20 February 2011

The Friday Top Five and Continued Craziness

The past couple of weeks have been a complete blur, and it is going to continue along this path until the end of April. I am premiering a new work on April 1 to mark the 175th anniversary of a local university. Yes, I am aware that it is on April Fools Day, and if I don't start cranking out some music very quickly in the month of March, the joke will definitely be on them!

I have been trying to desperately to meet all my workouts during the week, but I have missed a couple this week. When it comes down to keeping my job or training, my job seems to wins out for some strange reason. Something about ensuring I can provide for my family seems to be more of a priority. I have been really burning it at both ends—of course, it seems like all my friends are right along there with me. If it were not for wifey, I don't know how we would ever survive. She has been maintaing status quo for the better part of the year as I have been commuting an hour to work each way every day. Ugh.

The good news? I am eating everything in sight just to keep on weight. Ice cream, cake, fudge. Ah, training does have its advantages.

The Friday Top Five: After much consideration, and after speaking with many of my colleagues who are guitar instructors at colleges and universities around the country, I have compiled the definitive list of the top five greatest rock guitarists of all time.

The criteria for this list are: originality, facility, and innovation. These guitarists not only played amazingly, but they completely changed the way in which players approach the instrument. Without further adieu, they are:

#5 Chuck Berry—Berry was unquestionably the first giant of rock and roll guitar. There would be no rock and roll guitar if it were not for Chuck Berry. Some rock and roll scholars say that he and Little Richard single-handedly invented the genre (even though the term rock and roll was coined by New York DJ Alan Freed who use to play black R&B after hours on the radio). Sure, Elvis might have been anointed the "King of Rock and Roll," but if it were not for Chuck, Elvis might not ever have happened. The cool thing about Chuck is that his guitar was always out of tune and he played with a sincerity. He also wrote some of the best anthems to the playing of rock and roll in Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, and Rock and Roll Music. 

#4 Eddie Van Halen—Although he did not invent finger tapping, he certainly helped popularize the technique which culminated in the recording of Eruption. Equally important was Van Halen's use of tuning and volume swells. More, the dude has played with everyone from Dweezil Zappa to Thomas Dolby, oh, not to mention playing the solo on a little tune by Michael Jackson titled Beat It. He was quite possibly the guitar hero for every single young aspiring guitarist from my generation. 1984 came out when I was in seventh grade and I remember thinking, who is this dude playing guitar?

#3 Jeff Beck—This former Yardbirds frontman went on to influence thousands of guitarists with his blending of Indian music with jazz and rock. He lists Ravi Shankar as one of his greatest influences. You probably don't know Beck's solo work unless you are a true rock guitarist aficionado, but you ought to go and discover it if you don't know it yet.

#2 Jimmy Hendrix—Definitely did not have the greatest facility as some of other rock guitarists, but his use of timbre and texture by means of distortion were revolutionary, not to mention, he was one incredible songwriter. I still get goosebumps every time I hear Hey Joe. His performances to me are spiritual. His impromptu performance on the Dick Cavett show was legendary. Besides, who else played so well with his teeth and could burn his guitar and then smash the hell out of it and look cool doing it? Unfortunately, he had to join the 27 club along with Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, much to the disillusionment of a hippie generation searching for some utopian drug induced Nirvana. Speaking of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain was the most recent addition to the 27 club.

#1 Steve Vai—In 1979, Steve Vai mailed Frank Zappa a transcription (taking a melody or rhythm that has been improvised, and writing it out with musical notation) of his tune The Black Page. There are not too many other guitarists in history that have the theoretical chops to be able to do that. Zappa was so impressed that he hired Vai in 1979 to transcribe a bunch of his guitar solos.

Okay, I know what you're thinking—there are some noticeable exceptions here. Where is Jimmy Page? Yeah, well, here's the deal with Jimmy: I think the band Led Zeppelin was incredibly innovative, and Page was an amazing song writer (quite possibly the best guitarist-songwriter in rock and roll history), but he essentially played tasty rhythm and blues licks with a whole lot of distortion. So did Hendrix, but Hendrix use of distortion and sound producing techniques (like playing Little Wing through a Leslie speaker normally used for a Hammond organ), inspired scours of heavy metal bands to experiment with sound in an outside of the studio during the late 1970's and early 1980's. So, my list of honorable mentions include: JimmyPage, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Ramone, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison and Kirk Hammett.

Training: Like I said at the beginning of my post, I have gotten most  of my workouts in this week. Sorry Coach Mary, but I only managed to get in one swim this week—yikes!  I had one of the worst runs of my training on Thursday.

Have you ever gone out for an easy training run and it just felt like you couldn't find your rhythm? Well, it was not exactly a easy zone two run—I did some zone 3 work at 5x5:00 intervals with 2:00 rest in between. I never quite got into a groove. I had an awesome 1.5 hour bike ride yesterday, followed by a kick-ass 1.5 hour zone 2 run today. I am actually running faster in zone 2. I never thought it would happen! I guess Coach Mary does indeed know what she's talking about. Go figure! The good news was I came home that day to a package from SBR—one of the Trakkers team sponsors this season. Yeah, let me just talk to you a second about this stuff. Do you dislike smelling like chlorine? This is the real deal. I am not embarrassed to admit that I broke out with a tube of the TRISWIM Lotion at the campus gym the other day after my swim and then subsequently offered it to the guys in the locker room. The TRISLIDE is the true bomb-diggity, no lie. I only recently discovered it when a couple of my soon-to-be teammates were accosting us letting us try it out at Rev3 Cedar Point last season. Yeah, there is NOTHING like this. I have used some other stuff to get my wetsuit on and off and to prevent chafing, but I actually refer to this as my "Magic in a Can". I actually had been using Foggle for the past year and can tell you that the rubber on your goggles will snap before you have to buy a new pair because of fogging. Anyway, thanks SBR!

I have to say a big thank you to First Endurance nutrition for coming on board and being part of the Trakkers team. Of course, as you can see, I did not need to be sold on First Endurance. I have been using it since last season when Kelly C. turned me onto it. I have to say, I have been very pleased with the results. I can not do a swim workout without my EFS Grape drink. It's just how I roll. First Endurance will also be the official drink of my Ragnerite team this May as me and eleven other insane people attempt to run a relay race from Woodstock to Manhattan (approximately 184.1 miles), but who's counting?

Yeah, life can be good, right? Here are Julian and Stella saluting with some wine-water. What? We're Italian, we start early in our house.

Train Smart!

12 February 2011

Where Did I Put My Mind? AND The Friday Top Five

The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness.  Think of your three best friends.  If they're okay, then it's you.  ~Rita Mae Brown

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.  ~Mark Twain 

How do you know when you are losing your mind?

Oh, please, let me tell you. I think I am officially certifiable.

How do I know?  I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off. (I have always found that expression hysterical, as well as "I'll never get out of this world alive." What does that mean?)

This might  be the CRAZIEST thing I have ever done in my life:

I went downtown yesterday to  meet a couple of my colleagues and talk some music. Afterwards, I drove a a cello over to a local luthier for one of my students to be fixed. When I was done, I had to go back to the Sibley Music Library—which is part of the Eastman School of Music. The library is located on a one-way city street. I was in a hurry to get up to the library and get some research done for an article I have been working on. I spent thirty minutes in the library gathering materials, doing some writing on my computer. I gathered up all my materials to make my way out the door. I went to grab my keys in my pocket—not there. Uh-oh. My keys are NOT in my pocket!  What does this mean?

I start panicking. If I locked my keys in my car, I am in BIG trouble. It's 5:00 p.m. Wifey is at a rehearsal until 10:00 p.m. The children are at home with a sitter for an hour before I get home and make dinner, and put them in bed. If I locked my keys in the car, there is no one that can come out and bring me a spare set.

I walk down the stairs of the library to street level, all the while scheming how I will break into my car. Remember the old days when you locked your keys in your car and could just stick a coat hanger down through the window (open or not) and release the latch on the door. Ah, the 1970's. Anyway, I walk down to the street and see that not only have I locked my keys in my car, but I also left my lights on. This can only mean one thing. I left the keys in the ignition. Yeah, that's right. Keys in the ignition, and left the car running for thirty-five minutes on a busy city street. How on Earth someone did not jump into my open vehicle and drive off never to be seen again is beyond me. Although, let me just take a moment to thank all you would-be criminals for not ripping the serial number from my Toyota Camry and putting it on a truck to Mexico to be sold for scrap. If there was a regional "Stupidity Award" I would have unquestionably won it yesterday.

First, let me say that being part of the Trakkers family thus far has been an unbelievable experience. The greatest part of it this team for me is to have a group of age-groupers who are as terribly stretched as me with their personal lives, jobs, children, training and everything and anything else we try to fit into a twenty-four hour day. My teammates understand how difficult it is to balance your personal, professional, and athletic lives. For instance, the next few weeks are going to be incredibly crazy for me with work


I sometimes get into these completely esoteric conversations with some of my musical colleagues scattered about the country about who the greatest songwriters, guitarists, and albums of all time. My Friday Top Five this week include five albums that I could not live without if stranded on a desert island. What are yours?

#5) Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots — The Flaming Lips: This concept album tells the story of one brave heroine who uses karate in her epic battle against savage robots from outer space. Years from now, I think this album will be as important as The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. The tunes on here are well written, and the lyrics are crafty. I would need some thing in my years of solitude that would remind me of the hustle and bustle of life in the new millennium and how one might, say, leave their car on a busy city street with their car running. The album is a great combination of old-shcool rock meets Karlheinz Stockhausen

#4) Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band — The Beatles: Speaking of concept albums and Karlheinz Stockhausen—who was on the cover art—this masterpiece of rock and roll transcends generations for its ability to stay current through the decades. The albums eclectic use of orchestration—quite literally—includes clarinet on When I'm Sixty-four, a string quartet and harp on She's Leaving Home, a harpsichord on Fixing a Hole, tubular bells and a French horn quartet on Sgt. Peppers.  

#3) The Art of The Fugue — Bach (as played by Glenn Gould).  The Art of the Fugue has always mystified me. Trying to figure this out is like trying to decipher hieroglyphics or read sanskrit with a decoder ring out of a Lucky Charms box. Plus, I would definitely need something a bit more cerebral with a lifetime to figure out.

#2) Requiem — Gabriel Fauré: Ah, a requiem you say? A Mass for the dead? Yes, but this is not your Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather's Requiem. The Faurè requiem is the "kinder", "gentler" version of this old school favorite. Composed between 1887, and 1890, Faure replaces the usual Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) with the Pie Jesu (a motet derived from the final couplet of the Dies Irae). More importantly, I would need something to listen to as the coconuts and fresh water slowly run out.

#1)  Music for 18 Musicians —Steve Reich: This iconic American composer, whose name has been synonymous with minimalism for over forty years, wrote several great works, but none of which really resonate with me as much as this composition. It is a masterpiece in form and timbre that allows the listener to groove with the music, or merely lie back on the sand and enter a deep meditative state. If you have not discovered this work yet, go immediately to your library and check this one out. You can thank me later.

OH, the bike porn is coming, the bike porn is coming. Here is a little taste. Isn't she pretty? I named my last bike—actually Alexa named her—Cookie Monster. The jury is out on my new ride. Any suggestions? I will write my official post of my trip down to Geneva Bicycle (voted one of the top 50 bicycle shops in the country) to be fitted for my Kestrel later this week.

Did I mention I'm losing my mind?

Some Updates: The Ragner Relay that I am running with eleven of my closest friends (including wifey) is coming together. So far, we have nine runners committed. We have decided to name our team "The White Hots". Rochester, NY is the home of Zewigels hot dogs—a local landmark.

I got some love from Trakkers this week. They sent me a team Trakkers water bottle, some tattoos, and a new Trakkers visor!  Here is Janina. Why do all my girls have bandaids on their melons at one time or another? I think they think it is a piece of jewelry.

Thanks for reading. Train Smart!

06 February 2011

The Sunday Update: A Week Of Craziness

A bit crazy at the moment! It seems like the weeks have been flying by at a frantic pace. Part of the craziness is due in part to how unbelievably busy I have been with work. The first couple of weeks back to campus are always a bit hectic as I get my "sea legs" back. I am also working on a new commission that is due in March—not a lot of time. I was originally going to swim Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester, but I can swim at lunchtime on Monday and Wednesday's on campus, so that is when I am doing it.

I have been feeling pretty guilty about missing some of my workouts these past couple of weeks, but all I can do is try to get back on track and finish some of my current projects. The great thing about you learn about stress as you grow older is that you understand that it is always temporary. There is a cyclical nature to stress.

Training: I managed to get in my two long swim workouts. Coach Mary has me swimming for time right now rather than distance. I would much rather swim for an hour than have to swim 'X' amount of yards. I don't know why. It is psychological for sure. For some reason, swimming an hour doesn't really seem like that long, but lately sitting on a bike for even an hour has seemed like an incredible lesson in patience. I remember a time when I first started training for triathlons—four years ago—when swimming 1200 yards seemed like agony (I won't even tell you how long it took me). I will tell you that at my first sprint triathlon it took me a good 24 minutes to get out of the water. I swam 3000 yards on both Monday and Wednesday this week. Even last year when I was training for my first Iron distance event at Rev3 Cedar Point, I rarely swam that distance. Truth be told—I am actually enjoying swimming as an exercise. Coach Mary has made my swim workouts much more manageable. That is

I had a two hour ride yesterday. I was trying to decide between the Rockumentary about 80's Canadian heavy metal band, Anvil, or There Will Be Blood. One of the advantages of long trainer rides during the winter months is that I get to catch up all the movies wifey and I can not see in theaters. Trying to find a sitter for five children is about as easy and trying to convince my wife that training for triathlons really does not take that much discretionary time. To be honest, if and when my wife and I get a sitter, we would much rather go out and have a bite to eat and talk than sit in a movie theater. Actually, the last movie we saw in a theater together was Tangled which we saw the brood. The movie that we saw prior to that was Toy Story 3. Yup, we don't get out that much. I went with the Anvil story. If you have not seen it, do yourself a favor. You don't even have to like rock, or metal for that matter to enjoy this real-life Spinal Tap-esque documentary. Hysterical. 

I had a pretty terrible run today. I think it was a result of getting too little sleep last night and not properly hydrating the evening before my run, or this morning. The wifey and I went out to dinner last night with my brother and sister-in-law. We all had a little vino. Then we went to see the film The King's Speech. Yes, we got a sitter—grandma! Anyway, I had to take my run much slower this afternoon to stay within my HR zone 2.

Okay, I know I missed the Friday Top Five this week. Perhaps I will double up next week?

The Kestrel is built, but I am not riding it just yet as I ordered a new pair of pedals and am waiting to see what I want to do with my wheels. As soon as I figure that out, pics to come!

As with the stress, the blog posts become more frequent as the real life craziness calms down to a manageable insane level. Oh, did I mention I am now coaching Luca's travel baseball team? Yeah, did not have enough going on.

More Soon.... really !   Train Smart !