Patty Schemel (Upset, Hole)

In junior high I joined the school band and chose the drums as my instrument. Our band teacher suggested I try the clarinet or the flute, since those were the girl instruments. I had to demand I be able to play drums. I had been practicing on a rented snare with a standard issue, rubber practice pad to put over top, and I would play the first Cars record over and over on different parts of the drum, even the rim, playing as if I had a full drum set in front of me.

When I got my first drum kit, I kept it right next to my bed so I could roll out of bed and keep going. I did get to play a soft treatment of a Karen Carpenter song for the annual performance, but all the real drum parts went to the other drummer Chris.

Maybe it was triggered by my parents’ divorce, or maybe I was feeling weird and defective at the idea that I might be gay, maybe it was in my genes. Whatever the trigger, I had all this aggression and I needed to channel it.

Anger is just one letter away from Danger.I liked the idea that I could play an instrument that girls weren’t supposed to, that I could pretend I was someone else. I loved that drumming hurt. Playing music, I could leave my body. And I loved that drumming hurt.

Drumming is a bloodsport, like boxing. It’s not for wimps. Part of developing the necessary stamina is to teach yourself to play through pain, something that women do particularly well. We labor and give birth. I’m giving this kid lessons right now (because now I teach boys to play drums, instead of the other way around), and the other day he got his first big blister and was surprised by how much it hurt. He really didn’t like it when I told him he had to pop it, that the only way through is to nurture those calluses. Your hands have to be like leather. But that’s just number one – that’s not even the painful part. When I’m playing I’m hitting those things as hard as I can. It’s not uncommon to smash a finger on the rim, or to open up fresh blisters or old wounds. Some people tape their fingers and ice their knuckles, but I prefer to let it bleed.

-Patty Schemel