Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unlocking Prague

Prague is a city of keys. Big keys, little keys, folding keys (really; I own one), big Medieval bastards that unlock thick cellar doors, front door keys, courtyard keys, mailbox's a miracle that Praguers don't jangle when they walk, because most of them carry around at least ten clumsy hunks of metal all the time.

Czechs aren't trusting people by nature, so they tend to lock everything in sight. This even penetrates weird places in the home - the box with photos of grandma, for example, or the kitchen door. And offices, forget about it. The place I work now, in a district above the Vltava river called Holesovice, requires the use of FIVE keys before you can get in the door. Front building door, initial gate on the first staircase, second gate protecting office door (requiring two keys, just in case) and finally, office door. If I want to avail myself of the toilet on the upper floor, that's an additional key for the SECOND gate on the uppper part of the stairs. Thank God I don't need to access the broom closet.

Meanwhile, my office set features one more key, for one of two rooms on the upper floor we don't need and rarely use. I never bothered to grab a key for the other one. Are you losing count already? I know I am. That's a grand total of EIGHT keys for one little company.

Many people in this city have the habit of looping all of their keys - home, office, country home (common for Praguers) - into one scary, chaotic tangle. "Just a second, I'll get the door..." they say as they grow old combing through the mess. Is it the long key, the slightly shorter one, or the one hanging by itself on a separate loop? Office, home or garage?

What sells pretty well here are the colored little plastic covers that go over the heads of the keys. These really aren't an option - after all, no one wants to spend an hour a day testing the hundreds of choices on a jailhouse ring just to get into the apartment. These covers, like the keys they tag, come in a whole range of styles. Full ones for complete coverage. Outer edge only. Colored with little sparkly bits for the romantic (for a few crowns extra, of course). Black or white for the minimalists.

With the multitude of locking devices available, it's also wise to vary the color of the key itself. Your local Prague locksmith - and there's one on pretty much every street and shopping mall - can copy a whole spectrum of tints for the discerning keyholder. You can have a veritable rainbow explosion of color in your pocket if you want.

But sometimes, even the handy local locksmith isn't around or available. In my previous job, they worried a lot about the keys, so they changed them more than once. In one of the exchanges, I remember getting a set of three shiny new ones. They were very pretty, granted, but far too similar. I still had a few hours to go at my desk and had already had lunch, so didn't really have a good chance go down the street and get a key While You Wait. But dammit, I wanted to MARK THOSE KEYS. So I got an orange highlighter and attempted a homemade tint job on one of them. Failure! Key metal is cheap stuff, but tough enough to resist wimpy highlighter. Most of the color came off in my hands over the next few days. My next move was to wrap that universal solution - duct tape - around the head, popping a hole in the middle where the loop should go. Success! The tape wound itself off eventually, coming off in a sticky wad in my pocket, but it lasted for months. And that ugly little thing was instantly distinguishable from the millions of other keys circulating around the city. Eventually, though, I had to give it up when I quit the job.

But it wasn't much of a loss. I had a gangload of locking devices for my apartment and building to keep me company, so I didn't miss the office ones I surrendered. And the ones I own are more than enough to be faithful companions forever. Let's see, there's front building key, front door key, deadlock key, mailbox key, courtyard key, basment key...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rock of the aged

My band played a wedding this past weekend. Like most of our gigs, we got it through our lead singer, an energetic Englishman named Gary. In the workaday world, Gary sells offshore banking products, meaning that a reassuring number of his clients are rich Brits. This comes in handy when they engage in onshore activities like getting married, because another product Gary can sell is RePlay, his and my cover band.

The gig took place at a horrifying pile of a hotel just south of Prague called Dum Atis, a place that looked as if its architect had taken some bad acid while thumbing through the collected works of Gaudi. Regardless, the happy couple (or their families) had spent enough on the decorations to make the interior look nice, white and wedding-like, and the event felt properly Grand and Important. We came on about an hour after the best man gave his speech, immediately following a weak set from the hired DJ.

Wedding gigs? A best man and a boring DJ for openers? Applauding the lucky girl who caught the bouquet?

Adulthood happened to me at some point in my life, because as a musician you don't get much more adult than playing in a wedding band. When I was young and still had a little fire and vision, I hated the idea of wedding gigs, hated the idea of cover bands, hated the idea of selling out. Anyone with any talent at all should try their hardest to pour that ability into an enterprise that was fresh and original, thought I. Does the world really need another cover of "Satisfaction"?

Actually, it does. Music, after all, is entertainment and fun, and if someone's idea of entertainment and fun is to hear "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for the 900th time, then dammit, go ahead and play it for them. People whose hobby is music can and will sniff out the different, new and original. There's always enough of that stuff around. For all the other times in life, there are bands like RePlay. After all, think about it: when you throw on an old CD at home, is it always something you discovered last week on the radio? No, it's usually one of the albums you've been listening to for years.

It's nice to finally come to terms with Cover Bandage, because it means I can relax and simply have fun playing in a opposed to worrying about its musical direction or whether the bridge I wrote is long enough. With RePlay, we rehearse a little (ideally) then I show up and play a gig. These songs are now familiar enough that my fingers find most of the right notes without too much struggle, and I only occasionally have to glance at the well-notated cheat book while playing. Meanwhile, I get the satisfaction of people moving their asses to my bass and Henri's drums, and singing along to what I'm playing. Not to mention hearing the sweet noise of rising applause as the audience demands an encore (this actually happens. Honest).

Besides, I'm not gifted enough to carve out my own unique niche in the world of music. I'm at best a collaborator, an idea guy, the skinny bass man with a good riff or two. I was never destined to set the earth on fire with my instrument as a player or a composer. My talent, such as it is, reached a plateau years ago. These days I'm just happy to be there, playing someone else's music and giving the crowd what they want.

And man, I sure like those encores.