Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Pattie Chronicles: Relationships and Muse-ing

As legend has it, immediately after George Harrison met Pattie Boyd on the set of “A Hard Day’s Night,” he asked her to marry him. Surely intended as a joke, George’s proposal would be a precursor of the events to come. While still on the set, he asked her to go out with him, and although she liked him and wanted to go, Pattie had a boyfriend so she declined. But by the next time she saw George, Pattie had broken up with her boyfriend and was hoping George would ask her out again. At a press event, he asked her how her boyfriend was and she told them they had broken up. George asked her out again. Though it took some persuasion, Pattie agreed to go out with him, and within a month, he had bought a place for them to share.

By January 1966, Pattie and George married, but not first without Brian Epstein’s permission. Epstein, worried that another married Beatle would upset fans, did not allow for a proper wedding, instead forcing the couple to wed in a registry office. Married life with George suited her perfectly – apart from the fact he didn’t want her modeling anymore, Pattie was more than contented enough to cook, clean, and hope to start a family with her husband. But when children never came for her, she began to get worried. George had apparently always run around with girls on the side, but Pattie hoped that once they had children, he would stop this behavior. Despite George’s constant philandering, Pattie’s competition in the end wasn’t another woman; it was George’s growing interest in religion. After a year or two into their marriage and children hadn’t come, Pattie began to focus her energies elsewhere, becoming somewhat interested in Eastern meditation. Her suggestion for George and the rest of the Beatles to get involved would eventually be what drove this couple apart.

After returning from the visit to India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968, George began to become more and more involved in meditation and religion. He was searching to find himself, fill some void he felt within, but in the process eliminated people from his life. He was no longer interested in going out to clubs or parties, he only wanted to study and meditate. A violent swing from the life she had grown accustomed to, Pattie didn’t know how to react to the person her husband was becoming. George lost interest in sex, becoming emotionally unattached to her, and even stopped speaking to her much for a period of time. “If you talked to him you didn’t know whether you would get an answer in the middle of his chanting or whether he would bite your head off,” Pattie wrote in her autobiography. Hiding himself away in his 25-bedroom mansion, George ignored his wife, instead surrounding himself with alcohol, drugs and like-minded musicians, one of which was Eric Clapton.

When Eric met Pattie, it was love at first sight for him (for Pattie, while she was strongly attracted, she deeply and irrevocably loved her husband). He was quite good friends with George at that time, and believing their marriage to be a happy one, did not make any moves on Pattie. But as he quickly learned about George’s cheating (including sleeping with friend’s wives – most notably Maureen Starr) and Pattie’s growing unhappiness, Eric seized his moment. He began writing her passionate letters, begging her to leave George for him. One such letter said, “For nothing more than the pleasures past I would sacrifice my family, my god, and my own existence, and still you will not move.” But when she still refused to leave her husband, Eric went on a heroin binge to let her know how dangerous life without her would be for him. Amidst his obsession with her and George’s total indifference came Clapton’s ode to Pattie, “Layla,” the ultimate song of unrequited love. This, along with her realization that her marriage with George was almost beyond repair, led Pattie to finally give up on her marriage. And despite his plea for her to not leave him, Pattie left George and joined Clapton on tour in America.
Flash forward several years of drinking, drugs, and addiction, Pattie is now stuck in a relationship with a full-blown addict who shows no attempt to stay faithful to her. Clapton later admitted in his own autobiography that once he had “got” Pattie, he was no longer interested in her. Likened to his desire to buy a car as nice as George’s, he wanted to prove to himself that he was good enough to snag George Harrison’s wife. Pattie acknowledges this herself, saying, “It was as though the excitement had been in the chase.” Characteristic of her personality, Pattie put Eric’s best interests before her own when she tried getting him help for his alcohol addiction. This brought their relationship to almost a crashing halt. Eric felt this as almost a betrayal, but for Pattie it was her last hope. She couldn’t just give up on the relationship that ended her eleven years of marriage to George. Her growing understanding of addiction led Pattie to come to the conclusion that for her, “being in love with [Eric] was like a kind of addiction.” Like Eric’s alcoholism, he just wasn’t something she could just let go. The final straw in their relationship was when Pattie learned that Eric was having a child by another woman. This was a crushing blow to a woman who wanted nothing more than to be a mother and had felt like a failure when she couldn’t become pregnant by either of her two husbands.

Even though Pattie endured two tumultuous marriages that nearly destroyed her, her legacy will live on through the beautiful odes her husbands wrote for her. From Harrison came “I Need You,” “If I Needed Someone,” I Want to Tell You,” “It’s All Too Much,” “So Sad,” “Old Brown Shoe,” “For You Blue,” and reportedly “Something” (though later denied by George, but personally I think that was because he felt sort of awkward talking about a song he wrote about Pattie when he was very happily married to Olivia). From Clapton came “Wonderful Tonight,” “Keep On Growing,” “Anyday,” “I Am Yours,” “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” “Bell Bottom Blues,” and most famously, “Layla” (Though it could be said that the entire 1974 album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” was written for Boyd). Pattie will go down as one of the most influential muses in Rock and Roll history. “If anybody ever wonders what a muse is,” asserts Ken Dashow in the A&E Biography of the Beatles’ Women, “it was Pattie Boyd Harrison Clapton. Everyone said she would just walk in a room and everything would stop and every man would just be focused on her energy. And that’s the best definition of a muse I’ve ever heard.” Up until his death in 2001, George and Pattie maintained a good friendship. She considers George to be the love of her life, often telling “I just loved him so much, we were soul mates.” Her relationship with Eric is much more strained; they have almost no contact at all.

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