Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent reading

"Clapton: The Autobiography" by classic rock guitar hero Eric Clapton was one of those books that I started a long time ago, put down to read something else, and then came back to in increments. I finally finished it just before our big move. Dh is a big Clapton fan, particularly of his more recent blues stuff (the "Mr. Johnson & Me" album, for example), and of course he's been a part of the soundtrack of my life, from the Yardbirds through Cream, Derek and the Dominos and his solo stuff. I'd also read the memoir written by his ex-wife, Pattie Boyd (also his best friend George Harrison's ex-wife -- therein lies a tale...!), which I reviewed here, and was interested to see how the two stories compared.

Clapton has a intriguing personal story -- and what do you know, he's half-Canadian. :)  His birth father was a Canadian soldier who impregnated his mother, Patricia, when she was a teenager during the Second World War. Clapton grew up thinking of Pat as his older sister and his grandparents as his parents. He discovered the truth when he was a boy and it obviously had a profound impact on his relationships with women throughout his adult life.

Reading about Clapton's adventures as a fledgling musician in London in the early 1960s was fun. Slogging through the stories about his eventual addictions -- first to heroin and then to alcohol -- not so much. Fortunately, his second attempt at rehab was successful, and he has helped many other addicts regain sobriety through his Crossroads treatment centre in Antigua, which he has funded through the occasional sales of his guitar collection and other memorabilia.

As many bereaved parents know, Eric Clapton is "one of us" -- the horrific loss of his toddler son, Conor, in 1991 inspired the hit ballad "Tears in Heaven," and he writes starkly and movingly about his grief over the little boy's death. A relapse might have been understandable, but he vowed to live a life that was worthy of his son, and has remained sober for well over 20 years.

In recent years, Clapton has found redemption in his marriage to a much-younger woman, with whom he has three daughters (now teenagers). He ends the book on a note of profound appreciation for the life he now lives.

Overall, the tone is a bit dry and matter of fact, but I appreciated Clapton's honesty and sense of humour. 

*** *** ***

Anyone who knows me knows about my lifelong fascination with the Kennedy family, and it's been great in recent years to see the Kennedy women getting a share of the spotlight. Just before Christmas, I read & reviewed a new book about one of the lesser-known Kennedys, oldest daughter/sister Rosemary.  And over the past few weeks, I tackled "Kick Kennedy:  The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favourite Kennedy Daughter" by Barbara Leaming.  

I read an earlier biography of Kick from the library some years ago, called "Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times" by Lynne McTaggart (which I remember as very good -- alas, it is sadly out of print now), as well as other books about the Kennedys, so I was familiar with the story of Kathleen, or Kick, as she was known to family members & friends. This new book skips over Kick's childhood entirely: it begins with her arrival in London in 1938, when her father was appointed the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, and focuses on her life in England. 

Kick, then 18 and full of the Kennedy charm, was an instant hit among her peers in the aristocracy, who were fascinated by how different she was, and she enjoyed an active social life. (Leaming interviewed many of Kick's friends and in-laws -- just in time, as many have since passed away -- and was privy to some previously unknown details and insights.) After making her debut and being presented at court before the King and Queen with her mother and sister Rosemary, Kick quickly attracted the attention of many suitors, but soon fell in love with Billy Hartington, the oldest son & heir of the Duke of Devonshire, and a member of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Britain. The Devonshires, however, were staunch members and leaders of the Anglican Church;  the Kennedys, of course, prided themselves on the image they presented as a model Catholic family. Neither family encouraged the romance. 

With the coming of the Second World War, Joe Kennedy sent his family back to America. Kick spent the next several years writing to Billy and searching for a way to return to England. When she finally did return in 1943, as a Red Cross worker, she & Billy realized they still loved each other. Dazzled by the prospect of becoming a duchess and the political and social role she could play, as well as by love, Kick finally agreed to raise her children as Anglicans, and the couple was married at a registry office in May 1944, in the presence of Billy's family, who had also grown to love her. The lone Kennedy family member to attend was Kick's older brother, Joe Jr.  Sadly, both Joe Jr. and Billy were killed in action just a few short months later.

I could relate to Kick's grief over her loss and the sudden turn of events that changed her life. She had many so many drastic changes and sacrifices in her life already in order to marry Billy;  now she would have to rethink her role and identity all over again. I could also relate to the pressure she felt to produce an heir in the short time she & Billy had together. After his death, she had to endure the stares & whispers of the locals who wondered whether she was pregnant (when she already knew that she was not). Ugh!!

Sadly, Kick's life also ended in tragedy a few short years later. I did find the last chapter of the book, detailing the final year or so of her life, a bit rushed. Many details I've read elsewhere are curiously missing here:  for example, the fact that her mother (who had threatened to disown her when she announced her plans to marry yet another aristocrat -- this one not yet divorced, with a reputation for womanizing) sent cards to friends asking for prayers for Kick's soul (indicating her belief that Kick was paying for her sins by languishing in purgatory); the Kennedy family's general silence thereafter on the subject of their daughter and sister; or the poignant epitaph on her gravestone in the Devonshire family plot, chosen for her by her mother-in-law, the Duchess:  "Joy she gave; joy she has found."

I found Kick to be a fascinating woman -- someone who defied her family and her church to marry the man she loved, who was attracted to the idea of playing a public role in the life of her community (there were hints that she was potentially just as gifted a politician as her brothers), who wasn't satisfied just being a "Kennedy girl" and was willing to risk everything she held dear -- her family, her faith and her spiritual salvation -- to explore and carve out a meaningful, independent life for herself.

Incidentally, Kick's sister-in-law, Deborah (Debo, nee Mitford -- one of THE infamous Mitford sisters), who DID become Duchess of Devonshire, suffered several pregnancy losses, and wrote about them in her memoir, "Wait For Me!" It's in my to-read pile;  perhaps I need to move that one up closer to the top. ;) 

These were books #6 & #7 that I've read to date in 2016.

1 comment:

  1. I just read Rosemary, about the Kennedy daughter who had the lobotomy. Now I'll have to add Kick to my reading list.