Another of a Million (Part III - Hit It)

Continued from Part II Track 4: "Not My Idea" (3:41) Garbage · Garbage · Almo Sounds Track 5: "Crush With Eyeliner" (4:39) R.E.M. · Monster · Warner Bros.

How exactly did Brendan manage to talk me into this?

On the southernmost borders of UNH, past the theater and behind the engineering hall where I used to check my email, there's a stairway in a patch of woods that leads down into a cluster of little gray buildings. Built in the mid-1970s as temporary housing, they were never supposed to be permanent. But the school deemed them useful enough to keep, named them after some trustees, and called them the Mini Dorms.

There are four of them, though I'm convinced there used to be five. Each holds around fifty students — mostly in single-occupancy rooms, which makes them a commodity — and each has a theme. Much like a birthday party might be pirate-themed, or cowboy-themed, but never both, and that's the end of it, crying won't help. Residents must demonstrate that they are involved with the theme, or they are asked to find alternate housing the following semester.

It's not nearly as lame as it sounds, I swear. Well, Eaton House isn't, anyway.

Eaton's the dorm for music, art, theater, and the assorted geeks thereof. That's where Chris Scarpino had set up shop for the band he was starting. That's where I was headed after class one afternoon, a week or so after The State showed up to our party, a week or so after Brendan told Chris he should give me a try as his drummer. I'd never been inside the Mini Dorms, and it was strangely reassuring to see that everything was, in fact, small. The room that Chris led me to was barely big enough for the two things in it — a drum kit, and a guitarist.

The guitarist was Chris' best friend and writing partner, Will Edwards. Will was a laid back counterpoint to Chris' gregarious energy. He wore glasses tinted just enough to make it hard to see his eyes. With an outback hat perched on his tightly curled hair, the overall effect was not entirely un-Slash-like. He introduced himself in a low drawl, then let Chris do most of the talking.

The drum kit, meanwhile, was a feng shui nightmare. Crammed in the middle of the room between the bed and the desk, the pieces were practically balanced atop one another. Cymbals loomed perilously over the toms, begging to be hit by accident. Chris had borrowed the kit from a friend back home, who couldn't join the band because he lived too far away. I was something like their third choice. And as I examined this dorm room clown car, it occurred to me that I was about to disappoint them. Alchemy has a way of turning excitement into nerves. Over the course of a few days, what sounds at first like a great idea now sits in the belly, lead that was once gold. One nagging detail was going to ruin this whole thing.

I had never once in my life attempted to play music with other humans.

No seriously, how exactly did Brendan manage to talk me into this?

There's a photo of me at age five, sitting behind a miniature drum kit. My sticks are raised in awkward rock triumph. The bass drum says GOLDEN BEAT in silk-screened letters across the front. It's just about adorable enough to make you barf a thousand rainbows. Those were my first drums. One day they just sort of appeared, a gift too unwieldy to wrap and too big to hide. I dimly remember tapping them with those sticks, and pushing the little pedals. Within a year I had gotten too tall for them. Either the experience left an impression or my parents were psychic, because there has been nary a pen, pencil, nor chopstick since that I have not fidgeted in an arc, striking tiny, imaginary hi-hats and snares. It's a habit that drives pretty much everyone I know crazy.

Real drums were out of the question. A trumpet you can put in a case and carry around, but getting your kid drums is like giving him a car that doesn't do anything except explode, over and over again. Besides, requests for budgetary items were not on the agenda with three siblings racking up student loans. Thus did I spend my teenage years perfecting the art of quietly pretending to play drums. When I finally got my hands on a proper kit, I was nineteen, less than a year away from meeting Chris and Will.

How to learn to play drums without any actual drums, and without drawing attention to yourself: (For information on learning to play drums like a normal person, please consult your local library or the entire Internet.)

  • Find two sticks of approximately equal length.
  • Find an empty room with a decent stereo and an iPod.
  • Lock the door. Trust me.
  • Listen. Listen some more, because you're not listening enough. Listen until you can tell what each hand and foot is doing.
  • Recreate the movements without hitting anything.
  • Watch MTV Search YouTube for videos with live footage.
  • Burn through every band-aid in the house as the sticks chew up your fingers. When your mother wonders aloud why all the band-aids are disappearing, leave the room.
  • Find a band you like, and listen to them incessantly. For me, it was hours and hours of R.E.M. Other options are viable, though results may vary.

And so in this cramped little concrete dorm room, I sat down behind some stranger's drums, and prepared to suck. That was the only feasible outcome, as far as I could figure. These guys needed someone who actually played drums, they'd gone through a few others before they got to me, and they were ten minutes away from still having no drummer. Chris was talking about logistical stuff — what kind of sound they were going for, rehearsal space, possible gigs.

Meanwhile, he absent-mindedly started to strum his guitar.

The chord changes tugged at my ears. I stopped adjusting the ride cymbal and listened. This was familiar. This was a song I knew. Why couldn't my brain locate it? Where the hell had I heard this song before? Wait ...

... "Wendell Gee." Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985. Track eleven. Jesus on a trampoline, he's playing R.E.M.

The song's light on drums, but I started in while he was still talking. He stopped, and his eyes lit up just a bit. "Wait, you're an R.E.M. fan?" Apparently I'd stumbled upon Chris Scarpino's holy grail. We tried out a messy version of "Pop Song 89." They had their drummer.

Around here is probably when they told me what the band was going to be called.

Continued in Part IV