Anytime I have a life-changing decision to make, I call upon those few influences that have been with me the longest and have never waned in their potency. So off the bookshelf came one of my favorites.
Mickey Hart's "Drumming at the Edge of Magic" was given to me when I was in middle school by my music teacher, Dave Hammond, who possessed greater-than-average sagacity. At that point, I had never heard of The Grateful Dead, let alone one of their drummers. I expected a lesson in the history of drumming, or maybe an explanation of exercises. But on the first page I turned to, Hart was addressing not basic sticking, but the creation of the universe. Unconcerned with mechanics, Hart used myth and folk tales to illustrate the connection between drums and the life force. The book wasn't so much about drums as it was about where drums can take you. According to Mickey, they could take me anywhere.
It took me a few years to learn his message firsthand. In high school, I was part of the battery of a marching band. During a rehearsal at my house, we dragged our drums out into the parkway of the street to practice cadences. The neighbors were familiar with my rock band and had registered their complaints, so I was uncertain how long we would get away with playing outdoors.
Sure enough, after 10 minutes, people began to appear at their doors and then came out of their houses. We prepared to pack it in. But then I realized they hadn't come to complain - they were there to listen, and they had brought their children who stood in wide-eared fascination. Hello, Mickey. Right outside my own front door, the powerful sound of the snares, basses, quints and cymbals locking together into a single expression brought us all to a new place we never knew existed.
Children have often been part of my education about rhythm. Summers often found me working as camp counselor in the Colorado mountains, where more than once I led a band of kids into the rain to drum on barbecue grills with sticks. It would start as a cacophony of metal clanking against the background of the thunder. But to my delight, the kids "entrained," as Hart says, locking all their spontaneously created rhythms together--just like Mickey said they would.
The kids had used rhythm to travel to a level of collective consciousness that is spiritually alive. We are all blessed with this ability to consciously comment on the rhythms of the world around us. Everyone takes what is initially chaotic and form it into an expression-the "rhythmic manipulation of noise," as Hart says. Drumming isn't limited only to our usual idea of percussion. All of us "drum" in our own way-every expression is a form of rhythm.
Drumming isn't a part of me. Like everyone, I am a part of it. It doesn't matter what labels I choose to identify myself with--simply by living my life I am participating in the rhythm of my world. So I might as well keep playing.