Ten-year-old drummer Nandi Bushell just became my hero.
In case you missed it, she’s Foo Fighters' frontman Dave Grohl’s hero, too. (And he knows a thing or two about heroes, having written a song about them that’s been an anthem on rock radio since the late 1990s.)
Last week, young Nandi almost broke the internet when she joined Grohl and the Foo Fighters at the Forum in Los Angeles, playing drums as the band rocked their seminal hit “Everlong” in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 10,000.
The performance was flawless and gave yours truly a welcome break from a vitriol-fueled internet, perpetually mired in a win-or-die political campaign.
It was a truly magical moment. A wide-eyed kid with a smile as big as a national park playing my favorite instrument with the world’s top rock band in front of a bonafide live audience.
As a lifelong drummer who began his musical journey about twenty years before Nandi was born, I’ve often fantasized about rocking out in from of an arena of crazed fans. I’ve closed my eyes and heard the roar from the crowd as they recognize the opening riff of the song they came to see. I’ve felt the adrenaline as my drums pound their way into the party. I've imagined basking in the rumble as an entire arena comes together as one, bouncing in perfect metronomic meter to the relentless beat.
I’d venture to say, anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar or pair of drumsticks anytime after the Beatles played the American living room on the Ed Sullivan show knows this daydream.
That’s rock ‘n roll. Cathartic. Infectious. Open to possibility.
Back to Nandi Bushell, who at ten years old has already lived the dream. Where does she go from here? Most web scribes have her penciled in for super-stardom. And why not? The kid spent the previous year racking up viral hit after viral hit with a string of can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-screen videos featuring her playing along (and primal screaming) with hard rock hits of the day.
If you’re unfamiliar, look any of these videos up. The are fantastic. Their no-frills production and purity will affirm your connection to what’s possible in this world, even if you’ve never played a musical note in your life.
The world needs wunderkinder like Nandi, and social media has proven deft at finding them from the far corners of the world and funneling them to the feeds at our fingertips.
I see two problems here with the internet providing yet another shortcut for people looking to be entertained and starstruck hopefuls seeking an audience. Neither really affects me or you, assuming you’re an over-the-hill fan like me and not a teenager in a garage band with a choose-your-own rock adventure ahead of you. (I miss those days.)
The first problem is for Nandi to solve, and I think she will.
While lifelong drummers like me may marvel at her two-handed sixteenth note attack, her unwavering meter, and professional grasp of dynamics, most of the world loves her simply because she’s young, cute, and skilled.
That's fine for today. But what happens when Nandi grows up and evolves her art?
This is the classic, child-actor conundrum. Call it the Macaulay Culkin Syndrome. The world may be your oyster when you’re ten years old, but anything you do after that, no matter how evolved, just reminds us of what you did when you were a kid and first captured our hearts.
We so often don’t let the child star evolve because to do so would admit we’re getting older. That's on us.
It’s not Macaulay’s fault that every time you see him these days, you secretly long for the clock to turn back so you can be young again. And it won’t be Nandi’s fault when the same thing happens ten years from now.
Yet a part of us wants the prodigy to remain frozen in youth so we can stay tethered to the days when the world was open with possibility.
I’m optimistic. Not necessarily about the future, but about Nandi’s future. In my crystal ball, I see her evolving from an internet sensation to a professional who learns from the best old pros on Earth and goes on to take the art of drumming to heights never before seen.
On to the second problem. This one involves kids who believe viral fame is a shortcut around years of growing pains that every budding musician must endure in order to attain the bulletproof confidence the pros make look easy.
To these hopefuls, I say Nandi Bushell is an aberration. So too is every “Instagram” musician who racks up likes and followers with cool snippets of playing they broadcast to the web’s tidal wave of other fame-hungry posers who wrongly think building an impressive following trumps years of learning how to play music with others.
Don’t just take my word for it, kids.
Dave Grohl himself has said there is no shortcut to putting in the work and learning how to move a live audience to catharsis. He’s right. And whether you become the leader of the biggest band in the world as he has, or end up a forty-something drummer playing in bars and garages like me, you’ll look back on the time you spent striving and suffering with others in the pursuit of music as a memory you’ll cherish forever.
And the people who were with you in the trenches during that musical journey become your heroes. They are for Dave Grohl. They are for me, too.
Fred Smith's debut novel, The Coolest Labels, is about a group of disparate teens trying to put their lives back together in the devastating wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 Miami, Florida.
A lifelong drummer, Fred spends a few minutes every day playing the instrument that helps him make sense of the world.