Music

Sorry, B.B. — The Thrill Is Not Gone Yet

JusDrums

Trying to overcome negativity while wearing a shirt that says NOPE.  Me in a nutshell.

This weekend I am doing something I have never done before. I am going to be the drummer for a band — live and on stage. When my drum instructor mentioned back in July that he was going to set up a performance for some of his students, my first reaction was to laugh, all the while thinking Oh hells no! When he asked me what I thought of the idea of performing, to my surprise, while my head was in a there’s-no-way-nuh-uh-you-can’t-make-me space, my mouth opened and spoke what I knew in my heart.

“It would probably be good for me.”

We chose a song for me to perform at the exhibition. And we were off.

Jeff showed me a preferred beat for B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone, a slightly stepped up version of a beat I know already. But the minuscule sixteenth beat that the “fancy” (as he called it) version added turned out to be Herculean in scope for my brain. I have only one other drum beat in my repertoire that includes a sixteenth beat hidden among the eighths. That beat took me four months to get under command. I’m still not proud of my fluidity on that one, but at least when Jeff tells me to play go-go beat I no longer stare at him blankly. Progress.

Learning drums is a formidable task. You are training four limbs to do four different things, all while operating from the same one brain. No brain wants to operate four limbs independently. Humans don’t work that way. To drum, you have to retrain your mind to get your body to do what it has no natural inclination to do. Learning to drum requires infinite patience with oneself. I am infinitely short on patience for all things, most especially myself.

I spent the last two months whittling away at the mental impediments to procure the fancy drum beat for this song, all the while continuing to learn the other elements so I would be ready in time. I was fully committed to performing that fancy beat. And I spent an hour to two a day for fourteen days after the boys started school again working on it with my new bass drum pedal so I could go into my lesson last Friday and show Jeff I had met my goal. And I really thought I had gotten there, or at least within striking distance of there.

I hadn’t. When I got to my lesson, I could not do the beat. My brain and my right foot, in complete defiance of every bit of progress I had made, flat out refused to pop in that extra note. Each time I missed it, I grew more anxious and more despondent. I had spent triple the amount of time I usually ferret away for drum practice to nail that beat, and in the clutch moment it had vanished. Sensing my frustration and with a week left before the scheduled performance, Jeff told me to scrap it. He told me to focus on the groove and let that beat go for now. I agreed that was the best decision, and we continued the lesson without it.

The moment I got to my car, though, I lost it. The tears gently fell and my head ran a steady stream of self-flagellation until I reached my son at school and pulled myself together. Perhaps drumming wasn’t for me? Maybe it was time to burn the sticks and drop the kit into the dumpster? Maybe this dog was too old for new tricks? A year into drumming, and I still sucked at it. I felt lower and more exposed than a naked mole rat. I was an imposter and soon an entire audience would know it. Fantastic.

I have spent the last week doing some additional brain retraining. I haven’t been focusing on that bass drum part. I have been getting my ego in check and my attitude on straight. Turns out this has been nearly as difficult as acquiring the fancy drum beat, but I am finally there. Drumming is supposed to be fun. It was always supposed to be fun. I knew it would be difficult and, to be honest, that is why it appealed to me. Drumming is about the sense of accomplishment when something clicks and becomes automatic and I am able to advance to the next goal. The trick lies in not focusing on what is left to learn and instead noticing how far I have come from the point a year ago when Jeff handed me a pair of his drumsticks and I sat behind a kit for the first time ever.

I am performing on Saturday for better or worse. I’ve decided to be excited about it. I’ve decided to remember that the best things in my life have always come at the end of my comfort zone when I have taken on something that scared the bejeezus out of me and that I wasn’t sure I could handle. I’ve decided to play and be present and let go and not expect anything but a three-minute-long life lesson. It’s about the journey. I’ll get that fancy beat eventually. Until then, I need to refocus on the ride because B.B. was wrong. The thrill is not gone and, knowing my determination, it won’t be gone until I am.

Dream A Little Dream

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  ~George Eliot

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My new toys

When I started on this journey to improve my self-esteem, I knew three things would be crucial to my success. I needed to make time for the things that feed my soul. People who know they are worthy take care of themselves without reservation or guilt. They know that what matters to them matters. Period. So, writing was going to have to become a priority in my life again because writers write. I also needed to find space in my head for positive thoughts. I needed to find self-acceptance and self-appreciation. For me that meant a long overdue return to my yoga mat because yoga teaches balance, patience, and flexibility of both body and spirit. Most of all, yoga teaches you to let go of shit that doesn’t serve you, and I have a lot of shit to send packing. Finally, I needed to go out of my comfort zone to foster a new sense of self, one filled with possibility in place of fear. I needed to let go of who I thought I should be and embrace who I actually am. It was time to become Emmet in The Lego Movie and unlock my true potential.

In third grade, like many children in the US, I was forced to play the recorder. (To this day, if I hear a recorder playing “Hot Cross Buns,” I break out into cold sweats and struggle to keep from dry heaving.) I suffered through the experience knowing it was a stepping stone. In fourth grade when it came time to choose a real instrument, I went to my parents resolute. I told them I wanted to play the drums. The answer to that request (a common answer to that question for many parents, I imagine) was a giant, unequivocal HELLS NO. Drums are expensive. Drums are unwieldy. Drums take up real estate. And, of course, drums are loud. They asked me if I had interest in other instruments. I thought about it, suggested the French Horn with a question in my voice, and was told that might be a bit much for a starter instrument. I then weakly suggested maybe the oboe, as it was infinitely more interesting than the commonly chosen flute but still small and portable. My dad suggested I take up the clarinet. He played clarinet, and I could use his. After all, clarinets and oboes are both in the woodwinds family, right? At this point, being my independent-minded, nine-year-old self and being tired of being told what was appropriate, I told my parents I didn’t want to play anything anymore. And, in a move more self-defeating than rebellious, I gave up on music, unaware I was giving up a piece of myself in the process.

Although I never learned to play them, I never put the drums away either. I hear the drum beat in everything. I drum on the steering wheel with the radio rather than singing along. I marvel at the mastery of Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Dave Grohl. During concerts, I focus on the drummer and bang my hands on my hips rather than clapping with the other fans. I go into an altered mental state when I blast Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in my house, air drumming and tossing my hair around like Animal from The Muppets during the raucous chorus. I drive my sons crazy making them listen to drum solos in songs. It’s a little weird, honestly.

At the beginning of the school year, my youngest son signed up for Drumline as one of his electives. I began to live my drummer’s dream vicariously through him. Every day I would ask him about it. I bought him drumsticks for practicing. I asked him to show me what he was learning so I could copy it and learn along side him. When the teacher assigned him to the bass drum, I tried to imagine my little guy holding that big old thing and banging on it. It made me giddy. Not long after that, I was reading the self-help book about badassery when it occurred to me I could do something I hadn’t done before. I could dream a little dream for me. What if I decided not to live my drum fantasy through Luke? What if I decided to be my own drummer and live to my own damn beat?

So last week Thursday, I took my nervous energy and my inability to sit still to my first music lesson. I sat behind a drum kit for the first time ever and I took a risk on myself. I allowed myself to believe that I was worth the expense and effort to learn something that I felt drawn to, regardless of the inconvenience it might present to others. I decided I deserved to try on this dream and see how it felt. Every day since that first lesson, I have practiced stick control, timing, and sticking patterns. I now have a metronome app on my phone, my own drumsticks, and a practice pad. Jeff, my incredibly cool, Buddhist monk (no lie) music instructor assures me I am not hopeless and that with legitimate and regular practice I really can be the drummer I might have been. And, although I am not doing this for them, in the back of my mind I think of my sons and the example I am setting for them as I try something scary and new at the ripe old age of 48. I hope they learn that it’s worth it to stand up for yourself and it’s never too late to follow your dreams and see where they might lead you.

 

Even The Great Ones Die

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Closest I ever got to David Bowie. Section E, Row 36, Seat 2

“It never even occurred to me that David Bowie *could* die.” ~Michael Ian Black

Yesterday was a weird day for me. Like many people my age, I imagine, I spent the day steeped in memories, stunned by the loss of David Bowie. David Bowie has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Literally. One of my first memories is waking up hearing Fame on the radio in my bedroom. I was seven. I remember it so vividly because I’d been dreaming and that song was playing in my dream. When I awoke and heard it playing in my room, I honestly thought I had some sort of psychic powers. It was much later that I learned that happens to everyone and I did not have the gift. Oh, how it sucks being average.

David Bowie was the anti-average. He was the coolest man who ever lived. That is how I will always think of him. He was bold. He didn’t apologize for who he was or what he did or what he created. And he did all this without being a self-absorbed, self-serving jerk. He was talented, elegant, handsome, enigmatic, and yet somehow accessible. His music made me feel and reminded me that I belong to the universe. It made me think of things beyond myself. And that is just so damn cool.

Right after I saw the news of his passing, I was scanning my Twitter feed and I saw this tweet from Michael Ian Black. It took everything I was feeling and put it into a convenient package. It never occurred to me that David Bowie could die either. Legends don’t die. And they certainly shouldn’t pass away quietly from cancer at the relatively young age of 69. My big takeaway yesterday was a kick-in-the-gut reminder that we all die. Every last one of us. Even the coolest man on the planet.

Last night I was a bit more circumspect than usual. I could not look at my husband or my sons without acknowledging what we all know but bury deep inside. Death happens. It’s the only guarantee life presents when you are born. You will die. People you love, people who inhabit your soul, will die. I stood in the doorway to my sons’ room last night, staring at them while they slept. For a few moments, with teary eyes, I remembered things outside myself. I remembered to breathe and to feel and to take it all in.

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he told us not to blow it ’cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.” 

Hey Kanye…Get Off My Beck

Kanye needs to go stand in a corner.

Kanye needs to go stand in a corner.

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” ~Birdman

I didn’t watch the Grammy Awards. I never do. But I was nosing around in the news yesterday and saw that Beck won for Best Album, which apparently felt like an upset win to some people. I like surprise wins because they mean someone unsuspecting earned something they deserved at a time when no one believed. It’s a small correction in the balance of the universe. It’s a beautiful thing to pull the rug out from under those who expect without humility or gratitude.

Full disclosure: I like Beck. I have for decades. I think he’s incredibly talented and intriguing. His music shows a range of creativity and depth at a time when our external lives are becoming increasingly superficial. There are those who have criticized him on his latest album for shifting from edgier, quirky pop anthems to slower, quieter, more introspective ballads. They say this album isn’t “Beck” (as if they know him better than he knows himself) and that he’s lost himself or sold out. Those critics haven’t experienced enough of life to embrace the process of personal growth. I believe Beck is Beck but in a different place and time. We all deserve the opportunity to explore who we are in our entirety and not merely to live the roles others ascribe to us.

At the Grammy Awards when Beck took the stage to accept his award, the annoyingly ubiquitous Kanye West had another one of his now infamous, tantruming-toddler moments. He approached the stage in a huff, seemingly prepared to pull another scene like he had with Taylor Swift after her 2009 VMA win, but he pulled back at the last moment and sat down with a smile, a clown simply wanting to draw attention. After the show, however, Kanye let loose, embarking on the epic, diarrhea-of-the-mouth tirade we knew he wanted to play out at the awards ceremony, chiding the awards committee for “disrespecting art” and saying that “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.” I worry about Kanye. He’s a child living in a world of grown ups. I’m not sure he has people around to tell him not to run with scissors. But, wait….perhaps running with scissors while sporting an enormous head and an over-inflated sense of self-importance might be a positive thing for Kanye and every other person on earth? There’s more than one way to burst someone’s bubble.

I had already purchased a couple of songs off Beck’s winning Morning Phase album last year, but after hearing Kanye’s inarticulate and attention-seeking rant I went ahead and purchased the rest of the album. Seemed like it was the least I could do to support the humble, affable Beck after his “shocking” win. I haven’t listened to Beyoncé’s nominated album because, well, I am not a Beyoncé-type-music fan. But I have listened to Beck’s album quite a few times since my hasty download yesterday morning. Morning Phase is a solid, hauntingly beautiful, cohesive work, an album that the Grammy voters were right to recognize whether or not Kanye West agrees. And Beck, recipient of five Grammy Awards from his sixteen Grammy nominations spanning his twenty-year career, is not some obscure, talentless hack who is barely worth the notice. You would hope that Kanye and Beyoncé, with 21 and 20 Grammys respectively, could graciously acknowledge that sometimes other artists should get to take home a gramophone trophy. It just makes the whole awards ceremony idea a little more sporting, don’t you think?

I may not be his biggest fan, but I understand that Kanye West is an important artist. Certainly the Grammy committee believe this as well by nominating him 53 times. No one but no one, though, believes in Kanye’s importance more than Kanye. And, dear sweet Lord baby Jesus, Kanye thinks he’s so important that he’s begun talking about himself in the third person. His bombastic arrogance makes me tired.

I can’t say if Beck’s album is less deserving of a Grammy than Beyoncé’s but I do know this. Kanye West is the kind of self-aggrandizing artist that gives all creative types a bad name. So, yeah. I’m glad Beck won and accepted his award with class and decency while Kanye looked down his nose at him. I’m glad Beck won because it’s refreshing to see an alternative music artist get a little spotlight time in such a public forum. Most of all, I’m glad he won because the world needs a whole lot less Kanye and a whole lot more Beck. Sunday night, Beyoncé may have lost out to the original Loser, but Kanye was the big perdedor.

And Just Like That All Was Right In The Universe

Squeeeeeeee!

Squeeeeeeee!

Sometimes you just know things are meant to be.

A little over a month ago, I told my husband that if The Decemberists (an Indie folk rock band I’m partial to) scheduled a concert in Denver this spring or summer, I would be there. I’ve already seen them in concert. A few years ago I stood in a cramped theater surrounded by hipsters with long beards, swept up in a sea of flannel, and swore to my friend I would see them live in concert again. And then I told hubby that the scheduling of said concert could possibly preclude all sorts of previous engagements, including but not limited to graduations, anniversaries, vacations, and surgeries. I kept checking their site for a concert announcement while waiting for their latest album to drop. And drop it did. Today. Nothing makes a lousy Tuesday masquerading as a Monday better than the long-anticipated release of new music.

This afternoon, I got a concert alert stating that yes, in fact, The Decemberists will be bringing their North American tour to Denver this spring. I’m not going to lie. I did squee a bit when I saw the message title. When I opened the actual message and examined it a little more closely, however, I honestly released a sound that was somewhere between a girly squeal and a coyote yip. I didn’t even know I could make a noise like that. Not only are The Decemberists coming to town, but they are coming to my favorite venue, the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. On my birthday. And Spoon is opening up for them; tickets for their last show here sold out before I got one and now they are coming back as if to make it up to me. Are you kidding? Did I mention this is all going to happen on my birthday? On. My. Birthday.

I know I am an infinitesimal speck of dust in an unfathomable universe. I know that by comparison this one event is meaningless and smaller than the smallest particle comprising a grain of sand when you compare it to something like this photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. But, when things like this happen…when everything seems divined by some higher, magnificent power…I take note. I stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and wallow in perfection because I know that this the-world-is-amazing-and-I-am-so-fortunate-to-be-alive feeling of utter joy will pass soon enough, probably when I have to deal with Joe’s science fair experiment again. Luckily, that too has only the importance of the tiniest particle on a microscopic particle comprising a grain of sand, so it’s all good. The universe is awesome.

What Difference Does It Make

Something British that I truly enjoyed last night

Something British that I truly enjoyed last night

“One must hop toward the light rather than sit in a shadow and wonder why it’s dark.” ~Bunny Buddhism

I’ve been a regular concert goer since I was a teenager. I saw my first concert (The Police on their Synchronicity tour) when I was 15 years old. My friends and I were in the rafters in seats labeled on the printed tickets as “Possible Obstructed View.” It didn’t matter. When Sting took the stage and I saw the tiny dot that was HIM, the magical concept of the concert was solidified. I was taken in hand by the spirit of live music. Game over.

Last night I had the opportunity to see in concert an artist I’ve followed since I wore black on the outside because black was how I felt on the inside. As much as I adored Sting and The Police (and I’ve seen Sting, either with or without The Police, approximately nine times), The Smiths were my anchor, Morrissey my preacher. Need a pithy lyric? I’ve got an entire cache of Smiths’ lyrics stored in my brain, the same brain that can’t remember my own phone number some days. After two failed attempts to see the Moz (he cancelled the shows both times), yesterday afternoon I started to believe it might be my night. I crossed my fingers and hoped the third time was a charm. Please, please, please let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time. To celebrate the evening’s potential, my friend Heather and I had dinner at the British Bulldog. We were taking this experience as seriously as Morrissey takes his PETA affiliation.

When he finally took the stage last night in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, all the self-inflicted misery of my teenage years resurfaced. The show started out better than I could have hoped with Hand in Glove. His voice was spot on, clear, smooth, and without any hint of the ill effects of high altitude. Having resigned myself long ago to the knowledge that I would never hear a Smiths’ song live, I could not have been more happy to be wrong. As the concert progressed, however, I found myself becoming increasingly agitated. A steady dose of morose songs are the norm with Morrissey, but his solo catalog also includes musically upbeat tunes…even if they are accompanied by lyrics that are she-was-found-face-down-in-a-bathtub-of-vodka level of depressing. I kept waiting for the uptempo songs. They did not arrive. Worse than that, I was seated next to an aggravating couple that included a gentleman who believed he himself was Morrissey. He sang each and every word quite loudly and with the utmost conviction of his own vocal talent. I wanted to kick him in the eye. I was not surprised when Morrissey performed Meat Is Murder while onscreen a graphic, five-minute long film of the industrialized food machine abusing and murdering animals played for our edification. I gave up hope and focused instead on my double vodka and soda. At least there was a chance for temporary mental respite at the bottom of my plastic cup. I checked my phone for the time and found myself disappointed that it was only 10:11. All I could think was heaven knows I’m miserable now.

Toward the end of the show, Heather and I checked out. I think we might have left if it hadn’t been for some sort of misguided optimism that perhaps Morrissey would come out of his self-indulgent drama long enough to play something lively and redeem the show. I know Morrissey was simply being Morrissey. It’s not his fault that I didn’t get the concert I had hoped for. He was the same Morrissey he has always been. I have changed. My mentality has caught up with my biology. I’m older now and have less tolerance for intentional misery. I am weary and wary of wallowing for wallowing’s sake. Life is short, and our thoughts determine our relative level of joy. Based on that notion, Morrissey must be the most disconsolate man on earth. Don’t get me wrong. I will always enjoy his songs because they are wry, poetic, and clever. He rests on the other side of the scale from brainless, pop fluff and creates a necessary balance. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided that choosing to live in misery doesn’t make you deep. It just makes you dark. I will never see another one of your shows, Morrissey, but I’m still fond of you.