The Greatest Drummers-Part I

A band is only as good as its drummer.

I believe that.

Not that I’m an expert, but I know my way around a drum kit. At least it’s the one instrument that I’m proficient at. Mind you, if I were to play with a band or asked to perform with other musicians, I’d probably choke. But I know how to bang it out (if you know what I mean).

I am a student of the craft. And as a student, I have many opinions about my fellow percussionists. Remember Frasier and Niles Crane? Remember their snobbishness about wine (among other things)? That’s the way I am about drummers.

I don’t try to be that way. I know that every drummer that I hear is very much better than I am, or ever will be. Yet a drummer can make or break a band for me. That’s all that I’m saying.

And when I’m practicing myself, there are a number of artists that I attempt to emulate. Some of them are widely appreciated. Some of them aren’t.

John Bonham is, of course, the gold standard. I don’t believe that non-drummers truly understand his contributions to music. In philosophical terms, he did to drumming what Rene Descartes or Plato did to philosophy. You may not be a fan of his, but one way or another….you have to reckon with him.

Of course, to drummers, this goes without saying.

Now, in my personal view, I don’t believe that Bonham’s style was as aggressive or sophisticated…even among his contemporaries. But it was polished. It was bold. And it greatly contributed to that Led Zeppelin sound that we all know and love. And every drummer since has strived to mimic that sound.

When you hear a Bonham groove, you instantly know that it’s HIS sound.

And to me, that’s what makes a GREAT drummer. Drum solos or technical ability is fine. I find those things cool to watch. But it’s not like I think to myself: “Man, I really want to listen to that 18 minute drum solo!”. Few people think that. So it’s not about how WELL you play…it’s about contributing to the music.

Does your sound add TO the music? That is the question.

And even though I fail to match up to the greatness of these musicians, the following drummers have inspired me the most. Some of them you’ll recognize, some of them you won’t.

Bobby Chouinard- Billy Squier 

When we think about the great successor to John Bonham, for some reason, most people think Dave Grohl. I don’t know why. Probably because that’s the only drummer that people can name. No doubt that Grohl derived inspiration from Bonham. But I just don’t hear it.

And the truth is, there isn’t a successor. Few have ever come close to emulating that sound.

But ONE came close.

Most don’t put Billy Squier in the same league as Led Zeppelin, The Who, and other great MUSICIANSHIP bands. But who cares? When I think of John Bonham, one thing comes to mind: the bass drum. The man could make it sound like rolling thunder. I get chills just thinking about it. Mix that in with the Bonham-groove, you have a difficult time trying to re-create the sound. But Bobby Chouinard nearly did it.

Don’t believe me? Listen to Lonely is the Night. Again!

But Chouinard did more than just re-create Bonham. If you ask me, he was more instrumental in creating that Billy Squier sound than Billy Squier. His drumming wasn’t anything INSANE, but it was bold. It was clean. It was loud. And it fucking rocked.

Mitch Mitchell- The Jimi Hendrix Experience

I don’t think that Mitchell gets disrespected in any way.

But because Jimi Hendrix is such an icon, it’s easy to overlook the incredible technique of his drummer.

When I think of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I think of three musicians that were pretty much doing three different things for each song…yet, somehow, it all came out beautifully in the end.

It’s incredible to listen to.

But Mitchell’s frantic jazz style was what really drove the Experience. You get worn out just listening to it. And truth be told, I can’t emulate it at all.

Alex Van Halen- Van Halen

Okay, so this is another drummer that I don’t think is disrespected necessarily. But between the shenanigans of the various lead singers and Eddie Van Halen, Alex sort of gets lost in the shuffle.

When some think of Van Halen, they think of Eddie’s stupid grin. But he has good reason to smile: he’s a fucking incredible guitarist. I often bitch about musicians and their lame or unnecessary solos. And you might want to punch Eddie in the face, but the man knows how to shred. Which is why between Alex and Eddie Van Halen, the band is one of the more underrated MUSICIANSHIP bands…along with Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience, etc. (Even though Van Halen is FAR from being underrated).

Rush is considered a MUSICIANSHIP band. I’m not gonna lie, the three members are probably the best musicians at their respective positions. But they suck, or they have an uneven catalog at best.

How is that possible?

In short, they fell victim to the self-indulgence that became characteristic of the 1970s (more about this in Part II). During that time, those three talented guys had no business being in the same room together. Music sometimes suffers from an over-indulgence of ability. And as a result, we get Rush. 

So what does this have to do with Alex Van Halen?

Great question. And hopefully I’ll be able to answer it in Part II.

I promise you that I’m going somewhere with this, by the way.

An Ode to the ‘Slacker’

As the late, great Prince once said: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”. Why? Because life sucks. It unbelievably sucks. If you think it doesn’t suck, then you’re in denial. Unless you get woken up every morning by fellatio (or cunnilingus) and get to watch reruns of Frasier all day, then your life sucks.

How did it get to be this way?

We marvel at the achievements of humanity. We want to think that we have it so much better than our ancestors. Sure, dying at the age 17 by being strangled by a cobra isn’t much of a problem these days. But we’ve exchanged those problems out for even WORSE problems. Instead of getting to live a brief life full of near total freedom, we now have to live DECADES worth of self-imposed imprisonment. Instead of letting our genitals hang free, we have to go to work, raise shitty children for (at least!) 18 years, have mortgage payments, and watch others live their lives through television and internet.

Scientists and philosophers often ponder the ancients. They romanticize the early explorers and philosophers, who first looked up to skies with bewilderment and awe. And this sense of wonder permitted them to ask the first intellectual questions: what lies on the other side of the heavens? Who are the Gods, and how can we be more like them? What is the meaning of life? So we ponder the origins of such questions, and think: who were these ancient peoples whom we owe so much to?

But here’s what I think: the first person to ever ask such questions was a piece of shit. He (or she) fucked everything up. Why question such a good thing?

Of course, we only know in hindsight that they fucked up. But then again, many people will accuse me of glorifying the ancient (or pre-historic) peoples, who were undoubtedly savage assholes. But so what? There was no one to tell them that they were being dicks. They were just being. 

And again, many MORE people would probably question my reasoning, claiming that such questions might be “hardwired” into the nature of human beings. Therefore these questions were inevitably going to be asked! But you know what? Stop thinking for awhile, and let me do the talking.

And by the way, where the hell am I going with all of this?

If you’ve been reading this blog (and no one is, so you don’t have to lie to me), have you ever wondered: who is this asshole that I’m reading? Well to answer that question, that’s none of your business. BUT, an important fact to know at this point is that my professional career is DEAD. I mean DEAD DEAD. I made a series of costly career decisions that didn’t pay off (plus I drank a lot). It left me unemployed to the point where I had to start over completely. It was like the prior 15 years never happened (did I mention I was a drunk?). Or to put it another way…I have a graduate degree, yet I’m now doing labor that kids out of high school are doing.

I’ll give you a moment to wipe away your tear.

Anyways! I pushed myself through college, and even a brief stint in the military, because I thought that’s what people should be doing: taking steps to better themselves and their society…even though I hated every minute of it. But that didn’t matter. Everyone has to do things that they don’t like if they want to achieve greatness.

I hated the guy (or gal) who coasted through life. I mean, how was that even possible? Didn’t they have any pride? Isn’t there SOMETHING they want to achieve during their time on this earth?

Yet even while I was having those thoughts, I was deeply unhappy. I put all kinds of pressure on myself. And to what purpose? So that I could have some fucking diploma hanging on the wall? Who gives a shit?

But of course, this is a philosophy blog. And even if you can’t tell yet, this is a philosophical post.

I usually talk about epistemology and ontology or some bullshit like that. But those aren’t the real problems that most people face. Unless you’re a nerd like me, Kantian metaphysics probably never keep you up at night. The problems that most people face are things like angst, fear, sadness, happiness and being. It’s actual human experience that most people care about…or the realm of existentialism.

Most people don’t realize that everywhere, mankind remains shackled (I’m pretty sure that’s a quote from some philosopher). We perceive ourselves to be free, but we do not act accordingly. We’re shackled to our jobs, to our houses, even to our own sense of being. You are who you are, and you will always remain SHACKLED to that identity.

How can we be happy, knowing that we are imprisoned in every direction?

Like I said, I hated those that coasted through life. I hated the SLACKER. And we all do. We want to hate the person that sits by while everyone does all the work. We want to hate the loser that lives an apparently meaningless life.

But I want to reassess this attitude. Sure, you hate them because they don’t carry their own weight. They leave YOU with all of the chores. But perhaps we need to appreciate them a little more. Why? Because they make you look good. That is unless they take credit for your work. In that case, fuck them, they are pieces of shit and are worthy of our judgements. But sometimes they can make you look like a mother fucking genius because they make you feel better about yourself.

But I think more importantly…they know something we don’t. Or maybe that something is nothing at all. But either way, they possess a quality that we don’t appreciate (mostly because it pisses us off).

They’re happier.

You know that bullshit that you submit yourself to everyday? Yeah, they don’t give a fuck about that. You might make more money. You might even be extraordinarily successful. But so what? How much crap did you have to go through to get that house or promotion? Tell me, how deep does that sense of ‘pride’ really go? Have you ever wondered what kind of decisions you might have made IF you didn’t give a shit? All the shackles of modern man are meaningless to the Slacker.

How much time did I waste going to college? If I have to be honest with myself, I wish I hadn’t of done it. It ruined me. I stress out about everything. College made me an unhappy, cynical, and entitled human being. Just being honest.

In my new job, I work with such a slacker. He’s in his early 20s. While giving advice to a girl that just started with this company (on how to get away with doing nothing), the girl snapped back: “This job’s only temporary! I’m a full-time student! Don’t you know what that’s like?” . To which his reply was “PSH! No!”.

That guy is cool as fuck.

You may hate him. But guess what? He doesn’t know it, and even if he did…he wouldn’t care.

So you have two choices in life: You can go along and play the rules. Maybe you might find some success. Maybe you won’t. But your philosophy can remain “at least you gotta try”…. OR, you don’t have to live by the rules. You still have to casually observe them, but we all know they’re horseshit. So you don’t have to pursuit happiness….you just have to be happy.

PS: My intention was to dig a little deeper into existentialism and bring up the works of Jose Ortega y Gasset. Sadly that did not work out, but at least I TRIED to make this post somewhat philosophical.

PS. PS: I posted a video of Slavoj Zizek because he at least provide the illusion that he’s a slacker-type. I don’t know if that’s intentional, and I don’t even know if he’s ever talked about any slaker-ish tendencies (he says a lot of things). He just embodies what I believe we should all strive towards.