All My Yesterdays
I am a guitarist, and Yes are my favourite band. I was therefore very pleased to receive “All My Yesterdays” as a birthday present - I was keen to read the life story of one of my guitar heroes.
The book is chronological, and the first section, covering Howe's life from schooldays through his first forays into music and bands including The Syndicats, Bodast and Tomorrow is interesting, as I knew little about these bands. Surprisingly to me (as I have always thought of Howe as a vegetarian, clean living kind of guy) he recalls some heavy drinking and drug-fuelled incidents that fit with the stereotype of the late 1960s psychedelia age.
While Howe does write about the records he listened to as a child and the guitarists who influenced him (Chet Atkins notably), it is frustrating in this part of the book, and throughout, that there is little about the development of his own music and his writing style. When the book moves on to his early years in Yes, I was expecting to read in detail about how classics of the Yes repertoire were fashioned and brought together, where the ideas came from and how they were realised in the studio. Instead the book reads more like a regurgitation of dates and events from Howe's diary, especially US tours, but there is little insight into the man and his music. I have read before that much of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” was written by Howe and Jon Anderson in hotel rooms while on tour, but how this process worked and the music was brought together is not covered. As a musician myself, this is what I came to the book wanting and expecting.
There is also little detail provided behind the various musical characters in Howe's life, other than he seems to constantly complain about Chris Squire's drinking problems and lateness. How did he work with the other members of the band? What was behind Bill Bruford leaving the band, and how did that affect the music? How did Patrick Moraz change the feel of the band, and why did he leave? When Asia started, how did he get on with John Wetton and what happened with Wetton leaving and Greg Lake replacing him? These are some of the questions I was hoping to have answered by the book, but Howe chooses instead to skate over these matters briefly and move on. Possibly he does not want to offend other musicians and their families, but it would have created a more lively and engaging book.
The book ends with a bizarre chapter covering Howe's other interests – art, books, cars, yoga, homeopathy, etc. This feels like it has been tagged on at the end to fill out what is already a fairly substantial 300 page tome, and would have worked better woven into the timeline of the other events in his life.
So overall, though I read the book in a couple of sittings, ultimately I found it disappointing. As a chronology of his musical life it is thorough, but for the Yes fan who wants to get under the skin of a great musician, there is little here to satisfy.