Pickle barrel man

I thought I'd written today's entry, but San Francisco had other ideas, and there's more to be said. 

♦ ♦ ♦

There’s been an avalanche of the Rolling Stones in my world lately — a concert, a video, a movie, even a few tapes on loan from Kallie, and I’ve enjoyed all of it so I guess I’m a fan. That said, I like the Beatles better, and the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd better yet, but I don’t own any music made by any of them. Life does not feel incomplete because of this lack.

Music is fine. I like music. I’m just not “into” music.

Blame it on commercial radio. I grew up listening to the radio almost whenever I was awake, but as a grownup I can’t stand the commercials and hate the disc jockeys’ silly banter, so I never listen to hear if I’d hate the music, too. I clicked top-40 radio off about the time Air Supply ruled the charts, so perhaps rock’n’roll has recovered, or perhaps it’s gotten even worse, if that’s possible. I wouldn't know.

Sometimes when the commercial-free talk radio in my ear at work gets boring, I’ll switch to KPOO, a local station that plays eclectic and commercial-free music. I like some of what KPOO plays, but not enough to buy it. And though that station is right here in the city, they transmit so weakly that reception fades in and out at work, and I can’t get the station at all here at the rez hotel.

Now and again I hear rap on a boombox on the bus. It’s pissed-off poetry with a backbeat, and I could learn to like it, but the rhymes are full of bitches and hoes and violence, so it’s not for me.

When I go to the Haight, usually I’ll stop at the International Cafe, and if there’s a band playing I'll enjoy it. If there’s not a band playing, though, I ain’t disappointed. 

A few weeks ago, the guy from the zine Envy the Dead sent a few tapes in trade for my zine. Plugged ‘em in and gave the music a long listen, and maybe it’s my age or my tin ear, but it wasn't particularly enjoyable. I gave one of the tapes to Kallie, the other to George, and if either of them have anything to say about the music they haven’t said it to me.

Street music is what I hear and appreciate most often. There used to be a drum and fiddle duet that played various BART stations for spare change and always got some from me, but they never had tapes for sale, and now it occurs to me that I haven’t seen those guys in months.

Sometimes there’s a fat (fatter than me!) black guy at the cable car turnaround, who plays a keyboard and sings superbly. He doesn’t sell tapes either, so I just bop my head, stand and listen, and put a dollar or two in his can.

All this pops into my head and out through my fingers because I thought I’d taunt the tourists and talk with the homeless in Union Square, but instead I was waylaid by a fabulous drum trio at the southwest corner of the Square.

There was one guy with a fancy professional set, five drums and three cymbals all arrayed in front of him like he’s John Bonham; another guy with only a pair of bongos dangling from his neck, but he knew what to do with them; and a third guy sitting on a concrete ledge and banging some upside-down pickle buckets with a stick.

My guess, just from watching and listening, is that they were strangers having an impromptu jam, but dang, it sounded swell. Robin (11/21) would’ve orgasmed right there in the Square.

Oddly, there was an effort or talent inversion among the three. The guy with the elaborate setup provided a quiet tempo for the other two, when he played at all, but he spent a lot of time just listening to the other two. The guy with the bongos was very good, keeping a beat with one hand and improvising all over with the other. He would’ve been worth a paragraph in the zine all by himself, but …

The guy with the strictly homemade set was incredible. He was banging those buckets so beautifully my ears couldn’t comprehend it all and instead the sound reached right into my heart. With one foot hooked to the handle of a pickle barrel, when he tapped his toes the whole barrel lifted up, altering the echo. When the other two drummers let him fly solo, he went into orbit, twirling his sticks like a majorette, raising and hammering them, and sometimes juggling them several feet above his head. With a stick in the air, he drummed with his fingers until the last possible instant, then snapped his wrist just as the stick came down, hit the drum with it, and tossed the other stick into the air. Only once in all this trick drumming did he drop a stick, and even that didn’t interrupt the tune.

Yeah, the tune — he was playing a tune on four upside-down pickle buckets, often with no accompaniment. Is that legal under the laws of physics? Doesn’t matter. He did it.

If you’d asked me before this evening, I would’ve said I don’t particularly care for drum solos. They’re monotonous and self-important, fun for the drummer but not for me, and more an interruption of the music than a part of it.

Before tonight, though, I’m not sure I’d heard many drummers who weren’t professionals, and this guy was amateur. I gave him money, lots of people did, but by 'amateur' I mean, he did it for the love of it. He was having more fun than anyone has while they’re working.

And the fun was infectious. The crowd grew from dozens to hundreds, and for several minutes at a time the other two drummers were only watching and listening. I watched and listened for a long time, too, until I noticed that it was dang cold out, and came back home to write about the drummers, but especially about the third drummer — pickle barrel man.

Trying to write what I just finished listening to, I feel like I’m the first drummer, the one with the fancy set. Having the drums doesn’t mean having the chops, and me having this green-screen typing machine doesn’t mean I can translate such sight and sound into a story. My apologies, but I am not up to reporting what I saw and heard. Damn, though, it was sweet music.

Adding to the challenge, all of today’s entry was lost while I was editing it a few weeks later, when I hit the wrong button. Insert profanity here! Before reconstructing it, it was my best rant of the month, and I’ve tried to re-stitch it, but mostly failed.

“I will do backups. I will do backups. I will do backups. I will do backups. I will do backups. I will do backups. I will do backups.” —Doug Holland

 From Pathetic Life #7
Sunday, December 18, 1994
(second entry)

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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