Monday, February 9, 2015

Drumming: The Early Years, Part II

Where were we? Ah yes, sucking!

Not only are those the words of a forgetful prostitute, they accurately describe my drumming skill level circa 7th grade. I totally sucked, and was totally fearful every time I sat behind the drums when playing with the jazz band. You see, I was relegated to the conga drums for performances and most of rehearsals, but would occasionally get a chance to share my suck rather than keep it all to myself near the ends of rehearsals, probably because the other drummer's arms got tired or something.

By the way if you didn't read part one, stop being dumb and click here. When you're done, come back to part two here, if you feel like you can take both parts in one sitting. And when you do come back, start over at the beginning, so you get the full effect. But then I guess you can skip over this bit the second time through if you've actually bothered to read all the way to here the first time through, without reading part one yet.

So anyway, there I am in seventh grade jazz band, clearly communicating to everybody via subtle body language that "no, I am not very good at this, and yes, that makes me uncomfortable" but visions of drum solos in the not too distant future gave me the mental fortitude to plow through all the ugliness. In reality, it's pretty likely that all the other musicians were thinking to themselves "I'm not very good" as well and had no time to focus on my not very good-ness, but mistakes on the drums were just so much more damn obvious so yes my problems were worse and that made me special.

Another issue that kept surfacing was, at the time, I played left handed. There are very few left handed drummers, and some might even argue that there's no such thing, because "right handed" is how the instrument is built, and you adapt, much in the same way some people argue there should be no left handed violinists. To that I say no fuck you, if it's easier to play the other way then play the other way because who gives a shit? So that's what I did, and it was terribly inconvenient. I could never just plop down on a set, because nearly everyone else was right handed, so whenever I had access to a set, everything was set up for a right handed drummer. If I wanted to take a crack, I had to rearrange everything. But I begrudgingly did it, and I played as much as I could as best as I could during that year or so, and then


In March of 1998, months away from my birthday or any sort of gift giving holiday (which I guess leaves just Christmas) my parents probably thought "ah jeez he hasn't lost interest, guess we better do something" and surprised me with a set ALL OF MY OWN. "Oh there's something in the spare room closet for you!" They said, or something like that, I don't fucking know it was almost 17 years ago. I bounded up the stairs and threw the door open so hard the WHOLE HOUSE BLEW UP. Haha, no actually I probably ascended to the closet at a reasonable pace, because like I said, it wasn't Christmas or my birthday or anything so I wasn't expecting any sort of major tell you the truth I really don't remember the events leading up to the big reveal at all, I'm mostly just making shit up. I opened the closet door and blinked a few times. I didn't expect drums so hard that my first thought was probably more like "hmm, someone left their drums here" rather than "@#FUCKING!@%#$@SHIT@#@%!WTF%^" But I did eventually settle on something along those lines.

I assembled the kit in the attic (the left handed way god dammit) and immediately played one of the two beats I knew how to play for probably hours. Glory! Vindication! Disbelief! Immediate stagnation! I was young, so had no concept of effective practicing. For awhile though it didn't matter. The thought that I had a drumset all my own made me feel like a superhero, even though the drum heads looked like someones acne scarred face, and the cymbals sounded like trash can lids smashing together. 

I would play my couple beats, occasionally attempt to mix it up, immediately falter and get frustrated, and then would do it all again. This repeated ad nauseam until drum lessons started a few months later. Apparently I waited a short while to begin lessons because I wanted to get my feet wet and ingrain some bad habits before my parents paid someone to get rid of them. 

Here, make him not sound like shit.

Summer of '98 is when those lessons began. At this point I somewhat competently knew how to play some basic beats with some semblance of timing, which in my mind translated to "I don't need this shit I rule." However, we started with something unexpected: not beats.

Here's a quick lesson. Drums are played with two hands, and two feet, with your two hands doing most of the work. Yes there are exceptions to this statement, death metal etc..shut up. My point is the focus is mostly on your hands when you're first learning, so why not get those in shape first? Two fewer limbs to work on, and it will lay the foundation for a lot of concepts that can be applied to the rest of your limbs when they're ready. 

So to start, we would do rudiments. These were exercises that would get the blood flowing, and if practiced enough, would improve your speed, dexterity, and coordination. They were also boring as fuck, especially when you aren't very good at them.

So I would practice reading music in a snare drum method book. I was already familiar with how to read music, since I had been taking band in school, so I breezed through the first book all smug and shit, even though my drum teacher was probably thinking "ok, you technically got the rhythm right, but it was still terrible for a lot of reasons."  But I get why he didn't intervene further. You can't expect someone that's just learning to perfect every nuance before moving on. Lessons are a delicate balance between introducing new concepts (exciting!), repetition (boring!), putting things you've learned into context (exciting!) and discussing effective practice techniques, since most of the learning is done when you aren't with the teacher (boring!). But, my drum teacher did a good job at keeping me inspired. Each time we got together, I'm fairly sure he could tell that 80% of my practice time since I'd last seen him was spent going "RGBHGHBRHABAHBAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAH" on the drums, and only 20% was spent applying things I'd learned in his lessons, but keeping your hands moving is an important part of improvement, so I guess that 80% wasn't totally wasted. 

Like I just said about 10 seconds ago (maybe 30 if you're a shitty reader), most improvement occurs when not with the teacher. There was no way I was just going to do rudiments for hours a day, so I had to make it fun somehow. I chose to play along with some of my favorite CDs on my sweet discman. My strategy seemed to be "play shit that's way out of your skill set and get depressed about it" but it did lead to some occasional, 
but major improvements. 

Then I gave up on playing left handed cause I was so sick of moving other people's drums around. I was terrible from either side, so I figured better make the switch before I developed skills that I would have to relearn from the other side. I regret nothing.

I would also sometimes have guitar player friends come over. They'd discover a fun riff, we'd jam on it for 30 seconds or so, and then it was just a question of who was going to get bored and stop first. So I suppose all sorts of little things worked together to keep me improving and prevent me from losing interest. 

Then I got busted for shoplifting and got grounded for approximately forever, so I did basically nothing but play drums all day every day for months and months. That certainly helped too.   

After those first couple of years, I was getting pretty solid in Jazz Band, and had a few fancy tricks in my arsenal to convince non-musicians that I was really good, and actual musicians that I would eventually be good maybe. Even though I'd barely been playing for any time at all, I thought I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's right. Eighth grade, and I thought I was going to reach some sort of terminus already. I have obviously since realized that light is a total illusion. There is no "end" to learning an instrument. No matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement, and there will always be someone better than you. Often times these people are much much younger than you, but no worries, we can all hate those people together.

Coming soon, part 3, where I take this shit to the high school, and later COLLEGE LEVEL!!!


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Collarbone SMASH!!

Most of you have seen the pictures, but I don't think I've bothered to tell you all the story in detail, so here goes.

I fell!

Before moving to Nashville, I told people of my plan to be a bike commuter depending on where I ended up living and working. I was prepared to bike up to 30 miles a day. It would be great for my health, and I would save money. People's responses ranged from: "It's too hot, you'll die!" to "you'll die!" but I'd been off the training wheels for about 20 years, and had actually been bike commuting in NYC for awhile without incident, so I wasn't too worried.

Well everyone, you were right!

My job ended up being about a 9 mile commute each way. Nashville isn't the most bike friendly city, but in my defense there were bike lanes and wide shoulders most of the way, so for a couple months there were no issues except for three stupid flat tires. Apparently the "bent staples" truck had been through town and had dropped their inventory all along my route to work. No worries though, I just biked around with a pump, tubes, and a patch kit just in case. 

Anyway, there was one stretch on the ride to work, Bransford Avenue, that was a bit narrow. Here I'll show you!

"Ride on the sidewalk!" You just thought to yourself. NO THAT'S NOT FOR BIKES.

I stuck to the side of the road for this bit, and most motorists were pretty polite to keep their distance, since they only had to go under the speed limit for about 100 yards before it widened back out and they could pass me. "Not today!" thought some asshole.

I was nearing the end of the narrow stretch of road when this shithead in a pickup truck that probably not only listens to but respects Ted Nugent thought it was fine to just hover right up next to, and slightly behind me. Basically they hung out where my blind spot would be if I was driving a car.

I don't know where they were going in such a hurry. Probably on their way to pick up some drugs after abandoning their children.

So to avoid getting clipped, I had to keep an eye out over my left shoulder rather than look at the road ahead of me. This only lasted a couple of seconds, but that's all it took. I hit a manhole cover while looking over my shoulder, so I was completely taken off guard. Here I'll show you!

Hard to tell, but it sticks up from the road a couple inches.

The front tired buckled, and I slammed into the ground shoulder first, and then smacked my head (hooray for helmets!) and skidded along the road. Panic set in, since as you can see, I was in the middle of an intersection, so I leapt to my feet, picked up my bike, and carried it to the side of the road to that small patch of grass. Cars flew by, and nobody stopped to check to see if I was ok. I was incensed! They must've assumed I was fine since I had popped back up and jogged to the side of the road, but I needed to focus on hating them for a bit rather than on how injured I was.

I sat down and got my bearings, heart racing. I couldn't feel most of my left arm at this point, but could still move it. I then thought "hmm, how is my brain?" You see, when I was 11, there had been another bike accident where I'd smacked my head pretty hard (hooray for helmets!) and on that day, I had gotten some sort of temporary amnesia. It had been several weeks into my 6th grade school year and I couldn't remember who my teacher was, what the classroom looked like, who my classmates were etc..) so I tried to see if I still had my wits about me. I remembered things like my phone number, where I was going, who I worked with and all that, so relief started to set over me. I could move, I could think, I could walk. Aside from a front tire that now looked like a Salvador Dali painting

I guessed I'd be ok. Then I started checking for damage. Gash on my left hand, gash on my elbow, terrible road rash on my left shoulder. Scrapes on my knee, bruised hip, sore back. I rotated my left shoulder a bit and it felt a bit off, so I ran my fingers along my left collarbone. 

Hmm, doesn't feel quite right.

And just like that, my dreams of lifting weights that afternoon were dashed. It didn't hurt yet, so although somewhat panicked about just what the hell I was gonna do next, part of me was thinking "haha people that think broken bones hurt are pussies." 

So I just sat there dumbstruck for a minute. Seriously though what the hell was I gonna do next? 

Let's all go to the hospital!

I dialed 911, but before I could press send I saw a police car pull up to the intersection. I quickly tossed out all the drugs in my possession, then hobbled over. Maybe he could give me a ride to the hospital! At this point the the adrenaline was wearing off, so in the dozen or so steps over to his car I was all rgbhrhbgbhrhbbhggggaauuuuhhhh and the pain started to set in. Turns out immediately lifting a bike and carrying it across the road probably wasn't the best thing I could've done. I've actually since been told that may have been what caused the bone to become so dislodged. 

It became clear the only way I was getting to the hospital was in an ambulance. I told the cop what happened, so he called the ambulance for me, and actually called his police friends too because they were probably bored so hey, come check this shit out!

So picture the scene. I'm lying with my arm across my chest in a small patch of grass next to the road, in terrible pain, not sure how much worse the pain is going to get, and I'm surrounded by cops. 

Best day of my life.

The ambulance arrived after what felt like literally forever, and *huphuphuphup* the EMTs tumbled out, asked me what happened, where it hurt, and asked if I could stand because that would be you know, super helpful for them. I somehow managed to stand up and thought how funny it would be to say "lol just kidding!" and just leave.

Haha but seriously they put my neck in a brace and put me on a stretcher. Off we went! In the ambulance, each bump was the worst thing in my life up to that point. The EMT asked me if I'd hit my head. I said yes, so he started asking me things like my address, date of birth, maybe who the president was? I don't remember. We both quickly realized my head was fine, and that all of the awful was concentrated into my left collarbone, or should I say left collarbones, since I now had several. At this point since nobody had taken x-rays, and "trust me it's ruined" isn't good enough, they all kept saying things like "possible fractured clavicle" on their walkie talkies. I wanted to tell them if I wasn't god damned sure it was broken I would've left the bike, shaken it off and walked the rest of the way to work like this guy:

Coulda been me.

but I was too busy saying "hngggggggh". Then realized I was probably going to get pain drugs soon, and that was awesome.

My first ambulance ride! I always wondered under what circumstances that would take place, if any. Would I be accompanying someone I knew? Accompanying a stranger? Or would I be the star of the show? It's pretty wild to think the morning had started like any other, and in seconds, I was all busted up and going to the hospital. I had this vivid memory of pulling up to the intersection before turning onto the road where I fell. I was thirty seconds away from falling, and had no idea. If I'd just taken the sidewalk, I'd have been fine. I tried not to get stuck on that thought though, because what's done is done, but that feeling of "if I'd only JUST" etc.. was the main event in my head for sure. 

Off the stretcher, and into the hospital. After I was wheeled into a room, a barrage of doctors and nurses fluttered in and asked me the same questions as the cops, and EMTs. What happened? Where did it happen? Where does it hurt? Can you move? Did you hit your head? How bad is the pain? Tell us EVERYTHING.

What did you have for BREAKFAST?
They stuck me with an IV just in case they needed to run pain meds intravenously, fitted me with one of those blood oxygen saturation readers that goes over your finger, cut my shirt off with a pair of rusty scissors, all while sweating, with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths shouting LIVE DAMMIT, LIVE! No but really they did cut my shirt off with I assume sterile scissors.


After the flurry of doctors and nurses had assessed the situation, they noticed as long as I didn't do anything crazy like "move" I felt fine at this point, so they tragically decided not to dope me up too badly. Despite that, after cutting off my shirt and seeing my injury (and huge pecs) they all agreed my collarbone was certainly broken since they could see it was practically busting through my skin. The plan was to hang out until they got someone to do some x-rays. After those were done, they'd review them and tell me if I'd need surgery. Then it was just a matter of taking a few precautions, writing me a prescription for pain meds, and making sure I had a ride home.

So I just sat in relieving silence. No IV meds, but they did give me some pain pills, so I was pretty mellowed out. I texted everyone that needed to know what had just happened. Something along the lines of "Hi! I'm fine, but kinda in the hospital." Also told my boss I wouldn't be in that day or probably the next. 

Soon various nurses came in to have me sign paperwork.

If you'll just sign where it says "yes I agree to be charged a fuckload for this shit"

The topic of health insurance came up, to which I replied "I think I have insurance through work, but I started a couple months ago so I gotta get the details." 

Let's jump ahead to the conversation I later had with HR about this.

Me: Hi there. I think we've met once, my name is Matt, and as you can see I got into an accident! I wanted to ask you about the company's health insurance.

HR: Do you have insurance?

Me: ...well, I guess that's what I came to ask. I started in July and--

HR: So you don't have insurance.

Me:...I see. Well when it kicks in is there such thing as filing a claim retroactively?

(I have since learned this was a very foolish question)

HR: *restraining laughter* no.

Me: So...I'm screwed? 

HR: *shrug/minimally sympathetic look*

So no. No insurance. I was still under the 90 day probationary period where they needed to see that I wasn't a flight risk before they start throwing benefits at me. Perfect! After being insured my whole life up until that previous June 1st, I had managed to have the most expensive accident, in fact the only accident in my life requiring hospitalization (aside from that time I cut my dick open by falling off the sink when I was 8, but that was minor) in those few months before the next insurance would kick in.


The eventual cost of everything wasn't really a concern to me at this point though. All I needed to know to feel comfortable was "will I eventually heal?" I hadn't taken x-rays yet, but the consensus seemed to be "yes" so at least I had that.

A short time passed, and the x-ray tech came in. I think he had dealt with a lot of broken collarbones at this point in his life, and most had probably been minor, because he seemed to think this was no big deal. After wheeling me into the x-ray room he just looked at me expectantly like "Ok! Hop up in front of this wall here!" I tried to tell him getting up was going to be difficult in my current state. Also it was probably about noon and I still hadn't had a substantial meal after biking about 7 of the 9 miles to work, so I was also feeling pretty faint. Nevertheless, I struggled out of the bed, and stood in front of the wall sheepishly. 

The best way to describe this feeling, is it was akin to waking up at 6 in the morning after a night of heavy drinking, and REALLY having to piss. You will finally, begrudgingly hoist yourself out of bed when this need to piss finally outweighs the overwhelming need to just lay there and recover from your transgressions. As you stumble to the bathroom, all you can think of is "man, I really need to lay back down." Then, some guys will make the terrible terrible mistake of standing up to piss before realizing just how bad of an idea standing is. This is what posing for that x-ray felt like. Holding still for even 30 seconds was so exhausting I almost vomited. After taking two or three, the ordeal mercifully ended, and I collapsed back onto the bed. 

The tech went to the back room to look at the results, and after a few seconds came back out, and with a sudden air of seriousness he paused and said 

"..yup, you definitely broke it." 

To which I replied 

"I know."

I went back to the room, and was told the docs would be along after awhile. My battery was dead at this point, so I couldn't entertain myself with my phone. Luckily there was a TV with some sort of pseudo on-demand service, so I put on "Captain Phillips." There wasn't much else to choose from. 

The climax of the movie was approaching, and then finally a couple of docs came in to give me the prognosis. I tried to pause the movie but apparently this stupid TV was on some sort of fucking lockdown, and I couldn't pause the damn thing. So I turned the volume all the way down so as not to be distracted, glancing back at the TV ever so often to try to grab enough bits of the plot to keep the narrative going. I eventually gave up.

After being told earlier that collarbone fractures almost never require surgery, I was now told in no uncertain terms that I would need surgery. They scheduled a followup appointment for a week later, and surgery would follow a few days after that. They told me since the bone was so displaced, I would probably get a titanium plate and screws put in. Images of terminator-dom danced through my head. I asked if I would eventually need this plate and screws removed. They said "if it ends up bothering you down the road you can elect to have it removed, but it's usually not necessary." 

So, I was going to have a titanium plate in my collarbone for the rest of my life.

Finally, some good news. 

To be continued...