Life (Drum) Lessons: A Quartet of Books Written by Drummers
Looking for an inexpensive holiday gift for a fellow drummer—or for yourself? Check out these unique reads, which are aimed less at the hands than at the head and heart.
The Stoic Drummer by José Medeles
Subtitled A Look at Drumming and Musicality Inspired by the Writings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Others, The Stoic Drummer by Breeders/Modest Mouse/Ben Harper drummer and Revival Drum Shop owner José Medeles is, in his words, a collection of axioms relating the philosophy of stoicism to the practice of drumming. You don’t need a doctorate in philosophy to find value here; the bite-sized chunks of wisdom couldn’t be easier to absorb. That doesn’t mean this is “light” reading, though. Sometimes the simplest concepts are the toughest to apply to our own lives, so the benefits to readers are ultimately up to them. But if you’re looking to challenge your attitude, as opposed to, say, your beat-displacement abilities, you could look to worse sources than this elegant little publication. It’s even presented in a classy hard-cover design and comes with a fancy ribbon-style bookmark. ($25, josemedeles.com)
You Are a Complete Disappointment: A Triumphant Memoir of Failed Expectations by Mike Edison
Mike Edison is more widely known as a highly skilled and successful scribe and cultural commentator than as a drummer. To be sure, many of the creative roads he’s traveled down feature stretches of highway between gigs, including a tour of England opening for the Ramones. But perhaps his greatest skill is his ability to draw on the energy, mystique, pace, and absurdity of the rock life—and its drumming subtexts—in his writing. As his latest book confirms, Edison is in constant contact with the inner-outsider status that many of us who grew up being identified as “the other guy on stage” can relate to. No, You Are a Complete Disappointment doesn’t explicitly offer much in the way of musical tips. But as a heartfelt, scathingly funny coming-of-age story that drummers will find particular kinship with, it hits as hard as a punk-rock 45. For mature readers. ($17.95, Stirling, available on Amazon)
Just Another Drummer: Thirty Years as an Orchestral Musician by Martin Willis
The Related Listening section at the back of Just Another Drummer—which parallels the chronology of the narrative—neatly defines the arc of Martin Willis’s musical life. Early listens to jazz and pop, a deep dive into metal, a lengthy visit to the hallowed halls of classical, a return to heavy rock, detours into punk and funk and Spinal Tap…the principal percussionist with the Scottish Ballet Orchestra has not led a predictable career. It’s that sense of unpredictability that permeates many of the stories in this memoir, nudging readers to find out what happened next as they follow the author through the eventful days, months, and years of his life. Happily, Willis describes these events with wonderfully detailed, breezily constructed, and often hilarious prose. If you aspire to be a working drummer, you’ll learn much about the sorts of wonders that await you. And if you already are one, you’ll nod and chuckle a whole bunch. ($12.99, amazon.com)
Finding the Groove: Lessons from a Life in Drumming, Teaching, and Performing by Jeremy Steinkoler
“I’ve been teaching drums now for twenty-seven years, and playing professionally since I graduated from college,” writes Jeremy Steinkoler in the intro of Finding the Groove, his book of essays about drumming. “Tens of thousands of sticking exercises, several albums, and many hundreds of gigs later, I’ve learned a lot about drumming, and a lot about music. But I think I’ve learned more about the importance of relationships.” And so we’re given an early clue that, no mater how far down a rabbit hole of muso-speak Steinkoler’s collection may go in the ensuing 200-odd pages, the advice he gives will be coming as much from the man as it will be from the drummer. Sure enough, in chapter after chapter—“Why Every Drummer Should Learn to Read Music,” “How to Play Is Usually More Important Than What You Play,” the improbably titled “Mike Clark’s Cheeseburger,” and on—the author brings a sense of empathy and wonder that adds weight to the lessons at hand. Drum instructors in particular will find lots to chew on, but the rest of us will recognize much of ourselves here as well—who we are, who we were, and who we hope to become.
($12.99, amazon.com [print], hudsonmusic.com [digital])