five minutes

it was probably 1979 or 1980. there’s no point in trying to remember exactly when it was, but that would be pretty close.

some time before that, i had traded my first drumkit (which was more of a haphazard collection of odd drums than an actual kit) for a small five piece jazz kit that had been refinished by whoever the most recent owner was with some kind of stuccolike cream finish that was gross, but workable…i had actual cymbals, actual stands and hardware, and i could play it with other musicians without being completely ashamed of what i was playing. it was still a far cry from pro-level equipment…the hardware sucked, the cymbals were only cymbals in the dictionary defined sense, and the seat wasn’t actually attached to the throne…you had to hold it in place and sit on it until the weight of your body forced it into place. once you were on it, you were generally ok, but there was a bit of a balancing act involved.

aw, hell…let’s be honest. it was essentially balancing a two by four on a hammer handle. but i made it work. i wanted to play, so i made it work. and that was true of all my early gear, up until i joined a legitimate band and took out a loan (cosigned by david phillips, my mentor) for a 1965 sparkle-red set of slingerlands with zildian cymbals…that’s what i used during my entire tenure in the band i was in during high school, until i joined the navy and got the hell outta dodge.

i often think that the contrast between the crap that i learned on and that last, nice set of drums that i bought before i left took root in my brain and fueled the attitude that i have towards gear nowadays…but i digress.

between the matching-shirt, family country band that took my “band virginity” and the last, best band i was in before i left, there was a loose group of kids that i knew in junior high who all played instruments. christ, i can’t even remember all of them now…there was darren cawthorn, who played drums and guitar, but who stuck to guitar since i was onboard…tim thomas on bass. there were at least two or three others, but i think anthony seymour was also playing guitar, or at least we’d discussed having him “in the band”, as it were.

i’d consult my yearbooks if i even knew where the hell they were.

anyway, we only got together twice, ever. and i don’t really remember anything about the second time, save for trying to recreate what happened in a five minute span when we first got together.

we set everything up in tim thomas’ garage, and started the usual flailing about that kids of that age and that skill set do when jammed into a space and handed musical instruments. i had decent chops, because this was all i did, other than go to school and sleep…but i was surprised to find that i wasn’t as far ahead of these guys as i probably thought i was – they weren’t great, but they were beginning to get a grasp on what it was that they were trying to do.

anyway, i don’t know how long we farted around, trying to play snippets of songs we knew or just generally making noise…but at one point, that first night, darren started playing a riff, and one of the other guys caught onto it, and then tim picked it up on the bass, and we all started churning on this riff that darren was playing. then, when darren was confident that he could let us run with the ball, he abandoned the riff and started soloing over it – and to my ears, it was the coolest thing i had ever heard in my life. and i was driving the bus!

from my seat behind the drums, i could see darren clearly in front of me. we were set up in a circle, and darren was directly across from me. his head was bowed somewhat, and his eyebrows were arched over his closed eyes. he was clearly somewhere else…everyone else had these expressions of – pardon the cliche’ – shock and awe. they put one foot on the platform of a streetcar and it turned into a commuter train, and they were holding on for dear life. you could see it in their faces that they were just trying to keep up. darren had started the ball rolling, and i was now behind him, pushing the ball down the hill to maintain speed, and he was just sailing along on the crest of the wave.

i don’t know how long this lasted…maybe five minutes or so, until we all had to stop to make sure we’d all seen and heard the same thing. we sat there, giggling like a bunch of girls, awash in this feeling that we’d just lept up the ladder several rungs. the first thing i said to darren was probably the obvious follow up line to what had happened….

“dude, where did that come from? can you write that down?”

darren’s answer: no.

he wasn’t even sure what the riff was, if it was indeed his own, or what he’d played to start the snowball effect that this five minute jam had turned into.

“can you play it again?”

nope.

as quickly as it had come, it vaporized into thin air, and although he tried a couple of times, it was close – but it was never right.

the second time we got together, we tried again to recapture the spirit of whatever it was that locked us together for that five minutes that we all managed to fall into the same wormhole in time and space the previous time, but it never lived up.

the only thing i can liken it to is hooking up with a random girl at a party and bringing her home and having the most amazing sex you think you ever had, and trying over and over again with her after the fact to recreate that experience…but for whatever reason finding that whatever combination of atmoshpere, pheromones, and alcohol led to it were as much a part of it as any actual ability or chemistry you might’ve had.

i’ll tell ya, though…at that point in time, that five minute jam on darren’s riff was better than sex. none of us, at that point in our lives, had much experience with either, but if you gave me a choice at that point…

…oh, hell – who are we kidding? i’d have chosen sex.

but only because i didn’t have the benefit of hindsight.

now that i’m decades removed from that first five-minute intellectual vulcan mind-meld, i’ve had plenty of sex…and i’ve tuned my craft and worked my way up the ladder to the point where i have those moments on a much more regular basis. when you play with great musicians, those moments occur with a LOT more frequency than they do among fifteen year old novices in their dad’s garage.

but it’s still the likelihood of encountering those moments that keeps me coming back.

if you’re a musician for the right reasons, that’s your own personal heroin.

it’s not the girls, or the money (or promise of either)…it’s not the trappings of fame, or the peripheral crap that surrounds what it is that we do. it’s the possibility – sometimes remote and sometimes not so much – of falling into that wormhole that i got a five minute glimpse of when i was fifteen years old, and have been chasing ever since.

One thought on “five minutes

  1. Well..the cobwebs of my mind have cleared somewhat after reading that…and well…NO..I still couldn’t recreate that riff…but I too was riding that train for a moment…and the bliss lingers on…I’m so proud that you continued to ride that train Tom…and you should know I’d give anything to get back on. Music is still such an awesome part of my life…but the act of “making music” is an addictive state of “Highness” that can’t be accomplished by any other means. The Riff…lol..still don’t know where it came from…can still hear faint strains of it…guess I always will.

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