I was listening to Eric Clapton’s “Layla” (the Derek and the Dominos version) the other day and became curious about the song’s muse, Pattie Boyd, who I knew was George Harrison’s wife at the time. I suddenly wanted to know more about the woman who inspired the crazed angst that comes through so strongly in the song. What kind of woman was she? What made her so special? What was it about her that would make a man’s pursue his best friend’s wife.
Pattie was a classic mod model, with the beautiful eyes, narrow shoulders and oval-faced innocent look of most mod models like Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick, who invariably remind me of my own mom who very well could have been one of them. I’m not sure my questions regarding what made her so special were answered, but I came across some interesting thoughts penned by Boyd herself in which she talks about being a muse:
I think I was a romantic inspiration to Eric and George because I gave as much as I could to them both, to the detriment of myself. I was always there for them. Which I think is really what a muse is. You are living your life for somebody else.
Then, it struck me. Being a muse may sound romantic and all, but ultimately it involves a level of self-effacing and dependency that is destructive for the person. A person who employs a muse for his or her creativity enables the elimination of the muse’s identity. Indeed, a wonderful artistic product may be produced. But a song such as “Something” (written about Boyd by Harrison), or “Layla” becomes personalized and universalized by the listener. Somewhere down the line, one will remember – oh yes, wasn’t that written about George Harrison’s wife? What was the story again? One doesn’t really remember the muse.
However, I think the destructive elements only occur when the muse is present and involved, as Boyd was in these relationships. There is the absent muse too – for example, W.B. Yeats’ unrequited love for Maud Gonne, in which the muse is somewhat spared. Though I can’t say the same for the artist.
I read another piece as well by Boyd where she goes into detail about her love triangle with Harrison and Clapton. Her words and poignant and vulnerable. She seems like a sweet and sensitive person who acknowledges her own role in the series of events that were destructive to the people involved, and yet at the same time produced some of the most enduring music of a generation.