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the Complete Review
the complete review - music / memoir


Bill Drummond

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To purchase 17

Title: 17
Author: Bill Drummond
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008
Length: 410 pages
Availability: 17 - US
17 - UK
17 - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : rambling, but intriguing ideas and amiable tone

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday . 24/8/2008 Jonathan Gibbs
The Observer . 10/8/2008 Paul Morley
The Telegraph . 9/8/2008 Adam Sweeting

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's the most thrilling book written about music I've read for years. It's defiantly, bracingly polemical; it might even be prophetic. (...) 17 is part manifesto, part confession. It has useful and interesting things to say about celebrity, artistic practice and Drummond's own highly idiosyncratic career (...). In essence, though, this is a post-mortem on the corpse of music as we know it, and the document of an attempt to reconnect with its soul." - Jonathan Gibbs, Independent on Sunday

  • "It is a cheeky, chatty pop book, a tidying up of a life, a scholarly book of theories about the end of this that and the other, a chivalrous advice book, a tactical set of idealistic manifestos, a forward, confessional memoir, and an examination of how hard it is in middle age to maintain an interest in the things you were interested in when you were young even though you are condemned to retain a certain amount of fascination with those things because once you were so passionately interested. It's a troubled, bad-tempered book about an idiosyncratic pop music impresario who is sick to death of pop music now that its main function is to keep us in place not create new places, and it's an emotional, effusive book that reminisces and makes lists but is irritated by how the abstract futurist spirit of pop music has been technologically, commercially and culturally transformed into repetition and nostalgia and one long uniform playlist." - Paul Morley, The Observer

  • "But what keeps the book readable is the fun Drummond obviously had writing it. He knows he can be a pretentious prat -- in fact, it's his raison d'être -- and quotes hostile emails he has received to prove it. (...) Above all, he loves the freedom to embellish, exaggerate or simply lie that print affords." - Adam Sweeting, The Telegraph

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:

       17 centres around Bill Drummond's latest (harebrained ?) scheme, The17. Drummond has always been highly ambivalent about the (pop) music world, seeking to undermine it in a variety of ways while also often being right in the thick of things (and even on top of the charts). Part of his feeling is rooted in his craving for novelty: once it's been done, he has no further use for it, and so he's easily fed up by music, especially pop music, which feeds on itself and lives off of imitation. What he wants is the new -- or something even beyond the new: on the first page already he admits:

I can't wait to hear the music that is being made 100 years from now. These notions keep me awake at night with excitement.
       The17 takes his ambivalence and antipathy to their extremes: "All recorded music has run its course", he insists. The17 is a call to cast it all aside and start all over again. "Year zero is now" ! (No getting on mid-ride for Drummond: he always wants to be there at the start, if not before it.)
       It's an interesting idea, of course, and there's certainly something admirable about Drummond's radical, whole-hog approach. Eventually he carts off every 45, LP, CD, and cassette he's accumulated over the years to the local Oxfam -- and the only question is: what took him so long ? And he does sound convincing when, after doing that, he writes:
The feeling is fantastic, as though a massive weight has been lifted that I have been literally carrying around with me for the last 35 years. Tomorrow I plan to take all my books.
       The new approach Drummond conceives is this 17-idea: unique performances by 17 people (or groups of 17), following some score that gives some basic instruction, with any recordings of the resulting 'piece' immediately deleted after the first and only performance. (See the official site for examples of the scores.) This book, 17, is a record of his putting this together, more or less in diary form, describing the various 17-attempts as well as his other undertakings during the time (covering about a year, from May 2006 through June 2007, with a 2008 Afterword). Helped by a lot of reminiscing (in an effort also to explain his reaction and attitude towards (pop) music over the decades, especially those decisive early impressions), it's surprisingly engaging. Drummond has a lot of good (or at least peculiar) stories to tell, and is willing to toss out any number of theories and arguments, many of which he accepts can't be taken too seriously, but most of which are, at least in some small way, thought-provoking.
       There is also marginal commentary from some of his colleagues, most amusingly when he mentions being invited to appear on the British 'Celebrity Big Brother' (and how disappointed his kids were that he didn't go on):
Paul: I am surprised that Bill is actually famous enough to be on Big Brother.

Rasmus: Most of the celebrities in Celebrity Big Brother were not that famous.

Paul: That is true. They have a semi-public history that people can talk about. And obviously Bill has lots of stories up his sleeve.
       Indeed, he does, and he pulls them out here, and while he has far more control over what reaches viewers/readers here than he would have on Big Brother, 17 is also a very public, revealing document.
       With an Appendix that chronicles 'Bill Drummond by Year' -- a fairly detailed chronology of his life -- 17 is a personal record, though tailored by Drummond, allowing him to appear as he wants to appear (and, yes, it's the same old Bill, familiar from his previous books and antics). Perhaps because he can't wait to see how things turn out, or because he's worried that he'll have lost interest and moved on, the descriptions of The17 project itself are a bit haphazard: some detailed descriptions of getting school-classes involved, for example, but then much more cursory descriptions of other 17s. Of course, the whole idea, put into practise, doesn't lend itself to being recorded on the page, either; fortunately, then, Drummond has a lot of old material to fall back on, from his days a record executive (well, A&R guy), to band player (Big in Japan) and manager (Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explode), to some of the KLF and K Foundation escapades.
       He has an amiable style, presents an engaging and not too cocksure personality on the page, and tosses out a lot of interesting ideas (as well as relating some amusing anecdotes), making for an enjoyable read. 17 should certainly be of interest to anyone interested in the world of pop music and culture.

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17: Reviews: The17: Bill Drummond:
  • Interview, with useful overview of his career.
Other books under review that might be of interest KLF (The Timelords):

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About the Author:

       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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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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