Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Czarina Steps In

I put this off for as long as I could.  I had trained long and hard for the Naples Daily News Half Marathon.  But somewhere in the early weeks of January my left calf started bothering me again.  I listened to it and shut it down for 10 days and tried to run a couple of days before the race to see how it felt.  It wasn't bad but I knew it wouldn't hold up for 13.1 miles.

Still, I asked the Czarina to pick up my race packet so I could get my t-shirt.  She came home with it and announced that she would take my bib and run the race.  I chuckled.  The Czarina had injured her calf back in November in a soccer scrum with the grand kids.  Her running was shelved for more than two months.  She refused to take any of my advice to use the roller and ice it.

That meant the Czarina was constantly re-injuring her calf every time she attempted to run.  As fate would have it about the time I shut it down in mid-January she ran 3 miles without any pain.  Just to make sure she put in a 6 mile run to see how she felt.  So, the Czarina was running the half marathon with about 20 miles under her built over the course of the last 75 days.

I feared she would injure herself again but telling the Czarina not to do something is like telling the bull to stay out of the china shop.  She was determined to wreck havoc on her body.  She even took my bib which had my first name on it and covered it with her name.  Nothing was going to stop her.

I got up and went out with her that Sunday morning.  The weather was about as perfect as you could want for a long race.  It was just a touch about 40 degrees at 7 a.m. with no wind and no humidity.  I went for breakfast while she ran through the ritziest neighborhoods that Naples has to offer.  I went back to the course about 10 minutes after the first Kenyan had crossed the finish line.  I walked down the course with a camera in hand to see if I could catch her coming in, hoping against hope it wasn't going to end in a 3 hour walk. 

The Czarina came chugging along not long after the 2 hour mark.  She was moving very fast but she wasn't limping and was pretty pleased with herself.  She ran 2:15 which is a good 25 minutes slower than her best effort.  And yes, she could barely walk for the next two days and has continuously complained that I should give her my race shirt.  Fat chance!

As for my running, the calf started feeling great this week.  I've stopped biking and the elliptical and started with some short jogs.  I even got a MRI because of the never ending hip pain.  A couple of my lower discs in my back are bulging, but not much, at least not enough to do anything about it.  So it's back to running and hopefully I can rebound for a decent March 5K before the heat sets in.  At least the Czarina is running again and maybe, just maybe, will do a little more racing.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Alan Raised a Cain

What a week plus for the sport of track and field in the United States.  Mary Cain and Galen Rupp are off on a record setting tear.  But I can't help but believe none of this would be happening were it not for a tremendous trio of runners that set the high school scene on fire at the start of the 21st century.  Alan Webb, Dathan Ritzenheim and Ryan Hall made all of what we're seeing now on the American distance running scene possible.

Now news surfaced this week that Alan Webb is stepping away from the track, leaving behind a career that saw incredible highs, but oh so many heartbreaking lows.  Webb is going to become a triathlete, not a far-fetched idea given the fact that he was a top flight swimmer before he turned to track.  

Webb broke Jim Ryun's legendary high school record in the mile in 2001, shattering a record that had stood for 36 years.  He followed that with an American record for the mile in 2007.  But for all the success, he never could harness his potential on the championship stage.  His range was stunning.  Webb ran a sub 1:44 800 and 27:34 for 10000 meters.  Only Olympic gold medalist Said Aouita of Morocco ever showed that kind of range.

Least we forget Ritzenheim has made two Olympic teams as a marathoner and is one of only 4 Americans to break 13 minutes for 5000 meters.  Hall became a sensational marathoner after college setting an American record for the half marathon along the way. 

As good as these three runners were as professionals, all three could never reach the brass ring.  Webb's career was a roller coaster.  Ritzenheim could never avoid the injury bug, costing him some of his prime years as he fought time after time to come back.  Hall was much like Webb.  He couldn't decide on a coach and made the worst mistake any runner can make when he decided to coach himself.

And now we have a stable of great American distance runners from the 800 to the 10000.  Galen Rupp is just one of a whole range of men from Matt Centrowitz to Nick Symmonds who can boast championship medals.  Rupp took down the American 2 mile record Saturday night to go with the 5000 record he took the week before.

The same night Rupp broke the 5K mark Cain set a world junior mark for 1000 meters.  Then Friday night she came with a tenth of a second of the world junior record for the mile running 4:24.11  Even with those stunning marks this high school sensation must play second fiddle to Jenny Simpson who can claim two championship medals. 

Hold on tight, we're in for a wild indoor season.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Next Tier

Bob Luder was a hell of a runner and once up a time was a pretty good sports writer for the Kansas City Star.  He also possesses a really good feel for good music.  Bob always impressed me with his ability to appreciate mainstream artists but I most admired his quest to leave the beaten path and seek out performers and bands that are worth knowing and a more important, a listen.  I pay close attention to his Facebook posts about music.

So when Bob offered up Tom Petty and Jeff Tweedy from Wilco as worthy for consideration, I knew that I needed to dig deeper.  I also realized I was out of my depth when it came to music over the last 20 years.

Now, about the only "new" singer-songwriters that I've consistently followed since 1990 are Jakob Dylan and Ben Folds, so I knew I had to set some parameters.  I mean I really don't know enough about guys like Tweedy, or Beck or Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) to make solid judgments.  Plus, I think longevity should matter.  So I decided to limit myself to singer-songwriters eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The first thing I did was wade through the list of inductees.  First of all, the Rock HOF is complete crap.  The Hall is filled with arguably great artists who have nothing rock, folks like B.B. King and Johnny Cash.  Don't even get me started on hip-hop artists or why a band like Blondie are in there.  I think I just threw up in my mouth.  And hey, Joni Mitchell, a great singer-songwriter, is a folk artist, never really a rock and roller.

Anyway I came up with an initial list of 28 singer-songwriters worthy of consideration.  It includes no way types like Alice Cooper to incredibly great writers of music like Randy Newman.  Don't get me wrong, I like Alice and have even seen him in concert, but we're talking Mount Rushmore here.

Then there are some great rockers out there, John Mellencamp, Bob Seeger, John Fogerty, who have made great music for a long time.  There's a whole class of pop/rock types like Neil Diamond, an incredible song writer and Billy Joel and I would throw the great Michael Jackson in there.  Although I think Jackson had a lot of help from producers with song crafting, which is why I won't even consider Madonna as a great singer-songwriter.

There are the guys in country, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams that are worthy of discussion.  Williams career was cut short.  Cash was really a rock-a-billy artist who went to country and then got tossed out.  Willie, like Cash, was a major cross-over artist and was about as big as it gets in the late 70's.

Then you can stretch back way back to the guys that actually invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly.  Their catalogs are pretty amazing.  But even though their music built the foundation for a lot of artists to come, they were missing from the radio airwaves by the time the Beatles invaded America.

But let's get to it.  Yes, I figured my Mount Rushmore of singer-songwriters could be use four more names, a Magnificent 7 if you will.  That leaves me four more names to join Dylan, Springsteen and Young.  My guts tell me the deserving are, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Prince.  As much as it pains me I can't put Tom Petty, James Taylor or the great Carole King up there with these four.  And I love Tom Petty, love him to death.  Seeing Petty live with Bob Dylan 25 years ago was like a spiritual awakening.

I struggled with Brian Wilson.  He collaborated a lot in his writing.  That gets into the whole Michael Stipe/REM thing.  Wilson wrote one of the seminal rock albums ever.  "Pet Sounds" is incredible.  His resurrection of "Smile" is remarkable.  Yes, he had a writing partner with Mike Love, but I think we know that Wilson was doing the heavy lifting here.  He would be the first one I would knock off for Petty if forced to. 

Paul Simon stayed relevant for 25 plus years.  From his days with Art Garfunkel to his efforts in bring world music to America, he matters.  Plus he's still out there making good music.  My God, "The Boxer" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" are two of the greatest songs ever written.

Stevie Wonder owned the 1970's and he was a star long before "Songs in the Key of Life" came along.  Wonder is probably the only artist that can come close to Dylan when it comes to having his songs covered by other artists.  Plus, Stevie is still out there making music.

And then there is Prince.  He's a one man wrecking crew.  Prince is the best musician in the group and his songwriting is top notch.  His performance at the Super Bowl is the best I've ever seen at that major event, period. 

Let the arguments begin.  I've probably left some folks out.  Yes, I love Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne.  It pains me not to have them amongst the greatest of the greats.  And that's what makes this so hard.  Knock my choices, because I can't hold a candle to the musical knowledge of a man like Bob Luder, nor could I run a sub 30 10K like he could!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

High Hopes

In the canons of the American singer-song writer there are the Big 3, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen.  Even though this trio has more than 150 years of work between them, each manages to remain relevant, evolving and at the top of their musical games.  Now we have the latest offering from the youngster of this inveterate group has offered us "High Hopes."

Bruce Springsteen has served up an unusual mix of covers, re-makes and leftover originals.  Many of the tunes feature Tom Morello, the guitarist and frontman for a well known band called Rage Against the Machine.  Bruce proves once again that something old, something renewed, something borrowed and something blue is a powerful combination.

One of my favorite retreads is this studio version of "American Skin (41 Shots)," long a concert staple but never one of my favorites.  The rich production breathes new life into the song.  This song gets an assist from Morello as does on of Bruce's acoustic classic, "The Ghost of Tom Joad."  Springsteen and Morello have been shredding this song while out on the road for the better part of the last couple of years.  The studio version of "Joad" simply rocks.

One of my other favorites is a song called "The Wall."  It reflects back on a Jersey rock and roller who came before The Boss.  A man named Walter Cichon who Springsteen admired.  Cichon never got a chance to achieve music stardom, losing his life in the Vietnam War.  The song strikes a chord like many of the tunes from his great 2007 album "Magic," which scratches the surface of the current generation that has bled in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This isn't a great Springsteen album, but it is a very, very good one.  And if you buy the actual disc you can get a DVD of his London show from 2013 in which he plays the entire "Born in the USA" album.  It's a fantastic addition.

Springsteen seems to have joined Dylan on the road in a never ending tour.  Even Neil Young seems to be touring more.  My guess is that the only real money to be made anymore is out on the road, because it sure doesn't come from selling CD's and downloads.  Thanks goodness these greats are still with us.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

This iconic picture announced the arrival of a force of nature.  Bob Dylan, seen arm in arm with his then girlfriend Suzi Rotolo, walking down the cold, weary streets of New York City.  The Coen Brothers took this snap shot and created a mirror image of their own.  With "Inside Llewyn Davis" the Coen's carved out a freeze frame of the moment before Dylan burst upon the scene. 
I anxiously awaited this movie's arrival, my appetite whetted by a documentary on Showtime called "Another Day/Another Time," which celebrates the music that the movie hinges on.  The music in the documentary is amazing and it shows that Oscar Isaac, who stars in the film as Llewyn Davis, is no slouch as a singer and picker.
Folk music in the winter of 1960/61 was in the midst of a vapid phase.  The movie presents Davis struggling to carve out a niche in the field.  Fading from the scene was Pete Seeger and the group he had helmed, The Weavers.  Folk was in the process of being commercialized by clean cut acts like The Kingston Trio and The Chad Mitchell Trio.
The Coen's convey the grit, the struggle and the pure heartache that filled the world of struggling folk artists that haunted the streets of New York City.  It was all so earnest, too earnest, until a young Woody Guthrie disciple, named Bob Dylan came along and re-wrote the rules for what it meant to be a folk singer.  The fictional Davis decides to end his career on the night that Dylan rose ascendant at the historic Gaslight Cafe. 
It's not Dylan's arrival that drives Llewlyn away from the quest for money and fame.  Davis doesn't appear remotely interested or aware of the young folkie.  It's the struggle that kills his ambition.  The Coen's brilliantly depict that struggle as a homage to Dave Von Ronk, Phil Ochs, Dylan and yes, even Peter, Paul and Mary.  It's a struggle well worth watching and well worth enduring with Llewyn Davis.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Birth of the Cool

I miss him already and he hasn't even left.  I'm talking about a player that truly is the only basketball virtuoso I've seen in a Kansas uniform.  I'm talking about Andrew Wiggins.  His ability to glide effortlessly to the basket, with a repitorie of spins, slams and silky smooth jumpers, it takes my breathe away.  Chamberlain and Manning are the greatest of the greats, but I have never seen a freshman the like of Andrew Wiggins.

Danny Manning was a freak of nature.  He was a big man who could handle the basketball, a maker of a myriad of shots and a terrific rebounder.  As a freshman, Manning was surrounded by a stellar group of upper classman who he quite openly deferred to.

Wilt Chamberlain could not play as a freshman.  That in and of itself is a tragedy.  Have no doubt that if he could have, Kansas would have contended for a national championship that year.

The only freshman that comes close to Wiggins is a player who really came to the fore in the NBA.  Paul Pierce showed glimpses of what was to come.  But unlike Wiggins, Pierce wasn't a great defensive player as a freshman.  Pierce also lacked the ability to put the ball on the floor and make stunning drives to the rim.  The defense is really what seperates Wiggins.  He's relentless on the defensive end of the floor.
Watching Wiggins dismantle Kansas State on Saturday with the help of another freshman sensation Wayne Selden caused me to reflect back on the time when freshman were given eligibility in the middle of the 1973-74 season.  Kansas had a manchild of a freshman sitting on the bench, Nino Samuels.

I had the good fortune of seeing Samuels play his senior year for Salina Central at the state basketball tournament.  Samuels was a man playing among boys as he dismantled a tough McPherson team.  He had skills that left Kansas fans drooling.  Unfortunately as good as Nino was at driving and slashing to the basket, he was bad at hitting an open jump shot from 15 feet, a must in the college game if you want to keep a defender honest.

40 years of freshman eligibility has taken us from Nino Samuels to the NBA ready Andrew Wiggins.  What I wouldn't give to see Wiggins stick around another year to watch him cement his legend.  I'm going to enjoy the ride while I can.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wild Tales

I just finished reading Graham Nash's new autobiography, "Wild Tales," when word comes about the death of Phil Everly.  There is irony in that awful news.  Nash cites the meeting of Phil and Don Everly as the turning point in his young musical career.  Nash and Alan Clarke, who would help create The Hollies, went to see the incredible harmonizing duo in 1960.  The two waited after the show outside the hotel where the brothers were staying.
Phil and Don were coming home late from some serious drinking when they encountered the future British pop stars waiting for them outside of their Manchester hotel.  Instead of brushing them off, the brothers patiently answered Graham and Alan's questions for several minutes.  Nash says the lasting impression from that meeting was the Everly's advice to never give up in their pursuit of their dream to have a career in music. 

The Everly Brothers filled a gaping hole in the American music scene while Elvis was away in the Army.  Their influence on the sound of rock and roll stretches all the way from British invasion bands like The Beatles and The Hollies, but even to great American bands like The Byrds, The Eagles and of course, Crosby, Still, Nash and Young.

My personal Everly favorite is "All I Have to do Is Dream."  But their hit making run, while prodigious, was relative short, stalled out by the British Invasion that they had helped inspire.  They rightly went into the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Not to be lost in this rambling is Nash's book.  It is an excellent read.  I've always like Graham Nash.  He's always been open and available to the media.  He has championed many important, progressive causes.  He opens a lot of old wounds, especially in exploring the complex dynamics of CSN&Y. 

As I wrote before after reading Neil Young's autobiography last year, Nash leaves no doubt that Neil is a major league asshole.  It hurts me to write this.  I love Neil's music so much, but his selfishness and ruthlessness is just as great as his talents as a guitar player, songwriter and singer.  For Nash, it's the music that keeps him juggling with the combustible dynamite that is Neil Young.  It's worth the read, it's nearly as great as the music Graham Nash helped make.