Crying in the rain

Searching Youtube comments.

I’m always struck by the amount of creativity people exhibit in Youtube comments. I’m particularly fond of the various images they use when they enjoy performances by musicians. A rock concert is a multimodal experience: you don’t go there just to listen to the music. What occurs visually is also extremely important. In this respect, rock drummer Tommy Aldridge offers the full package. He’s played in prestigious venues for longer than anyone can remember (since the early 1970s, actually), drumming for various major artists to this day (he’s turning 70 this year). He’s always shown exceptional showmanship, hitting those drums with passion. His typical mane of hair and signature moves have no doubt contributed (on top of his solid drumming skills) to his current (and imho well-deserved) iconic status. Among other available videos on Youtube, I think the following one totally exemplifies the raw energy typical of Aldridge’s performances:

This is the sort of video that triggers idiomatic (and sometimes funny/exaggerated) expressions like: he’s drumming like there’s no tomorrow. So I thought I’d automatically search for such phrases. The process isn’t as straightforward as I expected, but I eventually found this program, and it made things quite easy.

I searched for videos containing “tommy aldridge drum” in their title, and searched the comments of the first 50 videos for the phrase “like they” (33 hits) or “like it” (40 hits). Then I manually inspected the output to remove spurious hits (e.g. “I like it”), which left me with 36 interesting cases… warning: the remainder of this post contains strong language…

20 of them were variations of the phrase “he beats the drums like they owe him money”. 6 comments were near-synomyns of “like it’s the last time”. 3 cases were equivalent to “he hits the drums like they stole something (from him)”. And in 2 cases, he hit the drums like (to put it politely) someone had had sex with one of his relatives. And among the remaining examples, here are the 4 most interesting ones:

  • “Jesus, he’s hittin’ them tubs like they killed his fuckin’ dog!”
  • “angry old dude , hit em like its ur redheaded stepson”
  • “beats on the kit like it’s the side piece of ass you keep at the trailer-park”
  • “He beat those drums like they were trash talking his mom.”

Learners of English as a second language are always struggling to find the right idiomatic phrase that would suit a particular situation perfectly. Now, would I recommend to students a naive use of the tool I’ve just described? Probably not. But as a tool for linguists (who by definition describe language as it is spoken, not as it “should”), it looks promising.

I saw Tommy Aldridge on stage twice: once in Milan in 2007 with Thin Lizzy (coincidentally the Wikipedia picture I used for this post was taken at this very concert), and once with Whitesnake at Hellfest 2019 just after the [Conference of the International Society for Metal Music Studies] ( in Nantes. My impression is this: you may have dozens of drummers with more advanced technical skills on these festivals, but when Tommy Aldridge walks on stage, something special happens. In 2019, in the middle of his customary solo, two young metalheads behind me started shouting “Allez, mec, on n’est plus dans les années 90 !” (“Come on mate we’re not in the 90s anymore”)… and I couldn’t help it: I turned to the two guys and said: “well, actually, he’s been doing this since the early 70s”. Their jaws dropped. They had just realized that he was the man who had defined the whole genre of hard rock drum soloing almost 50 years ago; a legend…

Emmanuel Ferragne
Emmanuel Ferragne
Professor of Phonetics