The drums are talking, b’wana

I BLAME the parents.

We used to give kids tin drums to bang on when they were… well, kids. They expressed themselves by beating seven bells out of the damn things while we smiled fondly and urged our friends to agree how cute they were.

Then tin drums went out of fashion and kids had to have toys that were educational, or that told you when you pulled a little string that they were going to grow up to be a fashion model, God help us.

Now we’re stuck with an entire generation of deprived young people who think drums are musical.

Why couldn’t it be harps, or flutes? Even a bloody piano would have been better. Or to put it another way, less bad.

I have nothing against drums. I’ve seen the old movies where someone is saying, “The drums are talking, b’wana.” And if you strained your ears you could hear their patter, like rain falling on a distant mountain. At least they were talking quietly.

Now the simple tin drum, with its motif of little soldiers standing to attention around the edge, has gone. Our kids mutated into creatures from sci-fi comics and they took the drums with them.

The tin drum with its metallic “pang!” has been replaced by an armoury of instruments (as in instruments of torture) with names like djembe, tabla, bongo and conga, and a sound that turn the intestines of listeners to paste at 100 metres.

The lines of little soldiers have given way to skulls. I think some of them are real.

And they work the same way as flies, or vultures. There’s never just one. Not for long anyway. Someone starts pounding out a beat and before the vibrations have shaken the china of the mantelpiece they’re flocking like hyenas round a rhino corpse. Some of them have to drive because their drums are too big to carry.

Why couldn’t they be content with guitars, like we were? Yes, I know they were loud, too; but they could be quiet. And you could sing to them. Drummers may tell you drums can be quiet, too, but they never are (unless it’s in a movie, on a distant mountain). And you can’t sing to them. You can’t even think to them. They are deafening and hypnotic and half a dozen playing together for ten minutes could render you catatonic for the rest of your life.

It’s not music of course, no matter what they say. It’s rhythm. Assuming you get a bunch that knows what it’s doing. And rhythm is good for a limited number of things: marching to; screwing together nuts and bolts in factories; line dancing. Almost any mindless and repetitive activity that requires a minimum of thought.

I have this sneaky feeling that drumming is what people do when they don’t have the mental application to learn a proper instrument.

Times and trends change. Drums will pass — for a while — to be replaced by something I shall probably moan about much more savagely. Maybe it’ll be an instrument that hasn’t been invented yet.

As long as it’s not the piano-accordion, I can cope.