April 14, 2019

On the Van Fleet Bandwagon

I have been having a bit of a laugh at myself lately. Here I am, nearly fifty years old and I am regularly rocking out to a band of four kids in their early twenties. By rocking out I mean downloading their music on Spotify and listening to it when I go for evening or afternoon walks, playing it on the TV through Chrome casting from my phone while I cook supper, hoping I am not bothering the neighbours. While they are not the only music I am listening to these days, I am fascinated with my fascination with this new band. I've been watching interviews online with them, reading reviews about them, both the favourable and the unfavourable, which I probably should do less of since other people's negative opinions about things usually worm their way into my heart and threaten to taint my opinion of something I was previously enjoying without reservation. The band in question rarely reads the press about themselves. They say doing so will affect their artistic process, so they purposely avoid reading the widely varying opinions about their music. I applaud that approach, especially for this young band which is attracting a huge fan base from all over the world, and have been touted as both 'the saviours of rock' and 'derivative and boring'. In just two years Greta Van Fleet has gone from playing for bikers in the bars and basement venues of their small hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan to arenas and sold out shows at festivals like Coachella and Lolapalooza. They have two EP's, one album, and a Grammy under their belt.

I have read that a lot of people my age are into Greta Van Fleet because they write the kind of pure, guitar-driven progressive rock and roll songs we grew up on. The comparisons of front man Josh to Robert Plant and their music to Led Zeppelin are everywhere and obvious when one listens to their hit songs 'Highway Tune' and 'Safari Song'. They draw upon their upbringing (Three of the band mates are brothers: Josh and Jake are twins, and Sam is the little brother they had to drag away from his homework after school to play bass for them. The drummer is a family friend, Dan.) in a musical and intellectual household for inspiration, and cite blues, jazz and world music as influences. Oddly enough, I was not a big Zeppelin fan. Their heyday was a bit before my time, and, thanks to my brother and his massive record collection, I really only tuned in to Robert Plant's voice during his Honeydrippers project. Along with most kids in my junior high school I was listening to a lot of Van Halen, Judas Priest, and The Scorpions in Grade 8, but quickly moved on to more alternative types of music along with the ever-present catchy New Wave of video-promoted pop music of the 80's, so I am wondering what it is about Greta Van Fleet that I find so attractive now.

If I were to critique them I would say I don't think Josh, the lead singer, does everything right. He has some weird vocal techniques honed in the days when the band used to practice in a barn on their family's property and he had to find a way to be heard above the amplifiers, but I don't really care because there is no denying this kid's huge talent. I know he will grow and evolve like every artist before him. I think what I appreciate about these guys is their energy, their youthful purity of intention, and their sheer willingness, in the words of The Magic School Bus' teacher Ms Frizzle, to 'take chances, make mistakes, and get messy' together in order to serve the music they feel compelled to offer the world. Their music feels honest to me, and although their lyrics aren't particularly deep, they reflect their age and experiences thus far. They aren't trying to be something they're not. They're just doing what they think is right and they carry the idealistic notion that a rock band can promote Peace and Love through their music. I don't expect anyone else I know to like them or appreciate what they are trying to do. Music hits us all in such different ways. I simply wish to give them a shout out for giving some of us older music-loving folks hope for the future.

In closing I will share a little conversation I had with my seventeen year old daughter, also, like two of her three siblings, a performer who happens to share many of the character traits I appreciate about the band:

Me: I just watched this interview with Greta Van Fleet. I just loved their answers to the questions asked of them. They are so young, but so smart. I hope they can stay the course.

Daughter: You should go see them live and meet them.

Me: Yeah, and then I will put them in my pocket, take them home and feed them supper.

Daughter: You want to be their mom.

Me: No, they have a mom already and she wouldn't like that. I will settle for a kind of adopted aunt role.

Hey, Josh, Jake, Sam and Dan, the invitation stands.

Highway Tune, live in Toronto

January 6, 2019

Running on Twenty

When my third child turned twenty-two this past November I realized that my adult relationship with running had reached the twenty year mark.

Emma was thirteen months when we moved from a roomy four bedroom home a few blocks from our city's downtown to an outdoor education center in the mountains of central Vancouver Island. The Lodge was a forty minute drive to the nearest grocery store/school/movie theater/Starbucks/mall/anyone I knew, and while I had always wanted to try living in a cabin by a lake in the woods, I also felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under my comfortable, convenient life and said, 'Here, deal with this!' The fact that I was under thirty and a mother of three only complicated the situation. A community of sorts lived year round at the Lodge. Anyone near my age had no children. The people with children were older than me and much wiser, and I was admittedly, a little intimidated. Fortunately, I made friends fairly easily and soon found companions to walk and hike with. Walking and hiking did not prove quite enough to ease my hemmed-in feeling and so I decided to start running again - something I had done as a child and young teenager in school. In a relatively short period of time - Keep in mind I was under thirty - I was running two and a half kilometers out the highway and turning around to run most of the way back. The way was rolling and the shoulder was decently wide, so I felt safe and challenged enough. I loved that I could cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, and so began my love affair with running. 

We lived at the Lodge for just over five years. In that time, I grew in confidence and fitness. My husband was proud to be able to think of his wife as something of an athlete for the first time ever. He bought me a subscription to Runner's World magazine. He came home for lunch every day, so often I would make lunch, say hello to him and leave immediately to go running. When my runs got longer I made supper, greeted my husband after work and ran while he and the kids ate and did the dishes. I ran every second day with a long run once a week. In my third year of running my friend Bridged who ran with a group of marathoners invited me to a group trail run. We did over sixteen kilometers that day and I knew I was well on my way to a half marathon at least. Part way through the run, however, I became exceedingly hungry. One of the women gave me an energy bar and I finished the run strong. The women in the group invited me to the next run. I was in! 

A couple of weeks later I discovered I was pregnant. 

I ran for the first few weeks of my pregnancy, and then I had to stop due to my usual morning sickness. Katie was born the following October, and within seven weeks I was running again, but not quite the same distances as before. She used to cry when I left to go anywhere, but eventually even she became used to my running and would sit on the stairs while I put on my shoes and say, "Goin' for a wun, mummy?" Running was my stress reliever, my fitness tracker, my way to get out and away from my busy household only to return fresh and energized. We moved to the Lower Mainland and I enjoyed discovering new running routes.

I have entered a few fun runs, run the annual Terry Fox run with my children's elementary school many times, but I have yet to enter one of the big runs - the Sun Run, or the Vancouver Marathon, or any of those. I am waiting until I have the time and brain space to train properly for a half marathon. I plan to celebrate my fiftieth year with a long run, whether it's alone or with other people doesn't matter. I have run by myself for most of my running career. I don't listen to music when I run. The silence and my footfall is enough music for me. My favourite times are when I get into what the running gurus call The Zone - when my run becomes rhythmic and seemingly effortless, and I just go as if carried by wings. A lot of my best thinking happens on my runs. 

These days I run often with my sister. We talk about our kids and our jobs and our aging mother who has dementia now. I enjoy these times very much. Other times, like this morning, I run alone. Once upon a time when I was younger and I didn't happen to feel like running that day it took me about ten minutes to get into a groove. I would tell myself, just get dressed, get out, and if in ten minutes you don't feel good turn around. I never turned around. These days it can take me up to thirty minutes to get into a groove, but that is okay. I recognize that my age is a factor, and if I want to keep running for many more years, which I do, I have to keep adapting and adjusting to what my body tells me. I have always stretched for about twenty minutes after a run. I am not a person who could go for a long run and then immediately go for coffee or a beer. My body would hate me. At the local Terry Fox run a couple of years ago I found a corner of the gym afterwards and stretched. A few people looked strangely at me, but I just had to do it. Stretching prevents injury and helps me work out the tightness in my muscles and in my back. I also credit my chiropractor, massage therapist, and whoever it was that invented yoga for helping keep me mobile and moving forward. 

Getting outside and putting one foot in front of the other is in my DNA. My family are all great walkers. I just happen to find it also enjoyable - sometimes more so - to run, and so I will keep on as long as I can. Several years ago my family bought me a t-shirt with the slogan, "Gotta run". It's true. I gotta.