What a wonderful night! The tribute gig for George Kristy at the Espy. The joint was jumping and the atmosphere was electric.
One of the best gigs I have ever been a part of.
It was a honour to be a part of this amazing night dedicated to George.
I feel like I've been around for a long time, yet, sometimes I think I'm an amateur when I'm around exalted company, this can be a good thing if you have the tools in your head to forge this into your spirit. It can be demoralizing if your thinking or being told you are worthless.
The one person who made me give up drumming wasn't my alcoholic mother, or my father who I loved but yet never forgave me for giving up the violin for the drums;
It was Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
So a tale begins.
Back in the early 1970's when Melbourne, Australia was the end of a flat earth as far as touring bands, we all went to the Total Theatre Rock and Roll Cinema (which is now Billboard) in the city next to Chinatown to watch Hendrix, Woodstock et al
Carl Palmer played this drum solo during their Pictures at an Exhibition movie that made me feel worthless as a 13yo student. Even after a month of no drums, my mum asked "Why aren't you plain' yer f**kin' drums?". I thought that I couldn't ever do that, why bother?
Then, after a long while when my drum teacher, Harold Ripper started asking "What's the trouble shagger?" (his nickname for me), I thought I'd start tapping again, somewhere along the line I found joy in the drums again and I found it wasn't the people who were constantly telling me I was worthless like my mother or most of the kids at Xavier College where my parents sent me.
It was me and my crushed confidence. All because I saw what I thought was the best drummer in the world at that time.
sideline: honestly! my Dad was a publican running the Dan O Connell Hotel, started the Irish Music there in 1965. I was growing up surrounded in Irish Musicians and Bikies and they sent me to Xavier College? Misfit in the making personified! What a fuckup!
Anyways, slowly I began practicing again, and through that, I slowly found my voice again up against this constant barrage of what us Aussies know as hanging shit, often called the tall poppy syndrome, because I worked as the publicans son picking up ashtrays and empty glasses I became good at picking up one liners to hang shit with, I didn't think at the time it was my way of survival and defense.
I started giving as good as I got.
In my last days at Xavier College, while my parents were going through the bitterest custody battle possible, I was the absolute outsider and completely ostracized. I was angry and wild, I loved it. I loved how it felt, it felt powerful.
One day I said something, whispered something, to Brother Wallbridge when he came at me one day, the worst of those bastard Jesuit bullies there and he backed off with his big leather strap. I said something I overheard getting said from one bikie to another about a deal gone bad when I was fourteen in the pub.
To me, It worked. To him, I was a little pissant who couldnít be hurt anymore, I was ready to take his strap and shove it up his arse. Even though he towered over me. Coward.
I found hope again through drums, the more I played the less people could hurt me.
It wasnt ego, It was survival. I bashed the shit out of the things every day. It wasnt music, it was life. My own personal DNA.
I thought Carl Palmer stopped me from playing drums. Then I realized it wasnt Mr. Palmer, it was everyone else winning, by hanging shit, stepping over me, putting me down, to make themselves feel taller, even though they couldnít hold a candle to the basics of drumming or the honor of the technique of music in general that my teacher Harold instilled in me.
Carl Palmer went from stopping me drumming, to becoming a man and his music I aspired to, I played his music every day along with Bonham, Sabbath, Tull. My heroes I aspired to.
It dawned on me, that those who put me down constantly; If THEY couldnít understand, THEY would hang shit in self defense. Ignorance.
To this day, I still see this, even in the newer terms I hear;
Lying by Omission Internet trolls
Lying by Omission is something I have been noticing lately;
When someone steals your work and labels it as their own, those who donít mention their original teacher who got them started in music as a ten year old, you only see the big noting name dropping on the resume after those names received them at a Tafe course, University or year 12 music student.
No mention of the teacher who had the patience to put up with their 10yo bullshit and see the greater picture, see the potential, slowly getting their student on track for greater things. That is why I always wear my influences on my sleeve.
But then I found a greater truth in our world of The Shithang and the Lies by Omission.
It wasnt THEM. I found it was ME, letting THEM get to ME.
So I stopped giving as good as I got, (though it is still there with me all the time) I sometimes think I am a recovering Shithang-a-holic Ive been in the music game so long now, I can see the Shithang coming a mile away.
Like a champion golfer who sometimes picks the wrong club then remembered forever as losing the championship, a drummer will go the traditional grip and finesse a stroke rather than going the bash and be seen as a jazzer rather than a rocker and there goes the gig and the confidence again.
Teaching wise, one of the most common things I say is Keep going, donít stop! No such thing as a mistake, in my house its called development!
I am so proud of being able to teach and play music at 54 years of age, my father never knew where I got the music gene from; he was a great man but could also have a minute or two of stupidity. Like me, like Father and Son.
He started the Irish music at The Dan OíConnell Hotel, my home, in 1965, he never thought outside the square he never thought that he surrounded me in music, and through that, music instilled self worth, confidence, survival. Life.
Therefore: Music stops, I stop. Music dies, I die.
I have strived to pass this on to whomever decides to begin music lessons with me.
Just the phone call to book a lesson is a great leap for many kids who have to put up with constant shithanging at home or school.
Iíve been so proud of all my students since giving my first lesson in 1978.
Sadly though, one has slipped through, and as a teacher I will always light a candle in my heart for my friend George Kristy.
George came to me for lessons in the late 1980s. He had the kind of personality that could light up a room. He had charisma, theres no doubting that, but as his teacher, he opened up to me that this could be a cover for his lack of self worth, his lack of confidence, his thin skin for the shithang.
Words hurt, they nearly destroyed me along with that big leather strap from that Jesuit prick Wallbridge back in Xavier College 1974. Somewhere, music gave me something to fight back with, now I know also, that sometimes I was fighting people who were actually on my side.
So, somewhere, I could see the same happening to George, if I read between the lines.
Everytime I tapped a pair of sticks at Hydes, George would often say I cant do that! with that quizzical look. Id say Thats not the point George, I couldnt hold down your gigs, nobody wants a Frank Zappa quintuplet in the middle of Hotter than Hell, they want your groove!
We would laugh naming rudiments after his wrestling moves;
Step over toe hold paradiddle
The Hammer Flam
The nine stroke atomic drag
Of course everyone knows he was an Australian Champion Wrestler inbetween his drumming? Now cherished memories.
I wish I could go back to Flemington tomorrow and buy another batch of sticks from my friend. But I cant. All I can do now is buy them from the boys at Flemington who loved him as much as I did.
We smile together, we laugh together, we remember together.
So, when I finally got to bed after walking for a few hours and having the three Kiss songs I played in his honour on repeat play until the battery ran out is to remember that every single person at the Esplanade Hotel on Wednesday 5th March 2014 held up their own candle to their friend George Kristy and knew that not one single breath of Shithang escaped their lips and despite our Mother Earth descending into ever decreasing circles of mediocrity, evil and collective Shithanging there was, for a few hours, a packed out house of players and punters alike that combined to fill a place that want to believe that the world could be a better place with a spirit like Georgeís in it.
I know he wasnt perfect, I know he was beaten by depression, I know depression is too often brought on by The Shithang.
So George, I played your drums last night and like every other drumming mate in the room, felt as though you were telling me where to put the sticks.
Maybe your life is better spent looking down on us and passing on a few secrets that youíve learnt in the short time up there about us still down here just being part of a loving team of musos rather than what can sometimes be a dog eat dog shitfight of chops and gigs.
We lost you last December. Some of us are still angry, bitter and wanting to scream, WHY! WHY!! WHY!!!, you were ever only a phone call away from so many of us!
But then all I can do is somehow eventually accept that there is a higher reason, maybe it was a way to bring so many people together like you always did with your smile, good humour and empathy I always found with you since you came to me for drum lessons way back when.
If thats the case, I think your first victory up there is a huge one, if the life of one man can bring on so much outpouring of love as all your friends saw last night, you humble me as a teacher and you humble all of us as a man.
Please look upon us kindly George Kristy, the great Carl Palmer killed my confidence once, now he is a God to me. Brother Wallbridge at Xavier was the most successful at trying to beat any thought of believing in a God out of me, so, in the same way something took you away from us, and now, because of what happened at The Espy last night, every single one of your friends, on stage and off, know that, together, we can beat the shit out of that evil enemy that stole you from us and stole your dreams, smiles and hopes from you.
6th March 2014
Chris Quinlan f.dip.a is a musician, drum and guitar teacher, and producer of Melbourne Musos - The Drum TV Show and author of the MMDC Drumset examination syllabus used throughout Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. He has written for Beat, Mixdown and Drummer Magazines. He was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards in 2013.