Last night, an old friend who lives a time zone away, mentioned he was going to see a Jeff Beck show this week. We brought up that a mutual friend recently told us he went to see Eric Clapton at a Miami arena not too long ago. This was puzzling, since someone who has been coasting and not making any effort to maintain a music career should be playing 5,000 capacity theatres and not arenas. Obviously that many people want to see Clapton perform, so they go.
But, at this late stage of his career, Clapton--despite his talent--is, quite frankly, famous for being famous. Or at least, for once having been of a certain artistic stature. (The "Clapton is God" folks were surely far off the mark, weren't they?) This was made pointedly clear by Alan Paul in his unsentimental Clapton entry in the Music Hound Rock Guide, published a little over a decade ago:
"[He] has remained constantly revered...even though his output" since the mid-'70s "has been exceptionally mediocre--with occasional forays into wretchedness...Clapton can still play...but he seems to have long since stalled creatively."
Not much has changed since then, unfortunately.
If you are a true fan of the man, and not a nostalgia warrior, his artistic descent must make you painfully aware of the new-found irony in the title of his 1976 album, No Reason to Cry. These days Slowhand is a celebrity; and Jeff Beck is far more interested in messing about with his cars than playing guitar. So, of the famous Yardbirds triumvirate of guitarists, it is actually Jimmy Page who ends up smelling like a rose. How the hell did that happen?