Monday, March 31, 2008

Every Dog Has His Day

This is true. When I was in fifth grade I took piano lessons. My mom made me and my four siblings all take lessons on an instrument, and the default choice was piano. Later my brothers would sign on for guitar after having given up on piano. My sister would drift to the clarinet. When we had lived in New York they were lucky enough to take lessons from a woman who, I think, was a retired music professor at Bard. We’d moved down to North Carolina, and my mom just found someone in our neighborhood. She wasn’t particularly compelling. In my mind her puckered vacant pleading face has merged with that of my 8th grade geometry teacher. Anyway, I was leaving a lesson -- it was just a few blocks from our house – and there was a kid in the street. He was riding a bike with a big sparkly banana seat and one of those tall bendy pennant flags coming off the back. It was like the scene in The Bad News Bears when the trouble-maker kid, Kelly (?), pulls up on his motorbike and totally upsets the game. Somehow, I got into a conversation with the kid, his name was Matt, and he doubled me up the street to his house. It was unbelievable. Matt had a drumkit – a blue sparkle set (it was the early 80s, sparkles everywhere). He had two small dinky plastic rectangular speakers mounted on the wall, on either side of where his head would be when seated on the drum stool. Matt would crank AC/DC and get behind the kit. Boom-chi-BAT!-chi-Boom-boom-BAT! chi, Boom-chi-BAT!-chi-Boom-boom-BAT!chi Boom-chi-BAT!-chi-Boom-boom-BAT!chi back-a-dagga-book-a-dooga-BISHHHHHH! It was so basic, so simple, yet so awesome. And so fucking loud. And when Matt let me sit behind the set, it turned out that I could pretty much do it too (no big feat really.) This was satisfying, full-body noise-making. It was like throwing rocks at bottles. It just felt good. And so I had to talk my folks into letting me play drums. But first I had to endure the humiliating trial period to demonstrate my seriousness. This entailed buying practice pads and learning rudiments, RLRR LRLL RLRR LRLL, practicing sticking patterns. And my folks weren’t going to just buy me a drum set. In the typical family bricolage fashion, I picked up a discarded cymbal, which basically like an abused pan lid, a snare drum (one of those great Ludwig student snares that I wish I never parted with). Then I got a kick drum and a pedal. I was closing in on it. Soon, I was sitting in my room with the stereo cranked, listening to "Bad Company" by Bad Company, patiently waiting for the BIG ROCK AND ROLL MOMENT when the drums kick in and lock down on the sacred caveman backbeat. Who needed any fucking tomtoms? (A question always worth asking. I was tickled to read in a Phil Spector bio that when we was producing a session he would routinely take the crash cymbals and any other accent-making extras away from the drummer in order to enforce simplicity.)

So Matt was one of those friends that I looked up to. He was a year older than me, and I pretty much tried to base my identity on his. We had BB guns and bows and arrows. We’d shoot squirrels and robins. Matt, like most drummers, proved to be somewhat unstable and sort of a bad influence. I remember him once setting his BB gun barrel over our back yard fence and carefully aiming into our neighbor’s garden. He shot up Mr. Wilson’s tomato crop. We thought it was pretty funny, but I think I might murder a kid who did that to my tomatoes now. Matt and I were pretty much inseparable. Matt used to have this wig, a sort of shoulder-length brunette deal, and he’d put it on and sort of pretend to be a real stoner, this was back when having long hair seemed to mean something to people, and it wasn’t common to see 11-year-olds flying their freak flags, or wearing women’s wigs, I guess. One night my parents were having a big bridge game, with like 6 or eight other couples, they were all set up at tables in the living room, drinking, snacking, concentrating on the game. I came in with Matt, who was wearing the wig, and I insisted on introducing him to all of my parents’ friends as my friend "Dale Bordello."
Matt went to the Catholic school, and so naturally he was interested in Satan. And he was an AC/DC fanatic. He was one of several kids in the neighborhood who earned a reputation for being artists, based solely on his ability to carefully replicate the demonic AC/DC logo freehand. I went to public school, and I was more into Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and Hendrix. That may have been enough of a difference to send us on our separate ways, or maybe it was that two drummers on the same street would naturally be forced to become friends with different circles of guitar-playing friends. But I almost always think of Matt whenever I hear AC/DC and the workmanlike beats of Phil Rudd.

Those beats are the place where music meets carpentry. It’s definitely more like swinging a hammer than it is like playing a piano.
This morning I woke up early, and after getting primed with some coffee, I decided that I was going to "go for it." Seeking the proper musical accompaniment for manic house-cleaning action, I dusted off my copy of the first record by The Darkness. !!!. My god I’d forgotten how righteous those songs are. From there it was logical to unleash the Hold Steady. And then AC/DC, and eventually Urge Overkill. I also realized you can’t deny that rock and roll seems to work on a cellular, metabolic level. You crank it up. The beats kick in, cue some operatic wailing, crunchy guitar heroics. You’re rocking. What more is there?

In light of some particularly mercenary cold-blooded firings that took place at my already decimated place of work this afternoon, this seems like an even more fitting, social Darwinist bit of rock. Also, I just finished reading Peter Carey’s excellent His Illegal Self the other day, so I’m sort of on an "Australians Rule" kick (try and tell me it’s not true!).


Lefty said...

Everything about this post is just hilarious and true. So that does it, I'm bringing the SG and the Fender tube amp to the next board meeting. Beware.

Frankie Lee said...

That was great--I never knew the story behind the skin-bashing. I had been thinking I'd write a post about the song "Girls Got Rhythm", 'cause it's just so undeniably righteous, particularly on vinyl. But I couldn't think of much more to say than that. Plus most people don't understand in the way you'd like them to.