The Drum Circle

By:  Kevin Cobbs

I moved to New York in 2010. I was 23, slept on a mattress on the floor and subsisted on a pretty steady diet of bologna sandwiches and 40oz bud lights. I lost thirty pounds in the first few months. My newfound skinny frame really accentuated my enormous head. 

My first apartment was located on the southeast side of Prospect Park. I had a second story view of the lush green trees that lined Ocean Avenue. I paid five hundred a month for my share of the rent. It was insanely cheap, really an amazing deal, but the place had its drawbacks.

Most nights until about 4am, the kids above us would run wildly up and down the hallway. Stomping their feet all along the way. It was, to put it mildly, extremely fucking loud.

One night a group of guys followed my roommate and me home and tried to push our door in. We had to team up to shove the door closed.

And on one evening while hanging out in the lobby with a bunch of neighbors, we were all horrified when someone banged so loudly on the front door of the building, one of our neighbors ran into his apartment only to emerge seconds later wielding a sawed off shotgun.

There were some harrowing experiences in my two years there. But overall, it was a good first apartment. And threw me into the fire of New York living.

On Sundays in the fall, my roommate and I would usually watch football on TV. Across the street in the park was Drummers Circle. I capitalized those letters because that’s what it’s actually called. There was a plaque and everything. Every Sunday from morning until slightly after sundown, a drum circle would form and pretty much play nonstop. It was really annoying. But eventually the noise became familiar, faded into the background and we forgot it was happening.

I scoffed at drum circles in general. I thought they were for hippie trust fund kids at liberal arts schools. To be clear, I don’t hate drums. In fact, I play the drums. I love the drums. But drum circles? Not gonna happen. I wouldn’t be caught dead playing the bongos.

One Sunday afternoon I was out tossing a football with my roommate (Okay, we like football. A lot). The drum circle was in full swing. We wandered over to scope the scene. I was surprised to see they had a full drum kit. A drum circle rarity, usually it’s just bongos and djembes and rainsticks.

It’s hard for me to see a drum set and not sit down and “bang the skins”. Though I had my preconceived notions about drum circles, admittedly this one seemed fun. I was intrigued and I was curious, but I was also shy.

After a few minutes, I sheepishly asked one of the guys if I could play. He agreed, gave me a pair of sticks, and I started tentatively banging around a bit.

I played a fairly simple beat self-consciously for a few minutes.  A few other guys sat down and started playing other percussion instruments: even what I believed to be the devil’s instrument—the bongos.

After a while the insecurity faded. I got into a zone, a “Zen-like” state even. I wasn’t thinking at all. Just playing. The anxious, self-conscious part of my brain just shut off completely.

We probably played together for about fifteen minutes. Then as if we all knew this beat had run its course, we stopped. Without even exchanging a look to each other. On the same downbeat. I snapped back into reality, but was still in kind of a blissful state.

That was the day I realized drum circles are cool. Well maybe not cool, but there’s something to ‘em and it was probably me who was the asshole for making fun of them up until that point.

After that I went on to play live in several bands in New York, and continue to do so.

It’s a lesson I like to re-learn often. Sometimes doing something that makes you uncomfortable, something that you feel like a real dork for trying, is often totally worth doing at least once.

And that’s the power of putting yourself out there in New York City. Me, a fairly cynical guy from Atlanta, had such a great experience that I totally overcame my hatred of hippies’ favorite pastime—the drum circle.

Today, I have a bed frame in a much better apartment, but still consume my fair share of 40oz bud lights. I gained those thirty pounds back and then some. I still play the drums and my enormous head has never looked better.