Archive for November, 2010

I had dinner last night with a friend after picking up the green sparkle Ludwigs, finally. We talked about drumming and how hard it is to do it for a living. One of the topics that came up was the idea of talent becoming an obligation.

I told my friend that in my early 20s, life centered entirely around music. I had chops, decent ears, and a lot of energy, and I wanted to play drums for a living. The problem was, the rest of the world did not. Friends were getting married, having kids, buying houses, and I was starving and working on keeping a beat.

Friends were taking vacations, buying lots of toys, and living normal lives. I was pushing myself endlessly to become better, faster, stronger as a drummer, and nothing else mattered… but it was a very lonely experience. I couldn’t enjoy just any kind of car; I had to have something big enough to carry drums. I couldn’t go off for the weekend; I had to play a gig. I couldn’t just rent an apartment; I had to live somewhere I could set my drums up, which was an eternally almost impossible goal to attain.

This is not complaining… it’s just the way things were. But… sometimes, I really resented having musical talent. It really did feel more like an obligation, one I had to attend to. After awhile, I really wanted to taste other aspects of life. I became deeply involved with a book I had been researching, one that took me across the country to Washingon, D.C. for several years. I fell into a day job to pay bills, made flight manuals for the Coast Guard, got sucked into a love of aviation and dove into full blast to see if I could do it.

I moved to California courtesy a 1982 Harley, became a magazine writer for Easyriders and then for DRUM!, and then got into screenwriting, where I spent a few years seriously pursuing TV and movie projects. Never sold anything, but I went for it full blast.

Aviation evolved beyond a hobby and into a profession, taking me further and further away from music. But in 2003, my father passed away, and everything changed. I experienced the reality of loss and realized that time was too short to waste. I purchased recording equipment and a Roland TD 6 kit and decided to complete an original goal of recording an odd meter CD.

More flying came along, failed relationships, relocation to Los Angeles, and renewed attention from one of the biggest producers in Hollywood who was looking at a TV series I created. All the while, music lingered in the background, feeling less like an obligation and more like an eventuality.

More ups and downs with screenwriting, the loss of my mother, and an even louder call to remember not to waste time.

It was a motorcycle accident last year that really drove home the final point. There’s something pathetic and annoying about looking at your left arm hanging in a cloth sling, then looking at your drum set and realizing that it can all be lost in seconds. My arm is fine now, and I play as often as I can, but the life-long issue of having to tailor my life to my talents remains. What took me 30 years to realize is that I’ve been lucky, very lucky, that nothing happened to completely take me out of the game. I intend to stay in it for the duration.

Whatever comes of these efforts to play and renew music, it all means so much more now than it ever did. I would not suggest that you wait 30 years to discover this truth, however. Jump all over your talent and eat it alive. The obligation you have is to art itself; without you, it fades away…

I brought the “Green Machine” home from Guitar Center the other night, in the pouring rain. Unusual for Los Angeles this time of year, cold and muggy, not much fun…

… but it didn’t matter, because I finally got my 1970’s Ludwig drums homes, the ones that will define my voice for a long time to come.

I didn’t intentionally seek out a John Bonham kit; I just happened to find one in the exact color I have wanted for over twenty years, when I last had a green sparkle Ludwig kit. But believe me, when you hit these things, John Bonham speaks.

I used to listen to him in high school, and his drumming on “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (Led Zeppelin III) was the song that taught me how to play the blues… with unapologetic power. His sheer impact was numbing, and I loved the SLAM it sent through the speakers and my ancient headset.

His simple beats and punch were perfect for the music, and that of course, was his lesson legacy. He gave what the songs needed, and you never went away hungry.

What did go away for me was the appreciation and the pursuit of heavy metal power drumming. I got into jazz, discovered John McLaughlin, and strived to become a young white Billy Cobham. At the same time, I was diving into Tower of Power and David Garibaldi’s sophistication, Lenny White’s funk fusion with Return to Forever, and just about anything that Peter Erskine played.

I wanted funk refinement, complex time signatures, mental gyrations with polyrhythms… and I chased it for a long time. I held back, not letting the power out for fear of blowing the song out of the water…

But the morning after I brought the Ludwig’s home and got them set up, I sat down and just PLAYED them… and I have to tell you… no amount of time passes to far that can’t be bridged in moments if you are playing the right instrument to get you back to where you started. For me, this kit has sent me back in time, offering a second chance at something I took for granted for FAR too many years…

It was always my hope and goal to put out an odd meter funk/fusion CD, one played on a kit the size of which I now have. My feeling is this: if you’re gonna play, play with everything you’ve got. Put your fist through a brick wall and keep on going. I used to feel that every day as a kid in Delaware, and somewhere along the line, it got reigned in and tamed…

… but not so much that it can’t come back out and finish what was started.

As I sit here watching the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD, John Bonham is captured for all of us to learn from. His playing was the truth for the music he was breathing life into, and that Ludwig Supraphonic 402 snare just smashes the back beat like nothing I’ve heard since. Whatever he had in him, it came out with a vengeance on the kit that best served his voice.

I know I’ve found the same, and even though it took a while — a very long while — I’ve no doubt that what will follow will rattle some windows and shake some walls… which is just fine. It really is.

Pretty cool day, no question. It was a small gathering of five families, and they showed up ready to play. We talked a little about my background and how music/drumming had served as therapy for so many years. I reminded the kids that they were lucky, because at least they knew what was happening to them and had received a relatively early diagnosis of Tourette’s. Mine took 14 years, which was not exactly what you’d call fun or sane…

We sat in a small circle, and everyone grabbed a hand drum off the shelves. This included parents, who got to play along as well. I showed they how to play a basic beat or two, and we worked with it to see where things went. The point was to play, have fun, and not worry about being a musician or doing anything perfectly. It’s about recreation…

One fun thing was having them play a simple rhythm and then introduce themselves. A simple but effective ice-breaker…

Next, we passed out some percussion instruments and worked with them to discover the different sounds. From there, we moved over to the drum set, my green sparkle Ludwigs, and I showed the kids what was up with the drums and cymbals. I played a little bit, and then I let them sit down and discover the sounds themselves.

Next, they brought over their drums and percussion instruments, and I played a few simple beats on the drums for them to play along with. I let the kids and parents come up next to me and play as I kept a simple 12/8 beat, and then we closed it out with me playing a samba and them jamming along.

All in all, a great day. The folks at REMO support exploring and experimenting with ideas related to rhythm and health, and I appreciate their willingness to let me give this a shot. Hopefully we can do it again, and I’m up for that any time…

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