Bill Bruford has announced his retirement and, seemingly during the same week, published this book. One could read this as "hey, this is gonna be some kind of tell-all, dish-the-dirt backstabber", of the sort issued by many a retired athlete and/or coach. But then again, this is Bruford we're talking about, a man whose name usually appears in conversation with the word "integrity" not far behind.
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.)