The Spirituality of Eric Clapton, Part II

Good morning

Humbling ourselves before an omnipresent God is central to the Christian experience.  We have faith that God will show us mercy, protect and guide us.  But when do we typically ask for God’s guidance?   Usually it is after we have made a real mess of things.

This is the second in a series of sermons on the spirituality of Eric Clapton’s music and today I want to share is a song written from the depths of despair,  a cry for divine intervention, and a demonstration of the faith of Eric Clapton.  Faith,  that if he humbled himself before God, confessed his pride and arrogance that God would provide not only comfort, and direction in this life, but life everlasting in the presence of God.

hose of you in attendance last time might remember that I was drawn to Eric’s music because in it,  he is able honestly to share his deepest struggles. The lyrics we shared describe both the highs and lows of cocaine abuse and a beautiful love song written about the wife of Eric’s close friend, whom Clapton had become obsessed with.  Both of those songs are classic rock and roll songs but neither of those songs are particularly spiritual.  But they served to demonstrate Eric’s worldliness and his ability to record music that is honest and from the soul.

Today I want to share with you the first song that made me realize that Eric had spiritual depth, a song entitled “Holy Mother”.   It is Eric’s cry for help from the depths of despair.  But before I can share the song with you I need to show you the depth of despair Clapton got himself into.

As mentioned in the last sermon Clapton was addicted to heroin for 2 years.  He was able to recover from this addiction but in many ways simply traded one addiction, heroin, for another addiction, alcohol.    In a 60 minutes interview with Ed Bradley, Clapton recalls regularly drinking more than 2 bottles of vodka a day.

I would wake up and look out the window and not know if it was morning or late afternoon and if it was dark,  it was evening or morning?  I didn’t know.  Sometimes I didn’t even know where I was sometime even when I woke up at home.

Home for Eric, during this period was Hurtwood, a country mansion in middle England.  Clapton lived there with his now wife, Patty Boyd.  As we reenter Eric’s life, He has just returned home from a concert tour to find that Patty was having an affair and wanted out of their marriage.

Among the many songs he wrote about the break up “Miss You” may be the most insightful. Eric was writing what he felt about the relationship.  However, Alcoholics often have a sense of helplessness regarding their lives as though they are not   in control and therefore victims of the actions of others.

According to addicts

. . .underestimate what they can do. This diminishes their self-esteem and sense of efficacy. They look at every mistake or setback as confirmation of their powerlessness. They see themselves as failures. This, then, further diminishes their self-esteem and further confirms their sense of powerlessness. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Lyrics from “Miss You” tell a story of Eric being strong and proud in the face of this breakup but powerless to stop it. Notice in the lyrics that he is not the actor,  she is, and therefore she is at fault for the broken relationship.

Miss You by Eric Clapton

Don’t change your mind,
I ain’t got the time to sit and wonder.
I’m doing fine.
If you decide to leave, I won’t go under.

You know I’ve come this far without you
It won’t be too hard to be alone.
I’ve got choices all around me,
So I won’t be spending too much time at home.

In these first 2 stanzas he establishes that he doesn’t need her to change her mind, that he will be fine if she leaves and that he has other romantic options to take her place.

In the third stanza he silences her, blaming her mental state for not wanting to hear her side.

No, don’t say a word.
I already heard that you don’t love me.
In your state of mind,
I don’t need to hear your side of the story.

It is a very condescending statement.   Certainly not inviting any dialogue about the problems in their marriage.

In the 4th stanza he uses both his and her acquaintances against her, in an effort to hurt her.

Your friends all said we had a future
And I don’t think I really want to know.
My friends keep telling me to lose you
nd how glad they’ll be when you decide to go.

Note the powerlessness in the last line he isn’t deciding, she is ,  it is her fault, her decision.

In the 5th stanza he describes how hard he worked to make the marriage work and how much he cared and how hard it might be in the “dirty world” without him.   As though he has served, as her protector and now she will be on her own.

I broke my back to make you happy.
Sometime, somehow, someone’s got to care.
If you think you’re better off without me,
just remember, it’s a dirty world out there.

In the last stanza he betrays his position of not caring by evoking language that indicates how deeply he does care.

I’m gonna miss the ground you walk on,
Gonna miss the air you breathe.
I’m just not quite happy, baby,
’bout your crazy plans to leave.

The words he uses approach worship language he is her telling her that no one else will “care” like he does?   {USE AIR QUOTES}  I use quotes around “care” for later reference.

These verses indicate a great deal of anger and resentment.  He is very hurt that she has cheated on him and now plans to leave.   All but the last stanza are juxtaposed to the chorus where he openly states that he will miss her but then ads that he can’t forgive her.  Notice his use of the term “can’t” instead of  “won’t”  further indicates that he is helpless and is not the actor here.

Girl, I’m gonna miss you.
I’m gonna miss you, baby.
I can’t forgive you,
Still I’m gonna miss you, baby.

Eric sings solo on this song and it also contains a very memorable guitar solo.  Listen for the anger, resentment and powerlessness in “Miss you”

Roll Miss You by Eric Clapton

The lyrics contained in “Miss You” are pretty misleading when compared to the reality of Eric and Patty’s marriage hence the quotes around ‘care’ in the earlier section.  At this point in time Eric is a full-blown alcoholic.  He has become emotionally abusive to Patty and repeatedly unfaithful.  The band has a rule not allowing women to come on tour,  Eric in his autobiography explains that the “No Women” rule allowed him to be unfaithful.  Out of what seems to be alcohol induced logic, Eric felt that as long as he told Patty about the women he enjoyed on tour it was not cheating.  Many I believe would call this abuse rather than honesty but drug additions can evoke bizarre behavior with equally bizarre reasoning.

Clapton wrote in his autobiography that

“however much I thought I loved Patty at the time, the only thing that I couldn’t live without was alcohol.  This made my need or ability to commit to anything, even marriage pretty inconsequential.

Another song written about the break up “She’s Waiting”  is perhaps a more honest look at the relationship.  Notice the song is written in 3rd person with Clapton essentially talking to himself.  The distance this creates in the song is in keeping with the sense of helplessness contained in “Miss you”.  He begins the song with the chorus

She’s waiting for another love.
She’s waiting for another love.

She’s been waiting for another love,

Someone that she can show into her heart.
And when she finally finds a stronger love,
Your whole world’s gonna fall apart

Unlike “Miss You“ here Eric realizes that she is going to leave him and the result will be very hard for him.

You’ve been abusing her for far too long;
Think you’re a king and she’s your pawn.
Get ready now, ’cause pretty soon
She’ll be gone and you’ll be on your own.

A more honest look at what he has put her through but still he is powerless to stop what is happening.

I see the hunger burning in her eye;
Any fool could see there’s something wrong.
You keep pretending not to care,
But I will hear you sing a different song.

It is clear that this 3rd person honesty he shares in the song does not extend to Patty he continues to show indifference to her about her leaving.

Roll She’s Waiting by Eric Clapton

The third stanza of She’s Waiting”  includes the line “I will hear you sing a different song”. I believe that “Behind the Sun”  is the song that Eric is referring to.  I invite you to read the lyrics as I play it for you.

Roll Behind the Sun

My love has gone behind the sun;
Since she left, the darkness has begun.
The smile that used to shine on me
Is nothing more than a memory.

I see her face, I hear her voice.
She made her move, I had no choice
But walk and cry, wipe tears with my hand,
The one that carries a wedding band.

And the clouds hang low
And the flowers that used to grow
In my heart
Are dying now, dying now.

Dying now.

That is a pretty bleak view.   Life has gotten bad for Eric.

Some details in his autobiography illustrate just how bad it had become.

Early in 1981 Clapton set out on a 57-date tour in the US.  He hurt his back and began taking a codeine based sedative for the pain.  As his pain increased so did his use of the drug until he was taking nearly 30 painkillers a day on top of his 2 bottles of vodka.  He ended up in the hospital with an ulcer.  He later would write that the hospital cured him physically but did nothing for his mental health and soon he was back to 2 bottles of vodka a day.

Eric claims to have lost his last vestige of dignity when he fell over drunk on a stream bank while being observed by two master fishermen from across the stream.  Their impression of his skill as a fisherman really mattered to Eric. He claimed that the drunken fall, which broke his rod, stripped him of his last shred of self-respect.

I fell over and I broke one of the rods in half and something in me just died because these guys on the other bank just looked away it embarrassed them and that was the last little piece of dignity and self respect I had going for me. . . .  I had to gather up this stuff and put it back in the truck and I think I was pretty near to tears if I wasn’t actually crying

He called a friend and admitted to having a problem and entered an alcohol treatment center for the first time.  He would enter several more times before he could remain sober.  It was on one of those relapses that he wrote “Holy Mother”.

Clapton had been angry for most of his life.  He felt he had been eclipsed in his guitar playing by Stevie Ray Vaughn, his marriage was over and he had recently learned that close friend, and musician he greatly admired had committed suicide. Further his record label rejected an album he had created saying it didn’t contain enough “hits” and insisted on the band recording three different songs.  His life was spiraling out of control.

Eric was touring in Toronto Canada and was drinking heavily.   He went to a showing of the movie Purple Rain by Prince The movie had a profound impact on Eric He would later write on his Facebook page:

I was out on the road in a massive downward spiral with drink and drugs, I saw Purple Rain in a cinema in Canada, I had no idea who he (Prince) was, it was like a bolt of lightning!”

He returned to his hotel room cluttered with beer cans and wrote “Holy Mother”

The song consists of 7 stanzas. And an amazing guitar solo.

The lyrics:

Holy Mother, where are you?

Tonight I feel broken in two.

I’ve seen the stars fall from the sky.

Holy mother, can’t keep from crying.

Clapton has reached rock bottom and is crying out for help from the Holy Mother.  While nothing in his autobiography would indicate that he was a regular church attender the cry for divine intervention is clear.

Oh I need your help this time,

Get me through this lonely night.

Tell me please which way to turn

To find myself again.

Note that he is the actor deciding which way to turn,  He is taking responsibility for his actions unlike the earlier songs I played.

Holy mother, hear my prayer,

Somehow I know you’re still there.

Send me please some peace of mind;

Take away this pain.

Here he expresses faith that she will hear him and that she can help with the pain he is experiencing.

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait any longer.

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait for you.

The chorus breaks from the structure in repetition of his desire to be rid of the pain he is feeling.  These lyrics leave open 2 possibilities for ending the pain.  Which are contained in later stanzas.  We are only impatient for arrival if we know that either we will be arriving or someone will be arriving.

Holy mother, hear my cry,

I’ve cursed your name a thousand times.

I’ve felt the anger running through my soul;

All I need is a hand to hold.

I find this stanza particularly interesting and deep.  He is honest in confessing his shortcomings, his anger even toward God and yet he has faith that God will comfort him, and comfort him in this life thus lessening his pain.

Oh I feel the end has come,

No longer my legs will run.

You know I would rather be

In your arms tonight.

The last 2 lines in this stanza is a clear reference to suicide.  The second of the two ways out of the pain he is feeling.  Eric later claimed that during this period of his life suicide was a constant temptation. He indicates that he would rather be in the Holy Mother’s arms tonight rather than feel the pain he is feeling.

When my hands no longer play,

My voice is still, I fade away.

Holy mother, then I’ll be

Lying in, safe within your arms.

Here he accepts that death is still in the future but expects when his death comes to lying safe within God’s arms, life everlasting in the presence of God.

What might be the most moving part of this song is the waling guitar solo, which comes after the lyrics.  And by wailing I mean that it represents Eric’s grief.  I hear him crying uncontrollably and at one point his guitar catches the same note again and again and again and it truly sound like someone who cannot stop crying, deep remorseful contortions of anguish.  Listen for it as the lyrics conclude and Eric breaks into his solo.

Roll Holy mother

In Holy Mother Eric humbles himself before an omnipresent God.  He has faith that God will show him mercy, protect and guide him and when his time comes he will rest in the arms everlasting.

For someone who has been angry and in pain, it is hard to imagine any vision of Heaven that would be superior to being held and comforted by a  loving and understanding mother.   His apparent faith in the grace of God is powerful in this song and for me it is an inspiration.

Some might see Eric as an addict, abusive, and unfaithful to his wife and write him off.   God sees Eric as God sees all of us, as children who need forgiveness, comfort and direction.  All we need to do is ask for a hand to hold.


Psalms 73: 21-24

  1. . . . my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Message delivered by Dr. Jonas Cox at Spokane Friends on 11 February 2018












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