“It’s not the kill… It’s the thrill of the chase.”
I never had any question regarding what I wanted to do with my life. From the age of 18 months, when I first saw my uncle’s band, “The Sounder,” rehearsing at my grandmother’s house, I knew that I wanted to be a musician. My exposure to the band would last until 1972, when they split up.
I would have a seat behind the drummer, wearing headphones for ear protection. When they went on break, I went outside to do my own drumming.
I would later get a toy drum set and an AM radio with the mono earbud. All I had to do was sit at the drums and wait for one of those songs by The Beatles to show up, and I could play along.
In my mind, it was clearly established that this direction was where I needed to go.
During the first week of first grade, we were all asked to go to the front of the class and tell everyone a bit about ourselves and what we wanted to be when we grew up.
My turn came, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share my vision with the rest of my contemporaries. I go up to the front of Ms. Gettinger’s class. On the wall was a HUGE blackboard. Above that was a map of the world.
I picked up the teacher’s pointer from the chalk tray and used it to point at the general area of Hollywood. Then I looked at everyone.
“When I grow up, I’m going to move to Hollywood and play drums.”
I expected my fellow classmates to be excited by this, or at the very least to be inquisitive. I expected at least one “Wow,” as well as questions about how I saw this working out.
Instead, everyone laughed. Everyone. Not one serious face in the entire bunch.
I went through grade school band. In junior high and high school it got way more interesting because of the variety of bands available. I played a variety of drums throughout my time in marching band, as well as playing drum set in the theater band and guitar in the jazz band. I also played drums for the pep band, sometimes switching to guitar. Somebody had to play “Beat It.”
I represented my high school in ISSMA competitions, taking all but one first prize. I represented my school with an appearance in The Cincinnati Reds High School Honors Band.
College brought about marching band opportunities, as well as the jazz ensemble, marimba ensemble, and more. I would even join a few bands during that time, which felt like the ULTIMATE preparation for doing what I wanted to do.
Finally, in 1986, I made it to Bakersfield, California. I would stay there for a short while before hitching a ride to LA, roughing it on the streets and struggling to make connections and get involved.
I found a singer named Robin Baxter who helped me get established. She even bought me my first new drum set. She was a 29 year old singer who believed in me, and saw me as the key to her musical future.
I would end up playing a variety of instruments for Robin. I actually started out as a keyboard player, and then moved to drums after our drummer threw a hissy fit and quit.
She introduced me to legendary keyboardist Ted Ashford, from Big Brother & The Holding Company. He and I were best friends until he died of a heart attack, less than 2 years after we were introduced.
All of this lasted until she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS took her dream away, so she withdrew from the music scene and retired as an account. She still lives in the same apartment and does the same work.
This spelled the end for her pursuits, as well as the end of my pursuits with her. I still consider her to be a dear friend, even though we don’t really talk anymore.
We last talked in 1994. The sands of time have moved on, and so did we.
I spent 33 years making music in LA. I played every BIG venue on the Sunset Strip as a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and keyboard player. I have also recorded tracks on all of these instruments, and more.
I got to play at The Viper Room just before it got that name, when it was called “The Central.” Other clubs went through name changes, but I would keep showing up with new bands and new songs.
I got to meet LOTS of musicians whom I admired greatly. Some of them even became good friends and supporters of what I was doing with music.
There were many times when I’d be on stage, and would look into the audience while playing, only to see someone I admired in the audience. Some who have seen me play include Sally Struthers, Lemmy, Mick Fleetwood, Jimmy Page, Ric Ocasek, Nick Menza, Ty Longley, Marty Friedman, Max Norman, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, Gene Simmons, Bill Burr, Michael McKeon, Jack Black and Kyle Gass, Jason Alexander, and more.
In the studio, I encountered players like Bobby Birch, Steve Caton, Robbie Krieger, Nigel Harrison, and others. I got to record with producers like Jimmy Hunter, Travis Dickerson, and Ira Ingber.
I was also in a band with “Cousin Oliver” himself, Robbie Rist, called “The Wrong Dots.” That was quite the experience. We’re almost the same age, and I was always thrilled to see him on The Brady Bunch. I may have been the only one, but that’s another story.
I even got to play drums for THE Fred Willard. When I was on stage with him at The Wilshire Ebell Theater, it was safe to say that EVERYONE in the audience was someone in the entertainment industry. Over 1,100 seats, with prices starting at $500. That’s how you do a fundraiser. This fundraiser was for The Peter Boyle Multiple Myeloma Foundation.
I got to meet and study music with some people I admired. I took some drum lessons from Chad Wackerman a few decades ago. Most recently, I studied guitar with Zoot Horn Rollo for a year. He complimented my playing and compared me to players like Django Reinhardt and Robben Ford.
These are all people I had previously admired [and still do!] and I got to meet them and interact with them as a fellow musician or entertainer.
Things began to slow down in 2014. By 2019, I decided that I had more than enough music experiences in California. Seeking something new, I packed up and moved to the middle of nowhere in Oregon. It’s a stark contrast from the concrete jungles of LA and Hollywood.
As I write this, I am preparing for an audition [guitar] with a cover band. This band’s goal is to play songs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, at afternoon gigs in retirement homes.
WHY AM I TELLING YOU ALL OF THIS?
Mine is a story that I have told many times. Each time I tell it, I frame it slightly differently depending on the details or lessons on which I want to focus. This time, it’s kind of like a high-level recap of sorts.
In the title, I gave a hint with the word “success.”
Remember those first grade classmates who laughed at me after I told them I was going to move to Hollywood to play drums when I grew up?
A few of them see what I’ve done with music, and they appreciate what I did. This opinion is sadly rare.
The overwhelming majority would say that I failed in my mission.
Because I “didn’t get rich and famous.”
Really. Yea. One person actually said to me on the phone, “If you were really a good musician, then you would have gotten signed. You would have made it. You must not be that good.”
It hurts when people say that, because I start to believe it.
The biggest problem with that sentiment is that relies heavily on the assumption that The Meritocracy is real and exists.
MERIT DOES NOT MATTER, ESPECIALLY WITH MUSIC AND ART
The Meritocracy is the American Capitalist idea that humans advance in their careers and finances based on merit, with NO regard for things like luck, inheritance, or connections. It’s a concept that gets thrown into the faces of those who do not fit in the system.
Whether a person be non-white, female, or Autistic like me, we get told that merit is what matters when we get downsized, or someone who doesn’t like us knocks us out of the running.
Nah, you didn’t get fired because you’re black, female, or Autistic. You got fired because you suck! You have no merit. The purpose is to demoralize.
This is NOT how the world works. The Meritocracy is a facade; a veneer designed to trick people into believing that they’re great, or that they’re shit.
It’s hard enough in a regular environment. In the music business, it’s even worse. I see lots of people who “made it” in the business who have NO musical talents or abilities at all! At the same time, I also see and know musicians whom I consider to be better than me, and they will NEVER “make it.”
“Making it” means getting rich and famous to most people.
Sadly, Americans measure success in these terms. It’s destructive and fallacious.
DID I MAKE IT?
I don’t buy into things like The Meritocracy. I don’t believe that wealth or fame are good measures of success.
Did I “make it,” by my standards?
In 1971, I told all of those little shits that I was going to move to Hollywood and play drums when I grew up. It was a goal of mine.
To expand upon it, my goal was to make music, and to either make a living at it, or at least some extra cash. I was under NO delusions in any of this. I didn’t once believe that I was going to “get famous.” I didn’t believe that I would be a star of any kind, and viewed myself more as a paid player and a writer or producer behind the scenes.
I didn’t set out to get rich and famous. One cannot fail at something if it was never the goal in the first place. I never said that I was going to get rich and famous when I grew up. Those are assumed goals.
How did I view myself?
Think John Paul Jones. He’s the least famous player in Led Zeppelin, and yet he’s the most responsible for their sound. That is precisely how I saw myself.
So if I don’t measure my success by wealth or fame, then how do I measure it?
- I knew what I wanted to do.
- I told everyone what I wanted to do.
- I worked my entire life, so that I could do what I wanted to do.
- I moved 2,000 miles from home and struggled with homelessness and hunger to get established so I could do what I wanted to do.
- I did what I wanted to do for 33 years in Hollywood, while working jobs to pay bills.
- I worked with great producers, musicians, and other entertainers.
- I worked hard and had a great time.
- I made a bit of money along the way. Nothing to retire on.
- I have some fantastic, phenomenal memories.
Those are my avatars of success.
WHAT ABOUT WEALTH AND FAME?
As I write this, the big musicians of my youth are going broke. They are selling their mansions, as well as their publishing catalogs. More and more, they are becoming irrelevant.
They “made it” in the eyes of the average American, as well as those who believe in The Meritocracy. At least, they did so at the time they were popular and a hot ticket.
All hot tickets cool down.
They’re musicians who are just as good as they were, if not better. They were once very rich and famous. Now, their fame has faded and their wealth has faded even more.
All they have left is basically the same stuff that I have. They made some great music, had some solid times, and now have wonderful memories.
In that regard, we all succeeded.
I don’t view ANY of them as “has-beens.” That’s an insult that people met out to show how little respect they have for others, and themselves.
Maybe I didn’t get the kill, but I did get the thrill of the chase.
This will add a bit more context to all of this.
My grandfather was always rough on me with regard to my music pursuits. In late 1985, I was living with him and my grandmother, just before I moved to California.
He was getting on me about pursuing being a musician. Things got heated and he yelled at me about how stupid my dream pursuits were. So I yelled right back at him.
“What do YOU know?! You’ve never had a dream.”
So far as I knew, he was a soldier for a while in WW2, then worked in a factory for 38 years before becoming the guy who works on cars and mows the lawn.
He told me that he had dreamed of becoming a race car driver one day. “But then I met your grandmother, and we got married and started having a family…”
And then he started to cry. I had never seen him cry before.
I knew that he didn’t like my desire to chase my dream because it could mean that I wouldn’t be earning a living. But I never suspected that he wasn’t too happy about my dream because of his own dashed dreams.
I saw the regret on his face. In that moment, I promised myself to never wear those shoes.
IN THE END
So very few musicians “make it” in the industry, in the American sense. While the famous musicians are the most visible, there are so many other musicians who make great music out there. They lift people up after a rough day, or help someone reframe their mindset. They even entertain retirement home residents during the middle of the day.
They play guitar on street corners. They make YouTube videos. They might even sing in a karaoke bar. They are essentially everywhere.
The thing about my story is that it can also apply to you, even if you are not a musician.
Are you living the life you want? Are you doing what you want? Are you happy?
The thing is, you could be in a garage, painting a model airplane to put on your mantelpiece. You could be sitting in a spare bedroom, knitting a quilt. You could be on the patio, playing a song on the guitar for your own entertainment. You could be underneath your car with grease up to your elbows.
You’re NOT getting rich or famous with it. All the same, if it’s what you want to do and it makes you happy, then you are succeeding.
Your happiness is the most rich and famous star in your life.
Other people can knock you all they want. I get comments on my YouTube videos about my weight, or suggesting I need to buy a metronome, or whatever other negative things you can say. They can yell that you suck from the mountain tops. It doesn’t matter.
The thing is, it’s not their life. And anyone who shames you for doing what you love and enjoying it is probably someone who is upset that they cannot do what they love, or they’re otherwise miserable with themselves, and they’re spreading the misery in an attempt to gain some company.
Their opinions DO NOT matter!
In YOUR world, the only opinion that matters is the one that comes from within. It is important that YOU matter to YOU! It’s NOT narcissistic to love yourself, or to care about or respect yourself.
Be the best you that you can be, acknowledge it, and you will have success in whatever you are doing.
And if you doubt this, then consider the life of artist Vincent Van Gogh. He is celebrated around the world and his painting sell for hundreds of millions of dollars.
This was NOT the case when he was alive. He lived through a hard truth, where most people didn’t care about what he painted. He sold a few paintings, as well as a few drawings. He didn’t make much, never got rich or famous, and needed help from family members in order to survive.
And remember, above all else, that fame and wealth do not matter, and they matter even less when you’re dead and gone.
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