What I Think About When I Think About Nothing

When I first started running, I listened to music, podcasts, whatever. It was hard for me to run a mile without stopping or walking. I needed something to distract me from the pain, the labored breathing, and the embarrassment of being a fat person running. The music was a way to wall off the world while also not having to deal with the thoughts in my head. I could be in a limbo that was not of the world and not of my own psyche. It was an oblivion that I’ve dangerously flirted with for the bulk of my days. 

It was quite messy out at Pandapas Pond today.
It was quite messy out at Pandapas Pond today.

As I gained confidence and fitness, I came to feel more comfortable being out there in the world. I got more comfortable with my own thoughts. I learned to process them. I learned to leave them on the trail. I’d run by them like landmarks that represented some lost time and place; a history with which I no longer needed to wrestle. Catharsis then came in the form of the rhythm of my feet and my breathing. Those sounds beat out a pattern that made sense of my petites folies.

So, now I run with no headphones and since I almost always run alone, I have moments where my mind feels completely blank. Every so often, I song lyric or phrase gets stuck in there and becomes a mantra. One of these recurring mantras is “relentless forward progress” which I picked up from Bryon Powell’s book of the same name.

Today, I had two wonderful mantras chasing me around Pandapas Pond for 20 miles. Since this was going to be my longest run ever and I’ve been way behind on my training, I decided to alternate running a mile and then walking a mile. In my head, this became “run to the odds, walk to the evens” meaning I ran the first, third, fifth, etc. mile and walked the even numbered miles. 

The second mantra was the title of the song “A Man is a Pent-up Thing” by my second favorite band of all-time, Five Eight. The song itself is genius because it never resolves. There’s no crescendo and it’s simply minute after minute of tension with the chorus reminding us that “a man is a pent-up thing.” Today, that line repeated in my head and it felt like this energy and drive to be better was waiting to explode out of me. The pain and fatigue gets turned into the fuel to keep turning the legs over. Keep the feet flapping down the street. Release that pent-up power and do something with it.

If you could be in my head while I’m running, you’d likely think I was boring because there’s only ever four or five thoughts cycling through it. But then, that’s part of why I do it. I’m running to find that place of crystalline thought that allows my subconscious to process all the nonsense it builds up over time. There’s lots of research about how music increases your athletic performance but that pales in importance to what I discover about myself when I let my brain stew a bit.

I know everyone does their own thing out on a run, but try running without music for a week or two and see what you discover about how your head works.

Jason Isbell Rocked Roanoke

On Friday, at the last minute, I was able to acquire two front-row seats to see Jason Isbell at the Berglund Center in Roanoke. Danielle and I have seen Jason Isbell play several times before in varying situations. We saw him in a small rock club in Chattanooga and at the Ryman in Nashville. I’ve also seen him at record store promo gigs. While each show had its own character and vibe, the constant is always Isbell’s strong storytelling and gorgeously subtle melodies that stick with you long after the show.

Solid seats to catch a rock show.
Solid seats to catch a rock show.

We arrived in Roanoke just in time to catch a few songs by the opener Anderson East who was giving it all trying to elicit some attention and excitement from a crowd still filtering in. I’m sure it was a tough gig warming up a big room full of seated adults and East was gamely pulling people into his set. I really appreciate what East does with his tinge of retro sound made modern through an adaptable voice and a solid band.

Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, played a set with a strong mix of older songs, including long-standing favorites, Decoration Day and Dress Blues, with newer songs off the recently released album, Something More than Free. I was impressed at the flow of the set with some rocking jams leading into admittedly downbeat tunes like Elephant. The entire show was kicked off with an amazing version of Cover Me Up that built from an acoustic base into a full-band rock out.

The Berglund Center is an interesting place to see a show. This was my first time there. It’s really set up for plays and maybe more sedate concerts. It’d be interesting to see how they set it up for more raucous shows. The sound was phenomenal even though we were in the front row which often has pretty sound though we were only feet from the stage.

It was a show that didn’t suffer from the overly reverent and sedate vibe Isbell had at the Ryman and a decent dose of the loud rock we saw from him in Chattanooga. I recommend getting out there and checking him out on this tour.

Sadly, he did not play one of my favorite songs of the Southeastern album, “Live Oak.” I contend that the song owes a debt to Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country which is my second or third favorite book of all time. I highly recommend reading that if you get a chance.

Shadow Country (Modern Library Paperbacks)

$14.73

By Peter Matthiessen

Aural History – Show 35 – New Music and More

It’s my first time mentioning this on my blog, but I do a (ostensibly) weekly podcast/radio show where I play music and talk a little bit about the songs and artists. It’s a mix of older music and new. It runs pretty eclectic but has a strong vein of Indie Rock, Americana, and College Rock with occasional tangents into Rock en EspaƱol and electronic soundscapes.

Hello Seahorse! is an alternative pop band hailing from Mexico City.
Hello Seahorse! is an alternative pop band hailing from Mexico City.

This week, the show features the Drive-By Truckers, Josh Ritter, Guy Garvey, and Hello Seahorse! I also share a little Walt Whitman and speak a bit about the terrorist attacks in Paris. I hope you’ll give it a listen below.

https://www.mixcloud.com/widget/iframe/?embed_type=widget_standard&embed_uuid=d6c29b56-270c-4864-aba5-fada87366861&feed=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mixcloud.com%2Faezell%2Faural-history-show-35%2F&hide_cover=1&hide_tracklist=1&replace=0

Aural History – Show 35 by Alex Ezell on Mixcloud