Life is funny. I had my friend Tim Simmons over to my house to play some music a while back, and he made an offhand comment: “Dude, you have the jankiest drumkit!”
To be fair, he was right. I bought my drumkit a year ago from a guy on the edge of town. The morning I picked it up, he was sharpening knives in his basement and eagerly awaiting a shipment of AK-47 rounds. I know this because he told me so.
He also threw a bunch of additional drums I didn’t need into the deal, telling me that he had to make room in the basement. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I also didn’t want to ask, as I didn’t really want to know how many AK-47 rounds he was waiting on. Mainly, I just wanted to leave before the ammunition arrived.
All of this is to say that it’s a previously-owned drumkit. Or, to put it another way, a recycled drumkit. Which means I’ve also had to make a few adaptations to make it sound the way I want it to sound: mixing and matching the various drums that my knife-sharpening friend foisted upon me, employing a vast array of odds and ends (including but not limited to duct tape, tea towels, a circle of plastic sheeting I cut from a shelf liner, and a polishing cloth that came with a pair of glasses) to get the heads to sound just right, and a length of chain on my crash cymbal to give it some “sizzle.”
Also worth noting, the kit is wedged into a tight corner in a tiny room in my basement. To get situated behind the drums, I need to squeeze between the ride cymbal and a worktable while trying not to knock over a stack of milk crates loaded with old recording gear.
So, yeah, Tim was right. My drumkit is definitely janky.
But here’s the thing: Tim loves the way it sounds, so he wasn’t criticizing my kit so much as marveling at how I’ve managed to jerry-rig it.
In any case, we played music for a bit, laying down some tracks for the follow-up to the first Simmons and Schuster album, and I pretty much forgot about Tim’s comment—until a few days later when I sat down to play my drums.
It really is a janky drumkit, I thought. Maybe there’s a story there.
Stories about music were on my mind (again) because of Tim. He had written a children’s book called Serafine Learns to Sing a few years earlier and was now teaching a course on writing stories for young readers. I’d also done a little bit of writing in the past myself, so I had a basic understanding of things like plot, character, and setting. So why not?
My original thought was to write a story called The Jankiest Drumkit. It would be told from the drumkit’s perspective and be about how the world’s jankiest drumkit was always being passed over until someone special discovered it and realized that it sounded amazing. The problem, though, was that I wasn’t sure how to tell the story from the perspective of an inanimate object. Also, if the drumkit were sentient, would there be ethical issues in terms of beating it with sticks?
So, no, the story wouldn’t be told from the drumkit’s perspective. Instead, I decided it would be about a child with a janky drumkit. And the child’s name would have to rhyme with “janky drumkit.” I’m not sure why. Maybe a hint of Dr. Seuss.
Curiously, it took me a while to come up with the name Frankie Lumlit. The Frankie part came pretty quickly. But the last name was the real mystery to me. I remember lying awake at night cycling through names: Gumbit? Humrit? Bumpit? Dumbwit? The list went on and on.
Once I settled on a name, I had an inkling that Frankie’s story shouldn’t be too close to my own. Something about buying a drumkit from a creepy survivalist sharpening knives in his basement while waiting for a shipment of AK-47 ammunition struck me as not quite right for a children’s book.
Also, if Frankie was supposed to be a child, how would he drive out to the edge of town to get the drumkit? It just didn’t make sense. That’s when I hit on the idea that Frankie might build his own drumkit. From there, it all came together very quickly—the story, anyway:
Frankie Lumlit leads a quiet life until he hears a song that changes everything for him (an experience that I imagine a lot of us have had). He’s so taken by the music that he wants to be a musician, too, but he can’t afford an instrument, so he builds a drumkit out of odds and ends he finds in the recycling bin (an echo of my own “recycled” drums). He’s proud of his drumkit until a friend of his laughs at it (shades of Tim Simmons!), but eventually his drumkit takes center stage at a big rock concert.
Once the story was written, I had to figure out how to illustrate it. I’d done some drawing and digital art in the past, so I knew I could start with some basic sketches on paper and then play with them in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. But I also wanted to make sure I came at it from the right angle, so I sketched out a bunch of possibilities for Frankie: a timid-looking kid with chubby cheeks, a round-headed Muppet, a pointy-eared gnome.
Eventually I decided that I was overcomplicating things and decided to do a quick sketch without thinking too much about it. Whatever I drew, that would be Frankie, and the other characters would follow from there.
As for the rest of it, I spent the next few weeks taking pictures and figuring out how to turn them into illustrations. A lot of tracing was involved. And a lot of superimposing of images on top of each other.
I should note that I owe a debt to my friend and colleague Wayne Brew for the image of the theater where the story reaches its climax; with his blessing, I traced a photo of an abandoned movie theater that he had posted on Instagram. I also put myself into that illustration as the “man with a clipboard.”
Altogether, it took me about a month to illustrate the book. When I was finished, I queried a few agents but never heard back, which is fine. I’d had a lot of luck with publishing my book about the Beach Boys’ Holland album directly through Amazon, so I figured I’d try the same thing with this one.
I suppose at this point I should mention the title of the book: Frankie Lumlit’s Janky Drumkit. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s what people in the industry call an “early reader,” which is to say that it’s written with an audience of six-to-eight-year-olds in mind.
My goal, as you might guess, was to write a book about creativity—something that can get a child’s imagination going, particularly with respect to music. For some reason, I imagine aunts and uncles who are into music buying it for their nieces and nephews who live in quiet homes like Frankie does at the beginning of the story. With any luck, it will open up a world of possibilities and encourage the kind of do-it-yourself ethos that inspires so many of the musicians and artists that I’ve grown to admire over the years.
If you’re curious, I’d love for you to give it a read:
Available on AMAZON USA
Available on AMAZON UK