June 2009 – Mike Nesmith’s ‘DIFFERENT DRUM’ is a song I learnt recently. Learning a song, and especially, figuring out a song (viz. from a recording, rather than someone teaching it to you or - something I almost never do – finding it in a book or on the internet) connotes to me a particular obsessive love that can only be sated by minute dismembering of the song, fumbling with its every note, grasping its tricks, cracking its mysteries. Really, it’s an excuse to listen to it over and over. And then to play it over and over. It’s almost like eating the song; it is absorbed, converted into energy, and becomes part of you. Once in a while, a songwriter has told me, “I haven’t written a song for a while,” [subtext: “Help! Will I ever write another?”]. I’ve recommended learning a few favourite covers; learning a song is like following the thought-process that led the songwriter to the song – glimpsing someone else’s paradigm is often what you need to lift you out of your own spent furrows.
My local cocktail bar is ‘The Different Drummer’; although I have lived in this suburb since I was 8, when my mother, sister, brother and I moved in with my step-father, his ex-wife and her girlfriend, I didn’t step into the dark doorway of ‘The Different Drummer’ until a month or so ago. As I sat with my beer, thus missing out on the 2-for-1 cocktail-offer, and Arabella sat with her two apple-sugary-something-or-others, the song (as sung by Linda Rondstadt) to begin playing in my mind. A few days later, Nic returned a pile of my records, including a Mike Nesmith (former Monkee) best-of I bought in Germany a few years ago. So! It just seemed like the right time to learn the song. While Linda’s version is full of drama, that of finally shaking off an unsatisfied, weepy lover in favour of glorious freedom, Mike’s version is light, loose, almost silly. But equally triumphant. It also has a verse I don’t remember being in Linda’s: “I feel pretty sure that you’ll find a man, who’ll take [I like this ‘take’, when you’d expect ‘give’] a lot more than I ever coulda can, and you’ll settle down with him, and you’ll be happy.” No matter how many times I raised the needle and thumped it (“Oops!”) back to the beginning of the song, I just couldn’t catch Mike’s picking pattern, so made up my own, which is about fifty-percent less charming.
P.S. In the Port Hedland tourist info centre, killing time before my bus to Broome was due to arrive, I struck up a conversation with the two women working there. “And over the road’s the __,” here the tourist-liaison-officer named a pub, but I’ve forgotten it, “which is in the Guinness Book of Records. The most stabbings in one night.” “Fatal,” the other tourist-liaison-officer added. I asked how many. “Three,” she said. The other said, “No, it was way more than that. It was fifteen or something.” They asked me to get out my guitar and play them a song. I played them DIFFERENT DRUM. It’s a good song for women to lay claim to, especially when in the man’s world of Port Hedland.