Call me a bundle of nerves. Call me a frustrated Ringo Starr. Most people just call me annoying, because I can’t stop drumming. I don’t mean sitting at a drum kit, bashin’ away while a garage band of my peers stumbles through a gloriously inept approximation of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” That would be great! No, the vehicles of my percussive assaults are counter tops, tables, even my own legs if I happen to be sitting down. Maybe there’s actually a song playing, as I attempt to keep time with it in my own inherently flawed fashion; often, it’s just an imaginary song in my head. Either way, I try to play along. Badly. And it pisses people off.
When did this start? Probably when I was a teenager, I guess, though maybe earlier. I did receive a set of bongos from my great grandmother’s husband in 1968, when I was eight years old, and I certainly enjoyed pounding those pagan skins. About a decade later, I would take those bongos with me to college and go on to become percussionist for internationally obscure jazz combo Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters (but that’s another story).
I’ve generally drummed by hand–it’s the bongo player in me–but I’ve owned drumsticks, too. My first sticks were castoffs from real drummers playing live rock ‘n’ roll, projectiles that slipped through the grips of Tommy Allen of The Flashcubes, Barry Whitwam of Herman’s Hermits, or Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, among others. I also bought myself a pair of drumsticks somewhere in there because…I dunno. I just wanted to participate. I wanted to be a musician. A guitarist. A singer. Something. Drumming was the easiest thing to fake.
For all that, I’ve never even sat at a drum kit, not once, not ever. It almost happened one time in college, when my roommate Paul and I were working on a campus radio station commercial for a local chicken wing place called Munchies. Trust me, Munchies had the best Buffalo wings imaginable, and I wrote a radio commercial celebrating that rainbow of spice (from mild to abusive and even nuclear), all to the tune of “(Theme From) The Monkees:” Hey hey, we’re the Munchies! Clever? That’s me! There was a drum kit available for our use in producing the commercial, and Paul suggested I handle the percussion. I protested that I wasn’t really a drummer, but Paul said what the hell, I could keep time adequately when attacking a chair with my sticks to provide rhythmic accompaniment to Blondie‘s “Accidents Never Happen” back at the dorm, so, y’know, good enough. Well, fine by me! But scheduling complications and technical issues in the production room scuttled the whole thing.
My attempts at drumming have mostly been a source of tension and discord for those around me. The night before our wedding in 1984, my bride-to-be Brenda and I went out with a bunch of pals for drinks and merriment. There was fun! There was camaraderie! There was beer! There was music, which meant there was me, drummin’ on the table with manic glee. And there were the unaffiliated folks at the next table over, angrily insisting I cease that infernal pounding. Brenda thought it was hilarious.
After decades of complaints, I’ve grown tired of it all. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to curtail the drumming. It’s difficult, because the rhythmic impulse is ingrained within me, in spite of my lack of discernible prowess. But I’m trying. People hate to hear me pounding on counters, and I understand that. It’s a flaw in my character. I don’t think it’s quite as heinous as some character flaws I don’t exhibit, like smoking, or farting, or talking during a movie, or voting for Trump. But I have to grudgingly admit that it’s a character flaw nonetheless. I fall so far short of being who I wish I could be. I talk too fast. I don’t enunciate with sufficient clarity. I drum. But I’m trying to fit in better. I’m trying not to be an annoyance. I’m trying.
I’m not giving up air guitar, though. Let’s not get crazy. Some concessions are simply too much to ask.