Eric Clapton: Amazing Grace
COLETTI Tell me about the writing process for “Tears in Heaven.”
CLAPTON It was written for the film Rush. The timing was perfect, because they needed a song about loss and I had plenty of them. “Tears in Heaven” was actually in a very embryonic stage when I was approached, and I completed it for Rush. I needed the film to finish it, because otherwise I probably would have let it go. It was also a good opportunity for me to write about the loss of my son and have somewhere to put it—to channel it—because it didn’t look like I was going into the studio in the near future. I really wanted to be able to say something about what happened to me, and the opportunity that this movie presented me was excellent, because it meant that I could write this song and express my feelings and have it come out quickly.
After the song was done, I thought that it would be nice to put it out as a single as well. There were other songs like it, of course, but that was the one.
COLETTI The availability of the film footage from Rush for the video for “Tears in Heaven” must have also made the whole thing easier for you. You didn’t have to deal with creating potentially painful original visuals.
CLAPTON Yeah. I didn’t want a theme video for that. I just really wanted to perform it, and I think that was the original idea for the video, but when they intercut the film footage it gave it much more of a message—a lot more feeling.
COLETTI “The Circus Left Town” is one of several new songs you debuted on Unplugged. What can you tell us about it?
CLAPTON Some of the songs are still in a very early stage of development, but they will be on a record someday. “The Circus Left Town” is about my son and the last night I spent with him, which was, in fact, at the circus. It’s …there’s not much I can say about it, except that these songs helped me get through a very hard patch in my life and I wanted to make them public. In fact, my performance on MTV was the first time they were played publicly in any form.
COLETTI If these songs are part of a healing process, does playing them in front of people further that process?
CLAPTON Yes. I think that with what happened to me last year— the loss of my son—my audience would have been very surprised if I didn’t make some reference to it. And I wouldn’t want to insult them by not sharing my grief with them in some way. So I do intend to make these things known, and I will play the songs in concert and put them on record. It is a healing process for me, and I think it’s important to share that with people who love your music.
COLETTI Is “Lonely Stranger” part of the “healing process” song cycle?
CLAPTON Sort of. I wrote that in Los Angeles while I was doing the score for Rush. I was just very lonely in L.A.—I felt like an English exile trying to beat the odds. You can get a lot of very strange vibrations coming in from the outside and doing something with the film industry. I really wrote that song to try to kind of cheer myself up.
COLETTI Tell me about “My Father’s Eyes.”
CLAPTON It was another song I wrote on holiday last year, when I had a kind of revelation about my son. It’s a very personal matter, but I never met my father, and I realized that the closest I ever came to looking in my father’s eyes was when I looked into my son’s eyes. So I wrote this song about that. It’s a strange kind of cycle thing that occurred to me, and another thing I felt I would like to share. That’s how that song came about.
COLETTI You recorded “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” on the Layla album, and again now. What is the song’s history?
CLAPTON That’s an old Bessie Smith song, which goes back to 1910 or 1915. I heard an English guy play it in the pubs when I was 14 or 15, and I learned it and played it around the pubs, myself. It was part of my early, early repertoire. In fact, it was one of the first songs I felt I could sing because it was very melodramatic and I could put all this angst into it. I did also do it with Derek and the Dominos, but this is the way I originally did it with the acoustic guitar.
COLETTI When was the last time you played it this way?
CLAPTON Oh God—maybe 30 years ago.
COLETTI You also did an arrangement of “Layla” that is very different from the original.
CLAPTON Yeah. “Layla” sort of mystified me. I’ve done it the same all these years, and never considered trying to revamp it, the way a lot of artists might. Bob Dylan, for instance, changes everything every time he plays a song. I thought this was a great opportunity to just take “Layla” off on a different path and put it to a shuffle. For a start, making it acoustic denied all the riffs—which I think would have really sounded a bit weak on the acoustic. So it just seemed to naturally become jazzier. And, of course, I’m singing it a whole octave down, which gives it a nice atmosphere.
COLETTI Did you experiment with the arrangement?
CLAPTON Well, [second guitarist] Andy Fairweather Low and myself were at my house doing some prerehearsal rehearsal for this and I just picked up the guitar and said, “What do you think of this?” And it just happened—it clicked straight away. So we kept it like that.
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