The YouTube Video I Never Got to See

Remember TV and movie “bloopers?” It was the stuff that no one was supposed to see, mistakes that ended up on the cutting room floor. Often, those outtakes were funnier than the actual show itself. When I started drumming, I watched a lot of videos. Maybe if there had been a video called “Drum Cover Bloopers,” YouTube and I would get along a whole lot better.

We’ve certainly had a love/hate relationship over the years.  Like many relationships in life, the good can be incredible but the bad can twist your insides into a double helix. I couldn’t have learned what little I know without seeing drummers far more experienced and knowledgeable than I.  Although some of them lived halfway across the world, or were long dead, the miracle of video brought them right onto my computer screen.  This was the really good. Now, let’s talk about the bad and yes, the ugly.

Product over process.   As an adult, I understand that “practice makes perfect” and that “good things come to those who wait”,and work. Still, while watching those videos in my early drumming days, my eye and heart were consumed and confounded by the bright, perfect images of flawless performances.  I wanted to play like that-yesterday. What is it about me, or about us, that makes the end result more important than anything else?

YouTube and I had to go our separate ways for a while. Instead of being fired up by these videos, I became discouraged.  I thought I was more likely to win the lottery than to get that groove or that fill.

It wasn’t long ago that I took to heart two very valuable ideas. One, that the learning process isn’t always joyous or fun. It’s not supposed to be.  It explains  why practice isn’t always enjoyable, at least for me.  When I try a new song or lick, I sound lousy. My coordination is so off that my limbs feel like tree branches in a hurricane. The second is that tomorrow is unknown, so the ride, that journey to the place we think we want to be, is everything.  Embrace the ride-the good, the bad, the fun, the joyous, the crazy-making. Hug it like an old friend. It’s all we’ve got.

I know deep down that I’ll never reach that fabled land where I’m the humble, nonchalant chop-monster who can play whatever I conceive.  But maybe, if I keep going, I can land somewhere a bit further down the road. And that’s okay. It has to be. The ride is all I have. I try hard to remember this.

Let’s play with this idea. Let’s suppose there’s a drum blooper video floating around in the YouTube ether. What would we see? Most likely,  someone with a great deal of skill breaking that song into smaller sections and playing them continuously until they were memorized.  But the best part would be watching that drummer trip and  fall, then get up and try again. There’d be some dark moments, for sure: sticks catapulting across the room in frustration, timing slip-ups, cursing, he or she walking away from the kit wondering why they quit accounting.  Here are the true teaching moments. How does this player get through the rough patches? What sustains him? What does she learn from this?

That’s the drum video I never got to see. The one with all the warts, where the drummers struggle just like we do, and come out the other side. As silly as it sounds, I think that video would be far more instructive and inspiring.

 

In Praise of Life’s Late Bloomers

“In the garden of life, late bloomers are especially beautiful”-Susan Gale

 

In gardening vernacular, late-bloomers are flowers that show their glory just as other flowers begin to fade.  Can the same be said for people? We late-bloomers like to think so.

There’s at least one instance I can recall where being a relative newbie worked in my favor. A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of playing with two ambitious and very unique players who were light years ahead of me in terms of experience and skill. Well, maybe “pleasure” is a word I can use only in hindsight. At the time, playing with them felt like flying on an amusement park ride with no “off” button and no belt.  Exciting, exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

During our break, the guitarist said that they wanted D. to be the one to  replace their drummer. D is one of the most well-known drummers in the area. “He won’t rehearse, though”, the guitarist lamented. “You”, he said to me,” are willing to do that. It’s great. You’re not jaded like other, more experienced players are. You’re like a blank slate.” In this case, being  an older “tabla rasa” with baby- level experience and skill wasn’t a liability. Aside from the roller coast-ery vibe of our jam, that’s what I took away from the session.

Why do we late-bloomers bloom so blooming late?  The reasons are probably as varied as we are. Life circumstances like education, exposure to experiences, and financial and social status can be factors. So can the level or lack of encouragement from those around us.  Fear. Lack of confidence. Trying to stay to the well-traveled path of life rather than veering off and following our own side trails.  Sometimes, though, it’s an epiphany that strikes later in life.

Singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne led a decidedly non-musical life before being struck by his lightning bolt at age twenty. He was working in a shoe factory when he awoke to the strains of Stephen Stills’ “Treetop Flyer” blaring through his clock radio at four in the morning.  He knew the course his life would take from that song on. Six years later, he recorded his first EP and in 2004 released his well-received album,”Trouble.”  Although one could argue that twenty is still a ‘kid’, it gives hope to us late-bloomers. Like the rest of society, we’ve been programmed to believe that you have to start really young in life in order to be successful in music.

Courage.  That seems to be the main ingredient, the fuel that drives the engine that moves us to act on our passion. Discipline, creating long and short-term goals, persistence, organization-these are all vital cogs.  But without courage, the machine will not move.  As writer Julia Cameron said, what often separates those who reach their goals versus those who stay in the shadows often has more to do with “audacity” than talent or skill. May those of us who have bloomed late gather the courage and the audacity to follow through.  When other flowers in life’s garden grow weary, our petals will just be opening.

 

“I’m Scared”

I’ve spent a lot of time in bars. Sober.  Call it an occupational necessity.  Because I’ve watched life’s pageant there with a clear head, I’ve been able to make some observations. Here’s one of them: we don’t usually get real at a bar, unless we’ve had one too many. Few of us that are still coherent and standing will bare our souls to someone we don’t know.  That’s what I thought, anyway, until I met Stacey.

She’d been sitting with friends, but when she saw me, she made a beeline in my direction, just as I was about to open the patio door.   I’d just sat in with the house band for a few songs. The desert heat had drained me to the point where I was desperate for a drink.  Stacey smiled at me, her eyes wide with wonder. “You really rocked…you were amazing” she said. I don’t do well with compliments. Part of me longs for them. The other wonders why anyone thinks my drumming deserves mention at all. I thanked her.  “I’ve always wanted to play the drums”, Stacey said shyly. I encouraged her to pursue it, saying it was easy to find an inexpensive set on Craigslist.  “It’s never too late”, I assured her, “just jump in and get started”. What came next was utterly unexpected. Her young brow knitted itself into a frustrated line.

“But I’m too scared”, she said.   Stacey’s honest words left me speechless. It wasn’t just what she said, though.  What really pierced my insides was the emotion behind them. Maybe I was reading into this far too much, making Mount Everest from an anthill, but I heard something. For that brief moment, twenty years of her life seemed to melt away.  It was as if the little girl inside of her was speaking.  All of the longing and fear she’d probably held in for years seemed to come bubbling to the surface.

I understood. Boy, did I ever. I used to feel that way, too. While I dabbled in several instruments during childhood, drums always seemed like forbidden fruit. They were the boy you liked, but in secret, for fear of anyone finding out. To this day, I can’t explain why. That feeling- that an electric fence stood between the drums and I- lasted well into adulthood. When I finally began playing, it’s as if I had to grant myself permission in order to start.

Our conversation was very short, so I never got to share any of this with her. I saw Stacey again only once, but we didn’t have a chance to connect. I wanted to share my story with her, and tell her I understood how she felt. Some people let their dreams go casually. Many years later they might look back at those childhood desires with a mixture of wistfulness and embarrassment. Some dreams die hard, though. They don’t go easily. I got the sense that Stacey was holding onto hers.

So, if you’ll permit me this literary license, I’m going to talk to that little girl inside of Stacey. Why is she afraid to try? Who knows; it could be one of an almost infinite number of reasons: fear of failure, of looking silly, of being made fun of, of not being perfect, of having to struggle. I guess this is the ideal place to quote some online study or insert some wisdom from one of the books I have on art and the creative process. But I’ll spare us the lesson and just speak from the heart.

What would I say? A million things flash through my mind, but it seems like, in a split second, they all distill into one thought.  I take her hand gently and say, “just try it and see what happens, and if you do, I’ll be right beside you, because no matter what, you’ll be okay”.

 

Julia Cameron is an utterly brilliant writer and teacher.  I highly recommend her book about nurturing creativity and the creative process :“The Artists’ Way: A Spiritual path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, 2002.