RIP Jack Bruce, Cream Frontman

My dad’s favorite band was Cream. It wasn’t like he ever showed it. There were no Cream records or cassettes in the house. He never searched for them on K-LOS, the classic rock station...
By    October 25, 2014

My dad’s favorite band was Cream. It wasn’t like he ever showed it. There were no Cream records or cassettes in the house. He never searched for them on K-LOS, the classic rock station that played ‘White Room” every three hours on the hour. But every time I ever asked him about the favorite bands of his youth, Cream was invariably the first name recited. It’s not hard to understand why. He was 15 when they first formed, one of rock’s first super-groups, compromised of formerly hired guns searching to create their own amalgam of hard rock, psychedelia, and Skip James. For a teenager, they must’ve seemed revelatory. They were melodic enough to appeal to sing-a-long sensibilities and brutal enough to headbang. And even with that weak 60s weed, they must’ve sounded extraordinary to kids searching paradoxically for heaviness and ascendance.

I never got into Cream when I was a teenager. There was too much Wu Tang and Mobb Deep to war with. In my early 20s, I legitimately discovered what I was told was the original power trio. It was my post-graduate year, which I mostly spent tutoring children, grading papers for a high school, answering phones at a law office, writing, and inhaling gravity bong rips for narcotic and economic purposes (oh, the conservation). And few bands outside of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd can soundtrack ripping your synapses to smithereens quite like Cream. In my almost permanently disoriented condition, Disraeli Gears was always my favorite of the quartet of records the British band released. The sophomore album marked the group’s transition from electric blues traditionalists into an artists with their own formidable paisley vision. They were singing songs about ancient Greek Myths, they had a Kinks-like sense of old world wonder but all the 7 miles high guitar tricks and ferocious basslines that some rap producer would’ve sampled had they not been too expensive.

Jack Bruce was the group’s lead singer and bass player — the man who wrote many of the songs, delivered those funky riffs, and let loose that spooky tenor that always made you feel like Cream descended from some other time altogether. They were 60s, but obsessed by the Pre-War bluesman and Indian sitar ragas, and blessed with a power strong enough to cut through any generation gap. Bruce died last night at 71 years old. Liver disease. He’d done enough drugs to down a Downey, so making it to 71 is pretty solid. Cream played a few reunion shows in 2005, but I never made it to any. I wasn’t about to spend thousands of dollars to see my dad’s favorite band. And he wasn’t about to relive his youth during the height of his Israeli gypsy pop era (different story for a different blog post). By the mid-2000s, Cream’s reputation had diminished quite a bit. Baby Boomer nostalgia has made almost all of these bands mildly toxic. But I’m listening to all their records this morning and reminded why they hypnotized father and son, across a span of a half-century. We take fusion for granted, but there was something radical in what they did. There’s appropriation but absolute reverence — yet not so much that they couldn’t do something absolutely fresh to both blues and rock. They tore it down and built it back up again and jammed harder than your favorite hackeysack band. In the aftermath of his departure, here’s a few of my favorites and some live performances because YouTube is a portal.

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