Tunes Tuesday – Pop Music Snobbery

IMG_0815.JPG

I am going to admit something that will be of no surprise to anyone who has known me since high school or college – I am a musical snob. An elitist. Opinionated and condescending and with little time or patience for ‘generic pop trash’ that is foisted on the public by an industry obsessed with making money by manipulating purchases rather than providing quality product. Yikes … did I just say that out loud?

For me music is something I take seriously … think about drinking good coffee, then having a cup of instant coffee; or drinking really good wine then going back to screw-top Riunite or something like that. It isn’t that I inherently dislike pop music – it is that I find most pop music ‘harmonically unsatisfying’ … like comparing your favorite dinner to, well, something like cotton candy.

Here are what I see as my three main roadblocks to enjoying pop music:
– I consider music an entirely audio medium, so anything that is related to visuals (music videos, stage shows, dancing, or an artist’s appearance) is totally lost on me and I consider it inconsequential.
– I don’t care about lyrics. That doesn’t mean I don’t know the words to thousands of songs, just that I really don’t care. I won’t listen to music I don’t like because of lyrics, nor will I turn off music I do like due to the lyrics.
– I need some ‘meat’ to my music. Great pop songs – ‘I Will Always Love You’ popularized by Whitney Houston, ‘Time After Time’ by Cindy Lauper, ‘Borderline’ or ‘Vogue’ by Madonna, tons of Prince stuff, etc – all have more than just a ‘catchy tune’. They are well constructed songs that stand out across the decades. Most pop .. doesn’t – I remember first seeing the ‘California Gurls / Tik Tok’ mashup showing they were essentially the same song (same team wrote them, no surprise), and then more and more and more.

But the reality is that even within the pop music world there is some absolutely incredible music that is made … though honestly when it comes to songs that hit the ‘top of the pops these days’ there is precious little quality or creativity. Which is sad, really – because I know the talent is out there, it just isn’t getting heard.

Going back through the decades it is fairly easy to pluck out top selling songs that are incredibly artistic and inventive and original. I decided to only pick from the pre-sample and pre-auto-tune era, as a simple dividing point (meaning pre-1990). So I decided to do a ‘Top 20’ … but then realized I had 23 so I threaded the rest in with others. Oh well. Enjoy!

1. Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

The Bee Gees are forever tied to the disco era and therefore dismissed … but they had a bunch of huge hits before Saturday Night Fever, and this song is just amazing. Deep and complex and with a tremendous sense of building urgency.

2. Joni Mitchell – Hejira

Joni Mitchell transitioned from writing songs for others to becoming a master folk singer to a pop star and then … this. She kept progressing musically with alternate tuning structures, using her voice as if it was a jazz saxophone. Yet it remains beautiful and haunting.

3. Stevie Wonder – Overjoyed

Sure I could have plucked from Stevie’s ‘golden era’, songs like ‘I Wish’, ‘Higher Ground’ and so on, but this classic from a decade later reminds us WHY he is more than just a pop star, he is a pure musical genius.

Jazz saxophonist Richie Cole did a great cover version, but the CD is out of print and never was released digitally (I have way too many CDs from the mid-late 80s like that!)

4. Dionne Warwick – Say a Little Prayer

You would never guess that the verse is in 10/4 time and the chorus in 11/4 time, very complex meters for such an accessible song.

Blind Avant-garde multi-saxophonist Roland Kirk did a cover a year later that brought in the civil rights aspects … seriously, check this one out:

5. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John and Stevie Wonder are two of the main reason pop and rock was incredible in the 70s. This isn’t just stuff to listen to and sing, it merits actual study:

And “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”.

6. Neil Diamond – I Am, I Said

Like Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond started off writing songs for others, including “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees. Soon enough he was singing and performing his own music, like this classic anthem.

8. The Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb

While most people think of Jagger & Richards as the keys to the Stones, every major melody that was a hit in the early years was composed by Brian Jones – including this jazzy syncopated tune with vibes added to the mix.

9. The Cars – Drive

I like the anthemic feel that was their sort of swan song, but it also embodies the modal harmonies from Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’.

10. The Police – Darkness

The Police were masters of expanded harmonies, advanced rhythms and other things you simply don’t get in pop music. This is my favorite song of theirs, as there are multiple rhythms playing against each other.

11. The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows

Picking a great Beatles song is easy, so I wanted to do something less well known but that shows off their musical creativity and also their studio wizardry.

12. The Yardbirds – Shapes of Things

The same year as the last song, The Yardbirds were advancing ‘hard rock’ in a way that was melodic yet in-your-face. Jeff Beck’s early solo albums would introduce heavy metal before Led Zepplin and others arrived.

13. Mary Ford & Les Paul – How High the Moon

Going back to the #1 song of 1951, this is a reminder of how pop songs were always pop – but at one time there was a genuine requirement to be able to sing and play instruments.

14. Simon & Garfunkel – Scarborough Fair / Canticle

Not an original melody, but shows an amazing example of taking an centuries-old classic and reworking it for the modern era!

15. Bridge over troubled Water

Paul Simon has an incredible library of deceptively complex songs that are memorable and instantly recognizable. With an over-the-top dense production and wearing its heart on its sleeve, this remains an iconic piece of pop art nearly 45 years after release.

16. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye was an incredible vocalist, and this song just rips at your heart and soul … and much of that has to do with the movement within the harmonic structure. A good song can ‘play you’ emotionally even without words, and that is what happens here – the vocals just add even more pull.

17. Blondie – Rapture

The first bit hit for rap, and the first one to get any play on MTV … and just an insanely catchy song that remains interesting and worth listening to while thousands of other rap songs fall to the wayside.

18. Michael Jackson – Thriller

The reason Thriller works so well (the album as well as the song) has to do with the full orchestration of Quincy Jones as much as the great songs themselves. These are essentially big band songs for the modern day, with pop instrumentation supplanting horn sections. And it completely works.

19. 10cc – I’m Not In Love

It is hard to hear this song and not feel like you are floating on air; like so many on this list, this song brings me back … this one to AM radio and getting ready for school in he 70s.

Also check out this Buzzfeed post about the making of the song.

20. Steely Dan – Peg

Aside from writing great songs, Steely Dan enlisted some of the greatest studio musicians and perfectly crafted their sound while having others playing the instruments. The results were always interesting.

There are many more I could have chosen – I didn’t touch Queen or the people I mentioned before like Madonna or Prince. There is an incredible library of popular music out there – I just got and am listening to an upcoming release by the jazz group ‘Thrasher Dream Trio’ of popular R&B songs such as ‘Where is the love’ and others.

So what are some of your favorite ‘not musically trivial’ pop songs? Or do you just hate me now?

Monday Musings and Music and More

IMG_0792.JPG

Well, another long weekend of me not being around much … but something Megan said in response to a comment from me really rings true: “Isn’t it amazing that once you start to disconnect, it just seems so much easier to do so?” And the reality is – YES, it is true.

Sure I got runs in on Friday and Saturday, and had a very busy weekend, but normally I would have made sure I got some blogging done on Saturday … but instead I got in my run, and made sure I chatted with my older son about his girlfriend and how both were doing, and brought my younger son to do his DJ gig and then a few hours later had a late lunch with him and Lisa, and so on. What it comes down to is this: I prioritized reading and writing blogs lower than I ever have before. And that is OK.

1. Run for the Memories

I have talked before about how much I love exploring places by running, and for more than 2 years I have run everywhere I have visited. In fact, in a month I will be in North Carolina for a conference, and aside from meeting with some of the best minds in statistics and seeing one of my friends and colleagues speak, I am really looking forward to finding a new place to explore through running!

But this weekend Harold had a great post about when running is about MORE than just the run. He details what I would call a ‘run through the generations’ – his dad, an old coach, places where his siblings lived and grandparents and grat-grandparents lived, old factories long forgotten, and so on.

As I mentioned in the comments for his post, I wonder what that would be like for me. For the house I lived in until the middle of first grade it is impossible, as it and the whole neighborhood are now part of an industrial park. And my parents lived in a different town than their parents, who were half-way across the state from their parents. And for me, no one in my immediate family lives near where we grew up, and most of my extended family is scattered up and down the east coast.

What would a ‘running through your memories’ look like for you?

2. No Race Weekend

I didn’t run the race I was planning on Saturday, for several reasons:
– Friday was very busy with the move-in, and also emotion, and a long day (past midnight)
– Both Lisa and Chris had to work Saturday, and I knew they would be long days.
– The previous year had 700 runners and about 1400 people … and a parking lot that fits about 16 cars (and on the other end of the trail one that fits a dozen.
– I would have had to bike over due to logistics, and when we were sitting up past midnight the night before I thought ‘no … not gonna happen’.

Am I disappointed? A little … Lisa and I were planning to do it together, she would have walked and I would have run and it would have been fun. But ultimately I am more disappointed that we didn’t do it together than about my choosing not to go.

I had decided I would have done the 5k, because I really was interested in that ‘sustained pain’ feeling. I still haven’t run a 10k so it would have been ‘instant-PR’. Oh well … there are always other 5ks – even this coming weekend!

3. College Move-In

IMG_3410.JPG

The situation that had us with a fully loaded car last Friday morning is someone else’s story, but it was a fun and rewarding day and I was glad we could help out. The picture above is our son and his girlfriend.

Cornell is a beautiful campus that is really its own community, isolated by a few miles from the heart of Ithaca. It was a very busy day, but we were there to help every step of the way and got to see how much things have changed since Lisa and I had OUR first college move-in days 31 and 30 years ago respectively.

I do love how much has changed to really focus on the successful integration of new students. When I started it was more just a few social events then BAM into classes. Now they have loads of things throughout the calendar to help the kids learn how to navigate the school and their future.

4. New Phone

I posted about this on Instagram, but I got a new phone this weekend. It is a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – and it is HUGE. The goal? To see if this device can replace both my iPhone and iPad for the majority of things, such as blogging, email, RSS feeds, and so on. Music software remains pathetic on Android so the iPad will remain for that, and I am really not doing much gaming recently, so it will be interesting to see if there is any impact on that front.

While I have had Apple products going back to 1979 and the Apple ][+, I have been an Android phone used from when they first came to Verizon right up until getting iPhone 5. At this point I have regularly been using the iPhone 5, iPad Air, Macbook Air, gaming PC laptop as well as a Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Fire HDX, and Sony Playstation Vita. Yeah, too much stuff. Worse yet – I regularly find myself seeing something on the phone and then grabbing the iPad to type the reply. Makes no sense!

IMG_3425.JPG

One immediate thing? The Note 3 deoesn’t fit in my running belt. I see that the SPIBelt ‘large pocket’ fits these things well.

IMG_3429.JPG

And in general, I forgot how clunky so many things are in Android, as I work to get devices to pair, apps to link together and so on. I STILL haven’t gotten the Polar Loop to pair up correctly. Here is a good mantra: “With great flaxibility comes many hassles.”

5. Wealth vs. ‘Class’?

I subscribe to Quora because I love all of the discussions and reading great answers to questions. But sometimes the questions are … interesting. This one in particular documents parents who have shown their child a very warped view of the interaction between money and class.

Here is an interesting – and demonstrably true – view of reality from a different post:

in most cases lazy sons of multimillionaires end up better off than hardworking daughters of slum-dwellers

And from the post in question?

•My parents always told me to never leave a tip for waiters/waitresses at restaurants because they are just fishing for tips

Aside from being incorrect (and really just the tip of the iceberg of the article), it engenders an attitude of elitism that is unconscionable. And the wealth-based discrimination is every bit as real as any other type.

But the question I have for myself, and that I think we should all ask ourselves: in what ways do I have similar attitudes about things? I know that as a professionally employed, home-owning white Christian married male in America I have a position of considerable privelege. I just hope that when I can affect change, I do so to the best of my ability.

6. THIS Is America?

I have started and deleted many different things about the ongoing violence and racial tensions … and none of it felt right to me. I have always been a ‘question authority, but support your police & fire’. Because OF COURSE there is racism in police forces – these are people, and people are racist.

But there is also tremendous bravery and kindness and goodness and a desire to help – because these are people, people who choose a dangerous profession hoping to make a difference.

Here is my basic thought: the problem isn’t the police, it is US. Because they are us – and the problems reflected there in terms of race, religion, gender and so on … are problems endemic in our society at large.

My biggest problem comes with the militarization of America. When Reagan invaded Grenada, there was a groundswell of pride, and the decades since have built up the concepts of ‘American exceptionalism’ and ‘might = right’. More scary is how starting in the late 90s we have seen police forces equipped with tanks and so on.

So what we see more and more in the country is exactly what is shown here:

10509765_1540973976134572_4149943208446559547_n

7. Movies are Easily Diagrammed

You know how most times when you are watching a Rom-Com you can see the formula coming into play? Y’know, how the two people who will eventually end up together have a ‘near miss’ (or are just friends), there is at least one ‘other’ romantic interest, then in a dramatic turn there is the realization that ‘the one’ was always rigt there? Over at Neatorama this is diagrammed out for a number of genres:

1408750018-0

How do you feel about this? Is it accurate?

7. Do You See a Problem?

IMG_0797.JPG

I just started getting Tennis magazine, and two issues arrived at once. Both covers are from the very top playes in the field, one is male and the other female. One has a person playing tennis, the other has a sultry, over-the-shoulder barely clothed shot. Am I overly sensitive thinking WTF? Personally I think Maria Sharapova looks awesome playing tennis, just like Roger Federer.

8. Almost School Time!

IMG_3401.JPG

Hard to believe that we’re already at the point of heading back to school. This past week was band camp – a week of 9AM – 8:30PM spent playing and marching and drilling … the kids were lucky that the weather was generally nice. Two years ago we had a heat wave, last year alternated between hot and thunderstorms. There was only one rainy day this year.

If you are looking for my boys, they are the tuba on the left and bass drum on the right. This was as close as they got during the ‘public practice’ on the last night. The final song was rough – but what I love is that we will see an amazing progression from now through the competitions throughout September and October.

9. My Running Summary

For the most part this was a pretty ordinary summer week – out early, do my run, do my abs, get ready for work and go. Here is the summary:

Sunday: Bike trip with Lisa
Monday: 9.75 miles
Tuesday: 9.75 miles
Wednesday: 10.1 miles
Thursday: 9.75 miles
Friday: ‘Rest’ Day (College move-in)
Saturday 14.5 miles, fast & flat

The weekly total was about 54 miles running, plus a great long bike trip with Lisa, and a busy day walking around with heavy boxes at Cornell! I was definitely happy with my runs this week, especially my long run on Saturday – I really pushed the pace throughout, trying to keep my heart rate up at all times. And I continue enjoying trying to get in my ab work and planks every day! I don’t want to let this great habit stop!

10. Music New and Old

We watched a bit of the VMAs last night … and as always I don’t know why. For me, they represent the absolute WORST of music – it isn’t a celebration of artistry, or even of music … it is a self-gratifying celebration of celebrity as personified by those with the most marketing money to spend. I have very little good to say – except that I loved Ed Sheeren thanking and handing the mic to the ‘guy who made the song’. That is important – pop music isn’t made by the people singing them … they are just the new ‘Johhny Bravo’.

Anyway, the most annoying thing for me was Nicki Minaj, whose one-trick schtick of fast-rapping is played out, augmented for the video crowd by booty-shaking. The song she did shows the depths of the current state of pop music – she has made an entire song from a line from a throw-away one-hit gimmick song from the 90s. Here is the original:

And here is the new rip-off:

The distinction? One was a joke when it came out, the other is supposed to be ‘artistry’. Puh-lease.

Finally, Lisa came across a new song she loved this weekend, and we added it to our iTunes and listened on YouTube – ‘Night Like This’ by LP:

Myself? I have mentioned that I’ve been re-stocking my iPod with older music that has sat un-played for too long as I was reviewing more and more albums over the last 5 or so years. One song I had completely lost track of? ‘Night of the Iguanas’ by Joni Mitchell from her 2007 album Shine.

Did you do any races this weekend? Any cool new music? How was YOUR week?

My Son’s First Single it Out on iTunes!

Spindell Funk Loop

Spindell Funk Loop

I am not planning to be online much this weekend – as I mentioned, Lisa is off all weekend and frankly … that is a rare thing and I plan to enjoy it! Being offline and present is a great practice that I keep advocating … now I need to do it!

Anyway, my reason for posting is that my younger son Chris has released a single and it is up on iTunes! It is ‘electronic dance music’ and in my unbiased (:) ) opinion it is lots of fun! Check it out here.

You can also check it out on:
Amazon
BeatPort
Rdio
eMusic

Here is an early mix to preview:

Hope everyone has a great Saturday!

Friday Free-for-All – Look Twice, Save a Life!

Look Twice Save a Life - Runner

On Wednesday as I was out running I noticed a few lawn signs for the motorcycle safety campaign ‘Look Twice, Save a Life’. And since I had just done my ‘Slow the F Down’ post I was thinking how it would be great for drivers to be careful of all the runners out and about.

Here are some other thoughts this week:

Running – the weather has been hot and humid, but I am not complaining … it just awesome to toss on my shirt and shorts and GO! As a result I have been pushing it … I had done more than 70 miles last week, which caused me to look back: in May I’d done 29 of 31 days and over 250 miles, and was up to 14 out of 15 days in June with about 125 miles … and so I took off this Monday and will also be off all weekend and really try to get some rest.

Abs Challenge – I have been loving this challenge, but it has been a killer! Each day after my run I do my ab work and plank, and have happily gotten my planks well over 2 minutes, but they are TOUGH!

Rug burns on the elbows have improved by using towels, and my strength is definitely improved – carrying the air conditioners around wasn’t a big deal! The one thing – while my abs tighten, my skin does not … it is a reminder I will always carry with me.

Food – it is funny (and great) to feel like you are in touch with your body. As I have pushed the miles, my body has been very clear about wanting more, and so I have give it more. I have been happy that what it wants more of are fruits and healthy smoothies and veggies … but still, it is a great thing.

Also, I noticed just how many of my meals I cool are either Paleo or Vegan without even planning it that way – one night it was grilled Portobello with roasted vegetables and corn on the cob, the next grilled chicken with grilled veggies … it is amazing how these habits can enter into our lives so thoroughly that we don’t know they are there.

Why I care so much about ALL of this ‘Social Justice’ stuff

I have been asked a number of times why I have such a strong stance on ‘social justice’ issues, and I think I can sum it up pretty easily:
– Getting picked on for being fat in elementary school definitely had an impact. I am not a violent person, but all of my fights were in elementary school, and all come back to being made fun of for being fat. THAT has impacted my ‘view of the underdog’ throughout my life.
– I was best friends with the only ‘person of color’ in our baseball league … and I really had no idea about what that was like for him until seeing racism in action – what I got for being fat he got MUCH worse for something that was beyond his control.
– I had a few gay friends in high school, some who were ‘out’ and others who didn’t come out until later. Those who did took loads of abuse from so many people, which really bothered me (see above). Yet I didn’t know the extent of their abuse for many years …
– Going to RPI in the early 80s was a mostly-male world, and what women were there were typically stereotyped by the outside world in a certain way. In Troy there was an all-woman’s college (Russell Sage) … and THOSE women were stereotyped in an entirely different way (the ‘joke’ was that the most popular degree program was the ‘MRS’ degree). I knew women from both schools to be smart, funny and all-around great people. Heck, I even married one.

As a result I have always felt strongly about one thing: we are all people, and deserve to be treated fairly and equally. It seems so simple and obvious, yet it remains elusive as it seems that some will find the most irrational and unlikely reasons to pile hate on others. That said, I have seen progress in my life … and hope I continue to see more, and that I am right that so much of what we see are ‘last gasps of desperation’ from racists and misogynists and homophobes.

Did anyone get the reference?

I love how Cori and Laura have the ability to suggest songs into my head. I tend to drop a number of ‘lines’ and references into posts, some more obscure than others. In the ‘Slow the F Down’ post part of the title was ‘hey you there’.

That cracked me up as I included it … but realized that it was unlikely anyone would get it. So I have to explain it anyway – in the computer game Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, most of the game is excellent, but the Stormtroopers have little variety in what they said ‘stop Rebel scum’, ‘don’t let him get away’, and my fave – ‘hey you there’ … uttered hundreds of times through the 25 hour game! haha … well, I cracked myself up anyway 🙂

Speaking Of Video Games

Have you ever noticed that every main character in a video-game is a 30-something grizzled white dude? Well, if not … you haven’t played many games! I noted recently how a dozen years or so ago I was roundly thrashed in one particular game forum for noting the positive female image one game had presented. Um … yeah. And it hasn’t improved.

At the latest game conference (E3) publisher Ubisoft – whose games fit perfectly into the “Ubisoft: Straighter. Whiter. Duder.” description Shamus Young used to describe them.

Bottom line – video game development is a ‘dude bro’ culture, which is sad because ‘nerds’ were supposed to go against the ‘dude-bro’ culture. Shamus has a great take on it here:

I want to stress that I’m not coming at this from a social justice angle. This is about business and creativity. If Straight White Dudegames are really where the safe money is at (and I’m extremely skeptical on this point) then I’m really not going to demand a corporation like Ubisoft to deliberately make less money in order to make things more “fair”. I know some people do. That’s fine. This social justice stuff gets touchy, and in the end we’re all just trying to make the hobby the best it can be.

But like I said in the column, this is a hard thing to test and Ubisoft hasn’t even tried. (Read the article before nitpicking this.) And no matter which way the money goes, Ubisoft is still creatively impotent. Like, even if you can prove that games won’t sell unless the protagonist is a straight white dude, there’s still no excuse for Adrian Pearce, who has less personality than Gordon Freeman’s crowbar and less depth than the Adventure rectangle.

Further to the ‘Sexism in Gaming’ problem, NPR notes how one developer chose to compare a software service execution framework … to his girlfriend. With predictably sexist results.

And finally on the Ubisoft & E3 sexism front, GI.biz notes that it always seems to be inclusivity – different genders, races, nationalities – that always gets cut. It nicely rounds out the points that Shamus was making.

As I have noted, I am definitely a gaming fan, but although I was playing shooters from the very start (had Doom on a laptop right after it came out as we drove up to Maine for the weekend), I have never been a fan of the console macho-game culture. Right now I am playing ‘Might & Magic X: Legacy’, a continuation of the classic role-playing saga I had started playing nearly three decades ago.

Why the Amazon Fire Phone Will Fail

Did you hear that Amazon was launching a phone? Guess what? You probably won’t buy it – I won’t buy it, and nor will most people. I am predicting its sales will be rounding error compared to the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phones … and not even hold up against the HTC phones and Microsoft’s anemic Windows Phone platform. Why?

I love this quote:

Amazon has spent years developing a phone that addresses zero needs and relies on features that no one wants.

There are definitely some cool things:
– Firefly recognition technology – see a book or piece of art or running shoes you want … point your phone at them and your Fire phone will help you buy them … from Amazon.
– Unlimited Free Photo Storage – this just stepped things up major-bigtime! Add to this a nice looking 13MP low-light capable camera, and you have a real winner
– 3D tracking with four low-power cameras. Advanced face tracking
– Tight Amazon integration.

But … then there is all of this:
– Mediocre specs – getting the Samsung Galaxy S4 from last year is a better phone
– Pricing – now THIS was actually surprising, but for a ‘mid-range’ phone you are paying ‘flagship’ prices – $650 for the base phone without contract.
– AT&T exclusive – by doing this they essentially throw away more than TWO-THIRDS of possible customers. I am sure that they are doing this because AT&T seems to be the place to launch for favorable terms (like the iPhone, Nokia’s Windows Phones, HTC’s ‘Facebook Phone’, etc). But … if that is the reason, why not attack with price?

The worst thing is that I should be part of the target audience for the phone, and I had made my decision before the product announcement live-stream was over.

Why should they want me? I have been on Amazon since … forever – I have order info going back more than 17 years. I am a long-time Prime member, have an extensive Kindle library, own Kindle, had every Kindle Fire up to the new Kindle Fire HDX, have loads of apps and games, am part of their digital video game system, have the new Fire TV with game controller, and we spend more money there than just about anywhere … basically I am pretty well committed to the Amazon ecosystem.

But I also live in a Verizon-only area, and with an all-iPhone house Amazon would have to give me a good reason to switch – and a load of stuff that does nothing for me but helps them sell more stuff is NOT it!

What about you?

Resiliance

I reblogged this yesterday, but I really think it is a great and important message. Here is the original.

The Passing of Another Legend Leads to a Reflection on Life

This past week has seen the passing of a number of celebrities and artists, and as often happens the majority are not widely known people who will be featured on news and entertainment shows, but journeymen artists such as jazz musicians Aaron Sachs and Jimmy Scott.

The two that crossed my news streams the most were baseball legend Tony Gwynn and jazz piano legend Horace Silver. There are articles everywhere about the two, but I love this take from Tony Gwynn’s batboy, and this retrospective on Horace Silver by Marc Myers.

When death impacts us directly it can be devastating – we get consumed by grief and sadness and despair. Yet what most of us want to leave behind is a legacy that makes people smile … for people to say ‘do you remember that time when … ‘ and have warm and happy thoughts.

I have been thinking about this because over the last couple of weeks there have been all sorts of other life-reflecting things: at work I know of people who have died or had cancer diagnosis or been hospitalized; same with friends outside of work – two friends from our past are dealing with cancer … and the sad reality is you know there is no guarantee. I know I am at that age when people start dying ‘young’, but from afflictions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes that typically impact older people.

Kind of a heavy topic, I know … and I guess my take-away is to say that you should spend your life creating the moments that people will remember rather than the money they can spend when you are gone.

Here is a great classic song from Horace Silver to take us out …

Tuesday Thoughts – Junk Miles, a Request and My ‘Two Songs’

20140610-063320-23600761.jpg

Day 2 of Megan’s Abs Challenge – Complete!

We are getting to the end of my 10 Days You list, and as I keep saying I have enjoyed this more than I expected and learned a lot along the way. The comments have been amazing, and I have added stuff to my various watch and wish lists as a result – thanks to all for sharing! Today along with the second-to-last day, I have a couple of other quick topics, so here we go!

No Such Thing as Junk Miles

The concept of ‘junk miles’ is one that fascinates me, and Carson at Running Southern mentioned it in her latest post, in the context of taking charge of her busy life and ditching ‘junk’ miles that don’t get her anywhere in her fitness. I am not bringing her up to disagree or criticize – I support her choice, and if you read her post you will see it makes perfect sense for her.

So what ARE these junk miles? The term ‘junk miles’ came as part of the ‘run less, run faster’ fad, which many have picked up and some have had great success improving their times and staying injury-free. But are they right? Can runners simply cut miles, run some more speed work and end up better for it? Um … maybe, maybe not.

From Competitor:

So who’s right? Science offers no clear answer. On the one hand, studies that have looked at various training variables in groups of runners competing in the same race and compared these variables against their finishing times have found that weekly running mileage is usually the best predictor of performance. In other words, those who run the most tend to achieve the lowest finishing times in races.

On the other hand, numerous prospective studies have shown that runners can achieve large improvements in performance without increasing their mileage by replacing some of their slow running with faster running.

When you look up and down the running literature there is evidence to support either side – and also to debunk either side. Bottom line – there is no absolute definition of junk miles.

But what matters more is looking at how and why you are doing workouts. Are you training for a marathon? If so, those long runs are contributing to your endurance, as well as your recovery. Or maybe you are using them for ‘active meditation’, stress relief, hanging out with friends, or some other non-training purpose. Again, in that case they are NOT junk.

junkmiles
Image Source

The common context applied seems to be that miles – or workouts in general – are junk when you are in the midst of a training cycle and that specific workout contributes nothing to your training.

There are also three REALLY good reasons to focus on maximizing your training efficiency in fewer miles : injury, burnout and frustration.

If you are injury prone, or recovering while training for a new event, every mile can make you more prone to getting injured. And if you are getting stuck in a rut of doing the same thing again and again, chances are you aren’t improving and might be getting burned out and lose interest in your training. None of this is good.

So my advice would be to ditch someone else’s definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ miles, figure out based on your own personal experience what YOUR balance of ‘quality vs. quantity’, and develop your own optimal training plan … regardless of how someone else would judge it.

A Quick Request

I am fortunate to not have been in a position to ask for money for a very long time other than for charitable support, and as a result I try to support charities for others when I can. This weekend I got a request from Ann Brennan, the blogger at Ann’s Running Commentary. Ann’s site was one of the first I found when I started tracking blogs through a guest post she did. Eventually I did a guest post for her, and she remains a good blog friend. Here is what she is asking:

This year I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon for the 7th time. But this year is different. This year I will be running with my dear friend Jeff Prs who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Please help me by donating and/or sharing this link on your page. Jeff is an incredible man and does so much for so many. Raising money and awareness for prostate cancer is the very least I can do.

Check out her donation site, and thanks in advance if you can do anything at all to help.

10 Day You Challenge

OK, so now I am up to Day 9, and the theme is Two Songs. Wait … what?!?! TWO … W.T.F. Anyone who knows me knows that music is a HUGE thing for me, so picking just TWO songs is impossible. So I chose to do something different … I chose one song for myself and one that has special meaning in my life. And once I made that choice – the two songs were immediately chosen and I am satisfied. So let’s go!

Day Nine: Two Songs

1. ‘Bitches Brew’ by Miles Davis – I have written about this song here and here, saying:

within that 27 minutes there is everything I love about music; elements of classical, rock, funk, soul, free jazz, fusion and so on.

And it really is one of the singular pieces of modern music, featuring a double quartet (two drums, two basses and two keyboards) as well as multiple ‘world music’ influences and contributions from rock and classical and funk music. Yet it has a harder edge than so much ‘free jazz’ of the period while remaining harmonically tethered and loose all at once. The musicians were young and dynamic, and so while they had no preconceived ideas of what was happening … once the recording started they let loose with some of the greatest music of the last century.

Here is a live version from the Tanglewood Jazz Festival (in Western Massachusetts):

And here is the original album version … all 27 glorious minutes …

2. ‘Skywriting’ by The Bible – Music is important to both Lisa and I, and we have shared music back and forth through the years. I lent her tapes of Pat Metheny and Miles Davis, and she gave me late-80s British new wave stuff like The Lilac Time and The Bible. We really enjoyed listening to why the other one liked certain things, and over time The Bible’s album ‘Eureka’ became ‘ours’ … and the lead song ‘Skywriting’ became our song, played as our first dance by the band at our wedding. Traditional? No … but who the F cares?!? 🙂

The song tells the story of a young couple trying to succeed against the odds and opinions of others. While I was already employed as an engineer (i.e. not broke), just as we fell in love Lisa moved to Albany for a year of graduate school in medical technology. So we had the long distance thing going – and plenty of people ready to cast doom upon us.

Now Lisa only had this on tape, and it was out of print (this was 1990-91), pre-internet, MP3 or YouTube, so it wasn’t something easy to get. But I did some poking around record stores in Boston and was able to special order an import CD through one of those shops – and ‘our songs’ were safe.

We still listen to this CD all the time, and it remains a special part of our life and our family. Here is a live version circa 1990:

What do you think about ‘junk miles’? Have you ever run for a cause? And what are YOUR two top songs – and why?

Thought for Thursday – Compromise and ‘Seven Wants’

20140605-090853-32933078.jpg

Happy Thursday – I hope everyone had a great day on Wednesday, whether you ran because it was Wednesday or ‘National Runner’s Day’, or engaged in another activity, or didn’t because you are hurt or didn’t feel like it, or maybe had a nice big tasty ice cream … whatever you did, I hope you had a great day. The picture is from my Wednesday run – I tried to mix things up a bit, but really … it was just a Wednesday run. As I was filling in my ‘Wants’ for the ’10 Day You Challenge’, compromise came up – I was thinking of a discussion Lisa and I had a couple of times this week about not compromising our moral or ethical standards as a core value.

One of the early projects I worked on with Corning was technically excellent but commercially doomed – due to the timelines of two stages of innovation required for short and long term solution. Then there was a full team meeting – and they killed the project. Period. Sure they could have extended the program, changed the focus, sought different goals for the interim and so on. It made me think of a quote:

“A Compromise That Makes Neither Side Happy Is a Bad Compromise”

At my old job … there were NO projects I ever saw explicitly killed. Sure, people were moved off, maybe they eventually withered away, but there was always at least one person who had to deal with continued interest from customers and commercial people who pitched the project initially. In those cases (one in particular that I can’t discuss involves a project that would have been niche anyway, had a terrible technical flaw, but had one important customer with interest regardless), the customer isn’t getting focus or attention, the company isn’t seeing revenue, and the people working on it get neither satisfaction nor help in their efforts. That non-decision is a great example of a terrible compromise.

I have talked about compromise before, and the two very different potential meanings:

– an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.
– to make a dishonorable or shameful concession.

For some people the word automatically has one meaning or the other, but for me it can mean either one given the context. Coming back to the posts from Suz, and Sara, when I talk about the little regrets through my life, many of them are times I compromised my standards, taking part in things I wouldn’t normally do or saying things I disagreed in deep down, all for the sake of instant social gratification.

But the other type of compromise – the one of finding a common route of success by letting go of the need to control 100% of everything – happens all the time. But the time you read this it will have happened around me perhaps a dozen or more times at work … and compromise and negotiation are a daily part of parenting and any long term relationship such as marriage.

I’ll say it right now – if you don’t ever compromise in your relationships, either it isn’t really true or everyone else is forced to compromise all the time (in which case they all hate you either secretly or not, and you are building a box because no on will ever want to deal with you unless forced). Specifically to marriage – a marriage where one person refuses to ever compromise is a bad marriage – because the other person is then forced to compromise all the time, at which point we move from one type of compromise to the other. And yes, I have known people like that … and no it never ends well.

ANYWAY …

10 Day You Challenge

OK, so now I am up to Day 4, and the theme is Wants. Here’s the thing – when I thought about this, nothing materialistic came to mind. On the one hand that tells me I have my needs met in that regard, and on the other that it isn’t a primary focus for me.

Day Four: Seven Wants

1. Our boys to be happy adults – that is vague for a reason. Things like college, degree, job title, address … none of that really matters if you are miserable. If they are happy with their lives – I will be happy.

2. Lisa and I to grow old together – sure this is the natural complement to my ‘fear’ … but doesn’t that make sense? If you noticed, divorce wasn’t one of my fears, sure marriage requires work, but I just don’t even see it as a possibility at this point in our lives. So if we remain healthy we should be able to enjoy a long life together … and to me, retiring and walking the beach on Cape Cod after hearing how wonderful our boys are doing … that is a dream I would love to see come true.

3. Having enough money to never really struggle – We are lucky in that we have always been employed, and have a beautiful home, nice clothes and plenty of things … sure we struggle and money is always a concern and consideration. All I would ever want is to be able to do things that we really want to do – not extravagant, but be able to enjoy.

4. To be able to run every day for as long as possible – I don’t pretend I will be running into my 80s … but who knows? I have said at my 25th ‘runner-versary’ that I would love to be running for another 25 years, which would make me 73. That would be pretty awesome.

5. To have a job I enjoy (enough) until I retire – let’s face it … it is a JOB; it is what we do to make money to provide an income for whatever we want to do in life. If we are lucky we enjoy it most of the time, and if we are really lucky it satisfies our passions. I have had a relatively few jobs since college, and have generally liked them, the challenges and the people. Many people are not so lucky, I know – our economy remains crappy, millions of jobs are never coming back, and it is a struggle. So I just hope that I can remain in a decent place for as long as I need to work.

6. Enough time for my other hobbies – I am enjoying having my little music studio running again, but really haven’t had much time yet. Life is very busy between a more-than-full time job, marriage, kids, house and yard, and so on. I have largely stopped playing video games, have a strong running focus (no duh), but definitely want to make sure I give myself time for music as well.

7. A more peaceful and tolerant focus for our country/world – We see progress, but it is really hard – and we’re not as far as I would have hoped by now. We just passed the 95th anniversary of the 19th amendment, and yet there remains a wage gap, job discrimination, and so on. I have seen gay rights move from ‘Anita Bryant’ and some very wide-spread hate in the 70s, through Reagan and the ever-hateful GOP shutting down funding on AIDS in what was essentially war on its own citizens, to now having legal protection in many states as well as the right to marry in a bunch of places. But at the same time I see us more polarized as a country – for some it seems they would rather the economy stagnate and people starve rather than cooperate. So even as we see forward progress in some areas I see us sliding backwards. That is just sad.

So what is your idea of compromise? And what is on your ‘want’ list?

Wandering Through Thursday – Throwback, MiMM, Thoughts and Tasty Tunes!

20140320-060034.jpg

Wow … holy ‘what happened to Wednesday’, Batman!?! Actually I know EXACTLY what happened … and it is a good thing. Aside from craziness at work, three areas I have talked about addressing – dawdling before my run, doing bodyweight exercises, and no computer in bed – have all been going well, and that immediately cuts into the time I would use for blogging.

So Wednesday’s post had already been changed around (hopefully all these changes means next week will be smoother), but I never finished it and ran out of time, so today I have a whole bunch of stuff crammed together – so let’s get to it!

Throwback Thursday

20140320-062646.jpg

This isn’t too old – just last year. We brought Danny to East Stroudburg University for the American Music Abroad program, and before they headed to Europe they had a few days of intense rehearsals. That left Lisa, Chris and I to do things for a few days. One thing we wanted to to was hit NYC for the day … and while the weather was pretty miseable, we had a blast.

Going to a music store if you are a non-musician is boring at best, but for musicians Guitar Center is a blast! The Boston store is better than the one in NYC, but they are both loads of fun. Since I play guitar, bass and keyboards and have a digital music studio … I could lose myself for the day if I wasn’t painfully aware of how awful it is for Lisa. But apparently I lost myself enough while noodling on a cool semi-hollow jazz guitar that Lisa grabbed this picture of me. Chris was in his element working the CDJ-2000! If only he had a spare $10k it would have been his!

New York City is one of the places we are considering for vacation this summer, because we have never all gone together, and there are colleges both kids want to visit – which is a key element to our vacation plans. I’m sure we’ll find a bit of Guitar Center time in there as well!

Hurray for Spring!

I was so thrilled Tuesday morning when I woke up before my alarm and was ready to head out on my run. It was made better because the temperature hadn’t dropped close to zero as was predicted, and was 19F with light winds when I started out. That was still cold, but rather than worrying so much about being warm enough, I could just toss on a pretty standard outfit and go!

Wednesday was an odd one because the thermometer read 39, but it was windy … and the wind was quite chilly, making it feel more like 25. Still … 25F is pretty nice running weather! The issue is always getting too warm when the wind is blocked and then chilled when the wind kicks up.

And for the first day of spring? Again it was 39, but the wind was much warmer, and it was just a glorious day for running!

Oh, and how I talked about ‘working my plan’? By Thursday most weeks I would have about 26 miles done (not counting Sunday) … this week? 35 miles Monday – Thursday! And still home by 6AM every day! Sorry I’m not sorry that has messed up my blogging and writing for other sites!

Marvelous in My Monday Wednesday

On Monday I whined talked about dealing with the winter blahs … but what that really meant for me was how to get the weather out of the way so I could enjoy my run. Apparently expecting -2F and getting +20F was JUST the thing! So suddenly things went from ‘blah’ to … marvelous!

MiMM

And as I thought about it, another draft-in-progress got kicked to next week, as I decided a hybrid of sorts was in order – my normal ‘thinking out loud’ along with a ‘marvelous in my Monday’. I loved Arman’s take this week, and want to link up for MiMM with … so here goes:

Danny Tux

Marvelous is – a picture of my older son in his tux at a fitting, seeing how much he has grown into a young man and how great he looks.

Chris Mens Wearhouse

Marvelous is – a selfie from my younger son from the same location, just hanging out being him.
Marvelous is – practicing ballroom dancing with Lisa, not being very good, but laughing and banging into each other and other things and getting the dogs all riled up.

Marvelous is – my running. I am not the fastest or best by any stretch. I am me … and that is good enough.

Marvelous is – reading. I had really wanted a minimum of a book a month, but haven’t finished ANY yet; with my Lenten commitment to keeping the computer away, I have been SO much better, and am nearly finished with ‘Night Watch’. Will I re-read the full series before the new one? Who knows … but at least I have a good start!

Marvelous is – my ability to get up tomorrow and run. I never take it for granted. I am not yet old, but certainly not young … and I know too many people who cannot do it.

Marvelous is – Food. In every sense. I talk about my disordered dealings with food, and it is a constant challenge for me. I am happy with how I am balancing fueling and control … I am not gorging myself, nor am I denying myself or restricting. Balance.

Marvelous is – my marriage. For whatever reason, yesterday we each had people at work remarking positively on our relationship, which always feels good – after so many years we don’t need external validation … but hearing that those feelings shine outside of ourselves is pretty cool.

Marvelous is – my wife, who makes me proud and happy and giddy all the time.

Marvelous is – our dogs, who are so full of love and joy and spirit.

Marvelous is – our 13-year old ‘cancer kitty’ Leo, who we decided not to have treated two years ago … and he is still happily tormenting the neighbrhood!

Marvelous is – Dolly, the 9 or 10 year old cat we have been ‘cat sitting’ for three years …

Marvelous is – music; I wish there was more time for me to work on playing and writing music … but what time I DO get fills my heart with joy.

Marvelous is – reading all of the awesome race summaries from last weekend. There were great reads from Cori, Hollie, Lisa and Lauren among others. Each has loads of interesting insights and details. It is a reminder that no two races are the same … which is true even when it is the same race.

A few other things (since this is a Wednesday):
The Post-Google Post-Buzzfeed World
We all see the headlines like ‘5 Power Mega Super Marathon Tips You MUST DO NOW’ … and of course the article tells you ‘hydrate, build mileage, fuel, practice race pace, and taper’. Um, yeah thanks.

The reality is that bloggers live in a world where Google’s page rank dominates search traffic and makes people use SEO as a guiding light of life. The result is that more and more blogs look like Buzzfeed (or Upworthy) with a bunch of over-blown titles that claim the universe.

Depending on who is reading this, there might be one or two recent articles that come to mind. I am not singling anyone out – because it is much more of a cumulative problem!

I was cleaning out my various feeds – Feedly, email subscriptions, Bloglovin and WordPress – and I have a HUGE number of feeds in differemnt areas. I track stuff from running, health, music, technology, video games, gadgets, deals, statistics, science, humor and offbeat stuff, and so on. And guess what – ALL of those areas are moving to the SEO-centric view.

The problem when you are confronted with dozens of titles with ‘Must Read’ or ‘Ultimate’ or ‘Essential’ or whatever other hyperbolic terms you can imagine? They stop being eye-catching and become annoying. And when I start to feel like I am being ‘gamed’, I bristle. I had friends at blogs in the past who I have stopped following and commenting … and when they asked why I would say ‘when you stop with 300 iPhone link-bait posts during the pre-announcement cycle I will come back’.

Fortunately there were very few of my running/health blogs falling into that category … and those that are, I am willing to cut some slack for a bit …

The Power of Optimized Mediocrity

I love this article called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People”, on accepting that most of us are not the whiz-kid billionaire types, but still want to do well and make a good life.

As far as I can tell, Larry Page has never failed. He went straight from graduate school to billions. Ditto for Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and a few others. But again, by definition, most of us are pretty mediocre. We can strive for greatness but we will never hit it. So it means we will often fail. Not always fail. But often.

I often read there motivational images about ‘being anything you want’. That is a nice aspiration, but the reality is you should focus on figuring out who you are and becoming the best version of that!

Totally NOT Marvelous Race Reports

As much as I love reading a great race report, there was also some tough news out of this weekend.

At the Shamrock, 16-year old Cameron Gallagher collapsed seconds after finishing and never regained a heart beat. It is a sad and tragic story …

But according to Runner’s World not the only one. In the UK at the Brooks Fleet Pre-London Half Marathon, an unidentified 40+ year old man collapsed and died near the end of the race.

And at the NYC half-marathon, a runner collapsed but was resuscitated quickly.

It is a sad reminder of the risks associated with any physical exertion – and that a half marathon is not a trivial challenge.

Still not sure about the ‘student athlete’

Because we are plunging into ‘March Madness’, it is time once again to remind ourselves that these kids are supposedly ‘students’. Of course, most are SINO (students in name only), having been recruited based on non-scholastic skills, put into ‘academic’ programs designed around the athletic department, and so on. Realistically, these kids are pro athletes, in the business of playing a sport for a school rather than a city.

I think my biggest problem is the distinction between ‘pros in college’ and ‘student athletes’. When I was at RPI the hockey team won the national championship and was a major powerhouse. The school also gave scholarships for other sports, but it was different. The hockey players had their own housing, whereas my first roommate was on the basketball team. Hockey players were almost all in the same academic program, basketball players were accepted into the school and THEN given scholarships.
Of course even hockey players were not all the same – there were some ‘pucks’ as we called them who had little academic skill to offer, others who might not have made it in without hockey, and still others who were both smart AND good players.

Lauren at WillRunForBoston talked about it recently, about how “In college, running wasn’t a hobby. I was on scholarship at a Division I team and I had to give cross country and track 110%.”

But I also draw a distinction between a more ‘pure’ athletic pursuit like track, and the ‘road to pro’ sports such as football and basketball. Think about it – I remember that Larry Bird went to Indiana State and Magic Johnson went to Michigan State … and those schools use that information to get more money for everything they do.

How You Game vs. How You Work

While my constant chatter on video games gives some a case of MEGO, there is a lot that can be learned about people by how they play games. This study just came up again, and talks about different types of video games and how the players approach work and other problems.

I was going to talk about this for Friday, but it really isn’t worth it … I am an engineer and statistician, whose life every day includes planning experiments, analyzing results, and so on. It is not surprising that strategic games or number-heavy role-playing games are most interesting to me, as well as story-centric action games.

And for this totally random brain-dump I’m linking up with Amanda once again. I have really enjoyed doing this, if you can’t tell …

Thinking-Out-Loud

This week’s JAM is Jack DeJohnette ‘Special Edition’ box set

This isn’t really new, but is one of those things that I never gave proper attention when it came out a couple of years ago – it is a remastered box set and I own two of the albums already. But rather than immerse myself, I just listened to the new versions of what I already owned and then moved on.

Last week I had the song ‘Third World Anthem’ in my head, so I pulled out my CD of ‘Irresistable Forces’, from the 1987 incarnation of Jack Dejohnette’s Special Edition. The CD is out of print, so when I left it in my car but wanted to hear it in the house I realized I hadn’t imported it into iTunes … and that the version from ‘Album Album’ WAS on my iTunes. So suddenly I was listening to this amazing four album set …

Here is the press info:

Special Edition – a band with revolving membership and an incredible cast of soloists including David Murray, Arthur Blythe and Chico Freeman – was one of the most sophisticated vehicles for Jack DeJohnette’s all-around talents. This set brings together the albums Special Edition (ECM 1152), Tin Can Alley (ECM 1189), Inflation Blues (ECM 1244) and Album Album (ECM 1280), underscoring the excitement of invention and possibility one can hear in this era of DeJohnette’s career. The recordings reveal him as an artist in touch with tradition even as he sought the cutting edge of the day, paying homage to his jazz heroes yet experimenting with new sounds. There are echoes of old New Orleans grooves and Swing-era big bands in this collection, as well as material crafted with the techniques of ’80s pop singles; there are ambitious suite-like compositions, and there is spontaneously lowdown rhythm & blues.
Recorded 1979-1984 and remastered from original tapes for ECM’s Old & New Masters series.

Across the four albums we hear the following musicians:

Jack DeJohnette on drums, piano, organ, congas, timpani, melodica, vocals; David Murray on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Arthur Blythe on alto saxophone; Chico Freeman on soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, bass clarinet; John Purcell on alto and baritone saxophones, flutes, alto clarinet; Rufus Reid on bass, electric bass; Peter Warren on double bass, cello; Baikida Carroll on trumpet.

What I love about ‘Special Edition’ is that it is a free jazz group working in a highly composed environment and led by one of the great drummers of jazz. DeJohnette played with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew and On The Corner amongst others – he could play straight jazz, fusion, funk and free.

The rest of the group is like a who’s who of the late-70s free jazz movement, so if you look up any of them on AllMusic and look at their output you will find some real gems. Rufus Read is responsible for one of the ‘must have’ books for bass players (The Evolving Bassist) … and all of that knowledge just spills out on these recordings.

Ultimately ‘Album Album’ remains my favorite recording from this collection, but that is largely because of ‘Third World Anthem’. Check it out below!

The albums are available on ECM Records for 19.90 Euros (converted)and Amazon for $28.49.

Here is a live recording of the 1988 band playing Third World Anthem:

So … what is running through YOUR mind this Thursday?