Autism and Music

18 months old [spring 1966]

I was drawn to music at a very early age. While I do play multiple instruments, drums were my first love. I just couldn’t get enough of the rhythmic sounds that could be produced.

By the time I got to high school band, I was completely taking charge of my musical experience. I would write drum cadences, write the music for the drum line, and engage in state and regional competitions.

In college, while studying Percussion Arts, I did play bass with a rock band. This is where I discovered that I could listen to a pop/rock song one time and then be able to play it. There was no sitting with a piece for hours, struggling with it all. It would just happen.

At my peak in live performance, in the mid-2000s, I was presented with a special circumstance. My band WHIPLADS was set to do a show with another band, Thomas’ Apartment. They were a bigger band than us, and were friends with our bass player, so we had a big night planned.

That night was important to WHIPLADS because it meant getting lots more exposure and more fans.

Four days before the show, Thomas got a message from his drummer. He had to go to Texas to work on an issue, and found out that he would be stuck there for a few weeks. This meant that they would have to cancel the gig.

Thomas called me and explained it. I told him to NOT cancel the show. “Just give me your CD and a set list tonight, and I’ll meet up with you guys in 24 hours to have a rehearsal.”

“I’m So Confused” by Thomas’ Apartment

Thomas was skeptical of my claim, as was the rest of the band. Their bass player, Billy, was probably the most skeptical. I met Thomas in the alley behind my apartment, got the CD and went to work.

Each song would get four listens. The first was a basic set-up. The second was for rhythmic cues. The third was for musical cues. The final was for lyrical or vocal cues. I scratched out some notes, fitting the entire album onto one page. Then, I slept with the CD on repeat for the entire night.

The next evening, we met at Uncle Studios in the valley in LA. Everyone walked in and met me for the first time. Billy stood close by the kit, ready to give me guidance.

We go through the first song, and I’m giving the band those unspoken cues that musicians give each other when they’ve worked together for a long time.

Billy was shocked! When the song ended, he said, “Wow, and you were singing along, too!!” I told him that I learned it all, and that I even knew the key signature for each song.

We run through the entire set. There was talk of doing it a second time, but instead we ran through a few songs the band wanted to do over. The consensus was that I was ready to perform.

The Liquid Den was packed that evening of June 3, 2004. The WHIPLADS set went off without a hitch. I rested between sets, sipping water and eating some bee pollen.

Then I took the stage with the main band for the evening. How did it go? I reviewed the entire set on video, and it was incredible. The last song of the evening, HOLD, was and is my favorite of theirs, so I’m including it below for your review and enjoyment.

June 3, 2004: Performing HOLD with Thomas’ Apartment at The Liquid Den.

After I did this, I was excited about the idea that maybe I have figured out how to do something neat, AND that I could earn a living by teaching others how to do it.

With that thought, I set out to build a system to re-create what I did, so that I could package it and teach it to people who want to learn.

There was just one problem.

I tested it on my band members, and it didn’t work. They were unable to replicate my success.

In less than two weeks, I determined that the system I had created and wanted to teach was not substantive enough to be effective.

I’ve always been a quick learner who picks up fast. I can memorize entire albums of music, work with bands while using minimal rehearsal time, and work up parts quickly in the recording studio.

Whatever it was, it allowed me to be in at least THREE bands at the same time, while holding down full-time employment and being a father.

No matter how deeply I looked, I could not figure out how I had this ability.

It was late 2017, when I was given proper testing and received the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism.

Finding out that you are Autistic at the age of 53 is a very difficult thing. It answers lots of questions, and many things can make sense. There are also elements or “features” of Autism that tend to get in the way, and dealing with [or accepting] these things can be demoralizing at times, with no path around them in sight.

The one positive I can see is my musical abilities.

On the plus side, my Autism generated my interest in drums, my undying focus, and my desire to practice all the time.

On the down side, my Autism got in the way when it came to doing certain things, like dealing with people, promoting a band, and keeping a band together in general.

My Autism made a music career possible, while simultaneously getting in the way of it all. It’s a frustration that is sometimes difficult to consider, and the pain it generates can be difficult to endure.

Having an ability and not being able to monetize it might be the greatest frustration and disappointment of my existence.

Today, I keep on with my music, but not for the music industry or anyone else. I do it for me, because I love playing instruments and making music for myself. The music industry might be almost completely dead, but I’m still playing.

So I thought that I had figured out something really cool and useful, but later learned that it was a super power of sorts that could not be properly documented or taught. Can I really call it that if it does nothing for society and cannot really be effectively monetized?

The answers to those questions are simple. My super powers are for me, and as much as they get in the way of life, they can provide things that allow me to cope with life.

As for the money aspect, I absolutely REFUSE to allow a concept so vapid as money to delegitimize or define my powers. Some may say that you cannot call yourself a musician unless you make at least $10,000 with it. Those people are gatekeepers who were not hired by me, which is why I dismiss them and their words.

It’s okay to just be. Make music, write, create, dance… do whatever it is that makes you happy. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks about it. Enjoy it while you can.

Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

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