PATTIE BOYD on Demystifying the Muse-Makers
Q&A by Owen Lipstein
Original Photography by Pattie Boyd
Limited Edition Prints at www.pattieboyd.co.uk
Photo captions excerpted by InsideOut from “Wonderful Tonight" by Pattie Boyd (2007 Harmony Books)
Pattie Boyd was a young British fashion model when something in the way she moved attracted Beatle George Harrison, who wrote "Something” — perhaps the greatest love song of all tine — in her honor. They married. Enter Eric Clapton, who is immediately attracted to Pattie, writes "Layla" for her, and wins her over. Exit George. Eric writes "Wonderful Tonight," succumbs to drug abuse; Pattie leaves him.
Fast forward: Enter Eric Clapton, who (while succumbing to drug abuse), becomes obsessively attracted to Patty. He writes "Layla” (for Patty) and, ultimately, wins her over. Exit George: Patty and Eric marry. Their relationship is tumultueous. Eric writes "Wonderful Tonight” (for Patty). He transitions from heroin to alcohol. Eric cheats on Patty. Patty leaves him.
Next: Pattie talks to us...
"While he waited for me he was in the sitting room, fiddling with his guitar.... When I finally got downstairs and asked the inevitable question 'Do I look alright?' he played me what he'd written: It's late in the evening... It was such a simple song but so beautiful and for years it tore at me. To have inspired Eric, and George before him, to write such music was so flattering. Yet I came to believe that although something about me might have made them put pen to paper, it was really all about them."
OWEN LIPSTEIN: What would you say are the occupational hazards of being a muse, of being held up as this person like Layla or the portraits in "Something” and "Wonderful Tonight"?
PATTIE BOYD: At the risk of sounding negative, I think it can encourage insecurity because when people meet me my immediate thought is that I am probably not going to [appear as] this wonderful person who has had songs written about her. We all have flaws, and I think that being put on a pedestal probably makes me more aware of the flaws that I have.
OL: Part of the theme of the songs was not only this ideal person, but in the case of "Something,” or "Wonderful Tonight," an idealized relationship that most relationships would have a hard time living up to, let alone ones that are so much in the public eye.
PB: You see, the thing about giving somebody a most wonderful compliment is that it takes a minute or three or four minutes, max, to actually say it. But a song, particularly these songs, last for years and years and years. Because we're all alive, [we all] have to keep moving on, and so something that was [true] for those minutes — it's difficult to freeze in ice. [But] this is what music does. It freezes that moment and it remains. To be the recipient of such wonderful adulation as these songs clearly are can be... Of course I was thrilled to pieces, but the negative side is as I have explained.
"While the Beatles were recording the White Album, George wrote a song called 'Something,' which he released as his first A-side single with the Beatles. He told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful — and it turned out to be the most successful song he ever wrote... Frank Sinatra said he thought it was the best love song ever written."
OL: You say in the beginning of your book that the time was right to write this book. Why? It took courage to reveal all the details of your life.
PB: There are quite a few answers to this question. One is I had no idea that I was so exposed, and [that] anyone could go on the Internet and find out all sorts of things about me. I had no idea about that until my sister-in-law pointed it out. I was quite shocked that I was a public person, because I thought I was a very private person. That's No. 1. The other thing is that some people suggested that I do a photographic exhibition. I didn't think that I had any photographs that were worthy of an exhibition: however, I was thrilled with the reception I received in San Francisco after this exhibition. I felt better about myself, and that maybe I had something to offer.
And also I saw a psychotherapist for two years. You go through an awful lot of background stuff — the reasons that we are the way we are, and the choices that we have made. I don't know. I think I was becoming more comfortable with talking about myself and what had gone on in my life. To talk to someone who is a professional person and can allow me to see it in a subjective way — I found that it really helped in writing a book.
OL: Who decided to write the memoirs first — you or Eric — or was it simultaneous?
PB: Oddly enough, the man who wrote the book with him, Christopher Simon Sykes, asked me if I would help because he was writing Eric's memoir, and I agreed to help. But between the time of [our initial contact] and when we eventually spoke, I’d realized that maybe it was about time I started to do my own book, something I'd been slightly reluctant to do for many years, even though I'd been asked to write one. I was just needing a push. This was the push. So I told Christopher that I was very sorry, and that I [had] decided to write my own book; and even though I’d love to help him, I thought perhaps it wouldn't be a good idea, and perhaps I should save it all for mine.
OL: Are you comfortable with the account of you in Eric's book? Does it square with your sense of reality?
PR: Yes, of course; you know it runs almost parallel to what I have said about our relationship. But you know everybody has their own take, their own view, their own attitude [about] any situation in life, in any sort of given moment. Everybody has a different story, although they basically sound the same.
"To my complete horror, Eric said, 'I have to tell you, man, that I'm in love with your wife.' I wanted to die."
"He was on tour when a new Ferrari was delivered.... I told Eric on the phone that a new car had arrived and asked if I could bring it to the airport to meet him. 'Yes, yes, yes,’ he said. ‘That would be lovely.’ ... I stayed in the car when we arrived at the airport, and Linda went into the terminal building to find Eric. Inside, she saw Roger and told him I was waiting. 'What car is she in?’ he said urgently. 'The new Ferrari,’ she said. He looked worried — he knew what was about to happen. Eric was furious with me. He said, 'Someone has driven it before me. I can't drive it now. I'll have to sell it.”
OL: Having a ringside seat watching the effect of world celebrity on these two relatively young men — what can you tell us about the occupational hazards of that? These were really just boys. George was 21; Eric was older, and dealing with adoration and the availability of members of the opposite sex. What does that do to an individual?
PB: There are those moments that can chip [away] at one's insecurities about how one is, or how one looks, or things like that. The other point is that it can be really time-consuming to have your eye on your man all the time, or as often as you can, because you know damn well there's going to be some present female ready to behave badly. That's kind of exhausting, really. It is not a relaxing lifestyle.
OL: And it must be unhealthy for the relationship.
PB: Exactly. It's corrupting to a relationship. It’s corrupting to him as well as to her. It makes it uncomfortable for her, and it gives him a different perspective of women and also [of] himself. It makes him feel far more powerful than probably he should be feeling. That's not good for him. That's not good for any man. I know politics do it to men, and I think being a rock star does it. People in the large businesses probably experience some version it.
OL: Do you think your life with either one of these guys would have been different if they had merely been journeymen musicians, the kind of musician Eric often talks about wanting to be — just a guy who does great music and isn't recognized as such?
PB: It's a hypothetical question. I don't know. I suppose it would have been a lot calmer, and probably would have been a more normal life, and a more natural way of having a relationship with somebody.
OL: Do you think at the end of the clay, if George or Eric could do it all over again, they would have preferred that life as opposed to the life they had?
PB: George would have preferred more of a low-key life. He found it more difficult to deal with fame and adulation.
OL: Your book has been on The New York Times Best Seller List. How do you explain the success of it? Are you surprised that you are getting such an audience here?
PB: I'm totally, totally surprised. I really didn't think that it would be received with such enthusiasm. I can't explain it. I think it is probably people being interested in me, No. 1, but also being interested in the whole mystery of being a muse.
"By the time Eric and I went upstairs to bed (it was our wedding night) it was daylight. We were ready to drop — but Mick and Jerry were tucked up and fast asleep in our bed... Trust Mick to have found the best bed in the house.”
OL: I also think one of the reasons it is being so well-received by a generally critical press is that you have managed a sense of forgiveness in the book. I think they were both shits, and I’m a guy. How did you get there?
PB: I must say I am ultimately a positive person, and continue to remain so. I just thought and hoped at the time that things would get better, that our relationship would ultimately turn around and be as I wanted it to be. It was a desire on my part, and probably on theirs, but I think they were so terribly distracted that it became impossible.
OL: You have discovered that the photographs you have of your life then are art that people want to look at. Photography is something you do now. Talk to us about that.
PB: When I was young I was a fashion model, and I used to hang out with photographers, really. I realized I would like to see and understand what they see behind the camera. I was in a very fortunate position to be able to get first-hand lessons from most of them. I bought my own camera, and then would just take photographs all the time. It would irritate some people and other times it wouldn't, but I really should have taken more than I did.
After Eric and I split up, I went through a real down period in my life, because I think I hadn't mourned the end of my relationship with George, so it was a double whammy. I really was very depressed for an extremely long time. I couldn't really work out what I was going to do with my life. The thing that was closest to me was my camera. I’d forgotten that l'd had all these photographs.
It wasn't until I started having a look at certain things that I came across this wonderful sort of collection that I'd had all the time. After we split up, I started working for some magazines and newspapers in England, and it was after that that I started looking in boxes and envelopes finding these pictures.
OL: It was like an undiscovered treasure.
PB: It certainly was like that. There were these envelopes. On the outside I had written "Gary Brooker in Poland," because I had been to Poland with Gary Brooker and his wife, because he was conducting the state orchestra there. And I opened the envelope and it wasn't — it was the Beatles in England. How unbelievable. I'd totally forgotten that I'd taken these or indeed that I kept them. But I never found Gary's photos, by the way.
OL: You have snapshots of some incredible people who were in your life. What are your memories of John Lennon?
PB: John was fantastic. John was the most incredibly interesting person to be around. He was totally unique. You never knew what he was going to say. He was great fun. He was a bit scary as well, but on the whole I thought he was wonderful fun. He was great, very interesting, and clearly so talented.
OL: What about Paul?
PB: Paul liked to play practical jokes, as far as I can remember. He was kind of fun, but in a completely different way — not like John at all.
OL: In your book there is a feeling that you kind of regret that you left George. Is that a correct perception? It’s almost as if had things not happened the way they did, you might have stayed in that marriage and seen it out.
PB: Yeah. I probably would have done.
"The Beatles lived an unreal life and other musicians were the only people who shared it. They had found fame when they were so young..."
OL: Is there any anger that this marauding friend came and stole you away?
PB: To be honest with you, as I had been in my book, I have been through moments over the years of being angry with somebody interfering in my marriage, but then on the other hand, that was how I was at that age. Those were the decisions I made. But probably now at this point in my life, I wouldn't have listened to temptation in that way that I did then.
OL: What about drugs? So much of Eric's story is about addiction, and you talk about it in relation to George — that Eric was one person when he was into cocaine, and one when he wasn't. How did the omnipresence of this sort of thing affect everybody who was in that world?
PB: I wasn't really with Eric when he was on heroin. What he did was he locked himself away in his house, and didn't really come out. I didn't see him during that period in his addiction.
OL: In your book, Eric says, "Pattie, if you don't leave your husband, I am going to take this heroin," and she says, 'No, you really shouldn't do that," and he says, "OK," and off he goes and writes the mother of all love songs, and becomes a heroin addict. It is a little manipulative to threaten someone with taking heroin. Is that right?
PB: Yeah, but you know what? That is what Eric said to me, but quite frankly I think that he'd probably been dabbling in it anyway. I mean nothing is that dramatic. Well, maybe it is. I realized later, after reading his book, that I didn't have to blame myself entirely for his heroin addiction because in fact, he had been sort of slightly dabbling anyway.
OL: I think that if you read his book carefully and listen to his songs, he had a romance with destruction and seeing the dark side.
PB: I also think that he's always been a survivor, meaning that he knew how far he could go because he ultimately knew when to pull back. He would never be one of those addict casualties, as it were.
"John and Paul wrote most of their songs together — they sparked off each other — but George wrote on his own."
OL: Is it a relief for you not to be around famous people, or are you still around famous people all the time?
PB: I’m still around famous people, I'm sorry to tell you, because we've all known each other since we were 20. I don't really think about it in the way that maybe people who very rarely bump into famous people might.
OL: So having lived in that world so long, it's just part of who you are.
PB: Yes. I mean, we all know who we are. It doesn't make my day. I know so many musicians and I have known them since I was 20, really, so when we hang out, we hang out. That's it.
OL: It probably demystified your own sense of being a muse, and therefore you just demystified the muse-makers.
PB: Yes, well done.
OL: This is our love issue, and my question is: Is there anything that you can communicate about the nature of love that you could pass on? What have you learned?
PB: I think what is the most important thing about love is a continual conversation, so that people don't stop communicating with each other. If you lose what the other person is feeling and thinking, that's the last stop before dying. Always communicate. Otherwise, you can drift apart.