It's Christmas morning and the big day was finally here.
My first drum set. Under the tree. Totally surprised. Almost as if I hadn't picked it out myself.
It wasn't easy convincing Santa to buy the thing. Aside from the noise I would make, the other barrier to securing my prize was our 'limit' for the Christmas budget. It had increased from it's original 1963 low of $10 to the incredible sum of $25 by 1971 but still fell far short of the $125 price tag. There was only one thing to do and I did it. Cough it up. A rip off you say? Paying for your own Christmas gift? Not when you can get ol St. Nick to pony up 25 smackaroos and I end up with a (used) Slingerland kit complete with snare, ride tom, floor tom and ride cymbal. And the great big drum in the middle that most everything else was attached to. Bought it off a girl in high school who used it in jazz band whatever that was.
Of course I had no idea how to play.
My first practice pad was my bed. I set up 2 pillows as the snare and a tom and used a pair of coat hangers as sticks. My first song was CCR's version of Before You Accuse Me off of Cosmo's Factory 1970. Man I could fluff pillows all day to that one- I really liked the rolls of which I think there are exactly 2 in the whole song. I'm proud to say that the Credence record was my own purchase. What with my after school job as school janitor, I was no longer dependent on the cast off records from my sister's collection. I could buy my own. And it allowed me to finance the drumset.
Now my sister's collection was no small thing. Deb was 'into' music and bought a lot of it. Not the timid Beach Boys records of my oldest brothers' or fuddy duddy Eddie Albert of my grandpa's or too old Ray Charles of my mom's either. Deb showed me the way into the larger darker side of the business. Cool stuff that got little or no airplay. Bands like 10 Years After and Pink Floyd.
(Yes chill-ren, there was a time when The Floyd was not played on the radio stations. Those were dark days they were. Oh we had lectricity but only when the river was high enough to power our water turbine. And lightning strikes. Boy the whittling that we done and the pranks that we hatched! Quite the kerfuffle that! Even now I slap my knee and say, hey, is that a squirrel?...what was I saying?)
Now I'd rather perform my own frontal lobotomy with a rusty knitting needle than suffer through the millionth 'classic round' of Another Brick in the Wall. More like another brick upside the head.
By 1971 I was deep within the catacombs of FM radio and became ravenous for more and different noise from it's echo-y chambers. I kept a cassette recorder at the ready by the radio in the kitchen. By 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening it would start to pick up WNCR or WMMS out of Cleveland. I scrolled the dial madly between the 2 trying to capture as much of a song as possible. I found Procol Harem (Simple Sister), Atomic Rooster (Death Walks Beside You) and The Stones (Can't You Hear Me Knockin?). For me, songs like these were like the dead sea scrolls of music. I studied each intently and with full attention. I could only guess what they meant, but hey, they met my criteria- they sounded cool and seemed terribly mysterious. Very exotic compared to the droll repetition of my AM radio diet.
After all this analysis of heavy music and dank sounds and I still didn't know how to play drums. In desperation, I took 2 lessons. They did not go well. Not only did the instructor expect me to learn how to read music (!) the lessons consisted of me tap tap tapping on a weak little padded practice pad. I made more noise beating on my feather pillows!
After months of flailing about I had my breakthrough somewhere mid 1972.
It was late in the morning on a Saturday. I had pretty much kicked the cartoon habit by then but still wasted time looking for something to watch. I twisted the knob on the TV (remotes had not been invented- it was PRIMITIVE!) and what do I find but an an actual rock band performing and- they had a clear drum set! I could see the drummer's foot pumping up and down in rhythm with the song! He was actually using the pedal-thingy! I thought it was just for show or something... You certainly couldn't use it while hitting everything else could you? Now I could really see the drummer doing all this mad foot pumping. He grinned and absently pounded the cymbals and other drums and cowbells and 10 penny whistles for all I knew. I was lost. The band played without effort, the drummer never broke a sweat.
Thumpin Floor Toms Batman- I've got to learn how to do all that??? At one and the same time??? I was sorta clumsy with average coordination at best. I can't do all that. Not all at one and the same time.
But I'd just spent $100. And I was into Santa for $25. If I don't learn play he is going to be pissed.
I grew weak. The room began to spin and vibrate as my vision dimmed and all feeling left my limbs save the sense of sound which tormented me like a siren from the TV set.
" And that boys and girls, with their latest hit was The Raspberries!!!"
... the room became murky and I fell down what appeared to be a deep well. It's peeling walls became padded with matted orange-brown shag carpet and creased black light posters which vanished into dust. Lava lamps spilled their contents and flowing in and out of the shag like day-glow eels. Parasitic neon worms. The eyes of innocent children grew to the size of saucers. Each mutely asked same question- "Why?" I took no comfort in the numbness that spread throughout my body as it turned hot then cold and changed from light to dark and back again a 1000 times in an instant.
"Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out"
"Life's a Gas: 33 1/3 cents a Gallon!"
"Hang in there Baby!"
6 impossible things before breakfast.
Fade to black.
this story continues in the next installment.