At least half of my thoughts while riding center around music — song lyrics in particular. Most often, lyrics show up in fragments. Though the whole of the song is always present, it’s those well-turned phrases that capture my thoughts and guide my moral sensibilities. A good lyric can remind me who I should aspire to be. It might also, by comparison, remind me who I don’t want to be, and which roads to avoid.
Lou Reed famously referred to a well-crafted song as the “three-minute novel”. Indeed. I’d extend that though, to suggest a well-crafted song lyric can be three-minute scripture.
When I was 16, I walked into the bathroom of a recreation center where I’d been exercising. On the gray concrete wall, just above the paper towel dispenser and written in crayon, were these words…
“And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones to start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart…”
It’s a verse from the song Closer To The Heart, by the Canadian band Rush. I’d heard the song dozens of times, and the album had actually been on my turntable the day prior. There was something about reading those words that day, that changed the way I think about lyrics.
That’s when I began regularly reading song lyrics from the album liner notes, to better understand them, as I listened to the corresponding songs simultaneously. It was also the day I realized lyrics offered me more than the Torah ever had.
There have been dozens — maybe hundreds of formative moments in my life, just like that one, which have resulted from reading and re-reading lyrics while listening to music. On or off my bike, I don’t go more than 15-minutes without a formative lyric showing up in my head, usually getting my full attention.
I often tell the story of sitting on a seawall in Oceanside California in the months after my divorce. With earbuds in and facing the spit blowing of the tops of waves, I listened to music by the band The Call, while simultaneously reading the printed lyrics of their songs. Those were religious services to me, every bit as much as listening to Rabbi Krantzler was on Friday nights in the 1970s. Listening to those songs, reading those lyrics, and staring into the sea humbled me and helped me come to terms with some bad choices in my life.
Another lyric that stays with me daily is from the band Social Distortion. Reading the lyric regularly, while listening to the song Ball And Chain, has given me strength, over and over again, to stay away from alcohol — when nothing else I tried ever could.
And those formative lyrics — those fragments of moral philosophy which come and go in my head all day long, every one has been as impactful on me as any religious scripture ever has. In a very real sense, song lyrics have been the religious scripture that’s most shaped me.
I know people will make the argument that there’s some pretty bad lyrics out there too. Pick any page though, in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Qur’an, and you’ll find some pretty bad lyrics there as well.
In my life, good lyrics have been the fingerprints of God.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This week by the numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 7
Mph Avg: 15.7
Seat Time: 12 hours 43 minutes
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there’s this from The Call Enjoy…