What passion do you have in your life? Do you have something you love to do so much that you are even proud enough to put it on your social media networks?
On my Facebook, I started talking about passions. It started with this post earlier this month…
It is not your vocation, your lifestyle or the people you associate with – either by blood, by profession or by friendship. What should drive you is your passion. And, only you should define that passion – not your peers, your family or your colleagues. Embrace your passion – and never be afraid to share it!
It is true. It certainly is the backbone of this website. The passion for the automobile is a strong one. To be able to cover that industry, drive its products for publication and meet some of the most amazing human beings to call themselves "enthusiasts."
Yet, I was seeking a deeper meaning. It came with a showing of the film "Love The Beast." Actor Eric Bana shows us his biggest passion – a 1974 Ford XB Falcon coupe that he owned since before he got his driver’s license. In 2009, he took the rebuilt Ford onto the Targa Tasmania only to meet a ditch and some tress on Day 4 of the rally event. In reflection during the film, Bana called that Ford his "campfire" – a central place where his childhood friends can gather around and rally behind. It was more than that, as it served as a hearth where the soul is cultivated. Even after its meeting with the tree, Bana had to make a gut wrenching decision to not rebuild it. Still, the soul and the memories remain.
Clearly these concepts are something automotive enthusiasts would understand. For those who are not car people, you can replace the words "automobile" and "car" with something else you are passionate about. This is something we all have in common, though we may be encamped with the passion(s) we embrace as our own and share with like-minded people that we embrace as "family."
The automobile is not the only passion I have. This one might need some explaining to the automobile folks that follow this site…
In 1988, I took up hand drumming for the first time. For as long as I could remember, I always known that I am a drummer. Yet, my family never allowed me the opportunity to explore that path. It has been something that had been deep in my soul over this period of time, whether I was able to pursue it or not. It has always been part of my creative realm – the drum's spirit and beat kept me going even when one is not present for me to play.
In fact, drumming has always been a part of this work. It was just simply hidden away. That is…until now.
How did this come about? I picked up my first hand drum – a pair of bongos – in 1988. I figured that my large hands could not manipulate these small drums, so I pursued getting the larger conga drums. Between 1989 and 1990, I went through two of them to find the right one. That one was a Latin Percussion Classic conga – in Cuba, they would be called tumbadoras and that specific drum, a segundo. It was the right size for me with an 11-3/4-inch head, standing 30 inches tall. It was also beautiful with a wine red finish on a series of staves glued together. Though these drums are a part of a heritage that began in The Congo and made its way through the slave trade and emancipation in Cuba, this drum – and the subsequent drums I have owned – were made in Thailand.
In the lexicon of percussion instruments, LP Music is a popular brand, played by musicians of almost every genre. Their key products are worked in recording studios, on stage and anywhere you find them. Certainly there are other brands, but I found a spirit with LPs – not unlike a Porsche enthusiast, or any brand loyalist.
Since parting with my first drum 1995, I had four of almost the same conga/tumbadora. The third one was a smaller drum, called a quinto. It was related to the Classics I owned, but it had an 11-inch head and stood 28 inches high, designed specifically for sit-down players. The fourth one I recently acquired – a Classic II in a light finish. The reason why I got it because it reminded me of the original Classic of 25 years ago and it simply called to me. Not to mention a crack running down the middle of one of the staves. That is being fixed with some glue to stabilize the crack.
What are so special these drums? They embody another dimension for me…another hard explanation that I will have to simplify. In Africa, drums had more of a deeper spiritual meaning. Just like some automobiles, they have souls. This is not just in African lore, but in Shamanism where the drums are synergistic with the drummer in their healing powers. After reading some books on these subjects, it occurred to me that my first LP Classic had a soul. Through every drum I owned, that soul embodied its host. It has always been with me when I was without a drum…kept me sane and going through the rough spots in my life and held me up during my triumphs.
Here's another question: Where does drumming and automotive enthusiasm…specifically, automotive writing…intertwine with each other?
In a way, they had danced with each other for quite some time. I found this out through my graduate work at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. For arts administrators to understand artists, they have to understand the creative mind. They have to know not only how to communicate with artists, but to understand the psyche of how they go about the creative process.
This is where the drum comes in. As a writer, one needs a muse. In literary art, this is more prevalent. In automotive writing and in journalism, it is called "being crazy." During my time at Saint Mary’s, I discovered the rational explanation of why my drum(s) were a part of my "creative toolkit"” Though rooted through spiritual means, a modern idea was introduced called "creative play."
How does "creative play" work? I would take a break from a piece and do something else completely different. There may not be a specific route I will take, but something to keep the mind regenerating as the writing "cools down."
The ultimate vehicle of play was the drum. It does not have to involve drumming a set rhythm within a clave, but a few strokes to explore the head a bit and some improvisation helps create play for me.
There is proof of such "creative play." Did you know that I have something in common with one of the creators of the atomic bomb?
Through some of my writing work, I found ways to incorporate my drum in some form or another. In my photography, I figured I wanted to try something different. A few years ago, I did a shoot where I wrapped up the drum in a blanket and have it sit in the back seat of the car, as it was keeping warm in a cold Minnesota morning.
One thing I have to reveal is that these drums have a name. It is the same name given to the main four drums over the past 25 years – "Boomer" It is named for the verbalization of the closed stroke, but it is also an affectionate name since these drums are far from ugly.
There is a rational explanation for this. If you ask the late B.B. King why he calls his guitar "Lucile," you can tell there is an element of imagination and play in his interaction with his guitar on stage. Think of the language legendary punk/alternative bassist Mike Watt uses to describe his instruments, his music and his home base of San Pedro, California. We all certainly share this creative tool through a musical instrument normally reserved for "serious" work. In some way, it all justified the drum's existence in my creative world.
Back at Saint Mary's University, I took a class delving deeper into the creative mind and the work around creativity. In that course’s final presentation, I invited my classmates to go through my stuff and play – to deconstruct and reconstruct what they see. I walked away from the items and let my classmates have at it. It was amazing to see what they've done with the items I presented. Some read my book out loud – which surprised me. In the end, they piled everything on Trey and left it alone. That was a curious result. Even more curious was that only one person touched the drum's head. I wondered whether people were afraid of the drum’s energy or that the third Boomer wasn't buying into letting anyone touch him.
The presentation and exercise taught me that I could open up my items to anyone without fear of improper molestation. Yet, there are some rules that could be made in Serious Play regarding my items. Granted, you can’t throw a baseball across the room without breaking something. Nor can you rip through pages of books – or write inside a book itself – because someone wanted to capture something significant inside of it.
When I began to learn to play the tumbadora, I was also taught that another person couldn't play another's drum unless he not only has permission, but also can be trusted with the drum itself. I had drums played on incorrectly that amounted to a sonic disturbance. I also had them dropped or mishandled, as mentioned before.
This same idea applies to when people ask me to drive their vehicles…or "review" them. Like a drum, a car is an extension of that person’s soul. It is a hard and fast rule I work by. Certainly, I have broken this rule…twice…but I hold true to this as their vehicle is as special to them as a drum would be.
It is perhaps why I talk about automobiles in this context. It is because of the drum. It is because of their souls.
I was glad to get this fourth Boomer, flawed but beautiful in its own way. I already put it to work as a model demonstrating the “Magic” seats in the 2016 Honda HR-V crossover. I never thought to see how these two would work together.
And, Boomer has always been a great driving companion through every iteration of him. Put the drum in the back seat, buckle him up, secure him with cover and a pillow to not mess up the upholstery and away we go. We might stop somewhere and play a rhythm or improvise one.
I'm certain y'all think this is a bit crazy. Sadly, that is how most of society view creative people. I figured that if I am going to do this work, why not mix it up a bit? Why not have fun with it? At my age, I have to make sure that I am happy doing this work. Frankly, there is no expiration date on creativity and expanding the idea of the muse or traveler in this journey.
It is good to have Boomer back in my life. I think he wants a ride soon…
All photos by Randy Stern