A Runner Reimagined

I recent­ly wrote my near­ly oblig­a­tory “some per­son­al news” post relat­ed to leav­ing my job in March. I’ve been work­ing in dig­i­tal and social since you need­ed to code the page you want­ed to pub­lish. That’s a not insignif­i­cant time spent in front of screens. From desk­tops and lap­tops to tablets and phones, I have been hit­ting refresh on feeds and streams my entire career. Being able to step back from them, even just a lit­tle bit, has been trans­for­ma­tive.

So what have I been doing with myself when I’m not jump­ing on calls?

I’ve been retrain­ing my brain. I’ve been con­sum­ing actu­al cul­ture in a way I haven’t since I was a music crit­ic. And, I’ve been run­ning.

Now, I’ve writ­ten about run­ning in the past. In fact, when I start­ed writ­ing this this morn­ing, I had to edit — and ulti­mate­ly delete — a post I start­ed writ­ing about run­ning last Octo­ber. Why? Because I began the post the way I always do, say­ing that I’d learned from the last time I suf­fered an overuse injury and how this time would be dif­fer­ent.

Well — spoil­er — it was­n’t. I prob­a­bly had my short­est stint of active run­ning yet. I was hob­bled with a weird and painful ankle injury that side­lined me all win­ter.

So what’s dif­fer­ent this time? For one, I’ve actu­al­ly stuck to my stat­ed prin­ci­ples each time I’ve writ­ten one of these posts. I start­ed run­ning 6 slow miles a day in March, then bumped to 10 per day in May and am now flirt­ing with 12 a day in July.

Best of all I’ve dis­cov­ered trail run­ning. I watch an absurd amount of ultra­run­ner YouTube now, notably stuff from Gin­ger Run­ner, but also stuff from out­door and sports brands like REI, Red Bull, Hoka One One and more. Watch How to Run 100 Miles and tell me it’s not dif­fer­ent from every piece of brand­ed con­tent you’ve ever seen. It inspired me. It cap­tures so much of what I’ve been chas­ing in life: the abil­i­ty to dis­con­nect and, well, #OptOut­side in a way that too few of us make time to do.

Because I can’t shut off the part of my brain that thinks about how con­tent can con­nect us to mean­ing, I’ve gone deep on out­door brands because I think that since REI went big with #OptOut­side they’ve real­ly cap­tured an ethos that many Amer­i­cans I know yearn for: the abil­i­ty to escape and push the bound­aries of what’s pos­si­ble. I think it’s what Stra­va got half right in its #GiveKu­dos cam­paign when they tried to con­nect inter­ac­tion on their app to some­thing dif­fer­ent from the hell­stream of polit­i­cal memes we see every time open our phones in the morn­ing. It’s a noble effort and one that I hope these brands con­tin­ue to pur­sue.

I know what you’re think­ing. This is where I announce my next race. You’re not wrong. I’m hop­ing to run my first ultra­ma­rathon — a mere 50K — in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber. I’ve got this!

Remembering Jack Ramsay

My dad died a week ago. We had a com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship.

What can I say about him? He was a mys­te­ri­ous man. I have few specifics. What I have are some details that paint a gauzy pic­ture of whom I under­stand him to be, or to have been.

I know that his child­hood was fraught. That his father was abu­sive. That his moth­er was abu­sive. He grew up in West Philadel­phia at 61st and Girard. He had a guardian angel in his aunt Helen, who was also his par­ents’ land­lord. I knew her. He loved her very much.

While details of his boy­hood were scarce, he told amaz­ing sto­ries about his ado­les­cence. As I’ve heard from many Philadel­phi­ans his age, every­one seemed to fight con­stant­ly. The vio­lence was spon­ta­neous and intense. A neigh­bor­hood goon would ter­ror­ize the trol­ley. The plot of land that became Samuel Gom­pers Ele­men­tary School was a Gangs of New York-esque bat­tle­field where my dad punched the lead singer of the Dovells in the nose, or so he claimed. They beat each oth­er with spin­dles from stoop stair­cas­es. Philadel­phia in the ’50s was wild.

He loved bas­ket­ball and played at Over­brook. The team was led by Walt Haz­zard. My dad told me that the top eight play­ers went on to play pro­fes­sion­al­ly. He was not among them.

To hear him tell it, Philadel­phia was so dan­ger­ous, he felt com­pelled to enlist. He claimed that going into the ser­vice saved him from Grater­ford. He joined the Navy and was an air­plane elec­tri­cian aboard the U.S.S. Ticon­dero­ga. I only recent­ly real­ized he was aboard dur­ing the Gulf of Tonkin inci­dent. He wit­nessed a pilot be butchered by a plane pro­peller. For all the sto­ries he would tell about surf­ing through­out Asia, the war deeply affect­ed him. He rarely spoke about it and was sharply crit­i­cal of those who reimag­ined them­selves as war heroes.

There’s anoth­er ellip­sis after he returns home. His dad — a WWI vet born in 1899 — dies in 1963, I think. He mar­ries my mom in 1974. He gets his degree in food mar­ket­ing from Saint Joe’s in ’75. He went at night. They moved to a farm­house in Gabelsville, PA that was built in 1760, where they raised sheep and hors­es.

I arrived in ’77 and my sis­ter in ’80.

He worked at GE, then Mar­tin Mari­et­ta, then final­ly Lock­heed Mar­tin for 40 years in Val­ley Forge. He was­n’t allowed to talk about what he did, but he brought home amaz­ing sou­venirs that his col­leagues got for him. I have a t‑shirt from the Yeltsin coup. I have a Sovi­et offi­cers hat and a KGB watch. I got a t‑shirt with an ele­phant that just said “Africa.”

He was an amaz­ing provider. He cared very deeply about us kids hav­ing a bet­ter child­hood than him. His abil­i­ty to cre­ate a life for us is unde­ni­able. He want­ed so bad­ly to take us to Hong Kong. We nev­er made that trip.

While our rela­tion­ship grew com­pli­cat­ed as I got old­er, I ulti­mate­ly under­stood that he was doing his very best. I hope he knew that I knew that, even if nei­ther of us was able to say it to each oth­er.

Love you, Dad. Give Aunt Helen a hug and a kiss for us.

Royal Trux at El Club

View this post on Insta­gram

Roy­al Trux!

A post shared by J T. Ram­say (@jtramsay) on

 

Let’s fake our way through Bad Blood for John.”

Neil Michael Hager­ty was try­ing des­per­ate­ly to get through a gor­geous, dis­as­trous set at El Club’s first birth­day par­ty with a Roy­al Trux clas­sic, ded­i­cat­ing it to Neg­a­tive Approach’s John Bran­non, the first son of Detroit hard­core. Hager­ty’s band­mate Jen­nifer Her­re­ma had spent most of the show seat­ed or lay­ing down onstage, join­ing in on vocals spo­rad­i­cal­ly.

It was every­thing I’d imag­ine it would be and more. Thrilled to see them back togeth­er again and back out on the road.

Grails — Deep Snow II

I met Grails in Fish­town, before or after a show upstairs at the old Cir­cle of Hope on Frank­ford, I don’t quite remem­ber. The show itself was phe­nom­e­nal. They were out in sup­port of  2007’s Black Tar Prophe­cies Vol 1–3, a col­lec­tion I real­ly enjoyed and a sound NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich describes as “doomy Amer­i­cana.”

He’s not wrong. After I heard, Earth­’s great 2005 album Hex: Or Print­ing in the Infer­nal Method, I was intox­i­cat­ed by this sound. For the unini­ti­at­ed, imag­ine an instru­men­tal sound­track to True Detec­tive Sea­son 1. For me, it was a coun­ter­point to what had start­ed to frus­trate me about freak folk pop­u­lar at the time.

The guys them­selves were real­ly great. I planned to inter­view them, but Fish­town Tav­ern was way too loud, so we end­ed up talk­ing about music and shout­ing at each oth­er like the reg­u­lars. I’d lat­er catch them when they came through on sub­se­quent tours and was sur­prised to see Emil Amos’ hold­ing down the drums for the mighty Om.

Chal­ice Hym­nal, their first record since 2011, is out in a few weeks. Check­ing out the new tunes on Tem­po­rary Res­i­dence’s Sound­cloud, it’s a depar­ture from that doomy Amer­i­cana sound. The title track has ele­ments of dub that were com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed.

Deep Snow II” is more of the fore­bod­ing pas­toral I fell in love with when I first heard the band. It’s less witchy and more space rock than the stuff they were doing 10 years ago, but it’s famil­iar in its tone and mood.

If there’s some­thing I espe­cial­ly love about 2017 musi­cal­ly, it’s that so many of the bands I loved as a music crit­ic are get­ting back togeth­er and mak­ing fan­tas­tic music. Grails are no excep­tion.

The New Pornographers — High Ticket Attractions

The New Pornog­ra­phers are an inter­na­tion­al trea­sure. Every­thing I wrote in this post I want to take back. Their only crime was giv­ing us so much joy. You have no idea how elat­ed I was to find their new song, “High Tick­et Attrac­tions,” from their forth­com­ing record, White­out Con­di­tions, post­ed to YouTube.

High Tick­et Attrac­tions” picks up where Brill Bruis­ers left off: uptem­po, vocal inter­play between Carl New­man and Neko Case, loaded with buzzy fun. It’s exact­ly what you’re look­ing for from them and they deliv­er.

The New Pornog­ra­phers are head­ed out on tour in sup­port. Shame they’re not com­ing to Detroit this time around, but if they’re com­ing to your town, don’t miss them. I regret every time I did. I’m hard pressed to think of a band that’s bet­ter at ban­ter.