Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 19, 2010: Psychobabble recommends ‘Jack Bruce: Composing Himself’

In the introduction to Composing Himself: Jack Bruce (Jaw Bone Press), Harry Shapiro explains that when he told a friend he was writing Bruce’s biography, the friend asked, “Well, what are you going to write about after Cream?” In some perfect alternate universe, such a question would never be asked. Jack Bruce’s shiver-inducing tenor, manic bass playing, and freaky songwriting defined Cream far more than anything Eric Clapton contributed to the band, and Bruce’s first solo album, Songs for a Tailor, was far more adventurous than any of Clapton’s. Still, the guitarist went on to an extremely popular and successful post-Cream career while Bruce’s ever eclectic work was only familiar to fanatics. Reams of text have been scribbled about Slow Hand—and even a good deal has been laid down regarding deranged Cream drummer Ginger Baker—while Bruce’s life and work has received a lot less scrutiny. Chances are Composing Himself will not only be the first but the final biography focusing solely on Jack Bruce. Fortunately, it gets the job done well enough that no other will be necessary.


Probably since so much has been written about Cream, Shapiro doesn’t dwell on that band too much here. The group’s existence is limited to roughly 30 pages of this 300-page book, although their legend looms over much of what proceeds. This leaves plenty of room to discuss Jack’s early career as a serious jazz musician and a journeyman with crucial British blues groups like The Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Manfred Mann and his numerous—and often quite bizarre—projects following the demise of Cream in ’69. The cast of characters is enormous, including Mick Taylor, Lou Reed, Fela Kuti, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Leslie West, and Todd Rundgren. The breadth of his work is even more expansive: hard rock jam bands and jazz-fusion or avant garde groups, and somewhat sadly, a host of nostalgia groups that include a Beatles cover band. Bruce’s personal life is equally varied: a devout left-winger of Scottish Communist stock in a largely right-wing, English Rock world (no pro-Enoch Powell on-stage rants from Bruce, friends!), a longtime heroin-addict, an occasional dabbler in theater.

Shaprio’s writing is solid and supported by Bruce’s close involvement (this is one of those “authorized” biographies), multiple interview sources, and a quite good forward by Clapton, which makes some of the book’s stranger detours not only palatable but mesmerizing. There is a nightmarish interlude at a Mafioso’s compound where famed session pianist Nicky Hopkins is being held prisoner, possibly by black magic, and Bruce’s extended hallucination following liver surgery. Some of this stuff would not work if dropped in a less assured book. Here, it adds some extra color to an already fascinating tale.

Buy it here: Jack Bruce Composing Himself: The Authorized Biography (Book)
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