Tahoe Pine Nuts: What do Gene Krupa, Mark Twain have in common?
Once upon a time I was a drummer. In 7th grade I would drum with my hands on anything that wasn’t moving.
I would coax a dog over to be petted, then start to drum on that dog, and that dog would keep the beat with his hind foot, as if trying to start a motorcycle.
My parents made the mistake of buying me a drum set for my 13th birthday and I came within an ace of drumming them into the Napa Insane Asylum.
They would repair to their bedroom with industrial sized earplugs stuffed into their ears whenever I started drumming, then fire up a fan, the equivalent of a DC-8 jet engine, while I pounded away to Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, pretending to be Gene Krupa.
Krupa took a sensational solo during “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which I tried my best to duplicate, but never quite got it right. Yet I continued to try and try, until finally, as a junior at the University of Oregon, I finally got it down.
So what was a young man about to enter the real world going to do when the only thing in that world he could do well was to play Gene Krupa’s 1938 solo on the drums? He would become Mark Twain, of course. If I couldn’t be Gene Krupa I would become Mark Twain.
I memorized some Mark Twain material and signed up for a school enrichment program audition, whereby school administrators and teachers watched you perform, and if they deemed you worthy, they would contact you to visit schools and perform at assemblies. Then the unexpected happened…
The performer who auditioned prior to my debut was a drummer. I watched with keen interest as he told everybody how to play the drums, then demonstrated. He was very good and received a hearty round of applause from the judges.
But he didn’t take his drums with him when he left the stage. He just left them out there. Then they called my name. Well, I couldn’t help myself. I staggered onto that stage in my white suit with my hair sprayed white, walked over to that drum set, laid down my cigar, picked up the sticks and laid into Gene Krupa’s solo with everything I had.
The place went nuts. I finished with four knocks on a cowbell and the auditorium erupted with shouts of approval and a standing ovation.
I picked up my cigar, walked to the microphone, and launched into a comparatively wooden impression of Mark Twain.
In my first year of becoming Mark Twain I received more calls to be Gene Krupa than I did to be the Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope, but I no longer owned a drum set.
It saddens me, 28 years later, after 4,000 performances as Mark Twain, that I never got to be Gene Krupa.
However, there are moments while performing as Mark Twain that I remember the importance of the pause, and in my heart I knock on Krupa’s cowbell before diving back into my diatribe.
If there is such a thing as diverse fusion, and I believe there is, I can attest to perhaps the most remote example of diverse fusion, that of drummer extraordinaire, Gene Krupa, and the Bohemian of the Sagebrush, Mark Twain.
Do yourself a great service and listen on YouTube to Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall, “Sing, Sing, Sing.” At any age, it will do your heart good.
Learn more about MvAvoy Layne at http://www.ghostoftwain.com.
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