Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year and Resolutions

Today is the thirty first of December 2010, New Year’s Eve... Already the Winter Solstice is ten days behind us and each day is a nano-second or two longer. In Atlantic Canada, where I write this however, those nano-seconds mean little as the temperature plummets and in many places, snow accumulates.

New Years is a time for reflection, and introspection, as well as a time for looking forward and planning. For many, it is another chance to celebrate and share merriment with family and friends, while for others, it is merely another excuse to participate in drunkenness and asinine behaviour.

It is also a time for making resolutions; for intentional behaviour changes and self-improvement.

As a younger person, I made resolutions religiously. I made all the standard ones; quit smoking, lose weight, be a nicer person, stand up for myself when necessary, get a better job, save money... I also failed miserably. That failure I soon discovered was due to the nature of resolutions and how they are often ridiculously unrealistic.

How can anyone expect, or be expected, to take a daily living pattern and change, let go of, or otherwise modify it in a matter of minutes at midnight on December thirty-first? In fact, even the date seems wrong and incomprehensible. If such behaviour modification were possible and realistic, would it not be somewhat easier on the Solstice, the shortest day of the year? “Tomorrow, the day will be longer than today, so therefore I will... (insert resolution here)” Except, in most cases, the “shortest day of the year” does not stand alone but is one of three or four days that are all equal in length and also shorter than the rest of the days of the year.

This is not to say we should not resolve to modify our behaviour or improve our lives and the person we present to others. If anything, self-improvement should be a daily effort; sometimes even hourly or by the minute.

Sometimes I catch myself in behaviours I abhor in others, and in my mind I am reminded, “We criticize in others the things we despise in ourselves.” I always pause and reflect upon this adage and my behaviour, vowing to be more conscious of how I live my life. For me, most of the time, I cannot resolve to stop such behaviour, because mostly when it happens, I am unaware of it until either after it’s been done, or I am in the middle of it and there is little hope of turning back. It is simply a matter of trying to be conscious of the times when I am GOING to resort to this behaviour and stopping before I do. I suspect that as time goes on the conscious awareness becomes easier, or so I am told.

To make a New Year’s resolution to change this behaviour would be a waste of time, for I know that resolution would be broken on the first day. Instead, I have to resolve daily to be more mindful of my thoughts and actions; that I become more aware of the ways in which I betray myself, and check that behaviour as it happens in the hope that eventually I will stop myself before I begin to behave negatively.

At this time, regardless of the effectiveness of resolutions, I would like to take the opportunity to wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you Peace, Joy and Prosperity.

~Still Wandering...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Greetings!

As I sit here on this Christmas Eve 2010, the wind is blowing hard outside. The temperature is 3 degrees Celsius, or 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill is currently -3 Celsius or 26.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It has been raining for several days and there is flooding in the freshwater streams and storm surges on the ocean. In Europe, the snowfall has crippled the continent. It seems to be a time of turbulence not only in the weather but politically and economically as well. Indeed, zealots could say it is the end of times.

Yet, listening to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, I am touched by the season in which we find ourselves. Despite the violent weather, despite the aggressive desperation of the last minute shoppers trying to find the “perfect” gift for someone. Despite the frustration of travellers waiting in airports and bus stations, delayed by the weather, there is an inner feeling of peace and contentment today.

I remember as a child, the anticipation of Christmas Eve; this was the big one, tomorrow, we’d all have our gifts opened and start visiting friends and relatives, comparing what we got and often planning adventures with our new acquisitions. Food was plentiful; turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, home-made stuffing, cranberry sauce, carrots, peas, squash... and for dessert there was Steamed pudding, pies of all flavours, cookies, squares, candies, and beverages galore.

While my father and most of my relatives were “working class” and far from affluent, I felt as if we were Royalty at Christmas. Our wealth was in the bond of our family, the love and joy shared at kitchen and dining room tables, in the stories told and re-told and the enquiries about other family members.

We didn’t have e-mail, and rarely used the phone beyond finding out if a relative in another town or “the city” was going to be home. We just walked or drove to someone’s home and visited. Given the number of my Mom’s siblings all living at that time within a few hours of our house, the visiting went on for days. Often we would leave a house after a visit only to meet up with those same relatives in somebody else’s home a few hours later! Conversations continued from house to house as if they hadn’t been paused, often bringing newcomers up to date.

I am now living far from my remaining relatives and friends. Many aunts and uncles as well as a few cousins have passed on and their children have grown up and moved away to find employment (as did I) and our Royal family, rich in each other’s presence, has become fragmented.

Yet, on this day of anticipation, which admittedly is not as great as it was when I was a child, we are all together again in each other’s hearts and memories. Our departed parents, aunts, uncles and cousins are also with us; their legacy alive within our hearts and our traditions.

No matter where you are during this Holiday season, whether apart from your loved ones or within their embrace, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May your memories and traditions keep you well fed with Joy. May you be warm and dry and may laughter be plentiful in your home.

~Still Wandering...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I was still a boy on February 9, 1964 when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles to North America. Throughout the following years, I followed them with great interest, and was influenced by not only their music, but their social statements.

When I began my drumming “career,” the Beatles were breaking up and were gone in less than a year after I started playing.

I began to follow the individual careers of the members, thinking George Harrison was finally getting his writing heard and Paul McCartney was reverting to a silly pop musician.

I was most intrigued however with John Lennon, and his neo-political statements that were heavily influenced by Yoko Ono’s Asian philosophies. “War is over... If you want it” was one of the greatest statements of that time. John began to challenge society’s norms, taking it upon himself to mount a campaign of Peace in unorthodox and controversial ways. The “bed-ins” staged by Lennon and Ono brought great attention to their beliefs and during interviews, they both expressed their ideas in passionate, articulate speech that revealed that they were more than just a pair of “freaks with too much money.”

John’s compassion toward others was evidenced when he would often take hangers-on outside his home in for a home cooked meal or a hot cup of tea on a cold day.

On December 8 1980, a deranged man fired five shots from a .38 calibre handgun and ended John’s campaign of Peace and in my belief, plunged our planet into a time of greater than ever violence and darkness. What could John and Yoko have done if his life hadn’t been so tragically ended? Would we now be witnessing wars in the Middle East, Asia, and South America? Would Peace have finally caught on as a lifestyle?

I remember where I was when I heard the news that John had died, and I remember the blank, empty feeling I experienced as the reality set in. I remember slumping shaking to the floor, and feeling alone and powerless in the darkness that night.

John once jokingly said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, (he later recanted that statement) and, like Jesus, his life was ended, far too soon.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon took his place among Mahatma Ghandi, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and many others whose only goal it seems, was to bring Peace to a race of hominids that seem so intent on killing each other off.

John, on the thirtieth anniversary of your departure of this Earthly plane, we miss you and need you in a way that has become urgent beyond your greatest fears.

Let us heed John’s words and practise them before we cause ourselves to become extinct.

“All you need is Love...”

~Still Wandering…

Monday, December 6, 2010

Drumming and Perception.

OK, so it wouldn’t take a degree in quantum physics to be able to figure out that I’ve rediscovered my passion for drums and drumming. It also would be easy to guess that the word “drum” pretty much describes me. So much so in fact that I’ve been searching for the Sanskrit character for “drum” or “drummer” so I can get it tattooed on my arm.

I mentioned in a previous blog post how I tried several times to put drumming behind me and how unsuccessful those attempts were. I guess I should clarify something… It wasn’t DRUMS that I was trying to avoid, nor even DRUMMING! I was more disillusioned with the BUSINESS of music and what it meant and I began to equate the business with the instrument. I didn’t hate drums, but the fact that the drums led to the business which at times I did hate! The business, you see, is comprised vile creatures that would peel the skin from its victims if that very act would not kill the victim and the associated cash flow!

But drums, and drumming, are like life to me. I am fascinated with the shapes and colours of drums; the sounds, textures and tones. Not just drumsets, but also Darabukas, Djembes, frame drums, Tablas…. I love them all.

Recently I was trying to explain to a friend the sensation of transcendence in drumming. I started to say, “When I sit down to play…” and ended up saying “When I put my drums on…” So OK, maybe I do wear my drums like a garment of rhythm. Maybe they are not so much an instrument of sound and tempo as they are a cloak of textural expression that allows me to show the world what I think and feel in a percussive fashion.

The act of playing now has changed due to the scaling back of my stage set-up. I carry less due to lack of vehicle space, and I carry lighter due to lack of youthful machismo. This has led to a total re-thinking of how I approach what I do and how I do it. Obviously, the key elements of drumming within the context of the music of western society are still there: the downbeat and the backbeat remain, but the fills are so totally different. Instead of using a five or six piece set, I’m using only four, which means I have gone from four or five horizontal surfaces (the bass drum is vertical) to three. That means the subdivisions of notes has had to change as well. After many, many years of thinking and playing a certain way, it has been awkward and at times comical to change that. At the last gig, I was feeling like things were finally starting to take shape and I was playing more to the configuration I have rather than thinking of the old set-up and trying to make those ideas fit on the smaller set-up. The “Square peg in a triangular hole” idea…

The perception of success too can be misleading and a cause of concern. I learned to play drums primarily by doing what we all did at that time… by emulating my idols. My teenaged logic understood that if I learned to play like my idols that I would become one of them; that I would also get the lifestyle including the manor estate in the Welsh countryside. As time passed and that hadn’t happened, even when I began drumming professionally, I felt as if I’d missed out on success. Of course, this meant that I was a failure and therefore should leave the business and find another way to make a living. I later came to realize that I wasn’t a failure in any measure. I had managed to eke out a modest livelihood at the drum set and avoid taking what we know as a “day job” for many years.

My drumming career was on-again, off-again for some time, at times willingly, sometimes with great emotional struggle involved until the final blow… hearing damage!

I’m not here at this time to address that trauma, because I’ve found a way to overcome and deal with it, or at least make it tolerable.

What I AM about to address is that even though I don’t have a manor estate in Wales, even though I still struggle financially, even though I am not a household name, I AM a success! I am and have been successful in playing drums for many bands in many genres of music. I have successfully entertained countless people throughout the years. I have successfully taught many young drummers, some of whom are full time or primarily drummers today. I have travelled to many places across our vastly beautiful country and the northern U.S. and even far and distant lands. I have met some of the most remarkable people anyone could hope to meet as a direct result of my drumming and I would never have met them otherwise. Some of these people are still friends of mine and I consider them a valuable part of my life.

Success cannot be defined by bank accounts, cars or houses. (Although they help) Success cannot be defined by awards or accolades. Success cannot be defined by the number of people who recognise your name from recordings, radio or television.

Success in my mind is being alive, healthy and still pursuing one’s dream. Success is having many friends and interests. Success is having a good home; warm, dry and comfortably full of love.

I have all of this and more.

Listening to: Emerson, Lake and Palmer on You Tube.

~Still Wandering…

Friday, December 3, 2010

Keep It Simple

Last week my coffee maker broke. I got it not that long ago and I was really excited to get it. It had a programmable start time function, (most do these days) auto-off function that would shut the burner off after the coffee had brewed. The coffee was kept hot (then warm, then not-so-warm etc) in a stainless steel carafe like they use in the fancy restaurants. It was half price, down from $65.00 so I grabbed it up quickly.

However, it was a problem from day one. The reservoir where the water went had an opaque gray panel with numbers to indicate how many cups of coffee could be brewed from the water that had been added, but because it was opaque, I could never see how much water was there unless I pulled it out to the edge of the counter and back lit it. The top of the machine opened on a hinge that soon broke and wobbled like a Jack-in-the-box. This in itself might not have been a problem except that the hot water came from an outlet like a shower nozzle attached to the bottom of the lid.

All in all, it was a clumsy, awkward device designed to frustrate and anger instead of simply make coffee. The process usually took more time than I was willing to spend, (if you’ve ever seen me before my first cup in the morning, you will understand its urgency) and I was starting to not enjoy my coffee. Horror of horrors!

So, as I said before, the damned thing finally stopped functioning properly and so I set out to find a replacement. OK, who should I give the Holy Grail to? I found it while trying to find a coffee maker. And it was easier to find too!

The problem is, I don’t want a lot of bells and whistles; gadgets that can (and most often do) break down or fail to function properly. These additions cost extra money that I really don’t feel it should be necessary to spend when I don’t need them. But just try to find a coffee maker these days without them! Wal-Mart carries tens of models, all with expensive gadgetry and in a variety of styles from single-cup to the kind that read bar codes on the can. But do they sell a simple device that simply makes coffee? Other stores have even less to choose from at higher prices.

Here is what I’m looking for...

1)Insert Folgers into filter basket.

2) Close basket tray.

3) Add water to reservoir.

4) Push “Go” button.

5) Wait until gurgling sounds stop.


Can that be so difficult?

~Still Wandering…