In the summer of 1991, my girlfriend took a trip back East from Santa Cruz, California, to visit her family. I decided it was a good time for a short camping trip to Big Sur, so I loaded up my Harley and hit the road for a nice 2-hour putt down Highway 1. I had no idea what I’d be doing once I got there, but it didn’t matter. It never did. Big Sur is perfect no matter what your plans are, and it always put my head back in a proper place.
I was 32 at the time, and I was knee-deep in mental confusion about how to finish writing The Elements of Rhythm. It was a never-ending source of agony to try to sort out which way to go. I figured that maybe some time away would help me get some direction, and camping always relaxed me, so off to the redwoods was the plan.
I pitched the tent and then headed over to Heartbeat, my favorite store in Big Sur. They always have something interesting in their layout, and at the time, the whole drum circle thing was just starting to grow. I saw a book I’d been wanting to read for some time, so I bought it and headed back to my campsite.
Drumming on the Edge of Magic was written by Grateful Dead drummer Micky Hart, who majorly helped usher in the concept of rhythm as therapy. I could write an entire page alone on this effort, but if you search his name, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The thing I hoped to find in reading his book was indeed the magic, or at least conversation about the more spiritual side of drumming. Micky shared his drumming journey and his incorporation of world rhythms into his playing, and as I sat by my campfire, I became drawn deeper and deeper into exactly what I’d hoped to find.
The smell of the smoke, the simplicity of the day, the wind blowing through the trees… all of these elements spoke to what playing was really about: paying attention to what’s going on around you and becoming a part of it. Finding your place and then finding your way. I was sorely out of touch with all of this, and it took detaching myself from everything to get re-connected to what really mattered. I did it by going someplace where regardless of what you did, nothing mattered. No worries. Just being. And integrating.
A friend came down to visit, and we rode my bike around Big Sur for an afternoon. When we came back to the campground, I took off my riding boots and tossed them. They landed toes-forward, aiming towards Los Angeles. I took that as a sign that I needed to get back here and work on things, that it was time to dive in and solve the problems associated with finishing The Elements of Rhythm.
Mickey’s book had so many cool little passages that made you think about the spiritual side of drumming that I soon lost track of them. I felt energized with the right stuff, at least the right stuff for me. And the last night I was there, I really got the message.I took a walk from the bottom of Ventana campground up through the redwoods and to the top of the parking lot. I looked up at a sky filled with stars, and the answer came to me: I had to write Elements in such a way that it would connect the dots of all my thoughts about applying the fundamental building block rhythm patterns to musicians and music research groups.
A year later, I took the train up to Berkeley to a book signing at Gaia Bookstore where Micky was speaking.
“What do you want me to write?” he asked, as I handed him a copy of his book.
“Finish your rhythm book,” I replied…
It would be another 20 years before I got there, but at least I knew how to get started. I got sidelined many times along the way, but in the end, I discovered how to stay true to my musical and artistic vision, much in thanks to being reconnected to the more soulful aspects of drumming.
If you have a lot on your mind about what to do with your drumming and your artistic life, what you could and should do, try getting out of town, and maybe give Drumming at the Edge of Magic a look. You younger drummers especially, who are just starting out in your careers and education, have an overload of options bombarding you. Taking the time to breathe is definitely time well spent.
Then, pump everything you have into harnessing your soul in the right direction, and you will feel vividly alive even during the hardest parts of the struggle. The result is that when you sit down to play, you will be 100% THERE… and believe me, the band will hear it, the audience will feel it, and the musical universe will know it has done its job by bringing you closer to the true edge of your own drumming magic.