bobby's revenge

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Another rock and roll memory. Why would anybody want to be the drummer?

Submitted: January 23, 2008

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Submitted: January 23, 2008

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bobby’s revenge
 
 
One of my favorite old musician jokes is:
What do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians?
A drummer!
In the rock and roll world, that stupid joke is a classic, right up there with “Stairway”. Sadly, there is some truth to the statement. You have to wonder what kind of person would want to spend a career banging on shit.
Yes, drumming is hard, I know it’s not just “banging on shit”, especially when those jazz cats turn that one hand upside down- I’m sure they’re doing some real technical stuff there.
Personally, it’s been the one instrument that I just can’t get a handle on, so maybe I’m prejudiced towards it for that reason. I can play a beat or two, but I was just never any good; blame it on lack or coordination or an almost shocking lack of rhythm. Perhaps I don’t like the drums because every night when I lay down to bed, I hear a high pitched wheeeee in my ears, and I will for the rest of my life, due to a childhood of standing next to crash cymbals, rides, hi-hats, Chinese reverses, and all other forms thin bronze sheets take before you hit them with a stick.
I never had any desire to play the wretched things, obviously. I looked at being a drummer much like being a hockey goalie. You drag the most equipment out there, nobody can even see your face behind it all, you’re responsible as the foundation for your entire team, and if anything goes wrong, it’s probably your fault. At the end of the day, no one knows your name- only if you fucked up or not. So much work, so much responsibility, so little recognition! The hell with that. I’d rather yell into a microphone.
When my friend Rob and I were fourteen, we would take the after-school bus back to his house nearly everyday, so we could play cover songs on our guitars and record them onto his parents’ stereo. Plugging a knock-off Fender Stratocaster into a cassette deck, setting up a broken microphone, and recording horrendous versions of Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilot songs until dinner was sheer bliss.
One day, we were running through a rendition of “For Whom the Bell Tolls (for two guitars)”, one of our favorite selections from Metallica’s masterpiece, Ride the Lightning, butsomething about it just didn’t sound right.
“It sucks,” I said. “It needs drums.”
“Well, if you knew your part, it would sound better,” Rob said.
“If you didn’t sing like you were a choirgirl, it would sound better.”
“Fuck you. Am I supposed to start smoking like you, dirtbag? Would that make my voice better?”
Such as it was with us friends. Almost on cue, Rob’s little brother Kevin and his friend popped their heads into the living room.
“What’s up?” they asked.
His friend was Bobby, from down the road. He was two years younger than us. He had freckles, bright red spiky hair, and an earring. I knew of him, but didn’t really know him. He hung out with both the skaters and the hippie-jocks, those guys who twiddled lacrosse sticks in their hands all day long.
“I thought you fags were at soccer tryouts,” Rob said.
“We were,” Kevin said.
“We got cut, first cut, can you believe that?” Bobby asked.
“Yeah, we can believe that,” Rob mocked, turning the microphone up to ten and filling the house with ear-splitting feedback. Kevin and Bobby held the ears while Rob screamed at them to get the fuck out and leave us alone while we were working.
They got the fuck out.
Later, as I was wrapping up my cables, Bobby approached me from outside, where he had been badly kicking a soccer ball back and forth with Kevin.
“You guys need a drummer,” he said.
I agreed, I liked that he thought so, and I liked that he wasn’t intimidated by Rob.
“I can do it,” he told me. “I have a kit and everything. I’ve been playing since I was like three-years-old.”
“Really?” I asked.
Rob interrupted, condescending: “He plays in the marching band.”
“And you play in the orchestra, so what? I’ll go to my house and get my drums, right now,” Bobby countered.
“Fine,” Rob agreed. “Get ‘em.”
Bobby began the long series of trips up to his garage and back to Rob’s, carrying a drum and a piece of hardware at a time: a bass drum here, a cymbal stand there. We lounged in the backyard, talking about Pearl Jam until he was finished.
I had never been in close proximity to a real live drum kit before. It was massive, made even more so when Bobby plopped his diminutive frame behind it; the kit seemed to swallow him whole, a little swatch of red hair barely visible above his tom-toms.
We set up our amplifiers and guitars as Bobby tuned up his drums.
“You know,” he said, “this is a vintage kit. It used to belong to Mitch Mitchell, he was Jimi Hendrix’s drummer.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Rob said, without missing a beat.
“For real?” I asked.
“Yeah, for real,” Bobby said. “I got them from my dad, he got them at some studio closeout, when no one had realized what they were.”
“Bullshit,” Rob said.
 “Well, regardless, what do you want to play?” I asked.
“You guys were playing “Bells”, let’s do that,” Bobby said.
“Can Jimi Hendrix’s drums handle Metallica?” Rob asked.
Bobby had such a kind soul that he didn’t even realize Rob was once again mocking him. “I think so,” he answered.
Without any rehearsal, we ran through the song in its entirety. It sounded fucking amazing; the drums were just what had been missing. We were all smiles when the song was finished, and with Rob’s approval of the little kid down the road, we started a band that day. Even after Rob found Jesus and moved to Kentucky, I went on to work with Bobby for the next twelve years.
Bobby was that sick individual that wants to make a career out of hitting shit, and in regards to hitting shit, he was quite good at it. Quite phenomenal for his age, actually, and he improved at an alarming rate. 
Regardless of his ability, we instantly dismissed Bobby as a liar, and a bad one at that. We knew that his father had something to do with the music business; we learned later that Bobby’s dad spent his late teenage years touring with Jefferson Airplane as a soundman, going on to work with Tom Petty, Foghat, and eventually winding up as a technical guy at a mastering house in New York City, a place where anybody who was anybody would get their albums finished.
In the years we worked together, Rob and I tortured the poor kid. He would tell us stories of visiting his father’s workplace, or going to release parties; he would regale us with the tales of his dad’s marijuana arrest with Billy Idol in Central Park, or about the pictures of himself as a baby on Billy Joel’s lap, or how he got the personalized autograph from Jimmy Page on his Led Zeppelin box set.
We would deny the validity of all of these stories, sometimes to his face, sometimes behind his back as he cheerfully left us, confidant he had shared an amazing story with his close friends. He never caught on that in our clique’s slang, a “bob” came to mean “an outrageous or otherwise implausible story or idea.”
The story, or “bob”, that put us over the top, the one that completely destroyed the last semblance of trust we had for Bobby, was the Metallica Story.
Bobby missed school one day and the next time we saw him, he was very eager to show us an unreleased track from the new Metallica record. He had spent the day prior in New York, visiting his dad at work.
“It was amazing,” he told us. “The whole band was there, working on mastering the record. Then, around two in the afternoon, Jason and Lars got bored, so they went down on the street, ordered some kegs of beer, got a big hero, everything. They even grabbed a bunch of these, like, business women, and got them to come up to the studio with us. We all partied ‘till like ten o’clock.”
“You hung out and partied with Metallica yesterday?” we asked in angry disbelief. Why did he have to lie to us? We liked him alright; he was cool the way he was. You didn’t have to know Metallica to be our friend. Why lie?
“Hetfield and me shared a bag of popcorn and he told me I was ‘pretty bad-ass for a little dude.’ It was amazing.”
“Do you have pictures?” we asked.
He did not.
“Autographs?”
Nothing.
“Any sort of proof at all?”
Nope.
We didn’t believe at word of it.
Rob and I decided in the future that we would smile politely whenever Bobby told us one of his tall-tales, nod, and let it go. We figured it was just a little personality quirk of his. Maybe he felt like he needed to live up to his father’s rock and roll lifestyle, maybe he saw the way we huddled around his Dad to hear stories about being on the road in the 70’s, and he wanted a part of that- that respect, that attention.
His tales grew exponentially when he started working with his Dad full-time, but they fell on deaf ears: The Having Lunch At The Diner With Old Dirty Bastard Tale, The Talking to Wu-Tang About Gun Ownership Story, The Getting Into A Verbal Fight With Hanson Anecdote, The Legend of Billy Joel Asking For Advice About Greatest Hits Volume III, The James Taylor Is Actually a Dirty Son-Of-A-Bitch Yarn, and the numerous accounts of I Smoked Pot With (musician) Today.
After a few months of this, Bobby almost suddenly stopped with his stories. He had come to realize that if he said something like “Yo, today, Whitney Houston told me I was cute,” we wouldn’t even glance at him. We would sort of half-mumble, “Oh yeah? Cool.”
It was sad. He knew we thought he was a liar, but it was never addressed. It was as if you could almost see it in his face, the need to tell you these things, but he would stop himself at the last second, sure that it would be met with a disapproving nod or general indifference. For a little while, I considered going along with the stories, just to make my friend happy. Hell, they weren’t hurting anybody, and they were fun.
One day, we learned Metallica was coming to town. They had finally released the album that had sponsored Bobby’s story last year.
“We should go, you and Rob have never seen them,” Bobby suggested.
“When did you see them?” I asked.
“Bunch of times. Best was when I was standing backstage at Woodstock ’94. Sick show.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Using Rob’s mom’s credit card, we managed to purchase tickets. It was near sold-out, so we only managed to get nose-bleed seats, seats so bad, if I remember correctly, my back was against the actual back wall of Madison Square Garden.
“These seats suck,” Rob said, as we sat sipping Cokes and waiting for the concert to start. “Hey Bobby,” he taunted, “why don’t you go ask your friends in the band to get us some better seats? This is no way to see a show and no way to treat your friends, don’t you think?”
Bobby didn’t answer.
After a moment, he said, “I’m going to go to the bathroom before the show starts,” abruptly getting up to leave.
Rob and I waited, chatting about what they might play, wondering if the pyrotechnic show was as good as we had heard, discussing the inherent lack of females in the audience. Mostly, we complained about how bad the seats were, especially for a first Metallica concert.
“We still have like twenty minutes before they go on. I hope they play some old stuff,” I said.
“They will. I heard they usually- holy shit!” Rob screamed.
“What?”
“Look! Fucking look! On the stage!”
The crowd was starting to cheer a little bit, even though the house lights were still up. I scanned quickly for what Rob was pointing at. Up on the stage, it was Kirk Hammet, the lead guitarist, with his arm around-
-Bobby?
Bobby and Kirk were looking up at us, waving and smiling.
“Holy shit!” Rob screamed.
Kirk put his hand on Bobby’s back and led him backstage, where he spent the entire show in the company of Metallica and the crew. They even gave him an all-access pass, so he could wander around the Garden at will. During an intermission, he found Rob and I up in our seats.
“The show’s a lot cooler down there,” he said simply, stealing my Coke for a sip.
“How? Why?” I asked.
“Uh, I told you guys, we’re friends. They know me. I tried getting passes for you, but no-go, sorry,” he said. “Alright, I’m gonna get back, I’ll meet you out front after the show.”
And he was gone. We watched him slowly navigate down the perilous arena stairs, showing a pass to a guard here, shaking hands and smiling with another guard there, until finally, he was back in the Super-Duper V.I.P. area to enjoy the rest of the show.
We met him in the train station under Madison Square Garden afterwards. He was hanging out with a pack of weird Norwegian chicks who were convinced that Bobby knew what hotel the band was staying at, and would do anything for the information. As he approached us, a broad grin stretched across his freckled face, and any superiority Rob and I held over him slipped away from us, crashing down like cymbals.
As it came to be known over time, the stories were true. At least most of them, I think. In our little worlds, meeting these people, talking with them- hell, hanging out with them, was incomprehensible.
However, for Bobby, he was simply a drummer, or rather, a musician, and that’s what musicians do: they hang out with other musicians. To Bobby this was a fact of life. I wish I could take back all the times I casually brushed him aside, so I could have heard all of the silly details: what did Old Dirty Bastard have for lunch? What kind of beer did Metallica drink?
Now, Bobby’s on tour all over the world, making new stories and memories everyday. He’ll call me every once in a while, to tell me he went to Eric Clapton’s house last night, or that the guys from Sublime have rechristened him “Bob-E”.
Here I am, sitting in my little apartment in New York, having gone without the hot stage lights on my face for far too long, and Bobby (sorry, Bob-E) is running around the world like a goddamn pirate.
If someone were to ask me now, “Who’s the guy who hangs out with the musicians?” I suppose I’d be telling the truth if I answered, “Well, Bob-E does, doesn’t he?”
 
 


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