Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jack Bruce – Composing Himself by Harry Shapiro

(Jawbone) I may not be the best person to review this because I am one of the rare people not enamored with Eric Clapton’s playing. On the other hand, the fact that I love Cream and none of Clapton’s later work makes me more intrigued to know the story of Bruce, the only member of that power trio that managed to remain somewhat anonymous despite the group’s massive success. Singing and crafting Cream’s songs Jack Bruce actually deserved stardom more than Clapton – - that’s how lead singing usually works. But in creating a new template for rock where the thundering guitar and drums (and to  a lesser degree, Bruce’s bass) are so monumental that they eclipse traditional rock, it basically takes the “lead” out of “lead singer.” Bruce’s fate is less surprising when you read about what a mess his life has been, fighting with bandmate Ginger Baker, befriending heroin, and constantly searching for something musical that will either succeed or fulfill him. A Glasgowian lad with a knack for music Bruce grew up on the rough streets and worked his way into rock by playing in proper bands before joining the 60s Brit blues bands that everyone seems to have been in. I don’t get the impression, however, that he was as enamored with black American music as his pals, or if he was, not in the same fawning way. The years after Cream (Cream’s short career is but a short portion of the book) has him exploring, soaring and usually crashing quickly.  The best and worst thing about Composing Himself are the same thing. As Bruce tries again and again to put something together, fails, tries again, fails, tries again it becomes kind of monotonous. But I suspect that is exactly what the life of Bruce felt like, with a Sisyphusian series of disappointments running one into another. This book (basically an autobiography, Shapiro is clearly just sprucing up Bruce interviews) lets you feel like rock star…but unfortunately that rock star is a man who has not had it easy.

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