Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Everything is broken...

I'm the last person to point fingers at handymen. After all, I'm so inept around the house, that in my eyes, replacing a blown lightbulb with a new one, and having it actually work when the switch is flipped, warrants a jubilant victory lap around the garden. Having said that, I have to wonder if the standard of hired professional help is gradually declining. It could be the luck of the draw, of course, but several incidents of late, involving supposed tradesmen, has left me wondering.

A plumber (I call him a plumber because that's what it said on the side of his van) called to my humble abode to give me a quote on fixing two leaky faucets, seemed so disinterested in doing the work that I almost felt guilty asking him for a price. One of the faulty faucets was on the bathroom pedestal sink, and he appeared to be troubled by the fact that the sink was very close to the wall. (If I'd known that in advance, I suppose I could have had it installed in the middle of the room to spare him the hurt, but never mind.)

Add to this, his consternation at the fact that the shut-off valves appeared to be original to this 1941 house, and it began to appear that he wished he'd never been consulted. His response to the sight of the dripping shower faucet was a sullen aside along the lines of - "Yeah, they do that long as it been like that?".

The implication seemed to be that I needed to give it time to stop dripping, but even after I told him that it'd been that way for about two months, he seemed disinclined to tackle the project, and he was sighing so heavily that I actually felt sorry for him, and set him free to go and disappoint other potential customers.

The next "professional" to let me down was a bit of an all-rounder. He informed me in advance that he could tackle any and all home improvement jobs, and this was good news because my mother-in-law apartment out back had some rotten wood siding panels in need of replacement, and a shower stall that required serious attention.

The siding repair job went quite well, but when it came time to survey the shower stall, his mood turned rather more sombre. The raised step into the shower was tiled, but the tiles had seen better days; several were cracked and loose, and old, crumbling grout had obviously contributed to some water damage of the step and the shower stall both. Obviously, I was concerned that repairs would be costly, and prepared myself for a pricy estimate.

After the requisite stroking of the chin and the raised eyebrow, the alleged handyman stunned me with his off-hand comment - "I don't know if I'd mess with that." Unbelievable. He obviously wanted nothing to do with the job at hand; confirming it with a little shake of the head, and then the clincher - " I don't know if I'd open that can of just don't know what you're gonna find under there." Well, obviously, I didn't know what I'd find under there! That's why I called a "professional" in: to have someone open cans of worms for me.

Apparently, his concern appeared to be that the more repairs he tried to do, the greater the possibility of finding more damage would be. His answer seemed to be to simply leave well alone and tread lightly in the shower.

Brilliant. I went from being concerned that I'd have a huge repair bill, to wondering what kind of evil worm creatures might be residing under my shower stall, and how long it would be before the building collapsed, forcing me to replace the entire structure. The upshot of this is that I still have a dysfunctional shower, and since I'm not currently on first name terms with any plumbers in the mood to actually do any work, I suppose I'll have to live with it.

Anyway, I have other things in need of repair that take precedence. My trusty old Takamine acoustic/electric guitar has dodgy electrics and is in need of some serious fret work. Since I am supposed to be working on a new album, this is a bit of a hindrance. The thing is, I think I'm scared of asking local luthiers for assistance, in the event that they steer me clear of fixing old problems for fear of exposing new ones.

Ideally, I'd like to avoid the whole thing and simply ask my wife if I could just buy a new guitar instead, but I don't think I want to open that can of worms.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part Four)

Revisiting old records that influenced you during your formative years can sometimes be a bit of a letdown. Songs that you remember as exhilarating during your youth often sound a little pedestrian when you listen with the somewhat jaded ears of middle age. Many of them suffer from being saddled with the overblown production techniques of their era, and so sound gimmicky to the point of distraction. Records released by Free back in the early 1970s are not among them.

When I was a young lad trying to feel my way around my first electric guitar, most of what I learned to play was gleaned from listening to Rolling Stones and Free albums. For rhythm playing I'd look to Keith Richards; for lead playing it was always Free's Paul Kossoff. Looking back on it, even though I'm sure I sounded horrible trying to emulate them with my cheap Les Paul copy and gnarly Carlsboro fuzz box, I had good instincts.

Listening to their records today, I can't help but think that despite being the unadulterated fan that I was, I had no grasp of how great they really were. There's such a self-assured yet understated power in their playing; like they knew how good they were, and so never felt the need to show off. They could rock pretty hard, but they reeked of soul, and rather than overplay, they seemed to leave spaces in all the right places. It's ridiculous to think that these guys were so incredibly young (bass playing phenom Andy Fraser was barely 16 on the first album, I believe), yet they had the maturity and restraint to simply settle into the groove and make every note truly count like they did.

Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have a voice like Paul Rogers' out front. No matter how simple the lyric (and theirs usually were of the tried and tested blues rock variety) his voice sounded absolutely brilliant singing it. Actually, it barely mattered what he was singing; his voice was just another great sounding instrument along with Kossoff's guitar, Andy Fraser's bass and Simon Kirke's drums.

Listening to Fire and Water now is so thrilling for me, I have to wonder if there was ever a better rock band than this. It makes it almost impossible to refrain from retreating into old fogey-dom and uttering old chestnuts like "They don't make them like this anymore".

They don't make them like this anymore.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I've got blisters on my fingers...

I don't play the guitar. Not really. What I mean is, I don't practice. The only time I pick up the guitar is to either work on a song or to record one. It's shameful, and I often entertain the thought that this might be the year that I finally get it together and start working on my playing. Oh well; it's the thought that counts.

It's sad because whenever I do pick up the guitar to record a part and begin the usual 'fumble around blindly in search of something that sticks' routine, I get to a point where, if something finally clicks, I admonish myself with a stern talking to. A sort of "See what you can do if you put your mind to it?" finger wagging, that's usually followed up with a guilt-inducing "Just think how good you could be if you practiced every day for about the next, oh... 35 years or so".

I recently had one of these episodes. I had a song that I originally thought might sound great with a fiddle playing the solo, but budgetary concerns prompted me to have a bash with electric guitar, just in case it worked. I took out the guitar from the closet, dusted it off, and played around for a good hour or so before it started to sound remotely musical, and although I knew I wanted to work on it a little more later, I recorded a take so I could do a quick mix to listen to in the car, just to see if I was on the right track.

Now, I play electric guitar even less than I do the acoustic, and boy did my finger tips make me pay. I ended up nursing two ridiculously raw finger blisters that left me unable to play either guitar for about a week, and to add insult to injury, I was still undecided about the suitability of the guitar part. So I gave the CD to a mate of mine and requested a little honest feedback.

He took the CD with him and when he returned it a while later, I plied him with the query,"Do you think that this is a good approach for the song?" After a brief hesitation, he sidestepped me with a query of his own. "I thought you were going to have fiddle on this one?"

Like I said, I need to practice, and I will. As soon as these blisters fully heal...