Some people listen to music while they ride. I never do. When I’m on the bike, I like to hear what’s going on around me, and I like to let my thoughts wander.
Mostly, this is fine. My mind bounces from one topic to the next, sometimes landing on a funny or interesting thought, or occasionally suddenly solving what I had previously thought was an unsolvable dilemma.
Once in a while, though, my mind gets stuck on something. On the way in to work Friday, for example, I found myself — for no reason I can think of — mentally chanting the list of common linking verbs a teacher had taught my class back in fifth grade.
I didn’t want it in my head. I tried to get it out of my head. But it wouldn’t leave. To make things worse, I couldn’t remember the whole chant. Just that one part. So while part of me was trying to get the stupid thing out of my head, another part of me was trying to puzzle out how the rest of the chant went.
Luckily, my ride to work isn’t that long, and the chant is now out of my head. Or at least it was, until I started writing about it.
Everyone gets songs (or, more rarely, chants about grammar) stuck in their head from time to time, but cyclists are especially prone to them. The rhythm of the cycling cadence, along with steady, fast breathing, lends itself to looping a song through your head, over and over.
It’s not always bad. I remember that for one of the laps of 24 Hours of Moab one year, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Scar Tissue” ran through my head continuously. Since Californication is in fact one of my favorite albums of all time, I was OK with this particular song auto-repeating in my brain, and even sang snippets of it out loud (causing concern among riders as they passed me or (less often) were passed by me). I hit the words at the end of lines with an extra-hard exhale:
Soft spoken with a broken jaw
Step outside but not to brawl
Autumn’s sweet we call it fall
I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl
To tell the truth, I would have preferred “Parallel Universe,” my favorite song from the album; it’s got a base line that forces a fast cadence. But one of the rules of endless-loop music seems to be that you don’t get to pick the song.
Birdhouse in Your Soul
This repetitive song phenomenon is no big deal, usually. Sometime soon after the ride ends, the song fades and you get on with your life.
If you’re on an endurance ride, though, an endless-loop song can become downright evil.
Several years ago, Dug, Racer and I drove to Laramie, Wyoming for what would turn out to be the final Laramie Range Enduro (that was a good course, rest its soul). As we parked the car and unloaded our bikes, They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse in Your Soul” came on the radio. Not paying much attention to it, I finished unloading my bike and lined up at the start.
About twenty minutes into the first climb of the race, the song came back to me. The problem was, I didn’t know the lyrics to anything but part of one verse and the chorus, and was even sort of sketchy on that. So I’m singing:
There’s a something something of me
Of my primitive ancestry
Who stood on something and kept the something shipwreck free
Though I respect that a lot
I’d be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off and countless screaming argonauts
Something something something
Something it’s always near
Look at a canary over by the lightswitch
Who’s watching over you
Build a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet
Build a little birdhouse in your soul
And while you’re at it
Keep the nightlight on inside the
Birdhouse in your soul
Even taking the “something somethings” into account, I could tell I was getting it wrong — I couldn’t get the words to fit the meter. And the more I sang it, the worse it got, until I could no longer be sure I was getting the lines even remotely close to the right order.
And still it played on. For five hours.
After a while, I started looking for a suitable cliff to ride off, so I could end that infernal song. I imagined the conversation other racers would have as they saw me go over:
Racer 1: That guy just rode straight off a cliff! On purpose!
Racer 2: Did you notice the insane grin on his face?
Racer 3: More importantly, why was he singing that “Birdhouse in Your Soul” song as he went over?
Racer 1: I don’t know, but he was getting the lyrics all wrong.
I had a really fast time at that race, but took no pleasure in it. My dominant memory of that day is of that song, playing over and over and over.
I will hate that song forever.
It Gets Worse
As long as you don’t have children, you can at least take comfort in the fact that it’s your music that’s getting stuck in your head. Once you have kids, though, it’s a whole new ballgame. For example, my wife, in a fit of temporary insanity, purchased the animated video, “The Princess and the Pauper.” That would be awful enough, but the DVD comes with a bonus soundtrack CD. Which, of course, the girls want to be played in the car CD player. Always. And since there are only seven songs on that CD, you get to hear each of them quite frequently.
So: if I ride my bike head-on into traffic someday in the near future, you know why: I was doing whatever it took to get “You’re Just Like Me” out of my head.
PS: Today’s weight is 171.2. So my goal for the rest of this week is to undo the damage I did last weekend — get back to 169.0 — and then not hoover up every particle of food in sight in a 72-hour eating binge this upcoming weekend.