Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Something Bugging Me..

This post is going to be a bit of a thinking aloud one. I'm just telling you, my reader, about something that's been occupying a hell of a lot of my mindspace recently, an amount disproportionate to its relevance in everyday life. Also, it may be one of those long ones, switch over to Kottu and choose a different read if you want something quick that only occupies one screen.

But, I suppose some would say that, if something does occupy a lot of one's mindspace, then that very occurrence in itself dictates that it's importance to the person is a reflection of the space taken up. See? I warned you about the thinking aloud thing. And don't you hate it when people mix up "allowed" with "aloud". Besides, if you had any idea of the crap that does float around in my mind at the best of times, which you may well do from reading this blog, then you'd understand.

It happened last week. I bumped into an old friend, who happens to be a drummer. He's not a good friend of mine, not because we don't like each other or anything, just that he's one of those sorts, the sort who we classify as a friend yet never seek to get together with. We'll call him, for the sake of randomness, #. Yes, we'll refer to him as hash, but I'll use the # symbol. After a cursory glance at my keyboard I figure it's one of the most underused keys and the fact that I don't have to hit shift makes it easy to access. # it is.

And let me tell you about #, for I hope it will give you an insight into my quandary.

# is one of life's nice blokes. He's friendly to everyone, and genuinely so, at least it seems genuine. He comes across as abundant with a capital "abun" and is that kind of fellow that I just can't imagine anyone disliking. He's got fun and smiley energy and is that sort who, if I wanted to buy one of what he sells, I'd immediately call and trust.

He's also a really crap drummer. And, before we go any further, this isn't some thinly disguised post in which I'm actually writing about myself in the third person. Just so you know.

Now it's well known that I like drummers. All drummers like other drummers. We're unique in the music world, all one hundred million or billion or however many there are of us. Guitarists, like singers, merely pretend to like each other, when in reality they're hugely competitive. Bassists are just bassists, needed but kind of weird.

Drummers bond and share. If I was a normal person I'd find nothing worse than stumbling upon a huddle of drummers and hearing them chat about snare drums, sticks, paradiddles and cymbals. I'm not normal, so I love it.

But, the thing about # is that he's not like one of us. He's like one of those stereotypical drummers, the ones who never actually exist, except in the 1970s in Led Zeppelin and The Who. He's a chap who you can imagine throwing TVs out of hotel windows, doing lots of drink and drugs and generally being a bit mental, just without Mr Bonham or Mr Moon's ability on the kit.

He clearly loves to play the drums though. His facebook page proudly tells all and sundry that he plays in three bands, that he enjoys drumming and music in general. Yet, in the almost fifteen years that I've known him, coincidentally about the total time I've been drumming, I can't see that he's improved much. He's got a couple of grooves, a couple of fills and those are what he uses in every single song.

Sometimes they work perfectly. Sometimes they don't. It matters not to #, he used then anyway.

So there I was, bumping into #. We chatted for a bit and he said

"Hey I've got a gig on Friday night, why don't you come down?"

"Yeah ok" I said. I've outgrown the whole pretending I might be busy, checking my diary thing. I know full well that if I don't have the girls or don't have a band practice then I'm free.

"It's going to be a bit of a free for all, you can play a few songs if you want" he added.

"Okay cool, but not to worry about the playing thing, I'll just be happy to come and see you guys play" (for I knew some of the other musicians). It's important, when talking to musicians, to use the word "cool" as much as possible.

I kind of meant that. The playing at other peoples' gigs is a complicated situation for most of us. For me it's one of mixed feelings; Usually I want to, that's just my own ego and my sheer love of playing. But that's mixed with thoughts about it being the other drummer's gig, thoughts of "will I be good enough to play with those guys?", all that kind of thing.

Friday evening came and I set off to the pub for the gig.

When I arrived it soon became evident that it was a big mish mash of musicians. One band had been asked to do it, a couple of its members couldn't make it and so it was being done by half of the band, with half of another one and very probably half another one. # was there already, his kit set up and ready to go.

He came over and hugged me, as these friendly people are prone to do. He showed me the rough setlist and asked which of the songs I knew. The honest answer was pretty much all of them, but I lied and told him I only knew about ten or so.

I had good reason for this, as # had made it clear that he'd be delighted if I played as many as I could, yet I felt bad. It might sound a bit arrogant when I say it but it just didn't seem right. If my playing is on a level 10 (on a scale of 0 to 1000), then # would come in at about 0.76. Yet he's such an abundant bloke that you don't get the impression he's in the least bit bothered by this.

They kicked off with # playing. He did his usual, some songs sounded good, the ones in which his drumming worked. Others, the ones in which his playing didn't fit, sounded or felt, like total disasters. If I didn't like # I would have taken the piss out of him to other people. Not to his face of course, I'm not brave or anything.

Then it was my turn to play. I got up, made all the appropriate gestures about not wanting to play, without trying to appear too big for my boots, then sat at #'s kit.

It was a decent mid range drum kit. But it was set up, tuned and positioned terribly. Drummers' etiquette dictates that, when you play at another's kit, you adjust and reposition as few things as possible, ideally nothing. Though I'm incredibly fussy about the set up of my own kit I find that, when I play on someone else's, part of the challenge in keeping things as they are is to try to make it sound good without adjusting things. It's adverse condition training, as a friend used to call it, and it's good.

So I sat down at #s kit and the only thing I did was to lower the height of his stool a tad. I looked around at the forest of cymbals, the mass of drums, all of which were placed in positions that seemed downright ergonomically illogical, and got on with the job.

First off was Oughta know, the Alanis song, one that I adore. I grooved, even if I say it myself, like a mother. The kit sounded and felt like shit. The snare drum in particular felt like I was playing a suitcase more than a decent drum and the tom toms were in hard to reach places that often felt as if I needed to drive or get a cab to.

We continued and played through about four or five more songs in a variety of genres, then I returned to my seat to rapturous applause. I say rapturous meaning that, if there had been anything resembling an audience, there would have been applause. Instead I was received by # who, wholly in keeping with his character, patted me on the back and said all manner of complimentary things.

The gig continued with # playing and murdering more songs. His teenage son, a singer guitarist got up and played three songs too. He had the standard teenage muso gear; skinny jeans, slim fit top and that hair that's got loads of it on top, all floppy and long. One of the songs they played was The Middle by Jimmy Eat World and # totally butchered it. I so wanted to play it as it's one of my real favourites, yet I couldn't.

I had another session, playing another handful and the evening slowly wound down.

As I drove home I reflected on how much I'd enjoyed it. That's the thing about playing the drums. It's such a physical act that you can rarely not enjoy it, even if it means playing material that I wouldn't like, it's fun.

In the last few days things have bothered me a lot. # is such a good guy that I half feel as if I should give him a call and try to "help" him. Perhaps suggest that I come round some time and help him tune his kit properly, maybe position things differently so that his playing becomes easier and more fluid. I know that, given an hour with his drumkit, I could make it sound infinitely better than it does now.

But it would be help he doesn't think he needs, possibly even unwelcomed. Who knows? He might even be highly offended by the offer.

He's so nice a chap that I'd like to give him a lesson or two. I can't teach to save my life but I feel sure that I could help, or suggest that he has a couple of lessons with a decent teacher.

If he was someone I didn't like I suppose none of this would bother me at all. I'd just think of him as an idiot who didn't even deserve my thinking time. But I do like him. A lot. And the chances are that I'll do nothing.

Vut too dooo?......


Welcome to Boredom said...

Americans pronounce Allowed as Aloud :S so do many Sri Lankans in the motherland.

GG said...

If I were # I think I'd really appreciate some help. But maybe you should approach it in such a way that doesn't 'offer him your help'. Rather talk to him about hanging out together and playing some drums on one arvo. Be casual, after trying his drums you can express your concern about ergonomics and say maybe it'll be easier for # if we reposition things a bit... make it a 'we' thing, a collaboration.

That'll be what I would have done.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Welcome to boredom - Am I missing something here? I thought they were pronounced exactly the same way too!

GG - thanks for the input, I'll carry on pondering for a bit first.