Orr: The (heart) beat goes on…
I’ve always had "A Thing" for drummers.
I remember the dizzying, falling, falling, falling in love that happened to me, hard… in the 8th grade. His name was Gilly Brendolini and he was the drummer in a band. A real garage band. I would walk the mile from my house to his every weekend and stand on the corner outside his house and hope the garage door would roll up and the band inside would be revealed. Because it had happened that way, once. And exposed were five guys — three with guitars, a singer and Gilly on the drums. I had heard him play at the Teen Center in City Park in what was then our small village, between San Francisco and Stanford. A kinda hybrid community where the train from The City stopped and our little suburbia rolled out rural and over the hills, 20 minutes to the coast.
Gilly was a freshman with swagger. You know — that bad, bad boy. He had a mop of curls. Not a mop like The Beatles, straight and shaggy, but a dark haired crown of curls. His signature move was the start of the first few bars of "Rag Doll" …THUMP …thump thump …THUMP …thump thump. "Ooh, ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh" came the wail and the thumping again. It was a melting moment. The Four Seasons had a top hit with it in1964. At the same time, The Beach Boys were singing, "Round round, get around, I get around." And the Righteous Brothers had "lost that loving feelin’." But I was that sad rag doll and Gilly was always singing that song… to me.
Or at least that’s what I thought at 13, because young girls get crushes and try to figure out their place on the planet in relation to their hearts.
Recently honorees (by no less than Michelle Obama and the White House), the amazing Spyhop program in Salt Lake City held a fundraiser this week. This inner city, afterschool program, where aspiring young filmmakers and radio hosts and band members gather to be both safe and creative, is under the guidance of some awesome and inspiring leaders. At the event in the Rose Wagner theater, the drummer on stage was beating the sticks, hard. Shaking the tambourine on the next song, and back on skins for the last number. With close-cropped hair but long eye lashes and a tight, grey blazer on the tall, slim body, it was hard to determine, exactly, the sex of the player. I say this because for all her young life, folks have confused my granddaughter, Izzy, with a boy. And she’s fine with that.
These songs weren’t hits from the Billboard Charts — and yes, Billboard still seems to matter. The songs this night were all original tunes the all-girl band had figured out on their own. Composed together. And now were performing together. After rigorous auditions, if you are chosen to be The Band of Spyhop for a year, you are given all kinds of tools for success. Someone who books gigs for you at the end of your year of learning how to write songs together to blend voices and downbeats. Real gigs in real clubs and spaces where adults will hear your music.
This night was the first time I had heard the band, Midnight Paper Heist, play live. I had been sent numerous works in progress over the past few months that other kids at Spyhop — the techies — had engineered there in their studios, over on the west side of Salt Lake City. There are four vocalists who also play guitars and the ukulele and the keyboard. And their songs are playful and thoughtful and slightly haunting and musically very, very solid. I got lost listening and drifted in the room full of proud parents and friends of all the students. I was watching Iz make those drumsticks fly and I was in awe of her talent and confidence and clear sense of self.
Then without warning I was thinking about Gilly Brendolini and how eternally, universally, downright cool, drummers always are.
Somehow it came together for me. How love has many shapes and appearances and seasons. Those long teenage walks in my small town were also about getting away from my exquisitely dysfunctional home. And the Teen Center wasn’t just about the pizza or the pool games or the laying on the grass looking up at the sky. That place gave me space to try and sort out all the tangled stuff of leaving childhood and entering the world of confusing choices. The counselors there were really guides to help navigate the raging mood swings along with being a place that was (emotionally) safe, and warm and dry.
The drumsticks were flying on stage suddenly and though I know what a light-up-the-room electric smile she has, the drummer with the braces kept her lips tight and focused. Her energy and joy and maybe some confusion I have yet to be privy to, intent on those drums and cymbals surrounding her. And though circumstances are different this time — I am the girl with the grandmother face — I knew without a doubt: I so very much love the drummer.
Being exactly who are you is complicated stuff, most especially at 14. And I should probably tell Iz how proud I am of how she is bravely and gracefully navigating those choppy waters. I’ll make a moment to take her aside quietly, after dinner, to express my love and support for her playing her own songs, this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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