Recently, I had the pleasure (displeasure?) of being made a brief internet sensation on Twitter by none other than the sausage king, Jeremy Durrin, and Evan Huff. This could have been awesome: The clandestine caveman, the humble honey badger takes the Internet by storm. Except that it wasn’t. Mostly this experience of driving a car and having others bring the outside world into it was embarrassing, because the nexus of the electronic discussion was my musical proclivities: the pouring out of Justin’s heart…err, Ipod playlists.
Notably, my “Pump It Up” playlists got a lot of attention. I could lie and say that’s because there was some intense curiosity to see what makes the wolverine-come Honey Badger tick, but mostly it was because you can’t escape the fact that the first page of songs you see when you open that playlist contains both Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. Madonna is not far down the list. To be fair, there are also classics of anger-filled inspiration like Metallica and Offspring, but these get lost behind the pop/hip-hop bubbles of Party in the USA, Just Dance, and Like a Prayer. So what of it? Surely I am not the only one whose pre-race symphony contains the sonnets of todays finest pop sensations.
I know for a fact that my own descent into the depths of musical tastelessness began with a season of driving to races with a racer who shall remain nameless in this column….who am I kidding, thanks Jerome Townsend. Going to Belgium to race cross that year merely sealed the deal as hours a day were spent with the TV playing the only channel with reliable English content: MTV. I was broken down, A Clockwork Orange style, listening to anthems with such lyrical profundities as “I feel so nervous, everybody looks so famous…my tummys turning and I feel kinda homesick….yadda yadda….and the Jay-Z song was on…” (Note, I have refused to look up these lyrics in their complete accuracy online. I am more comfortable pretending that I do not, in fact, know all the words.)
The thing was, I was so nervous, and I was so homesick, and when Ke$ha sang that we were going to go “Hard, Hard, Hard, like the world was ours, ours ours,” I was suddenly pretty sure that she was talking about bike racing and that made sense to me. It’s amazing what the brain can rationalize. Suddenly the ability of my inner literary critic to stretch the meanings of metaphors became that much broader. Of course Li’l Wayne was talking about cross racing when he said, “I got ice in my veins, blood in my eyes, hate in my heart, love in my mind. I seen nights full of pain, days are the same, you keep the sunshine, save me the rain.” Everybody can see that right?
So what does this say about myself and countless others who, whether they like to admit it or not, pulled into the parking lot of the last race with Rihanna blaring? What is it about bike racing and the guise of motivational music, and the anonymity of my own Ipod and earbuds that allows me to suspend what I would say are ordinarily high ideals in the realm of lyrics, if not musical composition? I can’t speak for everyone, so I don’t know if the bike-racing world at large uses the same game of far-flung association with lyrics that I do. It could just be that some of these songs are undeniably catchy, if a little light in the meaning and substance department. It could be that maybe there’s a component of Lady Gaga’s exhibitionist art show that resonates with me because of the similarities to the parts of bicycle racing that are equally ridiculous. Wearing a meat dress versus running around in the mud with a bike on my shoulder. Before you laugh at that statement, ponder the millions she’s made lately. Yeah, who’s laughing now.
Perhaps, and I’ll only go so far as to extend this explanation for myself, part of the “Pump It Up” process is about forgetting who we are for a little bit; about transcending all the things we do in our “normal” lives like work and relationships and listening to good music; and becoming cold, calculated bike racers who think and exist only for the purpose of winning. Maybe the music, so far from what I might be caught listening to ordinarily, allows me to become this other person—to become the animal? (Insert honey badger if you want, because I can’t bring myself to do it more than twice in the same article). I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think this is a plausible excuse for these momentary lapses in judgment and taste, and I’m sticking with this defense, as unlikely as it may seem that Miley Cyrus brings out the killer in all of us. The risk that these musical choices pose, though, is that just like the way it tries to take over the rest of my life, bike racing, and it’s associated bad music, seems to be happening on more than just race day. Excuse me, for now, I have to go take a ride on my disco stick, which is to say, my bike. Clearly.