The Beat of Life

It was August of 1976 and I had my temporary license, which meant I could drive but had to be accompanied by a parent. The victim of constant parental critique, I sat with my hands at “10 and 2,” going a thrill-seeking 25 mph and quietly driving the family Ford Maverick into the grocery store parking lot. Mom went inside to get “just a few things,” and I stayed in the car. This move was partly to not be seen in the grocery store at 16 with my mommy, and also to deliver the impression that I was driving on my own, even if I was just parked at the moment.

I hung one arm out the window and leaned the seat back.

With my sunglasses low on my nose, I was ready for road action, baby. Bad to the bone … albeit with my mama. I flicked on the radio and pressed the “FM converter” so that I could listen to the real music, man. And then I recall being overcome with a indescribable, euphoric feeling. There was this new band with a new sound, and the sound was huge.

Having studied drums, tympani and marimba by that age and playing in the school band and orchestra since I was in third grade, I was not really a novice deciphering the precision with which this band performed. The song’s refrain told me it was “More Than a Feeling,” and the drummer, Jim Masdea, was playing so hard and so loud I thought he might be using tree limbs for sticks. I turned it up and the single speaker crackled with reverberation. I had found my sound, my signature, the language of my people, man.

Suddenly Mom dropped into the passenger seat with an irritated look and performed immediate loudness-interruptus by shutting the radio off abruptly. The urgent silence made me jump. The lecture began about how she could hear the radio from the store and how I must have lost my mind, but I had already blocked her out. I said very calmly that I wanted to walk home, and she looked puzzled. “You don’t want to drive?” I explained I was going to the record store up the street and would be home later. In those days I walked and biked everywhere so she had no problem with it, and I hiked up to the incense-laden and poster-walled store where a girl named Daphne in a tie-dyed poncho and many silver rings handed me my first Boston record. I used my lowest voice to thank her and said a quick thank you to God that I had walked there instead of having Mom’s bright-white Maverick waiting for me in front of the store for Daphne to notice.

Learning the Beat

Seated at my drum set with a pair of 1968 headphones on that looked like two half-grapefruits held together with a bungee cord, I began wearing away at my eardrums from a decibel level that was possibly illegal. I broke a stick within the first two minutes of playing along to the song. Mom appeared, speaking silently as the music blared. I removed the headphones to hear what she was saying, and ever the encourager, I read her lips as my head rang. “That sounded pretty good,” she smiled. I smiled back and played along all afternoon until my arms were numb.

I recall thinking there was no one I would rather be than a member of this band. Set for life making money while playing the music they love. “What a life they must have,” I thought enviably.

Over the years and through the many jazz bands I have played in, the lessons learned at the hands of Boston have come back several times. For the readers who are drummers, you know what it means to “fill,” and for those of you not familiar with the term, the best way to describe it is the sounds made by a young Phil Collins during the short drum solo in the song “In the Air Tonight.” You know the part where the song breaks into the really hard rhythm? Well, where the drums usher that big beat in is called a “fill.”

Boston put the big time/big sound fill on the map, and modern drumming has never been the same. Their songs used those massive segues for drama and “hooks” that are now often a staple of modern music. As years before when a young fellow named Barry Manilow, who once wrote commercial jingles for clients like State Farm Insurance and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and then began recording pop songs, Boston knew they had carved a niche.

Along with the big drum sound came the strong, steady vocals of lead singer Brad Delp. He sang with such passion and anguish, and his booming accents were made for the task of leading such an overwhelming sound. He had it all and sang the anthem of the teens that refused to commit to disco in the mid-‘70s. A one-time employee of Mr. Coffee, where he made heating elements, Brad had been found and in turn found his voice. He sang for a generation that had progressively become known as apathetic. He woke us up.

You Already Have What You Seek

Brad Delp was found dead in his apartment March 9, 2007. Police reports released a few weeks later stated that the death was a suicide and that a note had been paper-clipped to the neck of his shirt when the body was found in his bathroom, his head on a pillow. The note read, “Mr. Brad Delp. J’ai une ame solitaire. I am a lonely soul.”

Another tragic ending to what appeared to be a golden life.

I don’t know the details of his existence or where his world had gone since the fame of a few decades ago. Basic Web information reveals that he had been married and divorced, just like half of the people currently living in this country, but for some reason, the thought of another day was more than he could handle or properly cope with.

Try punching in “celebrity suicides” to any of the basic search engines on your computer. The vast list will blow you away. Some you will read about and be amazed that you hadn’t heard about them before. But if you look at the lives of movie and TV stars, pro-athletes and famous musicians, and the ever-present link between them and their trouble in dealing with normal life challenges, the list should not be that surprising.

Today it seems, as an antidote, we are immersed in examples of celebrities trying to step beyond their wealth and do something intensely productive with their lives.

Recent examples of Oprah Winfrey, Bono and Bill Gates come to mind. The adoption obsession of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as well as that of Madonna and others, illustrates another flailing attempt at normalcy amidst the unbearable difficulty of being just another shooting star.

Some go the other way. They try to surgically defy nature and get 10 or 20 years back by cinching up the burlap bag that is their face and making it seamless. This usually ends in a mouth that looks like that of either Kermit or Charley McCarthy, and/or a constant look of surprise. And all for what? To appear like you are not really 50?

I got news, babe. If you were the young chick co-star in a Robert Redford or Harrison Ford epic, I highly doubt if a whole case of Bondo is going to improve your chances of being the love interest of Vince Vaughn or Leonardo DiCaprio.

All kidding aside, the point is this: Almost every celebrity struggling with finding a purpose in life seems to wind up seeking the smallest, minimal existence and returns to the basics of family, home and simple love. They climb the highest mountain, just to find all they ever really wanted was already in view. So once this realization is made, they hurriedly ski down the slope and try to regain what was lost in pursuit of what they thought was their dream. The dream, now so elusive, has all but escaped because their lives have become a spectacle for others to watch, evaluate and comment on.

Here’s the secret. You already have what they seek. You have the love and home and privacy to enjoy it all right here and now without interference and the judgment of others. Maybe, instead of wishing your life away, wanting the things that many of these stars would gladly give back, you should take inventory of what you have and be happy right where you are. Vaudeville great Eddie Cantor once said, “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast--you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

It is a sad thing to hear of a self-inflicted death no matter what the celebrity or anonymity of the victim. One can only hope that others learn from it and reach out to those despondent among us who might not have found as many reasons to carry on as they found reasons to check out.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at