Friday, October 30, 2009

Steely Dan snow show 10-29-09

I looked around at all the work casual clothes, the patches of balding hair and bifocal glasses, the retired beatniks with graying goatees, the women in dressed usually reserved for office Christmas parties and the soft conversations back in their comfy seats.
Was this a rock concert or an orchestra performance? I'd played at many more orchestra performances than attended them, so I can't be sure. But I could say that this was definitely different than most of the rock concerts I'd attended.
Where were the black T-shirts? The AC/DC playing in the background? The, um, people my age?
Of course, I didn't care. After a white-knuckle drive through Colorado's first major snowstorm of the year (more than a foot), where my car occasionally skated more than drove, I was happy to be there with all my major organs. Besides, I admitted that I, myself, was wearing basically the same outfit, without the Dockers or loafers and with a slightly hipper black sweater and Nikes.
And I had always wanted to see Steely Dan.
Steely Dan ranks in the top 5 of my all-time favorite groups. I have the box set and know all the words (the ones I can decipher, anyway), and I'm one of those who roll their eyes when someone calls himself a fan because he knows "Reelin' in the Years," like the hardcore fans of Led Zeppelin who don't want the band to play "Rock and Roll" at a show.
It's an odd mix, yes, my love for loud, crunchy guitars, fast drums and screaming vocals coupled with a band that could be played at coffee shops. But it comes from my background in jazz bands and love for original artists. I still love jazz, and there isn't much better than Steely Dan.
I've always considered them a jazz band with rock tendencies, not the other way around, and sure enough, the band proved it at Thursday's concert. The opening act was an organ jazz trio (imagine THAT at a Metallica show), and when the Dan band came out, the four-piece horn section opened with a combo tune and each took a turn soloing. Can you imagine Slayer hitting the stage and noodling around on "Fly Me To the Moon?" Yeah, me either. Several times during the show, the band played different arrangements and the solos were improvised, not memorized pieces from the albums. It was as much a jazz concert as it was a rock and roll show.
I went alone, partly because I get to go to a show like once a year, so I tend to splurge when I go (I paid $150 for nearly front-row seats), and partly because it's Steely Dan, and partly because I'm lame. But it didn't matter. There were many who joined me, intent on the music and not dancing around. Several just sat there and listened. It was, again, like an orchestra concert, or more like we were there to see Wynton Marsalis. I was starting to feel pretty fucking sophisticated and shit.
Then I smelled the pot.
I never know where the pot comes from. I never really find it. I don't have Pauly's nose or radar (or a girlfriend who gets baked more than brownies at a Martha Stewart show). It was a nice reminder that this was still a rock concert, even if we were sitting down and I wasn't thrashing my head back and forth like it was attached to a Slinky.
As The Dan launched into its full performance of "Aja," I was reminded why I love the band so much. The guys don't tour often, which was one reason I'd never seen them (another is because, again, I'm lame). It's easy to see why. The music is fucking HARD. The Dan needed two guitarists (including the brilliant Walter Becker), a pianist, three female backup singers, the horn section (bari sax, tenor, trumpet and trombone), bass and drums, in addition to Donald Fagen's vocals and organ work, to pull it off. And I was amazed at how many times the Dan NAILED the complex songs, tempos and changes (jazz musicians regularly include their music among the Miles Davis and Charlie Parker in their sets).
Fagen didn't speak to the crowd during the "Aja" set, preferring to pretend the record was on during a cocktail party (one of the female singers even "put on" the record on a beat-up turntable, and the band was so serious about playing along with the illusion, she switched to side B halfway through).
I love "Aja," and it did make me realize how much we miss these days by not owning albums anymore (I'm guilty of this myself, choosing to download singles probably 90 percent of the time). It's so awesome when you get a record that plays seamlessly from start to finish, with the powerhouse tunes ("Peg," "Deacon Blues," "Black Cow" and "Josie" blending well with the few weaker tracks on the record. The weaker tracks ("Home at Last") were there to give us a break before we got our socks rocked off again. More bands should play albums in full; it's a perfect way to enjoy the first half of a show.
The Dan played an hour and a half after that, maybe rewarding us a bit for traveling through the icy roads and snowy air.
There were two minor missteps. One was near the end of the show, when the band played "Dirty Work," one of the band's first major hits (it might have been the very first), and since it's one of the few tracks not sung by Fagen, the girls took turns singing the lines. It was nice to hear the trio featured on a song, but it came across far too karaoke for a band of the Dan's caliber. And I'm being greedy, but I wish the guys had played at least one song from their last two albums, including "Two Against Nature," which earned them their only Grammys.
My highlights included "Bodhisattva" (few bands could pull that one off so well live), "Don't Take Me Alive" (my favorite song by the band), "Time Out of Mind" and a cool arrangement of "Show Biz Kids."
And, of course, "Reelin' in the Years." The band played it as an encore. The crowd rushed the stage and cheered the loudest.
That's OK. It really is a great song.

Set List:

First set
The Complete "Aja" album:
Black Cow
Deacon Blues
Home At Last
I Got The News

Second set (not in order)
Black Friday
Hey Nineteen
Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More (sung by Walter Becker)
Dirty Work
Don't Take Me Alive
Time Out of Mind
Babylon Sisters
My Old School
Kid Charlemagne
Reelin' In The Years - Encore

No "Do It Again." Phooey.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

All Hallow's Eve

We went to a trick or treating event at an old town museum in Greeley. Christmas gets a Christmas Eve, so why can't Halloween have several different events?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leaving it all behind - the Denver Half Marathon

It started with a little friendly bantering. I expected that. I was proudly wearing my Jayhawk shirt, as I always do, but I was surrounded by people foolishly wearing University of Colorado gold.
I was at Saturday night's football game, and when you venture into enemy territory, you have to expect some ribbing. Only the guy, with his kid, kept up the ribbing when CU scored, and then it became on every play, even a three-yard run. SEE THE SPEED? he proclaimed? Or a Jayhawk dropped a ball. I THOUGHT YOU GUYS COULDN'T CATCH. When CU scored again and took at 27-3 lead, he popped me in the chest. SEE? My eyes flashed a bit at that chest smack. Kate told me later she prayed I would keep my cool. I may not have a few years ago.
But I was running the Denver Half Marathon the next day.
I left him at the first mile.
I used to be a Type A. A is for Anal and uptight and wound. I would get into shouting matches with opposing players on softball squads and once came close to a brawl. I would worry about the future, even if the future looked bright enough for shades (enter harmonica here). I would sweat the small stuff. Profusely.
Mountain climbing was pretty much the only thing that would help, and that, unfortunately, was seasonal. 
I've mellowed, and events like the Denver Half Marathon are reasons why.
Around mile 3, as the sun starts to shine over downtown and bathe Coors Field in orange light, I leave worries about the economy. Around mile 5, I no longer shake my head about being duped, like everyone else in the media and law enforcement, by the bubble boy hoax (the family, being from Fort Collins, ensnared an unusual amount of our time and ink space at the Greeley Tribune).
Andie, Allie and Jayden, I love you, but I leave you behind around mile 9. Running was probably the only thing that kept me sane when you all were infants. At 4, 2 and 2, you continue to test me in special, strange ways - fits over wanting the blue cup, for instance - and its better to leave you all on a race course rather than yell them out in your face.
Around mile 10, it's me at the large, looming hill, and I no longer care about anything but the top.
Around mile 13, with just a .1 to go, I repeat, in my head, to finish strong. There is nothing left to leave but the shadows.
You've seen the shadows. They're symbolic. The shadows in front of me represent my goals for the future. The shadows beside me are my running partners and life partners, the ones who encourage me to push my limits. And as I race to the finish, the shadows behind me are the many worries and frustrations in my life, as they struggle, in vain, to keep up.

Edit for stats:
1:45. I finished 450/4480 runners in the half marathon. 8:04 pace. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tune up

The air felt heavy and the driveway reflected the street lamp in front of our house as I scampered out to get the paper.
Great. Drizzle. Perfect.
The air nipped at my ears and I ran upstairs to get a jacket. Fall, quite frankly, has been a bitch this year. Saturday I ran 10 miles, a tune-up, in snow, and it was 13 degrees at the start of our day. Even today I wore what I call full combat winter gear, with running tights, a hat, fleece gloves, a long-sleeved tech-shirt and the jacket. I usually don't have to break that stuff out until the middle of November.
I put on my iPod, took out the trash and, as soon as the last bag hit the curb, I was off. I didn't want any second thoughts of running that stupid, boring treadmill entering my brain again.
My cadence was choppy, like ocean waters, but it quickly smoothed out as I approached a half-mile. I usually kick into another gear here, but I was pleasantly surprised at how effortless it was to do today. I don't think I'm feeling any effects from the half marathon more than a week ago. My hamstring didn't hurt at all. Good news.
The run goes well. I continue to float along, hovering around an 8:10-per-mile pace, which is the goal today, until I turn into the wind. Ouch. My face starts to go numb, my breath escapes me after a long hill, and I began to feel the moisture soaking my jacket.
I live for these moments. They test me. You don't need any will power to run when times are good, when you're warm and the wind in your lungs and legs that are free of pain. But when you're faced with the opposite of all that, it's hard to convince yourself to keep going. I do, though, because I know things always get better. Put your head down, work through the shit, and the bad times pass and usually you'll forget they were even that bad in the first place.
They do pass as I head for the homestretch. My face won't be warm until I go into the house, but I get my breath back and my rhythm returns, and that's enough.
I cross the finish - a fire hydrant - and walk into the house. My pace was dead on. My body feels good.
The Denver Half Marathon is this weekend. It'll be the second one I run this Fall. And I'm ready.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It hit me

Watching the Rockies at 11 p.m. in the seventh, with me yawning the whole time, confirms three things for me:

• Baseball - playoff baseball, no less - shouldn't be on when you'd normally expect "Piranha II: The Spawning," "The Late, Late, Late, Late, Late Show" or lots of "Girls Gone Wild" commercials.

• I'm a morning person. That's not by choice. But as my streak of days in a row waking up before 7 a.m. climbs into the hundreds, my night owl days continue to fall behind me.

• I'm really lame.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Raising kids in a material world

"We are living in a material world, and I am a material world."
— Madonna

Andie, the oldest of my 2-year-old twins by less than a minute, looked down at my feet yesterday.
"Ooh," she said. "Daddy got some new shoes?"
Andie, my 2-year-old, loves shoes. Loves them. Maybe not as much as The Wife, but that's probably because she doesn't have unlimited access to red heels. Yet. When Kate brought out the winter clothes bucket, most of it hand-me-downs from my brother's 4-year-old daughter, we discovered a black pair of shoes, and a brawl broke out between Andie and Allie. Kate let Andie have the shoes before the oldest twin grabbed a butcher knife and diced up her sister. She's worn them ever since, despite a sore on the side of her ankle from the rubbing. Love has a price.
I sighed. "No, these aren't new, I just haven't worn them in a while."
"I like," Andie said.
I know, sweetie. I know. 
That's not all. Andie has attachments. She loves silverware. She's carried around a knife for the last couple of days (not butcher, thank goodness). She pilfers Jayden's cars. She gets hooked on wacko toys she finds in her Happy Meals. 
I would say this is a chick thing - because, let's be honest, this is TOTALLY a chick thing - except it's kinda not. Jayden forms the same attachments. When freaks when his sisters have a toy of his, even if he hasn't played with it since he was born. When we buy him a new car, he carries it around for days, like a donated organ. He even — sigh — loves new shoes, especially if they feature anyone from "Cars," which, let's be honest, usually do.
I wonder if kids are born with the need to be material or if they develop it after getting a bunch of crap every year for their birthday and Christmas and occasional visits to Wal-Mart. It makes me worry a bit about what I'm instilling in our kids. I wish they could all be like Allie. 
Ah, sweet, sweet Allie, the younger of the two twins. Allie screeches when Andie takes her juice - that's just survival - but otherwise Allie always gives Andie a toy when Andie demands it. She watches out for Andie and will bring her stuff all the time to cherish. This is, of course, enabling, but it's also cute and sweet. Allie also loves shoes but was happy with the brown pair of clog-like sandals in the tub.
I don't know where the other two get it. My wife points out that I get pretty attached to a new pair of running shoes, but those are running shoes, they help me RUN, and that's, like, totally different.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blue Sky Half Marathon

I knew this half marathon would be different than any other I'd ever run. It was a trail. It was steep. It was rocky.
I just didn't know HOW different until it started.
I started out running at a good clip, hovering around 8:15-per-mile pace. It was a chilly start. Fall is definitely here. I almost wore my jacket along with a warm hat and gloves, a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. Less than two miles into the run, I was wondering what all the fuss was about.
And then I hit the first climb.
Sweat was pouring down my face, and I was breathing hard, like the kind of hard during a 5K or a mile. I promised myself not to look at my GPS. I'm sure my pace was horrible. 
The thing was, so many others were struggling, too. It wasn't just me.
The hills went on FOREVER. You would turn a corner, get a bit of downhill, and just as soon as you'd catch your breath, you'd have another long stretch to tackle. 
I panted. I pushed. I even, occasionally, walked.
But I also had fun.
Part of the thing I love about doing a race like this is I don't think most people get to feel the highs and lows of a good, long workout. Most people, I think, stop at the kind of struggle I felt during those first few climbs. I don't blame them. There's no reason for it.
But the thing is, you get through those parts, and not only is your mind sharper for surviving it, you feel so good later on. There are always tough moments in our lives, too, and things like that teach us to keep fighting the good fight.
When I crossed the line, my time was 22 minutes slower than I'm used to, and yet I felt proud to get through such a tough race. And I felt proud that I felt good most of the time. And when a guy stopped me and said, "Oh, you fell," and I said, yeah, I did, I wondered how he knew that, until I saw the bloody patch on my knee.
I guess I did, indeed, leave just about everything out there.