Prog-rock power pounder Bill Bruford – who is celebrating his 60th birthday today (Sunday, May 17) – sat on the drum throne for such primo progsters as Yes (and its ABWH off-shoot), King Crimson, Genesis, UK and Earthworks. Happy birthday, Bill – hope you’re enjoying your retirement.
Oh sure, take a look at all of those golden oldies rockers and classic rockers – even punk and new wave rockers – who are still out there on the road slugging their way through the same old tunes night after night to an ever-dwindling audience. With luck, the band has two or three hits that act as cornerstones in their show. Maybe they’re just a one-hit wonder, shuffling from gig-to-gig in the twilight of their career. Or maybe the band never really had a “hit” at all. Maybe it was just a song that got played on the radio a lot, but never really translated into substantial sales because of distribution problems. (Trust me, these things can indeed happen.)
Anyway, I kind of smirked a bit when I received a press release from Bruford’s Summerfold Records, which stated, “Drummer and bandleader Bill Bruford will no longer perform in public effective January 1, 2009. After an exemplary 40-year career that has moved through progressive rock to electronic jazz and on to acoustic jazz, Bruford will hang up his sticks and concentrate on ‘related activities.'”
Related activities? What the heck does that mean?
Well, it turns out that Mr. Bruford has penned a rather impressive if awkwardly titled autobiography, “Bill Bruford, The Autobiography: Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks and More” (Jawbone Press). Now I have amassed an ever-growing collection of what I describe as “Bad Semi-Celebrity Autobiographies,” and I know just how deadly these kinds of things usually turn out. From a drummer, no less.
Fortunately, I was wrong.
Bruford doesn’t pull his punches, and he possesses some serious wit, too. His chapter regarding interviews with the press is a must-read for any rock journalist, aspiring or otherwise.
Here are a few excerpts to whet yer whistle:
“From 1976 to 1982, a watered-down, simpler version [of prog rock] limped on as American stadium rock and British symphonic pop, but no new ground was being broken and the older bands started to lose commercial viability. Record companies were not above arm-twisting as the older bands, beached like mortally wounded whales, leviathans twice harpooned by the twin lances of punk and disco, flapped around trying to maintain something now called ‘market share.’ If you want a really frightening record. I strongly recommend ELP’s ‘Love Beach,’ an excruciating example of a prog rock band trying to turn in a mainstream pop album while hoping no one would notice.”
Harsh? You bet. True? Uh-huh…
And how about Bruford’s description of his one-time bandleader, Robert Fripp? “One part Joseph Stalin, one part Mahatma Gandhi, and one part the Marquis de Sade, a description that I suspect would make him roar with laughter.”
Bruford, it seems, has just as much talent at the laptop as he did behind the drums.
Happy birthday, Bill. What’s next? Perhaps a novel, I hope…