"The Source of the Itch" An Essay About Love, Motherhood and Drumming
The Old Ludwigs
The Source of the Itch
My fifteen-year-old son has decided to become a drummer. For some reason unbeknownst to me, he woke up one morning, dusted off the Old Ludwigs rusting in our basement since The Day Jerry Died and picked up the sticks. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he was seized with a sudden teenage impulse to create a noise no one could argue with. Maybe it was some weird kind of osmosis from a recent accidental encounter with “The Who” while riding shotgun with me, roaming the dial and rummaging through the soulless cesspool of mainstream garbage that's littering the airwaves and masquerading as music. Or maybe it was me. The truth is, I wanted it to be a reflection of my own passion for drumming, so I theorized this sudden itch must be the inevitable consequence of reproduction and genetic coding.
I wasn’t simply seeking validation or using imitation as a mechanism for flattery. The fact is, as an adoptee with no knowledge of my own artistic origins, any discernible evidence of heredity I find in my own children creates an immediate sense of wonder and longing within me.
“He must’ve inherited my meter,” I would mention offhandedly to anyone within earshot of the noise issuing from the bowels of my basement. I was aware of the potential danger of riding out menopause by living vicariously through my son, but I would deal with it later. I was on the verge of recruiting him a bass player.
“I want to play Screamo,” he then tells me. “Screamo,” sounds to me like a cross between the child Regan projectile vomiting while being exorcised and Marilyn Manson with end stage throat cancer. Thankfully, most of the lyrics are indiscernible, although the f-bombs usually manage to cut through the din of cymbal abuse and double bass pedal overload.
“Who’s Led Zeppelin’s drummer?” I ask him hopefully on day.
Dylan shrugs. “Mick Jagger?” I’m thinking perhaps he was somehow switched at birth.
I continue: “Name the four Beatles.”
Dylan: “Right. Paul.”
“Good. Keep going…”
He goes blank.
“Ok, then... who’s the drummer?”
Now up until this point, I had actually believed that forcing him to watch “School of Rock” half a dozen times would suffice, and that after a brief flirtation with Nirvana, he’d gravitate towards Alice in Chains, Metallica, Radiohead.
I wanted the posters in his bedroom to bear the icons of MY youth, not these slick black and white shots of Bam Margera, that psychopathic jackass who skateboards around like the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse. But my son thinks “Cream” is for coffee. He's never even heard of Ginger Baker. He thinks Pink Floyd is the lead singer’s name. I knew I had some serious work to do here. But how could I begin to explain the birth of rock and roll to someone who was witnessing the death of it?
I needed to rewire his circuits, to expose him to drummers who didn’t use piano legs for drumsticks or need to replace their shredded snares and blown out bass heads after every gig. I suddenly remembered seeing a moldy old Ouija board rotting somewhere down in my basement. Maybe I could use it to conjure up the spirit of Keith Moon. I downloaded a playlist onto his I-Pod instead, threatening to garnish his allowance unless he listened to it long enough to want to ask me exactly who he was listening to.
I started him off with early Stones. Basic back beat. Charlie Watts- the king of ‘less is more.’ Let Dylan learn to leave some air around things, not fill up every bar until there’s nothing but white noise. I find a video of “Monkey Man” on U Tube for us to watch, my excitement quickly waning. My son is largely unimpressed.
Dylan: “He’s just sitting there.”
Me: “It’s called endurance.He’s saving it up.”
Dylan: “It’s boring.”
Wordlessly, I Google Motley Crue concert footage of a seriously tattooed Tommy Lee hammering out a Zeppelin cover from inside a metal cage suspended 20 foot high above the stage. He’s wearing nothing but a leather jock strap.
Dylan: “Cool tattoos.”
Me: “Too many."
Dylan: “What's with the jock strap?”
Me: “Uh…he gets really hot up there.”
Dylan: “What’s with the cage?”
Me: “It's a metaphor."
Dylan yawns. “Did you ever see a circle pit?”
My son Googles a recent Warp Tour video for us. "General Admission -Standing" are the only tickets issued for this event. Having survived the 70’s, I know where this arrangement can lead. We watch the band blast a demonic message that somehow manages to part the crowd better than Moses could, thus forming a multitude on each side of the room with an aisle down the middle.
One lone, shirtless imbecile sporting man boobs and a plumber’s crack immediately jumps into the center and begins flailing his limbs, mimicking a weirdly vertical epileptic seizure. He lurches around for some time until suddenly, on the band’s signal, the room erupts and the two opposing sides run headlong into each other, bashing and trampling everyone in the way. I watch horrified to witness such widespread anarchy.
Me (gasping): “What happened to the guy in the middle?”
Dylan: “I think he died.”
Me: "But why on Earth are they doing it then?"
Dylan said he didn’t know.
I wanted to shout, "They’re doing it because this ‘music' alone isn't enough to sustain them. That this wasn’t a rock concert. It was a pre-planned riot. I wanted to take him back to the days when we bought 45’s for a buck. Show him the roots.
But Dylan's birthday is next week and I’m pricing double bass pedals on EBay and trying not to cry. I want my son to fall in love with the music that divided one generation but united another. I want him to stand IN line, not go ON-line for tickets. I want him to dance with strangers in the aisles and hold up a lighter and yell “Free Bird!”so hard that he’s hoarse for a week.
I guess all I need now is a tie-dyed shirt and a DeLorean.
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