#projectfemur turns 2.0: osteonecrosis

I know, I know: it’s been a long while since my last update on… well, anything. For this, I apologize.

Heck, two years ago this week, I went on one of my first club bike rides after my surgery.

First club ride after surgery, August 9, 2014.

It was awesome – as was the 2015 riding season!

During the 2015-16 winter season, I had a really successful alpine ski coaching experience, helping my athletes qualify for elite regional championship competitions.

Coach Rudi at Sunday River, March 2016

That rocked!

But there was a specter lurking in the background. It is a single word:

osteonecrosis

Also known as avascular necrosis, it’s a condition where blood supply gets cut off within a bone, causing the bone to die. It is caused by any number of things, and I’m not sure how I happened to develop it, but it’s there, clear as day, in my femoral head.

Avascular necrosis has taken over my femoral head - not good.
Avascular necrosis has taken over my femoral head – not good.

How did my discovery of this come about?

Let’s do a quick recap:

After my one year surgery anniversary, things were good:

My femoral head, one year after its repair.
My femoral head, one year after its repair.

See that nice, round femoral head? See the clean mending of where I was once broken in two? All good!

I skied in 2014-15. I rode my bike a lot once I was free to ride outdoors. I hiked. I ran.

But then things went off the rails.

Back around Thanksgiving of 2015, I started to feel a bit of pain and catching in my right hip. It was here-and-gone stuff, and while my hip had always been a bit stiff in the morning, until then it had been able to get into the swing of things rather quickly on most days.

But by late November, the pain was more intense, sharper, and sustained. Sure, it would go away after a little while, but sometimes it would just stay there all day. Ibuprofen would calm the pain most of the time, but not all of the time. And I’d get a real nerve pinch down my adductor (I believed this to be a lingering side-effect of tearing said adductor a few years before my femur break).

As the ski season commenced, the pain continued to intensify. When I flew out to Utah for a USSA certification clinic, some of the on-snow exercises were tough to pull off. I noticed a decreasing ability to lift my right leg laterally. Every afternoon after the skiing was over, I’d spend time in the hot tub at my hotel, then stretch to try and loosen my hip, often to only semi-successful levels.

During a bike ride over the Christmas holidays in Connecticut, my right adductor would lock up in a painful way, and my hip would mis-track, causing my entire pedal stroke to degrade into spasmodic chaos – no fun. And a ski camp that occurred immediately thereafter was equally pain-laden, though skiing wasn’t too difficult to pull off without pain.

However, as the ski season continued (I was coaching four days per week all season long, sometimes more during intense racing times, from January through mid-March), the pain grew, the pain medications were less effective, and certain activities required in my work (e.g. having to drive long-ish distances to racing venues, skiing with large, heavy bundles of slalom gates, etc.) became downright excruciating. I’d demonstrate skills to my racers, trying to mask the pain in my expression. I even fell on the screws that attached my femoral head during the initial healing time, which was not pleasant at all, smarting for weeks.

Every day was masked in hip pain that would, at times, radiate down my leg. My walking gait became so labored and awkward that everybody could tell something was wrong. At least on a bike, I could be more-or-less normal, my December pain eventually subsiding as I began to ride more in the spring. But my range of motion in my right leg was compromised, catching in painful ways and making me feel like an old, helpless man.

Eventually, I had to clear things up with my orthopedist. X-rays happened, finding that one of the screws in the femoral head had been knocked through the head, the tip impinging my hip socket and possibly dragging over nerve bundles that travel down my leg. My doctor thought this could be part of the cause of the pain, and said that the screws should come out – a simple outpatient procedure.

My femoral head as of June 2016.
My femoral head as of June 2016.

Worrying both my doctor and me, though, was a random bone fragment that showed itself on another X-ray. As X-rays don’t show things in three dimensions, he ordered a CT scan for my right hip. I had it performed at GW Hospital, in their latest CT scanner (a very quiet machine).

When my doctor called me two days later from an out-of-town conference, I knew things were not good.

He kept it simple: I had osteonecrosis, and am facing total hip replacement.

Fuck. Damn. Shit. Why? How? Fuuuuuuuuck!

I received this news a few days before departing for a week long family vacation at Cape Cod, which left me plenty of time to digest this news and start researching my options. There is a lot to learn about hip replacement, that’s for sure!

The long and short: I’ll get back my leg length and range of motion with any hip replacement method, which is a big plus. The minus is that anything other than basic cruising on alpine skis is highly discouraged, as it can displace, dislocate, or fully break the replacement hip. I hope to speak with some elite ski coaches who have had THR to get their perspectives on living with a replacement hip as a high-level skier.

I’ve since seen a second orthopedist to get a second opinion – major medical things like this should get a second opinion – and he confirmed the same diagnosis as my original doctor. He did, however, recommend having the hardware from #projectfemur removed first (the same thing my original orthopedist recommended), allowing the femur to adjust to a non-titanium-enhanced state and to prevent possible infection of the marrow channel if I get a total hip replacement during the same surgery.

And that’s what I’m going to do this coming Monday, August 15th, with my original doctor, Dr. Faucett, doing the honors. It’s a short, outpatient procedure, and recovery should be fairly quick. Hopefully, getting the screws out of my hip socket will alleviate much of the leg pain I have these days – and it is a lot of pain, lemme tell ‘ya!

But I look forward to this next chapter of #projectfemur – and yes, it’ll need a new hashtag. I’ll figure that out sometime soon.

Once the incisions heal and swelling subsides from this upcoming surgery, I’ll assess my pain levels. And I’m going to keep riding my bike – something that’s encouraged by both doctors to maintain strength and cardiovascular health (trust me, I don’t want another pulmonary embolism or similar issue). I’ll be on crutches for a few days, then a cane, then just plain walking again.

And then the bike – definitely the bike.

It’ll be a minimum of two months before I dive into the more major procedure of total hip replacement. Hopefully I’ll get enough pain relief to delay this until spring of 2017 – and thus will be able to ski and perform my coaching duties more-or-less as usual. If not, surgery will likely happen later in the fall, and I’ll be coaching from a lawn chair. I’m up to the challenge, either way.

But right now my focus is on Monday’s surgery. And I apologize in advance to the ski team’s board of directors: I may be a bit groggy during the evening conference call that evening. Heheheheh…

A Chapter Closes in My Life (i.e. Thanks, Dave!)

A quick post (yeah, it’s been too long) about the retirement of David Letterman:

As most people know, Letterman left NBC on less-than-happy terms in the spring of 1993.

I left Salt Lake City, Utah, for Connecticut (for both happy and less-than-happy reasons) in August of 1993.

And the week after I arrived in Connecticut after a cross-country journey in my little Dodge Raider, Dave launched The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS (“the Tiffany network”).

I remember watching his first CBS shows from the living room of the group house I called home in Rocky Hill. I had just signed on to a job (Assistant Manager at the Wethersfield outlet of Strawberries Music), and was relieved to have found a source of income. Everything would be OK.

I sensed the same relief in Dave’s first week of CBS shows: he’d landed on his feet, and everything would be OK.

Now Dave has ended his 33 year experiment on television, from his fitful start on daytime TV, to two successful, groundbreaking, thoroughly enjoyable late night shows that blew apart the paradigm set by Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He was equal parts silly teenager and old grump, wearing his flaws on his sleeve and able to parry and dodge with the most evasive of guests. He was a master interviewer when he chose to be, and a first-rate smart ass just as often.

Along the way, he moved the goalposts for all late night television hosts to follow. The Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel), Conan O’Brien, Seth Myers, Craig Kilborn, Craig Ferguson, and James Corden all owe their shows to Dave.

(A special nod to Craig Ferguson, to my eyes the only late night host to push the medium beyond Dave’s model by further deconstructing the tried-and-true Carson formula.)

His final episode ran long, and rightfully so. He didn’t want to leave any member of his Worldwide Pants family unrecognized. He wanted to give the CBS Orchestra (still the World’s Most Dangerous Band) their full due. His face beamed when he recognized his wife and son in the audience. And he let the Foo Fighters play him out.

I feel lucky to have attended two tapings of Dave’s show, both times with Sam, back in the late 1990s, both times ending up in the 3rd row, right in front of Dave’s desk (I must’ve impressed the producers who interview the audience while it queues in the lobby to score great seats twice). Seeing the show in person was a treat, especially hearing Paul Shaffer and the band play full-length songs. These are NYC memories I’ll always cherish.

With Dave leaving the TV landscape, a chapter in my life comes to a close. It happens shortly after another chapter in my life closed (my job at Georgetown University), so it seems strangely appropriate.

So thank you, Dave. May your retirement be full of happy memories with Harry and Regina.

the one year anniversary of #projectfemur: quite the ride

It’s now been a whole year since #projectfemur began.

On January 11, 2014, a simple, tumbling fall while trying to avoid hitting a tree brought forth a broken femur, surgery, bilateral pulmonary embolism, and months of tough physical therapy.

One year later, I’m essentially back to normal. The leg is strong. I’m walking and running normally. My flexibility is closer to my “normal” every day. I’m riding my bike again. I’m back on skis and smiling every time I carve a high-speed GS turn on hardpack or ski the trees through deep powder.

I have many people to thank for this. My orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Scott Faucett, put me back together again with skill and kindness. The doctors and physical therapists at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (especially Claire and Katie, my OT and PT, respectively) kicked my butt (and my arms) back into shape. The pulmonologists at George Washington University Hospital helped me through my pulmonary embolisms. And the superior physical therapy skills of Scott Epsley and Megan Poll at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital have finessed my stride and balance back to full power.

Most of all, though, I need to thank my family and friends for being there throughout this injury and recovery. From sprite and her undying love and support, even when I’ve been a really annoying, petulant, or grumpy gus, to my mom and dad and sprite’s folks, the family support has been nothing but awesome. And to all of the friends who called, wrote, visited me in the hospital, took me to lunch, lent an empathetic ear, and made me smile and laugh when I felt like crap: you are all rock stars and I love you all.

It’s been a long, strange year, full of ups and downs. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my potential, and I’ll be channeling this resolve quite a bit in 2015. #projectfemur is a way of life for me now, a rallying call, and as I continue to heal and progress, it’s an arrow in my life’s quiver.

And how did I spend the day today, you may ask? I was coaching the Liberty Mountain Racing Team athletes, even taking on Lower Ultra with some high-speed GS turns, smiling the whole time, thanking all of the ski patrollers I saw. Many remember my case from last year, and they smiled back knowingly. The image at the top of this post was snapped this morning, just after arriving at Liberty Mountain for my coaching day.

Days since injury: 366
Days since surgery: 365

last call 2014: a (somewhat little known) tradition continues

For the past 10 years, I’ve had a year-end music mix that I give to friends and family. It started out as That Was The Year That Was, a compilation of favorite tracks from the previous year, with the title copped from a Tom Lehrer LP. Starting in 2005, it became Last Call, and that name stuck.

The whole thing started out as a CD (remember those?), and some years it spanned two discs. Of late, I’ve only rattled off one hard copy for sprite’s dad, and otherwise have distributed the mix via the Internet as MP3 files.

This year, in addition to the MP3 version and the one-off-CD, I’ve decided to use online streaming services to share the mix with you. Aside from one track (where I offer a substitute of the same song by the same act), everything is out there.

“Little Maggie” – Robert Plant

This is the opening track from my favorite album of 2014, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (weird capitalization intentional). Plant’s extended U.S. journey complete, he recorded this album back in the UK, fusing his worldwide influences to traditional English songs. The sound is an intoxicating blend of beats and blues.

“Cherry Licorice” – The Felice Brothers

This brother act sounds like a modern day interpretation of late-60s Dylan, perhaps with a bit more harmony and the ability to carry a tune. They playfully jangle through their songs.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Bruce Springsteen

This was the title track on Springsteen’s all-acoustic album from 2xxx, but here the song is reinvented around part-time E Streeter Tom Novello’s searing lead guitar.

“Nervana” – Pink Floyd

This is a bonus track from the album that most – including me – never thought would happen. I like this track because it centers on the interplay between Gilmour, Wright, and Mason: it’s a truly collaborative effort, and it shines as a result.

“Digital Witness” – St. Vincent

My runner-up for album of the year is St. Vincent’s eponymous album. Annie Clark’s songwriting is at full power on this album, and the whole collection of songs is a tour de force. This particular track, about the often disconcerting influence of the rapid-fire digital information age, grabs you and shakes you – awesome stuff.

“Word Crimes” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

Robin Thicke’s “original” (which was a note-for-note reworking of a Marvin Gaye song, according to an in-progress lawsuit) is a misogynist’s wet dream. Yankovic decides to write about poor grammar, and the song improves one hundred percent – if not more.

“Invisible (RED Edit)” – U2

The best song the boys from Dublin released in 2014 never made their album. They performed this song live during the premiere episode of Jimmy Fallon’s reboot of The Tonight Show. Given Bono’s recent bicycle accident, it may have been the band’s last performance of this song for a while.

“Bad Self Portraits” – Lake Street Dive

This band has such talent, and they showcase it in full force on their 2014 album, Bad Self Portraits. I hear they put on a great live show, too, though I’ve not had the chance to see them yet. I do know that their live gigs sell out quickly, so if you hear that they’re coming to your town, it’s best to snap up the tickets quickly.

“Your Love Is Killing Me” – Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten is developing into a wonderfully complex singer-songwriter, and her latest album, Are We There, shows a new level of maturity and depth of themes (not that she was lacking either in her previous work).

“Bad Dream (The Theme)” – Nick Thorburn

Did you listen to the Serial podcast? If so, you’ll recognize this track as the show’s theme. It’s simple and spare, and worked well for the show (and for this mix).

“Maggie Said” – Natalie Merchant

I’m not normally a fan of Natalie Merchant (her singing through and then past the note isn’t my cuppa), but this is a great song and ties in well with the opening track of this collection. So…. here it is.

“All About That Bass (feat. Kate Davis)” – Postmodern Jukebox

Sure, Meagan Trainor’s version was the hit, but this trad jazz interpretation is such fun, and brings a more mature, smoky angle to the hit song. I chose to use the YouTube version here because you see the band performing it live (and this is the recording on the official release, as well).

“Down In The Willow Garden (Take One – Electric)” – The Everly Brothers

Sadly not available online, this is a recently-unearthed gem from the 2014 reissue of their Songs Our Daddy Taught Us LP. Last year, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones covered this album, track for track. If you can track down this CD, it’s worth the money. For now, here’s one of Don and Phil’s last live performances of the song, dating back to 2005.

“Going To California (mandolin & guitar mix)” – Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page has been on a slow march remastering kick for the Led Zeppelin catalog, and the remaster of their incredible fourth album was released in 2014. While the bonus tracks weren’t quite as amazing as I (and many other fans) hoped, the instrumental-only versions of the two acoustic songs on the album are sonic gems.

“Waitress Song” – First Aid Kit

They’re Swedes! They’re sisters! And the harmonies they produce are simply stunning. This is an act that rocketed up the charts in 2014, and while they’d likely be a perfect fit for, say, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, methinks they’re now a bit… big for such an event.

“A Sky Full Of Stars” – Coldplay

While Coldplay’s latest album isn’t quite as strong as their previous work, it’s not really lacking, either. This song is fairly standard Chris Martin fare, and it bounces along nicely.

“Real Love” – Tom Odell

The British retailer, John Lewis, is known for gorgeous holiday adverts. 2014’s ad featured this haunting version of John Lennon’s “Real Love,” and the moment I heard this rendition it was stuck in my mind – superb.

“Hope For The Future” – Paul McCartney

Macca’s big release for 2014 was a song for… a video game. Destiny was one of the big video game releases of the year, and somehow Macca landed a track in the game. The video features the Fab singer in the game’s environment as a hologram. And the sentiment of the song matches my theme for 2015…

Happy New Year, one and all!

Last Call 2014 cover

bringing it all back home: #projectfemur hits the slopes

Well, it was bound to happen: last Saturday, I donned my trusty Lange boots, clicked into a well-worn pair of skis, and got on a chairlift.

Destination: to ski again, this time at Mount Snow, Vermont.

I happened to be up north for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, staying with sprite’s folks in north-central Connecticut. We drove up to Connecticut in a winter storm that produced much rain, freezing rain, sleet, graupel, and snow, arriving to a wet, 5-inch accumulation in Connecticut. But that same storm dumped 12-14 inches of fresh, fluffy snow on top of a very good man-made base at Mount Snow, so my choice of venue made sense. Also, it’s only 90-or-so minutes from sprite’s folks’ place, so the drive isn’t an all-day time suck.

I arrived at the resort about 20 minutes before the lifts started turning, and there was already a large queue at the Bluebird Express lift, the only chair serving the summit of the mountain. That was fine by me, as I wanted to start my day on something a bit less of a full commitment. So, after picking up my lift ticket (pro tip: buy online in advance, it saves a decent amount of money), I donned my skis, tightened the strap on my new Briko helmet, and proceeded to the Canyon Express lift, which serves the lower half of Mount Snow’s front face.

As I rode solo on the lift (all of the crowd – and I mean all of it – was heading toward the summit on Bluebird), I surveyed the open terrain: two rolling intermediate-level slopes, recently groomed, with excellent snow cover. I assessed my legs, and both seemed up to the task. I did have a little trepidation, as I wasn’t able to get a needed shim installed on my right boot to compensate for the loss of femoral length (1.5 cm) on #projectfemur. But this was going to be a low-key, low-speed day, so being a little bit out of balance wasn’t a big deal.

Most of all: I was elated to be back on skis!

As I promised myself and friends, I took it easy. The lack of shims on my right boot meant that turns involving said foot would be awkward, and that flat-footed gliding would be nigh-on-impossible. But, just like riding a bike, the feel came back. My back wasn’t in the best of shape (strained it a week prior), so I decided to mete out my runs in small chunks. Eventually, I waded into the crowd to catch a ride to the summit, where I snapped the panorama you see at the top of this post – it was a beautiful day, ideal for skiing and being outdoors.

After three runs of short-swing, slow GS turns, and stance drills, I retreated to the base lodge for coffee and some light stretching while I waited for the lunch spot to open. I figured that taking an early lunch would allow me to enjoy shorter queues as the crowds ate.

As you can see, the queue for Bluebird Express was quite large while I ate my chili and enjoyed a local microbrew (and Canyon Express was handling the overflow, and had a decently long queue, as well):

After lunch, I decided to explore more of the open terrain at the mountain, heading over to the Carinthia area. Yes, it’s technically a terrain park, but this early in the season most of the runs are groomed, without the rails, jumps, and other trappings of the park crowd. The snow was soft and easy on my legs and back, and I was able to enjoy a slow ride up one of the few old-school, fixed grip lifts remaining at Mount Snow.

I skied until 1:45pm or so, as my lower back started to ache and impede my skiing motions. I managed nine runs for the day, soaking in each one as I did my first outdoor bike rides back in August. There was a lot of smiling, laughing, and joyful yodeling easily traced back to me.

Yes, there’s work to be done – namely, getting my right boot shimmed and re-aligned to the new reality of #projectfemur. But it was skiing, it was brilliant, I was back in my element – home, again.

use the road safely (in memory of sam felder)

One year ago today, my friend, Sam Felder, was riding his bicycle to work, as he did most days. He said goodbye to his wife and daughter, then set off for his office at Facebook.

Only on November 18, 2013, he never arrived at work. Instead, he was struck by a car at a dangerous intersection. He suffered severe brain trauma, spent time in multiple hospitals and rehab centers, and eventually succumbed to his injuries on April 11, 2014.

Given I’m a year-round bicycle commuter, and given Sam was a big-time proponent of using a bicycle for everyday tasks (and for making the roads safe for everybody), here’s my plea to all users of the road:

If you drive a car/van/truck, please be mindful of your fellow road users, especially the most vulnerable: pedestrians and cyclists. Obey the posted speed limits. Stop at all stop signs and red lights. Check your blind spots. Use your turn signals. Give cyclists at least 3 feet (1 meter) of clearance when passing. Only pass cyclists and other motorists when absolutely safe. Never use your cell phone while driving. Never text while driving. And don’t get angry at slower road users, as they have every right to be on the road.

If you ride a bicycle, please be mindful of you fellow road users, including fellow cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. Make eye contact with drivers. Ride courteously, but visibly. Wear bright clothing, especially if you ride before sunrise or after sunset. Use lights when it’s dark or raining. Indicate what you plan to do with clear hand signals. Don’t run red lights or stop signs – ever. Ride predictably. Don’t talk on your phone or text while riding. Be kind to your fellow rider, and encourage your fellow cyclists to do the same. And don’t snap at motorists: you win more fans with kindness than anger.

If you are a pedestrian (including runners), please be mindful of your fellow road users. Be visible, especially at night, and wear bright clothing. Don’t tune out the entire world with your music, as hearing is a safety mechanism. Make eye contact with your fellow road users. Don’t jog in bike lanes – ever. Smile. Act predictably.

For any mode: be the best advocate you can be for complete streets.

Above all: be safe. It’s the least that Sam would want as his legacy. If you can, chip in a few bucks in Sam’s honor to The Alliance for Biking and Walking. Volunteer with your local cycling or pedestrian advocacy organization. If you drive, join an auto club that also supports cycling and walking.

And say “I love you” to your loved ones. Hold them close. Show them you care.

R.I.P., Sam Felder. And we love you, Julie and Sylvia.

(Cover photo by Sam Felder, covered by Creative Commons.)

ten on tuesday: the music died too young

The first of two (!) posts today, inspired by Carole’s typical prodding. Her topic: list ten musicians who you wish were still on this mortal coil.

  1. John Lennon. Need anything be said here?
  2. George Harrison. Again, need anything be said?
  3. Otis Redding. He finally had mainstream success the week he died. Such a voice…
  4. Buddy Holly. I think he would’ve given The Beatles a run for their money in the early 60s.
  5. Freddie Mercury. Even though his voice was damaged from smoking and his failing health, he brought the show. And now that homophobia isn’t a thing in rock, I think he would’ve flourished.
  6. Eva Cassidy. She was blessed with a wonderful voice, but was only hitting the big time when cancer struck her down.
  7. Keith Moon. I think he had a lot left in him, and The Who was never the same after his passing.
  8. Jon Entwistle. Same goes for “The Ox,” whose bass lines and licks were always stunning.
  9. Rick Wright. The quietest member of a quiet band. His keyboard sound was the glue of Pink Floyd, and his recent work with David Gilmour was most lovely.
  10. Janis Joplin. Oh, those blues. Oh, what a self-destructive life.

I could carry on: Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Dusty Springfield, Cass Elliot, and so many more deserve to be on this list. But that’s my ten.

Anybody you’d add to this list? Leave a comment!

(Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.)

music review: “the endless river” by pink floyd (a bit of a #tbt moment)

I never thought I’d write a review of a new Pink Floyd studio album, given a few key facts:

  1. The band hadn’t recorded anything since the sessions for The Division Bell in 1993 and 1994.
  2. Rick Wright, the band’s keyboardist, died in 2008.
  3. The still-living members – David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and (even though he’s not legally part of the bad anymore) Roger Waters – seemed content with solo projects and sitting in on other artists’ recordings.
  4. The only recent activity from the band, as a whole, has been reissues and “best-of” compilations, due in no small part to their jump between record labels.

Hell, the last time a new Pink Floyd album was released (the live P.U.L.S.E. set with the fancy LED blinker), I was in college and looked like this (my #tbt moment for this post):

My mugshot from the Connecticut College Voice, 1995 - oh, the hair...

Yes, bits and bats of new stuff were released over the years, primarily in the form of bonus discs in the three “Immersion Edition” box sets for The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall. But these were still reissues and not entire albums of new material (yes, my purchase of the Dark Side set marked the 5th CD copy I’ve owned of the album – collectors, I tell ‘ya). Frankly, I thought the band was truly finished, and I was completely OK with that notion.

That said, this past Monday a package awaited at my door: the new Pink Floyd studio album, The Endless River.

The Endless River has arrived!

This album has been over 20 years in the making. In fact, one song – “August 68” – features an organ track dating back to that very year, recorded on the sly at Royal Albert Hall. Most of the sessions date back to the era of The Division Bell in 1993-94, with the presumed best picks used for the aforementioned album.

However, this album was originally intended (depending on who you ask and when) to either be a two-disc set (one disc of ambient instrumentals, the other featuring lyrical songs), or the precursor to an instrumental collection called The Big Spliff.

Yet these sessions ended up mostly forgotten in the Pink Floyd vaults (likely in David Gilmour’s personal archive), while the members of the band went their separate ways after the huge Division Bell tour. Wright went on to record and release his excellent solo album, Broken China, in 1996. Gilmour retired to life as a husband (to author Polly Samson) and occasional session musician. Mason worked on an exhaustive biography of Pink Floyd, called Inside Out. In 2006, Wright worked with Gilmour on the latter’s On An Island, with both embarking on a short supporting tour for the album.

(And sure: in 2005, Waters joined the other three for a one-off reunion at Live 8 – but that’s neither here nor there, other than being an excellent performance.)

So when word leaked that, sometime in 2012, Gilmour and Mason dusted off the old Big Spliff tapes and were compiling a new album, I was intrigued. Would it be any good? Would it sound like Pink Floyd, and carry on the spirit of the band? Would Wright’s playing be buried under overdubs and loops?

The answer: it’s a fitting denouement to the group, a great listen, though not without its faults.

The album is laid out in four parts (which really only works when played back on vinyl – I only have the CD/BluRay version for reference). There is only one song – the album closer, “Louder Than Words” – with any true lyrics (written by Samson). And most of the playing is by Gilmour, Wright, and Mason, with most additional backing coming from musicians who worked with Pink Floyd for the 1994 tour or for Gilmour’s 2006 solo tour.

From the get-go, the album is full of tell-tale Floyd atmosphere: disjointed voices, keyboard textures, and fluid guitar, essentially picking up where “High Hopes” (closing track of The Division Bell) left off. The first two tracks are longer pieces, at 4:27 and 6:17 in length, and flow seamlessly into each other (as is the case with all four “movements”). The purely instrumental approach hearkens back to the various pieces on early Floyd albums, like A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, or Atom Heart Mother, and it works well on The Endless River.

Wright’s keyboards are featured prominently, mixed higher than they might have been had this project been completed in 1994 or 1995. And Gilmour’s guitar is its usual lyrical self, weaving through Wright’s keyboard textures. Indeed, the three principal musicians are in fine form throughout.

In particular, Mason’s drums have never been stronger. He eschewed drum machines and sequencers for almost all of his work on The Endless River, and even re-recorded most of the parts he laid down in 1993 – to the better, I’d say.

The weaknesses are in the brevity of some of the quality shorter pieces, which deserved a bit better. The album is only 53 minutes and change in length, so there was plenty of room to expand: even on a two-disc vinyl version, you can fit up to 30 minutes of audio per side without major compression issues. Indeed, some strong pieces are featured on the bonus DVD/BluRay editions, and while a couple would have been tougher to integrate into a seamless soundscape, they could have been incorporated into the whole with a few creative production touches.

My second gripe is with the closer, “Louder Than Words,” and its sometimes ham-fisted lyrics. Don’t get me wrong: Polly Samson is quite adept at writing excellent lyrics, as she did on many Division Bell tracks (e.g. “Keep Talking,” “High Hopes”). And the focus of this song – that, despite all of the infighting that happened within Pink Floyd, the band created musical magic when they simply played together – is clearly written.

But some of the couplets and word choices seem to strain a bit. The opening line:

“We bitch and we fight”

might come off a bit stronger as:

“We curse and we fight”

to these ears. And then there’s the line:

“Let’s go with the flow, wherever it goes”

It just sounds…. weird.

Frankly, while I know it would never happen, I would love to hear what Roger Waters would have done with this tune if given the simple “write a closing eulogy to Pink Floyd” directions that Samson followed. While I’m not sure Waters would have followed anybody else’s direction (especially Gilmour’s, given their historic animosity), I can envision a far stronger lyrical package.

Additionally, having Waters contribute to what is a tribute, in no small part, to Wright would have been a lovely gesture. Alas…

That said, The Endless River is a fine album, and begs to be listened to as a contiguous whole. In fact, it works really well when listened to in sequence with The Division Bell. I can also see somebody (not me, as I haven’t the patience) mixing the two works together to create a bit of an ur-album for the final iteration of Pink Floyd.

If this album is, as Gilmour and Mason have suggested, the true end of Pink Floyd as a band, I’m happy with that. No, it’s not in the same league as The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, or The Wall, but it’s no More, either.

getting locally (and not-so-locally) political: nov 2014 elections

As I did before the April 1 primary, I’m delving into local political endorsements. For my #projectfemur, cycling, skiing, coffeeneuring, and random post fans, I’ll post something a bit more to your liking later this week.

To carry on with the political stuff, go below the fold…

Continue reading getting locally (and not-so-locally) political: nov 2014 elections

thoughtful. entertaining. random.