September 14, 2010

My Sentiments on Mike Portnoy (and his Dream Theater departure)

"This is a sad, sad day....I'm afraid I have some bad news.... MP/DT Sept 1985 - Sept 2010"

--- Mike Portnoy, via Twitter/Facebook, 09 September 2010, 8:23am (Manila time)

I am one of the millions of Dream Theater fans from all over the world who are in a current state of shock and sadness, all because of the surprising departure of their drummer & one of the founding members, the mighty Mike Portnoy.

Being a Dream Theater fan since 1993, and Mike Portnoy being among one of my biggest drumming influences and inspiration, I share the same sentiments with DT and MP fans.  I'm shocked, I'm sad, and I'm a little bit angry as well.  But I totally understand Mike, based on his press release & judging from his recent radio interview (read transcript here).

We know how busy the band is all these years, and each individual member having their respective side projects.  But no other DT member is more workaholic than Mike, who mentioned in his 2007 instructional DVD In Constant Motion...

"My job has gone way beyond the drumset.  In fact, when I'm playing drums, it's just a small fraction of what I do in the band.  I'm one of the co-songwriters and arrangers, I'm one of the lyricists in the band, I produce the CDs, I direct the DVDs, I design the merchandise, I design the artwork and the album layouts... writing the set lists live, overseeing the websites and the fan clubs... It's just a constant 24/7 job..."

And these are only with Dream Theater.  Don't forget the many other things Mike do on the side, such as project bands, tribute bands, drum clinics, and sessions with other musicians and groups.

I understand Mike's feelings on how his routine with DT has become, well, a routine.  It's indeed a cycle of songwriting, recording & touring over the years.  If I were Mike, all that would definitely burn me out, regardless of how I love or how passionate I am with my work.  Perhaps Mike wants to slow down a bit and enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.  Mike is human too, and the guy deserves a break.  Plus I totally understand the physical aspects of drumming, especially with the more athletic nature of playing heavy rock music plus the mental challenges of playing progressive music.  Drummers need a break too.  A drummer of Mike Portnoy's stature truly deserves it.

How I wish Mike was given consideration by his DT bandmates.  At least a year of time out won't hurt the superband.  But, 4 out of 5 DT members prefer to keep working, and they don't share the same sentiments as Mike.  And the latter was forced to do something unimaginable.  Now that the damage's been made, the world of Dream Theater and the drumming community are going nuts.

I firmly believe that great drummers are the foundation of great bands.  Though there are many great bands out there who had a number of drummers in its lifetime, it may never be the same without the one drummer who played a significant role and casted a huge imprint on his/her respective group.  The Who and Led Zeppelin were never the same again after Keith Moon and John Bonham passed away.  Toto survived with the great help of Simon Phillips, but arguably it wasn't the same old Toto when Jeff Porcaro passed away in 1992.  And imagine how life and music would be if Metallica no longer has Lars Ulrich.  Or if Motley Crue doesn't have Tommy Lee.  Or if Neil Peart never played again with Rush (thank God Neil returned after his sudden hiatus over a decade ago).

Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy.  It's simply unimaginable.

In the meantime, I'll just see what will happen.  DT will go on, make a new album in 2011, and tour.  While Mike may never run out of things to do and music to play drums on, the idea of him no longer associated with DT may never sink in on me.  Yet in my heart, there's a flicker of hope that one day, Mike and DT will be together again.


Many of my friends and peers know that I'm a Dream Theater fan, and Mike Portnoy is a major influence to my drumming.  I practically grew up listening to their music & learning Mike's double bass licks, odd-time grooves, & polyrhythms. And up to this day I still enjoy listening to their music, analyzing the songs and learning the bits and pieces of Mike's drum parts.  I'm an avid follower.

I first heard or read about Mike Portnoy back in 1993.  I was a high school sophomore when I got this August 1993 issue of Modern Drummer which featured Mike Portnoy for the first time.  One day, I was at a record bar in Robinsons Galleria (a mall which was near my school) when I first saw a cassette tape of Dream Theater's breakthrough album Images And Words.  Yes, it was a cassette tape, and that was the first DT album that I've ever bought.  I don't have that tape anymore, but I acquired the CD years later.

After listening to that album for the first time, I was sold.  I became a fan, and Mike Portnoy instantly became one of my drum gods.  I think I was one of the first guys in my school who influenced my peers to check out Dream Theater.  I've drawn some of my buddies to listen to their music, and they got hooked as well.  Now how's that for being a positive influence?

One of my bandmates back in high school, Jappy Columna, were among those friends of mine who first heard DT through me.  He got so hooked, he brought home a DT Images And Words - Live in Tokyo concert video from his US trip during one summer vacation.  He was also able to find DT's 1989 debut album, When Dream and Day Unite.  Plus, he got me a Live At The Marquee CD, which I still have up to this day.

From then on, every new DT album was anticipated, and it's always a celebration whenever I get to listen to new materials for the first time.  The 1994 album Awake is among the most well-recorded albums I've ever heard, which was odd because Mike didn't use a Tama kit in that recording (no disrespect to Mapex drums).  Then, the EP A Change of Seasons came out, with that 23-minute epic plus some live covers.  Then there's 1997's Falling Into Infinity, which was their record label's attempt of making DT commercialized.  Many of the songs there were quite radio-friendly and more conventional and shorter (as opposed to DT's standards), though I like the instrumental track Hell's Kitchen.  After that flop, or should I say slight detour, they went back to their true old mighty selves and released Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, which became an instant progressive classic (and arguably the best DT album ever).

And off to the 21st century, more albums were created - Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Train Of Thought, Octavarium, Systematic Chaos, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, plus some live albums, compilations, and concert DVDs in between.  The more recent albums are more reflective of DT's heavy metal roots.  It's cool that they're still in touch with their "more is more" philosophy, and their music doesn't show signs of slowing down, which contradicts the infamous trend on progressive groups who tend to mellow as they age.  And of course, Mike Portnoy's drumming has been stellar all these years.  In fact, I think Mike's still getting better as he ages.

The big question among many fans is... Who will be filling in the Dream Theater drum throne?  We have yet to find out who that guy will be, and he's going to have huge shoes to fill plus anticipated comparisons and expectations of gargantuan proportions.  Sigh, I still can't imagine Dream Theater without Mike.  And hey Mike, despite how I'm feeling, I totally respect your decision.  Me & your legion of drumming fans here in the Philippines are still behind you.

Okay, who's filling in for Mike?

*The top photo is Mike's current Twitter photo.  The rest are from