
offense to you and any other Jack Bruce partisans out there.

#87 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:45 PM:

will #79: I think that's a third category. Like

a. Racist based on empirical claims of superiority/inferiority.

b. Racist based on moral principles that back racism.

c. Pandering to racists of group (a) and (b).

Wallace was at least partly in (c), and this is likely true of a lot
of politicians who play the race card one way or another, too. If
someone plays to racial imagery to achieve an artistic or propoganda or
commercial or political goal, that's just a different kind of thing
that the first two. It's like the difference between the business owner
who either discriminates or doesn't entirely based on economic rewards,
and one who discriminates or doesn't entirely on the grounds of his

#88 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:13 PM:

albatross @87, if we're looking at the history of racism, I might
include the people who fell for the weird science of Caucasian
superiority, but that was pretty thoroughly discredited by the late
19th or early 20th century--the ones who've believed it in my lifetime
just wanted to believe it, rather like sincere religious archeologists
who believe they've found King David's palace or evidence for Joseph
Smith's lost tribe fantasies. Wacko empiricism only appeals to people
who already accept a wacko model. It doesn't convert. It only confirms.

#89 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:45 PM:

heresiarch #77:

Two pieces of anecdotal evidence supporting the moral rather than empirical view:

a. The Nazis didn't back off on the Aryan racial superiority line
after a bunch of blacks won medals in the 1936 Olympics. They also
didn't take the large numbers of Jews at the top of finance and science
and medicine as evidence against Aryan superiority.

b. White nationalists (more-or-less white supremacists with a
makeover) will often cite the black/white IQ differences as "proof"
that blacks are inferior and thus should be treated badly. But somehow,
this logic never seems to apply with respect to Asians or Jews, both
groups which have higher average IQs than non-Jewish whites.

Similarly, lots of really nasty racial tension and violence comes
about against minorities that perform noticeably better than the
majority, like Jews in a lot of Europe, overseas Chinese in a lot of
Asia, and Indians in a lot of Africa[1].

And finally, I'd say that anti-racism is a moral position, just as
is racism. Is there empirical evidence that could convince you to
support a return to Jim Crow laws? I'm very sure my opposition to that
crap is independent of questions of, say, the cause of the black/white
IQ difference or the reason for the apparent success of Bildil in
treating blacks with high blood pressure or whatever.

#90 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:03 PM:

Tangentially speaking of Cream, I was somewhat surprised to see/hear a commercial (from the Just for Men
hair coloring company marketing something called "A Touch of Gray" to
those boomers who don't have any such thing [surely a tiny percentage
of us!] and want some [even a smaller percentage, I'd think!]), using
"Sunshine of your Love" as the background music.

I can admire Clapton's skill while abhorring his views (which echoes Scalia's remarks on "60 Minutes" last night).

#91 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:04 PM:

rm @ 78 - I totally did not know that! I like that song about 150% more now, and I already rather liked it.

On a possibly related note, are you familiar with Rush's cover of "Crossroads," released round about 2004 on their EP Feedback? I heard one fan say of it, "Someone needs to tell Geddy that the lyrics don't matter!"
Apparently they didn't care for the way he enunciated, making the
lyrics fairly intelligible (if a tad slower, because, y'know, consonants).

Me, I like words. If I'm supposed to understand what the song's
about, understanding the lyrics when they're sung is a good thing.

#92 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 06:24 PM:

Lee Atwater considered himself a mean blues guitarist. Clinton is another who put on blackface when it suited him.

'Slumming' by the ruling class -- patronage and patriarchy live on
on to refresh their hollow souls -- and blackface have a centuries'
long tradition in the entertainment business, dating back at least to
the 17th C. Nor is it yet finished with.

Besides witnessing it in all kinds of forms, having lived my life in
the professional music world due to marriage, I have read some
brilliant studies, not the least of which is my brilliant New Orleanian
born and bred academic friend, Felipe Smith's American Body Politics.

There's Eric Lott's brilliant Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class
from which, not coincidently, Dylan took the title for his 2001 album,
released in August .... (Like Felipe, Eric's also a friend.)

Love, C.

#93 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 07:33 PM:

Footnoting #92: Commenter Constance Ash is married to the fascinating musician and scholar Ned Sublette, whose work includes the great album Cowboy Rumba,
a fusion of Cuban music and American "cowboy" music that will make you
realize that the true history of popular music is even more unexplored
than you thought.

Sublette is also the author of a song made famous by Willie Nelson's
cover of it, "Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other."

#94 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:25 PM:

David @ 75: Nope, the initials of the writer I have in mind are JPH.
Though OSC bothers me too, at least I was aware of his peculiarities
before I read much of his work, and as a result find him difficult to
enjoy. (I think I've read one or two of his books, and found them

But I sincerely used to love JPH's work. These days it's almost as
if there is a completely different mind writing his material than there
was twenty years ago.

#95 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:54 PM:

Patrick, #93: Once informed of the existence of that song, I had to go find it. In exchange, I offer this TOS fanvid version, using a different cover.

#96 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:53 AM:

Patrick @ 93: I always liked the original version best. (What ever happened to John Giorno, anyway?)

#97 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:01 AM:

I know it's the editing, but that song just had to acquire a Trek version...

#98 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Richard Klin (#86): Though I suppose I shouldn't keep up with the
off-topic comments, I can't resist a response to the "high voice"
thing. Most high voices in music -- rock or opera -- grate on me the
way Bruce does on you. That's why I couldn't stand the Beach Boys or
the Four Seasons, and all of Wagner, Verdi etc. is lost on me. But Jack
Bruce (and Jeff Buckley) don't elicit that reaction. I have no idea why.

#99 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 01:10 PM:

#96 ::: John A Arkansawyer

John's living and creating art in Europe, where he moved many years ago.

Ned's also the author of the brilliant, instant classic, Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo and the only history of New Orleans, published in January, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.
The NO party's already happened, but the NY book party's May 8th, at
the Brecht Forum. He's also going to perform -- yes, Ned's still
performing and making music too. (And doing photography).

You can see all his parts working together in an article coming up
in the forthcoming issue #52 of the British world music, magazine,
"Songlines," with an article + photos about bachata in rural Dominican
Republic. The magazine's also running a long review of the New Orleans
book in the same issue.

Love, C.

#100 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 01:28 PM:

#93 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Additionally -- Thank you! for speaking so well of da Ned. Your words are highly appreciated, and will be passed on.

Love, C.

#101 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:46 PM:

Constance: I am a total Cowboy Rumba fangirl! I love that
album to pieces -- please tell Ned for me. I'm one step closer to dying
happy, now that I can pass that on.

Patrick: In that same vein, are you familiar with Here Comes El Son? Cuban musicians cover the Beatles. "If I Fell" is obviously a bolero romántico, however untrue that may be (it's like Bert & Ernie being gay).

I'll gladly send you a copy if you want one.

#102 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:55 PM:

Faren, #98: I have a similar negative reaction specifically to most
of the "high screechy" male leads in heavy-metal rock. However, for
whatever reason, the lead singer of AC/DC doesn't evoke that response
-- so they're my favorite metal band, because they're almost the only
one I can even listen to! Go figure...

#103 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:05 PM:

#101 ::: Chris Quinones

Chris -- As Ned would say, with delight -- "Another satisfied customer. Thank you!"

I will pass your words on.

Love, C.

#104 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 12:54 PM:

Nicole @ 91 -- I'll speak purely from my personal taste, and say
that, with all due respect, I'm not familiar with Rush's cover of
anything, but I can . . . imagine. I guess this goes along with the
"screechy voice" discussion.

A lot of '20s and '30s blues lyrics made more sense to me after reading Zora Hurston's ethnographies, and learning something about the folk beliefs of the time and place. And, also, I got a clue from this Robert Crumb non-fiction comic,
which I think I must have first read in RAW magazine in the '80s. So,
now I really want to read that Ned Sublette book mentioned above.

#105 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 12:59 PM:

. . . although a falsetto is different from a screech, and, while I
don't have any evidence, I think sometimes a falsetto in rock is
descended from the voice of the houngan suddenly possessed by
the spirit -- that is, the falsetto voice is a spirit talking. Move
over, rover, and let it take over. There are more knowledgeable people
around who might shoot this down.

#106 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2008, 12:14 AM:

albatross: And finally, I'd say that anti-racism is a moral
position, just as is racism. Is there empirical evidence that could
convince you to support a return to Jim Crow laws? I'm very sure my
opposition to that crap is independent of questions of, say, the cause
of the black/white IQ difference or the reason for the apparent success
of Bildil in treating blacks with high blood pressure or whatever.

In a world without explicit Jim Crow laws, though, this only takes
you so far. The problem is that empirical racists have a different
notion of what a world without bias would look like, which makes it
harder to fight pervasive discrimination of the sort that people don't
enshrine in law or talk about much.

#107 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2008, 12:24 AM:

...Gah, I hit "post" instead of "preview" the second time so that
thought came out half-baked. I was going to add: if you were to think
that black people are genetically and irredeemably inferior in
intellect, then you could agree 100% with the moral non-racist that
people should be treated fairly without reference to race, but also
insist that people are being treated fairly and that all the
apparent unfairness around you is simply segregation by inherent
ability, and it's the anti-racist proponent of further compensatory
measures who is the real racist. This set of opinions is, I think,
actually pretty common.

(Often, white Americans with this type of attitude will cheerfully
admit that Asians are smarter than they are--just not by enough to
condemn white people to pauperism.)

So I don't think the moral and the empirical issues can be entirely disentangled in practice.

#108 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 11:02 AM:

Spam from

#109 ::: P J Evans wonders ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 11:18 AM:

Potential spam?
Never posted here before.

#110 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Hmm, seems to me that perhaps blogs and discussion forums should include at the entry page for the discussion forum and the top of each page, an information header that could include e.g., "Any commercial solicitations or fronts for commerciail solicitations without permission of the owner(s)/operator(s) of this forum, constitutes a use violation. Anyone committing such violations is subject to a usage charge of not more than $10,000 per violation and subject to having the information forwarded to the FBI etc. for fraud."

#111 ::: RideThisHandsomeBlackCowboy ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 02:19 PM:

Clapton blows,who cares about him?

#112 ::: Vicki is suspicious of troll and/or spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2009, 03:57 PM:

Under the circumstances, a one-line insult on a year-old thread, signed by someone with a vaguely sexual username, may be another spammer testing the waters.

#113 ::: justinberrings ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2009, 02:04 AM:

Let's separate the man, his ideas, and his work, as we should do for everyone, women included. Clapton has a technical skill in playing the guitar, he can't play any other genre than blues, his singing was slow to mature, most of his hit songs have been composed by others (Jack Bruce, Felix Pappalardi, Bob Marley, and many more).

Regarding his philosophical views, his lack of education and intellect shows very quickly. Here's a man who reveres the outdated (British) Queen and aristocracy and once made blinding racist remarks that he has never apologized for. Look no further. He's retarded in social philosophy but he has good guitar technique when playing the blues -- which ironically is so much about down-trodden dark-skinned people that Clapton would know little about.

#114 ::: Bobby Whitlock ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2009, 03:09 AM:

OOHHH Lord. Eric rocks and isn't a racist. He sucked off Buddy Guy for instance. Got to Get Better in a lil while......

#115 ::: VictorS is hit by a necromantic troll. ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2009, 03:23 AM:

Another one-line one-post player. #115 (and #112)... aren't adding to the discourse here. Are they?

#116 ::: Barbara Ward ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 03:51 PM:

I wish all artists would keep their opinions to themselves...I don't care to hear their political positions, racist, or fascist views--just their music. So shut up and play.

#117 ::: T-Bone ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 01:08 PM:

This is absurd, he was pissed drunk on stage and was probably angry at someone who had done something to him at the time. We all do it, spew out racial comments and regret it later when we realize that we have friends of that particular ethnic origin, and feel bad. With what just happened at the Boston Marathon (APRIL 2013) it is very easy to get on to these east indian immigrants who came from Russia to the United States and killed 3 people and maimed others. Of course it makes us want to scream blue bloody murder, and think "damn it - send all of them back where they came from" but then we realize that it is only a very very small minority who are religously radical and would do such a thing. This is the lesson of history folks. The only difference when I or you say it, is that we are NOT ERIC CLAPTON standing on a stage in front of 30,000 people, or John Lennon who was talking to a friend and who claimed that the Beatles were slipping on the charts in 1966, John Lennon out of anger said "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus" and he really didn't mean that either. Of course he was JOHN LENNON and ERIC CLAPTON IS ERIC CLAPTON. I have no doubt he regrets it and was just caught up in the heat of the moment at the time. In countless interviews that I have seen, he has done much to show that he is anything but racist. He even received letters of thanks for blues songs that CREAM covered with the royalties going to the black songwriter (in one case I remember) and the wife of this man was thanking Clapton because the royalties paid for his funeral. I am sick and tired of the sword waiving, and the racial discrimination cry, it is all bullshit to me. WHY???? you ask??? Have you ever gone to family court as a white male??? If you want to talk about being crucified just google what is happening out there, Suicides, guys sleeping in the trucks, kept from their children, legislated to poverty. I have been there, so I am sick and tired of the boo hoo who b.s.

#118 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 03:51 PM:

We all do it, spew out racial comments and regret it later when we realize that we have friends of that particular ethnic origin, and feel bad.

No, we don't. And if you do, that means there's something more than a little fucked-up with your idea of civilized behavior.

#119 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2013, 01:21 AM:

T-bone, you're right that lots of us say stupid things in anger. In addition to Lee's point, however, some of us, when we regret it later and feel bad, apologize. And doing it in front of 30,000 people makes it less acceptable and more requiring of apology, rather than the reverse as you seem to suggest.

Also, was your comment about "east indian immigrants" intended ironically, or are you unaware that Chechnya is over 3000 miles from India? I'm reminded of Paul Rodriguez's line "War is God's way of teaching us geography" (widely mis-attributed to Ambrose Bierce).

#120 ::: Kevin Riggle sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2014, 12:04 PM:

I was hoping they were a commenter with an Arabic name, but sadly it is a highly automated one.

#121 ::: John Hawkins ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2014, 07:55 PM:

This is just another demonstration of why we should not pay heed to what celebrities have to say about anything other that what they are famous for. Actors know about nothing other than acting, musician's about music. The exceptions are so rare as to be irrelevant.

#122 ::: Sanjiv Sachdev ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 02:22 PM:

Hanif kureshi's fine piece in the guardian (13 December 2014) reminds us of Clapton poisonous influence and its legacy today (why is he not a pariah?)

#123 ::: Sanjiv Sachdev ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 02:22 PM:

Hanif kureshi's fine piece in the guardian (13 December 2014) reminds us of Clapton poisonous influence and its legacy today (why is he not a pariah?)

#124 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2014, 02:51 PM:

Sanjiv, thank you. That is indeed an excellent piece. (link)

There's a similar piece by Shweta Narayan, though she's writing about a time a couple of decades later.

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