Archive for book review

the other bruce

Calling this a recommendation for new summer reading is late on a number of counts. First, the book in question actually came out last year. Plus the season, as we know it, is pretty well finished.

Nonetheless, the days around and after Labor Day were spent with Composing Myself, Harry Shapiro’s very insightful authorized biography of Jack Bruce. To many, Bruce is known almost exclusively and the bassist, songwriter and primary vocalist for the late ‘60s rock trio Cream. And it is the pop music premise that Bruce should have met or exceeded the stardom level attained by Cream guitarist Eric Clapton that fuels much of the book.

“Should have” is the operative term. Classically trained and infatuated with jazz, Bruce’s music was simply too advanced, complicated or outside parameters of what most rock stars operated by. And by the time he assembled sustainable bands that could address such commercial concerns, the pop world had moved on.

Bruce, who has often come across as notoriously self-involved in interviews over the years, speaks with candid humility throughout Composing Myself, especially in the book’s early chapters that trace him as a teen touring across Europe with the likes of Graham Bond and John Mayall, knowing little of the world outside England and his proud birthplace, Scotland.

The Cream chapters take up remarkably little of the book, which is probably natural as the band existed for barely two years, even though it pioneered the template for rock trios by covering, in almost scholarly fashion, the jazz, blues and psychedelic inspirations of the day.

But the Cream narratives are still comprehensive as the book views the sense of artistic excitement that surrounded the band’s two finest albums (Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire) as well its very tumultuous relationship – especially within the ties between Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker.

Such troubled relations fracture almost every time the two players meet, especially during a later chapter (A Question of Time, named after a 1989 Bruce solo album of the same name) where the bassist and drummer attempt to reconcile before and during a joint tour.

Shapiro makes the rounds on the interview front. A litany of career-spanning collaborators offer comments, including Clapton, longtime lyricist Pete Brown, jazz artists Carla Bley, Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham, guitar greats Robin Trower, Gary Moore and Chris Spedding along with several members of Bruce’s immediate family.

While the author succumbs to hero worship at times in his assessments of some of Bruce’s music, one still leaves with renewed appreciation for his post-Cream work – especially the troubled, drug rattled Los Angeles sessions that led to Bruce’s most underrated recording (1974’s Out of the Storm) and the formation and quick implosion of his short-lived mid ‘70s supergroup with Bley and ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor.

Most of all, you gain appreciation for Bruce’s artistic temperament – a skilled, schooled and complicated vision that was perhaps denied the level of stardom he deserved but shines brilliantly within these pages.

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a drummer's life

bill bruford. photo by james compsty.

bill bruford. photo by james compsty.

The week before Labor Day may not exactly be the most apt time to make a recommendation for summer reading. What can I say? I’m making my late summer reading pick now because I read it during the late summer.

Regardless of the season, Bill Bruford’s newly published autobiography, ingeniously titled The Autobiography, is a must read for insight into the often de-glamorized life of a serious working musician.

Bruford established his credentials at the onset of the ‘70s as drummer with Yes, leaving the band at its artistic and commercial apex following the release of Close to the Edge in 1972 for the darker, more daring and vastly more turbulent soundscapes of King Crimson – an alliance that would last, on and off, for 25 years. Even with freelance jaunts in Genesis and Gong interspersed among those tenures, Bruford spent much of the last two decades adjourning to jazz with his Earthworks band only to “retire from active service” as a professional musician earlier this year.

One would suppose then that The Autobiography would chronologically approach and dissect those segments of Bruford’s career and, thus, appeal almost exclusively to retro-minded prog rock die-hards and, perhaps, the curious jazzer. In fact, The Autobiography is a welcome curve ball where Bruford structures the telling of his career as if he were giving an interview. Thus the chapters use mundane questions the drummer has subjected himself too countless times as titles.

Among them: “Do You Still See Any of the Old Guys?,” “Yes, But What Do You Really Do?,” “Are You Making This Up?” and, of course, “Do You Like Doing Interviews?”

You can imagine what the answer to the latter is.

Quintessentially British – as in witty, blunt and conversational in an almost elegant manner – Bruford diffuses all Spinal Tap stereotypes from the onset. He has been happily married for 36 years, so forget tales of sordid on-the-road promiscuity. In fact, his view of music making (which is altogether different from his view of the music business) is often intensely personal.

He goes at length to explain philosophies that differentiate the worlds of art and mere entertainment. “The problem with entertainment is that it’s like juggling eggs,” Bruford writes. “The man who can juggle two eggs has an audience until someone comes along who can juggle three eggs. The problem with art is that it’ll probably kill you. So take your pick.”

Similarly, he takes mutual swings at working practices in America as well as in England: “Americans ‘can do,’ or at least could do.’ In 1968, unusual phrases such as ‘Yep,’ ‘Sure’ and ‘No problem’ could be heard under blue American skies as frequently as ‘Not a chance, mate,’ ‘I shouldn’t think so’ or ‘I wouldn’t if I were you, guy’ were heard in the grey mist of a London morning.”

There are, of course, wonderful postscripts – some extremely insightful – from Bruford’s life in music, although the Yes and King Crimson tales pale next to stories of working with notoriously unreliable electronic percussion devices in the 1980s, the largely unexpected underwriting of one of the drummer’s finest recordings (a 1997 trio album with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez titled If Summer Had Its Ghosts) and the almost elegiac sadness, seemingly rooted in perfectionist insecurities, that surrounded his retirement (“I now find further progress blocked both by the rocky mountains of inadequate technical ability and the gulf of imaginative shortcomings”).

It’s a splendid if not sobering read – a chronicle with a happy ending (an enduring family life and ownership of his entire catalogue of solo and bandleading recordings) but a somewhat shaken sense of artistic well being.

Curious about the music that made Bruford one of the most heralded and distinctive drummers in or out of rock music over the past 40 years? Then check out the recordings he considers as personal milestones in the book. Namely:

+ Yes: Close to the Edge (1972)

+ King Crimson: Red (1974)

+ Bruford: One of a Kind (1979)

+ King Crimson: Discipline (1981)

+ Earthworks: Bill Bruford’s Earthworks (1986)

But for a sense of proper perspective in how these albums play out in a truly extraordinary prog, rock and jazz career, spend some time with The Autobiography. It’s the best summer music reading you will find this fall.

AREA STUDENTS NAMED MERIT SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS

The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA) September 17, 1995 | Compiled by Mary Beth Donelan Six Inland Northwest students have been named National Merit Scholarship winners. The awards are financed by the college or university.

The scholars, the college or university they will attend, and their graduating high schools are:

Jeffrey Ridlington, Whitman College, Mead Senior High School.

Kathryn Fanning, Gonzaga University; Pasco High School.

John Cameron, University of Washington; Pullman High School. go to web site beth moore blog

Richard Weeks, Gonzaga University; Ferris High School.

Charles De Grasse, University of Chicago, Walla Walla High School.

Ryan Ciolli, University of Oklahoma, Hanford Secondary School, Richland.

Cathy Johnston, Pasco, and Nancy Stewart, Spokane, were runners-up in the Treasures for the Tree Ornament Contest sponsored by Crafts ‘n Things magazine.

Two Inland Northwest students have been accepted to attend Dickinson College, Pa., in the fall:

Claire Innes, daughter of Charles and Wanda Innes, is a graduate of St. George’s School.

Jennifer Harrell, daughter of Michael and Mary Harrell, is a graduate of Gonzaga Preparatory School.

Helen Tennican, recently graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, with degrees in biology and Chinese studies.

Leonard Jansen, a retired Spokane attorney, has been named to a three-year term on the Whitman College Board of Overseers which is responsible for recommending policies related to institutional administration. here beth moore blog

Jansen has been a chapterman at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, director of the Scottish Rite Foundation and president of the Lind and Ritzville Chamber of Commerce. He is also a member of the Downtown Spokane Rotary Club, chairman of the Spokane Public Library Board and director of the Deaconess Medical Center Foundation.

Dr. Kelli Pearson has been elected chairperson of Business Excellence for Women, formerly Professional Resource Options.

Other newly elected board members are: Cari Lynn Cramer, Ellie Chambers, Maggie Crawford, Colleen Striegel, Susan Thomas, Marlene Waltermire and Kerry Faggiano.

Five athletes represented the Spokane Silver Mermaids at the XXIX AAU Junior Olympic Games in Des Moines, Iowa. They competed in the 14-15 age group in synchronized swimming.

The team of Karissa Crossley, Beth Moore, Megan Murphy, Nikki Velategui and Becky Weaver, finished 13th.

The trio of Moore, Murphy and Velateui, finished 13th, and the duet of Moore and Murphy finished 19th. In a solo performance Velategui finished 21st, and in a solo Crossley finished 23rd.

In figure competition, Beth Moore placed 32nd out of 140 athletes in the competition. Other athletes placed as follows: Megan Murphy, 86th; Nikki Velategui, 99th; Karissa Crossley, 116th; and Becky Weaver, 127th.

Compiled by Mary Beth Donelan


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