Compassion is the cure for the world’s ills…

I watched the film about Eric Clapton last week: Life In 12 Bars.

I guess it depends on your age, but certainly for me, and for many people of my generation, Clapton was a profound influence. It’s like his life is sown into mine on some fundamental level.

I remember him with Cream first of all, although he was with the Yardbirds and John Mayall before that.

I remember Layla and the story of his obsession with Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife.

I remember I Shot The Sheriff. For many of us that was our introduction to Bob Marley and the Jamaican Reggae scene.

But there was something in the film which had entirely slipped my memory: his brief but ugly flirtation with fascism.

This was deeply shocking: hypocritical even, given that he’d made his fortune by playing the Blues, a perennially black musical form.

How could he record Robert Johnson songs and claim BB King as an influence, and then come out with these racist comments?

How could he record Robert Johnson songs and claim BB King as an influence, and then come out with these racist comments?

What the film made clear was how unhappy he was at the time. He’d been a heroin addict but had overcome this with alcohol, in some ways an even worse drug. He’d become a fully immersed, dysfunctional alcoholic who would put away a whole bottle of Courvoisier before lunch.

There’s an interview where he says he doesn’t like life. Anyone who has ever known an alcoholic will know that they are prone to making extreme statements, as much to get attention as anything else.

In vino veritas? No, in vino ad absurdum.

Anyway, I was musing on all this when something popped into my head. Most fascist supporters are unhappy people, I thought. Fascism is the world’s disease. It is born out of hatred for a system that has left so many behind. It is misdirected anger focussed on the wrong target.

There’s no point in hating fascists. We should feel sorry for them, as people who are ill. We do need to quarantine them, however, to make sure the disease doesn’t spread.

If fascism is a sickness then we need to find the cure. White supremacy is rife in America right now.

People are openly doing the Nazi salute, carrying the swastika and teaching their children to say Seig Heil!

Given that this was the nation that came to Europe’s aid to help us to defeat Nazism, this is profoundly worrying. European flirtation with the ideology shows that any nation is prone to it.

Current levels of Islamophobia, and some of the far right parties that are springing up in its wake, make it clear that we are not so far behind.

But the cause is obvious when you look for it.

Some people really have been squeezed out and their anger is fully justified. There has been a massive shift in wealth, away from the population as a whole and towards the very rich, both here and in America.

Our public services are being handed over to the corporations and our infrastructure is falling apart. Our children are destined to a poorer future than our own.

It serves the wealthy to divert attention from this, to get us to blame people of a different colour – rather than themselves, people of a different income.

Clapton cured his own illness using music. I defy anyone to watch the account of how he came to write his song, Tears In Heaven, and not cry.

It is on this deepest level that we realise our common humanity at last.

We cannot hope to overcome fascism with hate.

The only cure is compassion.


From The Whitstable Gazette 12/07/18


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