Those who know me know that, as a young Boomer born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, my musical tastes growing up were pretty typical for a young male who came of age in the late 1970s and 1980s. I’m talking classic rock. Lots of classic rock. True, starting in the 1980s my musical tastes diversified considerably (a process that’s really accelerated, oddly enough, over the last several years), but I never lost the love I had for those classic rock gods of the late 1960s and into the 1970s. High up in the pantheon of those classic guitar gods of that era is, of course, Eric Clapton. That’s why I became interested when I started seeing Tweets like this popping up last week:
And here is the Tweet that seemed to have started the cascade:
And here is the entire Telegram post.
I started to write about this last week on Thursday night for Friday, but during a final editing session early Friday morning the Gutenberg editor in WordPress inexplicably ate all the verbiage that had been added to the post after a custom HTML embed. (You don’t need to know what this means, but any bloggers out there who use WordPress and Gutenberg likely will.) In an instant, about two-thirds to three-quarters of my post was gone, and none of my tricks could get it back. Because I was doing my final edits early in the morning, I didn’t have time even to try to reconstruct the lost Insolence; so I didn’t even try and banged out a quick explanation instead that castigated myself for using WordPress to directly enter a post rather than my previous practice of composing all posts offline in an HTML editor first. At the time, I said that I might get back to this post over the weekend, but I figured this was one of those “celebrity spews antivax nonsense” on Twitter that would disappear before I even got to it. And so it seemed at first, that is, until I started seeing news stories about Clapton’s reported vaccine reaction in Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times and posts on antivaccine websites, like Age of Autism and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s The Defender. So I reluctantly decided, WTF? I’ll try to reconstruct the post in a different way, looking at the additional coverage, before moving on to different topics later this week.
My first question was simple. Who is Robin Monotti Graziadei? I had never heard of him before and so had to look into him. A perusal of his website shows that he’s very much into COVID-19 denial and quackery, including promoting something he calls the Monotti protocol for keeping society open. Naturally, it includes lots of vitamins, Vladimir Zelenko’s quackery, hydroxychloroquine, and a number of unproven and disproven treatments for COVID-19. Equally unsurprisingly, the only mention of COVID-19 vaccines is to falsely call them “experimental gene therapy” and tout “natural immunity” as superior to vaccine-induced immunity, concluding:
The Monotti Protocol is a clear and simple, yet highly effective way to safeguard society from untested and socially destructive pandemic solutions.
Following that sentence, amusingly, is a Quack Miranda warning.
Note that the link he shared is from his Telegram channel. Telegram, as many of you know, is where most of the antivaxxers, COVID-19 cranks and conspiracy theorists, and others who were deplatformed on the big social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have gone. The post is, according to Monotti, from Eric Clapton himself describing a seemingly horrific reaction to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. I noticed two things about the post right off. First, it took Clapton until over a third of the way into the post before he even started to describe his vaccine reaction. No, really. Second, his description of his reaction was rather vague.
First things first. Clapton starts out by citing some people who have featured in this blog before:
With the arrival of C-19 I hoped that C Henegan, S Gupta and Jay B would lead the way, but when imperial college stepped up with their jailers key, I knew we were in deep trouble…
Two of these people are clearly two of the three scientists who promoted the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), namely Sunetra Gupta and Jay Bhattacharya. The third signatory to the GBD was Martin Kulldorff, who’s been all over Twitter spewing hot takes on COVID-19 minimizing the severity of the pandemic, while Carl Heneghan (the other person mentioned by Clapton) is what I like to refer to as a GBD-adjacent scientist in that he clearly supports the GBD and is making the same sorts of bad arguments. I really should do a post on him someday, but in the meantime let me just say that Heneghan seems to have gone the way of the once-respected John Ioannidis in taking a rather exaggerated and biased version of evidence-based medicine to come to his conclusions.
As for the GBD itself, it basically proposed “reopening” society to let COVID-19 rip through the young and healthy (to whom, Gupta and company argued, it is an insignificant danger) while using what was referred to as “focused protection” in order to “protect” those at highest risk of hospitalization, severe complications, and death from COVID-19, namely the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. I referred to the GBD as “eugenics-adjacent” because not only was it vague to the point of saying nothing about how society can protect just the elderly and those at high risk from coronavirus, but it ignored the simple fact that it is impossible to protect those at high risk if the virus is spreading widely at a rapid rate through the general population. The GBD, as I also discussed, an excellent example of “magnified minority,” a tactic long used by cranks the world over to make it appear that a given type of pseudoscience or science denial (e.g., creationism, HIV/AIDS denial) have far more support among scientists than they actually do. Finally, the GBD was an excellent example of the fruits of an astroturf campaign, given that it was organized and promoted by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a right wing think tank, which was also prone to rather exaggerated similes about its own importance, likening anti-“lockdown” protesters to abolitionists who fought slavery.
When used to describe campaigns to influence policy, “astroturf” is to “grassroots” as “astroturf” is to grass; it’s fake. Basically, “astroturf” refers to behind-the-scenes campaigns by wealthy and powerful ideological players to influence public policy while trying to disguise their efforts as genuine grassroots. Unfortunately, the astroturf campaign by AIER and many other right wing opponents to “lockdowns,” of which the GBD was but one propaganda document designed to make it look as though there were a lot of scientists who also opposed “lockdowns,” was very successful in influencing policy in the UK and the US, among other countries.
As for others who inspired him, Clapton mentioned Desmond Swayne, an MP who’s very influential in the COVID-19 denial movement in the UK, and Lord Jonathan Sumption, a former British Supreme Court Justice and anti-lockdown campaigner who once stated that children’s lives were worth more as a rationale against lockdowns.
Clapton also mentions:
On YouTube I found Hugotalks and Talk Radio… that was all….
Then I was directed to Van M, that’s when I found my voice, and even though I was singing his words, they echoed in my heart…
I recorded “stand and deliver” in 2020, and was immediately regaled with contempt and scorn…
HugoTalks is the name of a video podcast. I perused its website and some of its videos, as well as Hugo’s Twitter feed, and, wow. HugoTalks is ridiculous, even by the standards of COVID-19 conspiracy theorist media. As for Van M., obviously that’s Van Morrison, who wrote Stand and Deliver, an anti-lockdown song performed by Eric Clapton. Here’s a taste of some of the lyrics:
Do you wanna be a free man
Or do you wanna be a slave?
Do you wanna be a free man
Or do you wanna be a slave?
Do you wanna wear these chains
Until you’re lying in the grave?
As others have pointed out, there’s nothing like rich old white men like Eric Clapton and Van Morrison likening public health interventions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and thereby save many lives to “slavery.” I like what Diamond Rodrigue said about this line, “It’s likely that the closest these guys have felt to being constrained in any way is through a bad record deal.” In fairness, being a fan I can’t help but note that Clapton has indeed dealt with hardship in his life, from his battle with addiction in the 1960s and 1970s to the tragic accidental death of his son in the 1990s, which led to his recording Tears in Heaven. Being poor hasn’t been one of these hardships, at least not for a very long time, nor has being “enslaved” ever been one. Basically, if there’s anyone who could weather the pandemic in relative comfort in 2020 and 2021, it’s Eric Clapton.
The rest of the song invokes the Magna Carta, the Bill or Rights, and the US Constitution (because of course it does), while portraying lockdowns and mask requirements as “tyranny.” It even goes so far as to have this line:
If there’s nothing you can say there may be nothing you can do. Dick Turpin wore a mask too.
Dick Turpin was an 18th century highwayman and killer whose exploits were romanticized. I could also point out that doctors and nurses wear masks, too. Maybe he thinks we’re highway robbers too? In any event, this is the single dumbest song that Eric Clapton has ever recorded, and arguably the dumbest song that Van Morrison has ever written, with the possible exception of the other anti-lockdown songs he’s written. Of course, as great as they might have been 50 years ago, Clapton and Morrison are strictly oldies acts now. They don’t sell much in the. way of new music, either streamed or on CD, and likely their main source of income is doing concerts for aging Baby Boomers. Don’t get me wrong. I really feel for performers whose livelihoods have been devastated by the pandemic; the difference is that most of them aren’t wealthy old rock heroes, who can afford to ride the pandemic out in comfort, as Clapton can in his Ewhurst Italian-style villa called “Hurtwood Edge” with his net worth of $250 million. (Van Morrison is reportedly worth $90 million.)
But enough about Clapton’s COVID-19 conspiracy mongering and denial! What was his reported reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine? When he finally gets around to discussing it, he just writes:
In February this year, before I learned about the nature of the vaccines, (and being 76 with ephezyma) I was in the avant garde. I took the first jab of AZ and straight away had severe reactions which lasted ten days, I recovered eventually and was told it would be twelve weeks before the second one…
What were these “severe reactions” after Clapton received his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine? Who knows? Clapton doesn’t say. He really did require the vaccine, though, given his age and his comorbidities.
Clapton then says of his second dose:
About six weeks later I was offered and took the second AZ shot, but with a little more knowledge of the dangers. Needless to say the reactions were disastrous, my hands and feet were either frozen, numb or burning, and pretty much useless for two weeks, I feared I would never play again, (I suffer with peripheral neuropathy and should never have gone near the needle.) But the propaganda said the vaccine was safe for everyone….
I can’t resist being a bit of a contrarian here. If, as Clapton claims, his reaction to the first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in February was so severe, then why did he accept the second dose? If his reaction were indeed out of the ordinary, I would have expected that his physician would likely suggest that he forego the second dose. Most physicians, I suspect, would. Apparently this didn’t happen, though.
But what about what Clapton reports? One thing that I should mention here that might put his reports of numbness and burning into perspective is that Clapton has a severe peripheral neuropathy, which he first discussed publicly five years ago in an interview published in Classic Rock Magazine:
“I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year,” reveals Clapton, now aged 71. “It started with lower back pain and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy, which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg. And I’ve had to figure out how to deal with some other things from getting old.”
It’s a condition that might have been provoked or exacerbated by Clapton’s history of alcohol abuse, but might also have just developed with age. Two years earlier, even before revealing his peripheral neuropathy, Clapton said in an interview that he might have to retire from touring due to health issues, referring to life on the road as “unbearable and unapproachable,” referring to “odd ailments” that might lead to his being forced to stop playing guitar altogether. The bottom line is that Clapton has had a number of significant health issues dating back a number of years and has been saying on and of since at least to 2013 that he might have to retire “for health reasons.”
So what does this suggest? It might well be that the inflammatory reaction that some people experience when they receive the COVID-19 vaccine exacerbated his peripheral neuropathy. Certainly, his vague description of his symptoms after the second dose are consistent with this. There’s even some evidence that vaccination against COVID-19 can increase the chance of a temporary flareup of peripheral neuropathy, but the vaccine is still recommended.
From Rolling Stone, whose article is appropriately titled Eric Clapton’s Anti-Vaccine Diatribe Blames ‘Propaganda’ for ‘Disastrous’ Experience:
As the New York Times noted, short-term side effects such as “fatigue, headache, muscle aches and fever” are common after the second shot, but that those primarily went away after a day or two. (Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel, said that vaccine trials was 95 percent effective, irrespective of if someone experienced side effects or not.) For the AstraZeneca shot that Clapton took, fatigue, chills, headache, and joint pain are “very common,” according to the MHRA. These reactions are the standard immune response of the body to the vaccines.
There, I’ve devoted proportionally, probably the same amount of verbiage relative to the total post to discussing Eric Clapton’s actual symptoms as he did in Telegram post. Don’t get me wrong. I feel for anyone who suffers side effects after getting vaccinated, even as I point out that the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19 far outweigh the risks of the vaccine, which are quite low. Indeed, after spending maybe one quarter of the post discussing his actual symptoms, Clapton goes back into conspiracy mode:
Then I met a member of this group, who counselled me to be careful and to have a look at what goes on with you guys…
I felt like a veil had been lifted, that I was no longer alone, that it was okay, in fact essential, to hold on to my intuition and follow my heart…
I continue to tread the path of passive rebellion and try to tow the line in order to be able to actively love my family, but it’s hard to bite my tongue with what I now know…
Because why? Is “someone” going to do something if Clapton speaks out? Whatever the reason, after quoting another of Van Morrisson’s anti-lockdown songs, Clapton concludes:
I’ve been a rebel all my life, against tyranny and arrogant authority, which is what we have now, but I also crave fellowship, compassion and love, and that I find here…
I believe with these things we can prevail
Sadly, Clapton hasn’t been a “rebel” since at least the 1970s, if not the 1960s. Right now, he’s an aging rocker living, as so many aging rockers do, on a country estate in England, not too far from London.
If there’s one thing about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it’s revealed just how many of the heroes of the Baby Boom generation, such as performers who transformed music during the 1960s, have turned into contrarians and conspiracy theorists in their old age. I haven’t even mentioned Clapton’s history of racist and xenophobic statements. True, he ultimately apologized for them, but one wonders if he’ll ever apologize for Stand and Deliver, and his other attempts to promote COVID-19 disinformation. I’m going to have trouble listening to Layla or Derek & The Dominos’ In Concert in the same way again.