Shadows and Blur Part 3 — My Bloody Valentine

 
 image via  dailytrojan.com

image via dailytrojan.com

 

In his book In Praise of Shadows, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki finds a connection between the prominence of shadows in traditional Japanese architecture and the Japanese literary tradition of which he was a part:

“It is not that Japanese writers have been ignorant of the powers of concision and articulation.  Rather, they have felt that certain subjects — the vicissitudes of the emotions, the fleeting perceptions of the mind — are best couched in a style that conveys something of the uncertainty of the mental process and not just its neatly packaged conclusions.”

In Praise of Shadows, p. 45
(Translated by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker)

We might extend this connection further, from shadows to what might be called blurriness — the quality of images we clearly perceive but do not perceive clearly.  My Bloody Valentine’s album Loveless derives much of its power from this principle.

The song “I Only Said” starts with a lead guitar singing like a seagull as it soars over a bruised ocean of guitars, and the roaring blurriness of that ocean (produced by any number of techniques) forces us to confront our unknowing.  As a thought experiment, imagine that ocean of guitars replaced by a single acoustic guitar, and how reassuring that acoustic guitar might be by way of its clear sonic image.  It’s the unsettling lack of clarity about what we are hearing that gives this album its haunting, mystical power.  (Even the album artwork, captured in the video thumbnail, relies on this the power of blurred imagery.  We stare at it and see a guitar, but perhaps other things too.  The act of puzzling over the image draws us further into it.)

As the vocal enters, the dark ocean of guitars overwhelm it, as if the singer's mouth barely clears the water's surface, the washing of the waves blurring the syllables as they emerge.  We lean forward, striving for understanding.  Here are the lyrics, according to Google, which can hardly be confirmed by listening.

See there, run away you said to go, you were it, you were it
To lay underneath the red sky there, to lay under her, I want her there
See you there, under her and under to go you were there and I'm slow
To lay over her and I'm slow, to lay under her, I've grown away

The drowned inaudibility of the vocal feels planned, not mistaken.  We don't fiddle with our headphones as we listen, though if the vocal were any louder we might because the blur would feel less decisive.   Thus, the band has created not a blurry portrait (one we wouldn't know how to encounter) but a portrait of blurriness.  We emerge from this sonic ocean without wondering if we listened correctly, only with a deepened awareness of our unknowing.


Thank you for reading.

Opposites part 1 — Killer of Sheep

 
 Charles Burnett.  Image via  blog.nwfilmforum.org .

Charles Burnett.  Image via blog.nwfilmforum.org.

 

In his classic book on acting, Audition, casting director Michael Shurtleff offers a series of twelve guideposts that help actors enrich their performance.  The fifth of those is Opposites.

Whatever you decide is your motivation in the scene, the opposite of that is also true and should be in it . . . 

Think about a human being: in all of us there exists love and there exists hate, there exists creativity and there exists an equal tendency toward self-destructiveness, there exists sleeping and waking, there exists night and there exists day, sunny moods and foul moods, a desire to love and a desire to kill.  Since these extremities do exist in all of us, then they must also exist in each character in each scene.  Not all opposites, of course, not this exhaustive listing I’ve just given, but some of them.  If it is a love scene, there is bound to be hate in it too; if there is need, great need, for someone, we are bound to resent that need.  Both emotions should be in the scene; it is lopsided and untrue if only one is.

Michael Shurtleff, Audition, pp. 77-78 

We saw how this applies to narrative in our discussion of bridges, where one section of a song or book or film can challenge and thereby deepen the surrounding ideas.

Charles Burnett's masterpiece, Killer of Sheep, shows this principle in action, especially in its portrayal of children.  

Note how these scenes are made richer by the opposites play and war.  The games these children play are both fun and frightening.  They have life-and-death hovering over them, which not only adds realism but also depth to our sense of their emotional life.


Thank you for reading.

Practice Part 5 — The Value of Tracking Work

 
 Hemingway is said to have aimed for 500 words a day.  Image via  www.authenticubatours.com

Hemingway is said to have aimed for 500 words a day.  Image via www.authenticubatours.com

 

One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is a lack of self-entitlement.  “Who am I to be here” in front of the computer, canvas, or on the stage?  “I haven’t worked hard enough.”

A few years ago, I started logging my hours of writing and drumming.  Here was some of what I learned:

  • I was surprised to find how much work I actually do.  My lazy self-image might say less my work ethic and more about my method of self-motivation. 
     
  • At times when I didn’t work, it helped to have a concrete sense of what a productive week can look like (which I had, thanks to my work logs).
     
  • As a writer, I felt most free when I was most conscious of meeting my minimal work targets.
     
  • As a drummer, I felt most confident on stage when I knew I had met my practice targets in the time leading up to the show.
     
  • I always use a timer, which I stop during breaks so that the measurement has integrity.  (On my computer, I use a program called Active Timer that tells me how much time I spent in any particular document (as opposed to time spent checking email, etc.)
     
  • I set modest goals in order to build a rhythm of success instead of failure.   (If you are wondering about the power of a regular modest output, consider that John Irving stops his writing day at three pages; Hemingway’s daily target is said to be 500 words.  Multiply these small doses by 250 days and you can see that they add up.)
     
  • I find that in weeks during which I work consistently, even when I fell short of daily targets, I end up producing better work.  Working every day leaves me more limber.  The hardest thing is to come back to work after an extended absence.
     
  • The accumulation of the work logs whets my appetite for doing more work.  I’m open to considering that this testifies to my twisted artist’s conscience, but I also know that we artists often need to find ways to trick ourselves into working.  If keeping track of my work is one such trick, why not keep doing it?

Thank you for reading.

Practice Part 4 — Practice Discovery

 
 Natalia Ginzburg.  Image via  d.repubblica.it .

Natalia Ginzburg.  Image via d.repubblica.it.

 

Consider the following observation from Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg about her early writing process:

So I was always hunting for characters, I looked at the people on the tram and on the street and when I found a face that seemed suitable for a story I wove some moral details and a little anecdote around it.  I also went hunting for details of dress and people’s appearance, and how their houses looked inside; if I went into a new room I tried to describe it silently to fit well in a story.  I kept a notebook in which I wrote down some of the details I had discovered, or little similes, or episodes which I promised myself I would use in stories.  For example I would write in my notebook ‘She came out of the bathroom trailing the cord of her dressing-gown behind her like a long tail’, ‘ How the lavatory stinks in this house — the child said to him — When I go, I hold my breath — he added sadly’, ‘His curls like bunches of grapes’, ‘Red and black blankets on an unmade bed’, ‘A pale face like a peeled potato’.  But I discovered how difficult it was to use these phrases when I was writing a story.  The notebook became a kind of museum of phrases that were crystallized and embalmed and very difficult to use.  I tried endlessly to slip the red and black blankets or the curls like bunches of grapes into a story but I never managed to.  So the notebook was no help to me.  I realized that in this vocation there is no such thing as ‘savings’.  If someone thinks ‘that’s a fine detail and I don’t want to waste it in the story I’m writing at the moment, I’ve plenty of good material here, I’ll keep it in reserve for another story I’m going to write’, that detail will crystallize inside him and he won’t be able to use it.

From “My Vocation” by Natalia Ginzburg
Included in The Little Virtues

Her insight that “there is no such thing as savings,” carries over to many realms.  A drummer might, in the course of practicing, discover a particularly fun fill and decide to perfect it for use at a particular point in a particular song.  Then, during performance, the drummer will find that the fill feels wrong.  The moment of discovery has been lost, and the fill has crystallized and lacks the fluidity demanded in the moment.

Likewise, a songwriter may want to hold onto a melody or a line of lyrics, an architect may want to hold onto a particular vision of how two spaces adjoin.  In all of these cases, what we might prioritize is not holding onto the particular ideas but rather the creative flow that led to them.

Note that this does not discount keeping notes from which we might later proceed.  It only points to the fact that though we can preserve a discovery, it’s much harder to preserve its moment of arrival, and the distinction is crucial. 


One way this phenomenon shows up in the world is when bands find that their albums and lack the magical feel of their demos.  The demos are filled with discovery; the albums, with failed attempts at reenacting those discoveries.  Discovery, by its nature, cannot be reenacted.  One can only set oneself free to pursue new discoveries.  (It's for this reason that my band, Semisonic, resolved to make master-quality demos.  A master-quality demo might not need to be redone.)  


Thus, when we come upon an especially striking idea, we might do something with it right then and there.  Spend it, because we can't save it.  And later, when our work is done, we might reflect upon what happened to make that moment of discovery possible.


Thank you for reading.

 

 

Practice part 1 — Practice to Remove Effort

 
 Jimi Hendrix, who was said to have had his guitar slung around him at all times, allowing the constant practice that produced the effortless virtuosity with which he changed rock and roll.  Image via  reddit.com .

Jimi Hendrix, who was said to have had his guitar slung around him at all times, allowing the constant practice that produced the effortless virtuosity with which he changed rock and roll.  Image via reddit.com.

 

This series on practice is aimed at exploring not only the practice of performance (musical instruments, voice, dance, acting, and so forth) but also the practice of making (writing, composing, painting and sculpting, choreographing, and so forth).  In both realms of activity, practice might be viewed as a gateway to more fluid creativity.


When a beginning drummer enters a practice space, her first impulses (like those of the beginning writer, dancer, painter) are to 'let it out,' though what it is may not yet be known to her.  The thrill of doing something with this newfound medium is foremost in her mind, and this inevitably leads her to go for it, to smash and crash and rock out.  Doing so, she hopes to find expression.

And then this goes nowhere.  The drummer is disheartened.  She doesn’t feel she is quite letting it out, perhaps because she has not yet realized how much effort she has inserted between herself and her ideas.  She’s gripping her sticks tightly, making faces, hitting loudly.  What awaits her is the discovery that progress will come with the removal of effort.

The point is made brilliantly in this Ted Talk from classical pianist Benjamin Zander.   The relevant segment is found from 1:15 to 4:15 in his presentation.

Thus, whenever we creators are in our practice room, writing desk, or art studio, we might constantly ask ourselves, “Where am I feeling effort, and what happens when I remove it?”  Answering those questions illuminates the way forward.

The point of practicing any creative activity is to align one's output with one's intuition.  And too often, what stands between those two is effort and all of the inefficiency it interposes between the artist and her intuition.  Effort seduces us into thinking we are smashing through some wall.  Too rarely do we realize that this wall is the effort we are injecting into the process.  By removing it, we learn to get out of our own way.  We find that our deepest expression is within us and that we access it not through effort but through relaxation.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Ringo Starr

 
 Ringo Starr.  Image via  tumblr.com .

Ringo Starr.  Image via tumblr.com.

 

If it sounds as if John Lennon is singing with heavy eyelids, it may be because Ringo sounds as if he’s playing the drums in his robe and slippers. 

 

Note how many fills Ringo plays and yet how unobtrusively he renders them.  A more aggressive drummer might play these same notes as if smashing down a wall, thus removing any chance for the song to take on its psychedelic aura.  In Ringo’s hands, these constant fills suggest turning over in one’s sleep, or perhaps the gentle tumble of kaleidoscope beads. 

The Beatles’ secret ingredient is laziness.  Though their songs and costumed presentation are bright, the Beatles are not bright-eyed.  The droopy sweetness of their harmonies, for example, does not try to rev us up.  They send us elsewhere.

“What seems to me the highest and most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, nor to arouse our lust or rage, but to do what nature does—that is, to set us dreaming.”

— Gustave Flaubert

The Beatles set us dreaming, not through displays of mechanical facility but by relaxing into the power of their intuitions.  And that relaxation is only possible because their drummer is a master hypnotist.

Thank you, Ringo.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — The Facility Trap

 
 Fred Armisen as Jens Hannemann.  Image via  nytimes.com .

Fred Armisen as Jens Hannemann.  Image via nytimes.com.

 

I once took a few lessons from a drum teacher who had great advice on how to loosen one’s hands, which meant his students and protégés had blazing speed.  After one lesson, a couple of them stopped by, and soon the conversation turned, as it so often does with a certain breed of drummers, to a list of complaints about how other musicians were insufficiently interested in their chops.

They mocked Ringo.

The youngest complained about “all these bands and songwriters who pay you for all the notes you don’t play.” 

The next youngest chimed in, “We got a lot of thoroughbreds out there pulling garbage trucks,” a reference to the supply of drummers whose blazing chops were wasted, in his opinion, on playing backbeats.

Having by far the slowest hands in the room, I said nothing.  I simply listened and thought to myself, “All three of you could learn a lot from the likes of Ringo.”

The drum-jock mindset, which misses the forest (music) for the trees (mechanics), is nicely skewered here.


The first time I saw this video, it took me a few minutes to realize that I was watching a parody by comedian Fred Armisen, not an actual instructional video.  That bit of confusion says a lot about Armisen’s comedic insights as well as the bloated size of his target.

One needn’t dismiss such things as hand-speed to understand that improved mechanics might not be the ultimate purpose of practice.  What if the ultimate purpose of practice was expression, for which mechanics are only a vehicle?  

The trap many drummers fall into (the problem extends beyond drummers and beyond music) is this:  Improving one’s mechanics is a simpler proposition than learning to express.

Compare two tasks:

A) Practicing a backbeat with a metronome

B) Making one’s backbeat more beautiful.

In order to accomplish B, you’d do well to spend some time on A.  But A and B are not equivalent.  B is a more demanding and more complicated task.

Though A can be hard work, judging one’s success in A is fairly straightforward.  One records oneself, listens, and identifies where one is ahead of or behind the metronome. 

B, however, demands that one raise aesthetic questions for which there are no easy answers.  I may know how to play in time with a metronome, but does my time sound alluring?  Is it saying something?  Are the sounds coming out of kit in conversation with each other?  How will all of this sound when the other instruments are added?  What surprises am I encountering?

These are harder questions to answer, which is why metronome work can become a refuge.

We can telescope back and compare . . .

Mechanics—playing in time with a metronome, playing a faster single-stroke roll, developing limb independence.

with

Expression — bringing the music to life.  Understanding that a song has a spirit, a narrative shape, and so forth.

Mechanical facility may aid expression, but it falls short of fulfilling all of expression’s demands.  Mechanics are sometimes called technique, but this ignores the fact that expression requires the development of other techniques such as . . . 

  • Listening to what the other musicians are doing
  • Thinking in terms of a song's drama and narrative structure
  • Understanding what the melody and lyrics want from the drums
  • Understanding what silence can do for us
  • Thinking about the tradeoffs we make with each note we play
  • Learning to channel our intuition

Mechanical technique is important but these non-mechanical techniques are more crucial still.  And they are the most overlooked, especially by those who dis Ringo, one of the most deeply musical drummers ever to pick up a pair of sticks.


 Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Festival of Drums — Dennis Davis

 
 Dennis Davis.  Image via  flickr.com .

Dennis Davis.  Image via flickr.com.

 

The best drum performances take on the spirit of the song. 

 

“Fame” does not describe mastering the celebrity life so much as take stock of the spotlight’s toll.  As we listen, we don’t picture David Bowie basking before the crowd so much as walking out the stage door into a headache-inducing glare of flashbulbs and seeking shelter in the dark, quiet of his limousine and the illicit offerings kept there.  We may see him parade down red carpets, but we can feel the heaviness in each step.

Dennis Davis’s drum groove conjures the song’s inebriated intersection of moxie and anxiety.  The hugeness of the kick and snare groove brings across the swagger, especially the sixteenth-note snare fills (for instance, at 2:53), which create rock-star sized downbeats where the vocal can make grand re-entrances.  But then notice the small size of the crashes that follow, which sound more like dings.  It's as if the rock star trips on the stage curtains.  The bite of the snare drum (along with the distorted guitar riff) suggests the anger brewing beneath the surface.  And the occasional tickling of the hi-hat suggests nervous fingers searching for the last cigarette in the pack.

Every move Dennis Davis makes on the drums is perfectly aligned with the story told by the song.  No wonder he was sought out by artists such as David Bowie and Stevie Wonder.  He knows how to tell a story on the drums.


Thank you for reading.

 

Festival of Drums — Mystery Drummer

 
 Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose.  Image via   www.fridayinathens.com .

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose.  Image via www.fridayinathens.com.

 

I wish I knew who played drums on this irresistible track.

 

"It's Too Late to Turn Back Now" by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose is a perfect example of how one little touch on the drums can spark an arrangement.  Here I’m thinking of the hi-hat barks that appear in the pre-chorus sections.  (The first instance occurs at 0:34.)  Note the unexpected placement of this bark, which anticipates the vocal line.  Note also the extent of the sonic contrast of the open and closed hi-hat.   

Peeeeeeshup!

It leaps out of the track, much like infatuation has leapt up and stung the singer.

Note also the importance of how this move is missing from the verse sections that precede it.  This clearing out of the drum arrangement allows the verse to take on a more reflective mood before the pre-chorus sections perk up, leading to the blossoming of the chorus.

None of it would mean anything were it not for the utterly infectious nature of the simple groove.

I looked without success for the identity of this drummer.  (If anyone has info, please email me.)  Whoever you are, most awesome drummer, a world of listeners thanks you for delivering this song so beautifully.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Todd Rundgren

 
 Todd Rundgren.  Image via  goldminemag.com .

Todd Rundgren.  Image via goldminemag.com.

 

Todd Rundgren played the drums on this track, which is a triumph of roughness.

 

Notice the radical tempo changes here, the brittleness of the feel.  (Hear how the drum entrance lurches forward.)  All of it is gloriously necessary for the rough and tumble feel of this track.   “If only Rundgren had hired [insert name of some studio pro] to play on this tune” misses the point!  The song’s most faithful expression requires a certain lack of facility. 

Consider the lyrics:

Keep your head and everything will be cool
You didn't have to make me feel like a fool
When I tried to say I feel the way that I do
I want to talk with you
And make it loud and clear
Though you don't care to hear

But couldn't I just tell you the way I feel?
I can't keep it bottled up inside
And could we pretend that it's no big deal
And there's really nothing left to hide?

The song is performed from the perspective of someone out of control, someone who can’t suppress emotions in favor of polished presentation.  So it is with the drumming.

An important question for any instrumentalist trying to bring a piece of music to life: might it be that you are too focused on demonstrating mastery?  What about letting go of "how good am I?" and listening instead to what the music is saying to your heart?


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Winston Grennan

 
 Winston Grennan.  Image via   www.reggae-vibes.com .

Winston Grennan.  Image via www.reggae-vibes.com.

 

Reggae maestro Winston Grennan made an art out of sublime surprise.

 

Note the little moments throughout this performance that crash over us like the wave we hadn’t seen coming.  For instance, the little hi-hat bark at 0:07 and the crash at 0:09.  

What’s wonderful about these surprises is that rather than imposing themselves on the groove, they emerge from it.  Grennan is channeling expression through his drums.  His playing is deeply attuned to the performances around him.  For all of his dexterity, what one hears is more about his humility to the groove.  Without that humility, the sign of true mastery, the song, with all of its funky counterpoint, would not attain the reverent feel necessary for the song to connect with listeners.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Roger Palm

 
 Roger Palm.  Image via  themusicofabba.com .

Roger Palm.  Image via themusicofabba.com.

 

How many drummers have practiced the delicious laziness of grooves such as this?

 

Other drummers, perhaps eager to impress those who fawn over displays of mechanical mastery, might have rendered this beat with greater insistence—sharper cracks on the snare drum and kick, more clearly defined openings and closings of the hi-hat. 

Roger Palm’s feel here is wonderfully drowsy and thereby evokes the disco-ball dreamscape of the song.  Notice how his snare drum pickups and the hi-hat barks that follow suggest nothing beyond a little gust of air from the disco floor, enough to put a little extra motion into the dancers’ slacks and dresses, enough to make it easier to move. 

How many drummers are content to see the dancers happily in motion?


Updated: 12 PM, May 18, 2015

An interesting twist, brought to my attention by the awesome Lee Rosevere, who reports that this performance is actually a four-bar loop (made with tape because it predates the digital age).  Lee, who was tipped off by a fellow musician and ABBA fan, Jamie Shields, has tested this by laying stretches of the groove over other stretches.  "[the] drums never go out of phase except for minor edits."

And it's easy enough to believe, given the strict repetition of the part.  So let us praise ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus for their tape-loop mastery and the drum arrangement created by their edits.

We'll probably never hear the rest of the larger performance from which these precious bars of Roger Palm's groove were lifted.  The few seconds with which we are acquainted ,however, remain beautifully drowsy, punctuated by subtle gusts of emphasis.

Thank you Lee and Jamie.

Thank you Benny and Björn.

And most of all, thank you Roger.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — James Gadson

 
 James Gadson.  Image via  windandbradford.com .

James Gadson.  Image via windandbradford.com.

 

Behold, the easy roll of James Gadson’s time. 

 

In no way does he attempt to impose himself on the song.  Rather, he offers an irresistible foundation upon which the performance is built.  Note the casualness with which he barks his hi-hat barks.  These touches are never over-emphasized.  (Had he over-emphasized them — “Check out my hi-hat barks!”— it would pull listeners out of the spell cast by the groove and the singing.)   

The ease with which Gadson’s groove rolls is crucial, because the arrangement is filled with rhythmic counterpoint and surprise, and yet it remains unassuming.  This is the essence of funk.

And stepping back to take in the entire track, one has the sense of a roomful of musicians channeling their performance up from the ground beneath the studio floor.  All of that comes down to the easiness of Gadson’s generous groove.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Andre Fischer

 
 

Andre Fischer.  Image via twitter.com.

A great example of a drummer playing the song:

 

Andre Fischer, one of the great R&B drummers, coaxes the song along by way of his whispering ride cymbal and hi-hat.  These subdivisions are barely present, just audible enough to give the song motion without our attention being drawn away from the vocal performance.  How many drummers practice playing this quietly?  Too few, because a gentle song wants a gentle, even delicate drum groove.  Note how the soft dynamics in no way impede the groove, which is deep from start to finish. 

And then notice how the shift to quarter-note side sticks during the choruses . . .

Oh, sweet thing
Don’t you know you’re my everything 

enhances the sense of elevation, in concert with the rising chord voicings.

No one who pays attention to his drumming can be surprised that Andre Fischer went on to become a Grammy-winning producer.   Indeed, if you listen deeply, you can almost hear him asking himself “What does this song actually need?” before his first stick makes contact.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Roger Hawkins

 
 Roger Hawkins.  Image via   photos.dailycamera.com .

Roger Hawkins.  Image via photos.dailycamera.com.

Roger Hawkins never needs to be the main attraction, which is one reason millions of listeners have luxuriated in his sumptuous grooves. 

 

In addition to the swampy splendor of this groove, note the patience.

Hawkins's groove, modestly rendered through sidesticks on the snare percolates through this song with hardly any variation except for the occasional rim shots that splash up to wonderful effect here and there.  (Had he made this move too frequently, the joy in the surprise would have been lost.) 

His playing reflects enormous trust in the singing and playing that surrounds him.  He introduces no “how did he do that?” moments, but rather, pours out four and a half minutes of generous, groovy bliss, trusting everyone around him to spin it into magic.

What a great recipe for making music.


Thank you for reading.


Festival of Drums — Ed Greene

 
 Ed Greene.  Image via  slama101.fr .

Ed Greene.  Image via slama101.fr.

 

How many drummers aspire to lay down a groove as well as Ed Greene?  Not nearly enough.

 

On this track, Ed Greene essentially drives the limousine in which Barry White sits, addressing the listener.  As the driver, Greene is content to remain largely out of sight. He is devoted to giving the smoothest ride possible, aiming only to help White woo his listeners.

Notice:

— The way Greene’s drums melt into the groove right away.

—That the groove breathes both funkiness and subtlety.  (Indeed, what is funk without subtlety?)

—The many, finely calibrated levels of accents here.

—The ghosted snare notes just before THREE in each bar of four.  Note how crucial it is that they are barely noticeable.  To accent them more would splash a little too much cologne on the groove.  

—How big the drum fills into the choruses feel as a result of the restraint shown elsewhere.


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Jim Bonfanti

 
 Jim Bonfanti.  Image via  www.ericcarmen.com .

Jim Bonfanti.  Image via www.ericcarmen.com.

 

I often despair when drummers speak of their favorite fills as demonstrations of mechanical mastery.  “He plays sixes around the toms and then single-handed sixteenths . . .” blah blah blah.

What about rhetorical mastery?  What about putting the drums in conversation with the rest of the band? With the singer? With the song?

 

That’s exactly what Raspberries drummer Jim Bonfanti does here.  His drumming has something to say, something more than “Look at me!” 

How easily drumming like this can be reduced to a list of moves.  To do so would miss the beauty of Bonfanti’s performance.  He is not inserting pre-fabricated flash into the track, nor is he using his hands and feet to talk about the state of his drumming. 

He is playing with his ears and heart wide open and making bold declarations on behalf of the song, reproducing on the drums the desperate moxie of the song’s chorus. 

Tonight
I’ll be with you tonight


Thank you for reading.

Festival of Drums — Earl Young

 
 Earl Young.  Image via  www.hdwalls.xyz .

Earl Young.  Image via www.hdwalls.xyz.

 

How many drummers know how to evoke heartbreak on their kit?  

 

How many of them know how to make their drums and cymbals express wistful longing?  How many know how to make their tom-toms evoke a heavy heart (instead of a heavy hand)?  How many of them know how to build a groove that will say what the song is supposed to say, always connecting the listeners with the singer’s words and melody? 

How many of them even know Earl Young’s name? 

Far too few.

But millions of listeners around the world have been transported by his sublime drumming.


Thank you for reading.