Friday, December 19, 2014

REPOST: Game of Thrones Season Five Teaser Hints at Fates of Arya, Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister

USA Today reports that the newly released HBO teaser from the fifth season of Game of Thrones offers a “super-short” glimpse of the fate of female characters Arya, Sansa, and Cersei. More below:  
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 Welcome back to Westeros! HBO released a second teaser from the upcoming fifth season of Game of Thrones and it offers a (super-short!) glimpse at the whereabouts of Arya Stark, her sister Sansa, and Cersei Lannister.

Story lines for the main characters look bleak in the latest peek, which comes one month after the initial 10-second clip made its way onto the Three-Eyed Raven website. The first face to appear in the teaser is that of Sansa (Sophie Turner), whose expression looks grim and rather worried. (Sansa was last seen colluding with Littlefinger and her orphaned cousin Robin at the Eyrie.)

It then pans to a heart tree, with drips of blood-like red sap streaming down the trunk.
Arya (Maisie Williams) slips into the frame in a rowboat with the Braavosi captain introduced at the end of season four. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), meanwhile, gazes out from a screened cell as she remains captive. (She was last seen declaring her "love" for her twin brother Jaime.)

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As witnessed in the first teaser for season five of the smash fantasy series, Arya — the headstrong orphan of Ned and Catelyn Stark — has gone rogue. Williams told the Guardian this past weekend that there's a "big ending" for Arya ahead.

"We're coming to the end now," the actress said, "so I don't know what they're going to do next year. It's the end of Arya, as far as anyone knows."
Overall, things aren't exactly promising for the show's main characters. Watch the teaser above!

Like most die-hard Game of Thrones fans, Brent Morgan Waco expects the new season to be more interesting and less confusing. Check out more GoT updates here.

Friday, November 28, 2014

REPOST: Jimmy Page finds there's still whole lotta love for Led Zeppelin

I find this article worth sharing not just because it features Led Zeppelin, but also because it mentions Jimmy Page’s reputation as a guitar genius. His guitar solo “Heartbreaker” truly represents the stroke of a genius.  

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There's a pre-concert vibe outside the Ace Hotel theater in downtown Los Angeles, people spilling off the sidewalk into the street as they wait for the doors to open. Once inside, they jam the bar and try to be heard above the din.

It's a rock 'n' roll crowd, except there's no band on the card tonight. The draw: a 70-year-old Englishman talking about his new collection of photographs.

Jimmy Page, mastermind of Led Zeppelin, is on a book tour.

Trim as ever, he gets a standing ovation when he comes on stage, elegant in black with his silver hair neatly fixed in a short ponytail. Over the next 90 minutes, the audience hangs on every word as Chris Cornell, the frontman for Zeppelin-evoking Seattle band Soundgarden, projects images from the guitarist's new photo-autobiography, "Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page" (Genesis Publications), on an overhead screen and asks the guitarist for the stories behind the pictures.

There's Page as a choirboy, Page as a session guitarist, Page prowling the world's concert stages with Led Zeppelin, the dominant band of the 1970s and the No. 2 bestselling group of all time after the Beatles. If hard rock had a logo, Page would have a strong claim to be its icon with his mane of black hair, his rail-thin frame and his road-beaten Gibson Les Paul hanging almost to his knees.

Still, Led Zeppelin disbanded 34 years ago after the death of drummer John Bonham, and there has been just a handful of partial reunions since. How then to account for the 1,400 people at the Ace, who have paid $100 or $150 simply to hear its former guitarist talk?

Or how to account for Led Zeppelin cracking the Billboard Top 10 four times — this year — with rereleases of its first four albums, remastered by Page and augmented with alternate takes and mixes?
For the answers, start with the songs.

For the answers, start with the songs.

"The music is memorable. It's hook heavy. Unlike so many other bands, these songs stand the test of time," says Bill Sagan, who runs Wolfgang's Vault, an online retailer of rock memorabilia.

Sagan isn't a rock critic (many of whom never cared much for Zeppelin anyway), but as a merchant, he knows something about the band's wide and enduring appeal. In the male-dominated world of hard rock, about 40% of the Led Zep T-shirts he sells are for women. He sells a lot of smaller men's sizes too, suggesting that teens and young adults are the buyers.

T-shirts are worn to make a statement, he said, and young people looking to project an outlaw image get that with Led Zeppelin.

"When you think of hedonism, you think of Led Zeppelin," Sagan said. "They had this edge."

The band's road antics are, indeed, the stuff of legend. The 1985 bestseller "Hammer of the Gods" by Stephen Davis is a saga of trashed hotel rooms, groupies and controlled substances. Although much of the book has been disputed by band members and others, it no doubt contributed to the group's notoriety.

There are few glimpses of that in Page's book, aside from one image of him chugging from a bottle of Jack Daniels backstage at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis in 1975.

"Maybe the photographers couldn't keep up the pace," Page says with a smile, sitting down to talk one morning last week.

Page said a book of photos appealed to him more than written memoirs, the route taken by Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Neil Young and others.

"If there were autobiographies of my contemporaries, I would always have a look to see what photographs were in there," he said. "I'd go straight to the photos. And I think a lot of people are like that.

"I have been approached to do a written book, and I like the idea, but it's probably something to release posthumously," he said, his voice turning serious for a moment.

"I want to be able to say everything. Everything."

Until then, there is the photo book. To support it, Page has done appearances in Paris, London, Tokyo and New York, where artist Jeff Koons interviewed him at the 92nd Street Y.

His book is 512 pages of sweets for Zeppelin fans. The 1970s glory days are there, as is Page playing "Whole Lotta Love" at the 2008 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in Beijing.

Los Angeles is also well represented. There's a young Page playing the Casino ballroom on Catalina with the Yardbirds in 1966, and epic scenes at Inglewood's Forum. (Cornell showed one at the Ace event. "You can see it's full," Page pointed out, to hearty applause.)

"We had lots of friends here, and there were lots of other musicians here," Page said earlier in the day. "And there are good music shops for instruments. There's a guitar shop here called McCabe's [in Santa Monica]. I went to McCabe's at the time I came over here the first time in '65."

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It's hard to talk about Page without talking about guitars. Rolling Stone ranks him No. 3 on its list of greatest players, after Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Yet it was his skill as a songwriter and producer that seals his place in rock history, said Brad Tolinski, editor of Guitar World magazine and author of "Light & Shade," a collection of interviews with Page.

"He really is the architect of modern music," Tolinski said. "His bit of genius wasn't just as a guitarist — it was how he recorded John Bonham's drums, and where he put John Bonham in the mix.

"If you go back to the '60s, and listen to where the drums and bass were in the mix, they were sub[servient] to the vocals," he said. "Jimmy pushed the drums way up front, with the guitar and the vocals. What do you hear now on the radio? Why do you think hip-hop sampled Zeppelin early on? It was a profound shift in popular recording."

So, what about a reunion? Page quickly dismissed reports last week (since discredited) that the band had been offered $800 million to reunite by Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson. "I never saw a contract," he said.

Led Zeppelin hasn't played since a one-off 2007 tribute concert for music executive Ahmet Erteg√ľn in London, and singer Robert Plant, after winning multiple Grammys for an album with singer Alison Krauss in 2009, is touring with new songs and a new band.

"We're talking seven years later, and there hasn't been any sort of will, if you like, to do that," Page said of a reunion.

The band's reissued albums, being released by Warner Music's Atlantic label, will have to do for now. But why does Page see a need to hear subtly different versions of the same, decades-old songs?

"It presents more information to people about what was going on at the time of the recordings," Page said. "I was in the studio more often than the others because I was producing the band, so I had far more points of reference that were needed to make this project seriously play. For the recording history of Led Zeppelin, it was my thing to do. For the fans, it gives them more information."

Some of the alternate takes are stripped-down versions reminiscent of how the band played live, without backing musicians to play the extra guitars and other instruments added in the studio. He pointed to a new cut of the blues number "Since I've Been Loving You."

"What you hear is just the four of us going at it," he said. "It's fantastic, the energy. It will make your hair stand on end. This is the whole point of having these things out."

Asked to name his favorite Zeppelin songs, Page demurs. He cites "Achilles Last Stand" as a "guitar epic" and says "Tea for One" features some of his best playing as a lead guitarist.

But favorites? Some songs were more successful than others, he concedes, but that doesn't make them favorites.

"The Led Zeppelin legacy is that everything that was recorded was recorded for a purpose," he said. "All of the songs are very different to each other, and that's undisputed. The motivation behind each track, and the memories behind each track, and the reasoning, and the atmosphere, are very different."

Still, with his book and reissue project now mostly finished, Page says he's ready to focus once again on making music.

"I've had quite a lot of material under my belt that I haven't recorded, because I wanted to be really sure that I could really put the blinkers on and really focus on it," he said. "I think I'll come back here next year doing my own [music]. I'd be showcasing things from the past, which people know me more, and also I've got new music that I'm really, really keen to present. And there would be some surprises."

At the end of his L.A. swing, Page was feted with a dinner at the Sunset Marquis hotel in West Hollywood. Ringo Starr was there, along with four of the biggest names in rock guitar — Kirk Hammett of Metallica, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh of the Eagles and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

"The best thing I can say is thanks — thanks for being a ... genius," Perry said. "He raised the bar on our kind of guitar playing, and our kind of rock 'n' roll, and I don't think anyone's touched him."

I really do have a lot of love for Led Zeppelin, particularly for Jimmy Page. I frequently listen to his guitar solos, along with the songs of Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, and Steve Vai—the other legends who earned their spot in my very own Brent Morgan Waco hall of fame. Connect with me through Facebook to know what songs you really should listen to right now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

REPOST: Why parkour is a cure for the fear of being human

Parkour involves maneuvering across a series of obstacles (such as rails, walls, and pipes) with the aim of completing tasks in the easiest, fastest, and most efficient ways possible. Once perceived as causing harm and danger among its enthusiasts, parkour actually promotes discipline and efficiency in movement. Read the article below to know why this sport deserves more attention.

Parkour in Palestine
Palestinian youths practise their parkour skills in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Training is held in cemeteries, and in former Israeli settlements.
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I’m sitting on top of a 2.8 metre-high block painted to look like a skyscraper, and I’m terrified. Everyone else in the room has already jumped off this thing, landing perfectly safely and happily on the massive blue mats below. It is as safe as it could possibly be. I have been sitting on the edge for 10 minutes willing myself to fall. I am shaking. I am not going to be beaten.

This is not what most people associate with parkour. The discipline is about freedom and efficiency of movement, and its practitioners – known as traceurs – hone the ability to navigate urban spaces by climbing, jumping, balancing and running through them, using pavements as more of a guideline than a rule.

The sport, developed by David Belle after experiences of military obstacle courses, has steadily grown in popularity in Australia and elsewhere in recent years.

I train at the Australian Academy of Parkour, Exercise and Self Defence (Aapes), a converted warehouse in Sydney which has been open for a little over three months and has just over 100 permanent members – a number that’s surpassed the expectations of JP Gauntlett and Monique McDonald, who run the space, several times over. Aapes also runs submission grappling courses and hosts circus skills workshops, as well as providing a community space where people come to make friends as well as exercise.

“People want parkour to survive,” says JP. “When we opened I expected 60 people to show up and more than 500 came. Every kid in Australia knows what parkour is now - I don’t think that was true three years ago. And most parents know either what it is or at least that they don’t want their kids to do it.”
Despite perceptions of its dangers – fuelled in part by videos of extreme routines at dangerous heights – one reason for its growing popularity is its accessibility to athletes at all levels. It’s not a competitive sport; rather, it’s about progress at a level that’s meaningful for you.

Monique says: “It’s a very personal sport for me, so the goals that I create are more achievable and quantifiable than other things. I’ve tried other sports, fitness, learning guitar and languages, but I can’t seem to stick with anything. Parkour is the only thing that’s really made me want to stick to it. I feel like I’m able to reach those goals within myself. I don’t have to compare myself to others. There’s a great sense of achievement.”

Parkour – as distinct from free running, which is much more of an expressive discipline – is not about flips and tricks, or being able to pull off impressive feats of gymnastics on the streets. At its core is a philosophy of self-improvement that validates individual progress above everything, and acknowledges that something that feels ridiculously easy to one person might be incredibly hard to another.

Fear is as much of a blocker to most traceurs than physical ability. Actually jumping off something tall takes not just strength and technique but also mental discipline: you have to be willing to face your fears and commit to movements, trusting your body’s ability to take you where you want to go.
“Parkour focuses on fear management with a philosophy of being strong to be useful – strengthening your mind and body to give back to people around you,” says JP, who also teaches the Spear system of self-defence.

“The most important thing in self-defence is learning how to deal with fear, fear control and fear management, how to cope with it psychologically and still do things to protect yourself - and you can learn so much more about that from doing parkour than you can from having big men thrown at you.”

Having done both, I can attest to the truth of that – the fear of jumping is very real, while fighting people I train with is much less scary. Learning how to deal with what scares you is a crucial part of both disciplines - but not something that comes up regularly in most adults’ lives. Parkour has taught me a lot about myself.
Some people find it easier to put aside their fear than others; I find it almost impossibly difficult. It would be easy to give up, knowing that even if I manage to conquer my lack of coordination enough to run up a wall, I’d still struggle with the fear of getting down again.

But every step of the way, thanks to a hugely supportive training group, I’ve found myself acknowledging my terror of losing physical control, understanding my limitations, and – for the first time in my life – finding ways to move past them.

Aapes, as an indoor space, offers nervous beginners a more supportive space than outdoor training. JP says: “When someone’s been told their whole life not to move a certain way, outside is very intimidating, and it becomes impossible to get things because there’s no standardisation. Everywhere is different, everything’s a different surface. But if you control it a little more people see that even if they’re not using a crash mat there’s a mat nearby, that brings down their anxiety and they progress much much faster. People are getting stuff in the space now in their first week that took me six months to learn.”

The community’s support is also a crucial element of the sport. “It’s not a gym, it’s not just training,” says Monique. “People come to make friends and get a sense of community.”
Those supportive relationships extend outside training spaces. “Everyone knows everyone and everyone travels – you do it for more than six months and you’ll have ties to people all over the place,” JP says.
“There’s no deception in movement and no competition in movement. Rather than getting together and competing, we get together and train together and get better together, and it’s created a much more caring environment.”

Recently 19-year-old Lokey Coppolaro, who was about to start as an instructor at Aapes, suffered severe spinal injuries and a skull fracture after falling off his balcony in a non-parkour-related incident.

The Australian parkour community got together immediately to help him out, and was quickly joined by traceurs in half a dozen countries, raising more than $6,000 to help with his recovery and to tide him through the long period where he won’t be able to work.
It’s an extreme example, but not out of character: the parkour community worldwide is a surprisingly close-knit group. Traceurs visiting foreign countries stay with each other, train together and find themselves discovering new cities through the eyes of people who know them intimately.

“It’s really nice to go to a city and, even though you’re still a tourist, to go somewhere and be shown these spots that not even most of the locals know about,” says Monique. “People don’t know about these beautiful spaces that are tucked away. You feel almost like you can know the city better than its inhabitants – if you weren’t training you wouldn’t find these places.”

In return, when overseas traceurs come to Sydney, there’s plenty for them to see in return. JP says: “I didn’t know about Sydney really until I started parkour. All these really beautiful spots with sculpture and fountains – I didn’t know they existed until people took me to jump off them.”

The sport tends to get people interested in urban development, as traceurs scope out the potential of new developments as places to train. The Sydney parkour community is currently concerned about potential development at the heritage listed Middlehead Fort, a popular training ground and site for Sydney Parkour’s monthly jams where dozens of traceurs get together and train in the same space. But all sorts of spaces can be used for parkour - it’s hard, once you know what’s possible, to walk down a street without getting distracted by staircases, ledges and other opportunities to leave the well-trodden path.

“Parkour is so popular because it makes ugly things beautiful,” says JP. In desolate urban environments, areas ravaged by conflict, or places consumed by poverty, people use the sport as a way to reclaim their environments and find something beautiful in the spaces they inhabit.
In the Gaza strip, traceurs do backflips while bombs fall; in Russia, they scale skyscrapers and dice with death on the edge of terrifying drops. In Iran, groups of women have taken to doing parkour in parks, despite the necessity of keeping their hair covered and wearing loose, covering clothing even in the intense heat, finding catharsis in the feeling that nothing can stand in their way.

At its roots, parkour is as much about helping other people to achieve things as it is about achieving things yourself. I’ve not yet been in a position to do much helping, but I have been on the receiving end of an enormous amount of support, extra coaching, good advice, urgent deliveries of sugary drinks to deal with adrenaline spikes, and help with busting through the things that scare me most.

This is what makes parkour special to me: when I did, eventually, drop off that high block, for a second it felt like I was flying. And everyone in the room knew how hard I’d worked for it, how it felt to finally face a fear and move past it, and cheered for me as I flew.

I’m Brent Morgan Waco and I have been a huge fan of parkour for years. What do you think of the sport? Let’s discuss on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ryan Doyle: A parkour hero
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Abiding the principles set by freerunning and parkour pioneers Sebastian Foucan and David Belle, today’s generation of parkour artists continue to raise the bar on what this art form can accomplish and express. One of the more prominent freerunners of this generation is Ryan Doyle. A multiple freerunning champion and founding athlete of the World Freerunning & Parkour Federation (WFPF), he works as a promoter and ambassador for the art, traveling the world to promote its grace, freedom, and expressiveness. 
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Born in 1984 in Liverpool, U.K., Doyle’s initial passion was combat sports. A big fan of Jackie Chan, he has a black belt degree in the Korean martial art Kuk Sool Won. Through his martial arts background (and a bit of experimenting with gymnastics), Doyle discovered tricking, a freerunning branch that combines the two disciplines. He eventually won U.K.’s National Tricking Championship in 2006, 2007, and 2009, as well as the first-ever international freerunning competition – Red Bull’s Art of Motion – in Vienna in 2007. He is currently Red Bull’s parkour ambassador. 
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In 2007, WFPF adopted Doyle as one of its founding athletes. He was among the group of parkour enthusiasts who brought the art to the United States, promoting it among the youth and contributing to its unprecedented popularity during the 2000s. Currently, Doyle teaches at the Freerunning Academy, which he helped established in Liverpool in 2004. He’s also dabbled in coaching and acting.

Brent Morgan Waco here, a physical therapist from Minneapolis and an avid enthusiast of parkour and the culture behind it. Follow me on Twitter account for more about this exciting sport.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Electric, dreamy music: The best songs of the New Wave era

Reminiscing about the about the '80s isn't complete without enumerating the trends of that time: gelled hair, suede sneakers, shoulder pads, and hairstyles cantilevered by hairspray, among others. As far as music is concerned, I think nothing defined the decade better than New Wave music, the synth-based, upbeat tunes I and people my age used to dance with on the radio, on Walkman sets, and in disco joints.

New Wave has held a distinct spot in my heart so much that songs from Duran Duran, A-ha, and The Cure still rule my playlist. But these three tracks stand as my all-time favorites:

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1. "People are People." As far as I can remember, this is Depeche Mode's first U.S. hit single. Here, they combined their love for pop music and experimental elements. When this 1983 single was released, Vince Clarke had long left, and the group had started to shed its sunny image from the days of "I Just Can't Get Enough," giving way to a shift towards all-synth music, introspective lyrics, and a brooding image---or simply put, the Depeche Mode we '80s music fans have come to love.

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2. "Bizaare Love Triangle." Everyone who has frequented disco clubs in the 80s must have danced countless times to this New Order hit, which peaked at No. 5 at the Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart. I like how the hiccup-like beat provided contrast to the mawkish lyrics (Every time I see you falling/I get down on my knees and pray), and how the rhythm and sound of this song, particularly the extended 12" version, have pretty much captured the vibe of the decade.

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3. "The Promise." Its pace is too slow compared to most New Wave tunes, and the lyrics are as cheesy and as pop as it can get, but there is something about the melody of this song, When In Rome's single claim to fame, that got me hooked. Perhaps it's because the song never fails to bring back summer night soirees, teenage crushes, and other memories.  

I'm Brent Morgan Waco. When I'm not busy with my job as physical therapist, I spend time doing yoga and parkour, and chilling out with music from the New Wave generation. Check out this blog for more about iconic tracks and artists under this genre.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New wave nostalgia trip!

Despite being nearly three decades old, new wave remains a perennial favorite among 80s nostalgic addicts while earning a few fans from millennial audiences. Evolving from punk at around 1978, new wave was among the quintessential genres of the 1980s, reaching the peak of its popularity between 1983 and 1987.
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The mid-80s sensation—actually an umbrella term for many music forms—derived heavily from its predecessor, carrying punk’s characteristic energy while adding elements from contemporary pop, art rock, and dance pop. Notable new wave groups and artists include Blondie, Talking Heads, The Police, Human League, The Cars, Elvis Costello, Duran Duran, and Cyndi Lauper.
New wave is typically considered more radio-friendly than punk and is differentiated from its progenitor genre in its lack of characteristic rawness and heavy reliance on synthesizers. Later synthpop groups and artists derived much of their stylistic elements from new wave.
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The term took on different meanings across the Atlantic, with British audiences seeing the side of new wave derived from punk while American audiences focusing on the synthesizer aspect of the genre, broadening it to encompass early synthpop. Likewise, new wave was originally more popular in the UK than in the U.S., though it slowly gained traction in America in its appearance in various pop cultural elements.
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Though eventually fading in favor of guitar-based artists and bands at the tail-end of the 1980s, new wave music continued to be iconic of the decade. If you ever plan to have an 80s themed party, pick a few new wave hits to really hit the mood.
Hits from new wave artists figure along with Led Zeppelin, Run DMC, and The Beastie Boys in the Brent Morgan Waco playlist. Follow me on Twitter for more 80s music madness.