If you’ve ever eschewed the maxim that pure will is all you need to accomplish an impossible dream, don’t peddle your doubts to Dean Zimmer.
Zimmer has arthrogryposis, a rare birth defect that severely restricts joint movement in his arms and legs. He’s never walked properly or enjoyed full use of his arms. He’s in a wheelchair to get around and takes much, much longer to perform simple tasks the vast majority of humans take for granted.
And wouldn’t you know that Zimmer’s dream requires intense dexterity and often arduous effort from his arms and legs?
He’s a rock drummer.
And he’s been one for 30 years, and even opened concerts for the likes of Styx, Kansas, Thin Lizzy, and Foghat.
Yes, he needs special straps to hold his sticks to his hands so they don’t fall off.
Yes, he needs more time to set up his drum kit. But he’d been around enough people growing up in South Dakota who didn’t fight hard enough to overcome their adversities and wanted more out of life.
“I was the opposite of that,” Zimmer told the Los Angeles Times years ago. “I wasn’t handicapped; I just couldn’t walk real good.” Indeed, Zimmer can also write and drive and even worked out a way to tie his shoes with fingers that barely work: “I don’t care if my hands look like everyone else’s or not.”
But even after Zimmer made the fabled trek from the Midwest to Los Angeles in 1986 like so many other aspiring rock musicians, he had a tough time getting gigs. He would answer ads and show up to auditions, but bands would nix the disabled drummer despite his skills.
“I didn’t tell them my situation on the phone,” Zimmer told the Times, “and when they saw me, it was frustrating. It’s hard to find musicians who can get past the [wheel]chair and everything.”
Not that such roadblocks ever stopped Zimmer. For someone who went for years without drum equipment and simply learned song beats by banging on his legs, peoples’ prejudices are nothing.
Filmmakers Ross Harris and Stanley Gonzales were attracted to Zimmer’s limitations and profiled him in “Drummer Wanted,” according to Rolling Stone. And folks who know music, such as famed drummer Gregg Bissonette who’s played for the likes of David Lee Roth and Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, Zimmer possesses what many drummers sorely lack.
“Anybody can play fast,” Bissonette says, “but…he’s really a musical drummer,” adding that Zimmer plays efficiently and tailors his snare and cymbal hits to fit the song, not to stand out above his fellow musicians.
So if you’re having a bad day or feeling sorry for yourself or peeved about the cable going out yet again, remember Dean Zimmer…and keep in mind something he said that can apply to us all:
“Play from the heart, man. That’s about all I ever knew.”
Check out the inspiring video of Zimmer bashing the skins…in fact, better and more precisely than drummers with no physical limitations: