DISTURBED

WE HAVE A GENERATION GAP. The first time I reckoned with that cultural reality, I was 15ish and wanted long hair. My parents, the Jenks Schools Board of Education, and most other “adults” in my sphere said, “No! And tuck in your shirttail.”

Today the Gap still exists, but I’m on the other side of it.

A few years ago, my youngest son, Kyle said, “Hey Dad. There’s a heavy metal band called, ‘Disturbed’. They’ve done a cover of one of your favorite songs, “The Sound of Silence”.

GRAPHIC BY COREY LEE FULLER

GRAPHIC BY COREY LEE FULLER

Isn’t it interesting that the generation gap often shows up in musical tastes. No doubt, adults back in the day found Elvis to be disturbing, as did parents of my day with The Beatles.

Now I am proud of my sons on many many levels, one of those being their breadth of musical appreciation and understanding. I’m especially grateful that they know that I hold the writing of Paul Simon and the music of Simon & Garfunkel in high regard, reverence even, so much so, that when Kyle used the words heavy, metal, cover, the, sound, of, and silence in the same sentence, I was disturbed, and he knew I would be—until I listened to it.

(I can picture right now, my old writing professor, Dr. Spears, writing “DISJOINTED” across the face of this essay in red pencil.)

(Stay with me.)

A friend recently sent me a link to a video of a person watching the video of Disturbed’s cover of the song. Believe it or not, it is a YouTube thing for people to video themselves reacting to music videos. In fact there are numerous reaction videos to the “Disturbed” cover. I have watched several of them and have drawn two conclusions:

1.) It’s scary how many young people have never heard of Simon & Garfunkel or heard their music. That pesky generation gap.

2.) People seemed to be totally flummoxed by the lyrics of the song. Or, worse yet, they don’t seem to be interested in a closer look.

I certainly don’t claim to know the “meaning” of the lyrics of the song, but I’ve had about 50 years to ponder them, and I have. If you have time, let’s see if we can peek inside Paul Simon’s mind:


VERSE ONE:

Hello darkness, my old friend

I've come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

There has been speculation that Paul Simon wrote these lyrics in reaction to the assination of John F. Kennedy. The problem with that theory is that he wrote the song before that event.

Why the “sound” of “silence”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I like to think of it as being lonely in a huge crowd. In this midst of the cacophony of life there is no discernable Word, so it might as well be silence.


VERSE TWO:

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

'Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

I listened to commentary about the song on a website. The analysis was that this could be someone overwhelmed by social media, email, and blogs like this one, etc. Then something happens that breaks through all of that. Seems reasonable—except the song was written in the 60s, before any of that.

There is a jolt, like an awakening or enlightenment. It cuts through. You have to take a moment to picture this guy, in the dim glow of a street lamp, with his collar turned up and all of a sudden: BOOM. A flash. “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me.” —Acts 22:6. That kind of flash.


VERSE THREE:

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

No one dared

Disturb the sound of silence


THOUGHTS:

Sound familiar? A mass of humanity, lots of words but no one “speaking” or “listening”. Are there sage voices today? Is there a “song” written worth sharing. I’m talking song in a metaphorical sense. For my generation that “song”-writer, that voice would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke so powerfully, so relevantly, so prophetically. How did people respond? “No one dared disturb the sound of silence.”


VERSE FOUR:

"Fools" said I, "You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you"

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence


THOUGHTS:

There is the word and there is the messenger, but too often there is no one willing to receive the words and they fall like “silent raindrops”.

“In the beginning was the Word… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” —from John 1, The Message


VERSE FIVE:

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets

Are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls"

And whispered in the sounds of silence


THOUGHTS:

So many times we look in all the wrong places and listen to all the wrong people. Sometimes we think it must be in the cockiness of contemporary culture, or in the arrogant shriek of politics. Sometimes though the message is in a still, small voice, or the words of a child. Sometimes the real truth is right in front of us but not seen or heard.

Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the song, in my opinion, is styled in the voice of a 60s era poet. It is sung, as sort of a lament. Disturbed’s version to me is more the voice of a prophet. It has an urgency to it.

In the 50 years between the two versions culture has drifted and decayed to the point that both versions are relevant for their time.

Here is a link to Simon & Garfunkel doing the song live. Listen to it first because it is the version of the songwriter himself, Paul Simon. It is done with only an acoustic guitar; again, as a poetic lament.

Then listen to Disturbed’s take. It’s almost as if he is saying, “You didn’t listen to this 50 years ago, so let me be a little more emphatic.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE SIMON & GARFUNKEL VERSION

CLICK HERE FOR THE DISTURBED COVER


“Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture-makers -- and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.” ― Frederick Douglass

Looking For The Next Little Drummer Boy or Girl

AT FIRST YOU THINK YOU HEAR IT, but maybe it’s an auditory illusion, an aural mirage born of anticipation. Now though; for certain. There it is, the distance sounds of a marching band drumline. At first, standing along the parade route, you hear it and then you feel, then they come into view. It’s a powerful thing, at least to an aspiring young drummer who’s been banging on pots with wooden spoons since his first Christmas parade.

tulsaparade1.jpg

Words can’t express, so I’ve included a video, if you’re so inclined, to one of the finest drumlines in the nation, the Cadets drumcorp. Notice the near perfect precision, the dynamics, the textures. This is the product of hours of individual and team practice and discipline.

yea.org

yea.org

Among my favorite childhood memories is going with my family to downtown Tulsa for the Christmas parade, hearing the distance drum cadence of that first marching band as they approached. 

Not too many years later I got to be in a drumline in that wonderful parade and on marching fields and parade routes from Tulsa to Washington D.C. across Canada and Europe. And, to this day, half a century later, I still love to sit at a drum set and play. I am so grateful to my parents for making all that possible and for band directors, percussion teachers, mentors and role models for cultivating the seeds. 

I have two sons. I am happy to say that they are both fine drummers. Watching them learn to play and develop their own style was so fun. And, they are still playing today.

Much has been written about the research done on the value of music and music education to a broader education application. Study after study confirms the impact on student grades, discipline and even school attendance. Let’s not forget the impact of music therapies of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental and certainly spiritual.

I am saddened and concerned knowing that school music programs are being cut or eliminated because of dire financial straits in our educational system, but also by misguided motives and priorities and politics. 

I am also concerned that our churches, once a fertile ground for budding musicians to have an opportunity to grow and develop have structured worship music more like a concert, with young aspiring musicians relegated to the role of spectator.

So, where are the seedbeds, opportunities, the classrooms, the labs, the practice rooms, the studios, the stages for the next generation of musicians? Maybe it will still happen in quiet, individual ways and on YouTube. Maybe for many they will never know the wonder of getting their first instrument for fifth grade band and discovering the richness of music.

Scripture says that old men will dream dreams. Well, I’ve been dreaming. I’ve managed to gather some resources, not a lot, but some, and I want to use these resources to help the next little drummer girl or drummer boy get their start, by helping them get the instrument they need and maybe a few lessons to get them off to a good start.

I’m not interested in just buying drums and sticks so some kid can drive his mother to insanity. The percussive arts aren’t for everyone, yet in a way they are. All music takes a lot of practice and commitment. Of course, not all will play like the Cadets Drumline, or Jack DeJohnette, or John Bonham, or Eric Harland, but they can, with practice and hard work, find joy and a sense of accomplishment, and make a difference.

So, maybe you can help me find the next one. Do you know of someone, maybe in the 8 to 14 or so age range, who has shown musical interest, who would have some level of encouragement from home, but may not have the resources to get the equipment or expertise to get started?

Feel free to reach out to me. My email is hey.pops.hey@gmail.com

Maybe you’re someone who would want to join in and help a young drummer get a start. Maybe you have a snare drum, a decent drum set, or a few cymbals stacked up, gathering dust in a corner, that you would want to donate. Let me know.

You can have a parade without horses or floats, or “Miss Whatever” perched on the back of a convertible. You don’t even have to have a Santa Claus at the tail end. But, there’s no way to have a parade without a drumline (and I mean that in a big, broad metaphorical sense).

Put your fingers on the inside of your wrist. If you can’t feel the pulse of your internal rhythm section—your parade has passed. The cadence is that important.

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
— Sonny & Cher

A Visit To The Record Store

IN MY LAST POST I wrote a bit about a video project called “Recollect” where famous jazz musicians go to a record store, flip through the records there and tell rich stories of life and music.

The thought occurred, “If I could choose some folks to go to the record store with, who would I choose and why?” Quickly, names bubbled to the surface of my grey matter.

John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Eric Clapton, Diana Krall…

record shop in Atlanta with my great friend Gene

record shop in Atlanta with my great friend Gene

Actually those were not the first names that came to me. The people I thought of first are people I know personally. I know them to be mindful connoisseurs of music, curators of a wide library of music. These people have stretched my musical tastes and understanding, through them I experience music through fresh eyes and ears.

These are people like my two sons Corey and Kyle. Then there are people who helped shape my own musical library years ago, like Jim Norris, Randy Miller and Roger Roden. Occasionally you need to “go to the record store” with younger people, those who can introduce you to new artists and music, people like Molly Hennesy and Mary Corley. Of course all of us have friends who just seem to know and appreciate music: deeply and with an open mind. For me, these are people like Gene Chapman, Zack Merrill, Amy Merrill, Steven McConnell, Bryan Horvath, Kevin Gosa and so many more.

As I type these names I’m noticing other common traits: they all are musicians, they are all thoughtful people who place high value on the creative process. I would gladly spend a day in the record shop with any of them. If fact, I hope to talk with many of them to find out what they would dig for if we could go shopping together.

There are two others that came to mind right away: Dan Haynes and Rob Carmack. I’ve known both of these guys for a long time now. We see each other from time to time, and if we are able to visit for more than five minutes, the conversation will often turn to music. Each of them has a broad music library and each of them can tell a great story.

Recently we were together and I asked them: “If we were at a record shop right now, what album would you choose to take home and why?”

Right away Rob said: “Prince — Sign O The Times”. He’s been searching the record bins for that album but has yet to find it. Apparently, demand is high since Prince’s untimely death. The conversation turned to the albums they each valued most. For Rob, Rolling Stones — Exile On Main Street, Led Zepplelin II, and anything by Bruce Springsteen. Rob is a fan of the man and his music. In fact Rob hosts a podcast called: “Bruce Springsteen Sings The Alphabet”.

While I like the original Led Zeppelin and Rob prefers II, we both agree on some of the newer artists worth adding to your library like: Lakestreet Dive and The Decemberists.

My good friend Dan knows music: from the American rock songbook to the nuts and bolts of music. He is a highly respected sound engineer and runs sound for a variety of bands and artists. Dan taught me the value of a set of really good headphones. It is the only way to enjoy the nuance of what happened in the studio when the record was made.

By the way, my preference for fine headphones: Grado. They are made in America and are amazing. You can get a set of entry level Grados for under $100. Trust me they are worth every penny. I wrote a post about them a few years back.

I remember early one Saturday morning, years ago, someone knocked on our front door with a sense of urgency. It was Dan. In his hands were his headphones and a new album by The Police. As if the house was on fire he said, “You’ve got to listen to the snare drum on this song!!” It was “Roxanne”. It was impressive.

I am a fan of Steely Dan and Dave Matthews because of Dan’s enthusiastic endorsements.

As we visited, I was surprised by this: apparently they both have an admiration for Sir Elton John because of my insistance that he is one of the great songwriters of our time. We all agreed that Elton’s "Tumbleweed Connection" holds a special place in our musical libraries. The song “Madman Across the Water” is classic Elton John.

Rob noted one other newer band worth listening to. They are a favorite of mine and my son Corey’s. It’s a band called “Dawes”. I leave you now with the apropos lyrics of one of their songs. But don’t just read the lyrics, buy the song and enjoy.

ALL YOUR FAVORITE BANDS
By Dawes

Late night drives and hot french fries and friends around the country
From Charlottesville to good old Santa Fe
When I think of you, you still got on that hat that says let's party
I hope that thing is never thrown away

I hope that life without a chaperon is what you thought it'd be
I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you've always been to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

Now I'm just waking up and I'm not thinking clearly so don't quote me
With one eye open I'm writing you this song
Ain't it funny how some people pop into your head so easily
I haven't seen you in there for so long

I hope that life without a chaperon is what you thought it'd be
I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

Rum Pa Pum Pum

I thought I wanted to be an athlete. Baseball would have been my first choice. I loved listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio and going to watch their farm team, the Tulsa Oilers. Alas, it was not to be. I was tall enough but lacked any kind of mass, muscle or other. Maybe basketball could be my game!? Sorry, no. Turns out the Jenks elementary team only had ten uniforms and there were at least eleven guys with more talent or parents who could pressure the coach.

Oh but fifth grade brings hope for everyone. That’s the year you can join the band. I have no doubt that right now there are excited, aspiring, budding musicians in schools all across the land choosing their instrument. For some, choosing the right instrument is a dilemma. Not for me. I knew that I would be a drummer. If you can have a calling at ten years old, I had one.

By junior high, there’s a separation of sorts. Tough guys play football, the rest are in the band. But drummers get a bit of a pass (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). I learned from my grade school band director that “drummers are a necessary evil”. He would have had a band full of clarinet and trumpet players if he could have figured out how to march in a parade without a drum cadence.

The great thing about this healthy tension was that it gave us drummers a bit of a bad boy vibe (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). Early in my drumming life, The Beatles brought their brand of rock and roll to America and my fate was sealed. I would soon be the next Ringo Starr. Now all I needed was a set of Ludwig drums (like Ringo’s) and a couple of guitar players and a bass player.

I’ll never forget the day, my dad picked me up from school and took me home to find that first set of drums. I’m sure there were many times my parents thought, “What have we done?” I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. Finally, I found those band mates and before long we were playing at school dances and “Teen Towns”, and life was good.

Here is a picture of the stage band at Jenks High School in 1968 or so. That’s me at my drum set I so dearly loved.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t have the wherewithal to play sports. No doubt it would have been fun. To be able to say that I played football for the mighty Jenks Trojans, undoubtedly the most dominating high school football tradition in the state, as I sat around recovering from knee replacement surgery.

But, I wouldn’t trade a state football championship for the experiences that being a percussionist have afforded—the opportunities, friendships and world travel all possible because of music. I wish I could look up some of those old band mates, directors, and teachers to reminisce a bit.

Fast forward to the present. Both of our sons are drummers, and so for many years we have had a drum set in our house, even though I sold my drums years ago. Just recently our youngest son married a musician and moved out and took his drums with him. I have missed him and his drums.

I had a thought: maybe I’ll put a little kit together, find some drums on eBay or Craigslist, keep my eye out for some used cymbals. So in a casual search of the double-u, double-u, double-u, I learned that Ludwig, just this year, came out with a brand new drum set that is a “vintage” replica of my first drum set, right down to an exact color match and lug design.

Then as luck would have it, I found a demo set of these amazing drums at a drum shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now these beauties are set up in our home and I am having a great time living in the past from time to time.

If there are any old guitar players out there who know how to play Wipe Out and House Of The Rising Sun and Louie, Louie, give me a call. Maybe we’ll be ready to play a few proms next spring.