I haven’t played the drums much this year, but a few weeks ago a guitar-teaching friend asked me to help with a jam session for his students. So I spent an afternoon playing behind a rotating cast of young guitarists. The songs were assorted rock classics, each with an easy chord progression, even though some of them originated with Hendrix and a few of the other best guitarists in the history of the style.
The parts where the guitar students tried to solo were chaotic, but the songs came out okay, especially since the bass players who showed up had good time. Meanwhile, the parents stood out front holding up their cell phones to document their kid’s big moment, or sat around looking like parents (although, with my birthday falling the day after this jam, it occurs to me that I am now only a few years younger than my parents were when I attained teen hood).
It added a few songs to my repertoire, since Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” and Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” have evaded my attention until now. And I wouldn’t have guessed that it would be easier to drum to “Purple Haze” than to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
It might have seemed easy to chuckle about the ensemble of gawky guitars, but my first jam was no triumph either. It was the opposite situation. My uncle and some friends of his have get-togethers once a year or so where they break out acoustic guitars, and the occasional piano, and play the classics of the early 70’s singer-songwriter era. When they did this in 1987, they did one song with me on drums: James Taylor’s “Steamroller,” probably in the most avant-garde rendition it has ever had.
The next year, I had the benefit of owning my own drums and putting in a few months worth of practice. And they had another jam, I played with them on more songs, and I was better. Sometime around the mid-90’s, I could sound the way I wanted to on drums most of the time. A lot of banging took place in between.
Meanwhile, it is December, and the end of a decade. So the papers were full of retrospectives and state-of-the-nation stories. I read Greg Kot’s Tribune article about music in the 00’s: once again, Radiohead, I-Pods, no one who hasn’t been on American Idol managing to sell CDs. They are pressing issues, and I’ve written about them here a few times too.
However, those thoughts were far away on that afternoon. I thought about playing some new songs, and the students grappled with playing on a stage, and with other people, for what was probably one of the first times for most of them. And another thought, which came later, was that a few of these people (or perhaps others in the same age group) might keep playing those guitars, get better, and produce something a decade or so down the line which Kot and/or me would find exciting.
The music regeneration process continues. And the proof is there, stored inside numerous parental cell phones.