Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hugh Masekela: "Strawberries" (Running Song)

Screen Shot from the video for "Strawberries" by Hugh Masekela

In 1998, through some twist of fate, I was given a free upgrade to first class on a flight from Washington DC to Cape Town. That's about a 23-hour flight; exactly the kind of flight where you want to be upgraded to first class.

I remember three things about that flight:
  1. All the complimentary Heineken I could drink.
  2. Sitting next to a white South African who told me I just had to go to a cricket match during my visit, and predicting that majority rule (i.e. the end of Apartheid) was a very bad thing for the country's prospects.
  3. Seeing this video of the song "Strawberries" by Hugh Masekela on the overhead TV in the plane's cabin -- and deciding that I wouldn't leave South Africa without this CD.

Normally I'm not much for a children's chorus in a song. It's a cheap gimmick. (Sorry Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and everybody else on this list.) But the soloing on this song is sublime. In particular, the guitar solo by John Selolwane is a fantastic blend of jazz and mbaqanga that shouldn't exist.

It's not the most driving song for running, but as a musician, I don't necessarily need a driving backbeat pounding in my ears in order for me to feel the pulse of a song. Some people need that steady hammer in the head to feel the rhythm. Depending on how you're counting, this song is either 85 or 170 beats per minute. For my stride and cadence, that's a medium-speed song.

You can download an MP3 of this song here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Flaming Lips: "She Don't Use Jelly" (Running Song)

Flaming Lips: She Don't Use Jelly
Flaming Lips circa 1993

I'm on another running kick, three or four times a week with the dog.

It seems to be the only time I can really listen to music. I've always found that doing something physical and not-quite-mindless was a great way to give my brain some busywork, allowing the other part of my brain to really listen to music.

So just to keep this blog from totally languishing I will post a song from each of my runs -- one that shuffled into my consciousness and made my run more fun.

Kicking off this new series is:

"She Don't Use Jelly" by The Flaming Lips

It's the kind of silly song I wish I could write. If there's a profound message in this song, it went right over my head.

As a running song, some people might not like the all the dynamics; the verses with hardly any drums. I kind of like having the feel the subtle pulse of a song when it's not smacking me in the ears of the two and four beats.

This is from my medium speed playlist for running. The average tempo is 174 BPM (or 87 BPM if you count more slowly).

I'm not trying to brag about my running. Trust me. I'm not fast, and I don't run far -- and I'm not going to talk about how fast or how far I ran. But maybe keeping a musical diary of when I run will keep me going.

Download "She Don't Use Jelly" from

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Kurt Cobain vs. Me: And the winner is...

Kurt Cobain, 1989
Kurt Cobain, 1989

Kurt Cobain committed suicide 20 years ago. Only five years before that Nirvana was an obscure band touring and playing in dive bars such as The Sun Club in Tempe.

The Sun Club was a dilapidated bar down a short dirt road. It somehow made you feel like you were in the middle of nowhere -- not in the middle of Arizona's biggest college town. The inside was dirty. If you are the kind of person who can detect the faint smell of urine where urine shouldn't be, your pissometer would have started beeping the moment you walked in.

Going there gave me the illusion that I was on the frontier; like any kind of shit might go down. None ever went down when I was there. And if it had, the cops were only about 45 seconds away.

Nirvana played the Sun Club in 1989, the same year that my band, Jumping Genes, played there.

I'll disappoint you right away: This is not a story of the time I met Nirvana, because I never did. I only know this because I found this video of Cobain and Nirvana's pre-Dave-Grohl drummer Chad Channing behind the backdoor of the Sun Club, trying to cool off. It was 102℉ outside in Tempe that day. It must have been worse inside.

It's not a very interesting video, but it's only 29 seconds long if you don't want to take my word for it:

When I realized that Jumping Genes and Nirvana played the same crappy club the same year, I asked my current band-mates (The Nutrients), "Cobain is dead and I'm alive, so who won?"

Tom and Ron answered, in unison, "Dave Grohl."

I think they're right. And Dave Grohl probably never had to play the Sun Club.