Play Drums Because You Can

Every drummer goes through a stretch where he or she can’t play drums for some time, perhaps while on vacation or recovering from an illness. But what would you do if you just couldn’t play drums? I mean, not at all.

Never again. Just let that idea sink in for a minute.

Okay. How would it feel?

Well, I can tell you — it feels like losing one of the best friends you’ve ever had. I can say that with some confidence because earlier this year I learned I had to stop playing drums — not just for a while, but altogether — after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis.

spinal stenosis

Here’s a quick summary for anyone unfamiliar with the disability: Spinal stenosis is a chronic condition in which the spinal canal begins to constrict, pinching nerves that run through the center of your spine. In my case, two spots in the lower lumbar region are crimping up and sending some of the sharpest pain I could ever imagine into my left leg. At any given time it can strike anywhere between my hip and toes. Sometimes even the entire lower left side of my body seizes up.

I began to notice recurring pain in my left leg a couple years ago and went to my doctor, who misdiagnosed it as shin splints, and told me I just had to give it time to heal. Meanwhile, the pain got worse, particularly when I was on my feet for long periods of time or, as it progressed, during and following gigs.

Last January’s Winter NAMM Show was the final straw. I spent four days on my feet for about ten hours a day, mostly walking on concrete floors. My entire left leg was throbbing by the middle of the first day. The throbbing changed to stabbing pain and burning by the second day — and didn’t decrease for weeks after I got home. Truth is, it never went away entirely.

I knew I was in big trouble, so I finally got a second opinion from a different doctor, who ordered an MRI that confirmed what I now know (although I can’t say I’ve fully accepted) — I’m going to be living with this disability for the rest of my life.

So what have I learned from this experience? I’ve learned that while playing drums is an incredibly creative form of self-expression, it actually is so much more. I learned that the physical aspect of drumming is just as addictive as the mental exercise; the guys in my band and the fans on the dance floor were some of the best friends I ever had; every gig was my version of boys-night-out, where I could unwind after a tough week at the DRUM! office.

Drumming was my escape from life’s challenges, my constant companion, a source of pride, my identity — oh, I could go on and on. It took only a week or two for me to thoroughly miss playing drums, and I still do, terribly. But I also feel lucky about a whole bunch of things. For instance, my condition could be much more advanced than it is — at least I can still walk, albeit for short periods of time. I’m also grateful to have such vivid memories of those peak moments in life, which all happened while sitting behind the kit.

And I also now know why I’d take a $50 gig on a weeknight that would keep me out until 2:00 a.m., even when I had to be at work the next morning.

That’s what I most want to share with you here: Don’t hesitate. Go out and play drums however, whenever, and wherever possible, not for the money, but because you can.

Andy