For some, the seventies were a simpler time. But they were curious, the "me" years. It was a time when that most self-indulgent experience in the world, cocaine, flourished. It is probably no coincidence then that this was also the high-water mark for the second-most self-indulgent experience in the world: The Drum Solo.
As a kid, I
can remember going to rock shows and waiting, with some fevered
anticipation for that moment when the lights would go down and the
spotlight would fall on the great beast of a drum set, set high on the
back of the stage. The rest of the band would take a few minutes to
meander offstage while the percussionist got
his ya-yas out. These were always explosive flurries full of speed and
daring, with the certainty that each of the toms, snares, cymbals and
chimes were whacked with some purpose. The epitome of this trial by
rhythm was, of course, the late, great John Bonham's "Moby Dick."
It is certainly no cheap coincidence that Bonzo's masterpiece was named
for a Great White Whale. It is also a certainty that many Great White
Lines were snorted by the rest of the Mighty Led Zeppelin as Mister
Bonham thrashed away.
My own substance use came about in the1980's when all that thundering started to give way to machines and computers that replaced all that tumultuous pounding away, so I can't say that I had any sort of communal experience with the masters of the genre, but I was certainly aware of the live album cuts that included "Drum Solo" on the track list. I was one of those guys who, having never played drums in real life, felt compelled to pantomime along with any and all fills and solos produced by Neal Peart. I would enthuse to anyone who would listen that Carl Palmer was a god. What I knew about paradiddles and flamadiddles I cribbed from my buddies on the drum line. The idea that anyone could play either one of those with two bass drums using their feet astonished me.
By 1985, I had stopped caring so much about that sort of spectacle. I was more interested in the theatrics of it all, which is why the show I saw back then which featured Utopia's drummer on a spinning platform that required a roadie's constant attention and finally ended up getting stuck facing backward marked the death knell for my interest in drum solos. It was a Spinal Tap moment to be sure.
These days, I find myself tapping a toe or slapping my thighs along to those crazy beats from long ago, and I feel the need to hold a lighter above my head. Until I look around and notice that everyone else is holding up their cell phone. I know, it's only rock and roll. But I like it.