WONDERFUL TONIGHT/ PATTIE BOYD
It’s late in the evening; she’s wondering what clothes to wear.
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair.
And then she asks me, “Do I look all right?”.
And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight.”
This song’s infamous “she” was Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton’s muse, and wife. Boyd has borrowed the song’s title for her new autobiography, Wonderful Tonight, which turns the world that gave birth to rock ’n’ roll inside out.
That aside, Boyd, now a London-based photographer, had a story that begged to be told. As a model and insider, she was a poster child for the 1960s British music scene. She was the inspiration behind several Clapton songs, including his other classic, Layla, which he wrote while she was still the wife of his friend and contemporary, George Harrison of the Beatles.
The tales of Mrs Harrison and Mrs Clapton are windows to the days when wearing a miniskirt in Britain was a statement, and the ‘in-crowd’ could be found in the club Arethusa on King’s Road. She bookends those exhilarating years with her own story.
Wonderful Tonight:Harmony Books, 321 pages, $25.95 (approx. Rs1,000).
First, she tells of her childhood in Kenya and the trials of being part of a broken family. Later, she talks of her recovery from years of drugs, alcohol, infidelity and asking her husbands questions such as “Do I look alright?” and “Do you feel alright?”, which Clapton aptly captures in his song. Not to mention the times she helped him—a functional alcoholic—to bed.
Certainly, during those middle years with Harrison, there was the glamour of jetting off to Tahiti or India with the Beatles, getting addicted to marijuana, thanks to Bob Dylan, or driving around in a silver Aston Martin DB5 and living in a country mansion called Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.
And when Clapton came into her life, love letters with messages such as this one would come to her door: “For nothing more than the pleasures past I would sacrifice my family, my god, and my own existence.”
But these were soaring moments in a life that had deep lows and little normalcy. In fact, Clapton asked Boyd to marry her after a drunken bet, and later invited a Spanish groupie to come stay with them, asking Boyd to loan her some clothes. And the home where she lived with Harrison became a place where she felt inconsequential to her husband. She says he was consumed by meditation after a trip to India with musician Ravi Shankar, and retracted from life to avoid the Beatlemania outside. In the later years of their marriage, she would feel uncomfortable even to speak to him.
The 1950s: Boyd was a model
These are all part of the string of tales that Boyd tells, with rambling moments and ample name-dropping. She is not a writer, which is likely why writer and journalist Penny Junor’s name can be found in small letters under Boyd’s. But the 321-page hardcover book can be read quickly since it is written in conversational English, and the subject is inherently interesting.
A diehard Harrison or Clapton fan may not want to know the inside stories. Listening to the Clapton hit would likely not be the same. As Boyd says: “ Wonderful Tonight was the most poignant reminder of all the good that was in our relationship, and when things went wrong, it was torture to hear it.”