When The Music’s Over

Editor’s Note: This column appeared in the last issue of TRAPS, a magazine we published for a few years that skewed toward the tastes of older drummers. Even though we didn’t announced the closure of the magazine until well after the issue had been published, I knew when I wrote the following essay that this would be my final editor’s column for TRAPS, which was yet another a victim of the current recession.

There is a simple reason why many bands end songs onstage with an enormous explosion of riffing — they want to make sure the audience knows it’s time to applaud. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more unsatisfying than when a song just peters out, allowing a couple seconds to pass before a handful of people tentatively begins to clap. So even if it’s our favorite song, we want to know when it’s over.

The same is true of bands. The impermanence of that unique brotherhood is one of the stark realities of joining a band — sooner or later, it will be time to move on. Sometimes bands break up, like in 1984, when The Naughty Sweeties (my L.A. punk/new wave band at the time) called it quits. A little more than a year before we had returned to Los Angeles as local heroes after touring the country playing arenas and open-air sheds on Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ Hard Promises tour. We fully expected to sign a lucrative record deal and begin work on our next album, but instead things slowly fell apart until it was painfully obvious that it was time to move on.

I’ve also gotten booted out of bands, like in 1986, when I was subbing for Peter Bunetta in Billy Vera & The Beaters. Peter was a great drummer and had been with the band for years, but his career as a record producer had started to take off. As his sessions with The Pointer Sisters and Temptations began piling up, my gigs with the Beaters became more frequent. This was happening at exactly the time when Billy’s song, “At This Moment,” was slowly climbing up the Billboard charts. It seemed as if the higher the song got on the Hot 200 chart, the more gigs I picked up with The Beaters. There was talk of a tour, appearances on The Tonight Show, and a new album. And just as the song hit the #1 spot, I was told that the band wanted to try working with another drummer for a while. Frankly, I was devastated.

And that’s how I feel right now upon learning that Bill Miller, editor-in-chief of Modern Drummer magazine, passed away at the age of 47 on Saturday, December 13, after battling melanoma. Bill began as an editorial intern at MD in ’84, a couple years before I became editor of Drums & Drumming magazine. He worked his way up the masthead until 2003, when he was finally promoted to the top position.

If I had to choose anybody to compete with in the publishing world, it would be Bill Miller. Even though I know that the various drumming publications I have edited were a thorn in Bill’s side, he would never show it when we ran into each other at trade shows. Instead, Bill always was soft spoken, genial, and quick with a laugh. To be honest, I didn’t even know that he had cancer, and I don’t believe very many people did, outside of the Modern Drummer staff. It seems to fit his personality — he didn’t want sympathy. Instead, apparently, he simply wanted to live his life to his fullest and retain his dignity. Bill was a real asset to the world’s drumming community.

My sympathies go out to Bill’s wife of 13 years, Sarah-Louise Otazo, their son, Clifford Maximino Miller, and their extended family. Every song must come to an end. Sadly, unfairly, it is a fact of life.