Sunday, December 3, 2017
"...while I enjoy playing my acoustic guitar alone, at home..."
Last month my man John Mclaughlin played his last NYC performance. Of all time. And of course he crushed it. And last night my favorite boxer for well over a decade--Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto, retired. He's inspired a lot of blog posts from me over the years, and I've never missed one of his big bouts at The Garden; so the fact that flu kept me from going last night really bummed me out. And he lost, so that's mildly disappointing, even if he is well past his prime. There's maybe a couple intriguing match-ups left out there, but nothing I'm emotionally invested in; so its starting to look like my 40 year relationship to the sport as a fan is coming to an end.
It also looks like my year long (plus a few months) experiment as an open mic'er is shutting down. Its been dis-continued at my normal venue, and while there are dozens of other open mic's in my general area, my old place had some very unique qualities that made it viable for me.
For example the skill level of most of the other performers at my open mic was in-line with mine. Some of these open mics I've visited have very serious players, and I don't like to take stage time from people who I know are way better than me. Conversely, some of these open mics feature way too many God-awful singer/songwriter/acoustic-types. At 50+ years old, I can't sit thru 3 hours of that. My sagging middle-aged ass has heard a lot of songs. And being from Detroit, I have very high expectations for singers. That's part of the reason why I don't sing. I absolutely love good singing; but bad or even mediocre singing gets to me. And while I enjoy playing my acoustic guitar alone, at home; I have no desire to play one on stage. In fact, two or more acoustic guitars playing at the same time oftentimes irritates me.
In a similar vein to that last point, my usual open mic had a real stage, banging P.A. system; and drum-kit. That was just...you can't find that out here in New York. I didn't need to really be a performer or present anything. I could just go there and play with a drummer. Wouldn't even need a plan going in if I didn't want one. Just go at it and have fun. But for me to go to one of these coffee-houses or hole-in-the-wall venues and stand up there on my own to play my instrumental covers. Actually, I've been doing that as of late--its fun. But its been by choice. As an experiment. To go and know that's what I'd have to do...probably not interested. Especially if I had to travel.
And that's really the kicker right there. My old open mic was 6 blocks from my house. There was no commute to strain my back or Achilles tendon. No pretension in carrying my guit on the subway or thru Bushwick or any of that. As much as I've grown as a musician via open mic, I've never felt legit enough to go out of my way to play. In fact a lot of time I'd go to my open mic and not even go on. Just hang. It was that casual and took so little effort.
Well, that all seems to be over, and the real question for me now is whether I shut this blog down too. (Christ, how many of these blogs have I had?) I suppose I could convert its focus into more music commentary. Or social commentary. Turn the meaning of Open Mic into a kind-of Lodo Grdzak's Soapbox. But that looks really bad in writing. Least to me. And I think the world's got more than enough of that these days. Way more than enough.
Well y'all, hopefully you'll keep in touch and we'll see where this thing goes. But I sense that--just like John McLaughlin; my man Miguel Cotto, or my decades as a boxing fan, I may have reached the end of an era.
Thursday, November 23, 2017
"America values craftsmanship.."
"...our government doesn't kill our own people.."
"We protect our children..."
"...and value human life."
"We're good allies.."
"...with a strong moral character."
America, we're the best. Sure, I could have bought a Mexican knock-off Strat. Probably would have if my mom hadn't stepped-up to the plate for my birthday; but once I got my American Standard I got real patriotic. For that first week anyway. Murphy came over for our Friday jam; walked into the living room, saw that Strat round my neck.
"What the?--oh shit!!"
We jammed all the Hendrix stuff for a half-hour straight. Then we switched-up and Murphy played the Strat and I played bass. Then it was Murphy on my Tele and me on the Strat; then...
"Jesus, what the hell time is it, man?"
My Strat was so freaking sweet. Although I couldn't help but notice that the signal got real weak when I had the pick-up switch in the middle position. That hadn't happened at the store. I played around with it for a week. Didnt really want to let that thing go I was having so much fun. Plus I found it hard to believe that a brand-new, thousand dollar Strat (American made Strat!) could be defective right out the box.
But it was. I was so anxious to show it off at open mic that I overlooked reality. Everytime someone walked by I'd open up the case.
"Hey check it out."
"...Yeah, that's nice."
"That's a true Strat, " I'd be sure to emphasize, "American Standard."
Fucking Millenials. But my drummer guy appreciated it. My favorite guy who I've mentioned a bunch of times in previous posts. He gave it the good look it deserved and was like, "Cool, we'll have to play together tonight."
Not only did I get to play with him, but he got this hot Russian chick to sing with us. And a keyboard player. There were a bunch of us up there on stage. It was fun.
But then there was one point where the drummer guy wanted to do me a solid. Gave me a solo with my brand new, Jimi Hendrix in London--Jeff Beck at the ARMS Benefit--50th Birthday Present from my Mom--American Standard--Sunburst Strat. So I cranked up my volume, dove in with as much reckless abandonment as I could and...
Nothing. Well, not nothing, but my sound was so thin and limp. Sounded like I had whiskey dick. God damn it.
"Hey man, enjoy that Strat. It's awesome," the drummer told me as he walked out with his arm draped round that girl later that night. I wanted to smack him when he said that. I knew he was being totally insincere. But what else was he gonna say?
So now I had to take that Strat back to Guitar Center. My brand new American made Strat. The commute back there wasnt just a time killer, it was a literal pain. They'd given me a hard-shell case at the time of purchase. It's durable; definitely a quality case--but heavy as all fuck. And I had to carry that thing up stairs and down stairs and over the subway turnstiles and weave it between the crowd of passengers. It jacked-up my neck and back. Plus I've been dealing with a torn Achilles all this year. It was hard after working all day.
At Guitar Center the guy behind the repair counter was like Danny Devito from Taxi. Dark, greasy hair. Stained T-shirt. Short. Out of shape. His cluttered work area was no larger than a small, dispatch cage and stacked behind him were at least two-dozen guitars with repair tags affixed to their cases.
"What's your problem?" the guy asked me as he stayed focused on his work.
"I just bought this guitar, but the volume dies when I put the lever in the middle position."
"You mean the pick-up switch?" the guy interjected as though I'd somehow offended him.
"...Yeah, the pick-up switch. Sorry bout that."
"What'd you do to it?"
"I didnt do anything to it."
"Well obviously you used it."
"Yeah I used it. That's doing something to it?"
The guy let out a sigh as though I were testing his patience.
"Let me see that," he said with a snap of his fingers.
I passed him the guitar. The guy inspected the pick-up switch, then suddenly started to rapidly toggle it back and forth, super-fast, like 20 times.
"Hey! what're you doing?!" I demanded.
"Sometimes you gotta work these switches in a bit," he said as he reached for an air-gun. He shot a few hard bursts of air into the gap between the switch and the guitar body, plugged the guitar into a small amp he had at the ready...
"There you go," he said as he strummed with the switch in all the various positions. "Sounds better now, right?"
In fact it did reader. We played with it a few more times, in all the positions, and yeah...seems like that's all it took. I nodded my head in acknowledgement. But before I took it back I told him.
"Hey, look at that bottom piece too, the square silver thing near the whammy."
"Not the bridge, inside the bridge. The thing the string rests on."
"You mean the saddle?" he said as he pointed to what I now know is a saddle.
"Yeah that thing. It keeps..."
"That's called the saddle."
"Yeah, okay. Listen, that thing keeps dropping. I think maybe the screw's stripped. I keep having to raise it."
"Its not stripped, it just needs to get worked in," he responded as he handed the guit back to me.
"Just needs to get worked in?"
"Yeah, it needs to get worked in," he repeated as though I were dense, and this time he turned away from me to signal our time was done.
Alright, so I took the guit home. Proceeded to work it in whatever the fuck that meant. It didnt matter--it's not like I have gigs or anything. Once I'd put the shop on notice of that issue I just wanted to enjoy my Strat for awhile. My genuine Strat. I didn't buy some shit Mexican knock-off. I got true American Standard. American craftsmanship.
Yep, American craftsmanship. Man are we great. About 2 to 3 weeks after that first visit to Guitar Center (first return visit!) I got to perform with someone at open mic. They actually videotaped their performance--a lot of people do that, and when I watched the clip I could hear my volume drop-out as soon I switched my lever to that middle position. Just like before; as though nothing had changed. I suppose--as I look back, that's when I began to get mad. About a lot of things. I don't know if it was solely the guitar, or if the guitar just served as something convenient to hang my overall 2016 anger on. But, it seemed to work.
And in fact it was truly hard for me to carry the weight of the guit all the way back to Guitar Center. So much so that I decided to stop into my local guitar shop before taking the long walk and train ride to Manhattan. Just to get another opinion on it.
For the most part I only use my local guitar shop for strings and for more complex adjustments. They don't have more than a dozen guitars for sale in the whole place. All used stuff. The owner is also one of the technicians--and he's really good. He tours as a guitarist with an international act, and he set-up my Telecaster when I first got it. So I showed him my Strat.
"Oh, that's pretty."
"Thanks man, its true Strat. American."
"Umm hmm," he said seemingly unimpressed as he lifted it out the case. "What's wrong with it?"
"The volume keeps dropping out in the middle position."
The guy tested it. Confirmed the problem, which in itself felt good. Just to get someone else to hear it too and know I'm not crazy.
"Where'd you get this?"
"Well, you should take it back 'cause I don't want to mess up your warranty. But can I tell you something?"
"They're likely going to try and convince you to just swap it out for a new guitar. If you really want to keep this specific guitar you'll probably have to insist on it. 'Cause I know those guys there and they'd just assume ship it back for a new one than have to replace a single pick-up."
"So what should I say?"
"Well, if you want to keep this thing tell them to gut it out. You know, pull out all the insides. Its all just one mass of electronics, so they can pull 'em out, replace 'em , and then just solder 'em back in."
So I had to go back to Guitar Center. Again. Which just,...made me angry. I'm not saying I went into a petulant frenzy; but I was mad.
American Standard. Fuck American Standard. Why would you think American is good? America is shit. We're always shit. What do we do that's good? Please, tell me. That Mexican Strat was fine. For $600 dollars. Instead you went for buttfuck American. Stupid, dumbass, buttfucking Americ...
Oh man, I said so many bad things about America. In my mind. Things I can't commit to writing. Or won't. But I needed the self-righteous indignation to fuel and power my Achilles thru my walk. And when I got there, I limped right back to that repair counter where Danny Devito was sitting.
"Hey man, I dont know if you remember me."
"No, not really."
"Yeah, well you're going to because I just bought this a couple months ago and it's never been right. I was here a few weeks back 'cause my pick-up switch was..."
"Yeah--I remember. It had some dust in there. We fixed that."
No, we didnt fix that. Its still dropping out. We need to replace that pick-up."
The guy grabbed my guitar. Tested the switch in various positions. Confirmed the problem. Grabbed his air-gun and did what he did last time. Still no change. Went to toggle the switch back and forth like he'd done last time.
"Hey!--don't do that."
"Well what do you want me to do? You want me to order you a new one?"
"I'm not paying a thousand dollars for a guitar I've never played."
"So are you returning this?"
No sooner did he finish suggesting that I could return it than my South African salesman popped up to protect his commission. He remembered me.
"What's going on?" he asked the tech.
"Looks like this thing's got a bad pick-up. I told him we could swap it but he doesn't want to do that."
"You're the guy who tried two dozen guitars," the salesman said to me with a laugh. (heavy sigh). "So what do you wanna do?"
"Well can't the guy just take the guts out of it and replace 'em with guts from a different Strat? You know,...and then just...solder 'em back in?"
Now keep in mind reader, a few weeks ago I was calling the pick-up switch "the lever," and the saddle the "square silvery thing;" but now I'm suggesting that the guy "just take the guts out my Strat and solder in a new set." So that tech guy's jaw just dropped open.
"And where am I supposed to just get this new set of guts? Who the fuck are you to..."
Oh man, this guy just went off! But I was pissed too and eventually my salesman intervened. Led me out towards the front of the store with assurances that they'd replace the pick-up for me.
"We'll call you buddy," he said with a mollifying pat on my back. "Don't worry, he'll replace it."
So I went home, and no sooner did I get home than my salesman called me.
"Hey man, we've got your guitar ready. Any chance you can come in and pick it up right away? We don't want the manager to start sniffing around about where we harvested those pick-ups. Fender can be a real bunch of sticklers on their warranty stuff."
So it was back yet again. And I wish I could say that was the end of it, but I've had a bunch more issues since then. Still, our relationship's slowly improved, by which I mean between my Strat and me. In regards to my country and me? That relationship's still a little rocky at the moment. More than a little rocky.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
"..those are gonna be worth a lot of money."
"...you know, I kind of thought you were gonna buy that."
"...maybe if you could've kept your eyes on the freaking prize..."
I still believe in heroes. Even now that I'm over 50. Sure, people will let you down. You can't just be a disciple. But you can give your heroes a break or two, and try to remember them at their best. When they were at their most aspirational. And inspiring.
Jeff Beck at the ARMS benefit; or an ascending Jimi Hendrix in his last year as an ex-pat in London. Those are moments in time I'd like to capture and hold on to. For myself. As well as project to the world. Course you can only hold on to memories or ideas in your mind. To literally hang on to something you need it to exist. In the physical world. Such as say...a Fender Stratocaster guitar.
In that regard, the final decision on my Strat suddenly came together real fast.
The beginning of the end came after a phone call from my mom.
"Hey ma, what's up?"
"I know, all the phones have caller I.D. now."
"Well,..I can't keep up. What're you doing?"
"I'm just walking home from the Guitar Center. I'm debating which one I'm gonna get."
"Oh your guitar's broken?"
"No, I'm just looking at a new one. The one I thought played best isn't the right color. But the one's I'm most excited about are way more expensive. So, I'm not rushing into anything."
"Well how much is expensive?"
"I don't know...a thousand dollars?"
"Is that what you want for your birthday?"
"I wouldn't ask you for a thousand dollar guitar. I'm no..."
"Why not? This isn't a regular birthday. You're gonna be 50. You work. You pay your rent. You love your guitar. You don't have any kids. You don't travel. I want to do something nice for you. There's not much I can really do for you anymore..."
Oh man reader, she went on and on. Got emotional. I never considered that my turning 50 was just as big a mind-fuck for her as it was for me. But hey, you wanna buy me a thousand dollar guitar? And stop crying. I'm not gonna stop you.
Course once budget considerations were out the window things progressed rapidly. Aesthetically speaking I was confident on what I wanted; but just to make sure I went back up towards Time Square. To Sam Ash.
"Hey man, did you guys sell that black Strat I was looking at last week? The Hendrix model with the reversed headstock?"
"Oh right. You know what? One of our other salesman bought that. He bought it, and like..two days later he quit. I guess Fender never got the proper rights to use Hendrix's signature on the head-stock, so now they've dis-continued that model. Those guitars are gonna be worth a lot of money."
I looked round the store. For the older guy who'd talked me out of that thing. But he was long gone.
"You know," the kid continued as I scanned the store, "I kind of thought you were gonna buy that."
"Really?" I answered in my most sarcastic tone as I turned my full attention back to him. "You know maybe if you could've kept your eyes on the freaking prize we wouldn't have gotten flim-flammed."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Nothing. Kid didn't even understand what had happened. Guess I'm not 100% sure myself, so I just left it alone.
In fact, it just made everything easier. I knew what I wanted. So a day or two later I went back to Guitar Center. Ran into the same South African salesman who I'd put thru his paces last time (he was so mad when I left without buying anything!). When he saw me approach he began to both walk away and massage his lower back in a kind of Pavlovnian response to my presence. But I assured him:
"I'm gonna buy something today if you've got one of those retro Strats. That '64-style. Not that blue one I was playing, I want it in a Sunburst."
And of course he had one--on the top shelf (Lol!). But he had one. A Sunburst Strat is the equivalent of a pair of Air Jordan's on the subway. Its a Guinness on tap. Or a Johnny Black. A Ford F-150 at a construction site. Guitar 101. Course not all the Sunburst's are this $1 million dollar one (below) that Jimi Hendrix owned. Or even a true American Standard like the one I bought.
But mine looked and felt like a million bucks. For a short while anyway...
* NOTE: I've got a few things coming up, so final installment might not be for a good week. If you've stuck around this long--wow! See ya soon.