Bill Bruford Autobiography Book Review

Bill Bruford book review

It took me a while to finish this one. I actually put it down for a while, because I felt it started to get repetitive with his bleakness of his view of the music industry and the reflections of his career, so I moved onto something else at the time. Alas I picked it up again months later and it was more of the same. However, being a small part of the business myself, I can very well see where he is coming from in his cynicism. Imagine your an innovator, respected player, hard working band leader. You’ve seen new musical styles, business practices and technologies come along which many serve the function of replacing the composers role, the drummers role, marginalizing the band and the control they have over careers. Trivializing the whole supposed beauty of the art form.

There are of course things that account for this.

An example Bruford sets forth, is indeed technological advances.
In classical times, a composer/musician was celebrated, left to his devices to do what he or she does best and allowed to flourish writing symphonies/music which was reserved for people with an exceptional gift, and left for the public to anticipate and enjoy.
Same true to radio and phonograph records. Song writing was a appreciated more and so was the way we listened. To sit down in without distraction and listen to an entire track or album, relishing in the experience. Something people left to musicians who did it well and thoroughly enjoyed, something that enriched their lives.

Flash forward where everyone can and does ‘compose’ on their computer, doesn’t need to even learn an instrument to do so, and puts little thought or feeling into songs writing, wants instant gratification out of their listening experience, something that satisfies them in 8 seconds, lest it be cast aside as boring.

To someone like Bruford who grew up in a whole other generation it must be a dismal outcome of something that once seemed pure, something you had work hard at to earn a place on the stage and studio, to sweat for hours in the practice room, to earn the title of musician/artist. A label anyone can now adopt with GarageBand.

He’s had enough and retires a few years back.

“What is the origin of this dull aching to stop, this desire to lay down the load?I’ve become the wet dream of every 40 something white male with a receding hairline and a drum kit he put into the closet when he got a mortgage. I’m doing what they would have done, if they’d had the balls. Don’t ever stop they order. Keep doing what your doing, they instruct. Until when? Until they let me stop? Until I drop? And all this aching while I have the best band with the best musicians I have ever worked with, the best review from Neil Tesser I’m likely ever to get. It’s one of gods little jokes that, after diligent labor and focused improvement over this long stretch, I am, despite the accumulation of the experience and technical ability of a lifetime spent at the instrument, unable to imagine a future.”

He also likens giving up the drums to a boxer hanging up his gloves. If they can do it, why can’t he hang up his drum sticks?

He also mentions that he feels inadequate in the face of today’s young players, who are at masterful levels of ability and creativity in their early years.

This book did a few things for me. It gives fair warning of the kind of bullshit one can expect to face in the music business, but it also gave me a shred of doubt, that at the end of all the years of struggling to survive on music, that it may prove fruitless. That all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and the musical climate is not destined to improve and playing music is a losing game if you wish to do it honestly.
My youthful optimism opposes that notion, but……what IF he’s right? Personally I feel I’m cut out for more than just music and that gives me a reason not to care so much whether or not my career ends in money, stardom and mass acceptance.
Overall I feel his glass is very half empty and he shouldn’t have been so melodramatic with his career memories. Does he not treasure them? Only a few small nuggets? One would hope to get more out of life than just a few things to remember having enjoyed. No one can know having not walked in his shoes. I’m sure he is fine just the way he is. I still love his work.
Definitely a good read.