Monday, December 29, 2008

Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerac -- seeing what we want to see

Recently, I watched Dateline about two families whose lives intersected when four college kids were killed in a highway accident and one survived. The hospital or the coroner mixed up the identities of two of the young women, so that one family received a call saying that their daughter had died (when in fact she was alive), and the other got a call that said their daughter was in a coma (when she had actually died). The family of Laura Van Ryn went to the hospital every day for 5 1/2 weeks and took care of the person in that bed before they realized that it wasn't their daughter.

Admittedly, the circumstances were difficult. Whitney Cerac , the woman who Laura's family took care of all that time, had a serious head injury and couldn't tell them who she was, her face was badly swollen, and she was in a neck brace. Still, Whitney Cerac was a full 4 inches taller than Laura Van Ryn (!!!), had different colored eyes and wore a belly ring. Yet 100 people visited her and didn't realize that she was not Laura, including her boyfriend of three years.

The first thing that occurred to me was how much we often see what we want to see, despite evidence to the contrary. The other is that we see what we're *told* is there -- like the Stanley Milgram experiment back in the 50s or 60s on obedience to authority where he found that college kids were likely to follow orders and administer electric shocks to other students when authoritative figures told them it was okay. In this case, it's not so much obedience but rather acceptance -- if the hospital says this is Laura, dammit, it must be Laura! Also, Laura's family never went to identify the body. They just accepted what the hospital said about her being dead.

It was an eye-opener although I'm sure that those of us reading about this would think that it could never happen to us because we'd be smarter than that, but how do we know?

Instead of the Ceracs and Van Ryns being mad at each other, they've become best friends and co-wrote a book about the story called Twist of Fate. They seemed very religious; I was thinking the whole time how I would sue the ass off the hospital big time and I was waiting to hear Matt Lauer discuss a civil suit, but that was never mentioned once in a two-hour episode; that part of this very tragic story was refreshing!


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Clapton: the Autobiography

Those who are looking for sensationalism and all the pomp and glory that go along with being a rock god may be disappointed in Clapton: The Autobiography. Some people think that Eric Clapton came across as shallow in this memoir and that his behavior over the years, particularly to women, was despicable. I didn't see it that way at all.

I think Clapton was remarkably candid in relaying the details of his life -- the good, the bad and the ugly. He didn’t spare himself any embarrassment, starting with his awkward childhood as the illegitimate son of a woman he believed to be his sister, and moving on to his continual, restless yearnings for something more, in both his professional and personal life.

Mesmerized by R&B and blues from pre-pubescence, Eric became bored with the Yardbirds as soon as they made it big: partly because he felt they were selling out and not making the pure sound that enthralled him, but also because whenever he got what he thought he wanted, he no longer wanted it. This was evidenced by his lifelong yearning for Pattie Boyd, which ceased to be pleasurable as soon as she left his good friend George Harrison to marry Clapton.

Always wanting what he couldn’t have, and never wanting what he actually did have, was a Buddhist recipe for disaster. Combine that with the heady lifestyle of a rock star, and the pitfalls and perils of an alcoholic/heroin addict, with a long-standing history of depression, it's a miracle that Clapton is still alive to have written this book.

The book was a fascinating journey through British rock history and American blues beginning with Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters and Ray Charles – and other less well known R& B artists, whom Clapton worshiped—and moving on to the Beatles, Stones and British Wave, with whom he was significantly less impressed. At times, Clapton came across as a bit of a musical snob, but I think that’s because he was brutally honest about what he liked and didn’t like, and essentially, he’d always been and remains a blues purist. He definitely led a fascinating life and I loved the references to bands we never hear of anymore like Leon Russell and Moby Grape, who I saw at the Fillmore East in NYC; however, I felt sorry for Clapton throughout most of the book.

He was clearly a brilliant, tortured perfectionist who was miserable for many decades while he made other people happy with his amazing repertoire of sounds. But the story has a happy ending. Finally, after all those anguished years of craving Pattie, he moved on to find a woman with whom he’s truly happy, and produced several children after the tragic death of his young son Conor, which left him reeling.

Did he have character defects or traits that were less than admirable? You bet. But I’ve yet to hear people rave about heroin addicts who were such great guys – respectful, considerate and so much fun to be with. Clapton also seemed mystified by many of his own actions, after living so many uncomfortably numb years. But what I admired most about the man and the autobiography were his humility and sincerity; he really tried to make us understand who he was and his storytelling was quite personal, as though he were talking to me one-on-one and saying, “Please understand. This is the way it was.”

Much of Clapton: The Autobiography reads like a step four, or rather step eleven – continuing self inventory, and maybe that’s why he felt capable of writing his story now – because he’s finally reached a place of peace, found "a place to live... in the presence of the Lord," where he no longer feels restless and dissatisfied.