Setting Up. Back in the Pocket.
This is a story (Saga, now, really, at this point. Saga? Maybe that’s a little too much. It was a three day weekend. “Saga” is a more apt term for how long it’s taking me to complete writing this and posting it. Maybe Odyssey is more appropriate, but without all that pesky “hexameter-“epic-poem stuff) of self-discovery, of being wronged, and realizing that you yourself were wrong, of forgiveness, of healing, of honesty, of acceptance, of letting go, of enlightenment, and finally realizing who you are and what your true purpose in life is – and, of course, rock and roll.
All of this is true.
All of this really happened.
This segment of My Time at the Music House contains graphic descriptions of drum kit set-ups, some technical jargon, some imprecise musical vocabulary terms – since I am neither a classically-trained musician nor am I guitarist, and scenes of descriptive, graphic consensual musical interplay among three grown men.
Gathered the sheets. Folded them up. Stacked them. Air bed lifted up.
Some of that beautiful furniture was arranged at an angle, not tucked, aligned corner to corner. I pushed it flush against the wall then I pushed it towards the front door, opening up the floor space, allowing myself as much room for my kit as possible.
Marce had told me not to bring my whole kit. The house was small which made the living room (our recording/jamming space) small. But there was no way I was going to simply take a basic set-up. This is Ryan we’re talking about here. Ryan Fucking Mitchell. Even Marce’s solo pieces, which I had played with him before, called for my whole drum kit – including all my percussion instruments.
I mean, the last time I played with the pair of them, I sucked, terribly. Of course, I was around seventeen-eighteen then. I had barely just got my hands on a kit, and I hadn’t really had practiced on one for the first seventeen-eighteen years of my life. And during my time living in the valley for close to twenty years, I had no drum kit – and it killed me.
My new drum kit, a Pearl Forum Series, I purchased in 2006. It was a floor model, but it was in top condition, and a steal at $500. Just recently, over the last five years, I was able to invest in additions and upgrades to it.
I wanted to be ready and able to paint with every tool I had at my disposal when the three of us finally got together to jam.
It sucks being a drummer.
When you’re a guitarist, you really don’t have much to set up. You have your axe, the case it comes in, your strap, your amp, and if you’re into it, then you have your pedals.
But a drummer, that’s a whole other beast entirely. I have a five-piece drum set, which means I have a bass drum, two tom-tom drums mounted on top of the bass, a floor tom, and a collection of different snare drums. I have a set of double bass drum beater pedals with wooden custom-made Low-Boy beaters, which I love. I have high-hats, two crash symbols, a ride with a nice amount of wash, a hybrid ride, and a holey China symbol – all along with their stands. I also have three splash symbols, a pitch block, a small timbale, and an Alo bell. That’s my kit.
Then there’s my percussion: a cajón, bongo cajón, claves, tambourine, foot tambourine, shaker, maracas, and sleigh bells.
I was ready.
So, after moving the furniture, I took my meds, had a quick breakfast, and commenced with setting up.
As I was doing so, Ryan arrived.
He came in, looking washed out with his pale skin, off-white t-shirt, olive-gray baseball cap, and olive-gray shorts.
Time is funny, and cruel – and often both at the same time. Not so with the three of us. At least, not so much. While Marce and I lost our hair (I had won that race pretty early on. Yay me.) Ryan, of course, still has his full head of beautiful blonde locks, a bit of a grayish tinge to them, but it definitely adds a bit of a dignified look – and I suspect, has always been the source of his musical genius. Slight wrinkles like the rest of us, but aside from that, he looks just as be did in high school, his blue eyes glinting as they always did with equal parts intelligence and humor.
We hug. Examine ourselves briefly, taking about the same time to catch up.
I’m halfway done setting up, so I hurriedly get about getting back to it, trying to talk and set up at the same time, which proves difficult for me to do, since I didn’t get enough sleep, which makes it a bit harder to concentrate – even with my ADHD medication.
So I basically shut up and focus on the task at hand while Marce and Ryan tune up and review the riffs they worked on yesterday afternoon when I was supposed to be there. A tightening of a screw here, an adjustment of a symbol stand there, a quick tuning of my drum heads and it’s away we go.
I wondered how it would be playing with Marce again. Had what I told him, how I felt about him, severely damaged or severed completely our connection?
But then they started off the riff, and, with a breath, I just stepped right into the pocket
Pure joy fills me as I lay down the beat, leaving nothing back, punching it hard and sharp and trying to keep the tempo tight.
I don’t play light and soft. I love jazz drumming, but I’m not a jazz drummer. Neither am I a speed freak death metal slasher. I’m naturally a feel/groove player in the mold of the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts. I have strong wrists and ankles, though I usually do punch the kick (bass) drum with the force of lifting my knee up and down.
I’m definitely not the most skilled drummer – not even in Laredo, TX, my hometown. I don’t play perfect. As with everything else that I loved to do, all my passions or fascination or talents, a swirling, mercurial, muddied mix of my ADHD and my Depression never allowed me to follow through on any consistent practice. I did what everyone else with a mental illness or cognitive impairment, I did the best I could with what I have. And what I have is passion, feeling, emotion – I have my heart, and I use it as I use it in my writing, in my teaching. That’s what I bring to the Music. Passion and joy – like the best parts of my father.
Of course, constant playing in the band a group of friends has formed since 2010 has built up my skill level. And now that I am medicated, I have begun to practice more regularly, so, little by little.
But I just let loose, reading Marce, feeling in sync with him, anticipating the changes, while finally adding my own contributions – playing with time signatures and off-time fills, speeding up the tempo, slowing it down.
We were on fire. The energy was there. The connection between us had never left. It was just waiting for the three of us to finally get back into one room.
And before we knew it, we were done.
Ryan had to do some work, so before he had to leave, we walked over to a local neighborhood Mexican restaurant.
We talked more and ate plenty. So we walked back and Ryan went home.
We rested, and then Marce called his brothers.
And that’s when things got wild.
Next week (pinky promise):
Old, Good Friends. Brothers. Reunions and Revels.