Heroes and Villains


Occasional Writings
January 24, 1997

To Nick Coleman (GQ Magazine),

Many thanks for your fax. Here is a short piece on “Heroes and Villains” (to use the Beach Boys title).

As someone who has an intimate relationship with deadlines, my hero is Joseph Needham, the great physicist and Nobel Prize winner. On his retirement from being Professor of Physics at Cambridge University, when most pensioners would be planning their gardening, he embarked on the monumental and definitive seven-volume encyclopaedia  Science and Civilisation in China. His confident grasp of the whole subject is demonstrated by the fact that the first volume, published in 1954,  has detailed chapter headings and contents for all seven volumes, which he estimated would take a further 25 years to produce. He completed the project with time to spare and died not long ago aged 97.

My villain would have to be the un-nameable miscreant who invented the bass guitar, a soul-less abomination which is less an instrument and more a sound-effect. Its introduction into jazz in the 1960’s was one of the reasons for my abandoning jazz and improvised music.

Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars