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Come, They Told Me

by Deborah P. Miller

True confession. I have this thing for drummers.  Those of you who know me are either rolling your eyes or snorting or thinking "no shit" ... maybe even all three at the same time.  I didn’t have this revelation yesterday, just in case you are wondering.

My love life ... wait, did I really just say love? My bad. Love and lust both start with "L," have four letters, and often get all tangled up in the emotional IQ of the other, so confusing them is natural.  So, my "L word" life has been just one rock concert of Technicolor tracer lights with a big neon yellow flashing arrow on the end pointing right at the guy keeping time behind the kick drum.  I'm bewitched by the beat … thrumming and throbbing like the pulsating heart it is. It’s my own private Las Vegas where every third or fourth hit rolls up triple stick-twirling drummers or Black Jack with the King of Zildjian. Let’s just say when I hear someone talking about Paiste's, I don't immediately think about those twirly breastie thingies.

There’s a certain Twilight Zoniness to it, with a pinky swear on the total randomness. Cross my heart; hope to die. I've never consciously gone out in search of a drummer. They come to me. I'm like Mecca. You wouldn't believe how many times I've met a guy, felt the chemistry start to simmer, then guess what?  Drummer.

One of my all-time favorite albums is Planet Drum by Mickey Hart. There’s something orgasmically percussive going on there. Since it came out in 1991, it’s often playing in the background when I’m setting a mood. Read what you will about that, but if you come over and Mickey's playing ... tag, you're it. Along with Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. I currently can’t get enough Arcade Fire where percussion lives big in the foreground… two drummers and one of them is Régine Chassagne, who also plays accordion, drums, piano, xylophone, hurdy gurdy, recorders, keyboards AND sings. I’m not gay, but if I was a guy, well … Régine makes me wish I’d taken up the drum as an instrument. Talk about Mecca calling.  

But it's not my fault. Really. It was pre-ordained.  The very first album (yes, that would be vinyl) that I ever bought with my own money was The Little Drummer Boy by Harry Simeone Chorale, circa 1958. I was eight. My musical tastes were not yet fully formed, so don't hold it against me.

I was clearly moving in the right direction since I also bought Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" because it was playing when I walked in the door and it spoke to me. Yelled at me, is more like it. So home that 45 went, weird guitar licks and all. But this is not a story about guitars. I'm convinced that there was part directional Mojo, part Foghorn Leghorn warning in that "Little Drummer Boy" album. Here's one possible future, girl, if you're paying attention. And if you aren't, don't come back at me wanting more cow bell sometime down the road.

In all innocence, I was pulled willingly into life as a music lover. My Dad used to say that if I knew my multiplication tables like I knew the lyrics to songs, I'd be a genius. This is the same Dad that came home one night from a concert and pulled my brother and me out of our warm bunk-beds to go back with him to hear Louis Armstrong. Who took me and four friends to see the Rolling Stones in Raleigh in 1965 for my 15th birthday and who still brags today that he saw the Stones. (My best friend Christy came home with a pair of drumsticks after Charlie Watts threw them into the audience. Today she does not know what happened to them.  I can’t even comment on that. I still have the ticket stub. $6.50). But back to Dad ... who Christmas of 1967 gave us four kids two tickets each, and piled eight kids in a car to see the Monkees in Winston-Salem, only to find me sitting out in the hall in a euphoric haze while the Monkees sugar-popped away inside. "You’re missing the Monkees," he said. The opening act was Jimi Hendrix and I was now "experienced." Had seen God. At seventeen, I was too young to recognize the gris-gris that Mitch Mitchell was throwing out there, but I caught it anyway. At the crossroads, I went left and never looked back.

The Beat Generation (no pun intended) marked me up like an indelible Sharpie. It was a state of mind and I dressed the part even if I didn't fully understand the cause. The paragon of beauty during those days was Mary Travers/Michelle Phillips long, lean, and blonde. I was none of those, but I could slouch around town in a black turtleneck and boots with an attitude full of societal conviction and faux self-awareness like the best of the subculture. I learned how to hitch-hike. Perfect a look of total boredom. Sneer at materialism. To yearn poetically. I was cool, man. I would have worn a beret, but even then I didn't like hat head. And somehow, to me, bongo drums were the punctuation mark behind the rebellion.  

All my friends had guitars, even me.  But Kemp's Records in Chapel Hill is where I saw and lusted after a set of bongo's ... AND the Van-dyke bearded beatnik who had them between his knees, eyes closed, head bobbing, with a beatific expression that made my heart thump and my virginity whimper for mercy.

At my tiny little college before I moved north to Richmond, a well-known national rock band from Memphis played and I was right there in the front row. At some point during the first song, the drummer and I locked eyes. Uh-oh. Let's just say that sad little no-tell motel out on the highway made me smile with a shiver whenever I drove past it from then on.  

In the bigger "it's a small world after all" picture coupled with what we've already determined is my own personal manifest destiny, this same man would boomerang back into my life some 20-odd years later when I lived in Memphis. There aren't words to describe the afternoon when familiar scrappy fragments that had been hovering like dust motes around us kerplunked into an "oh, my God, that was you?" place.  Naked. Take two.

It would be fair to say that the drummer/boomerang effect wasn't done with me. Not yet. This phenomenon would repeat itself so often it was as if "I'll be back" was written a hundred times on my internal blackboard.  Were these just lessons I hadn't learned well enough that would continue to repeat themselves until I got it, whatever it was I supposed to get? Or was I let loose in some cosmic rock and roll drummer joke? You've heard them, who hasn't? Was I now one of them? My own inside bad joke?  Drummer dies and goes to heaven (really? Heaven?). Cooling his heels outside the pearly gates he hears the most incredible fast and furious drumming. Immediately he recognizes the playing and rushes to ask St. Peter if that's Buddy Rich playing drums inside the gates. St. Peter responds: "No, that's God. He just thinks he's Buddy Rich." Why is a drum machine better than a drummer? Because it can keep good time and won't sleep with your girlfriend. Ba-dum-bump.

Right here and now, I’m debunking dumb drummer jokes. At least the ones I knew … they weren’t all knuckle dragging, drooling, homeless idiots who stumbled on a drum kit in a pawn shop and realized it was a good way to pick up chicks.  Not all of them anyway. I don’t exactly remember lying next to any one of them deeply debating Kierkegaard “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” … no, they were the living embodiment of the Hunter S. Thompson philosophy “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a ride!"

They had a few things in common.  One was me. The other was that almost all of them were idiosyncratic tappers  … feet, fingers, and hands moving all the time to some soundless invisible song only they could hear.  I lost count of how many times I was awakened by someone “playing” my back. Or my arm. Or my breast.

One boomerang boyfriend, who I thought played guitar, but turned out to be a drummer (See?) even let me pack up his drums, stands, cymbals, etc. after every gig. How thoughtful is that?  That's how I knew he really loved me.  

Then there was the one who jumped in and out of my life so often he made me dizzy. He had this uncanny way of knowing just when he’d been gone long enough that I was about to forget. Our history spanned two marriages, his and mine – not to each other. His friends actually dropped him off on my doorstep after his bachelor party telling me to have him ready to pick up by ten the next morning.  Dark, wavy hair halfway down his back, junkie-rail thin until you got close enough to see the sinewy, muscular strength in his arms and thighs. He had that drummer personae down so pat that he shoulda, coulda been the poster child of rock cool … he was a legend in his own mind. And a powerfully magnetic one in mine. Remember that scene in This is Spinal Tap when bassist Derek Smalls sets off the metal detector at the airport with the tin-foil wrapped cucumber in his pants? Well, his went to eleven. I won't say that it was the best thing about him. I have wavered half in love with him for some 30+ years.

Was this not enough to make me switch to men with a more sensible calling? Someone like, I don’t know … an accountant or a dentist?

There's the really famous one, who I met just before the band became a household name. Dark, with serious mischief in his eyes, he had, and still does have, a wicked sense of humor. He took my breath away, along with a jillion inhibitions. While he came this close to stealing my heart, his ever lasting gift to me in this rhythm method I was caught up in was to offer up the honest-to-God answer to "where is the strangest place you ever made whoopee?" just in case Bob Eubanks ever comes knocking. "It was the St. Louis Arch, Bob, for 5 points."  

The wolf in sheep’s clothing came in the form of a much younger man I met in a chat room way back in AOL’s glory days when I was living just outside of Boston. I was a beta tester, making it practically ok to spend hours online without having to justify myself.  This particular chat room, Sensual Intelligence, was full of lonely role-players (like me, at the time) dedicated to keeping romanticism and sensuality alive and well in a burgeoning cyber world that was hurtling so fast down a slippery slope that it would soon become too slick to climb back up.  Anyway, this young Lord Byron or Bacchus or Romeo, or whatever his screen name was, ended up in Boston visiting family and we decided to meet and have a drink. We spent two days (and one jaw-dropping night) together drinking Italian wine, giddily enamored of one another all the while espousing (and testing) the wonders of sensuality while a fierce thunderstorm ragged outside. Even today, thunderstorms turn me on. He was a philosophy professor. Adorable, charming and intelligent. I thought I was safe. But … wait for it … then he goes and pulls out pictures of his band. Drummer.

The dark haired man with the mustache who smiled at me coming down the escalator at the Atlanta Hilton who promptly moved into my apartment and ate me out of house and home. Drummer. 

See the rhythm? Dark hair. Drummer. Crescendo.

For those of you who are waiting for real names, no, I'm not going to kiss and tell. That would be just plain common. Plus, I don't want any of them to get in trouble. I know who they are, my best girlfriends know who they are, and they know who they are … and that's all that really counts. They've all read this ... the ones who are still alive anyway.  The very nature of the boomerang effect keeps them circling in my life.
Suffice to say that percentage-wise, in the great sliding scale of boyfriend occupations ... there are A -L –O-T that tick the box that reads “drummer.”  Not to say that I didn’t have other relationships. There were random bass, keyboard players, even a writer and photographer or two, all tossed in my path, but my theory is that God, pretending to be Buddy Rich put them there just to test my loyalty. I don’t know how to explain that the two real loves of my life both play guitar and bass.  Not a drum between them.

Is there one now, you ask? Of course, isn’t there always? 

Come, they told me ... So I did. Can I get a drum roll with that?