In what ways is writing like drumming? Like a drummer, the writer lays down a pattern of rhythm that keeps the plot of a story moving, propelling it with a steady beat through various twists and turns. Novelist Nic Brown’s peripatetic memoir, Bang Bang Crash, examines his past life as a drummer and the ways it both haunts and informs his current life as a writer.
When he was 8, Brown took drum lessons from a local jazz musician, and by the time Brown was in high school, he was playing in a few bands around the Greensboro, North Carolina, area. Although he was accepted at Princeton and Columbia, he deferred enrollment to keep gigging with his band, Athenaeum. They landed a record deal when Brown was 19 and even had a hit song. Brown spent much of 1996 touring the country, fulfilling all he’d ever wanted for his life—but by the end of the ’90s, he was losing his enthusiasm for music, and other dreams were starting to glitter on the horizon. One day, Brown picked up his acceptance letter from Columbia again and discovered he was still enrolled, even after his deferral over a year earlier. So he dropped his sticks, picked up his pen and left behind rock to start writing fiction, eventually landing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
After all these changes, Brown realized that writing offered a kind of artistic fulfillment that playing music had lacked. “As a drummer, I’d been yoked to the projects of others for so many years,” he writes, “that now, as a writer, I [was suddenly] so intoxicated by the opportunity to have an artistic project be all my own.” Even so, those old percussive impulses remain deep in his heart and soul. “I never play the drums anymore, but they never cease playing me,” he writes. “Rhythms and songs and patterns are dancing constantly through my mind, twirling in and around the beat of the windshield wipers, the thud of my footsteps, the click of my grocery cart as I wheel it away.”
Bang Bang Crash doesn’t always keep a steady beat, and sometimes it hits more rim than skin. Nevertheless, it offers a stylish portrait of a life in search of a deeper rhythm.