Hell if I knew. Which is why I had made the pilgrimage to Explorer's Percussion on Wornall Road on a Wednesday night. It was holy ground for one night only, for that was where I knew I would find Anton Fig.
I expected to see about five people there. Me, Anton Fig, two store employees and some guy whose car had broken down and needed to use the phone. Instead, the place was packed. At least 150 people. Young and old. Geeky computer techs and grizzled mechanics. Zit-faced kids with braces and tattooed lifers with ponytails and skin leathered by late nights in smoky dives. Mothers had brought their sons. Fathers had brought their daughters. Every inch of the store's showroom was filled with folding chairs holding people who had paid $9 a pop to see Fig. Some stood, including a guy wearing a Kiss shirt and holding a copy of the Robert Gordon record Fresh Fish Special to be autographed.
Yes, even drummers have them. As it turns out, Anton Fig is what my buddy 50 Cent might call a p-i-m-p. It hardly matters that he doesn't look the part. He doesn't rock ice. He doesn't roll on dubs. He doesn't have D-cup arm candy. In fact, Fig entered the room to hearty applause wearing a dark polo shirt and glasses.
But Fig is a superstar in the Loyal Order of Drumming. His day job is manning the monstrous kit in the CBS Orchestra on Late Show with David Letterman. He started with weddings and bar mitzvahs, then did studio work for Ace Frehley. He has played with Mick Jagger, Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, B.B. King and Brian Wilson. He's one of the most prolific studio drummers around, including his own solo album (Figments) released on his own label (Planula Records).
Drummers are easily overlooked, tucked as they are in the background. They are the shy ones. The ones who meet inglorious Spinal Tap ends like spontaneous combustion or choking on somebody else's vomit. But beyond Ringo's goofy smile and ?uestlove's cotton-candy afro, there are some bad mama jammas.
After all, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen didn't let a little thing like a severed left arm stop him from slapping skins. And who says drummers can't be just as debauched as frontmen? Just ask Keith Moon. Wait, you can't. Because he died of an overdose 25 years ago. See what I mean?
Members of this odd, stick-twirling lot aren't initiated so much as ordained.
"I always felt like the drums chose me and not the other way," Fig told the crowd, speaking in a subdued South African accent. "I never decided to get into music for the chicks -- although that's a perfectly good reason -- or for the money. I just loved the sound of the drums."
Drummers have their own language. As Fig alternated between discussing his art and exhibiting it on a kit at the front of the room, I tried to decipher the foreign dialect. I caught something about quarter notes, straight eights, fills, double-stroke rolls, snockers, castanets, metronomes and triple paradiddles.
I think he just made up the last two. But I wouldn't know the difference. I felt like I was back in sophomore algebra. It was Mr. Phillips explaining polynomials all over again, only with a kick-ass rhythm section.
"I didn't get here by being the fastest drummer in the world or because I had the best technique or the best chops," I heard Fig tell the crowd. "There's always going to be somebody better than you ... But if you listen to a baby talk, they start off like everybody else, but then they eventually are able to talk in their own way."
The audience seemed to understand. They nodded enthusiastically when Fig spoke and played air drums when he pounded out his lessons. Drummers, I realized, are the blue-collar worker ants of the music world. They have to grind out a living. Plying their craft, making instructional videos with titles like Carter Beauford: Under the Table and Drumming or Anton Fig's in the Groove: A Drummer's Perspective.
In this way, Fig is an inspiration. After thanking his sponsors and the audience, Fig ended his appearance with -- what else -- a drum solo. But it was a hell of a drum solo, a furious, rumbling thunderstorm with flying sticks that ended with an emphatic crash of the cymbals. And the crowd went wild.