My Favorite Katrina Song by Mark Stone

January 2011. I could use some help from the fitness gurus among my friends and family. Here's wear I stand:

I've been running regularly for two years now. Not bad for a guy who was carried out of his own house on a stretcher five years ago. In this two years, I have:

  • Lost 40 pounds
  • Significantly dropped my blood pressure and lowered my pulse rate
  • Worked up to 18 miles of running a week (roughly)

I've also hit a wall in terms of further progress. I run every other day, and I rotate between three routines:

  • 5 mile run for speed (takes me 41 minutes on a good day)
  • 7 mile run for distance (takes me just under 63 minutes typically)
  • 3.5 mile mix of wind sprints and hills

My goal has been to get to 5 miles in under 40 minutes, a level of performance I could do when I was 20, and when I was 30, and that I lost by the time I turned 40 due to back problems. I'm very close. I need to shave 12 seconds off my per mile time over 5 miles to do this.

The limitation, it seems to me, is lung capacity. I feel like my legs could go forever; I could easily extend that 7 mile run to longer distances. But trying to push that 5 mile time down faster leaves me light headed, gasping, and just unable to push the pace for as long as I need to.

So my question: what do I need to change in this workout routine (or possibly in my diet) to break through to the next level?

Ok, enough about running. On another note: in my current song mix while I'm running I've included Led Zeppelin's "When the Levy Breaks", and I've concluded that it is my favorite Hurricane Katrina tribute song. Yes, I know it was recorded more than 30 years before Katrina, but hear me out.

A great song must strike the balance between being universal enough for everyone to relate to, and personal enough to be expressed with real conviction and meaning. Song writers have wandered all over this spectrum. Much of 50s and early 60s pop music had too much of the universal, and not enough that was personal, creating songs that were easy and comfortable to listen to, but ultimately empty. By contrast someone like Jewel on her early albums, or Alanis Morisette goes so deeply personal you're not sure if you can -- or should -- follow.

The personal aspect comes from writing out of one's own experience (always great advice for any writer, whether song writer, poet, or novelist). And the problem with the many Katrina tribute songs is that they were written after the fact by people who were not actually in New Orleans at the time. So they fail to be universal by trying to be very specifically about Katrina, and they fail to be personal because they are not grounded in experience. The worst of both worlds.

Led Zeppelin led an uneasy coexistence with the blues musicians who preceded them, and who they admired so much. Like their rock contemporaries they borrowed liberally from the blues, often without permission, and occaisionally getting themselves in legal trouble for it. At the same time the tremendous resurgence of the blues in popularity clearly began in the 60s with the exposure that bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream, and the Rolling Stones brought to the blues.

"When the Levy Breaks" comes out of this tradition. It was originally written and performed by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929, and was written in reference to the Mississippi flood of 1927. So it has that essential personal character in its lyrics: written by people who directly experienced the events about which they were writing. At the same time Led Zeppelin gives it a very contemporary update in melody, arrangement, and some re-crafting of the lyrics.

The result is a masterpiece: an anguishing blues dirge delivered with the storm force that only Led Zeppelin could muster. More than any so-called post Katrina tribute song, this song touches on the soul and character of the ordinary people who have struggled to make their livelihood in the bowels of one of Nature's least forgiving environments.

Led Zeppelin's songs span many styles: love songs, rock anthems, straight ahead rock 'n roll. This isn't my favorite Led Zepplin song, thought its close. But of all their many songs that are clearly more blues than rock, this is the best.

Crying won't help you, praying won't do you no good
Crying won't help you, praying won't do you no good
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to go

All last night sat on the levee and moaned
All last night sat on the levee and moaned
Thinking about my baby and my happy home

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