This weekend, the band headed to Colorado for three shows. I flew into Denver the night before everyone else because the altitude always messes with me. Playing drums is such physical exertion, and the lack of oxygen manifests in ways that I dread. First, I feel that I can’t lift my arms very high when I play or all the blood drains out, so I change my motions, keeping my arms closer to my sides with smaller movements. This means that I am more in my head as I play, and when I’m thinking more, it is more difficult to find that free, open and spacious no-mind place that makes for joy in playing.
I started learning to play the drums in my 20s, a decade after many people I play with started learning their instruments. The common story is that they fell in love with music as a pre-teen, were given a guitar or convinced their folks to buy a set of drums, and then for years they jammed with their friends in the basement of the kid with the coolest mom, and made their way from there.
I have long envied this common background of my peers. When you learn anything early on like that, certain things are so second nature that it is unfathomable that everyone wouldn’t know how to do them. You see this in every walk of life: the kid who learns to debate at the kitchen table with his attorney parents, the artist who doesn’t remember not knowing how to draw, the skateboarder who can’t see how it’s possible that anyone could be unsteady on a board.
There is a place I go when I’m playing drums, on stage, with the monitor distorting the guitar line and lights streaking heat onto my eyelids. As decibels rage and as my body bends and powers and strikes, I drop into a place where time hangs in silence. Thoughts of moments past, thoughts of moments future, they drift through this silent place and try to catch me in their nets. Sometimes I can’t help but be brought up to the surface, to the noise and fracture and worry, and when that happens I’m dropped abruptly into the cacophony of the venue around me.
This birthday, there were four cakes.
The first was served Saturday before the actual date, in Tucson, with a friend who had the marvelous vegan delight specially made from lemons in his yard.
The second was the next day, in Southern California: a three-layer lemon perfection made by my sister, who understands the value of pudding as filling.
The third was on my actual birthday: a slice of magic sponge following a delicious paella at a sweet Spanish restaurant next to the cable car tracks.
The next day, on stage, the girls in the band presented me with a dense, princess-style berry-laden cake that I sampled at 4:30 in the morning when I finally got home.