Growing up in Virginia, in a mixed family in the ’80s and ’90s, was like sticking your heart in a meat grinder daily. You learned to wait for the inevitable Insert Racist Joke Here, followed by the Well, you look white. I’m talking about people who don’t look like us. Like us.
You were beginning your second or third love affair, depending on how you do the math. Words, written or spoken, were always your first. Medicine—your second or third according to how you measure time. Music, however, was that hot kid who moved in next door. He’d been there all sulky (or maybe it was you who’d been sulking) when you finally noticed him mowing the lawn. You were sunbathing nude on your parents’ deck. No one was home, of course, and there you were and there he was in all that direct sunlight, no screen. He didn’t see you or if he did, he didn’t acknowledge it, but this was one relationship where unrequited was more than acceptable—it was standard.
Soon, you would discover the local isle of misfits. Every town has at least one if you do some digging. Yours was The Boathouse. To get there almost required some sort of magic, as you wove in/out the underbelly of the boat yard. At any corner, a potential rat, four- or two-legged. Your dark and stormy brother drove you here. He was your compass for musical decisions, most decisions back then, and you were without license.
Shows you know you saw at The Boathouse: They Might Be Giants (your very first concert), Smashing Pumpkins, Fishbone, The Lemonheads, Toad the Wet Sprocket (yes, you confess), The Connells, and others you believe you would admit, if you still had that recipe box where you obsessively stashed every ticket stub of every show you ever attended.
Shows you wish you’d seen: Jane’s Addiction (by the time you slapped Perry Farrell and Stephen Perkins on your wall it was all over for Jane’s; they were heading toward Porno for Pyros, which you wanted to love, but…), Beastie Boys, Pixies (also defunct), Soundgarden (because damn you were hot for anything grunge, but damn it if grunge made its way to Virginia Beach you must have been out of town that week).
Shows you think you saw: That one where the guy takes his shirt off mid-set and throws it into the mosh pit, the one where the girl takes off her bra and attempts to throw it on stage but it catches the stage light and temporarily obscures your view of the band until you maneuver yourself closer to the dude who offered you a hit when you don’t. The one where they (audience members) do a line of coke in front of you. The one where they (performers) do a line of coke, not before you. Cue repetition.
What you came in with: Teenage angst (redundant or not), a pair of Pumas (matching), all your INTP insecurities, an emergency $20.
What you left with: Enough smoke in your alveoli to clear grey sputum for the entire thirty-minute ride home, one Puma, a simultaneous sense of connection (if it wasn’t the show where you nearly lost consciousness amongst the sea of butts—cigarette or anatomical), disconnection (if it was that show where you ate it, because some winner decided your shoulders were the ultimate ladder to his crowdsurfing experience, becoming more than the five-second rule for yourself). A ringing in your ears that would disappear by morning. An odd sense of accomplishment, as you showered off everything The Boathouse had to offer, before you bedded down on a high school eve.
How you arrived at the decision to play the drums would never make sense. It was after a Toad the Wet Sprocket concert. In retrospect, you should have claimed it was Mo from The Velvet Underground, but that would have made you cool. You had yet to sample Lou beyond “Walk on the Wild Side,” what your local classic rock station offered. There really weren’t any prominent female drummers at that time or certainly none that you could claim were your drive toward the set.
In reality, the decision to pick up the drums was likely a push against what was expected of a sixteen-/seventeen-year-old girl whose cedar closet was replete with fifteen years of tutus that panned the color of rainbow sherbet—a push toward that soul-saving grace of music. The kind of music you could bite into. The kind that didn’t leave gauze between your teeth.
The kind that made you feel, while forgetting about the blood-orange flag that blew down the street, about how you and your family were ushered to the back of a restaurant again last week even though the entire restaurant was empty, even though your Indian father was voted Top Cardiologist in the Tidewater area, more than once. Because color was the first assessment. Pretty much always.
The acquisition of a drum teacher happened suddenly. Did you flip through the Yellow Pages or ask your fellow fringe? This answer is as fuzzy as the nature of arriving at the decision to pick up a drumstick after watching Randy Guss do his thing in the middle of that dim-lit venue, that one you admit practically raised you musically.
What you knew was you had a drum teacher who was just about your age, except he seemed to have his shit together. You took private lessons in a room the dimensions of a coffin. There were no windows, because why would a coffin have windows? And this man with the thigh-length hair, this 6’2′ sip, you’re sure should have been anointed for his capacity to remain calm and redirect as much of your unfocused teenage-ness toward how to hold your sticks loose so as not to exhaust yourself, not to create unnecessary strain (which was already a special resume skill you had been not-so-quietly achieving, cue Rage Against the Machine via the vehicle of something much more like Jane’s “Up the Beach,” because it really was Virginia Beach and that slow acceleration was the closest thing you could use to describe how the song worked its way toward that solitary word, “home” how equally slow your advancing toward eighteen, fleeing the South legally, finally).
Back at Witchduck (yes, an area truly named for ducking which they believed to be witchcraft/heresy), your family suffered with you as you attempted to practice your rolls, with or without metronome. Your brother borrowed a bass and instantly knew enough to torture you with Nirvana. You made a “No Nirvana” sign in glitter and placed it in front of your kit. You were serious.
Forget the conversations that were never happening in the South about the South. How you felt uncomfortable in your own skin that tanned so easily, when everyone called you white. How the ice cream trucks played “Dixie” all summer, while children worshipped at the altars of a fallacy that the South would once more rise. As though it had ever…
In the end, you would trade the Mapex for a Washburn. The Washburn for a Pentax K-1000. The Pentax K-1000 for your way with words, Seattle—home to grunge. Seattle, queen of all things bright and snarky. Seattle, 3,000 miles toward the realization that it wasn’t about the snare, hi-hat, or that one lone Zildjian. It was about sound, that one particular sound and a way to crawl inside it. Zip it up like a hoodie. Make some very loud noise.