Toronto Book Review

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DRUMS & DEMONS: THE TRAGIC JOURNEY OF JIM GORDON BY JOEL SELVIN

Jim Gordon (1945-2023) left an indelible mark on the music world as a revered drummer during the vibrant eras of the 1960s and ’70s. His rhythmic prowess graced numerous iconic tracks, cementing his status as one of music’s golden players. From the mesmerizing vibes of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” to the sultry allure of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and the anthemic power of John Lennon’s “Power to the People,” Gordon’s drumming added depth and energy to countless classics.

However, amidst his musical success, Gordon grappled with severe mental illness, a silent shadow that lurked behind his musical brilliance. His battle with mental demons led him down a dark path, marked by periods of hospitalization and erratic behavior. Tragically, his descent into madness culminated in a horrific act of violence: the murder of his own mother in a psychotic break.

Prior to this heinous act, Gordon’s struggles with violence were evident in his tumultuous personal life. Reports of savage beatings inflicted upon his former wife hinted at the turmoil brewing within him, fueled by delusions of malevolent forces at play. Voices in his head, initially urging self-harm, eventually morphed into the chilling echo of his mother’s voice, commanding him to forsake his beloved drums—a command he found impossible to obey.

Even amidst the haze of drugs and mental anguish that pervaded the “Layla” sessions with Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes, Gordon’s drumming shone brightly. Yet, behind the scenes, his inner turmoil intensified, exacerbated by self-medication and a spiraling sense of self-doubt. Ultimately, his descent into madness culminated in a tragic act that would haunt him for the remainder of his days.

Following his conviction for matricide, Gordon spent the rest of his life behind bars, his musical legacy overshadowed by the dark stain of his crime. However, amidst the grim narrative of his life, it’s crucial to recognize Gordon’s humanity beyond the confines of his illness. Despite the darkness that consumed him, he was more than the sum of his afflictions—a brilliant musician whose talents transcended his troubled mind.

In his poignant biography, author Selvin invites readers to contemplate Gordon’s life with empathy and understanding. While his story is undeniably marred by tragedy, it serves as a poignant reminder of the complex interplay between genius and madness.

Gordon’s legacy, tarnished though it may be, urges us to reflect on the fragility of the human psyche and the enduring power of music to both uplift and unravel the soul.

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