Album Review: “Hold Your Fire” — Rush (1987)

blgholdyourfireThe highest compliment you can give Rush’s 1987 release Hold Your Fire is that, despite the further descent into/evolution towards 80s proggy-synth pop, the music still sounds quintessentially Lee/Lifeson/Peart. While the tableau onto which the band expressed their creative talents is a radical shift from the hard-hitting rock of the mid 70s, the epic discovery mode of the late 70s, or even mining the fertile analog/digital sonic mindscape of the early 80s, the resulting late 80s pop sheen remains easily identifiable as the product of a band perpetually in creative motion.

Hold Your Fire is also often listed as one of the band’s “weaker” albums by fans, held up as the “nadir” of Rush’s 80s synth-driven excesses. It certainly wasn’t a big commercial success; while it did go Gold in the US and spouted two hit US Mainstream Rock Tracks (“Force Ten” and “Time Stand Still”, both of which hit #3), it was the first Rush album since Hemispheres in 1978 to not break the “top ten” Billboard 200, as well as being the first Rush album not to go Platinum since 1975’s Caress of Steel. A commercial rebuke of sorts (although far from a disaster), but given an expanse of over two-and-a-half decades since the album’s release, one can take a long view appraisal of the album in light of Rush’s extensive catalog, creative dynamics, iconoclastic self-assurance, etc. etc.

And yet I’m still not much of a fan.

I’ll get the big two out-of-the-way, and state that I do enjoy the album’s Hit Singles. “Force Ten” has a sense of drive and urgency wrapped around a strong meditative core. I love the feel of the song, fluid and nimble in its infectious current. “Time Stand Still” probably ranks as one of the band’s best pure pop singles, shimmering and melodic and catchy without measure (the inclusion of Aimee Mann’s background vocals over the chorus underscores the song’s mass appeal beyond the core faithful).

Both songs compromise the opening two album tracks. After that it’s a decisively hit-or-miss affair… or as it turns out, often a hit-and-miss affair. I find the whole not entirely bigger than the sum of its parts; often I’ll find the music pleasing whereas the lyrics seem trite, or vice versa. Sometimes the song is perfectly pleasant and agreeable but ultimately forgettable, and reacting to art with a resounding “meh” is probably more damning to the artist than a verdict of absolute revulsion.

That’s probably the biggest weakness with Hold Your Fire — while it does hit some high marks, overall it simply doesn’t generate much response from the listener. A song like “Open Secrets” is musically intriguing but not essential, whereas “Second Nature” has some fascinating lyrics that are unfortunately drenched with 80s musical banality. “Prime Mover” hits an agreeable spot of lyrics and music that provides for a notable song, as does the uptempo exploration of “Lock and Key”, but they never really muster pass the level of “fine” or “decent”. There’s nothing therein compelling me to return, except to look at the album’s track list and think to myself, “Oh yeah, that’s an OK tune” or “That one ain’t bad”…

It feels like the songs could almost be great, if not for some deficiency. “Mission” has a rising, anthemic quality that I very much enjoy, but it’s entirely rooted in a flattened album aesthetic that feels less musically assertive than it should. A classic example of a piece requiring a little less think and a lot more feel (as an aside, a common critique leveled at Rush is that they are only a “Thinking Man’s Band, Devoid of Feeling or Emotion”, a critique I would categorically deny any day of the week and twice on Simchas Torah). This is rectified by “Turn The Page”, arguably the album’s best track, a superior tune that rises above its limitations (mostly the aforementioned flat album aesthetic) into an undeniably strong track. If you find yourself doing some cherry-picking throughout the band’s “less acclaimed” LPs, this is definitely one to extract from the pile.

I won’t say much about “Tai Shan”, except that I appreciate its creative ambitions and diversity. Meanwhile, Geddy Lee is on record as to admitting the song is an “error”. I’ll just say that, while not a notably successful endeavor, it’s more interesting to me than, say, “Open Secrets”, “Second Nature”, or “Mission” in the sense that it’s at least trying to shake things up a bit. You can’t say the same for album closer “High Water”, a well-meaning but ultimately lifeless ending to an album that could easily (if a bit unfairly) be described as “well-meaning but ultimately lifeless”.

Hold Your Fire has its moments as a Rush album, but ultimately it breeds a little bit of muzzled praised and a fair host of indifference. Come for the singles and “Turn The Page”, while cherry-picking the rest at your leisure.

2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon Video

And we’re back. I want to thank everyone who responded favorably to our post about the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon, whether it was on the blog, on Facebook or Twitter, in emails, telepathic inundation, needlecast consciousness transmission, smoke signals, and so forth. That post got a lot of kudos from a lot of people and I’m entirely grateful for it. Lots of love in this room, folks. Let’s dim the lights a bit…

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OK so as John Cleese’s Vocational Guidance Counselor would put it, “Enough of this gay banter!” I wanted to add one last bit of awesomeness dealing with that wonderful event. Our buddy Tyler Phelps over at Vantage Point Aerials shot this amazing video of highlights from the race. It’s a beautiful presentation and I thought you — our adoring audience — might enjoy seeing some of what this great event had to offer. Most of it is drone footage, and it’s really quite breathtaking. Give it a whirl.

Oh, one last thing: if you’re wondering whether or not I am in the video, rest assured that I am. Multiple times. I’ll let you guys do the Where’s Waldo’ing here, but here’s one little clue as to where you might find me…

tri_video_ass

What is it about me, race pictures, and showing off my Royal American lately? *sigh* OK never mind that. Here’s the awesome video:

MultiRace Egg Hunt Triathlon/Duathlon – 2015 Official Video from Vantage Point Aerials on Vimeo.

Race Review: 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon (4/4/2015), or: “I’m young now, I’m wild now, I want to be free…”

egghunttriOK… hi! You’re here, and that’s really quite awesome. So while I have your attention, let’s talk a bit about triathlons: what they are, how you get shamefully pressured into doing one, the punishing training involved, the imminent panic, terror, and woe, the anxiety meltdown that leads up to the event, race day itself… and then trying to come up with a really good opening paragraph on your ensuing blog, one that struggles to maintain readership before their minds drift over into another tab up there on their hopefully non-Microsoft web browser, usually something involving kitties and bacon. Hey! Remember when ‘The Hamster Dance’ was a thing? And here you are, feeling superior to dogs because they are so gleefully distracted by squirrels…

What a puzzling introduction.

We’re really here to discuss the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon, an annual holiday event held in Pembroke Pines, FL. The Egg Hunt Triathlon is a sprint tri, which involves a 400-meter swim, followed by an 11-mile bike ride, and finishing with a 5K (3.1-mile) run. That’s about 14.3 miles of various means of locomotion, held on a beautiful Saturday morning in early April. It was an utterly cathartic event for our usual gang of misfits, dreamers, iconoclasts, and flibbertigibbets, and capturing that maelstrom of emotional content in a single blog would be near impossible for such an extraordinarily average writer as myself.

So in a Hokeyblog first, I’ve decided to take you — our intrepid readers, all four of you! — on a musical journey, as I attempt to navigate through the trippy trials, transposing tribulations, trending transformations, and truly transcendent trappings of our triumphant triathlon trek… in SONG!

So what better way to start off our sea, land, and… land journey than at the very beginning, when we journey all the way back to the salad days of…

February 2nd, 2015

Well, we’re not exactly putting the Wayback Machine through a massively rigorous Stress Test, are we? Nope. We’re only going back a whole two months, folks. Because 2/2/2015 was the very first time that Training Buddy Kristi and I stuck our toes in the water of the L.A. Fitness pool to start practicing our swimming technique. And by “start practicing our swimming technique”, I mean “flounder about like a couple of idiots” because we simply had ZERO idea of what we were doing. Listen, I grew up in Miami, had access to pools and beaches and Biscayne Bay, and practically grew up in the water, but my entire swimming ability solely consisted of knowing How Not To Drown.

But through perseverance, we learned quite a bit in that short amount of time: form, movement, breathing, thrust, buoyancy, lift, drag, ha-ha, turn, parry, spin, ha, thrust!

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I’m sure most onlookers probably had the same guffawing reaction to our efforts as Porky’s Friar Tuck did to Daffy’s Robin Hood, but you know what? There we were, three times a week, getting those endless laps in. I felt pretty strong about my swimming ability within a month and continued my efforts; I was still running 4 times a week while swimming 3 times, and yet there was still one fundamental flaw with my triathlon training regimen.

No Bike!

Up until a week before the race, I still didn’t own a bike. Nor had I ridden one in probably 12 years or so. I entertained the notion of renting one for the event, but in the end I decided to purchase one for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I wanted something with which I could comfortably scoot around Sunrise/Plantation. I used to bike religiously when I was a kid, and all the time when I lived in cyclist/pedestrian friendly South Miami for 11 years. I enjoyed hopping on the bike to get to local places, and wanted to continue that trend in the desolate (yet well manicured) suburbs of West Broward. I also wanted something that was more road (and race) friendly than a standard city bike, which is why I ended up with Cosima, my Trek FX 7.2 hybrid model.

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The triathlon would only consist of an 11 mile ride, which I knew I could pretty much do without issue, but no riding in 12 years = NO RIDING IN TWELVE YEARS. I ended up taking her out on three test rides before the race. The first ride convinced me that the saddle would take some getting used to, as afterward it felt like I had just been dutifully rogered by amphibious watercraft. By the second ride, I had gotten used to it — the saddle, not the amphibious watercraft. After the third ride, which was an “accidental” 13-mile trek, I felt fine about riding. I wasn’t going to set any land speed records, that was for sure, especially on a hybrid. I was OK with that.

Well, we got the bike, finally, and had successfully taken it on a few test rides. The swimming was already taken care of — we had felt strong and ready in that department. Running? I think I might have done a *bit* of running in the past. So we felt like we were in fine shape to take on the triathlon, but not before we first had to tackle…

Registration and the Pre-Race Clinic

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Both registration and the pre-race clinic took place at Alex’s Bicycle Prop Shop in Davie, and it was a pretty quick, low-key affair. After presenting ID I received my swim cap (for my wave — bright lime green!), race shirt (a long-sleeved tech shirt — bright lime green!), and goodie bag that contained all three bibs for the race. The three bibs consisted of an adhesive wrap-around bib for the bike frame, a small white numbered sticker to be placed on my bike helmet (bike helmets are absolutely mandatory), and of course the standard paper bib familiar to all runners/racers that you pin to your clothes. I didn’t want to deal with the sheer emotional trauma of dealing with pins on race day, so I dug up the race belt I used for the Keys 100 Relay two years ago and went with that option instead. It saved me a ton of aggravation.

The smartest move I made, though, was sticking around for the Pre-Race Clinic with Kristi, Richard, and Sarah. Headed up by coach Diane Calloway of TriDi Multisport Training, the clinic was exactly what we needed to learn what we needed to know about how to successfully participate in and finish a triathlon, as well as soothe what turned out to be a whole metric bushel of pre-race jitters. And man oh man were we jittery. Thankfully, we had Diane there to help us navigate those particular waterways of anxiety of woe!

Diane delivering the really helpful pre-race clinic.

Diane delivering the really helpful pre-race clinic.

We learned about how to properly set up our transition areas, the smart way to rack your bike, the critical importance of wearing your helmet at all times when handling your bike, acclimating yourself to the lake water temperature in order to regulate your heart-rate and minimize sudden shock and anxiety, proper mid-swim rest techniques if you need them, the rules of the road during the bike portion (passing, bike lengths, drafting is an exquisite no-no, etc.), and other important bits of information that we didn’t know we didn’t know. We walked away feeling much more assured and confident about both our racing abilities and our event knowledge. I guess none of us really wanted to come across like a TOTAL newb, and the pre-race clinic helped us a lot in that regard.

So if it’s your first time at any event or endeavor… take some time and learn from the pros. An ounce of prevention is worth five in the bush and saves nine. How much sagely wisdom I just butchered there, I can scarcely imagine. Anyway, let’s skip all that self-indulgent non-sequiturism and go straight ahead to…

Race Day!

Our alarms sprouted out their sing-songy chimes at around 4:15 AM, and Boots and I shot out of bed like the two lethargically exhausted people we were… NAH, not really. I was actually full of excitement (with maybe a touch of healthy anxiety) and was ready to take on everything the morning had to offer. The night before I had carefully packed all my gear, supplements, clothes, towels, everything. All my bibs were attached to their proper places, my checklist was checked and checked again, and we were go for launch. Since I was still coming down from a particularly awful ulcerative colitis flare-up, I decided not to eat much that morning; just some water, a CLIF bar, and some Endurolyte pills that I would take about 15 minutes before the start of the race.

Don't forget to breathe, cupcake.

Don’t forget to breathe, cupcake.

My biggest anxiety had nothing to do with my gear, the race itself, or any of my physical abilities. Nope, I was mostly just terrified about having to appear in public wearing full triathlon attire. Look, I’m in good physical shape, I vigorously exercise six days a week, I eat healthy, and I even dropped about 20 pounds and packed on some lean muscle in the 2.5 months before the race. But body type is body type, and I come from a long line of Millheiser men with proud round bellies. My Grandpa had one, my Dad has one, my brother has one… I have one. It says nothing about who you are, your health and fitness habits, your strength of will, motivation, or determination. It’s just there. So the rule of the day was to suck it up and get over it. Wearing triathlon attire was about comfort and functionality, NOT vanity. And I was down with that.

After getting over my bout of self-consciousness, we soon had the bike racked to the car and by 5:15 AM we were on our way to CB Smith park in Pembroke Pines, about a 15 minute drive from our home. The only real traffic we encountered was parking at CB Smith, but by 5:45 AM we were parked and unloading our gear. Rather coincidentally we ended up parked right next to our pals Kristi, Rich, and Sheri, which I felt was a great sign for the day. We even posed for this awesome action snapshot:

Sheri is like two years younger than me and she looks like a teenager here!

Sheri is like two years younger than me and she looks like a teenager here!

But now of course, we had to slowly walk our bikes in the dark over to the transition area, and a little bit of the nervousness was starting to creep in, mixed with a slight measure of dread, but still with a whole bunch of excitement thrown into the mix. The darkness was pervasive, the air still and quiet, as we bravely soldiered on into unknown mystery, perhaps doom, perhaps triumph, like the Fellowship simply walking into Mordor… cue Savatage’s “Prelude to Madness” (their take on Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”):

We reached the Transition Area first, a well-lit beacon in the early morning darkness. After finding the numbered rack matching my bib number range, I quickly got to work setting up my area. First I racked my bike (in the opposite direction from the one next to mine, thanks for the tip Diane!), then I opened my bag, laid down my towel, and assembled my shoes, socks, helmet, sunglasses, goggles, swim cap, headband, Endurolytes, and CLIF blocks into some semblance of logical order. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to work with, so I set up a narrow strip to the right of my bike and was mostly pleased with my handiwork. For some reason I was a bit preoccupied with the notion of having a clunky, messy transition area, so after several revisions I think I got it close to what I felt it needed to be. Yay me. It also helped that Kristi, Paul, and I were all in the same area. Having good buddies around is always a plus!

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After we were done in the Transition Area, we walked over to the tents to get our markings and timing chips. The markings consisted of your bib number written on both arms and your age on your calf in black marker. My upper arm tattoos guaranteed that whoever reading them would know that I was bib number *BLERGLE*-0-5, but that’s show-biz, I guess. At least my age was legible. Our next stop was getting our timing chip. The chip was attached to a Velcro strap which attached to our left ankle. I fit snugly but unobtrusively, and would be used to keep track of all our overall race time as well as breaking down each activity into individually timed units: Swim, Transition 1, Bike, Transition 2, and Run.

Our buddies Robyn, Mare, Jeanne, Rosa, Mishele, and Yasmin were there to support us and and also raise money for Team For Kids, a charity to combat obesity and encourage fitness for hundreds of thousands of children in need. They had their own tent set up with a Bake Sale to raise funds for their charity effort; all of them are also committed to run the 2015 New York Marathon. Now that’s one hell of an adventure. Anyway by that time our merry crew of triathletes had fully congregated together; this included first-timers Rich, Katarina, Kristi, Sarah, and myself, along with our returning champs Mike and Sheri. I forget if Paul had done one before; I know I asked him, but my mind is tapioca pudding on the best of days, so there you have it. Anyway we congregated for this awesomely amazing group pic in front of the Team For Kids tent. See if you can spot Rosa:

The extended gang!

The extended gang!

At this point there wasn’t much time left until our triathlon was set to begin. After a quick trip to the restroom followed by the popping of an Endurolyte capsule, I was ready to roll. After wishing each other good luck, we found ourselves scattered among four waves: the younger dudes first in purple caps (Mike), followed by us older guys in green (Rich and myself), then the ladies in blue (Kristi, Katarina, and Sarah), followed by the Clydesdale in orange (Paul). We were excited, for sure, but the pre-race nervousness was there in abundance, in the pits of our tummies, knowing that the moment of truth was nearly upon us. Cue up some Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky because us Czernobog wannabes were heading straight for Bald Mountain:

The Swim

After watching Mike’s wave begin their swim — rather anti-climatically, I might add; there was no gunshot, air-horn, or anything, just a “Three, two, one, GO!” announcement — I lined up on the shore of the lake with the rest of the green caps. Rich and I fist-bumped for good luck and within minutes our wave was off and runn– er, swimming. I had decided not to rush into the water, but rather to let the vast majority swimmers go and casually make my way in on the right side to angle for the first buoy.

Seeya!

Seeya!

I was surprised that the lake water was not particularly cold at all. The race was ruled wetsuit-legal, but I found the temperature to be quite agreeable. I quickly jogged into thigh-high depth before I dove in and started my 400-meter swim in earnest.

How would I describe the initial part of that swim? ABSOLUTE CHAOS! People were splashing and floundering all around me, and I spent much of the first two minutes dodging peoples’ feet, arms, and other body parts wildly akimbo in the early morning water. At some point, someone actually tried to swim UNDER me. Ridiculous! It was the athletic equivalent of the freakin’ “Sabre Dance”:

But then the darnedest thing happened — right after I passed the first buoy, I found myself passing people steadily, with enough room around me to maintain proper swim form, rhythm, and cadence. Look I’m six-foot-two already, but if I’m completely stretched out horizontal I take up a lot more surface area. Crowded with swimmers, that gets a little difficult to maintain. But once the field opened up about a third of the way into the race, I found my stride and really started gliding just under the surface.

Powerful! Sleek! Strong! Just like a…

The swim felt fantastic to me. I felt challenged but never tired nor winded. I was enjoying it so much that I actually got a little disappointed when my hands felt the shore beneath me, which meant the swim was over. Time to stand up and proudly jog out of the lake like the amphibious champion that I felt like. Or something. But the swim was done, and I was ready for more.

Here are some action snapshots of this portion of the race, which mostly consist of me exiting the lake because once you’re well in the water, you’re just a green head in a sea of green heads.

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Swim Stats
Time – 09:40 min
Distance – 400 meters
Pace – 38:40 min/mile
Cat Place – 18/31
OA Place – 139/310

Next we move into a little number I’d like to call:

Transition 1

Up the hill I jogged amid throngs of cheering spectators, heading back into the Transition Area to prepare for my bike ride. I was coasting on a massively peppy high coming out of that water, and sure as the day is long and the night is … just as long (in most time zones), I was ready to keep that momentum going. Into the Transition Area I went, jogging steadily over to my pile of stuff. My entire strategy was not to rush out and stress things, but rather take the time to make sure I did everything properly. When I got to my aisle, the Team For Kids women were cheering wildly for me, which did wonders for my already massively-inflated ego.

Rosa and Robyn took these pics of me here:

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I didn’t dawdle too much, but neither was I rushing through the transition. From the pictures above, you can see that I was even sitting to put my socks and shoes on, chatting briefly with my buds. Paul and Robyn’s daughter even asked me if I “had seen her Daddy come out of the water”. Too adorable. But once I had my shoes on, I popped back up, put on my sunglasses, donned my helmet, and walked my bike over to the Bike Mount zone just north of the Transition Area. The second act was about to begin!

Transition 1 Stats
Time – 3:42
Cat Place – 26/31
OA Place – 252/310

The Bike

Cosima and I were now at the Bike Mount zone. It was time. I mounted Cosima (*schnorgles*) and hit the course with as much energy and excitement as I could muster… which at that point was quite a bit. I was ready for one hell of a ride!

Here’s a look at the course, courtesy of my Garmin 220 and Google Maps:

blgtribikecourse

The bike course consisted of a counter-clockwise “inner” loop (which was mostly inside the park) and a clockwise “outer” loop, which took us south on Flamingo, west on Pines, north on 129th Ave, then east on Taft until we got back to Flamingo, heading south and back into the park. We had to do each loop twice: Inner, Outer, Inner, and Outer, in that order.

It was a shady, clear morning, with reasonably low humidity (by South Florida standards) and a nice breeze blowing. In other words, this was a perfect morning to go for a bike ride. And that was exactly what I did, because I sure as hell wasn’t racing by any stretch of the imagination.

Let’s put it this way: I was constantly being passed by cyclists who were zooming and zipping and firing past me like Intergalactic Sentinels cruising the hyperspatial faster-than-light space lanes like massively energized mega-quantum-photons in some Joe Satriani shredfest:

On the other hand… this was pretty much me:

Let’s face it: I hadn’t trained in biking. Three rides less than a week before the event don’t count one iota, and while I love my new bike to death, it’s not a hardcore racing bicycle. No matter though. I pedaled my way along at a steady, reasonable pace. Sure I got passed a lot, but I also passed some people too. Cosima held up nicely as well. I was having such a great time that I started singing.

SINGING.

OUT LOUD.

We’re talking Beatles songs, Monkees songs, Aldo Nova songs (!), and a whole bunch of Muppet Show hits. A lot of people stared rather quizzically at me. Some of them smiled and cheered me on. One girl actually started singing “Rainbow Connection” with me. Now THIS was fun. The ride hardly seemed like work, although I was giving it my best. Meanwhile, hardcore, “serious” cyclists were still passing, yelling out with a stern (but proper and polite) “ON YOUR LEFT!” as they did so. I was so used to such a stern tone that I was taken aback when a sweet girl passed me with a very friendly, accommodating, “OK I’m going to be passing you on your left now, thank you!”

I turned to her as she passed and said, “You know, that is THE most polite and friendly ‘on your left’ I’ve heard all morning, thank you for that!”

“You’re welcome,” she said with a smile as she passed and moved in front of me. “You know, a lot of people take this a little bit too serious–”

“ON YOUR LEFT!!!1!!!1!1!!!1!!one!!11!” suddenly screamed an angry cyclist in a vicious, intimidating howl that would have put Godzilla himself into immediate cardiac arrest.

“Like THAT!” the girl said with a scowl as Captain Meano passed us by.

“I think I need to change pants,” I said with an affected anxiety in my voice. Then we both laughed, she wished me a good race and pedaled on.

Continuing on my merry way, I was on the verge of completing my last loop when I heard Sheri call my name out. She was leaving the park as I was entering it, so we were able to wave to each other as we zipped on in opposite directions. Heading back towards the Transition Area, I saw Boots on the sidelines and she managed to capture this amazing Action Jackson snapshot:

Dig me!

Dig me!

I dismounted at the Dismount Zone, and found I had a little bit of difficulty getting off my bike. It wasn’t pain or anything like that; more like just a little stiffness. Thankfully, I successfully extricated myself from Cosima. The 11 mile bike journey was complete. I hadn’t ridden particularly fast, but for someone who hadn’t been on a bicycle for 12 years until a week before that day, I thought I did just fine. Two down. One to go.

Bike Stats
Time – 39:49 min
Distance – 11 miles
Pace – 16.6 miles/hour
Cat Place – 26/31
OA Place – 245/310

Let’s briefly touch upon…

Transition 2

There’s not too much to talk about here. I quickly walked Cosima back over to my area and racked her. Only after racking my bike did I finally remove my helmet. I was way paranoid of getting a DQ for a helmet violation, so I was taking no chances whatsoever. I had come way too far for that! All that was left was to get ready for the run, and that didn’t require anything much, really. I took a long drink of water from my bottle, followed with three CLIF Blocks for quick energy. Then I put on my Halo headband to keep the sweat out of my eyes, did a quick stretch to alleviate a bit of soreness in my hamstring, and crossed the mat to enter the final portion of the triathlon.

We had now entered… End Game.

Transition 2 Stats
Time – 2:41
Cat Place – 28/31
OA Place – 285/310

The Run

So let’s see our course map for the Run portion of the race:

blgtriruncourse

The run was a 5K. Nothing more, nothing less. It consisted of two laps around the park in a clockwise manner. And listen, I can do 3.1 miles standing on my head, easy. No intervals, walk breaks, or any real strategy required whatsoever. Just hit the pavement and go. No problem.

But of course there’s just one wee little issue you need to get a quick handle on, because after swimming and cycling your legs are going to turn into jelly. Instead of feeling like you have a running form of steel and motion and power, your entire lower body feels like…

So yes, you feel bouncy and springy and weird but the one thing you really aren’t is slow. As a matter of fact, while I felt I was running at a moderate, even pace, I was actually zipping right along. I felt full of energy, strong, forceful, like my entire nervous system was flowing with pure Power Cosmic. Call it whatever you will. I felt fantastic… almost pure elation as I made my way around the park. During the first lap I recognized Eli from Fat Boy Fit Man and we exchanged greetings and encouragement. There was such a strong feeling of camaraderie on that course.

Speaking of which, the course throughout the park was wonderful. There were two water stops serving both water and an electrolyte replacement drinks, and most of it felt shaded and extremely pleasant. There were plenty of park restrooms available if you needed them. Thankfully I didn’t; my UC flare was kept well in check throughout the entire event! Huzzah!!

Boots was capturing pics from the sidelines near the Finish, and got this cool one of me as I was finishing my second lap:

Almost there...

Almost there…

Here is where I’m going to advise people to bring their GPS watches with them (if they own one) to a triathlon. As mentioned above, the 5K course was two laps around the park. When you complete the first lap, there’s a sign that advises people doing their second lap to continue moving forward, whereas people heading towards the Finish Line were to turn left. It’s very easy to get lost “in the zone”, turn left, cross the Finish Line, only to get disqualified because you never ran your second lap. My Garmin watch served as a reminder that I had only accomplished half my run, so I kept moving onward. I could see myself getting “lost in the zone” and making the wrong turn. A few participants complained on Facebook about being DQ’ed as a result of turning to Finish before their time. Remember to stay focused, gang!

With my second lap completed, my race was almost at an end. All I had to do was cross that Finish Line, and I would officially become a Triathlete! So you know what, that’s precisely what I did:

Piece of cake, baby! Mmm cake...

Piece of cake, baby! Mmm cake…

Before we go on, let’s take a look at my…

Run Stats
Time – 29:03 min
Distance – 3.1 miles
Pace – 9:22 minutes/mile
Cat Place – 24/31
OA Place – 162/310

The Aftermath

The feeling you get when crossing the Finish Line for the first time after participating in a new event is always indescribable. This time was no different. I was emotionally shot out of a cannon when my race was over, charged up and full of energy, overloaded with a profound sense of accomplishment and happiness. I mean, this was a perfect spring day, warm and breezy and beautiful, surrounded by friends and cheered on by loved ones. The emotional catharsis was as good as it gets, folks.

So let’s take a look at those final stats:

OVERALL STATS
Time1:24:54
Cat Place – 26/31
OA Place – 215/310

Not bad for my first time… and of course, I’m ready to do even better. I’m most proud of the fact that I was strongest during the swim portion; not bad for just two months of training, if I do say so myself, and I just did. I really need to work at the bike portion of the race. I did OK but I need to train a lot more at it. If this requires a bike upgrade sometime in the future then that might have to happen, but for right now I’m very pleased with Cosima so we’ll be sticking together for awhile. Shortening my transition times is also a priority, but that comes with practice and experience. Now that I know what to expect, I can plan better for next time.

And believe you me, there will be a next time. I’m looking squarely at you, Tradewinds Park on July 4th…

The bustling post-race scene

The bustling post-race scene

So what happened next? A volunteer knighted me with my medal while another one removed the timing chip from of my ankle. At the end of the Finisher’s chute there was a covered area for runners to grab some much needed grub, including plates of fruit and a hamburger grill. I stuck with the fruit; the thought of shoving a hot greasy cheeseburger in my stomach right after a fitness event never feels right for me. Besides, the fruit certainly hit the right spot. A seemingly bottomless ice cooler at the Nestle tent provided chocolate milk, and by then I was all set. I sauntered over to the course right near the Finish Line to cheer the rest of our runners in. Mike, Boots, and Mare were already there, and we cheered and took pics of the rest of our gang on their way back.

And here they come!

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After we managed to corral everyone together, we posed for a “serious” group shot:

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As well as a “not quite so serious” one:

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Dorks. The lot of us. Me, I was just pleased as punch, myself:

Tastes like gator...

Tastes like gator…

And here’s a shout-out to my erstwhile training buddy Kristi. We started our swim training together with absolutely no idea what in the hell we were doing. We’ve come a long way, Red!

Triathletes!

Triathletes!

It was too early to go grab some beers, so after a much-needed hot breakfast of champions at… the local Denny’s (eesh!), Katarina, Sheri, Kristi, Boots, and I sauntered over to Bokamper’s in Plantation, where toasted our great success with some mighty delicious brews indeed. Although our large group had dwindled down to a small handful, we still had a great time. Listen, ginormous Blue Moons fresh from the tap after a hard-won battle against a Triathlon Challenge? The Nectar of the Gods could scarcely have tasted any better.

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So as you can see, the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon was a huge success for me on a personal level, but it was also a wonderfully run and extremely well organized event. Doing a triathlon for the first time can be a bit daunting, but everything from the race communications, the pre-race clinc, race day coordination and organization, volunteers, and post-race accommodations were really well put-together. And a sprint triathlon is the perfect event for anyone to try… especially experienced runners. You already got the 5K down, all you have to do is get some swim practice down and go out for a few longer bike rides. And by all means, attend the pre-race clinic so you know what you’re in for as well as the various rules of the game. I had a blast. I’m doing it again next year. I’m looking for more to do in between.

Just what I need. One more obsession. Yeesh. Here’s the video:

And here are some notes of community interest, or: “The Happy Phantom has no right to bitch…”

I got that title from a George Carlin routine from his classic A Place For My Stuff album, a record I pretty much wore the crap out of when I first bought it 30+ years ago. I think, if I try hard enough, I might be able to recite the entire “Fussy Eater” routine from memory. Maybe because, much like the eponymous gobbler, I am also a Great Big Pain in the Ass. Man I miss Carlin. What an absolutely unique talent.

What the hell, let’s share it right here and now:

Good stuff. OK so anyway, here are a few updates detailing what’s going on in downtown Hokeyville. I’ll start with the bad stuff first, because I always like to end on a high note… like F# over high C. That’s just a sweet cherry on the sundae of your week! Or something…

Not the History of the World picture I wanted, but what the heck...

Not the History of the World picture I wanted, but what the heck…

I’m headlong into yet another ulcerative colitis flare-up. Here’s where I usually ramp up the dramatics and pronounce that while this is an especially horrible thing, somehow I managed to rise to the occasion and persevere and oh aren’t I just the peachiest thing ever since peaches, etc. etc. Thankfully I’ll leave the self-aggrandizement out of the mix. UC is something you learn to live with, not something you exploit to become an instant hero or self-proclaimed martyr to the cause or dutifully noble 33rd-Level Master Beyond The Mishegas.

OK that was descriptive as heck, wasn’t it? Anyway, since my diagnosis two years ago I’ve had three further significant flares, most of which have been handled via doubling up on medication (big shout-out to my favorite 400mg of crimson-colored cacophony, Delzicol). This particular instance has been the roughest since after being diagnosed; not so much because of the, shall we say, inconveniences this condition renders upon its subjects, but because I don’t remember quite this much cramping pain from before. The weird fevers and muscle aches that come and go are mostly manageable, but these cramps are something new to me. And trying to sleep at night while feeling like your digestive tract is roasting from the inside can be a wee bit problematic.

But, as always, there’s a silver lining. As of this writing, the worst of the symptoms have passed and I’m on the upswing from this flare, but ZOWIE this one lasted longer and hit harder than before. Given the nature of UC, there really are no discernible reasons why a flare starts — it’s different for everybody — and, as always, there is no cure. There is only treatment which, other than the meds they hand you, basically means riding it out until it calms down. As I always say, I’m lucky enough that my case is on the milder end of the spectrum. There are too many others out there with much harsher IBD afflictions than mine, the type that keeps them in a constant state of sickness, pain, and imprisonment, often for months on end.

So if you have a few dollars to spare, please consider donating to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. They are a four-star rated not-for-profit organization, at the forefront of research into treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases… and hopefully someday, discovering a cure. Anyway, this has been a roadblock but not a full stop, because tomorrow (Saturday April 4th)…

I’m participating in my very first triathlon! I haven’t really been talking about my tri training all that much, but tomorrow I’ll be participating in the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon in Pembroke Pines, FL. It’s a sprint triathlon, which means 400 meters of swimming, 11 miles of biking, and a 5K run. Some friends and I decided that this would be a Good Idea last year, so I signed up in January and then started training for it… and by training for it, that really meant DOING A CRAP-TON OF SWIMMING.

"Aaayyyy!!!"

“Aaayyyy!!!”

That water is a lot cleaner than it looks. Bad lighting.

So yes, lots and lots of swimming, which started at the beginning of February. I began with barely a few laps, but since then I’ve progressed up to just over a mile (1650m), continuously. Swim training goes on three times a week, plus four days of running on top of that. I also decided that I really needed to slim down a lot, since I would be swimming the triathlon either (1) without a shirt on (*SHUDDERS*), or (2) wearing a skin-tight tri-shirt (*DEEP SHUDDERS*). Listen, I’m in good shape but I’m far, FAR from a Michelangelo statue, and that’s putting it as diplomatically as possible. So since January 18th I’ve dropped almost 20 pounds of body weight (nothing major involved with that, just increased activity and a food journal to keep track of net calories) and toned up the bod on top of that. If nothing else, swimming will make those arms, shoulders, and your chest look like… well, something CLOSER to a Michelangelo statue and less like a Gelatinous Cube.

gelatinous_cube

Is it NO SURPRISE that I played a lot of D&D as a youth/adult/recalcitrant manchild?

Don’t think your Jello is so friendly now, do you? HAH! Anyway, so there’s been a lot of training going on over the past two months. But it’s all under control. Running? Check. Swimming? Check. But wait something else… ah yes. Say hello to Cosima:

Cosima posing seductively... next to a Publix.

Cosima posing seductively… next to a Publix.

Cosima is my new Trek FX 7.2 hybrid bike. I decided on this model based on price, quality, features, reviews, and mostly because I wanted more speed than a city bike and more comfort than a road bike. Plus I got a fairly decent deal on it, thanks to a friendly sales dude at Trek Bike Shop who looked exactly like Paul Rudd. That’s the one on Sunrise, ladies. Anyway, I used to bike all the freakin’ time well into my teens, but hadn’t really rode all that much since then. Getting back into biking was a snap. I especially love traversing the Greenway path, adjacent to Route 84 and I-595 between Plantation and Weston. Plus if I decide to really get into biking and move into bigger triathlon events (like a Half or dare I say, FULL Iron Man), I can always upgrade to a real tri bike and use the 7.2 for quick rides or local commutes, that sort of thing. Yay.

So wish me luck for tomorrow. Obviously I’ll be back with a full race review, so stay tuned.

What else is going on? Hmm… oh, we saw One Night Of Queen (performed by Gary Mullen & The Works) for the second time a few weeks back. Faithful Hokeyfolk might remember my review of their 2013 Fort Lauderdale show, in which I became an instant acolyte. Garry Mullen captures the essence of Freddie Mercury with so much energy, personality, and performance that even the barest of Queen fans will be dancing on their feet by the third song and a true believer in no time at all.

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Best shot I could manage. I’m no Boots, that’s for sure!

Rather than writing up a new review for the show, you can go check out my last one for the gist of what their performance entails. But I will share the current set-list here:

  1. One Vision
  2. A Kind of Magic
  3. Another One Bites The Dust
  4. Killer Queen/Bicycle Race
  5. I Want To Break Free
  6. Stone Cold Crazy
  7. You’re My Best Friend
  8. Seven Seas of Rye/guitar solo/Brighton Rock
  9. Under Pressure
  10. Hammer To Fall
  11. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  12. Flash Gordon Theme (taped with band outro)
  13. I Want It All
  14. Now I’m Here
  15. Somebody To Love
  16. Love Of My Life
  17. ’39
  18. Keep Yourself Alive
  19. Fat Bottomed Girls
  20. Jailhouse Rock
  21. Bohemian Rhapsody
  22. Radio Gaga
  23. Tie Your Mother Down
  24. We Will Rock You
  25. We Are The Champions

Not a bad set-list, to say the very least. I never got to see Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon perform together live, and sadly I never will. Watching Garry Mullen & The Works live makes for a fine way to celebrate the band’s music. Check out their website to see if they’re coming to your berg.

Anyway, life just keeps rolling on happily. Being ill is never fun, but pushing through it is always a cause for triumph. Plus summer is coming up, which means warm, happy weather for you non-tropical-living types and yet another four months of the living Hell-pits in muggy, sweltering, miserable South Florida. We do have some fun travel lined up, including heading to Alaska in late June for the first time to sight-see and participate in the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. In August Boots and I are heading to Nashville for a few days to celebrate our anniversary (and *ahem* go see Def Leppard in concert), followed closely by our annual trek to Disneyland on Labor Day weekend for the Half Marathon races in Anaheim. Locally I’ll be hitting up a trail half in Stuart in a few weeks, followed by another round at the Wings For Life World Run, and most likely another triathlon on July 4th. Training never stops, because life doesn’t, until it does and then I have to deal with cutting holes in a bed sheet to wear over my spectral energy, as I spook all you fine people. C’mon, I’d be such a Happy Phantom, right Tori? Here’s the video:

Jeff Galloway’s Training and Motivation Tips #4, or: “I’d build a road in gold just to have some dreamin’…”

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Say, kids! Welcome back to the glittering pageantry of Hokeyblog and our ongoing partnership with all-around swell guy and running guru Jeff Galloway as we present another round of Jeff Galloway’s Training and Motivation Tips, in which we here at HokeyCo International are tickled pink to share Jeff’s running wisdom to our vast cadre of cultivated, upscale, beau monde readers, and yes that includes you too Skippy Feinbaum. Feinbaums are good people.

Just so darn cheeky!

We’re just so darn cheeky!

Even more exciting, we’re joined today by our wondrously buttkickin’ buddy Sarah from Sparkly Runner, who has ever so graciously agreed to share her sagacious prose and worldly-wise wisdom as she and I share a discussion of Jeff’s tips for today. Sarah and I go *way* back, and by “way back” I mean to August of 2013 when she stalked me at the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon expo. She also photographs a lot better than I do, as you can tell by this picture taken at that moment (on your left).

Anyway, Sarah and I are going to discuss Señor Jefe’s training and motivations tips and add our own experiences to the mix, along with just a touch of entertainment and personality that hopefully will keep such a discussion from being the blogging equivalent of dry, red-eye. The dream is that you guys — all our epic readers who epitomize the phrase ‘extraordinary magnitude’ at each and every hootenanny of wondrous delight — will find these tips helpful, inspiring, perhaps even a bit… you know what, I think Sarah expressed it succinctly like this:

Now we're talkin'...

Now we’re talking!

Slick, eh? Jeff’s tips will be in bold, whereas our responses will be in… not bold, and color-coded for your pleasure, just like USA Today! Sarah in purple, myself in red. Isn’t that a peach? On with the show then!


 

Training and Motivation Tips
by Olympian Jeff Galloway
www.runinjuryfree.com

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Jeff Galloway 13.1!


Be aware of irritation of weak links.

The Key Weak Links are body parts where my runners tend to experience injuries are these: Knees – Feet – Calf – Achilles – Hip – Glute/piriformis/sciatica. But the body parts that YOU need to be aware of are the sites where you are injured or suffer more aches and pains.

SR: Yup, those dang weak links will get you every time! Since I’ve been recovering from injury, I have been paying attention to every little ache and pain and addressing concerns as they come up. Knowing that I have cranky feet, I keep all that’s connected to my feet (knees, hips, glutes, core, etc.) strong through yoga and different strengthening workouts.

Also, it’s worth taking stock of your form. Use the self-timer on your camera or have someone snap some pictures of you mid-run so you can see maybe why certain areas are always painful for you. I can clearly see how I heel strike in almost all of the photos of me running… that’s probably why my feet aren’t in the best shape. I’m working on this, I promise!

HB: I’m holding you to that promise, Sarah. Otherwise you’re getting the next round of Dole Whips. For a year!

Back on topic, I’m suddenly reminded of Karl Malden’s reverend character in the classic Disney film Pollyanna…

"Fire & Brimstone: Don't leave home without it!"

“Fire & Brimstone: Don’t leave home without it!”

He delivers this firebrand “DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY!!!” speech early in the film, but if you will, substitute the rather downer subject of mortality with that of running injuries.

They come unexpectedly. When you least expect them. And many times they are completely avoidable… if you pay attention!

You know, sometimes the hardest part about running is the self-consciousness of it all. I mean, unless you have limitless confidence (as opposed to my own brand of schmucky arrogance), there’s always that part of you which is perpetually concerned about how you look pounding pavement, as opposed to how you feel… more specifically, how you feel in relation to how you’re running. Maybe it’s not until mile 3 or 4 of a long run when you realize you’ve been striking with the upper side of your foot or your shoulders are locked in place and your back’s too stiff, and of course by the time the pain comes it’s pretty much too late to steer back on course.

So definitely pay attention to your injured areas first and foremost, but keep a close vigil on your form. And by all means call an audible if something feels “off”; there’s never any shame on taking a break to walk, stop, or stretch, even mid-race, if it means protecting your most valuable running investment (besides your Garmin, those $200 shoes, and Run Disney registration fees).

Stress buildup due to the way we train.

  • Training schedule is too intense-not enough rest between stress.

HB: Señor Jefe advocates a three-day a week running schedule, and this is really all the run time you need to go the distance. It allows plenty of time for cross-training and rest. Both are critical for long-term health and success. Besides, you gotta allow for one day of blissful nothingness!

SR: TAKE A DAY OR TWO OFF! Seriously, I talk to runners all the time who run every day — you really don’t need to and doing so can lead to injury. So take a breather at least once a week — it won’t affect your training negatively. I trained for the Dopey Challenge running only three times a week.

  • Adverse Training Components — speed is too fast or has too much, too soon.

HB: Running is a slow-burn, long-haul commitment. Like anything else in life, you need to grow and develop into your own space, at your own pace. This is not just for beginners but experienced runners as well. If you haven’t hit the road for a long time (due to injury, life commitments, lethargy, whatever), you can’t rush back into where you were at your peak. ESPECIALLY if you signed up for a race and think you can just condense training into a few short days or weeks. Start slow and build up again.

SR: Did you know that it can take a month or more for your bones to respond to increased distance/speed training? Basically, your bones take a longer time to strengthen than your muscles, heart, and respiratory system. So even though you can feel improvement in those areas, don’t rush the training too fast — give your skeletal system time to catch up!

  • Running form-too long a stride, forward lean, bouncing too high off the ground.

HB: You ever see those bouncy runners, the ones whose form seem to indicate that they took personal exemption from the laws of gravity and wind up several inches off the ground with each step, knees high in the air, almost effortless with their lithe, deeply expressionist panther-like movements? You don’t have to be Carnac the Magnificent to foretell the painful arthroscopic surgeries in their future… I just showed my age there :(

"Less Than Zero"... "What is Hokeyblog's net Google Ads revenue?"

“Less Than Zero”… “What is Hokeyblog’s net Google Ads revenue?”

SR: Just remember the “marathon shuffle:” quick turn-over, short stride, feet low to the ground. It helps prevent injury and keeps you from expending too much energy too early.

So staying focused on the way one runs and following these guidelines, can often allow runners to maintain a manageable increase without injury

Top 5 ways to avoid stress buildup-and avoid injuries

  1. Take walk breaks more frequently, and run shorter run segments

SR: Coming back from the stress fracture, I started with 4:1 intervals- four minutes walking, one minute running. It’s what helped me ease back into distance running after four months off.

HB: I’m actually surprised at how much resistance there is to intervals among so many, even new runners. They’re convinced that it’s not ‘real’ running. You know what’s not ‘real’ running? Laying on the couch with your foot wrapped, iced, elevated, and out of commission due to a blown Achilles tendon or PF.

  1. Form: shorter stride, feet low to the ground

SR: I like to call this the “marathon shuffle” and during long runs I keep my feet as close to the ground as possible.

HB: As opposed to my “zombie shuffle”, which is when I hit the wall at Mile 20 and where I’m making running motions but moving barely past walking speed, while hungering for brains and looking at the flowers! Or something. No but seriously, short and quick is the way to go if you really want to go the distance.

  1. Slower long runs, with more walk breaks

SR: I pretty much have one speed — nice and easy, with plenty of walk breaks.

HB: You and me both. With my size and body frame, I’ll never be Barry Allen or Pietro Maximoff (NERD ALERT!), but what I strive for in my long runs is consistency and endurance. Slow and steady ALWAYS wins the race.

  1. Avoid Stretching

SR: I’m definitely an advocate of stretching- but only AFTER running when your muscles are warm and pliable. Doing any kind of stretching when your muscles are cold doesn’t benefit you and can actually lead to injury.

HB: I’ve heard Señor Jefe on several podcasts advocating not stretching at all, either before or after. Obviously do what feels right to you, but static stretching before running is a definite no-no. I’m a firm believer in your first mile or two being adequate warm-up, but there’s nothing wrong with doing some light jogging or determined walks before a long run.

  1. Be careful when running speed sessions

SR: Yeah, see my comment for #3. I don’t feel the need for speed :)

needforspeed

HB: I feel the need… the need for a Speedo! But that’s neither here nor there… (awkward) *ahem* ANYWAY speed work at the track or on a treadmill is definitely beneficial in helping increase your overall speed… but yikes, please don’t kill yourself. I see these people at the gym all the time, with the treadmill jacked up at 8, 9, even up to 10 mph… and as they desperately try to keep up with this demanding velocity, THEY’RE HOLDING ON TO THE SIDES OF THE MACHINE FOR DEAR LIFE! Schadenfreude notwithstanding, it’s still a disaster waiting to happen.


And there you have it my friends… we want to thank our buddy Sarah for ever so kindly agreeing to this awesome cross-blogging infotainment, and of course the great Jeff Galloway for dispensing it to us for dissemination, debate, discussion, and other d-words that quite frankly I’m too tired to go look up. But do go look up Sarah’s blog at SparklyRunner.com, because she’s enthusiastically brilliant and great people. The Dream Team thanks you kindly, and as always here’s the video:

About Sarah:

When she’s not running or spending way too much time on social media, you can find her blogging at Sparkly Runner. She also enjoys stalking meeting up with her favorite bloggers at races; especially that time she got to meet Hokeyboy live in person at the Disneyland Half Marathon expo! What a treat! Sarah lives with her boyfriend Matthew and their adorable pug Koda (named after Brother Bear) in a tiny, tiny town in south central Pennsylvania. Obsessed with all things Disney, they are always planning their next trip to WDW and dream of one day working for the Mouse.

Album Review: “Signals” — Rush (1982)

blgrushsignalsMuch has been said, written, blogged, pontificated, praised, vilified, ignored, and cherished about Rush’s so-called “80’s period” or “keyboard era” or whatever you want to call their post-Moving Pictures, pre-Counterpoints releases. No matter how you view that period of the band’s career, most point to Rush’s 1982 album Signals as the line of demarcation between classic/hard/prog rock Rush and 80s/New Wave/synth-driven Rush.

You could probably make a very strong argument in favor of that assertion, but it’s not really all THAT significant. As a band, Rush was always in discovery mode, always evolving, adapting, incorporating, and growing without losing those singular elements that made the band unique: impeccable musicianship, Neil Peart’s inimitable and evocative lyricism, Geddy Lee’s and Alex Lifeson’s strong hooks and memorable riffs, and a sound and experience so much grander than the sum of its parts (and let’s face it, those are some mighty impeccable parts) that makes Rush, RUSH. So sure, go ahead and proclaim that Signals was the album where EVERYTHING CHANGED. And yet change had been part of the Rush experience since their 1974 debut album and has been steadily rolling onward since then.

But Signals was maybe a slightly bigger delta than Rush fans were used to, especially coming off the seminal, nay, landmark previous album, 1981’s Moving Pictures. To this day that record remains Rush’s biggest seller in North America, going quadruple platinum and sporting a ton of huge FM radio hits that remain classic rock staples to this day. Expectations for the follow-up were particularly high, but instead of delivering “Moving Pictures: Part Deux” the band recorded an album that delved further into new wave, art rock, reggae, even a bit of Europop, with a strong, some would say predominant focus on keyboards and synths as the foundation of their sound. Keyboards and synths were of course not new elements to Rush’s music, but never before had they been so strongly featured.

What stands out to me about Signals is that the sound and production is emblematic of that beautiful tonal sweet spot, where 80s music wasn’t relegated to a mass of electronic/gated drums, synth horns, thin guitars, and other over-utilized elements that dominated major studio album production from around 1984 through the rest of the decade (I don’t want to single out Hugh Padgham by name, of course, except I just did). Somewhere between the demise of disco and the rise of that slick, over-produced 80s sound, there was Rush adopting an atmospheric chilliness and incorporating it into their music, utilizing that distinctive Minimoog tone to underscore a “Dawn of the Computer Age” dehumanization, held in high relief against their fiercely humanist, strongly individualist spirit, lyrics, and overtones. It makes for a fascinating dichotomy, which in turn makes Signals such a compelling album.

And still the hard rock tropes all applied: strong riffs, chunky power chords, fist-pumping rhythms, all of them still part of the music. It’s impossible to listen to the driving uptempo kick of “The Analog Kid” and forget that this is the same band that skillfully roared through “La Villa Strangiato”, even if the song’s midsection slows down with a thick, moody keyboard overlay. The youthful, hopeful, almost rock-pastoral feel of “Analog Kid” makes a fine (if contrasting) companion piece with the more robotic-sounding “Digital Man”, another uptempo number which opens with some of Geddy’s most masterful bass work on the album. “Digital Man” deals with the dehumanized man, the Analog Kid’s potential future, all bits and data streams and information processing, alongside wistful yet sublimated yearnings for flights of fancy. There are echoes of The Police’s “Walking On The Moon” here, punctuated by Alex’s scorching mid-song solo as a sort of primal existential scream.

And let’s roll with that vibe (digital vs. analog, sublimation vs. celebration) and look at the album’s big singles. The most successful one at the time was “New World Man”, which remains Rush’s biggest US hit, going as high as #21 on the charts. It places the modern, late 20th Century man (digital) in context with and contrasted against the Old World and Third World men (analog): where he stands, what he should learn, and how to govern himself accordingly. The song itself is bouncy, infectious, catchy, and a total success for the band. “New World Man” features more of the band’s noodling with reggae rhythms (begun in Permanent Waves and continued into Moving Pictures), and probably their most successful noodling at that, as it swings to a groove all its own before erupting at the choruses with confident pop/new wave musicality. At 3:42, it’s also the shortest track on the record, but could be their single best pop single (while still remaining classically Rush).

So yeah, “New World Man” was the big hit, but album opener “Subdivisions” has remained the album’s lasting legacy. One of Rush’s all-time classic tunes (and rock radio staple), those opening keyboard chords are a powerful, unmistakable statement of purpose. The subject matter is straightforward enough, the role of the square peg in the face of mass conformity and defeatism. Geddy’s Moog solo is so emblematic of the song, strong and yearning while still minor key and haunting. It might be cliche to suggest that “Subdivisions” probably connected to more Rush fans on a personal level than any other in their catalog, and it is, but I would say that the song resonates more with the position of the band itself, iconoclasts in a musical landscape that rewards conformity, inertia, and stagnation. Your mileage may vary, of course.

I’ve always liked album closer “Countdown” quite a bit, a celebration of human achievement that was inspired by the band’s witnessing of a Cape Canaveral space shuttle launch in 1981. The incorporation of actual NASA radio chatter and audio seems to turn many off from the song, but it totally works for me on a primal-awesome geek-out level. It’s a good tune on its own as well. The keyboard work on this one is particularly strong and effective. On the other hand, I’m not particularly fond of “Chemistry”; it seems ill-fitting and patchwork, and not particularly interesting either in its music or lyrics. Album tracks like “The Weapon” (part of Peart’s ‘fear’ saga) and “Losing It” fill out the record nicely. The latter is a particularly winning song, highlighted by Ben Mink’s electronic violin work. I love the proggy, moody, expansive feel of the track, it’s odd time signatures, Geddy’s strong vocals, and mournful lyrics about those who never live their dreams, never enact their goals or reach their true potential. “For you the blind who once could see, the bell tolls for thee…” Great stuff.

At its release Signals received a lot of criticism for those who viewed it as a significant step down from “Moving Pictures”. While perhaps it’s not quite at that album’s level, Signals remains one of the band’s strongest releases and perhaps one of their most important albums, a declaration of principles that their biggest success was not going to be a safe album designed to deliverable a bunch of predictable, expected radio hits. The hits would come, and the album was very successful, but Signals was Rush building on top of their success on their own terms and with their own vision.

Album Review: “Snakes & Arrows” — Rush (2007)

snakesandarrowsProducer Nick Raskulinecz lobbied hard to work with Rush on their 2007 album Snakes & Arrows, and the result is probably one of the strongest (if not THE strongest) album of the band’s later period. Ostensibly he was working to return Rush to their experimental heyday of the 2112 through Hemispheres era, although I don’t think that’s an apt descriptor of the album. For starters, Rush was never a band that spent significant (if any) time looking backward. Whether you liked the direction the band was taking or not, you could never dismiss Rush for remaining stagnant or coasting on formula. This is compounded by the fact that Snakes & Arrows lacks the epic progressive pieces that earmark those earlier albums, in favor of a record that featured 13 tracks of standard song lengths (four to six minutes), including three instrumentals.

So yeah, it’d be misleading to state Snakes & Arrows contains the lyrical and musical equivalent of “Cygnus X-1 III: Attack of the Mole People” or whatever. But what it does feature is a band still mining its creative peak. If anything, there seems to be an air of freedom here, a lack of self-consciousness that all too often plagues established, successful bands well into their fourth decade of recording and touring. Nowhere on the album does it feel like anyone is bellowing “We need a few CLASSIC RUSH SONGS here!!” This is a Rush album, no question, but it’s an album that showcases a band in measured motion and disciplined exploration. Snakes & Arrow feels a little long but it never wallows in meandering self-indulgence or pointless fan-service.

The album’s central focus is faith, its application or sublimation, the wake left behind in its practice, and the reconciliation between dauntless hope and stark pragmatism. Or something like that. Drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics seem to resonate around a central pillar of struggle, conflict, and being able to shoulder the burden while maintaining forward motion. Whether it’s being able to pick yourself up after being continually knocked down (“Far Cry”), navigating through the calamitous thicket of existence while dodging disaster at every turn (“Working Them Angels”), appreciating the beauty of life while recognizing its cynical paradoxes and uncaring destructiveness (“Bravest Face”), finding hope in the face of a universe striving for disorder (“Good News First”), or even a blanket declaration of Humanist principles (“Faithless”), this is Peart at his starkest, darkest, but yet most determined perseverance.

Musically, the band seems especially focused and economical. While there are the usual flourishes of technical and progressive complexity we’ve come to expect from Rush, none of it exists in a vacuum; all of it exists in service of the songs, first and foremost. The hard rock crunch of “Far Cry” merges seamlessly with the pop-rock catchiness of its chorus. The exotic instrumental “The Main Monkey Business” is evocative of island/Afro-Caribbean beats and Middle Eastern melodies to provide something entirely unique, haunting, and lovely. Then you have something like “The Larger Bowl”, in which Geddy Lee’s heartfelt, almost folksy vocals are intertwined seamlessly with a strong acoustic backbone provided by Alex Lifeson.

There’s a prevailing mood of versatility and verisimilitude Snakes & Arrows. An issue I have with some later-era Rush albums is that there is an overall feeling of sameness to the songs on each record (witness 2012’s Clockwork Angels, which is a rather good album but lacks variety), but that’s not the case here. While songs are thematically similar, each exists in its own style and space while simultaneously becoming part of cohesive and appealing collective. Take the three instrumental songs (“The Main Monkey Business”, “Hope”, and “Malignant Narcissism”), which are all distinct pieces: I previously discussed the exotic, worldly “Monkey”, whereas the acoustic “Hope” focuses on a bluegrass feel, with “Narcissism” a more traditional prog-hard-rock track, yet they seem to springboard off of and into each other. As an exploration of faith, its antecedents and conditionals, the album runs the spectral gamut, from rocking hard with furious rage to softening with introspective meditation, sometimes both at the same time. Snakes & Arrows is Rush at their most personal, most connective, most emotionally guttural (as emotionally guttural as Rush gets, anyhow), but still with a strong focus on musicality (complexity in service of melody), fidelity (this is a great sounding record) and tonal diversity.

Race Review: 2015 First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon (3/15/2015), or: “We’re bumpin’ booties, havin’ us a ball…”

FB_IMG_1426439300455I’ve made zero secret about how much I adore the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. It’s pretty much my favorite Half Marathon in all of Florida, and yes, I include all of the Disney races in that assessment. When it comes to the most enjoyable races in the Sunshine State, the Sarasota Half is top of the food chain. The race is fun, festive, scenic, low-key but energetic, roomy, uncluttered, well-organized, and an all-around great time. I’ve run this race three times over the last four years, and each time has been a great experience. Whereas the Disneyland Half Marathon in Anaheim always marks the symbolic start of my race season, the Sarasota Half always signifies the triumphant completion.

To put it succinctly: if I could only run one half marathon in Florida, this would be the one.

… OK well that’s it folks. G’nite! Here’s the vi– oh you’re still here? You’re not gonna let me slack on this one?

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Fair enough. I’ll do me best. The 2015 First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon was my 25th Half Marathon ever, which indeed is a cause for celebration! So let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? And believe you me, stick with me here; it “ends” well.

Tee hee. Oh, the joy of puns…

The Day Before

Boots and I began the 3 hour drive up from Fort Lauderdale late Saturday morning. Our only agenda was to pick up my registration packet at the Fit 2 Run store in downtown Sarasota, check into our hotel (the Sarasota Airport Holiday Inn — more on that in a minute), attend the scheduled pasta dinner with FIT, and pass out early that evening. Simple enough.

When I arrived at Fit 2 Run at around 2:30 that afternoon, it was pretty much packed to the gills. The line for registration pickup led out of the store and down the adjacent street. Yikes!

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Looks were deceiving. The line was long but traffic moved very smoothly… especially compared to the free-for-all zoo that was registration last year. Pretty soon I was inside where I picked up my bib, free race jacket (in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the race), race shirt, and other materials. On the way out I said hi to several FIT friends, many of whom were pacing the race the next day (including first-time pacer and buddy Sarah aka “Helen” from the Miami Marathon). Exiting the store, I waited for Boots to pick me up while chatting with my buddies Kristi and Ines on Main Street. This particular downtown area looked like a plenty fun place to explore, with lots of boutique stores, used book shops, antiques, bars, and restaurants. Some other time, perhaps.

After motoring over to the Holiday Inn where, upon check-in, we were informed that late check-outs were NOT AVAILABLE and we had to be out of our rooms by 11AM the next morning or suffer the Wrath of Lord Palmerston or whatever. This was routinely ignored because the Sarasota Airport Holiday Inn is a terrible place to sleep the night before a race. No, seriously. The staff was making noise from the lobby area well into the evening, the beds were uncomfortable, and the air conditioner has only two modes: completely off, or LOUDLY BLASTING ARCTIC HYPOTHERMIA AT SOUND LEVELS THAT COULD RAISE THE DEAD TWO CONTINENTS AWAY. I had a terrible night’s sleep, and as such will not be staying at that hotel again.

On the plus side, I had a killer Yueng-Ling draft as part of the carbing up during the previous night’s pasta dinner, so it wasn’t a total loss. Thanks to my beer buddies Boots, Katarina, Denise, other Denise, Bruce, and others!

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So let’s get to the meat of the matter…

Race Day

Groggy and sleep-deprived, we left the hotel at 5 AM; last year, Boots and I were stuck in a bit of race traffic and we wanted to avoid it this time around. I think we succeeded. We were easily parked right near the Van Wezel center (next to the Race Area) by around 5:07. Huzzah. We killed time listening to music in the car until 6AM, where, after a quick trip to the porto units, I met up with my buddies for our team picture and general kibbitzing. The weather forecast called for hot temperatures and lots of humidity, but at that point it really didn’t feel all that uncomfortable. There was a strong, cool breeze blowing and it felt like decent running weather to me — just around the mid 60s. So needless to say, I was ready to run this thing!

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I had already decided to treat this race as a really fun training run. I had no plans to run at a race pace whatsoever; this was just 13.1 miles of training, nothing more. Instead of pushing myself in hopes of a PR or a competitive time, I wanted to just relax and enjoy this run — take in the scenery and camaraderie, and not worry one whit about my race time. Besides, I had just hit a near-PR two weeks before in Orlando at Best Damn Race. I had ZERO to prove that morning. Erstwhile running buddy Kristi and I lined up in the C corral (or what loosely could be defined as corrals) and waited for the race to begin. After a roaring take on the National Anthem (featuring a young singer who ABSOLUTELY NAILED that high note to cheers from the crowd), the race began in earnest just after 7:10 AM!

And because you demanded it, let’s take a look at the race course, courtesy of my valiant Garmin 220 watch and Google Maps:

Click to embiggen!

Click to embiggen!

It was a beautiful course, for the most part. It took us south on the Tamiami Trail, then eastbound over the Ringling Causeway, around St. Armands Circle, then back west over the Causeway to the Trail, northbound on the Trail (passing the Start/Finish area) for just over 3 miles. Right around the Mile 9 marker we turned east, passing the impeccably architected Ringling Museum of Art, which then continued with a 3 mile jaunt through the residential Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores neighborhoods. Mile 12 took us back onto the Trail, where we headed south towards the Finish Line, back at the Van Wezel center.

(I copied that course description from last year’s race report. Yes. I am that Slacker…)

I’m not going to get too descriptive of the race, other than to say I really enjoyed every second of it. The scenery afforded you by running up the Ringling Causeway is just breathtaking; you get this killer view of Sarasota Bay both coming and going! The bridge itself is no big deal, if you’ve done any sort of hill training or bridge repeats in your weekly runs. I love the turn around at the St. Armands Circle roundabout, which takes you back over the Causeway towards the mainland. Every year I want to stay in Sarasota and explore that area, yet we never seem to do that. Again, someday…

Kristi and I took off at a long-run training pace and pretty much stayed there for the entirety of the race, somewhere between 10 and 11 min/mile. Intervals were set to 5:1 and left there for the duration. As I mentioned before, this was a no-pressure situation (as well as a no-music situation; no speakers or earphones this time around) so we spent much of the time talking, chatting, joking, and/or bitching. As the sun rose the temperature shot up pretty quickly, and the humidity made itself more prevalent with the increased heat. I’ll tell you the honest truth though: it never, ever felt all that bad to me. Maybe it’s the electrolyte/salt supplements I was took, but I felt just fine. Others felt differently. Different strokes, I guess.

I also want to make the observation that I am HORRIFICALLY AWFUL with names during a race. I passed my friend Alan and called him ‘Joey’, then I finally bumped into Dale from the Mickey Milers Running Team and called her ‘Jennifer’. Please don’t take any of that personally, guys; I’m half a dope sometimes…

The least scenic and least memorable portion of the race is probably the 3 mile trek north up Tamiami Trail. Once past the Van Wezel center, it’s nothing but Burger Kings, Dunkin’ Donutses, gas stations, Super 8 motels, and strip malls until Mile 9. In addition, the area cordoned off for runners becomes much narrower. On the other hand, at least it’s pretty fast and flat, so we just motored on. Boots was snapping pictures before we left the Van Wezel area and she managed to capture this amazing Action Jackson snapshot:

Myself and Kristi right around Mile 6.

Myself and Kristi right around Mile 6.

At Mile 9, we stopped for a much need porto break and continued onward, making the turn into the Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores area. This was a welcome and scenic foray into some of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the area. Between the elegant houses, beautiful bay views, and tree-lined streets that afford ample amounts of shade, this is my favorite part of the race. Some people comment that the 3+ miles through these neighborhood sometimes seem to “go on forever” — I should know, I used to be one of them. This time around, not so much. It actually felt like it flew by, so I tried to take in as much of it as I could. Meanwhile, I could see the heat was taking its toll on the runners around me: I saw a lot of hunched shoulders, slumping running forms, flushed cheeks, and heard enough wheezing and puffing around me to realize that this race was hitting a lot of people pretty hard. Again, we started at a moderate pace and kept it throughout. That, plus the electrolytes I was taking and the lack of any speed expectations whatsoever, made the race seem fairly reasonable to me. And that’s not bravado, either; I really felt like I was having a great time (because I was).

Just after Mile 12, the course took us back onto Tamiami Trail southbound as we made our way to the Finish Area, or what I’d like to call…

Where Things Get Embarrassingly Fun

The finale of the race took a turn for the comical, but it didn’t start out that way. With less than a quarter-mile to go, we first came across Boots, who snapped these pics right here. I was in great spirits and very ready to celebrate the crossing of my 25th half-marathon finish line!

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Then we rounded the corner and prepared to take that last 0.1 miles to the Finish Line!

Let's finish this! (And thanks for blocking Kristi in our shot, Hat Guy!)

Let’s finish this! (And thanks for blocking Kristi in our shot, Hat Guy!)

We made our way down the strip and crossed the Finish Line together, finishing with a time of 2:25:51. I raised my hands up in the air to make a “25” gesture with both hands, but because I forgot all about perspective and mirror imaging, I actually ended up making a “52” gesture. Because I’m half a dope that way…

"FIFTY-TWO!!!!" Eesh...

“FIFTY-TWO!!!!” Eesh…

But it doesn’t end there. Oh no…

As I walked triumphantly from the Finish Line, a frantic gentleman ran up to me, pointing back onto the course. “Sir! Sir! You dropped your phone at the Finish Line!!”

My face turned white and I whipped around. My Armpocket was completely unzipped and empty. When I raised my arms to salute my finish, my Galaxy S5 fell out and was lying face down a few yards from the Finish Line. On the course. In dangerous possibility of being trod upon and smashed by other runners!

Well, what could I do? THE ONLY THING A MAN CAN DO. Run back onto the course, grab it, and run back without getting in anyone else’s way.

This took courage, agility, determination, and a HUGE amount of humility. I jumped back out there and grabbed my phone as quickly as I could.

And photographers managed to capture the moment where I, in all of my supreme glory, photobombed several runners’ finishing pics WITH MY ASS:

Embarrassment: Level 99

Embarrassment: Level 99

Or… if you’d prefer the animated version:

hYE5lA

So I not only butchered the “TWENTY-FIVE!” gesture upon crossing the Finish Line, I also managed to jump back onto the course and flaunt my Royal American for all of God and Country to observe. A posterior for posterity.

Way to stick the landing, Millheiser.

Several hearty laughs at my expense later, Kristi and I made our way through the Finish Area. She got her Storm Series medal (I sat out most of the series this year, having participated in only two of the races), we paused for some bay pictures, and then made our way to the FOOD! Sarasota always has a good selection, and this year was no disappointment. I grabbed the requisite banana, bagel, muffin, and the MUCH loved yogurt parfait. My GOD those are awesome. Listen, when First Watch is the corporate sponsor, you’re gonna get some good eats. They were also serving up fresh pancakes off the griddle, but I was pretty well satiated by then, and besides: it was time for BEER!

Some post-race shots:

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Also a big shout-out to Hokeyblog reader Gus (the Mummy who introduced himself to Boots during last year’s Halloween Half Marathon), who recognized me after the race and graciously agreed to pose for this pic.

Gus and me at the Beer Garden!

Gus and me at the Beer Garden!

See, gentle readers? You too can be Hokeyblog famous!

So all in all, we had another fine time at the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. I generally don’t like to repeat races anymore; there are so many other amazing races, courses, and different areas I really want to explore and experience. But if I have no conflicting events that weekend, I’ll make a habit to come back to Sarasota Half as much as I can. Something about this race just “feels” perfect. Or maybe it’s simply just a well-run, scenic, and really enjoyable race, period. It remains, in my opinion, the best Half in Florida, but I welcome all challengers in the future. Anyway… here’s the humble video:

Product Review: LON Little Speaker

resize_f50c74631653f4b0dcc04b28986c463a7b908aff8cb332da4fe72b5b9bfbe1e00764dce1256256I’m always on the lookout for wireless audio solutions that really work, because I’m perpetually in need of quality wireless audio. Whether it’s for better headphones while I run, less fussy audio in the car, or less clutter in the home, a solid wireless audio solution has to have that perfect balance of decent fidelity, easy handling, zero clutter, simple use of space, and so forth.

Enter the LON Little Speaker… and if that isn’t the truthiest truth in advertising ever, then I can scarcely imagine what would take that crown. At 2 inches by 2 inches, this tiny white speaker can easily fit in the palm of your hand and, without any intrusive wires or connection cables to be found, will fit pretty much everywhere you need it to be.

Let’s take a few looks at the unit. Here is the general unboxing:

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The unit is safely boxed and padded, and the speaker comes with a charge cable (your basic mini-USB) and instructions.

The left side of the speaker houses the charge port as well as a line input in case you want to connect audio directly:

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… whereas the back of the speaker has your power button.

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According to the instructions, the speaker requires two hours of charging and provides four hours of playback time. After charging the speaker, I found pairing it to my phone via Bluetooth was a breeze. I simply turned it on, put my phone into Bluetooth scan mode, found the speaker, and clicked the Pair button. No passcodes any other connection issues presented themselves. The pairing took barely a few moments and we were good to go.

To give you an idea of how small this thing is, here it is stacked against my 3″ Ludwig von Drake vinylmation:

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Again: this thing is tiny! The biggest (and let’s be honest, most important) question here is, “How well does audio sound when coming through such a tiny speaker?”

The answer is: Not bad. In fact, it’s probably better than what I was expecting from 8 cubic inches of electronics. Still, expectations have to come into play here; anyone expecting serious fidelity from this speaker probably needs a serious talking-to. This speaker is for quick, easy, portable listening, travel, background audio in a work environment, or any kind of temporary or in-a-pinch needs. For comparative purposes, I listened to music as diverse as Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, Rush’s 2112, Punch Brothers’s Phosphorescent Blues, and a few podcast episodes. I was overall pleased with the results I received from the speaker. For a little mono speaker, it had reasonable sound quality and decent reproduction values. I was expecting something thinner, maybe tinnier and with less range, but my expectations were exceeded. The results were fairly impressive.

Now there is no volume control on the speaker itself. Volume changes are handled from your paired Bluetooth device. This really isn’t a drawback in and of itself, but it does mean any kind of equalizations and levels you want to make must be done on your sound source. I wanted to see how loud I could make this thing go and I was able to really make some noise erupt from the Little Speaker; at those levels though, everything got pretty messy and distorted. You’re not going to break any windows with the Little Speaker. But why would you want to?

While the manual promised four hours of playback time, I was able to squeeze almost six hours from it (the online advertisements and marketing for the device also state up to six hours). I generally used my speaker at lower volumes at my work desk, which resulted in a longer playback time.

The LON Little Speaker retails for $38, which means how much value you’ll get out of it is directly proportional to what your audio needs are. For work, travel, or business needs that require easy wireless portability and simple, reasonable sound fidelity, this tiny but effective unit will perform quite well for you.

Album Review: “Fly By Night” — Rush (1975)

Rush_Fly_by_NightFly By Night, the first of two 1975 releases from Rush, is the band’s second album but is the first to feature drummer and primary lyricist Neil Peart, which in many ways makes it the band’s first “real” album. Peart brought so much to the table — more literary allusions, deeply personal and philosophical lyricism, highly dynamic drumming — that the difference between the 1974 debut album and this one is ridiculously palpable. The band began to introduce more sophisticated, progressive musicality to their songs. The quality of the production is a noticeable improvement. The unapologetic crunchy blues-hard-rock was broadened with a more expansive palette of sounds and styles.

The resulting album Fly By Night is certainly more in line with Rush’s evolutionary march than the debut record. It has the band’s first “epic” tune (the 8-and-a-half minute “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”), their first odes to classic objectivism and/or celebration of the individual (“Anthem”, “Fly By Night”), and allusions to fantasy storytelling and environments (“Rivendell”). But scattered amid all the nascent Rush seedlings are songs that are part-and-parcel of the mid 1970s hard rock scene: the mighty power-ballad-ish album closer (“In The End”), the radio rock hit (the title track, again), and a few solid album deep tracks holding everything together.

So it’s a balanced mix of Rush beginning to become “RUSH!!!” with the band still dabbling with established power trio norms of the day, but how does it work as an album? Mostly it works pretty gosh darn well. There’s much to admire about Fly By Night that it’s altogether to easy to pronounce this as Rush’s true debut. But, if you’ll pardon the callback to the opening track of their previous album, the record still feels at times like the band is finding their way. Take “Best I Can”, which to my ears sounds like Geddy took a few musical notes while touring with Kiss. This number feels like a Gene Simmons tune from the Hotter Than Hell era, albeit with infinite better musicality than that band was ever capable of achieving. Still, it’s an interesting track (penned by Lee) that yet remains firmly rooted in the band’s earlier era, rather than being indicative of where they would be heading.

Neil’s ode to the American dream and its contrast against overt militarization couldn’t be more obvious in “Beneath, Between & Behind”, a straightforward rocker with hints of broader reach but not yet reaching them. It’s one of my favorite no-fuss rock tunes from the band with an instantly catching chorus. Speaking of no-fuss rock tunes, the title track “Fly By Night” was the big radio hit from the album and (according to Wikipedia) their highest selling single to date. It’s a steady, soaring rock tune that seems to take flight almost instantly as Lifeson’s guitar riff memorably opens the track. Few songs about knowing when to make your big move could be more succinctly summarized by the declaration that “it’s time I was King now, not just one more Pawn”.

“Anthem” is of course the opening shot across the bow, the vanguard that announced what would be coming later in the epic 1976 “2112” album suite: prog-influenced hard rock taking its lyrical and storytelling cues from the work of Ayn Rand. As the album opener, it instantly heralds the band’s new direction with intricate time changes, tight musicianship, and starkly immediate declaration-of-principles lyricism. Of course, Geddy couldn’t resist throwing in a few Plant-like wails over the chorus.

“By-Tor & the Snow Dog” is the centerpiece of the album, a near nine-minute action movie draped in mythology, in which the canine hero battles a Demon-Prince from Hell in a no-holds-barred epic assault. Or something. It’s a little silly but it’s great fun, especially during the extended middle section, with growls and howls and an instrumental depiction of the clash of titans, and the eventual uplifting fanfare of Snow-Dog’s victory at song’s end. Oops, spoiler alert. “Natural Science” it is not, but taken on its own terms, it’s a sweet tune.

“Making Memories” is an acoustic shuffler about life on the road that is an agreeable if inconsequential addition; it’s a decent album track in and of itself that neither stands out nor drags the record down. The album does however make a major misstep with “Rivendell”. An overt reference to the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, the song is a bit of a treacle that doesn’t work, really. The lyrics are clunky and maudlin, the music flat and unmemorable. Which is a shame, as I do enjoy the softer, acoustic side of the band. A song featuring Geddy Lee on classic guitar and vocals, with no bass or drums and just a few other guitar embellishments, is definitely a step away from the expected, and Rush is at least making the conscious attempt to expand their sound. But the song is just… not good. Tediously slow, it clocks in at five minutes in length and seems twice as long. This is rectified by the album closer “In The End”, which opens with Alex’s 12-string acoustic introduction followed by rolling cymbals and Geddy’s soft vocals, exploding into nearly seven minutes of an electric mid-70’s power ballad opus. I find it a welcome piece, a bit long at its running length but with just enough Zeppelin-styled crunch mixed with tasteful restraint to keep it in the Win column and an enjoyable end to the record.

Fly By Night starts strong and even if it does sag a bit towards the end — “Rivendell”, yeesh! — it still represents a quantum leap forward for Rush, one that will almost destroy them commercially on the next album and bring them great success (and firmly reveal their mission statement to the world) on the album after that. But for all intents and purposes, and with all respect to the debut LP (which I enjoy on its own terms), this album remains pretty much where Rush really “begins”.