Originally Written in the 1990s - Modified in the 2000s - Last Posted on August 16, 2007
It was one of those picture-postcard afternoons in the San Francisco Bay Area, as I was meandering up and over the Waldo Grade towards the Golden Gate Bridge. When I reached the top of the bridge, I turned off towards the Marin Headlands and headed for my favorite piece of secluded beach at Point Bonita. I parked my Acura Integra and opened the hatch. Out of the hatch came a big heavy black bag. I lugged the monster east across the beach an area where no one from the road can see you because of a bluff that narrows the beach from the water.
As the sun began setting and an orange glow reflected on the city’s skyline, I unloaded the black bag. Out came a beautiful barrel-shaped wooden stave drum, finished in an elegant wine red color and framed in shining silver steel. The thick head showed some wear from my huge tender hands, but it begged for more. I complied as I sat upon a rock, put the drum between my legs, and told a story through my hands a celebration of life, of joy, and of this wondrous place we call our private stage.
I miss those lovely summer days. I miss being able to play my drum in the natural wonders of California.
For the past nineteen years, I lived out a secret fantasy in my life. I always known that I am a drummer, but my family never allowed me the opportunity to explore that and other hidden parts of myself.
At twenty-three, I finally moved out on my own, which gave me the freedom to explore my own self-identity. A year later, I began my journey by putting my hands to skin and exploring my rhythms. What began with a pair of bongos became an absolute love affair with the conga drum. By the time I was twenty-six, I bought my second conga drum, a wine-red finished wood Latin Percussion Classic conga, affectionately named "Boomer" with which I found the key to unlocking various doors.
I never knew my father, who died in 1986. One evening, five years after his death, I drove up to a workshop on drumming in Sebastopol, California, west of Santa Rosa. I happened to have Boomer in the trunk of my car. The facilitator started talking about the men’s movement, which I had already read various books on. He touched upon the issue of grief, which drove home feelings that had been welled up for years. Then, he started an impromptu drum circle. Seizing the moment, I went back to my car and took out my conga. I began to play and felt something break free from my soul. Suddenly, I had a vision of my father looming over me. There was no time for any reaction then, but somehow that vision stuck with me until after the workshop.
On the drive home, I felt a rush of energy flow through me. It came without a warning, and I had to pull the car off to the side of the road. I realized I had to get my drum out and play, but after just a few strokes, I started to cry. It was the most tears I shed in a long time, and at that point, At that point, I began the long process of grief for my father.
Another revelation also occurred that night. I came home, put my drum next to my bed as usual, and went to sleep. About two hours later, something told me that I needed to play my drum again. Out of respect to my housemates, I played softly, but as soon as my hand touched the skin, I started crying again. I embraced my drum and finally realized that I needed to live my life honestly, acknowledging what I had known to be true for a long time. No longer able to suppress my true self, I needed to live my life as an openly gay man.
That night, I felt the drum’s spirit become one with my soul. This is hard to explain for those who are not drummers, but it is said that a drum reveals its spirit to its drummer after they finds the “sweet spot.” It is a silly idea to most, but one that explains why drummers are the most passionate people on earth. According to Mickey Hart, formerly of the Grateful Dead, only 1 percent of the world’s population is drummers. This explains why drummers are healers, storytellers, warriors, and great lovers. It also explains why my drum was able to touch everyone with whom I came in contact.
My greatest regret was letting that first drum go. In 1995, I was about to move up to the Puget Sound area to consummate a relationship. In preparation of that move, I sensed that my drum would not be welcomed in the new household. There was no choice but to sell my drum. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have let my drum go.
My relationship lasted only a short time. Although I was able to recover quickly from it, I had to live without a key element in my life. As with a Shaman, when the drum is separated from the healer, the healer’s powers are the next to go, and sometimes, so too is the healer.
Though I was without my true spiritual source, I was able to accomplish a lot in my professional life, as well as in the gay community, despite its absence. Just when I thought things were going well, however, my spiritual energy started to diminish. My life reverted back to one where I allowed people to walk all over me without being able to properly defend myself.
Late in 1999, I was on the phone with one of my best friends, Scott. I was talking with him about all the things that have happened to me in the course of the four years since I parted with my drum. Scott knew about my drumming and gave me a stern wake-up call; “you need to get a drum!”
In a matter of a year, I went through a few drums to find Boomer’s proper replacement. It looked like Boomer, played like Boomer…then the sprit settled in. It was indeed Boomer! Well, it was a newer LP Classic wood conga, the same model as the original Boomer.
In October of 2000, it was packed in the back of a rented GMC SUV heading from Northern Virginia to Madison, Wisconsin. It had a decent life while living in Mad-Town, playing in drum circles, solstice ceremonies and as a teacher. One night, after a drum circle, it was dropped on a stairway. Though a crack on the bottom of a stave gap was revealed, it was repaired from the inside. A Band-Aid covered up the outside for a bit. Boomer knew pain and it also knew how to heal.
Less than four years later, the second Boomer would be left behind somewhere in Chicago. It was a circumstance that I had to own up to in spite of my own mistakes. The spirit knew it had to wait until a new drum can occupy it again. It knew it would take some time, but shorter than the last time.
Once I said “nothing would never separate me from my drum…not even a man.” After two separations, I must admit that I need to rectify this soon. The first few years in The Cities have been exhilarating and full of accomplishments. I was always keenly aware that something has been missing in the equation of my life here. Perhaps this will soon be rectified.
The spirit awaits…there will be another Boomer.