Utah Man Uses Street Performance to Help Recover From Alcoholism
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After awhile, the sounds of downtown start to blend into the background. The rush of a train or the honking of a horn don’t even draw a glance. But when a man comes rolling by on a bicycle while pounding drumsticks on an upturned plastic bucket attached to the handlebars with an elastic cord, even the busiest pedestrian tends to stop and stare.
“I had seen people do the bucket drums in Portland before, and I’d always been inspired by that,” said Scott Schwarz, a man who’s perfected riding a bike downhill without using his hands. “I’d always wanted to do the bucket drums, but I just didn’t have the guts to do it in the past. I put it on the bike because I was afraid of staying in one spot.”
Nowadays, Schwarz spends a lot of time banging out rhythms while stationary, using his phone to play songs for accompaniment through a speaker next to his feet. No, he’s not homeless, and while he’s happy to take tips, he isn’t just doing this for spare change.
“I can tell you right now, you don’t make a lot of money doing this,” he said.
Instead, he’s doing it for himself.
“I was trying to find a way to just release some pent up energy,” Schwarz said.
But one thing stood in his way: his own aversion to embarrassment.
“Facing what I thought other people might think of what I was doing,” Schwarz said, speaking of what kept him on the bike and moving. “I had never taken a drum lesson or anything like that.
I had taken piano lessons in the past, but I didn’t know how to play the drums.”
There’s a reason he wanted to challenge himself; a reason he wanted to pound out his frustrations on a piece of plastic.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” Schwarz said.
He says what began as a casual pastime changed when he started drinking alone.
“And drinking every single day alone,” Schwarz said. “Copious, copious amounts, where I’d be drunk most of the day. I never drank at school or at work, but immediately after those, I was drinking.”
In a second of certainty, he decided he had to stop. Schwarz said he hit “rock bottom” several times. He lost the place where he’d been living, he lost his car, he lost a girl, he lost his money.
“I called my dad, and I said ‘Hey, I can’t do this on my own.’ I was crying, sitting in the truck, I’ll never forget the day,” Schwarz said. “I was finally at a point where my ego and my pride and my view of myself as being capable of handling things ended.”
His dad helped him move to Utah, where he entered rehab — and for the past couple of years, he’s been riding his bike, playing his drums.
“It’s my new addiction, if you will,” Schwarz said. “Coming out of recovery, there’s a lot of internal trauma that you have to overcome, and part of that was facing my fears.”
But sitting in one spot, susceptible to scrutiny, was still out of the question — he would have greatly preferred to keep rolling on his bike, vanishing around a corner before anyone had the chance to pass judgment. Then, his life changed yet again.
“I had a friend overdose, about four months back,” Schwarz said. “The day that I heard about it, I wanted to ride and vent, play the drum on the bike — and the bike tire was flat, so I sat down and performed. To my surprise, a lot of people really enjoyed what I was doing.”
And so, he’s become something of a staple on the sidewalks, using a pair of sticks to help get his life back on track. He has a place to stay, and held a steady job for a couple of years. He’s even got his own transportation up and down the interstate, looking for spots to set up his drums.
“I have a van now,” Schwarz said with a laugh. “A minivan— it’s a piece of junk, but it gets me around.”
Most every day, you’ll find him on a corner, trying his best to stop caring what others think —and doing anything but blending into the background.
“You can really achieve anything, the moment that you become brave enough to do it,” Schwarz said. “The only way to get something you don’t have is to do something you’ve never done.”
Schwarz can typically be found around downtown Salt Lake City, especially when there’s a convention that draws a crowd. If you’d like to get in touch with him, you can find him on Facebook at The Road Drummer.
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