Among the COVID-conscious, the name “Eric Clapton” has become a consistent source of eye rolls, groans and general aggravation. The 76-year-old English musician has been outspoken in his skepticism about lockdowns, vaccines and other such common-sense pandemic safety measures. But according to an in-depth Rolling Stone report published Oct. 10, Clapton’s vocal support of the anti-vaccine movement has now become material support.
Cambel McLaughlin, 27, of U.K. “pro-medical choice” music group Jam for Freedom, told RS that, after the group’s car was damaged in an accident, Clapton not only donated £1,000 (roughly $1,360 USD) via GoFundMe to help get them back up and running, but also “offered his family’s white, six-person VW Transporter van as a temporary replacement” for their vehicle, and gave Jam for Freedom an additional, unspecified sum to put towards a new van. (An August tweet by the group confirms that Clapton did, indeed, donate a vehicle to their cause.) To top it off, Clapton expressed an interest in sitting in and performing with the band, and said “something complimentary, along the lines of, ‘Hey, it’s Eric—great work you’re doing,’” McLaughlin claims. A rep for Clapton declined to comment on the outlet’s story, which is, frankly, odd, given how eager he has been to espouse his anti-vaccination and -lockdown views.
The RS story, which you can read in full right here, goes on to analyze whether Clapton has always held such problematic views (spoiler alert: yes), or whether his belief system has gotten worse with time. That analysis includes, for instance, The English Beat founder Dave Wakeling’s recollections of seeing “a clearly inebriated Clapton [...] grousing about immigration” during a 1976 Birmingham show, making “vile, racist comments” about how “foreigners” needed to leave the country, and using a pair of racial slurs we won’t reproduce here.
“As it went on, it was like, ‘Is this a joke?’” Wakeling told RS of the incident. “And then it became obvious that it wasn’t … It started to form a sort of murmur throughout the crowd. He kept talking, and the murmurings started to get louder: ‘What did he fucking say again?’ ... We all got into the foyer after the concert, and it was as loud as the concert: ‘What is he f*cking doing? What a c*nt!’”
The report recounts other disturbing past incidents in which Clapton: referred to Jimi Hendrix using a racist slang term; voiced support for anti-immigration politician Enoch Powell (best-known for his notoriously xenophobic “Rivers of Blood” speech); and no-showed at a 1979 Rock Against Racism show. Both at the time (i.e., the ‘60s and ‘70s), and in the years since, Clapton has shrugged off his various inflammatory comments, either claiming they were misinterpreted or blaming his well-documented struggles with alcohol and drugs.
Clapton’s far more recent history of harmful rhetoric has included the claim that “live music might never recover” from lockdowns, the release of three protest tracks he recorded alongside Van Morrison (“This Has Gotta Stop,” “The Rebels” and “Stand And Deliver”), and a fear-mongering account of his “disastrous” vaccination experience in which he condemned “the propaganda [that] said the vaccine was safe for everyone”—despite acknowledging in the same account that he “suffer[s] with peripheral neuropathy,” a condition that Dr. Matthew Fink, chairman of the Department of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told RS could help explain such an adverse reaction. On tour this year, he’s refused to play venues that require proof of vaccination, decrying “discriminated audiences” in a statement, and at an Austin show, he posed for backstage photos with Gov. Greg Abbott, who infamously shot down mask and vaccine mandates even as cases were surging in Texas, only to contract COVID himself.
Queen’s Brian May spoke out about Clapton in August, telling The Independent: “Anti-vax people, I’m sorry, I think they’re fruitcakes. There’s plenty of evidence to show that vaccination helps. On the whole they’ve been very safe. There’s always going to be some side effect in any drug you take, but to go around saying vaccines are a plot to kill you, I’m sorry, that goes in the fruitcake jar for me.”