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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a New Language

Article by Sean Mitchell // May 02 2008
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a New Language

Insecure feelings creep up on the best of us. Case in point, during the weekend of April 26th and 27th, 2008, I attended Canada’s premier drumfest, The Cape Breton International Drum Festival. As a young aspiring drummer I was obviously awestruck by the fact that I was hob-knobbing and having supper with my idols. One night it was dinner with Carmine Appice, Alan White, Danny Seraphine, Ed Mann, Dom Famularo and Liberty DeVitto, and the next day it was a one-on-one discussion about Motown with none other than Funk Brother alum Uriel Jones. Nevermind the fact I watched each pro perform the grooves that made them the legends they are today. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the man himself, Michael Shrieve, perform "Black Magic Woman." 

For a guy from the sticks, it was a weekend of intense emotion and heartfelt awe, combined with the raw desire to want to sit down and jam along side Liberty DeVitto as he hammered out “Angry Young Man.” As I sat and watched each performer amaze me, there was this nagging feeling inside me—like I wasn’t a good enough drummer to share the stage with them. I didn’t have the experience to sit along side Danny Seraphine and say we are colleagues, did I? (Notice the language, here, folks. It’s all about the language.)

“These are legends, Sean”, I would say to myself. “They are above you. They sit upon the pedestals you create and are only to be admired.” 

It was, of course, my job that weekend to gather interviews and photos for our magazine. By attending the festival as “press” rather than as a performer, it also fueled the insecurity flames even more. (Side note: since the festival, I have decided to label The Black Page “the drumming community’s voice” rather than “press”). Of course I was treated like gold by all performers and the festival staff alike, so my insecurities had no real foundation and were only the self-defeating tapes that play in my head from time to time. Needless to say the old insecurity dial was cranked up to ten (eleven, if you’re a Spinal Tap fan).

Then it happened without warning. During my interview with Liberty (Mr. Devitto) he crushed the illusion of legend, in his thick Brooklyn accent, and shattered the pedestal I had sat him on like a glass house. 

“When I was a kid and I saw Buddy Rich, I felt very insecure in my playing," said Liberty. "When I saw, like, say Dom Famularo play, I was very insecure in my playing, even though I had gold albums on the wall.”

Could it be? Is it possible that even Liberty DeVitto himself had some level of insecurity? The guy who can crush the 2 and 4 harder than anyone around? A guy that has been to the line more often than any drummer of his caliber? The guy who consistently plays as if every note were his last? Here was a man that I have idolized from day one of my drumming career admitting insecurities about his own playing. What was worse was that I dared relate to said comment, which of course took me down yet another self-defeatist path.

“I don’t really care if other drummers like the way I play. I want guitar players, bass players, keyboard players, and singers to like the way I play. Because I found out a long time ago, the odds of me going in to a recording studio with another drummer are really small!”

Upon listening to these new tapes (the ones I was literally making with my voice recorder as I interviewed Liberty, Dom, Alan, Uriel and Ed), I discovered the secret to unlocking the power behind insecurity. Yes folks even your deepest darkest fears have a purpose. 

A very wise man once said to me, “If you are not nervous, you are not ready.” In every challenge there lies the ability for us to discover the limitless bounds and the skills that we possess. However, it is not until we are faced with life’s challenges (or gifts, for those of you paying attention to message of this article) that we are able to reassess the language we use on ourselves and start to work through insecurities. Through this act of self reflection, we become twice the person we were even two hours ago. As we grow, we evolve every day, and with each day we are presented with new challenges. If there were no challenges, nothing would change. 

As my weekend wound down, I found myself once again having dinner with my very good friend Dom Famularo (notice the change in language here folks). After dinner a jam session ensued as one would expect. Dom got up with the band, and then did what I oddly enough now hoped he would do. He turned to me from the stage, pointed the sticks toward me, and said, “Sean get up here.” For those of you yet to follow Dom onstage let me just say, it gives new meaning to the word self-expectation.

As I took the throne, I glanced around the room and took note of the players still mulling about the room. Carmine Appice, Danny Seraphine, Liberty DeVitto, Dom Famularo, Alan White, Michael Shrieve, Uriel Jones, Aldo Mazza, and Ed Mann. All legends. 

In the end we are all drummers, and we all speak the language of rhythm. Each of us represents our own path with different levels of skill, popularity, experience and insecurities. That night I played a couple of tunes in the presence of some drummers who happened to have achieved legendary status for doing the one thing they (and I) love doing. Playing drums.



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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