Sunday, September 27, 2020

West Janssen . Deaf Drummer

The day we left the Grand Canyon we drove south to Williams, AZ. I had forgotten about the drummer Peggy saw by the side of the road nine days before. This time when we’d almost reached Williams Peggy asked, “Did you see the drummer back a couple of miles?” I replied that I had not. It's good to have a spotter. I hesitated to turn around as I am wont to do. I am not a patient photographer. But I yielded to my better self and went back to see the musical novelty.

Sure enough a couple of miles north on the east side of Highway 62 a guy was dozing behind an impressive drum kit. Before him was a sign saying Deaf Drummer in Facebook, Donations OK. After all of my years of street photography I’m still leery about approaching subjects directly. But the Donations OK on the sign signaled the drummer’s willingness to be photographed. I folded a ten spot and put in my shirt pocket. As Peggy and I approached the musician looked up and greeted us.

I asked, “How’re you doing? Do you mind if I take your picture?” and handed him the ten. He said. "Not at all. Go for it.”

He picked up his sticks and began to play to the baseline in his head, so I’d get some action. After five minutes or so we began talking about the unlikely concept of a drummer that can’t hear. It's something I've read about but hadn't witnessed.

I asked, “How do you do it? Do you hear something.”

He responded “No. I’m completely deaf. I feel the vibration of what's being played.”

He told me that he could even tell the kind of music: country, rock, blues, you name it.

“How did this all happen?” I asked.

He told me that he grew up in Sunnyslope, a suburb of Phoenix. I said that I knew it well since both Peggy and I had Phoenix roots.

He continued that his mother was deeply religious and that they went to church every day. On one of those visits he saw a set of drums and began to play them.

His mother asked. “How did you learn to do that?

He told her he didn’t know. He just could.

She replied angrily, “Don’t lie to me in the house of God.”

When we were ready to leave I thanked him and gave him my card. He picked up a piece of note paper and wrote “West Janssen” his personal Facebook page and "Deaf Drummer", his group page. I said I’d Friend him and post any worthwhile images. He thanked me, stood up and approached me.

He said, “It’s really hot. Would you get me a big soda? There’s gas station two miles south toward Williams.”

I told him, “Sure, I’d be happy to. What kind do you want?”

He replied, “Dr. Pepper” and reached into his pocket.

I waved it off. "No. I'll get it."

We drove to the station to fill up and returned with an icy soda.

I’ve been thinking about happenstance, of chance encounters. I’ve been contemplating the miracle of learning one unique human being's story. West Janssen exemplified that miracle. I want to learn and share more stories. You have to be there to get the story. Then you need to listen.

West and I started a Facebook conversation. 

West posted that "The country singer Erica Sunshine Lee had bought me those drums for me as my other drums were literally falling apart....she stopped by just like Steve and I guess I inspired her enough that she gave me a phone call one day and made a donation and traveled many miles back to me and literally gave it to me."

I responded, "Thanks for adding to your captivating story, West. Sometime I'd like to learn more."

West told me, "Ask any questions and I'll tell you a story...I have a story behind every story that leads to a story. And none of it is made up or a fish's all truth...I do need a writer."

You are a writer, West.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Your storytelling career began long ago, Esteban, but by making connections and listening, the stories - both photographic and literary - are being enriched. Your chance meeting (and there is no such thing as coincidence in my book) with West Janssen provided a very interesting story for your blog. He is one of these people who reaches out and grabs you, effecting your life. Thank you for sharing your encounter with us, and making us think about the randomness of life!