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We’re sick this morning. Both of us. With the same thing. Sore throat. Headache. Congestion. Cranky. Conversation this morning went something like this:
“You don’t love me.”
“I want a movie.”
“You don’t love me.”
Like I said, cranky. Whenever I’m sick like this – cranky, tired, sore throat sick – I occasionally remember the day my drum set arrived. The hunter green one I bought off Craig’s List for $370. I was sick then, too. Flu-sick. And it was December…
(insert here: a swirly flashback effect)…
It’s December 23rd and I’m in bed with an arm over my eyes and swallowing. Am I going
to vomit now? I swallow.
No. Not now.
My stomach churns. Under the heavy wool clothes, I am damp and sweaty. I cough. My throat is dry and sore. At the same time my nose and sinuses are full and wet.
I am lying in bed with the flu. But I want to be up with Brian sitting on the couch waiting for the drum set to arrive. I wait to hear the doorbell ring which would mean the filmmaker from Milwaukee was here with the drum set.
I searched Craig’s List for a week looking for a drum kit I could afford. I was not even sure what I needed or what I should be looking for in terms of quality. All I knew was that I had about 400 dollars to spend. I had 200 and Brian was giving me 200. Everything on Craig’s List seemed like it was 600 dollars or more. What made it worse was that it was Christmas and every parent in the country was probably looking for a kit for their kid. But I hunted until I finally realized that I would be willing to drive an hour or two to Milwaukee or Madison or Indiana. After that, finding a set didn’t take long. In Milwaukee, a man had posted a picture of a green Tama Rhythm-mate. I didn’t know much but it looked hardly played. He had photographed the name plates on the drums so that I could see the name and serial numbers. He wanted $400. I could negotiate him down to $350. It was green. This was my set.
When he answered the phone, he seemed eager.
“Hi, I e-mailed you about the drum set.”
There was a pause. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to ask.
“So…” I said, trying to make time while I figured out what to say next. “You’re selling the one in the ad on Craig’s List?”
“Yeah. It pretty much is what you see. I bought it thinking I would overcome my fear of drums, but I never got around to it. I bought it used from a guy, but it looks like he didn’t play it much.”
“So why are you selling it?”
“Well, I’m a filmmaker and I need the money to finance the movie I’m working on.”
“Oh. What’s your movie?” I asked that because I didn’t know what to ask abou the drum set. He proceed to tell me about a man in Indiana, whom I said I heard of but hadn’t, who also makes movies, horror films and is the subject of his documentary. I listened politely.
“I’d like $400,” he said. “But I’m willing to negotiate.”
“How about $350?” I asked. “I live in Chicago so I would have to come up and get it.”
“You live in Chicago!!”
His enthusiasm for that fact took me aback. “Yeah, why?”
“I had to go through Chicago this weekend to go to Indiana to do a filmshoot. I can drop it off.” A pause. “If you want to pay for gas…”
“Okay, how about twenty bucks?”
A pause. “Okay.”
And we sealed the deal. I told him where I lived and how to get here from Milwaukee and he told me when he would be arriving.
Two days later, I have the flu. The filmmaker said he would be arriving around ten o’clock but it was already ten-thirty and I couldn’t stay awake anymore. I go to bed, while Brian stays up watching TV, tapping his feet, like an expectant father.
I hear Brian’s cell phone ring and then I hear him giving directions to someone. “Just go west on Belmont…”
Brian’s voice fades away as I feel a wave of nausea surge upwards again from my stomach. I fall asleep and from somewhere in my sleep, I hear the doorbell ring. I listen as two male voices speak to Brian and I hear heavy objects being brought into the kitchen. The voices recede again towards the front door and the door closes. A minute later Brian’s hand is on my shoulder.
I open an eye. “Yay…” I mutter into the pillow.
“Do you want to see it?”
“Sure.” I pull myself out of bed, the air of the room is frigid against the heat of my body and I shiver. I grab a blanket and wrap it around me.
On the floor of the kitchen is a pile of green drums, stands, and cymbals. It looks like the limbs of a skeleton, taken apart and scattered across the kitchen.
“What do you think?” he asks.
“You don’t like it?”
“I do…” But that’s when the reality of it hits me like a stick. Can I learn how to play those? Would I be able to?
Doubt creeps over my head and pounds on my brain. I feel myself get dizzy and the drum set turns into a pool of inky green before my eyes. I walk out of the kitchen back into the bedroom and pull the covers over my head. Is this some hopeless dream?
A year later, I realize it wasn’t a hopeless dream. I play the drums now – perhaps not as well as I would like – and I play them in public – perhaps not as well as I would like, but I play them. So now I know nothing’s really hopeless…I think.
I wasn’t planning about writing about this. In fact, I had consciously decided I wouldn’t write about this because it wasn’t directly related to drumming. But I’ve ended up as a sound byte on NPR so I guess I have to write about it.
Today I want to the Blogher conference in Chicago which is an annual meet-up for women in blogging (http://www.blogher.org/about-blogher-conferences-events). My decision to go was a last minute one. I found a link to the conference on a foodblog and discovered the conference was being held here in Chicago. Well, I thought, how often does that happen?
It was overwhelming. Hundreds of women filled the Grand Ballroom of Navy Pier. I expected one hundred, maybe two, but I heard the women down the hallway before I saw them — a muffled roar. And then I walked in. Hundreds of women. I didn’t even know where to start. But before I even had a chance to get coffee, a woman introduced herself to me, told me about her blog, asked me about mine, and before I knew it, I knew someone.
The ice-breaker activity however is when I really felt it was possible to get something out of this experience. We were asked to stand in two circles, one inside the other, and face the woman in front of us. They set a timer. We had one minute to describe our blog to the other woman and to hear a description of her blog. After a minute, we moved to the next woman to our right and did it again. I met 7 women or so who wrote interesting blogs (the few exceptions being corporate reps who were there to tout their wares). I gave away business cards — good thing, too, because I stayed up until 2 am last night printing and handstamping them with the short punks logos (excuse me, brand).
It was during this activity that I noticed men with microphones standing beside us while we talked. And while I was describing Chick Drummer to another woman, I noticed the microphone was right next to me. I thought nothing of it and moved on. I thought nothing of it that is until I listened to the local NPR station’s coverage of the event this evening. In the first few seconds of the story, I heard that muffled roar — the one I heard this morning in the ballroom — and as the reporter began to describe the conference, I heard a voice, a familiar voice, say this: “I’m a drummer for a band. I write about being a drummer.” Hm, I thought as I listened to the NPR broadcast, why didn’t I meet her? We have a lot in common. Then it hit me. Oh my god. That was me. That was me describing my blog at the ice-breaker. Holy shit!
And that’s all I said. No interview. No “What’s your name?” Just my voice. So this is my .2 seconds of non-fame.
But you know who it is. And that’s good enough for me.
If you want to hear my .2 seconds of non-fame, then here’s the link. Don’t snooze, you might miss it.
A part of me had to get over what seemed like the basic ridiculousness of the drums. What drumming boils down to is a stick hitting a rock. The primitiveness of that idea – and the complementary idea that only boys hits things with sticks was one of those ideas I had to get over to learn how to play them. The violin, which I had grown up playing, was a gentle instrument, refined over centuries, ethereal. The drums, on the other hand, is this: a stick hitting a surface. The good side of that is anyone can come to the drums and make a sound – a decent sound. That’s hard to say about the violin. It takes a fair amount of training and practice just to get a sound. The bad side? The drums seem easier to learn than they are. A drum teacher told me once and I realized it later myself, that it’s a lot harder than it looks to become a good drummer. A person can get through a song bashing at the drums, but to be really good at it takes time and practice.
From the moment I got my first drum kit, a late eighties, forest green Tama Rhythm-mate, I was intimated. It was almost too simple. And yet, I couldn’t even put it together by myself. That would be the first dichotomy I would learn about the drums: it’s so easy, it’s hard. Thankfully, Brian knew about drum set-up from the bands he had been in and the drummers in them. Andy, the drummer of Brian’s band in Connecticut, had floor toms and cymbals galore which meant, as Brian reminded me, that they – the other bandmates – had to gather all that gear from the rehearsal space and load it into their cars. Brian, not me, knew that the drum stool is not called a “stool” but a “throne.” Brian, not me, knew I needed a drum key to attach the drum pedal and to extend the legs of the bass drum. And Brian, not me, knew how to attach the cymbals to their stands. All I knew was that a huge drum kit was taking up all the space in my kitchen.
That brings me to another dynamic of learning how to play the drums – the lingo. There’s a few terms that only gigging musicians know and while I had been living with a musician for 4 years and had heard the terms before, as I began to play and gig myself I heard myself utter specialized lingo with the same casual manner that I would have previously said things like “I’m going to the bathroom” or “Have you seen my keys?”
Now, my everyday conversation includes phrases like: “Can you help me load up the gear?”, “Who’s doing the backline?”, and our personal gig favorite “I need more mids in my monitors.”
The terminology is something I learned in context, gradually, as if I was learning Italian or Swedish. When we set-up for a show at a bar, the Sound Guy (usually a guy – although we’ve had Sound Girls twice) appears and asks:
“How many vocals you need?”
“One,” we say.
And we do sound check – another term meant to designate that period before the show when the sound guy/girl listens to you play and sets the “levels” – another term for setting the bass and treble – essentially the sound of the music. Setting “levels” is much like adjusting the equalizer on your car stereo. With each gig I learned more of the language that made me less a novice and more…well, I wouldn’t say “pro”, how about “experienced”? Understanding what was going around me during the set-up of a show also helped me feel more confident about actually playing the show. I don’t start the night by being baffled so I don’t end it that way either…well, most of the time, anyway. My confidence these days has risen so that I remember to learn the names of the men and women “who run the board” (that’s more lingo for Sound Guy) and also to show them the due respect. I’ve also learned that no matter how well we play, if the P.A. and the sound isn’t working, it won’t matter. My confidence is also good enough that on stage I’m as comfortable speaking to the Sound Guy as I am speaking to Brian, but that too was another journey.
As I learned to play I learned to step away from ideas about drumming that had stereotyped it and hence, made it inaccessible to me. I stepped away from the idea that it was for boys, especially young ones, or for teen-agers. I also stepped away from the idea that it was primitive. The more I learned to play and the more I listened to great drummers, the more I could feel the emotional content of drumming. And as I practiced on my rubber practice pad in the extra bedroom next to the closet with the litter boxes the more I began to appreciate the subtlety of an instrument that, at first glances, seems to be about the not-subtle. When I hold a drum stick in my hand I don’t feel the urge to hit things, rather, I feel now the grain in the wood, the gentle curve of stick as it sits on top of my fingers. I feel the weight of its tip as it hits the practice pad. I feel the muscles of my arm moving slightly and simply to adjust the sound. I feel my pinky finger adjust at the end of the stick and I realize that this hitting a surface with a stick is not an act of aggression, but expression. And as I sit upright and breathe and count, I move inward into myself and feel how that stick and I are part of the same universe and my expression is a feeling beyond me.
And then there are other days….
When it feels like I’m just hitting a rock with a stick.
I’m trying to learn the drum beat from Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” That distinctive Steve Gadd beat that starts the song. The beat that seems to have 3 to 4 different beats in it, but when you put it all together it sounds like one. I’m not really interested in the whole song just that first few bars with that distinctive beat. I listen to it, and then I start the track again, listen, start over, listen, and start over.
I don’t get it and I’ve been trying to learn it for over a year. I once asked Jon, one of my first drum teachers, to play it for me and effortlessly he reproduced the beat for me.
“Where did you learn it?” I asked him, in awe.
He shrugged. “All drummers know it.”
I didn’t. And so, by implication, I felt that I wasn’t a drummer. Not too far off the mark really since I was still in the first year of learning. That beat has become my new Everest – a mountain I have chosen to climb. And I’m not doing shortcuts. I’m not looking up Steve Gadd on YouTube. Or looking for sheet music. No, I’m just listening to the song, over and over again.
But even as I repeat the track over and over and try to imagine Steve Gadd playing that distinctive beat that chik-chik-chikitty-chikitty-chik-boom inside my head I see not drums and cymbals, but the blue and white landscape of a Grecian island. I see and smell the sea. I taste the tang of yogurt and the sweetness of honey. And then I remember. Greece. The first time I ever really listened to Paul Simon I was on Crete on holiday from school in England.
The trip to Crete was a last minute thought right before term ended in March. We had a month off. The other Americans were going to Morocco to get high and sing endless rounds of “Marrakesh Express” in second class train cars. I wanted to go elsewhere and I wanted to be warm. The cloudy damp of Northern England had depressed me and given me my first taste of seasonal depression. Everywhere I went the air was heavy with cold and damp. So I was a ripe target for the advertising of a Thomas Cook Travel Agency. I was hunched under an umbrella walking down the High Street when I saw a poster of a beach and an island. On impulse I walked in and asked for a brochure. In my room, I looked at a map of Europe and found the southernmost point – Greece – and then, the southernmost island – Crete.
In less than a month, I landed in Heraklion, sleepy and dazed from the early flight from Gatwick and the traveling I had done to Wales the week before. I wanted to lie down, but there was still a two hour bus ride to get to the town where I had rented a flat for two weeks. From inside the bus, I watched the rocky, dry terrain pass and the goats that stepped lightly over the arid rock.
I was traveling light and in those days one couldn’t bring 200 songs with them on an mp3 player. On those days, we had a tape cassette player and we had to choose the tapes we would bring. How many tapes could I pack before it took up too much space in my small backpack? For me, I think, it must have been three or four. I can’t remember two, but I do remember the other two: Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits and The Eagles. I spent years after denying those two choices, but at that moment in Greece they were inspired. It may only be in other countries that we begin to appreciate how American we really are, and it was only through these two tapes that I understood I was, for better or worse, an American. It was on a beach on Crete, as I watched a boat float into the harbor, its white sail a stark contrast to the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean, that I could picture the New York street where he meets the old lover and the playground where Julio plays or the evening in its lateness. Even the much-maligned Eagles seemed special on that island. Laying on small beaches I pictured driving endless highways, blacktop striped with yellow that extended into orange horizons.
Years later, I’m sitting with Paul Simon again, but instead of picturing the flatness of an American prairie or the skyscrapers of New York, I’m picturing an island ripe with oranges. Memory is an odd thing. I think that’s why music is so fascinating. A song is so flexible – it means for us not just what the lyrics say – but the feelings that memory imprints upon the song. “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” isn’t just about relationship’s end, but, for me, it’s about a time when I was young and traveling looking for the very things that Paul Simon is singing about – the friends, the lovers, the bars, the cities, the memories.
And underneath it all – that beat – that chik-chik-chikity-chik-boom.
God, how does he play it?
Brian and I had a fight. One of those marital fights with words in it like “you always” and “why don’t you.” One of those kinds of fights. I may be wrong but it may only be married couples who can have a fight like that. Why married couples? Because married couples vowed, somewhere, sometime, whether in front of a judge or a priest, whether they meant it or not, to love and honor their spouse. When Brian and I fight I start to wonder what percentage of “love and honor” I meant. A hundred percent until he pisses me off? Fifty percent if I don’t understand what he’s doing? Twenty-five percent if he tells me he’ll be home at one time and comes home at another?
What makes this particular fight interesting is that we were fighting about music. Making music. Making our music. We don’t have children but I wonder if it’s like fighting about the kids. One parent wants to child to go to public school, the other, private. One parent wants to take them to the grandparents, the other wants to go to the zoo. Is it like that I wonder?
For us, fighting about a song is like fighting about its (our) future.
Brian’s laying on the floor, as usual, the remote on his chest. Ben sits beside him curled into the crook of his arm. We’re talking about a new song.
“I thought you were going to play brushes on that?” He asks.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I changed my mind.”
“I think it sounds good with brushes.”
I’m reading a book on the couch. I shrug my shoulders.
“I like playing it with sticks.”
Brian says nothing but from the corner of my eye I see his mouth set slightly. That tensing of the jaw muscle is as good as a sentence.
“What?” I ask.
“You always do that.”
“You always change your mind about the song after we decided upon it.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I just wanted to play with sticks. That’s all.”
“You could have told me. That means I need to change the way I play it.”
“What are you taking about? You always change the way you play it. It’s never the same way. I figured if I changed it wouldn’t matter to you.”
Brian’s jaw tenses again. Now, he’s not going to say anything at all. At least for a minute or two. This is where he builds steam, like the little engine that could, ready to puff it’s way up the hill. Even in these tense moments, I occasionally have the urge to laugh – to laugh at us. Ha-ha, we’re fighting! I hear in my head. Isn’t it funny?
But we keep fighting.
You do this.
You do that.
I do not.
That’s not true.
Well, if that’s how you feel.
You can just go.
I’m not going anywhere.
Neither am I.
It goes on like that for awhile until someone breaks through and we discover what the fight is really about.
I’m worried about work.
I’m worried about school.
Why didn’t you say so?
Why didn’t you?
You’ll be fine.
So will you.
I’ll play the sticks.
No, play brushes.
No, I can play sticks.
I won’t change the song.
I like the song.
What do you feel like?
How about Thai?
I’ll get the car.
I knew a woman once who liked surprises. She liked them so much that she started wishing for them and to her amazement she started getting them. But they weren’t quite what she thought they would be. The parking ticket was a surprise. Losing her keys was a surprise. Her boyfriend dumping her was also a surprise. She said later, “I learned to wish for nice surprises.”
I like surprises too. Nice ones. I especially like them for my birthday. After four years of mediocre dinners at Thai restaurants and gift certificates from bookstores, Brian has also learned that I prefer surprises for my birthday. Birthdays were hard to master for Brian. Just like husbands before him, he would rise unusually early the day of my birthday, tell me he was going for milk, and then spend 2 hours in the nearest mall trying to find a present. Or, if it was a weekday, he would call from work, say he would be home in an hour, and then turn up two hours later with an unwrapped present inside the plastic bag he has just bought it in. It wasn’t until our fourth year of marriage that I finally learned to tell to him a few weeks before the birthday what I wanted: 1) a cake and 2) a surprise. The cake, because I like cake and I like candles, and a birthday cake melds my two favorite things in one. The surprise, because like my friend, I like surprises – nice ones.
So, in general, I would say surprises are good things except — and this is important for Short Punks — when I’m on stage. Recently, Brian and I did a show at Quenchers, one of our favorite places to play. We had rehearsed as we always do and from inside the rehearsal room it sounded, to use a musician’s phrase, tight. Tight is something many (not all) bands strive for – a sound that says, “yeah, we know what we’re doing.” Tight shows expertise, precision, confidence. In rehearsal, that’s how it sounded, tight. I left Superior Street, happy, confident, and grateful.
Two nights later we were at Quenchers doing a show in front of 10 people, at most. It was July 4th and the Taste of Chicago was on and Cheap Trick was doing a free show, so ten people was good even if half of them were from the other band on the bill. The set sounded well enough, pretty much what we practiced and I was going through the usual jokes I tell during the set. It was as we were finishing “Hard Luck” that Brian decided to give me a surprise – not a nice one. Without warning he started playing the next song “I Wanna Live,” a rockabilly inspired tune that I play with sticks. That fact that he was going into the next song without warning or pause or notice wouldn’t normally be a problem except that “Hard Luck,” the song we were playing, is played with brushes. Two bars into it I realized what he was doing and tried to keep up using the brushes. But it was no use. Brushes don’t have the attack of sticks and there was no backbeat.
Over the noise I shouted to Brian, “I need to switch.”
“Okay,” he said.
For 2 bars he vamped while I pulled out sticks and then tried to lock into the rhythm he had started. But it was hopeless. I couldn’t find the pocket, that place in the music where the drums slide right in and sound right. For the rest of the song, and it’s a long song, we were slightly off. The drums felt, to me at least, as if they were sitting outside the music and me along with it.
We ended the song. Into the mike I said, “What the hell was that?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I wanted to try something different.”
You wanted to try something different??
The rest of the set I was slightly irritated which actually helped my playing. On the ride home with the gear carefully stowed into our four door sedan, I asked Brian again what he was trying to do.
“I get bored. I needed something to happen. It sounded fine.”
That’s when I figured it out. Brian likes surprises, too. Unlike me, however, he doesn’t need them on his birthday. I also realized one person’s nice surprise is another person’s nightmare. For Brian, sets need surprises. Well-rehearsed is the equivalent of boring and as soon as I find a spot in the night we’re I’m comfortable, he switches songs or plays a different song or throws bars in from another song that’s in the same key. Brian doesn’t like boredom. For me, boredom means I can stop trying – I can relax. And that’s where some of the tension is when we play live. One of us wants to forge ahead into unknown territories, the other wants to stay on the couch with a book and the cat. Ironically, in real life, off-stage, it’s the other way around. I like to travel, move to new places, see new things, try exotic food. Brian likes to stay in the neighborhood, go to places he knows, and eat food he already likes. That’s when I learned something about being married and being musicians. In order for it to work in both places, we both have to compromise. I have to cope with the surprise on-stage, and he has to cope with them, off. In the end, it keeps it interesting for both of us, on-stage and off.
But aside from boredom, Brian is willing to take risks in music that I don’t feel ready to. Perhaps this is because he is a more experienced musician who’s played since he was sixteen years-old. Whatever it is, when we’re on-stage Brian will walk me to a song’s cliff-high edge, and make me look down. From high up, he’ll say, “let’s jump.”
I usually scream, “Are you out of your mind?”
“Come on,” he says, eyes winking. “Let’s go!”
Before I know it, we’ve jumped and we’re hovering somewhere inside a song that we’ve rehearsed a million times, but now it’s different. Brian’s chords are slightly different or his rhythm and I have to decide. Am I going to play along or not? Sometimes I fight him and keep trying to play what we rehearsed, but that’s usually a bad choice because he’s not playing what we rehearsed. The better choice is not to resist. Go along, and see where it takes us. “I Wanna Live,” our rockabilly-tune, goes heavy metal. “Olivia” a indie pop tune starts sounding like Bob Dylan wrote it. Once it’s over, and if I have let go, I discover that not only did it sound good, but I learned something new. Aside from anything else whether I want it or not, every show is a complete surprise.
At least, to me.
I never blogged before. I didn’t read blogs. Now I’m writing one.
So, there was a couple of things I didn’t know about blogs until I took the time to explore the program. You can change the colors and the settings….who knew?
I changed the COMMENTS sections so you don’t have to be a registered user to add a comment. So, if you’ve been reading this but couldn’t respond — well, now you can!!
We here at Short Punks know you could be reading other blogs, so we want to thank you for choosing us here at Short Punks. So, let us know if we can do anything to make this a more pleasant blog-reading experience.
Up until this April we used to rehearse at another place, not the Superior Street rehearsal studio we rehearse at now. We liked it there. It was cheap. The managers knew us and more importantly, they had a dog. Racer. Racer was a Viszla, a Hungarian hunting dog. A dog the color of caramel pastry. You knew he was there long before you saw him, because long before you saw him, he smelled you and from his orange chair in the office, he would begin barking – a howling bray that made you wonder where the prey was lurking. Until you knew him better and he knew you better, you weren’t sure if you were the prey.
I think of Racer now because last night at rehearsal a dried chicken stick fell out of the front pocket of my cymbal bag. Racer and I had a game. Twice a week, when we came to rehearsal and if I saw his car was there (actually, his owner’s car, but in my mind, Racer’s car), I would troop up the four flights of stairs with my cymbal bag, snare, and drum pedal and at the top of the stairs, at the end of the corridor I would stage-whisper his name.
A bray. A hollow bark from the office, and then the sound of dog toenails on the linoleum floor.
“Racer!” I would shout. Before I would hand him a treat, I would ask him to sit, as if I thought he should “work” a little for it. Racer would ease back on his haunches, tongue wagging, and as soon as he saw my hand lift, he would be up on four feet, chomping at my hand. I’ll work, he seemed to say, but not that hard. He would then follow us down the corridor. While we were setting up he would sniff inside Brian’s pedal case looking for more chicken sticks. He lingered around until his owner would shout his name and call him back into his office.
Racer was the best part of rehearsal and many nights it was the only real reason I went. In those first few months of playing drums and learning to rehearse, I wasn’t always having fun and just anticipating the tedium and the disagreements (usually resolved) made me not want to go. But then I would hear that loud hunting bray inside my head. Racer. Okay, I’ll go.
It is almost impossible to describe my disappointment if I did put my coat on and drove with Brian to the rehearsal space only to discover Racer’s white 1970s sedan absent from its spot.
“Oh, Racer’s not here.” I would say and pout a pout that could compete with the best pout of an average four year-old.
“Sorry, honey.” Brian would say.
Our climb up the four flights would be punctuated with my disappointed sighs.
First floor: “How come Racer’s not here?” I would ask.
“He can’t work every night.” Brian would say.
Second floor: “Maybe he is here but he came in a different car.”
“No,” Brian would say. “He drives the white car.”
Third floor: “Do you think he’ll come later?”
Fourth floor: “I want to go home.”
“We’re here now. We might as well practice.”
I would move glumly into the practice room and set-up listlessly. Eventually we would begin, practice the songs, and I would learn new things or hear new things. And we would discuss the songs and compliment each other on the progress.
Then, sometimes, at the very end of the night, I would get lucky. I would be packing the cymbals into their case and hear the familiar scrape of dog toenails on vinyl floor. I would drop everything, grab a chicken stick from the front pocket of my cymbal case and run into the hallway.
“RACER!” I would shout.
From the end of the hallway, in mid-step, Racer would leap forward, his caramel-colored ears flapping.
Yes, I knew. Despite how much I loved Racer, I knew that for Racer I was just a chicken stick delivery system, but that didn’t make me love him less.
Our games continued until this past April when the rehearsal space had a fire. A fire I’ll describe to you some other day. For right now, I want to remember Racer and his caramel-colored ears and his hunting bark and how he motivated me to keep playing even when I didn’t want to play.
So, thanks Racer, wherever you are.
We have a demanding management team. They demand that we work hard. They demand that we rehearse relentlessly. They demand productivity. And most importantly, they demand unrelentingly for liver treats.
Yes. This is the management team. Ben (left) handles security, promotions, and distribution. Rosie (right) handles strategy, public relations, and bookings. Both are so respected by SPiL that due homage was paid in song. Rosie is the subject of the song with the same name on Short Punks’ first CD, and Ben was honored in a short, instrumental piece on the second CD.
The production facility which produced all of the SPiL’s first CD, and half of the songs on the second CD, Good All Over, was named also named for them: Litterbox Productions. Litterbox is located in the spare bedroom of our apartment, and houses not just the recording equipment but also the catboxes, the food, and the odd stuffed mouse toy.
We wanted to take a moment to honor Ben and Rosie because without them there would be no Short Punks in Love.
Ben, Rosie – we salute you!
On Sunday we played the Red Line Tap in Rogers Park, a bar behind the Heartland Café and owned by the same people. It’s a small place, next to the EL track and it’s the first bar I ever played. Ever. Three months after I began playing the drums Brian got us a gig there. I remember the way he told me. He was checking his e-mail at the kitchen table and as I walked by him, he looked up.
“Red Line just e-mailed. I got a show!”
“Great.” I assumed he meant a show for the other band he played with, until he peered at me over his glasses.
“Do you want to play drums?”
And without missing a beat, as if he had just asked if I could pick up milk on the way home, I said, “Sure.” Despite my nerves, I stayed cool about it. No big deal, I thought. Just a bar show.
But as I brought my drums in on Sunday, just two days ago, and talked to Kurt, the Sound Guy, and walked toward the stage where he told me to set-up, I realized playing here for my very first bar show was a big deal.
It was big deal because I could barely play. Even before the show, because I couldn’t keep a beat for very long, Brian and I agreed that I would only play 5 songs out of the set with time out in between so I could rest. Between songs I would sit down off-stage while Brian played solo a la Billy Bragg (who Brian doesn’t listen to, but I do). I remember being nervous the whole day, from the moment I woke up. I remember what I wore: a red jacket, white t-shirt, and black wide leg jeans. I remember I was wearing an amethyst necklace, which medieval folklore said offered protection and power. I remember that we weren’t even Short Punks yet. Our first band name was The Hours (yes, Short Punks is better). I remember also that I did not play my own drum set. I had one. A green Tama rhythm-mate bought off Craig’s List for $375. Instead, I played the drum set that belonged to the drummer of the band who was headlining.
The headlining band (the band that plays last) had arrived before us and because Brian had sent in a demo with mostly acoustic solo songs, the booking agent assumed he was a solo act. The Sound Guy told the band they could set-up first with their gear in the back and Brian would play in front of it. They were surprised then when they saw me bringing in my hunter green drums. They asked me if I would mind playing their drummer’s set. Sure, I said, not really knowing what that meant.
Now, I know. It’s hard to play another person’s set, especially if you’ve only been playing three months and you’ve spent hours and hours playing the same five songs on your own hunter green Tama drum set. In this case, flexibility is not an option. But there I was on that first night, facing a drum set with twice as many drums and cymbals as my own. I didn’t even know where to start.
I remember all this now. Now, after I’ve just played there again for the fourth or the fifth time and brought in my own blue Yamaha drums in their black nylon cases and my own Paiste cymbals in their cases and my 10 pairs of drumsticks and brushes in their case along with all the other drum paraphernalia. For my first show I had no cases for my green drums and every time we packed them into the car they got scratched. I carried my drumsticks, the two pairs, in my backpack.
On Sunday, I talked with the Sound Guy like he was our old friend – which in a way, he was. He had done sound for us 5 times or so and knew our sound and our ways. And we knew he had a good ear for us. He did the sound check on the drums – tonight, checking just the kick drum instead of all of them. Brian checked his mike and we started. Much different from my first show when the sound check was more involved.
My first show here was also my first sound check. And for the first time, I learned to “check the levels” with the Sound Guy, to play each drum as they request so they can check the mikes on the drums. At that time I didn’t know to ask for a check on my monitor. On Sunday, I did. When Brian began playing the first song, “Rosie,” I realized I couldn’t hear him in the monitor to my left, which meant, in essence, I couldn’t hear him at all which makes playing with him a little difficult. But without thinking about it or wondering how I should ask, I spoke into the mike and said to Kurt: “Could I get a little more guitar in my monitors?”
And there I was. A year and a half ago that would have been unthinkable but on Sunday, it was effortless, like I had been doing it my whole life.
Some days I forget how much my life has changed since I started playing the drums less then two years ago. I forget in the day-to-day business of life that we have changed a lot since our first show at the Red Line. But it’s a change that others may not be able see at first glance. I live in the same apartment, I have the same job, I’m married to the same person, but life, indeed, has changed. It’s only when we return to places we played at in the very beginning do I appreciate it.
The show went well. It was a quiet Sunday night. We played last because we were the headline act (another difference from our very first show) and we went home and had our usual post-gig meal. It was a quiet, routine, usual sort of night, just another bar show on a Sunday night. No big deal.