BY CHRISTIAN KIEFER
It’s simply impossible to underestimate the importance of
Bill Bruford to the art of drumming. To call him a veteran or a godfather would
simply be missing the point. For four decades he played with the likes of Yes,
King Crimson, Genesis, Gong, and his own ensemble Earthworks, not to mention
countless other jazz-related projects that extended his technique far beyond
its initial progressive rock foundation.
His new autobiography is, therefore, an exciting prospect. At
last we will be privy to the inside scoop on those great bands as seen from the
drum stool and, if we’re lucky, we will be allowed some insight into Bruford’s
technique, hopefully skewed for non-musicians. Weirdly, though, Bruford’s book
is a bit out of balance in both regards. There are few pages devoted, for
example, to his seminal band Yes and even those pages tend to be the kind of
material we might get from any well-written band biography. We get a bit more
about his work in the jazz world, sufficient proof that Bruford’s interests
moved more strongly in that directly in the latter half of his career.
What makes this more problematic is Bruford’s lengthy excursions
into general discussions of music as a cultural force. It’s a worthy topic, but
perhaps better argued by Simon Frith, Bruford’s go-to when looking for a quote.
What I want from Frith is astute commentary on music and the process of
cultural production. What I want from Bruford is very specific articulation of
his life, his bands, and his craft. What I get from Bruford is something a bit
too academic, too general, and too disorganized. Bruford might want to take a
page (or three hundred) from Nick Mason’s excellent volume on his years in Pink
Floyd, a book eminently more readable than this one.