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I’m walking up the back stairs of our new 2nd floor apartment, and there’s a painful pinching in the tendon of my right ankle. I start to lean on my left leg more to shift the weight from my right leg to my left. The groceries I’m carrying swing heavily towards my left. I feel like a broken marionette. My strings cut in half on my right side, while they are pulled tight on my left. I’ve had this pain in my right ankle since August. The last few weeks of that month we were still gigging with 2 shows in a week in mid-August. We were rehearsing, too, and I was playing for several hours at a stretch in rehearsal and at gigs. I told no one — not even you, dear reader–about my bum ankle. I just kept playing. The right ankle for those of you unfamiliar is attached to the right foot which plays the bass drum. And in bass player-free duo, the bass drum is all the bass you hear. So, that right foot gets a hell of a workout.
For a drummer, a bass player can mean all the difference in the world. It means I can play fewer beats which means less repetitive moment in my right ankle. The bass player plays all those notes in the bottom range which can help to anchor the chord changes and the melody. You need a bass player. Okay, you don’t need a bass player — obviously, because we’re a guitar-drums duo — but it can really help if you have one. Without one, I play more beats on the bass drum to compensate.
Here’s the difference. With a bass player, I play like this. Boom-chick-boom-chick. Bass drum on ONE and THREE.
Without a bass player, I play like this: BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. Bass drum on ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR.
Or, like this:
I start playing the bass drum on the eighth notes and the quarter notes. That’s a lot of notes. And that’s a lot of notes on a bum ankle.
So, after a summer of recording, out-of-town shows, and gigs, the ankle, my leg, and my body were wrecked. Done for.
Happily, this coincided with the beginning of the fall term and I went back to teaching. Since then I had 2 gigs with just the snare, and one rehearsal with the bass drum. And here’s the thing: I haven’t really missed playing the drums. Surprise. I worked really hard — okay, kind of hard — to learn to play the drums in three years and I did a lot of shows and I really learned a lot about myself and other people. And here’s what I learned most: I don’t live to play the drums. I like to play the drums. But I don’t live to play them. This is no secret. I have been writing since the beginning that I would rather sit on my couch with a box of donuts than play a gig. But I didn’t realize until the injury that I didn’t need to play the drums.
This is different from Brian. He lives to play the guitar. If he didn’t play the guitar, he would die. We have proof of this from a recent stay in a hospital (more on that some other day). I, on the other hand, like to play the drums, but I also like to do other things, too. So, drumming must compete for my attention. And there aren’t enough hours in the day for it all. What does this mean then for Chick Drummer? I don’t know.
Brian, at my request, started playing with other musicians and booking gigs with different rhythm sections behind him. This has been a relief to me. Not just because of the injury, but it freed up time for me to do other things beside rehearse. I’m not sure, in the end, how drumming will fit into my life. I’m glad I learned to do it. It taught me a lot.
I learned about clubs, bookings, fans (and what it’s like not have any), promotion, CD production, on-stage banter, and happiness. I learned a lot. I keep learning. I also learned that some days we have to choose and we can’t always choose to be all things to all people. That said – and here’s the twist – I play a gig at the end of January. And I’ve got to practice.