Zen and the Art of Hurting Yourself & Breaking Things

Tour vehicle maintenance is an important part of being a musician. Your car or van WILL break eventually, and when it does, you’ll need to be prepared to dive into its guts and perform the necessary surgeries. This column will in no way help with that. I recently attempted to work on my Subaru Forester, and let me tell you: I’ve been considering touring by train ever since. Anyway, I’ve prepared a guide to help you in your own efforts at Car Fixing. Lesson one: changing your brakes.

You will need the following things in order to hurt yourself maximally:

1. Tools. You’ll want some wrenches, a screwdriver or two, and a big hammer. Just bring the whole tool bag that your dad gave you. Rooting through a pile of the Wrong Tools is a great way to invent new and impressive swears.

2. A sixer of American beers. Something shitty. You’re going to be crushing some cans in desperate frustration.

3. Emotional support. Convince someone to come watch you have a psychological breakdown. Your real friends will jump at the possibility of seeing you cry like a little kid that got lost in the grocery store.

Let’s work.

First things first, you need to get that wheel off of your car. Root around in your trunk for the jack that was supposed to come with your vehicle. It won’t be there. I suggest cracking your first beer at this point. Then borrow a jack, and get the beast a few inches skyward, so you can pop that wheel off and continue pretending that this is going to work itself out, in spite of your absolute ignorance of all things mechanical.

My dad worked on every car we ever had when I was growing up. From brakes, to engine rebuilds, he somehow managed to keep our shit-ass Ford LTD on the road. It was during these formative years that I learned and mastered the art of Handing Dad Tools. Wrench? I think that’s what this thing is. Here you go, Dad. Have at that son of a bitch. I also learned that my father spoke in tongues, to a fearsome God. A God that demanded a sacrifice far too great for my young mind to comprehend. The sounds that issued from my dad’s twisted face, as he torqued pieces to and from the inner sanctum of our boat-sized sedan, were a poetry of anger that knew no language still spoken by the mouth of mankind. These were sacred words. Meldings of fuckwords, welded to other fuckwords that hurled themselves into the engine compartment untethered by reason or diction. Every bolt that dropped into the darkness brought forth a stream of consciousness verbal tirade that rivaled the Beat Poets at their very best. Unfortunately for me, I was too enraptured by the artfulness of the swears issuing forth from under the hood during my youth to ever actually learn how to work on a car. So we’re on our own here.

Having removed the wheel from the car, you’ll want to take a self congratulatory swig of beer, while it dawns on you that you are now staring at the completely foreign innards of your broken vessel. Start unbolting parts, until you have a good-sized pile of detritus next to the wheel well. If you can figure out which rusted assemblage holds the brake pads on, you should consider opening your own shop. I’ll gladly bring my car to you.

Remove the pads. You’ll want to smash and cut your fingers as many times as possible during this process. Brake pads won’t work at all without a few drops of your blood on them. Try to work the hammer into play somewhere here, too. It may prove unnecessary, but you did bring it, so swing away, slugger. Use some of those Dad Words while you do it.

Having removed the old pads, and hopefully with the new pads in place, you can now turn to the pile of car-part rubble and begin bolting pieces back together. If you get the entire mess reassembled, and find that you have a few extra nuts or bolts, don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal. Car manufacturers include extra parts. Just toss those aside with confidence.

You did it. You changed your brakes! Shotgun the rest of the beers and go bandage your hands, while you look into the many benefits of taking public transportation. Also, call a mechanic. Your car is still broken.