Bill Bruford: The Autobiography: Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks, and More (英語) ペーパーバック – 2009/3
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Bill Bruford - once called 'the godfather of progressive-rock drumming' - has been at the top of his profession for four decades, playing with Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Earthworks, and many more. This is his memoir of life at the heart of prog rock, art rock, and modern jazz. It is an honest, entertaining, well-written account of life on the road and in the studio - rubbing shoulders with the famous, the less famous, and the infamous, and creating an impressive tally of great music.A rock musician with the temperament of a classical musician who became a jazz musician, Bruford defies all the cliches about drummers. He says: 'You write what you have to write, you play what you have to play, because you can't sleep at night. If you can sleep at night, you shouldn't be doing this anyway'. From time to time, at polite dinner parties, someone will ask Bill what he does. He replies that he is a musician. 'Yes, but what do you really do?' retorts the enquirer. This unusual, funny, and insightful music memoir answers the question.
Bill Bruford's professional musical career began in 1968. He was a guiding light in the British Art Rock movement, recording and touring internationally with Yes and King Crimson from 1968-74. Since then he has worked with many other artists, including Gong, National Health, Genesis and U.K., as well as leading his own bands Bruford and Earthworks.
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I was probably more excited about this book, than any other in recent memory; not only by virtue of being an enormous fan of his various projects over the years, but also because he has been the most reliably erudite and witty interviewee in the history of rock and jazz.
For anyone remotely familiar with Bill's umistakably dry and sardonic wit, there will be little doubt after a single chapter that no ghost writer lurks underneath. This book is the closest thing admirerers of Mr. B will ever get to their ultimate fantasy-namely sitting across a cafe table from Bill with a good cup of coffee and getting him to answer all those questions you've had for ages, that you would never have the courage to actually pose, knowing full-well that you'd receive well-deserved eye twinkle and thinly veiled contempuous barb for your temerity. In other words, reading this book, in some ways, is rather like playing a car racing game on the Xbox..you get much of the satisfaction without the risk of plunging your noggin into a thinly padded steering wheel at 80 miles an hour.
There are so many terriffic antecdotes here, with so many quotable quotes, you may want to read it with a yellow hi-lighter in reach. Very seldom have I laughed so well and been so thoroughly entertained, while learning so much I wanted to know.
Keep in mind, at only 300+ pages, the read is disappointingly brief, and many episodes in a great career, seem to be glossed-over far too quickly, considering their enormous import. The Yes and KC years take-up probably no more than 20-or-so pages each (although not covered in strictly chronological order) which, in almost any other circumstance would leave you feeling dissatisfied. But this is not really a detailed document of his relationship with other musicians. It is much more a witty and entertaining essay of Bill's views and musings on various aspects of being a musician than a "life story" in the traditional sense. As long as you put away any expectations of getting a detailed account of what happened during the recording of "Larks Tongues", or intimate relations of fights with Chris Squire, you will, I'm sure, find this a thoroughly engaging read.
*Note to Mr. Bruford: Please sir, now that you've sadly retired from touring...how about a sequel with all the detail and dramatic bits we're all ashamed to ask you about? :)
So what is this book then? Is it really an autobiography? Well, yes and no. Bruford writes about his entire career arc, but not in the conventional birth-school-work-death order. Instead, like his drumming, he isn't content to just stick to the beat. The man has a million stories, racked up over 40+ years of albums, touring, hopping around from group to group, and finally becoming his own bandleader/businessman/do-everything guy. Many of his vignettes are hilarious; others convey the long and lonely road that all touring musicians face.
But the thing that strikes me most is how good of a writer that Bill is. It's common knowledge that he's very witty, and is often regarded as the smartest one in the band (whatever band that it is). But the fact is, his writing style is highly entertaining. If he ever decides to retire from drumming (oh wait, he just did!), Bill could easily have a second career in writing...and, in fact, I hope he does a lot more of it if he's so inclined.
About that "smartest one in the band" comment above: Some have labeled Bruford as arrogant, detached, and so on...but if you read his actual words, as set forth in this book, you'll understand why he's chosen the paths that he has in his career. Bruford has carefully collected all sorts of observations over the years, cataloged them, and released it all in this book. And as you read the book, you'll understand why he gets irritated when people ask him for the zillionth time "Why did you leave Yes?", "What's it like working with Robert Fripp", and "Do you enjoy interviews?" These are the actual titles of the chapters, and it's how the book is organized. And, after reading each of these and putting myself mentally in Bill's shoes, even *I* started getting irritated at some of the things he's had to put up with!
Not many of these chapters go into extreme depth on each subject, and in fact some of the chapter titles don't really have anything to do with the actual contents. For example, one of these chapters has a series of very funny musings about food (such as it is) on the road, in conflict with the chapter's title. And the "Do you ever see any of the old guys?" chapter contains virtually nothing about this particular subject.
Full disclosure: I started listening to Yes in the late 70s, when I was fourteen. Bruford had left Yes a few years earlier, and yet That Snare Drum Sound is all over Fragile and Close to the Edge, captured for posterity and heavily influencing rock music to this day. In high school, someone played me "One More Red Nightmare" from this band called King Crimson - and there was That Snare Drum Sound again. (There was also That Dirty Cymbal Sound, whose origin Bill reveals in this book.) I bought the Genesis album, "Seconds Out"...any guess what I noticed about that album?
Later on, with the Discipline album by K.C., Bruford's dalliance with electronic drums came to the fore. At the time, I was a huge fan of Al DiMeola, and...who should appear on his "Scenario" album but B.B.? (Tony Levin, too, as an added bonus. Bill and Tony always sounded so good together that it was ridiculous.) The fact is, Bruford's made his mark everywhere in this business, and this book is a fascinating read that touches on all these things.
So I've come to be a Bruford fan over the years, and have listened to a ton of his work. But not Earthworks, to which a large part of the book is devoted. Helpfully, Bill has included a free CD offer with the book, so I'll be checking out some of the Earthworks stuff very soon.
So, if you're a fan of any of these bands mentioned above, if you're interested in the Process By Which Music Is Actually Made, and if you always wished that you too could try lots of fresh ideas in your lifetime, get this book...it's worth every penny. If you're looking for soap-opera-esque stuff, skip it. (No, Bill doesn't get on with Chris Squire. Yes, Bill thinks Fripp is, uh, eccentric. But who cares? That kind of stuff has been beaten to death.) Bill's writing is very English, of course, some of which may bypass an American audience...it helps if you're familiar with a few English idioms/phrases/slang, or at least have been to the UK at least once in your life.
While reading this book, I imagine it's just Bill and me down at the pub, and he's telling me all his stories. The difference is I don't have to buy all the beer to bribe him with, and that we don't have to drink it, become incoherent, and spoil all the stories. This book is just a lot of fun to read. Very well done.
(I was going to write all of the above and send it directly to Bill, but after reading this, I understand that he honestly does not have enough time to respond to every letter of his. So putting this here on Amazon, perchance to increase sales of his book, would be a better way for me to say thank you for many wonderful/musical years.)
The book's chapters are set-up as answers to "frequently asked questions" he has been dealing with his entire career. Throughout, there is a personal, measured, fair-minded humanity that interjects all subjects be it his ambivalent relationship with Robert Fripp, his restained loathing of Chris Squire or the trials and tribulations on the road and in the recording studio. This book is a must read for all prog rockers. Finally, the quality of the book in terms of paper choice and binding reflect the sincerity and humility of one of this era's greatest musical artists.
Now that he's written an autobiography, it may be possible to drop the qualifier. Bruford might be the most articulate and intelligent person in music.
That's probably an overstatement, of course, but music covers a lot of different types of intelligence. "Bill Bruford : The Autobiography" certainly takes its place as one of the smartest and most thoughtful books in the bookstore, especially in the entertainment and arts section.
Bruford is best-known, perhaps, for what he did at the start of his 40-year career. He was a drummer for the original Yes, putting out five albums that went a long way toward defining progressive rock. You can still hear "Roundabout" from the "Fragile" album playing on classic rock radio stations every so often. Yes sold lots of albums back then and filled plenty of hockey rinks. Then, just like that, Bruford took the unheard-of step of walking away. He says now that he thought he had done the group had done its best work on its last album, "Close to the Edge," didn't particularly like the slow, creative process with that set of individuals, and bought his way out.
Bruford jumped to King Crimson, which came and went over the years on the whim of founder Robert Fripp. When that band split up, Bruford went off to go in a variety of directions, mostly jazz-related. He's best known for his own band, Earthworks.
In one of his books, actor Alan Alda wrote that he had taken a back-end payment plan when he started working on "MASH," which turned out to be far more lucrative than anyone could have imagined. So he didn't have the obligation of taking any job that came along just to pay the bills. He could afford to be choosy and do parts that interested him. It seems as if Bruford could relate to that. The quarterly royalty payments kept, and keep, rolling in from past work, and Bruford could pursue his craft without being the proverbial starving artist that many jazz performers must be at some point.
Bruford does cover his musical life in something of chronological order, but there are few stories about life on the road or what Jon Anderson of Yes is really like. Each chapter gets a title that's a question he's heard a zillion times over the years, such as "Yes, but what do you do in the daytime?" and "Why would you want to form your own group?" That serves as something of a launching point for his own thoughts and views on a variety of different music-related subjects.
Bruford covers such areas as the changes in the business over 40 years, the concept of artist vs. craftsman, the use of computers in music, reaction to critical opinions, the relationship between artist and audience, and the role of changing music in our society over time. The list goes on.
As you may have guessed, this is not a book to be taken lightly. The background music should be down or off to allow for some concentration. Best of all, you don't have to know much at all about the drums and drumming to enjoy the at-times universal message.
Bruford announced he was finished with performing on January 1, 2009, issued this book, and said he'll pursue his musical interests in other ways. Let's hope that more writing is one of them. If "Bill Bruford : The Autobiography" is any indication, there's no doubt he has plenty more to say.