Review: Bill Bruford, The Autobiography

I’ve finished Bill Bruford’s obviously titled autobiography, and I’m almost relieved I made it to the end. Bruford is an accomplished, amazing, creative and adventuresome drummer. The names dropped in his book range from the obvious (Yes, King Crimson) to the obscure (Pierre Moerlen) to the overlooked (Allan Holdsworth). While I learned that Bruford’s drum lines entangled him with many more musicians and styles than I would have guessed, that knowledge was conveyed in chapters that roughly read like dinner and drinks conversations.

Rather than a linear chronology, Bruford takes a simple idea – What do musicians do during the day, or How hard is it to play the drums – and turns it into a well-researched, thoughtful essay. The writing is intensely British, as is the humor (I think it’s British humor), and he doesn’t throw anyone under the tour bus. That’s the good news. The less happy side is that Bruford is a tortured artist; much of the book deals with his insecurities about his talent, his musicianship, and his creativity. In Neil Peart’s Road Show, you read about on-the-job concerns that are particular to touring musicians but not all that hard to believe: slightly dangerous but over-enthusiastic fans or missed cues within imperfect performances. Peart is a drummer who enjoys drumming and lovingly refers to his bandmates as “the guys from the office;” Bruford’s book left me feeling that he approached his music like a semi-regular trip to a moveable office. By Chapter 19, Bruford’s drums are Dilbert’s cubicle, equipped with ride cymbals and a sense of dread. Bruford relates his appearance on Peart’s “Burning for Buddy” tribute with the sense that he couldn’t wait for his two hours of big band time to hit the shout chorus.

It’s a book worth reading, espececially if you like prog rock and the Canterbury centered groups (Egg, Gong, Hatfield and the North) or ever wondered what Robert Fripp is like as a band mate. You’ll listen to “Close to the Edge” with new appreciation for how it was written and recorded, and wonder why Bruford can’t be equally amazed at his own musical accomplishments.

3 thoughts on “Review: Bill Bruford, The Autobiography

  1. Pingback: In Memorium: Arthur Lo

  2. stern Post author

    Thanks for the note about Professor Lo – I’ll post a cross-link so that readers can find your note here (typically I close comments after a few months to cut down on spam).

  3. Alex Magoun

    I’m only leaving a comment here because there was no obvious way to thank you for your thoughtful recollection of Arthur Lo on that page. As director of the David Sarnoff Library (next to the RCA Labs), I came across Lo’s name occasionally but knew nothing about him. While researching an article for IEEE Proceedings on the 1950s, I just discovered that he was co-inventor with Jan Rajchman of the transfluxor, one of the memristor’s fundamental component predecessors. If someone reviews their March 1956 Proceedings article and related patent, maybe this clever and simple device can enjoy a new life with current nano-circuit fabrication techniques.

    If you see a connection between Bruford and Lo, great; otherwise maybe you can move this below Kristin’s comment on Lo.


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