When Eric Clapton announced his Christmas album Happy Xmas, it appeared to be a typical move by a rock legend. But buried in between tracks like “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” is a surprising track: “Jingle Bells (In Memory of Avicii).”
It’s unclear what personal connection Clapton has to the late DJ, who struggled with alcohol before he was found dead of apparent suicide on April 20th. But there’s no doubt Clapton sympathized with him, as the musician spent decades struggling with alcohol and drugs himself. “In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead,” Clapton wrote in his 2007 autobiography. “It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic.”
Clapton finally got sober in the early 1990s, helping found the Crossroads Centre, a rehabilitation facility on the Caribbean island of Antigua. “Looking back over the years of my own recovery, I know I could never have made it out without the kind of treatment that we offer here,” Clapton writes on the Crossroads Centre’s website. “I wish you all the best, in the hope you may find peace, freedom and happiness in sobriety.”
Avicii – one of the most talented DJs of the EDM era – was open about his struggles with mental health and addiction before his death. In 2017, he explained to Rolling Stone why he took a hiatus from touring: “Parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.”
Clapton’s Happy Xmas looks to be a unique holiday album in other ways, too. “I had in my head that these holiday songs could be done with a slight blues tinge, and I started to figure out how to play the blues lines in between the vocals,” said Clapton. “I got it down and one of the most identifiable songs on the album, the one that became the foundational style, is ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’.”
Clapton has two concerts coming up, October 6th and 7th at Madison Square Garden before releasing Happy Xmas October 12th on his Bushbranch Records/Surfdog Records label.