Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sidebar: mind what you say

Teachers, speaking to students: I know everyone thinks we're not being heard, but a lot of them are more engaged than we think they are, and a lot of things we say to them, particularly the one-liners, are instantly converted into doctrine in their minds. They believe it and follow it, even if they're not showing you any outward signs of it. 

A few from my own life: 

“NEVER turn down paying work.”

“The difference between amateurs and pros is that pros play louder.”

“F*kin' learn the music yourself.”

“Each note is a little pearl.”

“Take your stick in your hand, and hit the drum.”

“You have to be a maniac!”

Everybody has those, and none of us ever told our teacher they meant anything to us. They stick with you and completely form your concept of being a drummer and musician, for years, sometimes forever. 

The people who said them probably don't even remember it. It's like the movie Talladega Nights, where the derelict father says to his kid, a future race car driver, “If you're not first, you're last.” The kid proceeds to live his whole life by that nonsense, only to find out: 

The attitude created some problems for the character. It motivated him, but it also turned him into a selfish egomaniac. In a way there's nothing you can do about it— young people latch onto those kinds of categorical lines specifically. It's a powerful thing when the teacher's priorities are in the right place. 

Most of my very occasional quotes of the day are examples of it— things said in an interview, that weren't necessarily thought out, but contain a lot of truth and guide your whole way of thinking about what you do. 

It's a problem when people do it defensively, in a reactionary way, trying to appear clever, and just create prejudices. 

Everybody used to have their clever line about Country music— “I buy a country record every few years to see if anything's changed” is one I remember from a good drummer in a clinic about 40 years ago. So everybody gets a superior attitude about Country... which they have to instantly unlearn when they find themselves doing some Country gigs. You can't be working with people playing their music and treat it like it's a joke.   

We saw it on mass media scale in my Stewart Copeland is an idiot post some weeks ago. Copeland has his jazz-is-all-bulls*t schtick he worked up for his media appearances, including a nonsensical line he stole from the movie 24 Hour Party People: “jazz is the last refuge of the untalented.” So now a lot of people who think he's cool will have their own stock line of BS they'll use the next time anybody puts on a jazz record, and they won't even listen to the music. 

And it's a big part of YouTube. Apart from the larger problem of an algorithm telling us what our priorities in drumming should be, we have a lot of not-entertaining people trying to be entertaining, and quipping a lot on drumming related topics. Leading to a lot of bad lines of this type reaching a lot of people. 

Like, from one well-known guy: “you could play your whole life and never play a flam.” That inspired a lot of online conversation. Which, hooray for him, he wins, he got some attention. But he also engraved a really stupid idea in a lot of minds. Previously it would have been a stupid thing he said once to one student, now there are ten thousand guys out there fully indoctrinated with the idea. 

One of the few people who does this in a mostly positive way, who is actually entertaining, is Dave King of the Rational Funk series— one of the least-watched YT drumming channels, natch. 

Anyhow, think about it, it happens every time you speak to your students, it's a powerful tool to wield carefully. As teachers we're the some of the very few artists these kids are ever in contact with. Our job is a little bit subversive, helping them be serious about art in some capacity, when all of society is giving them easy, ego-satisfying reasons not to be. 

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