Monthly Archives: June 2015

I had just turned twelve years old when I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Sprit”, a title that to this day makes no sense to me at all. It was back when MTV played music videos and bands cared about that sort of thing because it got them on TV and helped sell more records.

I remember sitting and watching the video, not quite understanding what was happening, who this band was, or what it all meant. I remember wondering what this unusual guy was doing behind the drums. At this point, I hadn’t started playing the drums yet, I’d only wanted to. So, as I often did, I focused on the drummer. I wanted to see what he was doing, how he was doing it, what he hit when. But all I could see was this giant mane of brown hair flopping up and down and back and forth. I was so distracted by the man, that I didn’t see what he was doing.

It was the first time I heard Nirvana. It was also the first time that I knew and sort of understood what grunge was.

That weekend I had my mom drive me to Tower Records in Burlington – I don’t think Newbury Comics existed yet – and she bought me a copy of Nevermind. I remember having to fight with her over it. She didn’t approve of the naked baby on the cover, an argument I imagine many teenagers and pre-teens had with their parents. But in the end, I prevailed.

I listened to it over and over that day and the next. I loved that album and still do to this day.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the first song I tried to play on my first drum set two years later. I say tried there because you’d have never known that’s what I was trying to play along to. It was pretty sloppy and didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It seems like such a small thing, but having literally tens of millions of songs available to choose from to be the first song you ever play on a new instrument actually meant quite a lot. I remember toying with the decision for days when I knew I was getting my first drums.

In 1994, just a few short years after I’d gotten to know the band and listened to everything they put out, Kurt Cobain died. Whether you believe he was killed or he committed suicide is up to you, but the fact of the matter is, he died.  Like many people who were into the band, I was upset. It was the first time in my young life that I remember watching people mourn on television. MTV covered it as part of MTV news (which I don’t think they even do anymore) and I watched as thousands gathered near his house to pay their respects.

It shook me. It was the first time I could remember someone that I looked up to dying.

Later that year, Dave Grohl emerged as the musician that other musicians wanted to work with. Once Nirvana was no more, Grohl got call after call from musicians who wanted to recruit him and work with him. But ultimately he had other plans. Those other plans turned out to be Foo Fighters.

His quote about why he decided to be a frontman and start his own band instead of working with an existing band is quite great:

I was supposed to just join another band and be a drummer the rest of my life, I thought that I would rather do what no one expected me to do. I enjoy writing music and I enjoy trying to sing, and there’s nothing anyone can really do to discourage me.

That quote really moved me when I read about it – I believe in Rolling Stone. He decided to go against the grain because that’s what he wanted to do. He didn’t bow to pressure from the record label, he didn’t just jump behind a drumkit for some random band. He went into a studio, by himself, and recorded almost an entire album. He played all of the instruments, produced all of the tracks, wrote everything, and was the everyman.

The plan for Foo Fighters was supposed to be anonymous. No one was supposed to know it was Dave Grohl that did it all. But once the demo got out there, record labels were fighting over it. So much so that Capitol Records gave Dave his own imprint label, Roswell Records. Roswell released the first Foo Fighters album, followed by public appearances, tours, and the rest is, as they say, history.

I don’t want to say that everyone was surprised at how good Foo Fighters were right out of the gate, but I think that word’s fitting. Here was this guy that we’d known, in the main stream music industry, for a few years as a really good solid drummer. And now here he was, in front of us, with a guitar, singing. Not only playing guitar and singing, but doing it really well. The songs he wrote, the melodies he came up with were almost so anti-Nirvana that it was hard to believe this was the same guy.

Today, Dave’s sought after for a number of collaborations between himself and other bands. He often joins bands he’s friends with on stage to play drums on a track or two, or fills in for other bands when their drummer is unavailable for whatever reason. He’s the go to guy in all of music and rightfully so. He oozes talent from almost everything he touches.

He’s an inspiration to me not just because of what he’s done and how far he’s come and how he’s overcome negativity and troubles in his life. He’s an inspiration to me because all of his success hasn’t changed him. He’s still the carefree, teenager-stuck-in-an-adult’s-body that he’s always been. He comes across as a true rockstar in interviews while maintaining his ability to remain humble.

Just this past weekend, Foo Fighters were playing a show in Sweden and Dave fell off of some speakers and hurt his leg. He went off stage for a short while and drummer Taylor Hawkins took over singing while medical staff checked Dave out. It turns out that he’d broken his leg in his fall. What does Dave Grohl do? He comes right back out on stage, sits down in a chair and finishes the set while a doctor puts a cast on him. On stage.

Not only is that inspirational, but that is truly badass. That’s a true definition of “the show must go on”.

Almost everything Grohl has done with the Foo Fighters in the last 20 years has been good and golden. Grohl has the magic hand that makes almost any piece of music he’s involved with listenable and worth your time. For that and many more reasons, Dave Grohl inspires me to be a better musician, stay humble through any fame, and never let anything get you down to a low point that you can’t bounce back from.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Rolling Stone (August 2013) after Dave played with Rush the night before. Proof that even famous people are just regular people.

Absolutely. When I got 2112 when I was eight years old; it fucking changed the direction of my life. I heard the drums. It made me want to become a drummer. At rehearsals the other day, I had never met Neil Peart before. Alex [Lifeson] and Geddy [Lee] are the nicest people in the world. I was coming to rehearsal and I was meeting Neil for the first time, and this man was as influential as any religion or any hero or any person in someone’s life. He said, “So nice to meet you. Can I make you a coffee?” And he made me a coffee, man. And later on that night, I went to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine and I started fucking crying because my hero made me a fucking coffee. It was unbelievable, man. So that’s kind of how this whole experience has been.

 

This is the first in a (hopefully) ongoing series I’m working on about musicians who inspire me in some form or another.

We start by going back to my teenage years. The first time I heard Life of Agony, I was a little over 13 years old. My best friend Dan had an album called “River Runs Red” by a widely unknown and mostly nobody band from Brooklyn New York.

I remember sitting on the floor of his house listening to it like it was yesterday. The entire album played all the way through and we looped it back to listen to it again. By that time, Dan had already heard the album plenty of times. But my first two listens were special. They would, unbeknownst to me, change the way I look at music, song writing, and drumming.

Behind the drum kit on that album was a man I’d never heard of before, Sal Abruscato. A seemingly giant man who could make drums boom and sound like thunder in a way I’d never heard before. At that point I hadn’t gotten my first drum set yet – that didn’t come for another two plus years – but I remember thinking to myself “I want drums that sound like that.”

The way his toms sung, the way the China symbol made just the right mix of crash and trash and clang was perfect. It wasn’t just the way the drums sounded, no. It was the way the drums sounded with the music. The way it all flowed together and made a melody, it made a song that was more than just a bunch of guys playing their respective instruments. It made sense.

It wasn’t so easy to find out information about things back then. I know it makes me sound really old saying that. But it wasn’t like you could just pop online and go on Wikipedia and look someone up. So I did what I’d do a thousand times in those days – I read the liner notes.

I learned quite a bit about the band, but not about the man. Not about Sal.

Come to find out, he was on loan from a much larger band that you may have heard of, called Type O Negative. Sal had been their drummer for a while when he somehow got involved with Life of Agony. I don’t know the story there, but I’m guessing he knew some of the band members somehow. Since they’re all from Brooklyn, there had to have been some sort of connection.

When I left Dan’s house that day, I took “River Runs Red” home with me and listened to it more times than I can count. It just resonated with me and still does to this day.

When I did finally get my first drum set at Christmas two years later, the first three albums I learned to play start to finish were “River Runs Run”, Silverchair’s “Frogstomp” and Goo Goo Dolls’ “A Boy Named Goo”.  I had been air drumming to these albums since I got them and knew the notes, the hits, the fills, the melodies down pat by the time I sat behind my first drum set. While the songs were not very complicated, these albums still helped me learn how to really play the drums. They helped me to get my own style, my own feel behind the drums. They helped me to find my flow and get my timing down.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and played “River Runs Red” through start to finish. But I have no doubt that my muscle memory would bring me back and I’d immediately be able to get through the whole thing.

Life of Agony’s been through a lot of ups and downs over the years and is unfortunately no longer around. (Edit: according to Wikipedia, the original lineup has reformed for a second reunion and is touring and recording again.) Their singer Keith Caputo transitioned into a woman and is now known as Mina Caputo. She struggled with drugs – thanks to her parents for both being drug users – her whole life and had ups and downs with it. I imagine struggling to let the world know that you believe you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body your entire life will push you to use and abuse drugs.

They had their typical fifteen minutes of fame in the summer of 1997, right after I graduated high school. Their album “Soul Searching Sun” had a “hit” song called Weeds that got them quite a bit of radio play, while the rest of the album was still relatively un-listened to by the masses. Sal didn’t play on that album, but was their touring drummer both before and after the album.

Thankfully, I had the honor to see Life of Agony at the Worcester Palladium, a relatively small venue. I believe it was around 2005. I was right in the front row, dead center, the entire show.  I watched as this band that I’d been listening to for over 20 years thundered away, commanding the stage, playing these songs that I’d known so well and loved so much.

A drumstick that Sal handed to me after the show is still in my possession. When I finally get around to setting up my drum kit at my new house, it’ll proudly be mounted on the wall. Not because I want to brag about it. Not because I want people to see it and ask to hear the story of how I got it. Not because I want people to ask me who Sal Abruscato it. But because it reminds me that no matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter how long it’s been since you do it, it’ll touch someone. It’ll make someone, in some way, feel better about themselves. It’ll make someone aspire to be better, to try harder, to work longer. It’ll do something.

I’d love to tell you how I got really into all of the other bands Sal’s been in over the years. How I’ve followed his career and bought everything he’s done, how he’s been my hero. But that’s not the case. The reality is that I only know him from Life of Agony. I know the songs that he was a hired hand on. I know the albums that have worn themselves out in my CD player and eventually made it to the top of my iTunes Most Played lists. I know the smashing and the banging and the perfect sounding drums that inspired me to want to be able to make my drums sound like that, the perfect timing and monstrous fills that I wanted to be able to do myself. I knew the drummer that I wanted to be able to imitate.

I’ll leave you now with the song that I most identified with in my late teen years. A song called “Lost at 22”. A song that I couldn’t wait to turn 22 and listen to, so my angst would make sense. So I’d finally be able to play the song and say “that’s me. I get that. I’m 22 and I have no idea what I’m doing.”