Nobody’s perfect, but there are moments when our flaws are a bit more glaring than usual. I recently had a wake-up call about my own fallibility.
Months ago, I was playing with the host band at a local jam session. After finishing the first set, we opened up the stage to the jammers waiting patiently for their chance to play. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that the level of musicianship at a jam can swing wildly from amateur to professional. As the host drummer, you have to be prepared to see some hotdog flailing on your kit who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing.
So after toweling off, I headed up to the balcony to check out the action. I watched as the first drummer sat behind my drums and began adjusting the heights and angles of my stands to suit his style. I don’t have a problem with that, but to my horror, he grabbed my mounted tom and twisted it without loosening the wing nut, which was only a mere inch or so from his hand. I couldn’t believe how rude he was to treat my gear with such disregard. When I finally got the chance to take a close look, I was relived to see that he hadn’t done any damage. Crisis averted.
Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. A bandleader I occasionally play with invited me to an all-star jam featuring many top musicians around the San Francisco Bay Area. Almost as soon as I walked in the door he invited me to come up on stage. I shook hands with the drummer, Dennis Dove — a good guy who I have known for years — and sat down behind his drums.
His kit was set up very much like mine, except for the mounted tom, which was tilted at an odd angle toward the crash cymbal. With no forethought and feeling some pressure under the circumstances, I grabbed the tom and twisted it toward me without loosening the wing nut. In the heat of the moment, I did the exact same thing that the thoughtless jammer had done to my tom months before.
Obviously, Dennis had been watching from the wings, because only seconds after I forcibly adjusted his stand, he walked right up to me and said in a very friendly voice, “You know, you have to be careful with these old stands. You’re the only guy I would let do something like that.” I felt like a complete idiot and apologized.
Later that night, as I unwound at home, I realized that I had more than one lesson to learn from this experience. Of course, it’s never cool to manhandle another drummer’s gear, but I also need to work on my empathy toward other drummers who, like me, can make mistakes under pressure without meaning any harm.
To be honest, it’s a lifelong lesson that I’ve grappled with, which I have learned and relearned many times throughout my life. Every last one of us is human, and occasionally, we just need to give each other a break.