Rock Star, Rock Planet


I discovered Eric Clapton, Rock Star, earlier this year. 

He’d been around, of course.  I just wasn’t paying attention.  In the early years, as he moved from the increasingly commercialized  Yardbirds into John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, I was being introduced to Lead Belly.  While I learned to play the 12-string, Cream  (Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Clapton) came and went in just two years, disbanding a few months before Woodstock.  After Cream, Clapton formed a new group, Derek and the Dominos.  Layla, the title track on their album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released in December of 1970. First told by the Persian poet Nizami, the story of Layla and Majnun became one of rock’s definitive love songs, its famously contrasting movements composed separately by Clapton and Jim Gordon.

Clapton’s contribution to Layla was inspired by his then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, wife of friend and fellow musician George Harrison.  Though unaware of the details behind its composition, Layla  haunted my life for years. I loved the song, but couldn’t have told you the artist’s name.  It was enough to hear the music, drifting unbidden through the air of two decades and three continents, poignant and breathtaking as an unexpected tear.

Unfortunately, the album opened to lackluster sales even as its length proved prohibitive for radio airplay. Edited and released as a single in March 1971, it peaked no higher than #51 on the Billboard charts. Depressed by Layla‘s lack of commercial success, the breakup of the Dominos and his own unrequited love for Patti, Clapton retreated into drug addiction and disappeared from public view.

His re-emergence in 1973 coincided with my departure for Africa. By the time I returned to the States, his career had risen and fallen again. Apart from noting the story of his son Conor’s death, the beautiful song Tears in Heaven written in tribute to the child and the inevitable mention of his name in conjunction with every award  in the business, Eric Clapton was no more to me than a name.

All that changed last April.  Immersing myself in the Blues prior to a trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi for the annual Juke Joint Festival, I discovered Robert Johnson, the Delta Bluesman whose short life and limited discography left an indelible mark on musicians who followed him.   Eric Clapton was one of those musicians.  As he said in a particularly interesting interview, “See… most of my youth my back was against the wall, and the only way to survive that was with dignity, and pride and with courage.  I heard that in certain forms of music.  I heard it most of all in the blues.”

Articulate in conversation, thoughtful and composed, Clapton today is one of the most effective blues interpreters among us and capable of occasional surprises. Asked which book he would take to that mythical desert island (and denied opportunity to take a full set of Charles Dickens), he settled for Barnaby Rudge.  His favorite music includes Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but there’s room on his list for Luciano Pavarotti singing Che Gelida Manina from  La Boheme  as well as the Pavane in F-sharp Minor, Opus 50 by French composer Gabriel Fauré.

Given what I’ve learned about Clapton, it seems entirely fitting that he not only performs across the stages of the world but crosses its skies as well.

Minor Planet 4305/Clapton was discovered March 7, 1976 by astronomers at the George R. Agassiz Station of the Astronomical Observatory associated with Harvard University. At the time of discovery, it was known provisionally as 1976EC. After proceeding through a relatively stringent and complex naming process, the minor planet was designated Clapton as a tribute to the musician (International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Circular Number 16249, dated April 10, 1990).

The substance of the IAU’s recent debate about new definitions and terms for planets and “those things out there between Mars and Jupiter” isn’t particularly relevant here. It’s enough to note that “Small Solar System Bodies” is now the preferred term, but “minor planet” and “asteroid” remain acceptable for common use. Located between Mars and Jupiter in an area of space known as the Asteroid Belt, Minor Planet Clapton is part of a collection of debris which may have originated during the formation of the solar system.

The International Astronomical Union knows little about the physical properties of Clapton. They estimate its diameter to be 8 to 18 kilometers. Like all minor planets, Clapton is composed of rock or a mixture of rock and metal, has no atmosphere and is incapable of supporting life. Just 1/9372 as bright as the faintest objects visible to the naked eye, it can only be seen with a telescope.

Clapton is in a 4.97-year elliptical orbit around the sun ranging in distance from 405.4 million km at perihelion (closest point to the sun) to 465.8 million km at aphelion (furthest point from the sun). The next perihelion passage will occur in January, 2011.

The diagram below shows the orbit of Clapton in relation to the major planets of the inner solar system For those who are interested, clicking on the image will take you to the IAH Minor Planet page with an updated diagram and links, including a link to ephemerides (sky location) for each of the rock’n’roll minor planets. If you missed a Clapton/Winwood concert, you at least can determine Planet Clapton’s location in tonight’s sky!

 From the IAU: This view of the inner solar system is seen from the north ecliptic pole. The sun is the yellow star at the center of the image. The blue orbits represent, in increasing distance from the center, the major planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter. The position of each major planet at the date indicated at the bottom of the plot is shown by the large circled cross. The orbit of the minor planet is shown in red, with the location of the minor planet (at the date indicated at the bottom of the plot) shown as a white circled cross. From this vantage point the planets revolve around the sun in a counter clockwise direction. The vernal equinox is off to the right. The portion of the minor planet’s orbit that is below the plane of the earth’s orbit is shaded grey. The perihelion point of the minor planet’s orbit is at the end of the white straight line through the sun indicated by “P”.

Eric Clapton certainly isn’t the only rock musician who’s had a planet named for him. The International Astronomical Union has honored several others including (appropriately if ironically enough) George Harrison.  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Holly and Jerry Garcia are all in orbit, along with Enya, Peter Gabriel and the BeeGees. In short, the list has something for nearly everyone, although Kurt Cobain and Eddie Van Halen are absent and may still be working their way through the IAU’s process.

I think of the world’s astronomers and their collection of minor planets every now and then as I wander through a certain boatyard. There’s a fellow there who’s always ready for a little conversation. Sometimes one or both of us are too busy to chat, but I’ll still ask, “How’re things?” “Fine, just fine,” he replies without fail. “The world’s still rockin’ along…”

And so it is. Tonight, if you do the sensible thing, you’ll turn off the tv, put the computer to sleep and wander out into the dark, taking time not only to look but to listen very, very closely. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a certain beat as the celestial spheres and oblongs and chunks circle along their planes. And if your ear imagines an especially fine riff, a little vibrato that seems to shiver across the cosmos from nowhere and everywhere, with no beginning and without any end, it just might be emanating from (4305)Clapton, the perfect conjunction of planet and star.

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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I will have “Layla” in my head all day now, thanks to you. Also thanks to you, Mr. John Lee Hooker is riding in my car, and will accompany me on various excursions this week. Next week, I will borrow the CD of Clapton playing the blues from the library…and who better to be a planet (made of rock)?


    You’re one of the closest readers I have. I knew you’d pick up on that wonderful IAU phrase about the minor planets being made of rock, or rock and metal. Not a lot of metal in Clapton, if cosmic analogies work the way they should, but some of the best rock in any world.

    Beyond the music, part of Clapton’s appeal for me is that he made it through his particular turmoils intact. He’s got that quick and winning smile, and laugh lines around his eyes to back it up. If you watch very closely, you’ll see the same head back, eyes closed gesture while playing that he had in the very beginning. It’s a wonderful thing to see, and if I have to hear something running through my head, Layla’s not a bad choice.


  2. Artists’ lives and how they peel their choices out of the world is always interesting.

    And then the next layer, how the artists we choose to explore says something about our own stories, shaping them, and making every artist unique through our perspective – it all just boggles the mind. The first four children of my family – Ginnie included – pretty much missed the rock era, but have been introduced to it through their children (and mine). I discovered Led Zeppelin through my son’s guitar playing, after ignoring them when they were in their heyday.


    Equally fascinating is watching the evolution of the artists. Fans and audiences always hunger for the familiar, the old songs, the signature pieces. But the best, like Clapton, keep changing, evolving as they travel their own paths, incorporating their life experiences and honing their skills to produce what satisfies them, no matter how it may distress their fans. At the Juke Joint fest in Clarksdale, I heard the phrase “rooted originality”. I can’t think of a better way to describe the result of artistic development.

    And lookie here what else I found ~ a quotation from the good Mr. Clapton in a 2001 Rolling Stone interview that’s relevant as can be to our endeavors: “I think it’s important to say something powerful and keep it economical.” Exactly.


  3. I love this. Well done!


    How nice to see you again, and how kind of you to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the read ~ I certainly enjoyed writing it, not to mention having such a perfect excuse to listen to so much wonderful music!


  4. Sigh. I just love you.

    Aw, shucks, Rachel ~

    Even if I told you I had to google Ferris Bueller this afternoon? I’ve still got a few gaps to fill in my own education ;-)

    It’s always a special treat to have you – or any of the Creeters – stop by. Clapton seems to be a Dickens fan. Do you suppose we could get him to write and record a RumCreeters’ anthem?


  5. What amazes me about this post, Linda, is that I should know Clapton, even apart what Ruth said. My last partner introduced me to every musician under the sun (and took me to their concerts) EXCEPT Clapton. He’s one I really have missed. I might recognize his music but not know it’s his. So, today I have gotten my education!

    Now let me ask you this: do you know the music of Patti Scialfa? She’s Bruce Springsteen’s wife and her 23rd St Lullaby sends me to the galaxies. Have they yet named a planet after her??


    I’d never listened to Patti Scialfa, although I knew of her relationship to Springsteen. I was amazed by the first track I pulled up – she sounded rather like a female Bob Dylan. Her voice is far more pleasing, but there was just something about the phrasing and the “spokenness” of her lyrics that was Dylan-esque. I checked the list and she doesn’t have a minor planet. That doesn’t surprise me – for the naming to happen, you have to have someone who’s plugged into astronomy as well as music, since discovering the planet is part of the package. The better known the musician, the better the odds for a fan to be scanning the heavens.

    Isn’t it a delight to be learning all these new things? It’s especially enjoyable to be placing familiar music into its historical context – it deepens and enriches the experience.


  6. Clapton is like fine wine that improves with age. He is a true musician and artist, not a mere entertainer or gimmick, and people of all ages can appreciate his work. I too love Layla and I am likewise fond of Cocaine ~ the song, not the the substance.

    When my two stepsons were still in college, six or seven years ago, I was surprised to learn how much of the older blues and rock they were listening to. They had rediscovered the Doors, Led Zepplin, Hendrix and Janis.

    Until you presented this piece I was unaware that minor planets were being named for individuals.


    It’s amazing to spend time with the minor planet list. Not just rockers have their names on that list – Jack London, Acapulco, Medusa, Melancthon and Letterman are flying around in space, too, along with some otherwise anonymous folk.

    The more I’ve read of Clapton, the more I appreciate him as a person and as a musician. He’s not overtly demonstrative in concert or performance, but reminds me of Leonard Bernstein, whose intimate and loving knowledge of his music allowed him to communicate with his performers – and with his audience – at a deep level. Sometimes we attend concerts and sometimes we participate in them. Clapton’s call for participation.

    Your mention of The Doors reminds me – Joan Didion writes in The White Album about attending a recording session for their third album. If you ever run across the book, it’s in the first essay and worth a read ;-)


  7. Your post reminds me of the Hollywood Hall of Fame. While notable actors are celebrated on the ground in concrete, acclaimed musicians are immortalized on a celestial scale (no pun intended). But of course, I might be wrong since I haven’t gone through the whole list of minor planets. Do you know any actors being named? Anyway, interesting info here. Thanks for the musing.

    Hi, Arti,

    I’ve just spent more time than I needed to going through the list – there are hundreds of names. I couldn’t find Clarkgable or Laurenbacall, but there are some names that are movie and theatre related: Spielberg, Arthurmiller, Gabor, Albee, Abbott and, yes, Costello. There are authors and painters, too: O’Connor and O’Keefe, Picasso and Michaelangelo. There’s Anatolefrance, Annefrank, Turgeneve, Antigone, Trilling, Aeschylus and – Actor!
    Yep, that’s right. Just, “actor”. I guess that covers everyone whose name hasn’t made the list yet.

    It’s fun to go through and google names, too. I found Mendelssohn’s sister that way. Who knew that he had a sister? It reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s little riff on Shakespeare’s sister.

    I’ve been pondering: if I discovered a minor planet, whose name would I give to it? I do think the Committee has standards. I don’t expect Homersimpson ever to be circling ;-)

    I was entranced by the photos of your trip. How lucky you are to live near such beauty!


  8. Gerrie Blake has some drawings in the Blues Museum in MS, a particular favorite she has composed is Robert Johnson (like the image on the wall in Eri’s picture). She has worked on many blues artists for Delta Haze owned by Stephen C. LaVere.


    I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of your visit and the information your provided. I just spent a lovely hour at Delta Haze, and will be visiting, following links and learning much more in the future.

    Because of time constraints (and an inability to pull myself away from the music!) I missed the Blues Museum when I was in Mississippi. In a moment of lucidity, I figured out that I could go there anytime – and so I will. I’m presently working my way through Steve Cheseborough’s “Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues” and look forward to putting that wonderful guide to use, too.


  9. Planet BeeGees? Yikes!


    Here’s something to ponder: the nature of the astronomer who’d want to have Barry and his bros flying around in space forever ;-)


  10. I spent the summer of 1968 on the Outer Banks. It was a different place then – a few cabins and lots of beach and darkness at night. I can recall lying on my back on the beach and looking up at the night sky. The Milky Way was as clear as could be, as if a giant had thrown a handful of mist and shiny pebbles to make a path across the night sky. I’ll never forget it.


    My first experience of “real stars” came while I was sailing offshore. When my first nightwatch was over and it was time to get some sleep, I couldn’t make myself go below. Like you on the beach, I lay on the deck and felt myself moving across the water as the stars moved across the sky. Given a choice between that night and many other life experiences, I’d take that in a heartbeat.

    I watched Comet Lulin stretched out in a parking lot. If you missed it or someone else would like to read it, you can find it here.

  11. What a treat, Linda. You make the greatest connections!

    My Clapton story is my son is named after Derek of Derek and the Dominoes. Living up to his namesake, he is a great guitar player and a blues aficionado. When he was in school at UW Madison he had a blues radio show which was fabulous. He loved doing the research and putting “theme” shows together. I even found some blues influenced Irish stuff for him.

    (And Dickens would go to that island with me, too.)


    Of all the things I expected to learn from my readers, discovering someone named after Derek wasn’t very high on the list. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even on the list! How wonderful that your son made the connection with the music, and enjoys its history and context as well as the “beat”.

    I just made a swerve over to google and discovered a wealth of entries for Irish blues bands – who knew?

    I’m wondering now if you’ve returned home – surely you wouldn’t be using up your precious electricity on blog surfing if you were still in your little bit of heaven. Whether there or here, it’s a pleasure to have you stop by, and if you still have traveling to do, be safe.


  12. I was driving through the Colorado countryside one night and happened to look out the window at the sky. Never having seen the night sky like that before, I had to pull over to get a better look. Once I got over the shock of having my car disappear in the darkness, I was stunned at the sight of the Milky Way spread out in all its glory! It wasn’t until then that I understood how the ancients had been inspired to such heights of fancy!


    There’s a photo you can find here that I plan to use some time in the future. It was taken in Utah, and shows the magnificent spread of stars. I don’t know how anyone could help but be moved by their beauty. We hear so much about water and air pollution, but light pollution is making such experiences increasingly impossible.

    The Perseid meteor shower peaks early tomorrow morning ~ I’m hoping for a glimpse of them, too.


  13. Excellent blog entry title, especially as I read more and more! Have you heard from Clapton yet? I hope he hears of/ sees this. He’ll be quietly pleased, I’ll bet. (Not that I know him, but I cued in when he was in CREAM and my friend and I had their posters on our wall. And our moms shook their heads…a lot!)

    What a cool thing to honor him with your background. I had NO idea about the planet/rock/star naming for him. I did know the story behind Layla and good thing you didn’t live in my dorm Junior year cuz you would have reported us for playing that song for every darn occasion, from celebrating Friday night, to getting date-ready, to blast following an exam – for any darn reason where we could run out into the halls and rock together.
    Clapton is an extreme talent but I sincerely suspect that if he sees this, it will be an “award” he’s proud of, you know, because it tells him the people are listening and paying attention and that they (you) care.

    Yup, I’m going outdoors tonight and listen, as you suggest.


    Uh… I really don’t expect to be hearing from Eric Clapton, although I must say I think he’d enjoy the piece. :-)

    I imagine that artists particularly must get tired of folks saying the same things about them, over and over. While they’re trying to move forward, both personally and artistically, fans inevitably tug backward. It isn’t wrong, in any sense – just the way it is. But fresh takes on old material can be as good as new material.

    He surely has stood the test of time, and I love the cross-generational appeal. What’s most amazing to me – a child of the old “record stores” with “listening booths” – is the way technology has transformed learning about music. Between YouTube, archival podcasts and radio stations like Pandora, there hasn’t been anything I haven’t been able to find. It’s just wonderful.


  14. Oh, Linda — Planet Clapton! I will look for it this weekend when we leave the bright city for the starry dark skies of the lake!

    Like you, there are those whose work I know, but never know the names attached. (Especially those connected to the period where they’d play songs in a row and never say till the end — when I was out of the car or wherever — who performed them!) But I’ve been a big Clapton fan for quite sometime and always wildly impressed with his specials, which I see (and often pitch) on PBS. He’s done a lot for PBS! While I didn’t know much about his life apart from the seamy side of addiction, I did get a glimpse into it after reading Patti Boyd’s relatively badly-written but interesting biography. It’s worth a scan if the life interests you, too.

    I’m going star gazing this weekend. I don’t know if I’ll see Planet Clapton, but I’ll give it a look!


    I read some of Patti’s bio online, and probably wouldn’t need to read the whole thing. But, I do think it would be interesting to read Clapton’s biography and autobiography as a set – preferably with some Clapton playing in the background. His connection to the blues is what interests me particularly, although he certainly started me down the road toward appreciating great guitar-playing in general. I hadn’t even thought of PBS specials. I’ll bet there are some good DVDs.

    I’m afraid you won’t be able to see his planet at the lake – unless you’re toting a pretty good telescope with you. It’s not one that’s visible to the naked eye. But that’s ok. You’ll know he’s out there, making the music of the spheres just a little more interesting!


  15. Your website is pleasing to the eyes. Nice layout and color choices.

    The first concert that I attended was to see Eric when I was 15 years old. I do not go to many concerts, but I just purchased 2 tickets to see him and Roger Daltrey in Nashville, TN. I need to find some ear plugs that are made especially for concerts… some of them can be found at reasonable prices. I remember in the late 1970s’ when that type of ear plug could cost over $150. but now they sell as low as $7. to under $20. USD
    I don’t know anything about the Crossroads Center it sounds extremely expensive and out of reach of the common man. I hope that they do good work.

    Perhaps Roger Daltrey and Eric might include the song “Teenage Wasteland”. It was a song about how drug and alcohol addiction wastes human lives.

    I don’t know how long that I have to live on this planet…. this might be my last concert…. that would make Eric Clapton the first and last concerts in my lifetime. Peace on Earth, Good Will to Man (and woman too of course :) )


    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks, too, for commenting on the layout. I’m always tinkering a bit with it, but I do like it.

    The Clapton/Winwood tour came through Houston. It truly was wonderful. I hope you have a great time – there’s nothing like live music. I certainly hope you have plenty of concerts ahead of you, but you are right about one thing – beginning and ending with Clapton wouldn’t be the worst thing ni the world!


  16. I don’t know how it happened
    I was showing off your site
    When I opened up the iPod I thought the Clapton blog was new.
    But I’m stuck in Lodi (Edmonton)
    And the two other computers are in use
    I would spell check if the errors were not so far back.
    Meantime I’m learning on this goofy little touch pad

    You should get one

    • Ken,

      I’m laughing – there are a couple of bloggers on WU whose evening postings always are a couple of cuts below their usual. Often, they’re posting from their phones in bed. ;-) When I move from my pc to my laptop, it takes forever to get used to it, and I’m never happy when I delete posts because the keys are in different places.

      Not to worry – have a listen to Layla and enjoy. ;-)


      • Ain’t it!
        Spent the basic “morning” here with the local internet server: Telus. Sometimes there are small successes: my mother’s computer, which she hates, is now working on wireless – about three hours on the phone and the computer.
        Still better than the other option which was to pull wire through the cathedral ceiling or jack hammer the heated slab.
        I’ll get back to speed on my own system soon –
        “Red” – the Tech that walked me through those hours on the phone and cleaned up this ‘puter remote said when I asked where he was from:
        “I like to say I’m from the “Future” but we are only a few hours ahead just now – Phillipines.”

        • Ken, did you ever happen to run across GardenGrrl’s famous description of computers (and now, presumably electronic gadgets of every sort)? She says they’re “infernal persnickety timesuckers”. That about covers it.

          Glad to hear you didn’t have to bring in the heavy machinery.


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