A Tale of Two ECs: Clapton, Costello and Racism

We've always found selective judgement both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. (Actually, more of the latter, to be honest.) How two people in the same field could commit a similar act and yet be viewed drastically different is a trait we find deplorable, and one we've encountered everywhere from the public life of celebrities to the private life of family, friends and associates. And of course, it happens in the music business as well: We firmly believe that if the vast majority of those who complained about finding a free copy of U2's recent album on their Apple device had instead encountered the latest release by some unknown, they would've treated it like spam and simply erased it, with no further to-do. But it was U2, so they had to pour on the hyperbole and bitch and moan endlessly about the whole thing. Haters, yo.

But here's a much more touchy scenario: alleged racism. Let's start with Elvis Costello.

Costello caught much grief when a March, 1979 drunken argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett at a Columbus, Ohio Holiday Inn bar, devolved into Costello making racist remarks about James Brown and Ray Charles. Costello held a press conference in New York City a few days later in which he apologized for trying "to outrage these people with about the most obnoxious and offensive remarks that I could muster." Costello was forgiven by Ray Charles who declared "Drunken talk isn't meant to be printed in the paper." (James Brown never weighed in on the subject.)

Eric Clapton, on the other hand, fared much better despite a much more damning outburst.

On August 5, 1976, Clapton said the following from a Birmingham concert stage:

"Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch [Powell, conservative politician infamous for his 1968 anti-immigration "Rivers of Blood" speech] will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking [indecipherable] don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck's sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he's a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!"

How much flak did Clapton catch for that? Zilch. Has he apologized for it? Nope.
This was his immediate response:

"I thought it was quite funny actually. I don't know much about politics. I don't even know if it would be good or bad for him to get in. I don't even know who the Prime Minister is now. I just don't know what came over me that night. It must have been something that happened in the day but it came out in this garbled thing... I thought the whole thing was like Monty Python. There's this rock group playing on-stage and the singer starts talking about politics. It's so stupid. Those people who paid their money sittin' listening to this madman dribbling on and the band meanwhile getting fidgety thinking 'oh dear'".


So, why the double standard? Why was Costello eviscerated and Clapton been the human embodiment of Teflon? Sure Costello gets to make albums with The Roots these days, but he apologized profusely for his drunken outburst. Clapton, on the other hand has recently reiterated his support for Powell and denied that the late politician's views, or Clapton himself, were racist. Sold.