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June 30, 2005

Calling all enthusiasts

Francis has blogged at length about the incredibly full day we had last Saturday, so I'm not going to repeat all the details he laid out. I'm more interested in getting at two specific experiences from the weekend that were thrilling at the time and have continued to resonate for me.

Saturday morning we both ran the Front Runners New York Lesbian and Gay Pride Run, a 5-mile race. That makes it sound as though Francis and I ran it together, though, and that's not true; our running paces are very different (he runs around an 8-minute mile; in Prospect Park I'm running 11-minute miles) and it would be silly for us to try to stay together. We did hang out until it was time to line up, then we wished each other a good run and we went to our starting places.

I ran well. I didn't walk at all until after I'd run two miles, and then when I walked it was just to bring down my pulse and calm my breathing a bit, so I could go back out a little more relaxed. My walks weren't long, and I recovered well from them and went back into running. I ended up finishing strong, running the last mile without walking at all, and ran through the finish to see Francis waiting for me, all smiles. I'd seen people along the race route with rainbow popsicles for the last quarter-mile or so, and I was pretty damned eager to get one. Gay-themed and yummy; what more could you want from a post-race treat?

Here's what I loved about the run: it was totally absorbing. More so than any of my actual training runs, I suppose partly because there was a real impetus to finish, partly because of having so many other people around. If I'd been made to predict before running my first race, I'd have imagined that having other runners on the course would be distracting, but back at my end of the pack it's not too crowded, and instead of providing a distraction, the runners provide me with this happy sense that we're all in it together, all us weirdos with our bib numbers and our running shoes, and I like having them there. It's the same camaraderie I feel from seeing folks out in Prospect Park, but heightened.

I felt terrifically aware of both my surroundings and my body. It was only the second time I'd run in Central Park, and only the second time I'd run five miles, and the newness of both things kept my mind enjoyably engaged. I did have one sort of weird spot in the middle, emotionally, where the distance started to seem a little long, and that's when I said to myself, "Wow, the marathon is over five times as long as this, are you really doing this?" I solved the emotional problem by telling myself that yes, in fact, I did seem to be doing this, and could I kindly shut the fuck up? Magically, I did shut the fuck up, and that was the end of the negative talk. The rest of the race was gorgeous. Taxing, sweaty, perfectly wonderful. I love how there are NYRR people at various points who shout bits of encouragement; I was wearing a distinctive t-shirt (a tank that says "runs like a girl" that I bought from marmalade.ca's Cafe Press site) and I have purple hair, so I would often get specific words of praise. That rocks! I had heard this was a good plan, and I will certainly do something special when I run the marathon in November.


So, as I was saying about the race, I was thrilled by how completely involving the experience was. That would have been satisfying enough, but then I went on to have another such experience, in a completely different context, the very next day.

I had been looking forward to the Ted Leo concert for weeks. It was at Irving Plaza, not a venue I have a lot of love for, but Francis and I managed to score standing space in the balcony right behind the sound guys, facing the center of the stage, so while we weren't near the stage, we had a perfect view, totally unobstructed. The first opening act was kind of eh (distressingly loud math rock); the second opening act I liked quite well, Francis agreed, and we ended up getting a CD of theirs. (That second band is Radio 4; they've toured with Ted Leo before, and they played a great, energetic set, full of nifty percussion and keyboards, and sounding just enough but not too much like Franz Ferdinand or the Futureheads.)

Then Ted Leo went on. I loved the show we saw last year at the Bowery Ballroom, and being neurotic, I had fretted that I somehow wouldn't be as transported by this one. Happily, I was wrong. It was still just Ted, his bass player (Dave Lerner), and his drummer (Chris Wilson). They are the tightest rock combo I think I have ever seen. Their songs, on the CDs, are incredibly fast, and then they come out and play them live, like, 10-15% faster. It's astonishing. It's a little hard to describe the music, but you can just go over to Ted Leo's website, click on "audio" and listen to some stuff for yourself. I suggest "Me and Mia," "Bleeding Powers," and "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone" for starters, but all the songs he's got posted are great; you might try "Loyal to My Sorrowful Country" to start getting a sense of how this guy both rocks and is writing thoughtful, interesting, political lyrics.

The concert itself captivated me. It's so hard, in the midst of a crazy, busy, overfull life, to stop multitasking and to just be someplace. To just experience the thing I am experiencing, and to not be thinking about the next thing or remembering the last thing: to be in the moment. That concert was a series of moments; being present for them was, most emphatically, not a problem. Just listening to recorded rock music can be exciting, of course, on headphones, or on speakers at home, or even in a club. But there's nothing like a live show by performers who are on; part of the thrill is that they themselves seem to be in a kind of flow state while they're performing; another observation I've made over the years is that performing so intensely is an extremely vulnerable thing for someone to get up and do, and doing it well forges an incredible connection with the audience. Other aspects of a great show are "simply" sensory—it's dark, and crowded, and the music is much louder than you could ever play it at home, and if the venue's competent the sound's sharp and the lighting on the band's interesting.

All those things I just described were true for the first band, whose music I didn't enjoy, and clearly they weren't enough to make up for music I didn't like; they were also true for the second band, whose music I enjoyed fairly well, and I could tell that it gave them a bit of a boost (in my books, at least). Then Ted and the guys came out, and the effect was overwhelming.

I'd be happy to watch and listen to Ted Leo play acoustic in a church basement; I've seen a video of him doing just that, and it was great stuff. He clearly doesn't need a particular setting to produce good music, and I don't need to be in one to appreciate it. Sunday night at Irving Plaza, though, I had one of my very favorite concert experiences ever. I was just there, hearing the music, watching the drummer nail every fucking beat, singing along sometimes, and not sometimes, and utterly intent on the show. I didn't want to be anywhere else but right there in that square foot of space for that length of time, and I can't think of any better definition of contentment.

Posted by Rose at June 30, 2005 11:54 PM


Ted Leo truly is one of the few songwriters who can write about politics and make me want to pump my fist in the air instead of claw my eyes out. To follow up "I want to take it to the president, him and all the cabinet, with a broom / I want to sweep the Halls of Arrogance, sweep the walls of the excrement of these baboons" with "But I respect and prize the covenant -- I respect the process, I respect the rules" (from the song "Shake the Sheets", for those of you following along at home) -- damn! Working within the system never sounded so subversive.

Posted by: Francis at July 1, 2005 05:10 PM

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