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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical


Bill Drummond

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase 45

Title: 45
Author: Bill Drummond
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 2000
Length: 361 pages
Availability: 45 - US
45 - UK
45 - Canada
  • Includes In Praise of Council Homes, which is also available as the Afterword of The Manual (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting character, interesting doings, quite well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph B 3/3/2000 Mick Brown
The Guardian A- 26/2/2000 Steven Poole
The Independent A 26/2/2000 Charles Shaar Murray
London Rev. of Books . 1/6/2000 Iain Sinclair
New Statesman . 4/2/2002 Jeremy Worman
The Times . 26/2/2000 J.B. Maunsell

  From the Reviews:
  • "Drummond is a fluent, literate writer, but this book has a melancholic tone which I am not sure is intended; there is a sense that Drummond is searching for purity among the detritus of pop-music hype and art pranks." - Mick Brown, Daily Telegraph

  • "Drummond's theories of art are always provocative and deceptively erudite. But his disarming, self-doubting persona (...) implies a more interesting, almost desperate motive for the book. (...) At its best 45 has flashes of twisted brilliance reminiscent of Iain Sinclair or Will Self, but the majority is most interesting because the author was one half of the KLF. Of course, that is more than enough glory for one lifetime. Yet the fact remains that this book will forever labour under the shadow of those horned men and their gleefully apocalyptic music." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "Drummond is many things, and one of those things is a magician. (...) Art is magic, and so is pop. Bill Drummond is a cultural magician, and 45 is his logbook. Shelve alongside Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices. Hail Discordia !" - Charles Shaar Murray, The Independent

  • "His philosophy (...) feels limp and rather decadent, and the reader probes in vain for any deeper justification for all the creative stunts Drummond has staged in his life. None the less, this episodic memoir is both well written and amusing." - Jeremy Worman, New Statesman

  • "(T)here is a method in his madness. The book's disparate follies all swoop around the same themes - music, myth-making, celebrity, art, the media. And you realise that, far from being foolish, Drummond has the inimitable wisdom of a true maverick." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bill Drummond is an unusual sort of pop star. Among the highlights of his career: he managed (in a manner of speaking) both Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, had his own number 1 hit -- Doctorin' the Tardis, as part of The Timelords (check it out at Amazon.com) --, co-wrote The Manual, a DIY guide to reaching number one (see our review), put out more records as the KLF, set up an Anti-Turner art prize, and burned a million quid.
       Restless, often unfocussed on the task at hand (at least that is the impression he leaves, though his accomplishments suggest otherwise), and with a group of friends with their own decidedly odd ideas and ambitions, Drummond involves himself in any number of unusual stunts and undertakings. Many of his efforts seem elaborate and often bizarre publicity stunts, and much of what he does is marked by a distinct effort to undermine his own efforts. Success, of sorts, seems to come despite his best efforts to avoid it.
       In recent years Drummond has turned to writing. Small volumes of generally autobiographical pieces -- From the Shores of Lake Placid (included in 45) and the Annual Report (see our review) -- have appeared in the last few years. 45, with its 361 pages, is a considerably larger and somewhat more ambitious collection. Having reached the age of 45 Drummond resolved "to write a book that contained snapshots of the world from where I was standing." Not quite an autobiography, 45 does give a great deal of background, and fuller accounts of some of Drummond's more memorable undertakings.
       45 is presented in the form of episodes, chapters of varying length on various subjects, most with the date on which they were (ostensibly) written (between 1997 and 1999, with the pieces not arranged in chronological order). Many of the vignettes deal with what Drummond is doing at the time when he writes them: taking his kids to a Michael Jackson concert in Helsinki, making soup for a houseful of artists in Belfast, driving around the M25 for 25 hours straight with Gimpo (Alan Goodrick), or his routine at his local library.
       There are also pieces about the glory days: the invaluable From the Shores of Lake Placid, which recounts Drummond's career trying to manage Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes (and even includes a Courtney Love cameo), a demythologizing account of Tammy Wynette's contribution to the classic KLF track, Justified and Ancient, and an account of the Beograd screening of Watch The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid (a welcome complement to the superb Chris Brook/Gimpo chronicle, K Foundation burn a Million Quid -- see our review).
       More recent efforts are also described in detail, from the ride around the M25 to the KLF's millennial reunion. These, the Tennent's-soaked Christmas special, and the attempt to string up some cows from a pylon (a plan that doesn't quite work out), offer the best insight into the odd ways and ideas of Drummond and his mates.
       The episodes -- an immensely varied lot -- are almost all very entertaining. Drummond relates them quite well, and many have the appeal of the truly bizarre. Nevertheless, Drummond presents himself as fairly down-to-earth, working his farm, spending his days writing in the town library (My Modern Life offers an excellent view of "a day in the life"). He is easily tempted by the unusual and occasionally outrageous, but rarely does he not seem in full control of his faculties (unlike Gimpo, who strays in and out of the picture).
       The only true problem with the book is that it does try to be too much. The reminiscences chafe against the contemporary scenes. Drummond would have a great memoir in him -- From the Shores of Lake Placid is a great beginning -- but he only offers dribs and drabs of the KLF days, the Doctorin' the Tardis triumphs, even much of the K Foundation work. He might be tired of it, but what he devotes to these scenes from the past is certainly of interest to his readers, offering additional insight from a welcome persepective (as, for example, even such a small piece as the one about the Beograd screening of the K Foundation film does). All these are stories worth telling, and many will wish that he had told a lot more.
       Drummond's contemporary focus and more incidental pieces -- about purchasing some Stewart Home pieces, interviewing Richard Long, flying on the same plane with Peter Green, Scots nationalism, making soup, his often mundane life -- are also accomplished, a worthwhile and interesting collection in their own right. However, the smaller and more cohesive collection, Annual Report (see our review), which is made up of similar pieces, is a more powerful book because, even though it is limited in scope, the pieces fit together. The fill of 45 is, ultimately too much, two books squeezed uncomfortably in one. Drummond comes close to pulling it off in his laid back style, but falls just a bit short.
       Throughout the book Drummond shows himself reluctant to take anything too seriously. He gives many opinions, often strong ones, but often pulls back at the last minute. "You don't agree with me ?" he asks. "I don't know if I agree with myself."
       He expresses concern about all his acts -- including this book --, worried about public perception and motives that even he, perhaps, does not recognize in himself. Among the most noteworthy aspects of his art is his constant effort to destroy it -- from erasing back catalogues and constantly self-destructing to the burning of the million quid. Writing and publishing does not lend itself as easily to such purges -- though the memory of the novel he co-authored, Bad Wisdom, winding up in the remainder bins still seems to smart. It will be interesting to see where Drummond goes from here -- will the book be recalled and unwritten ? Will he burn his royalty checks ? Soak the remainder volumes in the extra Tennent's he has stored up ?
       Writing does not quite lend itself to the same pop levels of stardom, notoriety, and idiocy as music spectacularly does (and the Rushdie fatwa has set the bar very high for anyone giving it a try). What Drummond writes here can not appeal to the same enormous audience that made Doctorin' the Tardis a number one hit (though book sales seem to be brisk). Likely he does not care about the smaller audience he reaches, but can this half of the KLF be satisfied with the banality of a bookstore existence for his works ? Drummond has found a decent style, and he seems to have more than enough material for further volumes -- if that is the road he wants to take. A clearer focus, some tighter editing and he would have some damn fine books. An anticlimactic turn in his career ? Perhaps, but there is something to be said for this particular approach as well. And as long as he is up for projects such as driving the M25 for 25 hours straight he'll still be the same Bill Drummond underneath.
       45 is a useful companion to contemporary British culture. There's not quite enough here for it to be considered among the definitive books on Echo and the Bunnymen, the brilliant but difficult Julian Cope, or the KLF and its offshoots, but it does offer interesting views of all of these. In addition Drummond is a perceptive observer of the contemporary art scene and makes some astute (and clever) points regarding the difficulty of producing art in this day and age. He is not jaded, cynical, or too conceited, which makes the book an enjoyable read.

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45: Reviews: Bill Drummond:
  • Interview, with useful overview of his career.
KLF (The Timelords): Other books by and about Bill Drummond under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Iain Sinclair's London Orbital
  • Julian Cope goes Head-On, giving his version of the early days in Liverpool with The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen (and writing of Drummond in 1999: "Writes Patriarchal literature.")

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About the Author:

       Born in 1953, Bill Drummond once managed Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. He is part of the creative force (along with Jimmy Cauty) behind The KLF, The Justified and Ancients of MuMu, and The Timelords. As a member of The Timelords he had a number one hit with Doctorin' the Tardis. As The KLF and The JAMs he has been sued by ABBA, tried to recruit Whitney Houston to sing with the group, and convinced Tammy Wynette to do so (on the brilliant "Justified and Ancient"). As a trustee of the K Foundation he has burned a million quid.

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