Drummers in Pain

The drummers suffer for their political art.  Their passionate activism through drumming sends them to doctors for their hands, arms, necks and backs.  The taping of their hands and fingers with yards of adhesive tape is not for decoration or just to look cool.  It’s not even just to protect from injury.  It’s to try to shield already-injured hands, for which the compulsion to drum gives no leeway.

There may be an element of obsessive-compulsive disorder in this, it’s true.  Someone who continues to do something despite physical injury may be showing elements of addiction.  But isn’t it true that many people obsessed with their cause, and who’ve made changes in the world, have shown these traits?  There’s nothing disordered in their belief that as they drum continuously, thinking good thoughts, the world is healed.  The drummers are addicted, but not the way some would think.  They’re hooked on the sublime, that feeling of connection.  They’re addicted to God.

Adrian said about her excessive drumming, “I just put up with the pain.”  She said that after a while her fingers get numb but she just keeps going, and her hands know what to do.  She said that eventually you forget that it hurts.  Richard, the activist with the taped hands, said he has to put salve on his hands, soak them, and that he has a doctor each for his neck, back, and arms, all from drumming.  I got to watch him put tape on his hands, an elaborate ritual that took over ten minutes.  He carries two big rolls of white surgical tape in his case.

There’s a homeless guy who lugs two big drums with him in a duffel bag and a backpack.  The homeless often get ripped off.  Even somebody’s ratty old sleeping bag is liable to be stolen, let alone something as valuable as drums.  This means that he has to carry them with him wherever he goes, in the park, on the street, anywhere he has to go, along with all his other belongings.  He lifts them out of their beat-up containers as if unveiling great treasures.  Then he sits on both of them on their sides on the ground, because he doesn’t have a stool to sit on.  That doesn’t stop him from putting his heart and soul into some powerful rhythms.  His hands are also taped with yards of white surgical tape, though not as clean as Richard’s.

The ancient-looking long horn makes an amazing vibrating sound.  It’s one of the few instruments which I feel should be amplified at the circle, because by itself it can’t compete with the drums.  The guy has to blow into it with all his might to get a sound out of it.  He brings it in a special case, wrapped in soft cloths.  He has at least three of these instruments, shows up every week-end.  Sometimes he brings more than one, for someone else to play, both aimed toward the same microphone on the ground.  It doesn’t take long to see that they can’t keep up with him, who must have the breathing abilities of a deep sea diver.  He said he blows into the horn “until it burns” (his lungs).  But he said, “It’s what I live for.”







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