Men deal with mid-life crises in many different ways. Some men have an affair. Some buy a new convertible. Some quit their job and go on a world-wide cruise.
I brought a drum set.
I’ve been a musician my entire life. I think I’ve played the piano ever since I could read. And I’ve been a percussionist for the last 15 years or so.
But I’ve always wanted to be a drummer. My best friend in high school was a drummer. I had hung around drummers all my life. But I remained safely ensconced in the confines of timpani, congas, tambourines, and xylophones. All the while, I yearned for the free-wheeling and controlled-frantic feeling that only a rock drummer can enjoy.
So, being of sound mind, proper financial means, and appropriate motivation, I brought a drum set, a few sticks and cymbals, and yes, a copy of “Drums for Dummies” — just to keep from totally embarrassing myself.
How does one practice drums without a band or a regular venue in which to perform? I bought a set of sound-isolating headphones with an extra-long cable. I plugged it into my stereo, tuned the radio to the local “oldies” station, and started rocking to the greatest hits of the 60s and 70s.
With a little practice, I got pretty good. Soon I was playing along with the Beatles, the Stones, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt; it really didn’t matter who or what was playing. If it came on the radio, I rocked along with it. There was something comforting — fulfilling — about finally living the dream of being a great rock musician, even if it was only in my own mind.
One night, I was playing along with the Beatles’ “Let it Be”. Suddenly, I was struck with a sense of awe that took me quite by surprise.
I was playing drums with Ringo Starr.
It was almost like Ringo was right in the room with me, smiling approvingly as he watched his protégé learn his trade, albeit late in life. I literally had to stop for a moment and, with my hands to my side, listen to the symphonic orchestration of Ringo’s percussion for the rest of the song.
Ringo had already established himself as a great drummer before he was with the Beatles. John and Paul actively sought him out to be in their band. They knew he was exactly what they needed to round out their little group of musicians. And with the addition of Ringo, the Fab Four from Liverpool spent the next seven years rewriting the history of rock music.
In his early days, he played with a four-piece kit rather than the standard five-piece — eschewing the middle tom-tom. Even though he is left-handed, he played with a right-hand setup, often leading with his left hand. These innovations gave Ringo’s style a distinctive sound as he influenced the development of early rock-and-roll drum music.
Ringo understood that the role of a drummer in a rock band is a supportive one. His playing was never in the forefront, was never ostentatious. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear him doing things in the background that are so creative and so unique that it is no wonder he remains one of the most influential rock drummers even today.
And that’s exactly what I do. As I’m playing along with the radio, I’ll play just about any song that happens to come along.
But when a Beatles song comes on, it’s more likely that I’ll just be listening. Listening for inspiration. Listening to learn.
Thank you, Ringo, for everything you’ve taught me.