Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Layla and Others

Like the Beatles, the timing for Pattie Boyd couldn’t have been better. She wasn’t what one would call a classic beauty, but she fit the era - no one said Mod like Twiggy and Pattie Boyd. She was the British equivalent of the American “girl next door,” and she inspired three of rock’s most iconic love songs for two iconic musicians, who just happened to be best friends.  

It was 1964. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" topped the charts, and the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show set the record for the most-watched television program in American history. Capitalizing on “Beatlemania,” United Artists approached the Fab Four with a three-movie deal. Just like their records, A Hard Day's Night went on to become a major commercial success, a film that is considered nearly 60 years later one of the greatest films of the modern era.

But the Beatles' first feature film didn't just bring them fame and fortune — it also brought them love. While shooting scenes for the movie, one of the extras took a particular shine to George Harrison. Her name was Pattie Boyd, a 20-year-old British model regularly captured on the cover of Vogue as the embodiment of Swingin’ London.

The meeting is a romantic one. Harrison was equally taken by his newfound admirer and on the set asked, "Will you marry me?" With her refusal, he responded: "Well, if you won’t marry me, will you have dinner with me tonight?" Cut to an evening at the Garrick Club in central London that quickly led to a brief engagement. Harrison and Boyd wed on January 21, 1966 with Paul McCartney serving as best man.

Harrison credited Boyd for significantly broadening his worldview, which included his adoption of Indian lifestyle practices and Eastern mysticism. Boyd, a passionate photographer, also served to expose a more intimate side of Harrison to Beatles fans, as her personal photos of the guitarist were widely circulated at the time. Their relationship inspired a handful of Beatles hits, including "I Need You," "Love You To," and "For You Blue." But perhaps the most iconic song spawned from Harrison and Boyd's love was "Something" from Abbey Road, arguably one of the greatest Beatles songs of all time.

The relationship lasted through the Beatles’ tenure but due to spiritual differences and Harrison’s increasing drug use, Pattie let George’s best friend and fellow guitarist, Eric Clapton, get closer and closer. Equally romantic, Clapton wrote a cryptic and anonymous love letter signed simply, “E.” Later at a party, he asked if she’d gotten his message.

Now it gets dramatic. Torn between the two men, Boyd was approached by Harrison who, sensing the situation, asked who she was going home with that night. Boyd agreed to stay with Harrison, driving Clapton into depression, heroin addiction, and a three-year hiatus from music, though in an effort to nullify his unrequited feelings, Clapton wrote "Layla," a play on The Story of Layla and Majnun in which a young man is driven mad by an unattainable love.

Boyd’s marriage to Harrison ended in 1977 with George’s romantic tryst with Ringo’s wife. (I said there was drama), and this time as Clapton’s advances were successful. 

Boyd married Clapton in 1979 and became yet another legendary musician's muse. Both "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Wonderful Tonight" were inspired by Boyd, yet, even more drama, the good times wouldn't last. The couple began drinking heavily and infidelity and drug use followed suit. By the 80s, the couple was on the outs. Boyd divorced Clapton in 1989, citing his affairs and "unreasonable behavior." She called Eric’s love “infatuation” and added that "Eric just wanted what George had." While Pattie remains torn over her two great loves, men that wrote some of rock’s most iconic songs just for her, but it’s George who remains the love of her life.

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