In 1983, I got divorced.
I know it happens to a lot of people, but It didn’t occur to US in our family. Actually, there WAS one, but as kids, we didn’t understand it, and NO ONE talked about it.
In fact, I don’t think I actually REALIZED it, for real, until I was much older.
When I got married, I had every intention of staying married for the rest of my life.
There were a LOT of things that happened as a result of the divorce and in fact probably enough stories to fill a book all by themselves.
I’m not going to dig into that today. 35 plus years later, I CAN talk about it. I’m just not sure I write about it.
I know I will, I know I have to, but not today.
Let me just tell you, honestly, that it wasn’t my idea. I didn’t want it, and I fought it until I realized I couldn’t win. When I let go, it was one of the worst experiences of my life.
Judy asked me last night if I would write about Vietnam and some of the other harder things.
I said, “Yes, that I probably would, but I’m reasonably sure they’ll come last in the order of things unless I get prompted in some way to just dump all my baggage on the side of the road and sell tickets to dig through all of it.”
I’m just not sure.
While writing is cathartic, it can also be hard sometimes. We’ll just leave it at that.
I want to talk about music for a little bit today.
I want to talk about some of my experiences. But I want the story to be about those experiences, not all the peripheral stuff.
This isn’t about getting recognition or having somebody be impressed because this or that person came in and out of my life. It’s about the hardcore, no-nonsense BUSINESS of music.
All through high school, and in some of the places I wound up, I played guitar and drums.
I was never particularly good at the guitar. I can, to this day, pick one up and play songs, but although I probably made it past the “beginner” label, I didn’t get a whole lot further.
My instrument of choice was the drums.
Since 2010, I’d walked a mile to avoid a set of drums for personal reasons.
Maybe a year ago or so ago, we were at Church one afternoon, and Pastor wanted to do a sound check. He asked me to go play the drums.
I’ll be honest. I wanted to.
But I didn’t want to.
As I walked to the riser, I argued with myself, but when I sat down, it all came flooding back.
I started to play, and as I did, I lost track of where I was, who was around, and everything else. I just played. It felt good.
I’ve no idea what I even played, but I played.
It went on for a while.
I noticed a couple of people standing in the center aisle just grooving to the tunes, and then I heard Pastor – “We’ve got it, you can stop now.”
I’m not sure if it was a welcome relief, or I was sad because, for that moment, I didn’t WANT to stop.
When I play drums, I go to a different place.
It’s very personal for me, and I’m sure other drummers and musicians feel the same way, either that or I’m weirder than I thought I was.
With a set of sticks in my hands, the music captures and moves me, and the rhythm and training just go on almost without me.
It’s almost like someone else is playing.
In my head, I just hear this incredible sound and what would have been just another song that was ok, but not significant, and suddenly it becomes the center of my universe.
For about 3.7 minutes.
I will be the very first to admit, and tell you that, sitting up on a drum riser, behind a band that can make it happen, playing your music and seeing/hearing a packed house scream and applaud is something that you carry to your grave.
I don’t care if the “packed house” is a bar full of folks, or a stadium, it never gets old, and after a while, you live for it.
It becomes you, and you become it. It’s the drug of choice, and you chase it, just like you might chase a hit or whatever.
I’ll tell you another truth. The reason most of us, as young boys or men, pick up an instrument and join a band is for girls.
We’re all possessed of that mind-blowing “fake news” that if we just get on stage, you’ll have to get a stick to beat them away.
Never happened to me, so I guess maybe it’s the guitar players that get all the girls, drummers are too far in the back.
I spent two summers in the mid to late 80’s as a replacement for drummers who we either fired or needed family time.
We toured. A lot!
It wasn’t a full-time gig, and I knew that it was only for those few weeks until they found the right guy to make the job his own, but for a little while, I got to pee in the tall weeds with the big dogs.
Let me tell you something about tall weeds.
If you’re going in there, not all the big dogs are friendly, and there’s other stuff in there that can bite you in the butt, so be careful.
Everyone in music is not your friend.
Even the guys in the band, especially if you’re a fill in. To them, you’re a ner’do will, disposable, but necessary.
For the most part, the fans don’t even know you’re there.
It’s the BAND playing, and you’re just some guy in the back whose name they’re not going to take the time to learn because you’re not going to be here very long.
The Pay is union scale, and trust me, you are NOT going to get rich just because it’s a named group.
And you’re not getting any royalties either.
But this is YOUR big chance.
Not to “make it” because I was under no illusion that I was going to get “discovered.” I suppose it occurred to me, but I got over it right away.
It’s your BIG chance to prove to yourself that you can do it.
Take it for what it was meant for, have fun, enjoy it, and then don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Simple stuff.
But touring with a group of pro’s is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, ever.
You THINK that all you have to do is show up and play.
That will be the first embarrassment right there.
A typical day is more like, you get up, and you go to the venue. Yes, the roadies have everything all set up. Yes, they’ve tuned the drums, but now you’ve got to make them your own.
Yes, they know “how you like it.” Yes, they’ve set them up that way to accommodate you, but you still have to be “right.”
So you adjust, move things until they are right where you want them to be.
When you’re playing drums, your motions are more than just reach out and hit a cymbal. You’ve practiced that move a million times getting ready. The cymbal has to be EXACTLY, DEAD BANG where you EXPECT it to be.
If you’re like me, very often, I play with my eyes closed.
What? Eyes closed???? What the heck.
Ya, eyes closed.
In fact, if you can find a drummer that doesn’t do it, well, I don’t know any.
When you’re on stage, the gig is on, and the music is rolling, you get “into the music.” There’s an ebb and flow to it. You can almost feel yourself letting go, dancing metaphorically to the song, and moving too and fro.
Your playing actually improves because you’re “in the zone.” Your chops take over, the training and the rehearsals pay off, and you’re not just playing the music, you’re “experiencing” the music.
So if a cymbal, or drumhead, isn’t precisely where your training expects it to be, you’re going to be off, or you’re going to have to keep your eyes open to be aware. That, right there, is going to ruin the entire experience.
I’ve known drummers to BLEED after a show literally. Not just fingers, but from their eyes with the strain of “dreaming through” the set. You use your eyes, even when they’re closed, to just groove out.
I’m a rock drummer. I use a bigger set of sticks, and I wear gloves and a headset.
My drums and everything that makes any kind of noise at all has a mic on it. I can hear every subtle tune in my ears, which means my head.
Drumming is both a hand coordination thing and a head thing. You’ve got to have both.
Your movements have to be precise, but they have to have rhythm.
No rhythm and precise doesn’t count.
Music is as much an emotion and a feeling as it is a chord or a note. You take the passion out, and it’s just a bunch of stuff, maybe in tune, but sadly lacking.
There’s a 10 am sound check.
A 1 pm sound check and full rehearsal, a sound check before the doors are opened, and then the big show.
You’re busy. All day.
Do you want leisure time? Get a regular job because it’s not happening here.
If you’re not rehearsing with the band, you’re rehearsing by yourself. Getting into the venue, making things work for you so that when you go live, and it works for the fans.
You do this because it’s all about the fans. Take them out of the equation, and you’re not playing anywhere tonite, trust me.
And so it goes, day in and day out.
If you’re on the road, about the best you can hope for, is that there is a day in there somewhere in some city that doesn’t have a date until tomorrow, and you can fall asleep and stay there for a while.
Now the regulars, the real boys in the band, they’re partying like it’s 1999 sometimes.
It’s what they do.
It’s what they’ve BEEN doing since before Christ was a Corporal.
They’ve been hardened to the lifestyle, and you’re just trying to survive.
I think everyone, at some point, thinks it would be cool to be a rock star. Maybe if they understood what it takes to be that “perfect” at their craft, they’d make another choice.
This is not about just being good.
If you want to be good, play at the VFW. This isn’t it. This is the real world, and you make a mistake, it is not going to end well.
Demanding is simply NOT the word. Hyper demanding, maybe.
Be on time, be ready, don’t joke around, and don’t pretend you’re one of the guys.
You could be out in the audience watching the show by the time you get to the next town.
That’s not to say that you don’t make friends.
Certainly, I’ve got friends from those years. Many of them were roadies, who’d seen this all before and took the time to be kind to me, and helped me understand what I needed to do besides hit the skins.
And a few are musicians. They’re a tough group.
These guys have been around the block.
They did not get here by accident.
They were the best of the best, and they managed to turn some chicken scratches on a piece of paper into a hit record. And then they did again and again and again.
Don’t mistake their allowing you to be in the presence of THEIR greatness with them thinking that you’re all of that and a bag of chips.
But for a few brief shining moments, I got to play on the big stage. And I will never forget it.
I am forever in awe of a group of guys who managed to cling to one another for 40 plus years in the major leagues, and still manage to get up there and give it everything they have. You do all this just to do one more show, only to hear one more audience go wild, just to groove to the tunes in their head, while the melodies from their instruments play what everyone else is hearing.
It’s not just an experience of a lifetime, it’s not.
It’s an experience that few get to have, and I am forever grateful for our time together.
I’ll tell you one more thing.
Even at my age, I’d be the youngster in their midst.
How they continue to do what they do, being older than I am, more than amazes me. The stamina that it takes, the physical DEMAND that is placed on you is one thing at 30, and it’s quite another at 70.
It makes what they do, all the more incredible in my mind, and yet when I hear them, it’s like we are all transported back, and it’s happening all over again.
So, in closing.
Someone asked me a while back what it was like to do this.
I told them that someday, I’d try to explain it.
I think this is as close as I will ever get to doing it justice.
I could not do it today. I’d be lucky to do a four-song set at the church on Sunday morning anymore.
It’s a tough gig, and I don’t have it, except in my head.
My head is okay with that.