Eric Clapton is in the news again not for his guitar playing but for the financial and logistical support he’s given to a group of anti-vax/anti-lockdown musicians who travel about the UK singing songs about “poison” vaccines and the like.
This comes after Clapton himself recorded a few anti-lockdown songs (working with fellow fallen idol Van Morrison some of the time) with a distinctly paranoid edge. (See the creepy video for one of them here.)
A few days ago, David Browne of Rolling Stone reported on Clapton’s bankrolling the anti-vax buskers. The magazine also took the opportunity to remind us that Clapton, once worshipped as a guitar god, has been a raving, racist asshole for decades.
The key evidence? A series of drunken racist rants that Clapton delivered onstage at a concert back in 1976, in which he lashed out at immigrants and people of color and repeatedly praised uber-racist UK politician Enoch Powell.
You might think that too much time has passed since the 70s for anyone to care much about this but the thing is, as racist rants go, this was a really really really racist one.
He reportedly castigated “wogs” and “coons,” told immigrants to go back to their countries of origin before the UK became a “black colony,” and topped it off with a call to “keep Britain white.” Plus the Enoch Powell bit. (There is some dispute over what exactly he said, and there’s no recording of it, but contemporary press coverage and ear-witness recollections agree on most of the details; see Snopes for more.)
Clapton has never denied the rant, though he’s tried to distance himself from it and, over the years, he’s made some rather anemic attempts to apologize for it. His excuse? He was drunk at the timr (though obviously being drunk doesn’t make you racist); he’s also kept up the praise for Enoch Powell, whom he still seems to adore.
So naturally, right-wing media outlets are lining up to defend Clapton and lambaste Rolling Stone for having the temerity to challenge a famous white dude on his racism.
Matt Margolis at PJ Media decries what he called Rolling Stone’s “flimsy” accusations of racism, arguing that the magazine’s
regurgitation of the decades-old Clapton remarks feels like a bizarre detour, serving the purpose of piling on anything negative about Clapton to assist in his being canceled. Clapton’s past remarks had no impact on his decades-long career, so they are most certainly beside the point.
The fact that Clapton got away with these remarks at the time they were made doesn’t mean we have to ignore them today; they say a great deal about Clapton’s (shitty) character, just as Mel Gibson’s still-infamous antisemitic rants tell us a lot about him, even though they were uttered way back in 2006.
Louder With Crowder writer Brodigan dismisses Clapton’s vicious racial slurs as “comments he made in 1976 that don’t measure up to 2021 sensitivities.” Never mind that they didn’t “measure up to” 1976 standards either; the tirade shocked people at the time.
Then Brodigan takes aim at Rolling Stone, declaring that
this is the same magazine that trashed “Layla,” one of the greatest rock songs of all time. Whether it’s music or politics, Rolling Stone is only good for lining the litter box.
On Newsbusters, Matt Philbin does his best to wave the accusations away, writing that
[d]uring a 1976 concert in England, Clapton said some impolitic things about immigration to Britain and used what Rolling Stone calls “offensive slurs.” Did I mention this was back in 1976?
And that’s pretty much the end of the discussion.
On RedState.com, a writer called Bonchie does his rightist comrades one better, accusing “the hysterics” of trying to “destroy Eric Clapton for COVID wrong-think” — and only mentioning the accusations of racism in passing, noting disingenuously that Clapton had made comments that Rolling Stone “claim[s] are racist.”
Nah, dude, they’re about as racist as it is possible for anyone to get.
It’s worth noting that none of these writers are willing to actually quote the slurs in question directly — one suspects that is because even today they have the capacity to shock. Direct quotes would undermine their collective argument that Clapton’s racist language was no big deal, yawn.
You might call this (slow)hand-waving.
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