The Muse Who Made the Guitars Gently Weep

Pattie Boyd’s new book could be the Beatle book of the year.  It is being hyped-up like it is anyway.   You can end up in one of two different camps with this title.  Neither one is wrong, they are just each different.  To you, this book is Pattie’s way of finally cashing-in on her times as a rock and roll muse to two rock superstars.  -or- This is Pattie’s way of healing through turbulent times with two of rock’s most famous masters.  It is her way of telling her story, the insider’s story.

Me, personally, I’m going to cop out and say it is a mixture of the two.  What better to get rid of those past demons, and tell fans the stories that they’ve been salivating to here for the last 30+ years?  Finally we get her perspective, with, hopefully, all of those juicy details that we really want to hear.

  • What are your thoughts and expectations on the upcoming book?  Let us know in the comments.

Here’s what we’ve read.

Pattie Boyd calls herself a muse, and she has the ravishing love songs (George Harrison’s “Something,” Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and “Bell Bottom Blues”) to prove it. But in Ms. Boyd’s case, being a muse also means never having paid a light bill until she was 45, jobless and suddenly unplugged from the world of rock ‘n’ roll royalty.

Now, in a spotty but scrumptious memoir that sounds more like the handiwork of Ms. Boyd’s collaborator, Penny Junor, she is ready to take stock of her amorous adventures. “Wonderful Tonight,” which takes its title from another of Mr. Clapton’s sublime, love-struck songs about her, devotes mercifully brief time to her formative years (“My earliest memory is of sitting in a high chair spitting out spinach”; “My only comfort was Teddy, my beloved bear”) and cuts quickly to the chase.

It meets the Beatles. And it meets them at the point where most of the world met Ms. Boyd: when she appeared briefly in the film “A Hard Day’s Night,” riding on a train and looking fetching in a schoolgirl’s uniform. Mr. Harrison immediately asked her to marry him, in a fit of prescience and snappish Beatle humor.

Ms. Boyd had been a successful London model in her dollybird days. She appeared on the cover of a book called “Birds of Britain,” prompting the writer Anthony Haden-Guest, in the introduction, to rhapsodize about “a swirl of miniskirt, beneath which limbs flicker like jackknives and glimmer like trout.”

This made her exactly the kind of female accessory that rock stars favored in the days when, as Ms. Junor has probably put it, “the capital was abuzz with creativity, bristling with energy.” Ms. Boyd would have been one tin-eared muse if she herself wrote passages like: “And, to use the old cliché, make love not war. As long as you were young, beautiful and creative, the world was your oyster.”

This book has a running food motif, which allows it to ask a priceless question: “Who would have guessed that the humble potato would play such an important part in my life?” Translation: Ms. Boyd appeared in a television commercial for potato chips, which led to the “Hard Day’s Night” casting call, which led to a place in history.

She quickly became part of the Fab Eight, since each Beatle traveled with a wife or girlfriend. And in January 1966 she and Mr. Harrison married, but not before he asked permission of Brian Epstein, the group’s manager. As the new Mrs. Harrison would repeatedly learn, “all of those musicians were like little boys in long trousers.” They never navigated the world for themselves, so neither did she.

Ms. Boyd doesn’t remember much about her Beatle years that has not already been described by pop historians. “George’s moods, I think, had much to do with what was going on between the Beatles,” she says vapidly. And this book includes perhaps the least useful account of the much-described 1968 all-star idyll in India: “If it was anyone’s birthday, and there was a surprising number while we were there, including George’s 25th and my 24th, there would be cake and a party.” But that’s not what you’re reading “Wonderful Tonight” for, is it?

There is exactly one big question for Ms. Boyd to answer here: What made her leave Mr. Harrison for Mr. Clapton, her husband’s close friend?

To its credit the book answers that question plausibly and fully. Mr. Harrison returned from India a changed man, Ms. Boyd says. He turned meditative and moody, “so if you talked to him you didn’t know whether you would get an answer in the middle of his chanting or whether he would bite your head off.” He also began to drink, sleep with his friends’ wives (most notably Ringo Starr’s) and become increasingly hard to find in their 25-bedroom house. Meanwhile mash notes from Mr. Clapton began to arrive.

“Wonderful Tonight” repeats enough of these letters to show that the plaintive beauty of “Layla” (Mr. Clapton’s name for Ms. Boyd, taken from the Persian writer Nizami) was no fluke. One letter reads, “for nothing more than the pleasures past i would sacrifice my family, my god, and my own existence, and still you will not move.”

Ms. Boyd also says that Mr. Clapton told her he would begin using heroin if she wouldn’t leave Mr. Harrison for him, and that he made good on that threat. Mr. Clapton, whose own autobiography, “Clapton,” is imminent in an autumn that will be full of rock ‘n’ roll memoirs, sees the heroin issue a little differently: He says he was already fully addicted. But he basically shares her idea of their grand passion.

So off she went, only to find that life at Mr. Clapton’s place, fittingly called Hurtwood Edge, was hardly an improvement. “It was as though the excitement had been in the chase,” she realizes amid many tales of drunken excesses, after Mr. Clapton had successfully traded drug addiction for alcoholism. “On reflection I see that being in love with him was like a kind of addiction,” Ms. Boyd says in one of many indications that she has logged long hours of therapy in dissecting her past.

“When the first thing you have in the morning is a packet of cigarettes with a large brandy and lemonade, you have a problem,” she recalls a friend’s having told Mr. Clapton. “Have you never heard of Shredded Wheat?”

Mr. Clapton eventually heeded this advice. And after all their tumultuous times together Ms. Boyd felt that he was no longer the live wire she had married. They eventually divorced, and this led her to the sadder, wiser post-muse period that the last part of her book describes.

“Our generation really did lead a revolution,” it concludes feebly. And: “I have known some amazing people and had some unforgettable experiences.” Her husbands’ music is what made them unforgettable. But her side of the story, for all its slick packaging and hopeless platitudes, is worth hearing too.

Source: NY Times

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