photo & text by nacrowe
one of the earliest music memories i have is riding with my father as a child in his HONDA ACCORD listening to music to and from his work in a neighboring town in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. it was on those small excursions that was introduced to everything from BRITISH INVASION bands like THE BEATLES, THE ANIMALS, THE WHO and so forth to PUNK / NEW WAVE / INDIE ROCK bands like THE RAMONES, JOHN HIATT, THE STRANGLERS, NICK LOWE, TALKING HEADS, ELVIS COSTELLO and especially THE SMITHS / early MORRISSEY. in and amongst that cohort of artists was THE POLICE and the DISTINCT, INDELIBLE memory i have is of those ICONIC flange and reverb-drenched open chords to "WALKING ON THE MOON" by THE POLICE on their second release REGGATTA DE BLANC (A&M, 1979).
and on a purely EMOTIONAL level, that song is THE POLICE to me. that EXPERT use of SPACE by guitarist ANDY SUMMERS and the POLYRHYTHMIC but TASTEFUL, LAIDBACK GROOVE of drummer STEWART COPELAND with PUNCTUATED PULSES promoting a PROPULSIVE forward MOMENTUM by singer/bassist STING. i dont know if its REGGAE per se (the album in english translates to white reggae), but it is a DISTINCT SONIC AESTHETIC in the history of ROCK AND ROLL, with no real precedent outside of the JAMAICAN DUB TRADITION.
COPELAND for one, having grown up overseas as a THIRD CULTURE KID in places like EGYPT and LEBANON (his father being involved with the CIA), has a renowned ability to incorporate COMPLEX POLYRHYTHMS that are distinctly rooted in AFRICAN and ARABIC TRADITIONS he experienced as a child and young adult. SUMMERS likewise had a NILES RODGERS-esque affinity for INTERESTING JAZZ INVERSIONS and VOICINGS for TRADITIONAL GUITAR CHORDS that made his sequences feel UNIQUE and EXOTIC. STING has always been a mystery to me as his BRASH VOCALS are what keep the band tethered to street level in a sense. it makes all of these sonic muso TEXTURES feel grounded in POST PUNK EXPERIMENTALISM and not the possible opening prelude to an extended PROG ROCK song. it is entirely ironic to me that his later discography followed the unfortunate trajectory of PAUL SIMON in exploiting WORLD CULTURES rather than TASTEFULLY curating them into a COHESIVE ARTISTIC STATEMENT a la PETER GABRIEL. in THE POLICE all of these DISPARATE DYNAMICS played to their STRENGTH and on singles like "MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE" and "WALKING ON THE MOON" off of REGGATTA DE BLANC, this was parlayed with striking results.
i am aware that as personalities, COPELAND and STING in recent years come off as SELF-CONGRATULATORY, NARCISSISTIC pricks. i for one am a huge fan and student of SUMMERS' GUITAR PLAYING and specifically his penchant for utilizing UNIQUE CHORD VOICINGS throughout their catalogue. if anything, stay for that and try to forget about the other two. if anything, that in particular is definitely worth checking out.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
COUNT ME IN (RED & BLACK, 2021) is an interesting documentary because it is not so much concerned with the history of drumming per se (because it does dabble in the evolution of the instrument); its primary focus is the actionable pleasure of actually playing the drums. that driving PRIMAL CONNECTION to not only the other players, but the audience as well. it is the drums that establish and maintain that SACRED UNION and keep it pulsating in unison.
much of the film itself centers around interviews with STEPHEN PERKINS (JANE'S ADDICTION, PORNO FOR PYROS), CINDY BLACKMAN (LENNY KRAVITZ, SANTANA), CHAD SMITH (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) and JESS BOWEN (THE SUMMER SET) who all participate in a drum circle (with complete kits) at the film's conclusion. for me that active listening and seamless SYNCHRONOUS INTERPLAY between players is at the heart of what drumming is. it is something i witness firsthand in my youth in NIGERIA watching musicians there play in drum circles with talking drums; the collective INHALATION/EXHALATION as time signatures weave in and out of each other. im not religious but there is something SPIRITUAL about that.
the film does pay its due to those players that are key in the evolution from JAZZ to ROCK AND ROLL including the likes of ART BLAKEY, BUDDY RICH, ELVIN JONES, MAX ROACH, RINGO STARR (THE BEATLES), KEITH MOON (THE WHO), CHARLIE WATTS (THE ROLLING STONES), GINGER BAKER (CREAM) and JOHN BONHAM (LED ZEPPELIN).
that transition is interesting from JAZZ to the BRITISH INVASION bands is interesting because in essence the new breed thought like JAZZ drummers (in terms of FINESSE and SWING). but helped initiate a new lexicon that was the basis for all that followed. similarly the transition from the technically gifted drum gods of the 1970s to the more rudimentary PUNK drummers was an evolution in intent. there was a sense of going for the jugular and getting out just as quick, technicality being an unnecessary frill that distracted from the song's impact. interesting stuff. the drum becoming an instrument of PROPULSIVE AGGRESSION leading the charge.
watching this its very easy to nitpick about innovative and highly consequential past and current drummers that were overlooked including NEIL PEART (RUSH), DANNY CAREY (TOOL), TRAVIS BARKER (BLINK-182), MOE TUCKER (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), BILLY COBHAM, DAVE LOMBARDO (SLAYER), ROY HAYNES, BILL WARD (BLACK SABBATH), ZACHARY CHARLES HILL (HELLA), TITO PUENTE and MEG WHITE (THE WHITE STRIPES). but i feel such criticism is not warranted because creating such an exhaustive list was not the intent of the film (although the lack any mention of latin percussionists is glaring). COUNT ME IN is much more involved with the joy of playing and those players that influenced the drummers being interviewed, which also included STEWART COPELAND (THE POLICE), TOPPER HEADON (THE CLASH), SAMANTHA MALONEY (HOLE, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL), CLEM BURKE (BLONDIE), TAYLOR HAWKINS (FOO FIGHTERS), NICKO MCBRAIN (IRON MAIDEN), RATT SCABIES (THE DAMNED), BEN THATCHER (ROYAL BLOOD), EMILY DOLAN DAVIES (THE DARKNESS, BRYAN FERRY), ROGER TAYLOR (QUEEN) and IAN PAICE (DEEP PURPLE).
i feel this film was successful in that not only celebrated the ARTISTIC POTENTIAL of the instrument, it also examined its nuances by including a consultation by JESS BOWEN with ROSS GARFIELD, a.k.a. THE DRUM DOCTOR. based on her needs he curates a kit that she utilizes in the studio at the close of the film. i think most people would that that a drum kit is a drum kit is a drum kit, but really once you get into sizes, materials and the vintage of the pieces the whole affair becomes quiet SUBTLE and INTIMATE. you really get a sense of the DYNAMIC RANGE of the instrument through this process, and not just SONICALLY but EMOTIONALLY.
and that was my big takeaway from the film. that and hearing the drummer from my favorite band (JANE'S ADDICTION) talking about why he loves his instrument so much. i was more than pleased to watch and learn that STEPHEN PERKINS was such a central figure in this documentary. so im biased. that said this is a film definitely worth checking out even if you cant keep a beat (like me).
thats probably why i play guitar.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i knew going into this book that renowned drummer STEWART COPELAND of THE POLICE fame was a bit of pretentious asshole, but man, his book STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN: A LIFE WITH THE POLICE, POLO, AND PYGMIES (IT BOOKS, 2010) really only confirms it. what drew me to his story in part was his upbringing abroad in LEBANON as a state department brat (actually his father worked for the C.I.A.). when youve grown up abroad as a THIRD CULTURE KID, as i have, you kind of seek out others as well. i was curious what effect being an AMERICAN abroad had on his cultural education and to what extent it informed his (admittedly phenomenal) drum skills.
sadly the structure of this book is rather jagged and arbitrary, small awkwardly worded vignettes about different experiences in his life that don't follow a specific timeline or present coherent a coherent narrative. this unfortunate structuring also makes it seem that things just happened around him, that he had no sway in his life's trajectory. what's worse, none of these stories are particularly "strange" in the least. moreover they just showcase his inflated sense of importance and privilege.
for instance he goes to KENYA to the touristy MASAI MARAI region cavorting with giraffes and lions to film some shitty movie. he hangs out with pygmies and is involved with a group ritual that he fails to explain the significance of, outside of his own awkwardness in the procession. like i care about how he felt. what's worse is that he waxes poetic about his journey to AFRICA to discover roots of AMERICAN music. this really annoys me because, with all due respect, that tradition is rooted sub-Saharan WEST AFRICA, places like GHANA, NIGERIA, TOGO and CAMEROON were the slave trade was rooted for centuries. going to the most tourist-friendly part of AFRICA and then talking about roots is just pathetic.
this book is a hard pass and i wouldn't recommend it to anyone, even if they are a fan of THE POLICE. im looking forward to ANDY SUMMERS memoir. hopefully he doesn't have his head nearly as far up his own ass as COPELAND. good grief.