Few rock musicians are better qualified to talk about the intersection of music and healing than Rick Allen, drummer of Def Leppard. The band’s album ‘Pyromania’ was selling millions of copies in the U.S. and their videos were all over MTV when in 1984 he lost his left arm in a car crash. His bandmates famously stood by him and he remained in the group — retraining himself with new techniques and a customized electronic drum kit. Allen’s Raven Drum Foundation now helps other survivors of trauma. I spoke with Allen about the power of drum circles, drinking tea with AC/DC’s Bon Scott and the music he is most proud of making.
What is the healing power in drumming?
It’s something that the ancients knew, something that’s in every culture. I didn’t get the true healing power of drumming until after my accident. Especially in a drum circle where you have intention behind each of the rhythms. It’s that empathy. There are other people in the circle that have been through the same hardships — or the same joys — that you have. And it becomes this wonderful shared experience where it’s not a secret anymore. You’re like ‘man, you suffered with that also.’ And then it kind of softens everything. It makes it so powerful.
Fifty guitarists playing together is a mess. Why are drum circles better at bringing everyone in sync?
Most drummers that I know — they’re very good listeners. They have the idea of gluing the whole musical experience together and being the backbone. Part of that is listening to where you fit in. What is the syncopation? Am I complimenting the vocal or am I stepping all over it? Am I creating a rhythm that works with the other instruments or is it just me dominating everything? In a drum circle you’re putting out at the same time you’re receiving. Everybody listens to everybody else.
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