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Drums a novel, p.1
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       Drums: a Novel, p.1

           Brad Henderson
 
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Drums:  a Novel
Praise for Drums

  "Written by a drummer with a passion for drums, music, and a beautiful woman. What better pleasures in life could one ask for? Enjoy!"

  —Matt Sorum, drummer for Velvet Revolver / Guns N' Roses

  "I was ecstatic...to find [a novel] written entirely from a rock drummer's perspective."

  —Paula Bocciardi, Drum! magazine

  "Thanks for a great book, Brad! Keep drumming!"

  —Matt Cameron, drummer for Soundgarden / Pearl Jam

  "I loved his descriptions of what it's like, musically, to be a drummer and I enjoyed getting this glimpse into what makes a guy, even a fictional guy, tick."

  —The Davis Enterprise, Davis, California

  "As the band's beat goes on...so each chapter begins, the reader wants to find out what triumph or tragedy is going to happen next."

  —Tahoe Daily Tribune, South Lake Tahoe, CA, California

  "Henderson's characters...are people that students will feel like they know, or have seen around...."

  —Mustang Daily, Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo, California

  "Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. 'And/Or' logic is out the window. Drums makes you feel the breeze."

  —The Enterprise-Record, Chico, California

  * * * * *

  Drums

  a Novel

  by

  Brad Henderson

  * * * * *

  Drums: A Novel

  Copyright © 1997, 2010 by Brad Henderson

  First published by Fithian Press A division of Daniel and Daniel, Publishers, Inc.

  ISBN 978-0-9829281-1-0

  * * * * *

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  To Dave Cowden and Alan Hodge, two drummers who challenged me and inspired me early on, when I was first learning my craft,

  to John McVarish and Rob Wullenjohn, two bass players who grooved alongside me, "in the rhythm pocket," many a fine gig,

  to John Rechy and James Ragan, two master writers who granted me apprenticeships,

  to Dave "Hawaii Five-O" Lewis, M.D., one lone trombone player who masterminded musical debut back in the fifth grade.

  to Marie Afton "Re-Re" Hamel, my maternal grandmother, and Jessica Wolf Henderson, my first wife, who were both instrumental in helping me to begin my journey as a creative writer and to whom I dedicated the first edition of this book in 1997.

  finally, to Fithian Press, my original publisher, and to Oak Meadows Press, my redux publisher for the digital stage, and to Jennifer Wilson and Evan Jones for their careful proofreading of the e-version.

  * * * * *

  For Sharon Campbell, to whom I am gratefully, graciously, and lovingly indebted for helping me to continue writing books from the heart and for being the indispensable developmental editor of Drums as an e-book re-release on the book's 13th Anniversary.

  * * * * *

  Drums: a Novel

  Table of Contents

  1. San Luis Obispo, California

  2. Swashbuckling at Spook’s

  3. Making the Rudiments Sound as they Are

  4. The Dameon Inn

  5. Suspenders

  6. Lake Tahoe, California – Nevada

  7. Pihtahbah Pihtahbah

  8. Nightmares, Mushrooms, and Daytime Dreams

  9. Mr. Clobber’s Wild Ride

  10. Domino

  11. Hector

  12. Playing Solidly

  About the Author

  * * * * *

 

  Chapter 1

  San Luis Obispo, California

  According to L’Hôpital’s Rule, if the differential functions of both numerator and denominator yield a finite quotient, then the original equation is finite itself; but ultimately, who gives a damn…?

  Fall, 1980

  A good-sized crowd of students had gathered in the campus courtyard to watch our noon-time concert. Now, as the clocktower chimed one o’clock, we were playing the last song of the set. The single gong sounded dull and weak, almost completely masked by sharp, reedy jazz. Some listeners began to leave; most remained to listen to the finale.

  Our final number was a Maynard Ferguson arrangement of “Spinning Wheel,” a song popularized by Blood, Sweat and Tears. It was a good tune for the Cal Poly Jazz Group since we had a talented trumpet section that year. The arrangement was also challenging for a drummer because during the solo section there was a meter change to 6/8 time, so that the trumpet solos created a swirling, spinning sound.

  We were presently in 4/4 time. I was knocking out the downbeat with my right foot. I was hitting the 2/4 upbeat on my hi-hat and snare. My right hand was “ca-chink, ca-chink, ca-chinking” a jazz ride pattern on the big cymbal. And I was happy.

  My eight o’clock class that day had been “Partial Differential Equations of Physical Systems.” Professor Wenzl began the lecture with a philosophical enigma:“The function F-sub-1 equal to ‘x’ as x goes to infinity is equal to infinity. The function F-sub-2 equal to ‘e raised to the power x’ as x goes to infinity is equal to infinity. Now, take the quotient of F-sub-q over F-sub-2. Call this equation F-sub-3. Ha! Infinity racing against infinity! This, if you will, is what I call a case of quantitative Darwinism.”

  Dr. Wenzl paced up and down the length of the chalkboard, absently brushing against it. White dust collected on his shirt sleeves, as well as on the back of his neck where he had a habit of touching himself. He continued: “…as x approaches infinity, does the quotient of ’x’ divided by ‘e raised to x power’ blow up? No! Calculated quite simply with L’Hôpital’s Rule—it turns out to be zero, not infinity, but zero.” Wenzl smiled. Class, one must never forget the elegance of mathematics....”

  Rhythm section solo. The bass player got down and played a funky riff. I stung his bass line with a matching, syncopated beat. A ripple of bass drum thuds and low-pitched notes moved lovingly in my chest.

  My turn. The bass player accompanied me while I ripped out for 32 bars. I played as fast, as loud, as slick as I could. I let my arms gallop, sling energy like whips, deliver flurries of perfectly ripped blows onto centers of tom-toms, edges of cymbals. I wished my solo would last forever, but it didn’t. I ended up thinking about Wenzl.

  What was the difference between him and me? Why wasn’t I a happy mathematician?

  I, too, found math to be elegant. It was a powerfully objective discipline. The laws and postulates of math were without variance. Math problems always reduced to one definitive answer. No ambivalence. No interpretation. No opposing views. None of the subjectivism found in the Liberal Arts.

  One plus one always equals two—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

  But in spite of all inductive reasoning, for me, I knew, right then, the elegance of math paled next to the precision, rhythm. And mastery of drums.

  * * *

  “Hey! Hey!” A frantic guy yelled at me. His voice was sharp and nervous like a polka-dotted paper horn, the kind passed out at a New Year’s party.

  He stood with a group of stragglers on the cement steps leading to the Student Union. I was packing up my drums. The rest of the jazz band had already left. The unnerving “Hey! Hey!” continued as he approached me, coming alone.

  He wore black jeans and one of those Renaissance-type shirts with long, breezy sleeves and the breast laced up like a tennis shoe. On his feet he wore bright purple high-tops. He was slight of build and had a lengthy mop of dirt-blonde hair.

  “You’re the drummer,” he said when he reached me. “Good show, man.”

  “Seth Collins,” he continued, “lead guitar.”

  “Danny Vikker,” I said.

  “Do you play rock ’n roll?”

  Before I could answer, one of Seth
s colleagues joined us. He was also frail and earthy, and twice as peculiar. This person wore motorcycle leathers with buckles and straps, and had a toy spider dangling from chain on his belt—a rubber tarantula as big as a rat. “I’m Spook,” he said.

  “Danny might be the band’s next drummer,” Seth said.

  “What?” I said.

  “Good,” said Spook. “That’s hhooorrrr-ibly great.”

  The guitarist explained to me that he was in a local band. They needed a drummer and he was inviting me to audition

  “Are you in the group, too?” I asked Spook.

  “Just a fan,” he replied. “You know I wish I played the harpsichord.” He petted his toy spider as if it were alive.

  Seth and I exchanged phone numbers. “Gotta jam,” Seth said. “We’ll talk later about when and where.”

  I hadn’t agreed to do anything, but Seth Collins acted like everything was all set.

  “I have to go also,” said Spook. “Peace and darkness, man.”

  “So long, guys.”

  That was how it all started.

  * * *

  After garnering a “C” on my next quiz in Wenzl’s class, I called Seth.

  He gave me directions to a house on the east side of town, in an old, run-down section where a lot of college students rented. When I drove to the east side, I usually took the 101 Causeway, which zips over downtown and passes by the college, but that night I opted for the slow route, the zig-zagging drive along downtown’s network of tidy, perpendicular streets.

  As I cruised Marsh Street, the atmosphere was festive. Groups of people moved on the sidewalks, most of them traveling to and from the bars, positioned like neon oases along S.L.O.’s main drag. I passed Aces, the most popular dance bar, and heard the sound of thumping rock ‘n’ roll. A line of people at least a block long waited to get into the overcrowded club.I wasn’t an expert on the local club scene, but I had heard people mention that Seth’s band, Bandit, was supposed to be a hot act.

  Imagining myself onstage behind a set of drums, I turned onto Johnson Street and disappeared into the east side. No more downtown bustle. Above silhouettes of boxy houses, street lights incandesced into frozen star-shapes. Everything else was lunar blue.

  A Dodge van was parked in front of 29 Orchid Street just as Seth said it would be. I heard the faint sound of an electric guitar coming from somewhere inside. On the front porch there was a big wooden spool pushed on its side for a table; an unlit candle—almost completely melted into a wax puddle—stuck to the wheel-shaped top. Frayed beach chairs surrounding the spool were pushed out into a haphazard, open pattern, as though the chairs’ occupants had risen suddenly and ecstatically, not looking back. The doorbell button dangled from a thick, spiraling wire. It still worked.

  An Asian fellow wearing drawstring pants and a striped, sleeveless T-shirt appeared in front of me. He was lean-muscled and tall. His crisp white outfit accentuated and made especially radiant his bronze, outdoorsy skin.

  “Greetings, dude,” he said. “You’re not nearly as ugly as Seth said you were.” He smiled broadly, showing silver caps on each of his eyeteeth. “I take it you’re the drummer?”

  "You win the prize,” I said. “I’m the drummer.”

  “I play bass. The name’s Jay.” He gave me a healthy slap on the back. “Entrée, dude.” I followed behind him.

  Aside from a state-of-the-art stereo and a large collection of record albums, the interior of the house was a collage of seashells, beer cans, grocery store house plants, and mismatched furniture. Typical college student living. Jay and I passed through a kitchen with a sink full of dirty pots and pans, and stepped into the “studio,” previously a garage.

  The studio was wired with a variety of colored flood lights, but now a bank of overhead fluorescent tubes lit the room. Sound-absorbing carpet covered the floor and walls. It had taken several different colored remnants to complete the job. A beat-up armchair, some fat pillows, and a low table occupied one corner of the room. On the table was the P.A. console; P.A. speakers hung on opposite walls. In the middle were guitar amps, keyboards, microphones on stands, and an empty space left for a set of drums.

  Old promo posters were pinned to the wall carpet here and there. One poster showed an air-brushed picture of a beautiful girl with green eyes; a sexy girl with long dark hair; a spunky girl wearing a dangerously short mini-skirt and pointed, knee-high boots. Her image was done in avant-garde smear, so that she looked as though she were in motion—singing, dancing, jumping all at the same time.

  I wondered who she was.

  Seth Collins sat patiently strumming his electric guitar. “Hey,” he said. “Good to see you.” He reached for the cigarette that was smoldering in an ashtray on top of his amp. Hang loose. I’m in the middle of transposing a new song I want us to play tonight.”

  Seth motioned toward a third band member, who was bent over a disassembled keyboard, fiddling with the instrument’s electrical innards. The unbolted casing lay on the floor. It was painted red, white, and blue.

  “That’s Uwe,” Seth said. “We’re ‘Bandit.’”

  Uwe was a blonde, Teutonic-looking fellow, with narrow shoulders and a thick waist that made his hefty body look like a tree trunk. His face had a handsome shape, but was sore-looking, pockmarked. He ignored Seth, and also Jay and me, and continued to work on his instrument.

  “I told you not to buy that thing,” Seth said.

  “I’ll have it fixed in a minute,” said Uwe.

  “It’s junk, and it sounds like junk. You’ve got a decent piano and synthesizer. That old organ is a dinosaur, man.”

  Uwe’s lips twisted up in rebellion. “There,” he said. “Just a bad connection.” A piercing, circus-sound blasted out of one of the amps.

  “Praise the Lord, man,” Jay said.

  “I don’t know what Seth’s problem is,” Uwe told me. “A frat brother let me have this thing for 100 bills.”

  “It would cost you 200 for him to take it back,” said Seth.

  Uwe ignored the guitarist. “You see,” he confided to me and Jay, “I have some ideas of my own for this band. I’m the type of musician that’s always looking for a new sound. The Beatles used an organ. So did the Doors.”

  “Whatever,” Jay said.

  “I’m serious,” said Uwe. “I shit you not.”

  Jay swung open the garage door. We unloaded fiberboard cases from the back of my Toyota pickup. I broke out my set.

  Seth suggested that we start with a song by the Vapors that I’d never heard of.

  “Let’s begin with standard fare,” said Jay. “A Stones tune. Maybe some Who.”

  “How about ‘Johnny B. Goode’?” Uwe suggested.

  I nodded. Of course I knew that one.

  “Going way back,” Jay said.

  “Way too pedestrian,” said Seth.

  “It’s a classic,” said Jay.

  “Maybe we can do something creative here.” Seth’s expression brightened and he showed Jay a new riff, which he hoped would spice up the old rock ‘n’ roll standby.

  Chuck Berry would have hardly recognized the piece the way we were playing it. Seth and Jay’s guitar work was aggressive and new wave. Uwe’s synthesizer gave the song a space-age digital sound. Seth sang lead, and Jay sang backup vocals. Seth’s singing voice was scratchy like when he talked, but he hit all his notes and sang with raw conviction.

  The song required a straightforward beat, but my arms, wrists, and ankles were sluggish from tense nerves. I was having trouble following him, and turned so that I could watch his fingers work the fat strings. I understood the language of his hands. Bass line and drum beat meshed.

  Seth left his mike and played a guitar solo in front of my drums. A serenade. You’re doing it now, Vikker, the guitar said. That’s it.

  We dragged out the piece a long time and had a lot of fun with it. But the jam continued to be an au
dition. When the guys were satisfied I could play a beat, they had me do some short, four-bar solos. One of them would improvise for four bars, then I took over and filled four measures with fancy drumming.

  Seth went. I went. Uwe went. I went. Now. I counted as Jay finished his solo. Three-Two-Three-Four. Four-Two-Three-Four.

  I went around the tom-toms playing sixteenth notes in triplet-like patterns, punctuating the fast patterns with the bass drum.

  That count was: One-Eee-And-Dah-Two-Eee-And-Dah-Three-Eee-And-Dah-Four-Eee-And-Dah…

  The hand-foot pattern was: (roto-tom #1) Right-Left-Bass (roto-tom #1) Right-Left-Bass (smallest tom) Right-Left-Bass (next tom) Right-Left-Bass (big tom) Right-Left-Bass…

  I was eager to play on. Musically, I hadn’t done a two-and-a-half back flip with a double twist, but I felt confident: things were going okay.

  There was a cassette deck wired into the P.A., and Seth put in a tape of more songs he wanted us to try with me playing drums. We listened to three tunes, one by the Police, one by the Talking Heads, and the third a dancey piece by Pat Benatar that Seth transposed earlier so he and Jay could sing it without busting their larynxes. I listened to each number several times, trying to digest the melodies and rhythmical patterns.

  The audition lasted nearly four hours. We played all of the copy tunes Seth wanted us to do, then jammed on some of the band’s originals.

  When it was over, the band members excused themselves and went in the house to hold a conference. I waited in the studio, and listened to the dull buzz of amps permeating sweaty, wrung-out air.

  The guitarist, bass man, and keyboardist said nothing when they returned.

  Jay lit up a bong. “Take a hit, dude.”

  I grasped the long, bamboo pipe. Jay showed me where the carburetor hole was on the side, and I placed my mouth in the circular opening on the top, and drew in. I heard water bubbling in the chamber. Jay pushed my finger off the carburetor hole.

  Cool, humidified smoke rushed into my lungs. It tasted like burnt pine. The volume of smoke in my lungs doubled, tripled, quadrupled. I couldn’t get oxygen. My eyes cried. I bent over with gagging coughs.

 
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