“What?” I yelled to the guy behind the counter.
“You need an accessory attenuator- it modulates the signal coming out of your microphone pre-amp,” he said.
I think that is what he said. I could barely hear him over the noise. We were standing in the main showroom at the Guitar Center in Hollywood, surrounded by would-be Eric Claptons and Stevie Ray Vaughns. I was buying some audio gear for my computer and managed to stumble in during the Memorial Weekend blowout and the place was packed. A diverse crowd of rockers, punks, rappers, skateboarders and country crooners meandered beneath hundreds of guitars hanging on the walls.
Ten feet away a guy with a spider tattoo on his face wailed on a black Gibson Flying V. Further down a Fiona Apple clone was strumming a used Ibanez Roadstar 2. In the corner a small crowd surrounded a modern day Elvis as he plunked out “Jailhouse Rock” on a candy apple red 1986 Fender 57 Strat. Across the room a guy in a big Afro slammed bass lines on a Warwick Corvette 5-string Bass. The cacophony of speed metal, alternative country, pop, blues, rockabilly, and funk rocked the walls and made the floor vibrate.
“How much is it?” I asked, rubbing my fingers in the air to indicate money, as if he couldn’t hear me. I think the salespeople at Guitar Center must read lips because he calmly replied, “It’s $75 with the potentiometer.”
I paid him quick just to escape the sound monster eating the room. As I moved towards the exit, I saw a sign that said “DRUMS — UPSTAIRS”. They have a whole floor for drums? I’ve discovered the Macy’s of music! I can hear the elevator operator: “2nd Floor- Drums, 3rd Floor- Brass and Such, 4th Floor- Pianos and Keyboards, 5th Floor- Flutes and Piccolos. Watch Your Step!”
Pictures of famous drummers line the stairs- here is Chick Webb and Buddy Rich standing outside the Zildjian Cymbal factory in Quincy, Mass in the late 30’s. The Zildjians have been making their famous cymbals since the early 1600’s. One music group that used their cymbals then was an early KISS style band. Times were more conservative then- they were called DON’T KISS UNTIL AFTER THE ARRANGED MARRIAGE. They had quite a following — the lead singer was also the best hammered- dulcimer player in the world.
The swelling in my ears was just starting to go down when I heard the drums. As I ascended the stairs they became louder and louder. Drums were everywhere — on the steps, on the floor, on the walls, hanging form the ceiling. Full drum sets were erected on raised platforms. Behind each sat over-caffeinated drummers banging, smashing and crashing away at their kits. It was almost as loud as the guitar room. But it was worse because the drums sounded like they were right inside my head — like Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were banging on my cerebellum.
Shortly I ran down the stairs and out the front door. The chaos of Sunset Boulevard was a welcome change. I’ve seen the biggest, loudest rock bands in the history of big, loud music — from the Rolling Stones to KISS to Genesis to U2. But none were as loud as the hundreds of future rock stars in Guitar Center trying out the discounted guitars and drums — all at the same time.