Saturday, July 30, 2011

History Sticks to Your Feet

There's something to be said for the power of the written word. A well-written argument can be very convincing. For the last week, I've been reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, which tells the tale of the Tarahumara Indians, a hidden tribe in Mexico whose members are able to run hundreds of miles at a pop. Along the way, McDougall explains how the current state of cushioned running shoes has actually done serious damage to our feet by changing the way our feet were designed to run.

This is not a new book. It came out in 2009 and has helped inspire a wave of minimalist running, as folks who have suffered chronic injuries as a result of running are turning to this approach. Some folks have tried running barefoot, while others are using minimalist shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, which resembles a glove for your feet, or new minimalist shoes like the New Balance Minimus and a slew of others (check out this excellent look at the radical changes in the running shoe market in the last year or so).

I've heard about friends investigating minimalist running (including the great Steve Runner), but I had resisted because my Brooks Adrenalines had served me well for the last several years and I've been able to do 14 marathons and countless other races over the last decade without too many problems. But this year has been a struggle for me, even though I'm taking the year off from marathons. I've had Achilles' problems, heel issues, hamstring tightness; some of that stems from playing soccer this spring, but a lot of it is simply wear and tear.

So when I finally started reading Born to Run, I was still resistant to the idea of minimalist running. But reading the story of the Tarahumara as well as the breakdown of the biomechanics of the foot and how Nike and others completely altered the way feet were supposed to hit the ground, I have to say I was profoundly affected by it. It all made sense to me. So much so that I will start to try minimalist running. I'm going to try and play it smart and ease into it a little at a time. I've read about folks going overboard and injuring themselves. After years of running in cushioned sneakers, you can't just abandon that structure without experiencing some discomfort.

I still don't think I can run in Vibrams, but I might pick up a pair of minimalist sneakers and see how those feel. I'm not expecting miracles and I don't think I'll suddenly become an ultrarunner, but I'd like to see if changing my footfall will alleviate some of the injuries I've had of late. I still love running. I simply consider this another interesting adventure along the way. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 186: The Farther I Go

This week on the podcast, I've got some dispatches from my trip to Seattle. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- In Seattle for work

- Went to high school for few years in town three hours away

- Greeted by old man crashing into me on escalator

- First time in Seattle since 1983

- Visited Experience Music Project

- Seattle supposedly has last working monorail

- Went running down by the waterfront

- Caught a Mariners baseball game

- Met an old buddy from high school

- Plenty to see in the city

- Had we not moved, I might have gone to college in Seattle

- Major heatwave everywhere in U.S. except Seattle

- Checking in on last night in Seattle

- Finished working

- Got together with another old high school friend

- I got way off track on my way there and was an hour late

- Enjoyable trip

- When I first moved away, kept in touch via letters

- Stopped writing back when I got to college

- Was able to reconnect via Facebook

- Interesting to see how our lives turned out

- When I moved, we were all 15-year-old dorks

- Similarly reconnected with a childhood friend in Toronto a few years ago

- A bit of uncertainty meeting somebody you haven't seen in 30 years

- It's amazing how much you forget over the years

- Used a lot of public transportation in Seattle

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

Band of Horses - The Funeral

Mudhoney - In 'N' Out of Grace

The Murder City Devils - Idle Hands

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Band of Horses song is on the album Everything All the Time on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The Mudhoney song is on the deluxe reissue of the album Superfuzz Bigmuff on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The Murder City Devils song is on the album In Name and Blood on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Get Back Again

I've been back from Seattle for several days now, back in the regular workday grind. But it was a great trip. I managed to pack a lot into those four days, in addition to working at the conference that was the main reason for the trip. It was great to see two buddies of mine from my days at Hanford High School in Richland, Wash., which is a good three hours from Seattle. Fortunately, they both live in or relatively close to the city, so I met Dan on Sunday after going to the Mariners-Rangers game and Andrew on Tuesday after wrapping up work.

I hadn't seen either of them since we abruptly picked up and moved to New Hampshire after the last day of my sophomore year of high school in 1983. Both of them seem to be doing well in their lives, one married with kids, the other living with his girlfriend. On the third day, I met up with our friend Cyndi, who moved out West several years ago and now lives in Seattle.

I did a fair amount of touristy things, got a couple of good runs in, took a bunch of photos (see below) and drank a lot of beer. I'd say those are the hallmarks of a good trip. I just hope it's not another 28 years before I get back to Seattle.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 185: Trampled Under Foot

Special guest Lee Black joins me as we discuss the popularity and unpopularity of soccer. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Mr. Black's first appearance on the show

- Driving to see New England Revolution play Manchester United

- Stuck in Boston traffic

- Women's World Cup stoked interest in U.S.

- When there's no big event, interest tails off

- Women's soccer burst on scene in '99 after US won gold

- Youth soccer is booming

- Lee grew interested in soccer as a young kid after visiting Europe

- No teams in Iowa until years later

- High school didn't have a team until after he left

- In college, Lee was on the school's first soccer team

- Prefers watching World Cup games in Spanish

- Was in Italy when they won World Cup

- Still little interest in the heartland

- Jay: Played youth soccer in Canada

- Moved to Richland, Wash., birthplace of Hope Solo

- Played high school soccer in NH

- Played on indoor and outdoor teams

- Would rather play than watch soccer

- European nature of the game turns off some Americans

- More exposure via ESPN and other cable channels

- Women's game is more popular thanks to '99 gold medal

- Soccer will never be as big here as in the rest of the world

- Popular because you can play it anywhere and it's easy to learn

- In alternate reality, Lee's a hockey goalie

- (Postscript: ManU beat Revs 4-1; U.S. women lost in World Cup final to Japan)

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Tigers

Titus Andronicus - Breed

Young Adults - Let Us Out

Boots Electric - Boots Electric Theme

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks song is on the forthcoming album Mirror Traffic on Matador Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Titus Andronicus cover of a Nirvana song is on the album Newermind: A Tribute Album. Download the album for free by "liking" SPIN's Facebook page.

The Young Adults song is on the band's demo. Download the song for free at Soundcloud.

The Boots Electric song is on the forthcoming album Honkey Kong on Dangerbird Records. Find out more and download the song for free at his site.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When In Rome

I'm writing this from a place I haven't been in 28 years: Seattle. We never actually lived in the city--instead three hours away in a city called Richland--but I've always felt an affinity for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Had we not moved to New Hampshire after my sophomore year of high school, I probably would have attended college in the Seattle area.

So it's cool to finally be back, if only for a few days for a work conference. I flew out a day early so I could see some sights that I haven't seen in many moons and to see some friends. Tomorrow I'm going to the Mariners-Rangers game and then getting together with one of my best friends from my Richland days. Should be fun. Monday and Tuesday I'm working all day but hope to do some fun stuff in the evenings, and then Wednesday it's back to New England.

One thing that didn't change is the weather; it was cool and cloudy when I flew in, but the sun has actually poked its head out, believe it or not.

After I got to my downtown hotel, my room wasn't ready so I walked the mile or so to the convention center to set up my company's exhibit booth. I had forgotten how hilly it is around here, similar to San Francisco. I'm going to go for a run in the morning, but along the waterfront where it's fairly flat (I think). Tonight I'm going to the legendary Pike Place Market and then the Experience Music Project, Paul Allen's monumental rock music museum.

The few times I came here in the past I was with my parents, so this should provide a much different perspective on the city at the very least. It's a quick trip, but I plan to make the most of it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 184: On Top, Rockin' It

Special guest Jay Breitling joins me as we discuss our favorite rock music of the first half of 2011. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Breitling: Yuck's self-titled album

- Reminiscent of great '90s acts

- Kumar: Reissue of Queens of the Stone Age's first album

- Originally came out in '98, was out of print

- Breitling: J Mascis--Several Shades of Why

- Mostly acoustic

- Dino Jr.'s Where You Been has been unfairly forgotten

- Kumar: Sloan--The Double Cross

- 20 years of terrific rock and power pop

- Breitling: Rival Schools--Pedal

- NY post-hardcore legends

- Kumar: Twilight Singers--Dynamite Steps

- Greg Dulli's back with yet another great album

- Breitling: Destroyer--Kaputt

- Synth pop detour for Dan Bejar

- Whither Don Felder?

- Kumar: PJ Harvey--Let England Shake

- Polarizing album

- Bjork's selling her new songs as apps

- Breitling: Wartgore Hellsnicker--Moderate Rock

- "The last grunge record"

- Kumar: Buffalo Tom--Skins

- '90 alt-rock heroes still sound great

- Breitling: Also dig Johnny Foreigner, Wye Oak releases

- Kumar: Honorable mention includes Drive-By Truckers, Beastie Boys, Feelies

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

Yuck - The Wall

J. Mascis - Not Enough

Sloan - Follow the Leader

The Twilight Singers - On the Corner

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Yuck song is on the band's self-titled album on Fat Possum Records. Download the song for free at KEXP.

The J. Mascis song is on the album Several Shades of Why on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The Sloan song is on the album The Double Cross on Yep Roc Records. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) from the band's website.

The Twilight Singers song is on the album Dynamite Steps on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Senses Working Overtime: Freejack

Senses Working Overtime is an occasional series in which I recap old movies that for one reason or another didn't get (or warrant) much attention when they came out.

Freejack (1992)

The early '90s were a heady time. Times they were a'changin' in the music world, as a bunch of upstarts from Seattle and elsewhere took over the album charts and radio dial for a few years. Hair metal was banished from popular culture for a while, but classic rock artists also took it on the chin. It wasn't too rough for the Rolling Stones; they wrapped up a successful tour behind 1989's Steel Wheels and took some time off in 1991.

This gave frontman Mick Jagger some time to do a little acting. He had starred in 1968's Performance and 1970's Ned Kelly, but had only had a few bit roles since then. He'd auditioned for the role of Frank N. Furter (immortalized by Tim Curry) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and was cast in Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, but had to drop out. So he took a major role in Freejack, a $30 million cyberpunk thriller about a bounty hunter trying to a catch a race car driver who had been transported from a car crash in 1991 to the dystopian hellscape of 2009. Brat Packer Emilio Estevez (now better known as the sane brother of Charlie Sheen) was the fugitive, playing the "freejack" whose body was supposed to be given to a dead billionaire, whose brain would inhabit the younger man's frame.



Based on a 1959 novel (Immortality, Inc.) by Robert Sheckley, the movie was directed by Geoff Murphy, a New Zealander who had directed Estevez in 1990's Young Guns II and who later worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The cast was fairly impressive, including Anthony Hopkins (hot off his career resurgence in 1991's Silence of the Lambs) as McCandless, the would-be recipient of the new body; Rene Russo as Estevez's old girlfriend who watched him die in '91 and now worked for McCandless (of course); Esai Morales (in eyepatch and Edward James Olmos facial scars) as Jagger's henchman; David Johanson (of New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter fame) as the agent of Estevez's Alex Furlong; Jonathan Banks (a character actor who played many a heavy in TV shows and films like Beverly Hills Cop) as a ruthless exec who wants to take over McCandless' company; and bit roles for notable character actors like Amanda Plummer, Frankie Faison and John Shea, who all chewed scenery with aplomb.

It's always fun to see how the future is imagined, especially when it's a year you just lived through. While 2009 had its lousy moments, it certainly bore little resemblance to the future world cooked up by Murphy and crew. The movie's take on New York City is dark, desolate and fairly ridiculous, filled with starving, unhealthy rabble and cars that look like giant uneven Kleenex boxes on wheels. And there's the obviously fake backgrounds and special effects; hey, it was 1991, after all. They couldn't just CGI the whole damn thing. The film was definitely aping the far superior Blade Runner with minimal success. And the fashions worn by the non-street people seemed to resemble the '80s, with Russo forced to wear shoulder pads befitting a linebacker.

As for Jagger, his performance consisted mainly of arch line readings and far-off looks as he plotted his next move. Estevez got the action hero one-liners that had become de rigeur in the '80s from folks like Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. Russo played the damsel in distress while Hopkins didn't have much to do until the end, which I'm sure paid for another yacht or something. The big showdown leads the film to try for a surprise ending, because at first you're meant to believe that Hopkins has indeed taken over Estevez's body. But the last scene reveals (Spoiler alert! Ha.) that Jagger knew all along that Estevez was just pretending to be the old man. Yuk yuk, and off drive Estevez and Russo into a suddenly not-so-shitty looking 2009.



Alas, the film never appealed to audiences: not those who may have been fans of young Estevez, Hannibal Lecter or rock star Jagger. It got mixed to poor reviews and only made back about half its money. Those folks looking for fun dystopian action thrillers probably got their fill seeing Terminator 2 about 10 times the year before.

Another example of the confused state of the film was its soundtrack, which featured contemporary artists like Ministry, Jesus Jones (hey, they were contemporary once), Jane Child and Little Feat (wha?), but it closed with a 1990 song by the Scorpions, "Hit Between the Eyes." The band had some success with its Berlin Wall song "Wind of Change," but by the time January 1992, it was on the downside with all its '80s metal brethren.

After Freejack, Estevez had a fairly big hit with The Mighty Ducks and its sequels, but his career steadily declined after that. Jagger went back to music, releasing a solo album Wandering Spirit, and continuing to sporadically record and tour with the Stones. Hopkins and Russo worked regularly in hit films for many years afterward, content to have Freejack as forgotten entries on their IMDB pages.

Hollywood kept cranking out the futuristic flicks, though, with duds like Johnny Mnemonic and Strange Days until 1999's The Matrix exploded onto the scene. Of course, then they went and screwed that up with crappy sequels. But that's a story for another day.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 183: Turn It On Again

Part 3 of my podcast conversation with special guest Jay Breitling as we discuss and play music from underappreciated albums. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Kumar's pick: Matthew Sweet
- Very dark followup to Girlfriend
- Breitling: Slicker
- IDM: Intelligent Dance Music
- Check out ClickyClicky Radio Thursdays from 8-10 p.m. Eastern at Boston Free Radio
- Slicker features John Hughes' son
- Kumar: The Pursuit of Happiness
- Had MTV hit in '88 with "I'm an Adult Now"
- Breitling: Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start
- Worst band name ever
- Breitling: Okay Paddy
- Turned into a bluegrass band
- Straight outta Scranton
- Kumar: Drive Like Jehu
- Pete Townshend has an autobiography coming out
- Bubbling under picks
- Bonehead of the Week

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Imagine Hearts

I completed the live rock trifecta last night by joining my good buddy Jay Breitling to Great Scott in Allston to see Young Adults and Ringo Deathstarr. I was only familiar with two Deathstarr songs but liked what I had heard, and only knew of Young Adults through reading about the band in Senor Breitling's blog. But I enjoy seeing the live rock music, so off I went.

We got to the club early and caught the full sets of openers Thief Thief and the Vandelles. Thief Thief is a two-man instrumental act, guitar and drums. Guitarist Jeff Johnson employs a two-handed tapping method a la Marnie Stern, while drummer Colin Snyder pounds furiously underneath the guitar rhythms. Very cool, proggy stuff. The Vandelles were impressive, creating a Swirlies-esque racket with hints of psych, surf, and punk. Definitely worth looking into further.



Despite having a national profile, Ringo Deathstarr was not the headliner but they drew a crowd worthy of one (for a tiny club like GS, anyhoo). Jay and I were right up front and buried in waves of feedback and noise. I couldn't make out a single vocal, but I don't think we were meant to. It was a glorious shoegaze explosion that made me glad for the invention of earplugs.

Young Adults came out to a smaller but devoted audience, as some folks left after Deathstarr. But those who stayed were treated to an energetic punk set from YA, who featured new bass player Danny O'Neill. Rockin', ass-kicking way to end the night.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

It's Plain to See

Recorded output is great, but for me, a true test of any band's worth is how it translates those songs live. Sloan is a band that has consistently delivered on both fronts for two decades now. Touring behind the excellent new album The Double Cross (reviewed by yours truly at Clicky Clicky), the Canadian power pop quartet (plus keyboardist Gregory MacDonald) played TT the Bears in Cambridge Wednesday night.



TT's is a tiny club and it was jam-packed with Sloan's usual audience: rock nerds and cute girls. Although the crowd tended to skew a bit younger than the last few times I saw the band, so maybe the new record is making its way to some new listeners. The band didn't rest on its laurels, launching right into the first three songs from The Double Cross, each of which has a different singer: Chris Murphy's "Follow the Leader," Jay Ferguson's "The Answer Was You" and Patrick Pentland's "Unkind." The album's been out a few months and it seemed most folks knew the new material, which is good because the band played 10 of its 12 songs.

But there was no shortage of older favorites: "Snowsuit Sound," "Everything You've Done Wrong," "Who Taught You to Live Like That," "The Lines You Amend," "Friendship" and "Losing California." With 10 albums out, there's plenty of great material to choose from. It was nice to hear "Gimme That" off 2003's Action Pact, a glossy hard rock-leaning joint that tends to get overlooked.

In the middle of the show, drummer Andrew Scott stepped out front and strapped on a guitar to sing a set of his own songs, including "Traces," "People of the Sky" and "Sinking Ships," a great cut off 1998's Navy Blues. Murphy jumped on the drums and did his always-entertaining Keith Moon impression.

The band wrapped the show with its usual raucous closer, "Money City Maniacs," which is about as perfect a road rock song as there is, complete with sirens, handclaps, bass breakdowns, a killer guitar solo and a riff that just won't quit. And there was just a tease of the opening of Sabbath's "War Pigs" before they were done for the night. Another great set from one of the truly underappreciated bands of the last 20 years.