An Interview between Drummer Boy and his creator, Stephen Leigh

by

Stephen Leigh

STEVE LEIGH
S.L. FARRELL


SL:  Hi, I’m Stephen Leigh, sitting down today with Michael Vogali, aka DB or Drummer Boy. Actually, we’re conducting this interview via Skype, since DB’s in Chicago and I’m in Cincinnati. So, with that: DB, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview with the writer who created you.

DB: You didn’t create me. You don’t think I couldn’t see the byline in all those stories except the last one?  Wasn’t your name up there, was it? It was some guy (or maybe not, who the hell knows?) called S.L. Farrell. That ain’t your name, is it?

SL: That was a pseudonym. A nom de plume. Just like your real name’s Michael Vogali, not DB or Drummer Boy or…

DB: (scowls and breaks in loudly) Don’t you fucking dare say the next name! Not if you want this interview to go any further.

SL: Okay, okay. But I am the writer who created your character and all those names.

DB: Maybe you are. Or maybe not. After all, you’re a writer of fiction. That means you’re essentially a professional liar. Worse, you write that science fiction and fantasy junk, which means you’re not a real writer anyway.

SL: And you’re vulgar, profane, and aggressive. And probably a sex addict as well.

DB: Well, if you’re really my creator, I could paraphrase Jessica Rabbit’s line from Roger Rabbit. I’m just written that way. So if S.L. Farrell’s a fake name, why is that, huh?  What were you trying to hide? Was all the stuff you wrote under your real name just crap?

SL: (with narrowed eyes and a decided edge to his voice) No. Look, at the time, I’d written almost entirely science fiction but I had an idea for a Big Fat Fantasy that I really wanted to write. My editor at the time told me that if I wrote a fantasy, I’d need a pseudonym. She believed that the readers of science fiction and fantasy didn’t overlap. She thought those who had read and enjoyed my sf would think “Oh, Leigh’s written a fantasy; I’ll give that a pass” while the readers of fantasy would go “Oh, Leigh’s a science fiction writer; I’ll pass on his fantasy.”  Hence, S.L. Farrell.

DB: OK, that explains the S.L. part, I guess. Why Farrell?

SL: Those first fantasy books were set in a faux early Ireland. Farrell’s one of my Irish ancestors’ surnames, so I felt some connection. That’s all. Mind you, my agent ended up selling that trilogy to a different publisher. I don’t know that they would have cared if I used the pseudonym or not. But I kept it, just in case my previous editor was right. And I created you around the same time my trilogy came out, so I also used that name for your first stories to help promote the new name.

DB: So basically I was created as a result of some dumb ass marketing ploy.

SL: I wouldn’t phrase it that way.

DB: Well, I just did.

SL: All right, enough of this. I’m not going to let you hijack this whole interview. We’re supposed to be getting your background, not mine. Let’s get on with it.

DB: Yeah, sure. Like, what the fuck choice did I have? You’re the asshole who made me up, after all, at least that’s what you’re telling me. True or not, it means I have no agency at all—which, by the way, really pisses me off.

SL: If you’re ‘pissed off’, doesn’t that mean you have agency and can choose whether to be pissed off or not?

DB: What, now you’re getting all metafictional on me? Man, I’m already confused. I don’t know if I’m actually pissed off, or pissed off because you say I’m pissed off, or pissed off because I don’t know why I’m pissed off. So tell me, Mr. Hotshot Writer With At Least Two Names, which is it?

SL: Let’s just ignore that for now. After all, Ray Bradbury used to say that all he did was set his characters in motion, then walk along behind them writing down what they did. I rather believe you and I have the same relationship.

DB:  (lips pressed tightly together and staring)

SL: OK, then. Let’s go back to your beginnings. You became fascinated with the drums when?

DB: I told a variation of that story back in one my “confessionals” for American Hero but I didn’t give the whole story then. Here it is… My father was a high school band teacher—I’d like to say he was a good man, but he wasn’t. He had a hell of a temper that he couldn’t entirely control. He screamed at me, he screamed at Mom, he screamed at his students, he threw things around the house and broke them and probably did the same thing at school, too. Anyway, in 1993 when I was six, he took me to PASIC in Columbus—PASIC is the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. They were having a college drumline contest there that Dad wanted to see, and that’s what did it for me; I heard all those incredible drummers and got excited about being a percussionist. When we got home, I went to the kitchen and started drumming on anything I could find. In the middle of making a tremendous racket with the pots and pans in the kitchen, Dad got pissed and started screaming at me to “Fucking stop!” as he kicked away the pans.

But he got all weepy and apologetic afterward like usual, and the next week a shitty used beginner’s drum set showed up at the house—ancient, half-broken Rogers drums. Didn’t matter. I loved the damn crappy set and pounded away at it every time I had a spare moment. I suppose I’ve always been kinda OC. But one night I was hammering on the set in the basement when my parents wanted to go to sleep. They screamed at me to stop. I didn’t—I could hear them yelling; I just pretended I didn’t. They screamed some more and I still kept it up. Finally Dad lost it and came hurtling down the basement steps practically foaming at the mouth. I knew I was in for it then. That’s when the nausea hit me and my card turned. Right then and there. I can’t tell you how painful that was: my body shifting and morphing, extra arms sprouting, my neck opening up, the tympanic membranes emerging on my suddenly too big chest and abdomen. I thought I heard my parents still shrieking and screaming and I realized it was wasn’t them; it was me. Then I blacked out until I woke up strapped to a hospital bed.  The virus had turned me into a living drum set.  Actually, you that did to me, didn’t you? Thanks a bunch for the torment.

SL: Again, I’m just the writer. The wild card virus did that to you. And I must say that had to be an awful and terrifying experience for a six-year-old to endure and I’m truly sorry you had to go through it. 

DB: Yeah, right. I’m sure you’re fucking devastated.

SL: (ignores that) Didn’t your parents at least start you down the road to being a musician and gaining fame? Didn’t they call you-

DB: (shouting and leaning forward) No! Not that again! Don’t you dare say what they called me then! I hated that stupid goddamn monicker, and I hated that stupid goddamn Christmas song too. Yeah, they called me that once they figured they could make a living from their freak of a son, smiling while they dragged me around to every TV show. convention, and fair they could find to display their poor little joker kid who could play drums on his own body. There were hundred of interviews with the same idiots asking the same boring questions—much like this one, actually. My folks made a minor shit-ton from me doing all that crap, too. Which is why I ran away from them as fast as I could as soon as I could. And I’ve made damn sure no one ever calls me that name again. I don’t even like “Drummer Boy.” I’m “DB” or “Michael.” Nothing else. Ever.

SL: But you still made a career out of drumming. You formed Joker Plague, you sold millions of recordings, you were tapped for the first American Heroes show. Let’s talk a bit about that, specifically your love life during that period. You had quite the reputation.

DB: I tended not to turn anyone down who indicated an interest, if that’s what you mean. No harm in that. Hey, nobody got hurt. Everyone enjoyed themselves while it was happening. (DB grins) Especially me.

SL: Nobody got hurt? C’mon, even you know better than that. What about Kate…Curveball, and you going to bed with Pop Tart right after being with her? How about John Fortune? How about Ana, who you branded as ‘Earth Bitch’? Tiffani? None of them were ‘hurt’ by your attentions? Just how many on the show did you take to bed, DB?

DB: (Counts on his fingers with his gaze lifted toward the ceiling) Umm, six of the contestants, if you must know. And more who weren’t contestants but staff or Joker Plague groupies hanging around. But who’s counting? 

SL: Kate was, for one. But you stormed off the show after Kate left with Fortune for Egypt, just another Discard from the pile. But you followed her, didn’t you? After you left American Hero, you also went to Egypt and became part of the Committee. In the end, you did a lot of work for them around the world.

DB: Yeah. And I left the Committee too after the debacle in the oil fields of the Middle East. I realized just how much they had their heads up their own asses. They were all holier-than-fucking-thou and righteous, but the bottom line was that the Committee wasn’t any different from the corporate and political bastards we were supposed to handle. I finally realized they desired power and influence just as much as any of the Bad Folk and so I walked. Fuck ‘em. Ol’ Rusty was the only good and decent one in the group, and he’s still the only one I miss.

SL: I suppose I won’t mention Kate again, then. Do you think you might have habit of running away from your problems rather than having the courage to face them?

DB: (An icy glare) Says the man who didn’t have the courage to use his own name.

SL: Sorry, did I just offend you?  Anyway, let’s bring our readers up to date with you. Back in January 2017 in “Atonement Tango” (on Tor.com), we learned that a bomb exploded at a Joker Plague concert in Roosevelt Park and as a result, you sustained serious injuries, including the loss of most of your lower left arm. Bottom, your group’s bass player, lost his arm, leg and eye on the right side of his body. The other members of Joker Plague were killed immediately or died of their injuries: S’Live, Shivers, and The Voice. Perhaps three dozen members of the audience nearest the stage were also among the fatalities and many more were injured. As one of the primary songwriters in the group, what do you see in your musical future now? There were initially rumors about you and Bottom reforming Joker Plague with new musicians. What can you tell us?

DB: You’re the writer. You tell me.

SL: (Silence except for the drumming of Steve’s fingers on his desk)

DB: (Sighs) Ain’t much to tell. I don’t have any solid musical plans yet. Bottom and I have jammed around a bit recently, yeah, but… I have several tunes I’ve been working on and from what I understand, Bottom has put together a few of his own. He and I will do some recording, but playing live…? (DB shrugs with all five arms.) After what happened, I have no interest in doing that again. The Beatles gave up live performances eventually. Now I have too.

SL: Umm, Joker Plague’s not exactly the Beatles.

DB: Oh, another insult? I’m cut to the bone. (DB places his middle right hand over his tattooed chest and leans back in mock pain) So are you going to fuck up my musical future next, Mr. Writer-man?

SL: I keep telling you. That’s not really up to me.

DB: Bullshit. Here, I’ll show you. I’d love to end this conversation. But you’re the one writing this, remember, so if you want me to continue, I don’t actually have a choice, do I? All you have to do is keep writing. You ready? I’m going to cut the connection now. (A hissing of loud white noise. DB’s face vanishes from SL’s computer screen)

SL: DB? DB, you still there? Hello? (A long heartfelt sigh) Once an ass, always an ass, I suppose. (SL shuts the lid of his laptop)

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