Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi, Eric Clapton, and the History of Rock & Roll

Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi
Alice Ormsby-Gore and Eric Clapton


Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton



It is well-known that Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi (of the Tariqa Habibiya, subsequently al-Murabitun) known also as Ian Dallas (author of the Book of Strangers and more recently the The Time of the Bedouin, influenced the life of rock musicians Richard Thompson and Ian Whiteman. What was less well-known until recently was his influence on Eric Clapton.

As anyone who has ever listened to classic rock and roll knows, Eric Clapton wrote and performed the haunting song "Layla." Many know that he wrote this autobiographical song because he was infatuated with Pattie Boyd (whom he later married) while she was married to the Beatle George Harrison, who was Clapton's best friend. Some people, especially Muslims or those educated in Arabic or Persian literature, know that Clapton was inspired to call the song Layla on account of the epic romance of Layla and Majnun, which, incidentally, from a Sufi perspective, is a symbol or reminder of each person's romance with God, the Beloved.

What was not common knowledge until fairly recently, however, was how Clapton became aware of the story of Layla and Majnun in the first place. Pattie Boyd, in her autobiography, informs us about it and about how Shaykh Abdalqadir, as Ian Dallas (who had embraced Islam in 1967), was integral to Clapton's awareness of Layla and Majnun:
"He [Eric Clapton] switched on the tape machine [on which he had previously recorded the song 'Layla' (that he had recently written) (ed.)]... and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard. It was 'Layla'--about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable. He had read the story in a book he had been given by a mutual friend, Ian Dallas. Ian had given me a copy too. It was called The Story of Layla and Majnun by the Persian writer Nizami. Eric identified with Majnun and was determined that I should know how he felt"(Boyd, Wonderful Tonight, p. 154). So Clapton did not just happen upon the book, Shaykh Abdalqadir (as Pattie states) had given copies both to him and to Pattie, who was Clapton's Layla.

Clapton's perspective, which he recounts in his autobiography, sheds a bit more light on Shaykh Abdalqadir's involvement. Clapton's account informs us that Shaykh Abdalqadir saw a different girl in their milieu as Layla, Alice Ormsby-Gore (with whom Clapton lived for five years but who sadly died in poverty of a heroin overdose shortly before her 43rd birthday). Clapton, in describing Alice, states "With her wistful quality and the Arab clothes she used to dress in, she was straight out of a fairy story."

Shaykh Abdalqadir, however, saw Alice's Majnun to be another well-known rocker, Clapton's friend Steve Winwood (most famous for his band Traffic). We can surmise that Shaykh Abdalqadir at that point may not have been aware of Clapton's infatuation with Pattie, since at least for a while Clapton and Pattie had gone to some lengths to keep the relationship private. In addition, another detail in Clapton's account not mentioned by Pattie is that Shaykh Abdalqadir personally spoke with Clapton about the romance of Layla and Majnun.
"Ian Dallas...told me the tale of Layla and Majnun, a romantic Persian love story in which a young man, Majnun, falls passionately in love with the beautiful Layla, but is forbdden by her father to marry her and goes crazy with desire. Ian was forwever saying that Alice was the perfect Layla, and while he thought Steve [Winwood] should be her Majnun, I had other ideas [namely, that Pattie was Layla and he, Eric Clapton, was Majnun (ed.)]" (Clapton: The Autobiography, p. 109).

So what we can gather from these accounts is that without a doubt Shaykh Abdalqadir was the source of Clapton's awareness of the romance of Layla and Majnun. An important unanswered question, however (beyond the the tale of Layla and Majnun) is to what degree (if at all) did Shaykh Abdalqadir influence Clapton, Patti Boyd, Alice Ormsby-Gore, Steve Winwood, and even George Harrison and other rockers and people in their milieu? Did Shaykh Abdalqadir (who had at that time recently embraced Islam and Sufism) have conversations with these musicians and their friends, conversations that may have influenced their viewpoints in any way? While in the past this question would have been difficult to answer without interviewing these people, now, with the internet it is possible that some of them or their friends might stumble upon this posting and answer this question in the comments section.

Dr. A. Godlas, 'Eid al-Valentine, 2010.

No comments:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi, Eric Clapton, and the History of Rock & Roll

Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi
Alice Ormsby-Gore and Eric Clapton


Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton



It is well-known that Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi (of the Tariqa Habibiya, subsequently al-Murabitun) known also as Ian Dallas (author of the Book of Strangers and more recently the The Time of the Bedouin, influenced the life of rock musicians Richard Thompson and Ian Whiteman. What was less well-known until recently was his influence on Eric Clapton.

As anyone who has ever listened to classic rock and roll knows, Eric Clapton wrote and performed the haunting song "Layla." Many know that he wrote this autobiographical song because he was infatuated with Pattie Boyd (whom he later married) while she was married to the Beatle George Harrison, who was Clapton's best friend. Some people, especially Muslims or those educated in Arabic or Persian literature, know that Clapton was inspired to call the song Layla on account of the epic romance of Layla and Majnun, which, incidentally, from a Sufi perspective, is a symbol or reminder of each person's romance with God, the Beloved.

What was not common knowledge until fairly recently, however, was how Clapton became aware of the story of Layla and Majnun in the first place. Pattie Boyd, in her autobiography, informs us about it and about how Shaykh Abdalqadir, as Ian Dallas (who had embraced Islam in 1967), was integral to Clapton's awareness of Layla and Majnun:
"He [Eric Clapton] switched on the tape machine [on which he had previously recorded the song 'Layla' (that he had recently written) (ed.)]... and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard. It was 'Layla'--about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable. He had read the story in a book he had been given by a mutual friend, Ian Dallas. Ian had given me a copy too. It was called The Story of Layla and Majnun by the Persian writer Nizami. Eric identified with Majnun and was determined that I should know how he felt"(Boyd, Wonderful Tonight, p. 154). So Clapton did not just happen upon the book, Shaykh Abdalqadir (as Pattie states) had given copies both to him and to Pattie, who was Clapton's Layla.

Clapton's perspective, which he recounts in his autobiography, sheds a bit more light on Shaykh Abdalqadir's involvement. Clapton's account informs us that Shaykh Abdalqadir saw a different girl in their milieu as Layla, Alice Ormsby-Gore (with whom Clapton lived for five years but who sadly died in poverty of a heroin overdose shortly before her 43rd birthday). Clapton, in describing Alice, states "With her wistful quality and the Arab clothes she used to dress in, she was straight out of a fairy story."

Shaykh Abdalqadir, however, saw Alice's Majnun to be another well-known rocker, Clapton's friend Steve Winwood (most famous for his band Traffic). We can surmise that Shaykh Abdalqadir at that point may not have been aware of Clapton's infatuation with Pattie, since at least for a while Clapton and Pattie had gone to some lengths to keep the relationship private. In addition, another detail in Clapton's account not mentioned by Pattie is that Shaykh Abdalqadir personally spoke with Clapton about the romance of Layla and Majnun.
"Ian Dallas...told me the tale of Layla and Majnun, a romantic Persian love story in which a young man, Majnun, falls passionately in love with the beautiful Layla, but is forbdden by her father to marry her and goes crazy with desire. Ian was forwever saying that Alice was the perfect Layla, and while he thought Steve [Winwood] should be her Majnun, I had other ideas [namely, that Pattie was Layla and he, Eric Clapton, was Majnun (ed.)]" (Clapton: The Autobiography, p. 109).

So what we can gather from these accounts is that without a doubt Shaykh Abdalqadir was the source of Clapton's awareness of the romance of Layla and Majnun. An important unanswered question, however (beyond the the tale of Layla and Majnun) is to what degree (if at all) did Shaykh Abdalqadir influence Clapton, Patti Boyd, Alice Ormsby-Gore, Steve Winwood, and even George Harrison and other rockers and people in their milieu? Did Shaykh Abdalqadir (who had at that time recently embraced Islam and Sufism) have conversations with these musicians and their friends, conversations that may have influenced their viewpoints in any way? While in the past this question would have been difficult to answer without interviewing these people, now, with the internet it is possible that some of them or their friends might stumble upon this posting and answer this question in the comments section.

Dr. A. Godlas, 'Eid al-Valentine, 2010.

No comments: