DRUM! Staff Blogs
Romance And Touring At Odds
[Ed. Note: Andy Doerschuk originally wrote this for the August 2014 issue of DRUM!, which was devoted to the subject of touring.]
Ever notice how life can force you to choose between one thing or the other, when you actually want some of both? Unfortunately, that’s how it’s often worked when I’ve tried to strike a balance between romance and drumming. So on the occasion of this special touring issue, it seems appropriate to illustrate how those two irresistible and occasionally opposing forces can twist you into knots.
First, though, let’s all admit it isn’t easy to date a musician, especially when the better half has a normal work routine. It requires the empathy of Gandhi to accept the notion that your loved one disappears on Friday and Saturday date nights, then blows your weekend days by waking up at noon. Tension only multiplies when a musician disappears on tour for months at a time, so I hope the two of you are either deeply in love or have a great marriage counselor.
Truth be told, I had a marriage fall apart while I was on the road in 1981. I was 26 and on my very first major road trip, as my band spent the summer opening for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers on the Hard Promises tour.
I’ve written about it before, so I’ll skip the gory details. Suffice to say that once it was
clear our relationship was over, every day became a crazy rollercoaster. In the afternoon or early evening I would realize my wildest dreams by playing for tens of thousands of people in basketball stadiums and outdoor festivals. At night, I would sulk back to my hotel room and cry in my beer.
Whoever said absence makes the heart grow fonder clearly never toured with a rock band. There are exceptions, though. I’ve known couples that have nurtured a close family life — buying houses, raising kids, going to little league games, the whole wonderful package — even while mom or dad periodically goes on tour. I wish I could tell you the secret to their success, but it always eluded me.
But there’s yet another scenario, which I’ve personally experienced only once. I was
playing with a promising young guitar prodigy who quickly gained notoriety on the west coast. One night I met a woman at a show and we hit it off. Before long we began dating and, as illustrated earlier, she came to every show in the area.
But rather than grow tired of the experience, she started traveling in the van to out-of-town gigs — always backstage, yucking it up, acting like one of the guys, having a grand old time. So was I, as a matter of fact, but my bandmates didn’t dig it. I soon got the word from the top — no girlfriends allowed in the van. The story continues from there, but for the sake of brevity let’s just say the ultimatum didn’t exactly sit well.
Under the best circumstances, romantic relationships require mutual understanding and willingness to work out differences. So if your heart is set on being a full-time touring musician, prepare to make some sacrifices at home, because that’s where every road trip will ultimately end.
An Open Letter To Cheapskates
Dear pop icon, country superstar, or rap mogul,
Just thought I’d let you know — word has begun to leak out. While the outside world gazes with vicarious envy as you spend lavish amounts on fast cars, the finest threads, and gar- ish jewelry, insiders know you’re just a cheapskate. And they’ve started to talk.
Don’t stand there (in that $1,000 Vanessa Price haircut) giving me a quizzical look (through your $383,000 Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses). You know exactly what I’m talking about. While you, your managers, and agents take home six-figure bankrolls every night, you pay your drummer as little as $200 per gig.
Your bodyguards earn more. Hell, I’ve been paid more to play in the dirtiest, smelliest, grungiest dive bars in San Francisco. Seriously. You should be ashamed. I have to ask — how do you sleep at night (in your $6.3 million Baldacchino Supreme bed), or look at yourself in your ($1,300 Bella Venetian) mirror, knowing you’ve perfected the black art of squeezing blood from human stone?
You may ask, “Why should I care? Drummers are a dime a dozen. If one of them doesn’t want the gig, another one will.” After all, your drummer doesn’t have to deal with nearly as many headaches as you do. You provide him with a perfectly good coffin-sized bunk on the tour bus and free munchies backstage with the crew, while you travel in your $45 million Gulfstream V-SP private jet and scarf down $500 entrees at the world’s finest restaurants.
No. Your drummer’s problems are far more mundane than yours are. He just needs to pay the mortgage, bills, and health insurance, buy clothes and braces for the kids, put food on the table — you know, frivolous stuff like that. With a little coupon cutting, he should be able to stretch the $600 to $800 (more like $400 to $600 after taxes) he earns per week far enough to cover all that, right?
Never mind that your drummer studied with respected teachers, practiced thousands of hours, attended music school, and probably knows more about music theory than you do. None of that can compare with your innate talent for rhyming words like “cat” and “hat” (a skill you share with Dr. Seuss, among others).
Face it, ace — the convergence between the paths taken by you and your drum- mer is as much the consequence of dumb luck as any other factor. So if you want some respect, show some respect for those people who make you sound good every night. It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.
A Note To Drummers: Not all bandleaders are as tight-fisted as this, but — without naming names — some very famous ones are. So if you’re less concerned about the size of the venues you play, and more interested in sharing an equitable slice of the pie, join a band in which you are an equal member. Better yet, start your own band — but just don’t forget where you came from.
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.
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.
Tommy Lee: How Does The Cruecifly Fly?
Tommy in flight (above,) and his custom E-Pro live kit (below).
All Bad Things Must Come To An End is the final tour of Motley Crue and Tommy Lee. Those who have seen the shows know Tommy is playing Tommy new Pearl E-Pro Live drum kit and rollercoaster rig—The Cruecifly.
What you may not know is how this differs from his standard rig. After all, playing upside down sixty feet in the air is not an everyday occurrence. First, the Cruecifly went through an exhausting series of tests to make sure it worked. They tried various configurations in order to understand what setup would work best. They had to take into consideration the width and length of drums in proporation to the riser, the distribution of weigh on the platform and the reaction of the drum set while upside down and traveling. Once that was right they had to make sure that Tommy could sit comfortably behind the kit and that it was still playable. Even with all that in mind, due to safety considerations, the Cruecifly has only made an appearance at some of the venues on the tour.
The tour runs through November 22, 2014, so you've still got time to see it. Go to Motley.com
Here's a fan video of the Cruecifly (above) and the view from Tommy's seat (below).
Death From Above 1979 Caught Live
Artist: Death From Above 1979
Drummer: Sebastien Grainger
Venue: Troubador, Los Angeles, California
Date: Thursday, August 14, 2014
Death From Above 1979 is a punk dance duo comprised of Jesse F. Keeler on bass and synths and Sebastien Grainger on drums and vocals. They played to a sold-out crowd at the Troubador this week and frequent DRUM! contributor Robert Downs was there.