The Beat of a Different Drummer
By Richard Mabey Jr.
As long as I can remember, I’ve played the drums. This essay isn’t so much about playing the drums, but it does center upon the theme of playing the drums. At any rate, in September of 1967, I turned 13 and began my the experience of my journey of going to high school. I lived in such a small town that the town itself did not have its own high school. The kids had to go to the high school that was two towns away!
In my freshman year of high school, I played the big bass drum in the high school band. The high school bass drum was big and very heavy. I was thin and shy and I was soon to become the vehicle for which the heart of the marching band boomed away. I remember that I played that bass drum with all my heart and soul, so much so that I would hit the head of the big bass drum with such power and passion that I am positive the boom of the bass drum could be heard by the kids in the farthest point of the highest point of the bleachers in the football stadium.
One day, in the early days of our freshman year, my friend Patrick invited me over to his house after school one day. Patrick was also a drummer. We were pretty good friends in grammar school. I cannot honestly say that we were best friends, but we were good friends. Patrick was outspoken and seemingly fearless. He was a fantastic basketball player. The truth of the matter is that I really wasn’t that good at sports and I was very shy, a far cry from Patrick’s outspoken style. Still, there was a certain bond of good will between us.
At any rate, that weekday afternoon when Patrick invited me over to his house, he played the drums for me in his room. Patrick played the drums with a driving beat. He played loud. He would often play the drums, hitting the drum heads with the reverse ends of his drum sticks to create a louder sound. His style of playing drums was bold, powerful and centered upon the theme of playing with a driving beat.
On the other hand, my style of playing the drums was that of a more gentle quality. I liked playing in four/four time, a big contrast to Patrick’s style of playing in six/eighth cut time. I would often play a long series of sixteenth notes with my right hand, on the high hat cymbal while I would hit the snare drum on the first and third beat of each measure. Needless to say, we were both great drummers, but each had our unique style.
My freshman year of high school was a tough time for me. I felt inferior and inadequate. I longed to play the snare drum in the marching band, but I was the new kid and had to pay my dues. I remember the pain I would feel in my shoulders and in my back after carrying the big bass drum throughout a parade or during a half-time routine at a football game.
It was the year that I struggled through Spanish class. I got a final grade of C, by the skin of my teeth. My paternal grandfather had a stroke that year that practically left him paralyzed. I would hold back my tears as I visited him in that hospital room. And, when the good Lord called him Home that year, I cried so hard that I thought my heart would burst.
It was the year my dear friend and neighbor, Robin moved away. I still remember her kindness, her gentle spirit. It was the year that I got cut from the high school baseball team. It was a year of grief and trials.
There was a moment that happened around late May of 1968. It was as if the odds were a million to one, my friend Patrick and I sat together on the late bus on our way home. You see, I lived in the northernmost portion of our little hometown and Patrick lived on the southernmost section of our little town. With a distance of over three miles between our homes, it was only on the late bus that we would ride home together.
I would often bring my drum sticks to school with me because one of the drummers in the senior class would give me free drum lessons after school. I think it was his way of passing on what he knew about drumming to the new kid in the drum rank.
There in the back of that old school bus, on our half-hour journey home, Patrick asked me to give him my drum sticks. I did. He began playing the drum solo to the hit song, “Wipe Out.” Patrick rat-tat-atatted an incredible drum solo on the back of the metal part of the seat that was in front of him. I remember that he handed me my drum sticks and simply said, “try it!” I did. But, it was nowhere near as good as Patrick’s version. Slowly and patiently, Patrick showed me where the accents went, the points where the meter speeded up and where it went a bit slower. By the time the bus stopped at my home, I had nearly mastered the drum solo to “Wipe Out.”
We were different types of kids, but it didn’t matter. We had a certain bond of friendship and the bond of our love of playing the drums. And, we had a moment of sharing, wherein within a very short time, we both became better people.
There are no accidents. If you have stumbled upon this blog, know that it is no accident that you found it and took the time to read it. Wherever you are in this moment, whatever is happening at this point in your life, know this: your unique quality is just that: unique. Hold dear, to your unique spirit. Become the teacher. Become the student. Share what you know. Be willing to learn something new. Love one another.