Monday, March 24, 2014

14.4, the Eroding Open, and Gabriel's "Car"

For those unfamiliar with CrossFit and its attendant culture, the Open is an event of little consequence, but for some it's a pretty big deal.  According to CrossFit philosophy, any person with relatively rudimentary equipment can achieve elite levels of athleticism in their own garage. The Open is an extension of this concept.  Any athlete that registers and can adequately perform the assigned workouts has the opportunity to be ranked amongst the community at large and, potentially, to participate in the CrossFit Games.  Despite the proliferation of CrossFit athletes that has caused the Open to grow to international proportions,  the programmers have done a respectable job of preserving its inclusive mission statement.  Last week's announcement of the 14.4 workout, however, suggests that the original spirit of the Open is subtly eroding, possibly due to corporate sponsorship and multimedia spectacle.

The 14.4 workout looks like this:

While most of the movements in this workout are pretty standard, the inclusion of the rower in an Open workout is bothersome. For the independent athlete or small box, its high price tag arguably renders it as non-essential. It’s nice to have one, of course, but that kind of capital is best spent on equipment that can serve the entire community. Including it the Open sends a message: if an athlete is serious, he or she must have access to a rower. Fortunately, Rouge Fitness, who has a close business relationship with the CrossFit Games, is more than happy to provide these to any athlete who needs one – for nearly $1000 apiece.

Its even more troublesome because there is a viable solution in the CrossFit Level 1 training manual.  On page 55 it states " low loads this (Sumo Deadlift High Pull) is our favorite substitute for Concept II Rowing."   Why not use this foundational movement?  Hmmm.....

Despite pervasive pressure from the CrossFit community to register for the Open, I have never signed up.  I currently have enough space and equipment to do about 90% of CrossFit’s standard movements, but there are a few that I simply cannot do because of our low ceiling. I don’t see the point of paying the $20 fee if I know for sure I am going to run up against wall balls and muscle ups. For the past three years, though, I have done as many Open workouts as possible when they are announced, and done close approximations when necessary.  To approximate this workout while still retaining as much of the stimulus from the 14.4 movements as possible, we did:

60 Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift High Pulls (25#)
50 Toes-to-Bar
40 Dumbbell Thrusters (30#)
30 Cleans (135#)
20 Burpees
10 Pull-ups

When the garage door went up this morning, everyone gave it their all and became a little more fit for their efforts. In the end, that is what it is all about.


Forty five minutes after the garage door closed on the 14.4 "tribute" WOD, I was on my way to school with the Little One in the back seat, a delicious cup of coffee blissfully slipping into my bloodstream, and Peter Gabriel’s first solo album humming on the stereo. I’ve had a renewed interest in Gabriel’s early work due to a localized buzz surrounding the Security Project, a touring repertory group of top-notch musicians that are dedicated to performing this period of Gabriel's work. Their performance of Moribund the Burgermeister is particularly compelling.

Predictably, the Security Project has no plans to come as far south as Austin, which is a real disappointment.  I have reconnected with Peter Gabriel's early work on a deeper level just from the few live clips that I have seen online, especially this first album.  Although I think that Peter Gabriel is one of the few artists whose vision warranted a solo career, I have always felt that his debut album suffered a bit from being overly diverse. Dipping at times into tinpan alley, orchestral grandeur, reinterpreted blues, and even barbershop quartet gives it the overall sense of being too erratic to be coherent. Given Gabriel’s increasingly bizarre stage presence with Genesis before his departure, the album's eccentricities were probably not too surprising to his fans. Despite the stylistic extremes it navigates, however, Gabriel's emerging abilities as a concise, poignant songwriter were definitely on the rise (starting at about :24).

In fact, as I have revisited "Car" (as it is called by Gabriel enthusiasts) this time around, the album seems to be full of excellent songwriting. Each track, taken on its own merit, stands on its own, but the jagged stylistic approach of the album makes it difficult to process as a whole. Even in light of Gabriel's history of experimentation, "Car" is a bold statement as a debut album that simultaneously acknowledges and cuts ties with Genesis.  As a self-examination of his own potential as a solo artist, it was a crucial move by Gabriel that paid off in the long run. The foundation of Gabriel's distinctive style, which would undergird the success of his subsequent solo career, is apparent in the album's most quintessential moments..

Gabriel would go on to do much more than what is found on his debut, but the songs on Car are still compelling and often quite moving.

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