Guillermo Memorial Music Tournament

(EDIT: Scroll to bottom to see Division A results.)

A few weeks ago we lost a dear friend and beautiful soul when Guillermo passed away. Among his close friends, there was no question that this was going to be one of the ways we were going to honor his love of music, and fondness for bringing people together through music tournaments.


For the uninitiated, a music tournament is what it sounds like: songs going head to head in single-elimination match-ups, until a champion is chosen.

You can do them at home alone, with a buddy on a road trip, with dozens of Hands On volunteers after dinner every night, or with people across the world on a random internet site like We’ve done it all.

For the 64-song memorial tournament, we’ve asked Gmo’s friends from all walks of life to offer a song or two as fitting tribute. As you’ll see, many of these songs come with accompanying stories from the nominators. You can see the full list here.

Here’s how the tournament works. Every two days we’ll spin through eight songs, one division. In a little over two weeks we’ll finish the first round, and be down to 32 songs. And we’ll keep going.

Anyone who wants can vote once per set of songs  Scoring works on a 10-point scale. (Any of the old-timers have a description?) Basically, a “10” is like listening to pure bliss, “7” is good, “5” is ‘wouldn’t change it if it were on the radio, and “2” is ‘my ears are bleeding, but I finished.’  So a person might score a match “Good Vibrations” (8) – “Satisfaction” (7). We then add up everyone’s scores, and 48 hours later, we have a winner!  Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.

Folks have until 12pm on Friday to vote – please vote in the comment section below.Without further ado, here is Division A:

“Africa” (Toto)  vs. “Josaphine” (Dispatch)

“Change Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke) vs. “Girl from the North Country” (Bob Dylan ft Johnny Cash)

“Thunder Road” (Bruce) vs. “We’re all in this together” (Old Crow Medicine Show)

“Papa Was a Rodeo” (Magnetic Fields) vs. “When My Time Comes” (Dawes)

We’ll be using Spotify for this tournament, but feel free to use whatever streaming you prefer – and thank you to Aiko for lending her time to make these daily playlists.

Stories from the vault…

“Africa” by committee. Ryan: Who didn’t hear Gmo squealing this out in his pitchy falsetto from the corridor of HOUSA or in the field? This is the first song he learned to play on the guitar, and definitely not an easy one. But I remember fondly him working these chords and trying his damndest on this classic tune. Janos: Gmo and I road-tripped back to the northeast for the weekend in 2005, and held a tournament along the way. This song, widely favored, indeed prevailed. 

“Josaphine” by Salem: Guillermo was a hopeless romantic. It seemed that just about everyone of his blog posts had a section of “I met the most amazing girl last week and we immediately fell head over heels in love. Then things went sour but she’ll always hold a special place in my heart.” This sweet little song always reminds me of that.

“Thunder Road” by Cristina: Classy song for a classy guy.

“We’re all in this together” by Jim Rock: I don’t have a particular story to relate this to Guillermo, specifically. Wagon Wheel was huge at this time, as we all remember. This song, more than any other on the album, stood out to me. Many friends of mine have passed away over the years and I listen to this song every time. It gives me chills and tears me up.

“Girl from the North Country” by Carrie: Rather than a specific story (and how much I waffled about song selection), I’ll share an excerpt from a Guillermo-made mix CD enclosure I recently stumbled upon. It underscores his obsession with mix CDs, and by extension, how exciting he would find this music tournament. “…It’s [this CD] not just a playlist – I’d call it a testament. A testament to awesome. It’s the kind of music you’d listen to while inventing Rollerblades, or coming up with the idea for Neapolitan ice cream…”

“Change Gonna Come” by committee: This song is included because Sam Cooke was Guillermo’s artist in the iconic “Last Band Standing” tournament of 2013. And this particular song is poignant for this moment.

“Papa was a rodeo” by Aiko: I knew Guillermo almost exclusively through the Music Tournament, so I went back into the archives to remind myself what the field looked like. I found the “Wall of 10s,” which is a list of songs that received a 10 from at least two voters; “a score of 10 is a statement that in that moment that you listened to the song, it was absolutely perfect.” I scanned through to see which songs Gmo and I matched on, and all of those but this song had already been included. I’m not sure if Gmo was otherwise a fan of the Magnetic Fields, but this song about finding connection in a rambling, on-the-road, rough-and-tumble life resonated with him that summer.

“When my time comes” by Ryan: This song has a few implications. I fell in love with it when it first came out and I think I entered it into one of our 2010-11 music tournaments but I need Janos to confirm that… I loved the line “you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back” because it comes from a Nietzsche quote that Gmo once used as a warning to me long, long ago about some existential crisis going on in my life or something. Anyways, fast forward to this year and it became a steady play for him again and he texted me in January “Do you ever have those moments where you hear a song like 50 times and all of the sudden the 51st time it hits you?” Yep, I sure do and now more than ever.



“Africa” (Toto)  def. “Josaphine” (Dispatch), 156-108.

“Change Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke) def. “Girl from the North Country” (Bob Dylan ft Johnny Cash), 153-150. Sorry, Carrie, your song should have been seeded higher!

“Thunder Road” (Bruce) def. “We’re all in this together” (Old Crow Medicine Show), 138-117.

“When My Time Comes” (Dawes) def. “Papa Was a Rodeo” (Magnetic Fields), 127-121.



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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 92)

The road to ACL recovery is full of peaks and plateaus. Excitement over sudden improvements should be tempered, and disappointment over lack of progress should be limited. It’s a game of patience, and with hard work, improvement comes in time. 

I haven’t posted here in three weeks, and that is because progress had been minimal. I continued to add weight resistance to my rehab exercises, but hadn’t noticed any significant changes in my quality of life.

On Thursday I had a breakthrough. We started doing lateral movements, quick steps on the ground called “the ladder.” This is really exciting, and will be my focus for the next month as I move towards the goal of jugging, just in time for some pleasant early evening summer runs across the Williamsburg bridge.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 72)

A shade over two months after surgery, I’ve graduated to some more rigorous PT exercises as I pursue the next frontier: jumping. We did some testing yesterday to see if I was ready, and while my hip abduction (lying on my side, lifting my leg) was at full strength, the quad was still week. This was surprising, considering that my biking is almost up to full speed. Biking, I suppose, can be a misleading indicator.

I have upgraded to one of my favorite exercises: standing on a balance board and pivoting slightly to the left or right to catch balls being thrown at me, or, in this case, bouncing at me off a trampoline. Feels like sports again.

Pain comes and goes these days, so the two-month mark doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. I still ice my knee almost every day when I come home, especially if I’ve been walking or standing a lot.

I’ll update next when I finally get some air time.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 59)

I didn’t want to jump the gun and celebrate early,  but as we approach Friday evening, I have now gone without a cane or crutch for the entire week!

I probably could have ditched it slightly earlier, especially if it weren’t for those dastardly subway stars. Now, however, I’ve reached the point that a gentle lean on a rail is enough to stabilize even a rush-hour-paced ascent.

Last weekend I went to a dance party for many hours without feeling an ounce of pain. My sidewalk speed is probably at 90%. My stationary bike resistance level is also approaching 90%. Simply put- life’s basics are no longer out of reach.

Next week at PT I hope to start doing some work that’ll put me on a path to jumping again. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking in at least one respect: my insurance company just sent me a letter that I only have four covered sessions left. I’m sure once I get my surgeon involve we can boost that number, but insurance may well be a battle going forward.


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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 50)

Happy to reach the 50-day landmark without any major setbacks. Today was a fruitful Day 50 – after a robust PT session in the morning I saw my surgeon, Dr. Marx, for the second time since the surgery. Last time I couldn’t yet walk, and still had nasty stitches in my knee. Today he said my gait looked great, my flexibility was outstanding, and that everything was progressing on or ahead of schedule.

Even stairs are getting a little easier. I still need to use a rail to get up and down the subway, but I no longer to lean on both my cane and the rail. In fact, at this point the can is mostly a signal to other people that I’m recovering from an injury, rather than practically necessary.

This Saturday I’m going to my first dance party since the surgery. I expect there will be lots of breaks for sitting down, and I won’t exactly have my usual moves. (When healthy, I like getting pretty low.) Still, first dance party counts as a landmark.

The next real landmark will be jumping or running. I’ll let you know when that gets humming.


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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 39)

On the eve of Day 40, I’m pretty close to ditching the cane, cool a fashion item as it is. I don’t need it on short trips at all, and if it weren’t for NYC’s treacherous subway system I would have probably left it behind by now.

Something new is happening at PT: I am sweating! That means the workouts are becoming aerobically challenging. I am actually strengthening my leg and getting back into shape, not merely trying move my leg up and down like in the early days. Spending time on machines, biking with resistance, and doing wall squats. It feels good to sweat.

It’s not as if the pain is gone. I have awkward ‘pops’ a few times a day from cartilage moving around. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with my knee super stiff or sore. And stairs are stairs. They’ll be tough for a while. But overall, progress marches on.

Next report will be after my surgeon check-in on Tuesday.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 33)

Now more than a month in, I am excited to report that I am using a cane instead of crutches. In fact, I don’t even need the cane for walking, but it is still pretty essential for navigating subway stairs.

PT can still be challenging and lead to soreness. That’s the nature of PT- if it’s too easy, you’re not working the knee hard enough. Currently we’re working on “e-centric” strength, the quad muscles that allow you to lift up and come down on stairs. We’re also down to twice a week.

The best thing I heard last week was my therapist saying that my flexibility (140 degrees) is the best she’s ever seen at this stage of ACL recovery.

If I had to pick one inconvenience, it still remains quite uncomfortable to stay seated or standing for any extended period of time. Getting up every few minutes to stretch things out is essential.


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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 28)

My recollection of my last ACL recovery is that it that it goes through spikes and plateaus. Great progress one week might be followed by two weeks of little gain. Before now I hadn’t a plateau of any length, but Week 3 proved to be an uneven one.

Here’s the good:

1) My left knee flexibility is 135 degrees unassisted, 140 degrees assisted.  My right knee is also 140 degrees, so I am close to achieving full flexibility less than a month in. Everyone thinks that is pretty remarkable.

2) On flatness, I am only one to two degrees from zero, which is the goal (a flattened leg). For me, this is a big improvement, but no rest ’til zero.

3) My quad is gaining strength, though it’s still got a long way to go.

4) On flat ground, I don’t really need a brace at all, and only have one outdoors in case I hit an uneven patch or crowded area.

Here’s the mixed:

The main focus of Weeks 3 & 4 will be stairs – developing the quad strength and jnee stability to go up and down them unassisted. A week ago, I found stairs impossible, and had to scuttle up half a step at a time, leaning on subway stair rails. Today I can gingerly go up and down stairs with a light tough on a rail or crutch. A week ago I couldn’t even try the exercises designed to build up this strength. Today I actually fell during PT for the first time attempting side step-up exercise, but at least it was at the conclusion of a full set. Progress. Slow progress.

Here’s the bad:

Last night I felt a cracking in my left knee, and pain followed. Ever since then (24 hours ago), my knee has been tender, and two crutches have felt preferable to one. My knee is locking up frequently, as opposed to just once in a while. My PT believes that this is related to the scar tissue that the new exercises are designed to break up. Loose cartilage and scar tissue floating through my knee is causing this discomfort and knee locking. They don’t seem worried at all at the PT office. It will pass.


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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 21)

Have I really not updated in five days? Progress has been tremendous since then. I can now walk without crutches on flat ground outdoors, though I keep ’em handy in case I hit a rough patch of sidewalk. The basic exercises are easy, and I no longer wear a brace indoors. Sitting for prolonged periods of time still lead to discomfort and stiffness, so just gotta keep loose and stretch every now and then.

The next hurdle is step-ups, which, true to their name, recreate the pressure put on the knee from going up and down stairs. These were a major headache last time I went through PT, and I struggled with them today.

Overall, though, still pleased with progress. I’m also now allowed to bike on my own, which means I’m finally back at the gym.

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The Road to ACL Recovery (Day 15)

Yesterday pushed my new knee to its new limits. In the morning I had PT with a new therapist, since my usual was in Vegas. She was very impressed, clocked my left knee in at 135 degrees of bending, which is only five degrees off my right knee. I’ve been able to gradually increase weight on all the machine-based exercises, and have started stretching my IT band, in an effort to get more flexible in addition to stronger.

After PT I had a meeting, a speaking gig on a panel, a late lunch, an event, and a basketball game. It involved a lot of getting up, sitting down, walking around, all without the usual respite of ice and lying down. By the time I got home at 11pm, my knee was in agony. I was legit concerned I had messed something up.

Even this morning, my knee was sore and tender, though the sharp pains were mostly gone. Had PT again today, Thurs/Fri being my back to back, and the therapist on hand said that the previous night’s pain was likely from muscle exhaustion and nothing more serious. Indeed, once I got warmed up I was able to perform all of the PT exercises without a sweat. The whole experience was a good lesson in easing back into things. Still very amped to be where I am 15 days later.


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