You know how I get when live music is blaring through the room? I am on an emotional level and nothing can compare to it.
I know everything is going to be alright when the band starts playing and so I felt as if being invited to share music on Christmas Eve for a party for the symphony orchestra of Harlem, was like a bridge to better days. I knew that I would be feeling magic moments in each and every song; especially with Richie banging out some forceful cries on his drums.
He stands out from all the other drummers because he is not with his own agenda when he is playing. Instead, he plays in the midst of what everybody else is doing. It becomes so harmonious that you can’t help but to feel the joy of the music.
We rehearsed feverishly for hours. We wanted the soundwaves wafting through the air that came off of the stage to be smooth. We wanted to feel comfortable enough with each song that we could be free to fly like an eagle in the midst of the concert. We were just happy to be drawing near to each other after the crazy year of being locked up in our pandemic prison cells.
“I am going to create a workshop for drummers. They never leave room for the singers to sing. They just play over everything and solo through the whole song. I want to teach them how to be so low that you cannot hear them.”
“You are hilarious Richie.”
“I am serious. Most drummer’s attitudes never shift. They come to be seen and heard like a firetruck rushing to a fire. Forget everything else happening on the stage. The drummer is it. I want to teach them how to simply accompany.”
“Well, I have big vocal power and in the times that I forget a lyric or two, it is not so bad if you would add your seamless narrative and flow to the mix. Folks adore that Richie; especially me.”
“I admit, a drummer does serve a valid purpose but being an accompanist is an important concept to grasp. Just don’t let those busy drummers play at my funeral when you come and sing The Upper Room for me.”
“LOL! You are so silly.”
“My workshop will teach the feather foots and the beat-a-mile-a-minuters how to up their game.”
I woke up in a sorrowful sweat. I felt all torn apart. Why was I experiencing the holiday heart all of a sudden? I thought I would have been out of the way of trouble now that I had set up my Christmas tree and it was so close to the holiday that I couldn’t help but to smile every time I saw the lights or heard caroling. But tonight, my thoughts were drifting, full of surprising thoughts.
Instead of sleeping, I decided to try to practice and memorize the songs that were being prepared for the up and coming party.
The idea of being able to connect with people once again was such a thrilling idea. The ability to once again dabble into my art, felt spiritually enlightening.
The past few months had been drier than a burnt piece of toast. Who loves being sequestered in their homes? To be void of what you love to do is like being on the precipice of death and it can lead to a broken heart or depression. But to be seizing the moment increased my enthusiasm. I was ready once again for the spotlight.
I drifted back to peaceful calmness until woke up into Christmas Eve. I bedazzled myself in this silky red dress, dolled up my face and then it was time to leave to go to The REM Space where we would be playing that night. I walked into the well decorated room like I possessed magical powers. The audience seemed warm as I passed the smiles and hellos to leap onto the stage with the band of gentlemen.
The sound of the musician’s soundcheck was so pleasing to the ear. It felt good to hear them trying to get the right sound for the room. I heard rousing solos from Phil on guitar with his black suit and red tie on. The oscillations started to leverage my attitude a bit. I felt more inspired and a lot more confident.
it is not always an easy thing to play before musicians. Musicians can be very critical of other musicians if you play differently. I only hoped that they would enjoy what we had to offer.
I walked up the steps to the stage and there, I saw Richie dressed to the nines with his black-buttoned down shirt and black boot-cut jeans falling neatly over his Stacey Adam shoes and his red Santa hat on his head, setting up the remaining pieces of his drums.
Can you imagine a drummer with one broken arm, setting up his drums by himself without any assistance or complaints? He just simply flowed with the currents of life embracing each challenge that came his way. He loved to play so much that no matter what he faced, he played exuberantly from beginning to end.
“You look all perty tonight. You ready to sing?”
“Absolutely. Thank God.”
“What song do you guys want to try for the sound check?”
“How about Defining Moments?”
One thing that I admired about Richie the most was his love for trying new songs. He felt that the same old songs got repetitive and boring. I appreciated being around someone as like-minded as me. Working with him had always been a wonderful sonic experience.
The first chord played in the soundcheck was like healing to the bones. I was finally getting a chance to do my thing again. It was kind of exciting to watch Richie playing musical gems with his one good arm. The other was broken and in a cast. Yet still, Richie played like money was pouring out of each pound on his drums. He always seemed to knock it out of the park regardless of the circumstances and it was so cool. He played with a level of seriousness no matter what.
And just like that, the moment came when we were to start the gig. The steady splash of the cymbal brought me to life. The sound on the stage was armed with horns and finger snaps from the audience. We settled into the groove and I pulled the Shure SM 57 microphone to my mouth and started to sing.
“Sleigh Bells ring are you listening.”
One song blended into another during the moments of fun.
“Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.”
And then it was time to get into some original music. And I announced it.
“Besides doing cover songs, we are songwriters, and this is one of our original tunes entitled Driving Moment.”
Phil ignited the song with his, “Ber-der-der-dow.”
Then Mark went, “Bow-pa-da-pu-doot-di.”
And then I came in and said
“It’s the Driving Moment
(Ti ti ti da tsi)
(po tu pi du dn nerw)
(Di di da)
The room full of orchestral musicants who were bravely engaging rose to their feet and erupted in applause to the adventurous music. And every time Richie “Ti pa ta ti-sed,” a newfound sparkle went twinkling in the room.
And then the driving moment of it all, trading 16s. Herb with his nostalgic toots of his horn to give the instrumental section a joyous start. I felt each blare deep within me as if intimacy was being born right there on the stage.
With confidence and purpose, he traded it off to me and I tinkled ambitiously across the ebonies and ivories, in the middle of the stage, with my thoughts fastened on the stacks of harmonies that were oscillating in the air. It gave me enormous flexibility to simply be myself without limitations. I released every thought, fear, doubt and worry out of prison and into a freedom dance. I came to the end to my sixteen and traded with Phil.
Phil let his volcanic eruptions create the most beautiful sounds. His phrasing carried me into a different mindset. He strummed like music was what he was thirsting for and playing his strat was the water he was chugging. His playing garnered the interest of everybody in the room because the crowd was silent and gazing at him with a smile. He rode high until he traded off with Mark.
Mark’s thumps were unusual yet familiar. Like something you may have heard but like a spicy ear candy that you savor. His style was nostalgic. Every stride was played with intention. He added a broad taste of colors into the mix and left a stream of the paint he used for Richie to swim right on into the groove.
“Who am I? I’m the drummer man.”
“Everybody in the house just clap it with me.”
And then the highlight of it all came when Richie started playing air drums. No drums. Just sticks and air; beating at the air like a person drowning flailing helplessly; with one arm.
His confidence and purpose poked out all while he was being the cynic that he is. The people before us bounced their laughter all around the room. His expressions were heartfelt. His fervent shrieks and flamboyance was always something that added joy to the room.
The most magical part of it all was that, this was an original song and it carried over so well; to a room full of musicians at that. Their claps were as pleasing to me as a bulging bank account when it’s time to pay a big bill. I smiled through every moment of his 16-bars until he came to a satisfying conclusion and the entire band climaxed to the end of the song.
If only I could take live music as a daily application to feel this fulfilled all the time. Maybe prayer will change the atmosphere and we will once again be back to the days when live music can be an on and continuous thing all-the-time. The pinnacle of my ambition was tied into that moment.
“Everybody say driving moment.”
“Everybody say driving moment.”
We seemed to strike a good note in a lot of people because people amongst the crowd kept walking up to the stage during our break to thank us and also to give us an avalanche of requests.
“Could you play Come Together by the Beatles?”
“Do you think that I can sit in with the band to play Nica’s Dream in B flat minor?”
“What note was Sleigh Bells played in? We usually do it in G.”
“What time do y’all play until?
"That was some singing."
“Hey, do you do weddings? I need a small band like yours for my sister’s wedding in March. Are y’all free?”
“Can you give a birthday shout out to our conductor? It’s his birthday today.”
“Can I buy you a drink?”
And just when we were about to go back on to the stage for set two, I felt turbulence in the room and the sound of the alarm came pouring into my ears. I woke up and looked around to see the sun making its appearance once again.
It was morning and I had been dreaming. Richie stayed on my mind throughout the morning.
He was my boy. I loved him with my whole heart. He was a good friend. Who knew that thoughts of him would find a setting in my sleeping experience?
I couldn’t help but to think of the multitudinous days that we were on stage together just doing our thing. Those were some good old times that definitely made an impact on me.
And then the truth of his passing came entrenched in my mind. To have even had a single driving moment through life with him was a rewarding adventure. We shared some great travel stories together. And to think of all the crazy discussions that we would have on the phone, my mind never pondered the thought that he might be soon striding up the bridge, drumming to the upper room.
Remote Zoom learning.
Virtual music shows.
And now a Google Meet-up funeral.
The damage goes deep. I cannot wait until the day we can once again test the waters for true socialism. I just want to feel the touch of human interaction. Can I just feel the sweat of another band member on stage with me? I’m struggling to stay afloat. Then to have a dream about Richie and I sharing the stage together again.
He must have struck a note with me because I cannot even go into a place where live music is playing without thinking about him being firmly fixed in the drummer’s seat with a Santa hat and a red tie on. I guess the only way to cross paths with him again would be in a dream. But boy did that dream give me some fresh ambition. I can’t help but to miss his aesthetic characteristics. We would have been on a stage together right now if he were still here and were in top form, or even if he had a broken arm that he was unable to move. He inspired so many people and he sure inspired me.
Dedicated to the clickity clackingest pulsator I have ever known. You touched so many lives and we love and miss you. RIP Richie Johnson.