Category: Short Story

Cigarette Tourette’s

I am a smoker.  And, if there were enough hours in the day I’d probably smoke a carton.  I’d smoke four at a time – lighting fresh ones with butts – blowing smoke rings out of my nose.  I’d blow it in the faces of innocent bystanders where am I going with this? Ok, I don’t like smoking that much.  But I still like the shit out of it.

Hey lookie there you're doing it right.

Hey lookie there you’re doing it right.

Despite how much I like smoking, it was probably the stupidest thing I ever did. 

I quit one time, and the first week was on par with heroine or methadone withdrawal. I bit one of my fingers off.  There were shredded napkins everywhere.  My eyeball fell out.  I might have thrown up blood at some point.  But other than that, things went pretty well.

You don’t really realize how engrained it is in your routine until you stop doing it, and after that, you get the crabby panty syndrome, or what I call, ‘Cigarettes Tourette’s’.  

It goes something like this:


CH:  I don’t know what to do with my FUCK hand I need to smoke something SHIT and this straw is not working LLAMA not DICK working at all and this gum FUCK sucks and it tastes like rubber and SHIT chalk I can’t see straight and the lights are FUCK dimming.

And that’s why I quit the first time. Because somebody said to me somewhere once that this is a healthier alternative to smoking.  I felt fine before I quit, and then that.  Peer pressure.  Again.  

That’s without a doubt the worst part about being a smoker – having to listen to some obese man with a cholesterol problem lecture me on the reasons why I should quit smoking while he is chewing on a rib bone.  Duly noted, sir.  And now please wipe the sodium-rich barbecue sauce off your face because it’s making me look at it. 



But all these ads with smoking fetuses, and some girl with cigarette butts on her tongue, and voice box guy – it’s all too much.  SHUT UP I’m trying to concentrate on smoking.  I get it.  We all get it.  I’m waving the white flag indicating that you’re right.  You win.  Smoking is bad. 

So here I am now, staring at a box of Chantix and wondering what the shelf life is on this drug is.  It’s an ugly box.  A stupid box.  I’m not sure when I’m going to eat them.  I not sure I want to eat them.  If I eat them it’s going to be like that scene in Titanic at the end when Jack is sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic:

Cigarettes, come back.  

Come back, pack.

Pack, come FUCK back…

**Bonus Contest Alert **Bonus Contest Alert**Bonus Contest Alert**

If you guess correctly what kind of cigarettes I smoke, I’ll make you a free banner or some badges for your Facebook/Twitter pages.  But one guess only, cheaters!

And don’t stop smoking, because quitting is bad for you.



The Blog Hop Starts Here!!!

In case you missed the Blog Hop backstory, you can read about it HERE.

The goal was to demonstrate that an episode of either Anxiety or Depression can in fact have an application:  awesome, and sometimes downright hilarious fiction.  Why not laugh at the quirks?  Sitting around and crying into a bowl of chicken noodle soup never did shit for me personally.  Everybody on the tour has had some kind of experience with either, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we also know how to write some kick ass fiction.  Screw the label.  Screw the stigma.  At the source of it all is an active imagination, and a fabulous fictional tale awaits.

There are twelve writers ahead of me today, with each of them featuring the next part of this highly outlandish tale, and each post is around 200 words. Here’s a double shot of humor to go along with your morning espresso.

*kicks door down Chuck Norris-style*

Set.  GO!

The Most Outlandish Tale About Anxiety and Depression Ever Told

So anyways, I was meandering around the mall the other day, bags in hand, when I accidentally ran into this little elderly lady with white hair.  We literally ran into each other.  Clumsy me.  We were both very apologetic toward each other after the bump-in however, and immediately went our separate ways.

A short while later, I accidentally bumped into the same elderly woman while in a different outlet store, only this time I was in a hurry, so I ran into her pretty hard – like, she was on one leg at some point and almost kicked me in the face as she was tipping backwards.  The woman was less apologetic this time as she adjusted her knee-highs, but managed to eek out a half-grin before we again parted company.

I was starting to grow a little bit paranoid at this point, hoping that I wouldn’t accidentally run into her again.  I started thinking about all these crazy what-if scenarios, and my head turned into a washing machine of bad thoughts…

What if she had a contagious skin infection?  Maybe I should find a bathroom and scrub my arm?  What if we keep bumping into each other for a reason?  What’s the reason?  Maybe she’s my soulmate? WHAT IF SHE WORKS FOR THE MOB AND SHE’S GONNA FUCKING KILL ME IF I BUMP INTO HER AGAIN?!

I had to get out, and quickly.

My fragile existence was now at stake and…


I dashed out the mall entrance door and threw my bags in a nearby bush…

Continue the story by clicking here

Blog Hop: The Most Outlandish Anxiety Tale Ever Told

Have you ever had one of those moments where suddenly, out of nowhere, you felt really nervous for absolutely no reason?  Maybe, like, you’re standing in line at the grocery store, staring at someone’s bananas on the conveyor belt…

…and then you begin creating this catastrophic what-if scenario in your head in which you all of the sudden FREAK OUT and hold up the register with a banana under your shirt, which leads to some kind of hostage situation, which leads to police helicopters and news reporters and swat teams, which leads to your mugshot being flashed on CNN headline news everywhere, which leads to getting hit in the head with one of those bean bag guns, which leads to you going to prison, which leads to having to share a cot with some guy named Dimples who likes to cuddle, which leads to a terrifying stroll down the death row corridor with a potato sack over your head, which leads to being strapped into the electric chair…

…and then the very polite girl at the register timidly says, “your total is $4.99”, sir, and you’re all like,


And then everybody looks at you with weird looks on their faces, and probably thinking to themselves that that’s exactly where you belong…

I will...smash...this...or your face if you don't give me money.

I will…smash…this…or something…in your face if you don’t give me money.

That’s called Anxiety. I do that sometimes.  Well, sorta..

But it got me to thinking (irony) about how much anxiety (and depression) have helped me write stories. After all, that’s basically what anxiety is, right?  I guess it’s all in how you look at it.  Are you a “poor, helpless anxiety sufferer”?  Or, do you have the gift of being a fucking great fiction writer?  When you think about it, having a freak out episode, or an anxiety or panic attack, or a grey matter meltdown, or whatever you wanna call it, is nothing but a series of creatively fabricated events that never happen. It’s fiction.  A lot of the time, it’s really good fiction.

So I thought it would be a cool idea to celebrate our varying degrees of mainstream neuroticism by kicking of a BLOG HOP starting HERE this Thursday.  Anxiety deserves a laugh, and for that matter, Depression does too.  Rather than sit around and cry about it, why not recognize these things as gifts?  They are weird gifts, yes: “Gee, thanks for this, um, gift stuff…”

The point I’m trying to make is this: Apply it to Something.  Many already do, and just don’t recognize it.  Maybe you’ll learn to recognize it beginning today?

The blog-hopping story – similar to the one told at the intro to this post – will mozy on down a long trail of other crazy people – all with the ability to produce great anxiety-inspired fiction.  If it works (it’s already working), you’ll get a chance to read a really funny, highly outlandish story, collectively told in very small parts by a lot of really talented writers.  You’ll get to visit all off your buds, click the like button, fart, and move on to the next blog in no time flat.

Sound like fun? It will be!

Want to join?  You should!

Sign on the dotted line in the comment section!

Oh, and Psst!  Ericka Clay is playing along at some point along the story path, so you know it’s gonna be 2 legit to quit.  Nothing like a good old fashioned name drop.

Salute \m/


Life in the Express Lane

I’m a painter by trade, so that’s what I’m busy doing when I’m not pretending to be a writer or a graphic artist.  I’m not gonna front and say that it’s my dream job, but that definitely doesn’t mean that I don’t like doing it either.  Plus, and I don’t wanna toot my own horn, but ok yes I do, I’m pretty good at what I do. 

This is a picture of us working at the market.  Circa 2014

This is a picture of us working at the market. Circa 2014

There are a lot of perks, like, for instance, I don’t have to work inside of an office tackle box like 95% of the country; I get to work in a lot of different locations on a variety of different projects; I get weekly gratification because of the quick turn around on most of our projects; and I don’t have to wear Khaki’s and a Polo and listen to some passive aggressive guy named Greg tell me about his kid’s tap dance recital by the water cooler every day.

One of the coolest ongoing projects that I have the pleasure of working on is a ginormous upscale shopping market in an uber hipster region of the metro-Detroit area.

It’s a night shift-only project, which is awesome for the first couple hours of the first couple of nights.  It seems like every time I walk in there to do a job that Frankie Valli song from the movie, Grease, is playing on the overhead speakers.  I think they do that on purpose, and I always feel like I’m in the climax scene of a really cool movie about painters or something.

*Slow Motion Entrance*

However, by hour four of every shift, and about 150 doo-op songs later, I want to swan-dive off the roof head-first.

Hey, Pop Trivia Time:

What is the most frequently asked question that I get asked as a painter while working at the market?

*Jeopardy Theme*

Answer:  Daily Double.

The most frequently asked question that I get as a painter while working at the market:

“Painting, eh?”

The world is chalk full (<–blatant grammatical error) of observant people, and I tip my cap to all of you eagle-eyed lookie-lou’s.

But anyways, this store is huge.  If I had to conservatively guess, there are probably about 40,000 employees working there because I’ve never seen the same person twice.  There’s like an employee-making portal or something somewhere in the store that these people come out of before they promptly begin stocking shelves and crushing bulk pineapple slice boxes.

One person who I know for sure works there on a regular basis is Matt; a highly attentive, very slow-talking, Asian night shift dude.

"Yeah, any one of those will work, Matt"

“Yeah, any one of those will work, Matt”

Matt is a cool guy, but our conversations are full of too much information and they take a lot of time to complete.  Matt gave us access to the intercom system the first night, so that if we ever need him for any reason, like, to move somebody’s coat or something, we could send out a page and bring him to the break room area where he will promptly move the coat for us.

As you might have already guessed, we’re abusing this privilege:

“Matt to the break room; we have a thermostat question.  Not sure if 68 degrees is the preferred temperature in here or not.

“Matt to the break room;  we’re gonna need some imported beer up here pretty soon.  If that’s cool with you.”

“Matt to the break room; we ran out of coffee.”

“Matt to the break room; we’re gonna need some help finding a spatula.”

Tonight is the third night of the project.  My eyes are scratchy right now.  I feel like hammered shit.  I’m over-caffeinated.  I’m listening to my neighbor talk about her appointment with her podiatrist this afternoon on the front porch.  I’m crazy-laughing.

But that’s life in the Express Lane.  Cue the Frankie Valli.

*Puts on Shades*

*Pages Matt*

Salute \m/

I’d Like My Cable Guy Shaken, Not Stirred

When I originally moved into the Chowderpad, I was a bit hasty in signing up for a cable TV package; one that I quickly discovered was heavily enriched with channels that have no business being on TV.  I never realized that local Government had so many unimportant things to say, and with so many distribution outlets to say it through.

So, last week I decided to visit my local AT&T retailer to schedule a Cable Guy to come out and host an installation party that would hopefully waste my entire Saturday afternoon.

"This one is the most expensive which means its the best one so you should buy this one right here. Photo Credit:

“This one here is the most expensive, which means its the best one, so you should buy this one…”
Photo Credit:

While in the store, going through the endless paperwork stack, and trying my best to comprehend the sales pitch that I was not really listening to, I once again slept through a vital information exchange opportunity:

The address on my license was not my current place of residence.

Because of my dur moment, I put poor store rep. Andy, through a heap of trouble preparing a work order for a cable package installation that was now scheduled to take place at a house that I do not live in. Continue reading

ChowderHead: The Beginning

…so I’m sitting in this cafe, slumped over a piss-warm cup of dark roast coffee, casually tossing ashes into the tray at the end of the table.  The lighting is inadequate where I’m image.jpgseated, making it difficult to study the entrees on the menu.

I pick up on a one-sided conversation coming from the booth adjacent to me, involving a pig-headed suit and tieyammering into a phone about a stock deal gone sour.  The woman seated in front of the man appears emotionally detached, which is indicated by her body language.  She ignores the man and blankly stares off at a young female clearing the surrounding tables.

I’m overcome with remorse for the woman and her situation, finding myself privately analyzing the dysfunctional correlation between the two. Clearly, she’s numb inside; another wandering soul, financially bound to some corporate meat head

The murmur throughout the diner adds to the endless chatter taking place in my head, but the humming is abruptly halted when, without warning, an explosive discharge of profanities and pent-up rage erupts out of the woman.   Continue reading

The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony (part 4 of 4)

On the night of the audition I drove out to the band’s practice facility, located in a rough part of the city.  I was a bit leery as I pulled into the half-lit parking lot.  The place was in shambles, and covered with half-painted brick and graffiti.  I walked up to the back entrance and pounded on the black metal door.  Nobody answered.  I double checked the address, and another knock went unanswered.  For a few minutes I paced the parking lot looking for a sign of life.  It started to feel like I’d been duped.  Suddenly, the back door swung open and out popped Mike with that familiar grin on his face.

Man, it looked just like this…

The inside looked like a converted whore house, and smelled like a combination of a dirty bar and a gym locker room.  It had rock and roll written all over it.  There was a long hallway with a series of rooms that were being occupied by other bands.  I could faintly hear music being played down the long corridor as I lugged my equipment inside.  The band practiced behind the first door on the left.  The room was partitioned, and the seating area and practice room were separated by a large Plexiglass window.

The room was full of amplifiers, guitars, and sound equipment, and the floor was covered with empty beer bottles and ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts.  I set up in the corner of the room and went through my normal warm-up routine.  I tried my best to chop through the nerves.  The band was sitting in the next room behind the glass window, paying little attention while I warmed up.  Everyone sat around talking and drinking – business as usual.

As soon as I finished, the band filtered into the room and we went through introductions again.  I taped the playlist to the top of my kick drum while everyone else plugged in.  The sound of the amplifiers heating up energized the room and I could feel myself welling up with nerves.

I struggled for the first half of the set, confusing songs and getting mixed up on some of the parts.  I didn’t feel all that comfortable – mainly from the enormous amount of self-induced pressure.  The guys could sense it I think, and decided to take a break after the first run through of the set list.  Everyone left the practice area and went back behind the glass.  I knew they were talking about me.  It wasn’t a great first impression by any stretch.  The opportunity that I’d been offered was slipping away from me.  I needed to find a way to salvage it — fast.

After everyone left, I stayed seated behind the kit and exhaled my frustration.  The room was quiet with the exception of the low frequency buzzing of the amps.   My mind tossed around a number of self-defeating thoughts, and I was starting to feel like I’d forgotten everything.  I needed to get to a better state of mind – and quickly — so I started playing some familiar cover tunes.  It was the same old crap I’d rehearsed a million times before.

It’s rudimentary my dear Watson…

I was so wrapped up in the moment that I didn’t notice the guys watching from behind the glass the entire time.  When I stopped playing I was surprised to see everyone in the next room pressed up against the window, their mouths agape.  I guess that’s all I needed to do, because that ended up being the night I officially took over as the new drummer for the band.  The magical feeling was short-lived though.  The clock was now ticking.  We had one month to prepare for the biggest show to date, and the first show ever for me.

For the next few weeks in felt like we never left the practice studio.  Every night we’d hammer out the set list, drink a few beers, and do it all over again.  It was a time to bond and get loose — have some fun.  Some nights I would go to the studio alone and practice.  I’d crack a beer and run through our songs, then finish up with some cover tunes.  I don’t recall getting a whole lot of sleep during that time span.  It was pure, nonstop adrenaline keeping me functioning.

On the eve of the first show I went to the studio alone.  My kit was looking a bit neglected from being in the dirty whore house for so long — it was desperately in need of a good polishing.  I wanted it to look immaculate for the show.  I shined up the whole kit.  The cymbals looked like mirrors, and the blood-red finish on the drums looked as deadly as the day I bought them.  After I finished, I packed everything up and headed home for the night.  It was time to get some rest.

The following morning was a complete blur and evening came fast.  The radio station that was sponsoring the show had arranged a shuttle bus for all the bands on the ticket.  There were five in total and they were the best that the local scene had to offer.  I met with my group at the scheduled time at our rendezvous point, and all five groups piled on the bus.  Attendance was expected to be through the roof that night.  It was completely sold out – unprecedented for a local show at that venue.

I sat nervously on the bus.  Everyone else seemed relaxed.  All the guys except me were seasoned – I was still a virgin.  I tried not to think about it.  The radio station spotted an advertisement for the show too, and we’d down a shot of whiskey together whenever it came on the radio.  For as anxious as I was, it was a cool feeling being behind the scenes for once.  For so many years I was the guy in the audience.  Not tonight.

We pulled up to the venue and the place was hoppin’.  It looked sold out.  People were lined up out the doors.  The bus cleared out and we went in through the backstage area.  Each of us were given an all access pass on the way in.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, a backstage pass also meant free drinks for the bands and their crews.  Good thing — I needed it.

We were scheduled to perform before the headline act.  Most of the night was nothing but mulling about, nervously killing time.  I watched the crowd from one of the balconies.  The main floor was packed to the gills.  It was nothing but a mass of drunken idiots swirling around in front of the stage – thirsty for a good show.  I watched the minutes tick by, and as it got closer I started to grow even more restless.  The group before us began setting up on stage, and I decided to go outside to get some fresh air.  I was a nervous wreck.

The whole experience was overwhelming and I started feeling sick.  I could feel the sweat bead up and trickle down my back, bringing a chill to my body as I stood outside.  The music started and was audible through the stage doors.  I needed to get away from it.  The further I walked the more I thought about leaving – walking away from the whole thing.  I wasn’t ready for it.

I quickly walked down Main Street past the storefronts.  My heart felt like it was gonna explode inside of me.  I could see and feel the wispy strands of steam being pulled from my body by the frigid night air, and my mind raced with thoughts that I didn’t want to entertain.  Underneath all of the horrible thoughts was a deep-seeded fear of failure.  I was afraid of letting everyone down – including myself.  The warm breaths poured out in shallow bursts as I stopped and stood on the street.

Suddenly, I felt something come over me – an impromptu feeling of calm.  It felt for a moment like somebody else had been standing there with me, talking some sense into me – like a family member that had passed on.

My mind flashed – recalling all of the events and memories that had lead up to this point.

I saw myself at the studio with the guys practicing, and all the nights that I spent out there alone – I saw all of the shows again in vivid detail, and the two-man band with our crappy Van Halen cover songs – I saw myself muscling through all of the rudiments for hours on end – I revisited the giddy feeling the first time I saw Excalibur gleaming under the music shop lights – I remembered the very first jam sessions with the dorky kid from high school…

…and then I remembered the buckets – the noble first attempt to try and imitate John Bonham, my adolescent-hood musical hero.  I remembered the nightly dreams of being on stage — the conductor of an aggressive symphony — threatening to shake the stadium to a pile of dusty rubble.  I could hear the sounds again of the guitars shredding through the air – electrifying the building, and the vocalist sending the crowd deeper into frenzy…

…tonight was that night I’d dreamt about, and I was only three city blocks away from the spot where I’d finally live out that dream…

Snap back to reality.  Oh shit.  What time is it?

I ran back to the venue at full sprint and stomped out a cigarette in front of the backstage doors.  Just before I could tear open the door, something in my peripherals caught my attention.   I turned and noticed beyond the parking lot a three-story, strobe-lit marquee next to the venue.  How in the hell did I miss that?  I watched the screen for a minute as it scrolled through the show advertisement.  Our band flashed across the bright square in front of the entire downtown district.  How observant of me.  I guess I was too caught up before to even notice…

I got back just in time.  The band that had been playing finished their set.  While the stage was being cleared I ran through a mental checklist:  Get the arms warm again – shake off the cold – get loose – set list – sticks – equipment – where’s my gear? – it’s right there – what happened to my drink? – bum me a smoke, I can’t find mine – where’s Mike? – I need some tape – 10 minutes until sound check guys – let’s go, we’re on the clock.

I ran through the set list in my head one last time as I got situated on stage.  The crowd was starting to fill out, and was bigger than it was for any of the other acts.  The sound guy mic’d up my drums and ran through sound check.  I’ll never forget the exchange:  “This your first show?” he asked.  “Yeah”, I replied nervously.  “Get ready, it’s better than sex.”

The first show at the Emerald Theater

Everything was ready to go.  The crowd was electric that night.  The lights turned on front-stage and I could feel the heat on my forehead.  I could taste the bronze on my tongue from the glistening cymbals standing in front of me.  As the amplifiers began to heat up, the audience grew anxious, collectively bracing for the sonic onslaught.  Then, in a split-second, I heard that familiar guitar intro scream through the air, sending a shot of adrenaline ripping through my arms and legs.  With a four-count click of the teeth, and by the grace of the gods of rock, my arms came simultaneously crashing down onto the mighty Excalibur, sending a thunder-crack roaring into the frenzied crowd.  The audience exploded at the sound of the crash.  The electrical charge that blasted from the stage reverberated off the back of the auditorium and shot back through my chest.  The impact sent me out of body momentarily, and I watched my limbs flying effortlessly through the air from above the stage — each and every meaningful note being played by something much bigger than me.

“The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony”

It was a spiritual moment – a moment when everything seemed as real as it could ever get.  It was in that very moment – in that strange place in time – when I’d finally validated a lifelong dream.  I’d officially become an ordained minister of rock that night.  I’d become the conductor of an aggressive symphony – just like John Bonham.

After the show was over we all went out to a local pub to celebrate.  We ended up drawing the largest crowd out of all of the bands on the bill that night – including the headline act.   We had a good laugh about it, a lot of drinks on the bar top, and recounted the entire experience together.  I felt relieved.  It felt good to finally get that first show under my belt.  As we left the bar, we even signed a couple autographs – what a trip.  I’m pretty sure those signatures never made it to Ebay…

When I got home that night I fell face first to the bed and didn’t move the entire night.  The whole experience was exhausting – both physically and emotionally.  The next morning I rolled over in bed and relived that night all over again.  It was hard not to smile.  “I don’t wanna be a rock star”, I thought to myself…”I am one”.

Chase your dreams…


We (the band) continued the local circuit for the next couple of years after that first show together.  We were fortunate enough to play some larger, radio-sponsored venues, and even got a spin on the radio at one point.  I eventually left the band to pursue a college degree, and the group disbanded shortly after.

A few months after I left, I was invited out to audition with one of the biggest Rock groups in Detroit at the time.  The band was a signed, national act.  I was offered the position after the try out, but ended up respectfully turning it down.  The experience made me realize that my love for music ran much deeper than any shallow dream of becoming a rock star ever did.  The road to stardom is always costly in the end.

Oh, and I still play Excalibur to this day…

Outro:  Led Zeppelin, Black Dog – Live at Madison Square Gardens.  The Song Remains the Same (film), 1976


– Happy Blogging Bitchers

The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony (part 3 of 4)

The two of us became good friends throughout high school and beyond, and spent every weekend together jamming out in the basement.  It changed the way I played.  Sitting in front of a guitarist gave my drums a new sound.  It sounded much better – purposeful sounding for once.  We had officially become an unofficial two-piece band — without a name.

Lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen of the group Van Halen.  Nice pants, Eddie.

We didn’t really have any material to speak of.  Most of our set was made up of half-ass cover songs.  Neither one of us were songwriters by any stretch of the imagination, but managed to eke out a few original songs on top of our Van Halen set list.  We even had a small following.  On occasion a few friends would come over to watch us play.  When I look back, there always seemed to be a direct correlation between how long everyone stayed and how much free beer was left in the cooler.  When the beer was gone, the show was over.   I guess it was better than no crowd at all…

As time went on, we began accumulating bigger and better equipment too.  I became a regular haunt at a local music store and learned quickly that playing an instrument – particularly the drums – isn’t a cheap hobby.  It didn’t matter though — it was go for broke, for me.  This was my ticket to ride, but I needed a serious set of hardware before stepping on that bus.  My kit was rounding out and becoming bigger, badder, and louder.

At one point I finally broke down and began taking lessons.  It was a minor setback at first, but long overdue nonetheless.  It was a pretty humbling experience at first.  The unorthodox garage-drummer stuff didn’t hold up very well when seated next to someone that’d been classically trained.  After a few years of studying Studio Funk, I caught up on theory, notations – all the boring shit.  For as dumb and repetitive as it seemed at the time, it would eventually pay great dividends.  For hours on end I would practice the pads.  The routine would go something like this: 1.) Play rudiment, 2.) Screw up, 3.) Cuss, 4.) Smoke, 5.) Repeat…

On the nights that we didn’t practice we were out watching bands touring the local circuit at the time.  We went to a lot of shows.  Some of the bands were really good and some were really bad.  In my mind it set the bar for what I was up against.  I was constantly sizing myself up with other drummers, paying close attention to each and every one that I came across.  The drummer was the vital puzzle piece of every band in my mind – the conductor.  If the drummer sucked, the band sucked – period.  I would always silently criticize, watching and listening to the consistency and color of his rhythms.  During the show I would count in my head, taking mental notes of all of the mistakes the untrained ears in the audience were oblivious too.  The more shows that I went to the more I realized that I was finally coming into my own.

One night after band practice I pitched the idea of starting a legitimate project to my guitar buddy.  The two- man-band thing was getting old to me, and I was feeling like I’d long outgrown it.  It was fun while it lasted, but in my mind it was time to get serious for once.  I wanted to write music and play in front of a crowd, not sit around on a Saturday night playing stupid-ass cover songs in a basement.

It only took four and a half years for me to finally discover that the guitarist I’d evolved with — who I was counting on to start a band with –had had a severe phobia of performing in front of crowds.  I couldn’t believe it.  In a way I felt cheated – betrayed almost.  While the monologue unfolded in my head, the voice of reason promptly interrupted the crazy talk.  Fuck him.  I don’t need him.

After the officially unofficial two-piece band broke up, we parted company and never really played together after that.  He wanted to stay in the basement – alone – and I was looking for any way possible to get to the stage.  There’s no way this minor hiccup was gonna throw a wrench in my operation.  It was time to do some legwork.

You lying sack of shit!

I looked through every community board at every record shop within a thirty mile radius.  I needed to find an audition.  It ended up being a complete waste of time.  I digress — it turned out to be one  ridiculously funny story after another.  One thing I learned through trial and error is that wanted postings are always inaccurate and wildly embellished.   After reading through a good number of them and going for a few auditions, I eventually learned how to interpret them.  For example, “10 years of experience” often translates into “I bought a guitar 10 years ago, but never played it until last Tuesday.”  Another example, “Looking for Drummer – Some Original Material”, typically translates into “Shitty Cover Band with No Singer, Either”.  It was deceptive advertising at its finest.

For a brief period it felt like all was lost.  But, as luck would have it, I ended up catching wind of the potential break I’d been desperately searching for.

A friend of mine told me about an upcoming show featuring a new band on the local scene.  They were ready to pop.  They had it all – a playlist, booked gigs, solid guitars, and an edgy vocalist who sounded like nothing else around.  The only thing that was holding them back?  The drummer sucked.  This was my in.  I had to find out for myself what all the hype was about, but more importantly, I had to do whatever I could to sweet-talk my way into an audition.

I met some friends at the venue that night.  The crowd was surprisingly thick for a relatively new band on the scene.  The energy was electric — I could feel the buzz in the atmosphere.  It wasn’t like a lot of the shows that I’d been to in the past few years.  This one felt different to me.  It might have had something to do with my hypersensitivity to the scenario I’d become aware of.  I was giddy.  I’d never been a big believer in fate, but in that particular time and place, it felt like it was destined to be from the very beginning.

The band started playing and they were nothing short of electrifying.  They were exactly as advertised – heavy, raw, aggressive, different – it was everything that I ever wanted.  The only drawback was the drummer.  What an embarrassment.  It was hard for me not to criticize everything about him.  I can recall his sloppy limbs flailing around like a monkey in a litter box, missing every note, and keeping horrible time.  I knew right then that this was my ticket.

I stuck around after the show to mingle, and the friends that I’d met at the venue  introduced to the band.  They had a certain swagger about themselves unlike any other group of musicians I’d met before.  They were good and they knew it.  I knew it too.  We sat and talked for awhile about the local music scene and all that jazz.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but was surprised to learn that they’d already heard about me from our mutual friends.  Well, everyone but the drummer heard about me…

We closed the place down that night and talked after everyone had cleared out.  The rest of the band had left, and I sat with the guitarist pounding down gin and tonics.  Seemingly troubled, he finally asked what I thought about the drummer.  As tastefully as I could, I beat the guy into the ground — his playing, anyways.  It was no time for mincing words.  I made it clear that the drummer was holding the band back and I wanted his spot.  There wasn’t a single shred of doubt in my mind that I couldn’t take the group to the next level.  Maybe it was the gin, maybe it was frustration — maybe it was just my time.

We parted company late that night.  As I closed the car door, I felt something resisting it from the outside.  It was Mike — puffing with a wide grin and holding a handful of disks.  “Give it a listen, we’ll see you next weekend for an audition”, he said.  I went home that night and didn’t sleep a wink.

It was finally my time to shine…

Click Here for the Conclusion

The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony (Part 2 of 4)

Several months had passed and I continued to struggle at it.  At the very least though, I started to pick up on the fundamentals.   In my mind I’d outgrown the buckets and was ready to take the next step.  Plus, if anyone found out about the goofy pile of shit that I was playing on I’d never live it down.  Talk about ruining street-cred.  I gave it some thought and decided it was finally time to buy a set of real drums.

I was already getting plenty of static on the homefront about wanting to be a rock star.  There was no way my folks were gonna buy a kit for me.  So, I decided to do what every budding non-conformist rocker would do in my position — rebel.  Without telling anyone, I drained my savings account one afternoon and headed to a local music shop.

The chime on the entry door greeted me to a subterranean underworld of fantastic instruments.  The walls were covered with posters of all of the musicians and drummers that I’d idolized and fallen asleep dreaming about on so many nights.  Time stood still in that moment, and everything beyond the doors of that shop didn’t exist to me.  Up and down the aisles of the store I walked, mesmerized by all of the strange instruments — a lot of them of which I’d never even seen before.

While navigating the store, something in the corner of the room caught my eye.  That’s when I saw it for the first time — a glorious, blood-red masterpiece, shimmering under the store lights.  I was immediately drawn to it.  I stood in front of it admiring its beauty, and running my finger tips along the smooth lacquer finish.  I knew at that moment that this was the instrument that would get me to the stage – exactly where I wanted to be.

I took the kit home with me that afternoon and set it up.  There it stood — bored and beautiful — waiting for a talented stroker to give it a ring.  It looked so perfect and menacing in its stance.  I didn’t even want to play it at first because my sloppy hand-work would surely tarnish it.

After finally mustering the courage, I sat down on the cushy throne with a brand new pair of sticks and began to play.  It felt awkward.  For as new and beautiful as it was, it felt much different than what I’d expected.  It was another demoralizing experience.  I felt slightly embarrassed — even without anyone around to witness it.  This just can’t be, I thought.  This was supposed to be like King Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone – it was supposed to be destiny.  This was the weapon that had summoned me to wage war against the conformists.  Why has thou forsaken me?  I softly laid the sticks on the floor and limped away with nothing left but a bruised ego.

I came back to it the week after.  This was no time to sit and sulk, I thought — I had business to take care of.  Night after night I sat in front of it playing through the lumps and bumps, and acquainting myself with the sexy piece.  Little by little, the sound and timing began to tighten.  I could feel myself getting better and I was growing more confident.  I would set up a cassette recorder and tape hours of cover beats, then rewind it and listen for the imperfections.  After carefully reviewing the tapes, I would sit back down and play it all over again, doing my best to sharpen every single chop.  It was still a bit sloppy, but at least I’d detached myself from the stigma of the buckets.

Then one day it happened.  I’d finally reached the dreaded plateau.   Despite how much time I put in beyond that point, I couldn’t seem to pull myself above the next ridge.  Eventually I got so fed up that I snapped every pair of sticks over my leg, scattering the pieces in disgust.  I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I was sick of sucking at it.  Maybe this wasn’t supposed to happen…

I felt lost for a period, like I’d just broken off a long-term relationship.  The beat that had always accompanied me wherever I went disappeared.  For the first time my head was quiet.  Everyday when I came home I’d walk past it — barely even acknowledging it.  The glimmering sheen that I recalled the day I bought it was now hidden behind a thin sheet of grey dust.  The dream of becoming Bonham had crashed and burned to the ground — just like a lead zeppelin.

AC/DC Guitarist, Angus Young

I never excelled in high school, mainly because I really didn’t want to be there.  Instead of taking notes during class lectures, I spent the majority of the day defacing my books with AC/DC logos.  My mind was somewhere else.  It was all just mindless crap for a bunch of mindless people.  I wasn’t one of those people.  I was an outsider — a non conformist at heart.

One day in the middle of one of my graffiti projects, a guy next to me that I never talked to before struck up a conversation.  We talked about music.  The more we talked, the more I realized how similar our tastes were.  All of the old hard rock bands that I’d spent so many nights falling asleep dreaming about came up.  I could feel a tiny spark inside of me begin to smolder.  The bell rang and we parted ways, but not before he casually mentioned one vital piece of information — he was a guitarist, and a damn good one at that.  The tiny spark that was inside of me exploded into a full-blown, raging inferno of rock hell fire.  It was exactly what I needed to get me over the hump.

I ran home that day and sat down behind the kit like I’d never left it.  I flipped the sticks up into the air, and kicked out a newly-inspired beat.  It was exciting again.  I remembered the feeling again of wanting to be like Bonham.

From that point on everything changed.  The two of us spent every weekend together getting ripped on cheap weed and jamming out every Van Halen tune that we knew.  Some of the stuff that we played was even original.  It didn’t matter what it was — I just wanted to play, and play hard.  I could see it all coming together now.

Maybe this would be the ticket…

Click Here for Part 3

The Conductor of an Aggressive Symphony (part 1 of 4)

This is the story of a childhood dream…

“I wanna be a rock star.”  It was the first and only thought after I heard it for the first time — actually, the first time I heard him.  Black Dog – John Bonham – changed my life from the very first listen.  Nothing before or after that supernatural moment had ever had such a profound effect on me.

I remember the feeling – the static charge that pulsed through me the first time I heard him pounding on a finely tuned set of vintage Ludwig drums.  It was the sonic equivalent of smashing an anvil with a fifty pound sledge.  It was heavy, it was hard, and it was sensational.  I wanted that.  I wanted to be John Bonham.

John Bonham, Drummer of the Legendary British Rock Band, Led Zeppelin

I would fall asleep every night picturing myself on the stage — sluggin’ away under the lights — the sound of drums reverberating off the stadium ceiling — the electric shredding of the guitar, and ear-piercing vocals whirling around, driving the crowd deeper into frenzy.  I could see it all.  I could see myself, there, on that stage – the conductor of an aggressive symphony, threatening to shake the place to a pile of dusty rubble.

The only problem was that I didn’t know a lick about playing the drums.  Where would I start?  I needed a drum set first.  I had just started working as a pizza maker, and barely had enough money to keep my car running.  Buying one was out of the question.  Borrowing one was equally improbable.  The only other option was to make one.

For the next couple of evenings after school I worked diligently at building one — the garage floor littered with crude tools, fasteners, and wood shavings.  First, I fabricated a foot pedal for the kick drum using a sprinkler pipe, an old spring that I’d found laying around, and a bunch of scrap wood — all of it held together with whatever screws and nails I could find.  I set up an old metal dustpan for a hi-hat, and hung several large buckets around my throne.  When everything was complete, I positioned the foot pedal in front of a bucket that was set horizontally for a kick drum.  Once it was finished I stood back and admired the contraption.  It was rather crude-looking, but it would suffice.  My pulse quickened as I sat down to play it for the first time.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but that wasn’t about to stop me.

It sounded horrible.  Everything about it was laughable, including the guy making all of the noise behind it.  The pang of the metal dustpan was enough to set off a car alarm halfway down the street.  To add, the pedal that I’d manufactured was as lively as a dead body.  It barely moved.  The important thing was that it actually worked.  I was ecstatic at first, but my joy was short-lived.  After a few minutes of mindless noise-making, the rusty spring holding the pedal together snapped in half, causing the whole contraption to fall limp to the floor.

Back to the drawing board.

I messed with it for a period of time, trying out new combinations of pots, pans, suitcases, and buckets –each new combination sounding as awful as the last.  I made some improvements to the pedal, which made it only slightly more responsive than a corpse.  It just wasn’t enough.  I needed the real thing.  I racked my brain for several days in search of a fix.  Then it hit me.

I recalled overhearing a conversation between two guys in one of my classes — something about one of the fellow’s dads being a drummer.  It was a promising lead.  The only problem was that the guy I’d heard it from could easily damage my street-cred if word got out that we were hangin’ together.  I didn’t want that, but I really wanted to play on a real kit.  Needless to say, over the course of the semester we became great friends, only nobody really knew about it.

Every afternoon I went to his house and banged away on an expensive drum kit that I didn’t know how to play.  Just play it like you hear it, I thought to myself.  It was an exercise in futility.  Sitting behind a real set didn’t improve my chops like I’d originally hoped it would.  Having a real guitar didn’t help his playing either.  There we were – huddled together in a dark, musty, storage room in the basement — pretending to be rock stars.  The noise that came out of those first jam sessions made me long for the sound of the bucket drums.  After a while I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.

John Bonham, The Song Remains The Same (film)  Warner Brothers, 1976

My resentment for the guy grew as time passed.  I couldn’t even stand the sound of his voice, let alone listen to him trying to wail away on an out-of-tune guitar.  He actually sounded worse than me.  We parted company one day and never talked again after that.

With my tail between my legs I went back to the bucket drums when our brief friendship was over.  Coordination is something that takes time to develop.  I needed to be mindful of that if I was going to teach myself to play like Bonham.  I was determined.

Meanwhile, I started to become a rock-junky, and began pumping my brain full of whatever old stuff I could get my hands on.  Roger Taylor, John Densmore, Keith Moon, Bill Ward, Ian Paice, and of course John Bonham – one legendary drummer after another.  The more I listened, the more I started to hear music differently.  It became much more intricate.  I didn’t just hear a song anymore – it was much more than that.  There were so many sounds and rhythms that would unravel each time I put my headphones on. I remember walking through the hallways between periods, clicking a beat with my teeth.  It was if I’d been possessed by it.  I was overcome by this new alternate reality.

Every day after school it was back to the buckets.  There I’d sit in the garage, working through the frustrations of a starting musician.  It was hard.  I could hear it now, but still couldn’t do it…

Click Here for Part 2