When 10,000 Maniacs -- let’s call them 10K Maniacs; this is a running column after all -- played the Orpheum last fall, the alternative rock band’s members definitely had their Flagstaff audience pegged.
Late in the show, bass player Steven Gustafson joked that he felt a little winded from the altitude, prompting cheers. Lead singer Mary Ramsey didn’t miss a beat: “You all must be athletes here,” she said. “You certainly look like it.”
If you want to ingratiate yourself to Flagstaffians, tell us how athletic we are.
Strictly speaking, Ramsey wasn’t entirely right. Many of Flagstaff’s fittest were across the street at the Pay-N-Take. They were drinking beers and picking up their bibs for the Soulstice Mountain Jackie Weintraub Memorial Trail Run -- the short course of which is just a skosh under 10K, for those still following this column’s theme -- taking place the next morning.
Had Gustafson taken a break to join the self-proclaimed Knights of the Soulstice Roundtable there, he would have been a kindred spirit for exactly half of their mantra: “a drinking club with a Sunset Trail–running problem.”
“I do run when the bar is closing!” Gustafson wrote after I emailed the band to ask if any of the 10K Maniacs are runners.
“I tried running when I was younger and didn’t like it,” he added. “My ‘day job’ as theater manager and producer of our college theatrical productions gets me 10,000-plus steps each day. No one in the band runs. I’d be happy to talk more about why I don’t run if you like, but I’m afraid the short answer is I’d rather play golf.”
And about the altitude crack?
“Yes, the 7,000-foot elevation was a challenge for me.”
Full disclosure: I devoured 10K Maniacs when I was in college. I was a sucker for their earnest, evocative lyrics and eclectic instrumentation. I was an English major in the early ‘90s; what did you expect?
My favorite running route during that time crossed a cemetery south of campus. Jogging among colorful maple leaves and gray headstones in northern Indiana’s crisp autumn days gave me strange comfort from whatever stresses I had stacked in my young head.
I always conjured 10K Maniacs’ gentle song “Lilydale” as I passed through: “Some think it is haunting to be drawn to the cemetery ground as we. There’s a stillness here, thankful found ... ."
After their Flagstaff show and the exchange with the bassist, I cherish the band even more.
Gustafson may lack running prowess and enthusiasm; his musicianship is another matter. Formed in 1981, 10K Maniacs showed exceptional energy all night, despite the altitude. They were as tight as if driven by the urgency of their first national tour.
It was clear they care deeply about what they do. In that way, musicians and runners have an authentic connection.
At the end of the show during “These Are Days,” one of their most heavily played tunes, I noticed keyboardist Dennis Drew singing the words with the same conviction I do every time I hear that song. I thought to myself, “He really still likes doing this.”
Something to keep in mind if you want to go a little maniac at your next 10K.