Bob Bert may be “just the drummer”, but he’s got a solid indie/No Wave/punk resume, having debuted with Sonic Youth in the early-80s, then shifting in and out of crucial underground projects ever since, including time spent with The Chrome Cranks, Pussy Galore, The Action Swingers, among others. He’s even got a new trio with Mick Collins and Kid Congo Powers, called WolfManhattan Project, putting out a debut later this year. In addition to his work behind the kit, Bert also documented the underground music scene via his self-published BBGun interview/photo zine from the late-’90s and early-2000’s. I’m Just The Drummer finds a common thread through all these pieces, mixing Bert’s photos and zine interviews alongside newly written passages about his life and musical exploits.
Despite only lasting just over 200 photo-heavy pages, I’m Just The Drummer gets thematically very muddled. It’s part biography, and part zine retrospective, but those pieces manage to come together to paint a larger portrait of the kinds of unique and thoughtful characters that typically inhabit the art scene. It also leaves readers feeling that Bert is comfortable among his heroes, yet remains an enthusiastic fan at heart. Enthusiasm is actually the book’s greatest quality. Even though Bert mostly came up through the downtown No Wave scene of the late-’70s and early-’80s, he’s just as excited writing about Elliott Smith and Nancy Sinatra as artists from “his scene”, like Suicide, Michael Gira, and James Chance. The best interview is with Vincent Gallo, who’s exactly as candid, hilarious and abrasive as you expect him to be, speaking freely on subjects like Christina Ricci, Jim Jarmusch and Puerto Rican girls. The interviews are a lot like the book itself – brief to the point of feeling incomplete, yet usually just long enough for the subject to drop some really interesting thoughts and ideas.