Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bob Mould as seminal moment

Bob Mould released Workbook in 1989. I bought it a week after I  dropped out of college. I'd come back to Nebraska with no money and fewer prospects. It was a dark, dark time.

The record was written while Bob lived on a farm in upstate New York, trying to recover from the implosion of Husker Du. (They broke up the night before they were supposed to play a gig in Omaha.)  When I first heard the album, I connected very quickly with its images of rural life: "I walk through the day / through the open fields." These peripatetic rambles through a rural countryside inspired his imaginative productivity:
Imagine yourself in the middle of nowhere
Imagination runs away for a while
I play games about once a day or so
I don't know, that's where I'd rather go
Brasilia crossed with Trenton

I wish that I could tell my story
To all the people that listened to my story long ago
I knew that this would happen sooner or later
That I'd get disillusioned with it all
Just throw my hands up to the sky and say
"Oh Lord, what happened, what happened
To make things run this way?"
Being isolated in an empty space sets the imagination free. You can create games. You can pretend the mundane has become mythological. But when this creative process stops, you're often left with new insights into the reality of your present circumstances. You start to see yourself a bit more clearly. After writing the fantasy, you can craft a new narrative about your reality. 

Our culture's conceptualization of "imagination" comes from Wordsworth, as does our notion of the artist as a solitary wanderer, releasing slivers from one's emotional life into an unsuspecting and indifferent word.

Much of Wordsworth's poetry examines how rural imagery stimulates his imagination, and Bob's lyrics describe a similar process. MY job now is to focus our attention on the material production underlying all of that imaginative work. I choose agriculture because I believe that its metaphors, its rhetoric, and its earthiness all permeate Romanticism. I believe that the same processes are strongly influencing our culture.

Bob talks about how "fertile" this rural setting became: "Up on the farm in 1988 for Workbook. I was just like, wow--environment was so important to where I was in my life." In the lyrics, the fields are "open." Empty. So was my life in the aftermath of 1989. I was open to new imaginative ideas and images.

As I come so close to the completion of this project, one which has consumed the last five or six years of my life, one that's led me from the open fields of eastern Nebraska to the open fields of the California Central Valley and back again, I wonder where in the hell the idea ever came from. "What happened to make things run this way?" The high school classroom where I first read "Tintern Abbey?" A grad. school seminar 20 years later? Or was it Bob Mould?

Bob writes, "I wish I could tell my story." Wordsworth laments, "I cannot paint what then I was." For both of them, it's a rhetoric of impossibility.

Maybe finding that narrative is all any of us can hope for.

Bob Mould discusses and performs “Hoover Dam”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dorkiness is a warm bar mitt

Two new additions to my winter kit are on the way.

I know I'm going to get eviscerated the minute I show up with ugly-ass neoprene abominable-snowman mittens, so I'm just going to out myself now.

I stay warm on winter bike rides--except for my hands and feet. It's the same for everybody, right? But there were times last winter when I still couldn't feel my fingers and toes three hours after getting off the bike. That's dangerous.

So my options are: ride the trainer all winter and slowly go berserk, take spinning classes and quickly become homicidal, or acquire extreme warming options and endure endless ridicule.

So yeah, I've ordered Bar Mitts. Pearl Izumi lobster claws are okay for an hour or two in temperatures warmer than 20 degrees, but our longer gravel rides are frequently more demanding. I've got a pair of Bontrager's thickest five-fingered glove, but even with liners, they're still not warm enough. So the windproof neoprene Mitts, according to the icebike guys, are the warmest option. We're talking Alaskan I-bike-a-rod warm.

The shoes were a real toss-up: the store where I work part-part time is a Sidi dealer, so I've played with fitting them quite a bit. They're really, really well made shoes. But my existing road and mtb shoes are both Shimano, and their size 46 fits me well. I guess it came down to trust: I had a chance to talk with our rep. this summer, and he made me promise that the next pair of shoes I buy would be Sidis. The Diablo has a full Gore-tex liner and some fleece insulation, so between the shoes and Bontrager's crazy-thick fleeced RXL booties, I should be loaded for frost. Bryan just ordered a pair of the Shimano winter boots, so we're going to stage a side-by-side, on-bike test in a couple of weeks. Hopefully I'll have the Bar Mitts by then, too, so I won't break a knuckle when I slug him in the nose after enduring hours of his ridicule.

Come to think of it, I hope the Mitts are really durable. I'll probably have to smack Shim around, too......

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bob Mould as prime mover

I have a few pop music sacred cows. My favorites from the 80-90's were The Smiths, REM, The Waterboys, Bob Mould,  and Rollins. From the last the last ten years, Ryan Adams, Neko Case, The Drive-By Truckers, and the Decemberists.

Turns out, they all sort of like each other. At least some of them. The Decemberists have played with and covered songs by The Waterboys. Neko tweeted recently about how much she likes Morrissey. Ryan Adams is a huge Smiths fan. Michael Stipe and Morrissey like each other's work. (Rollins despises Morrissey, but how could he not?)

Bob Mould was feted in Los Angeles last month; Dave Grohl paid tribute to the obvious debt Nirvana owed to Husker Du, Spoon and The Hold Steady played mini-sets, and Ryan Adams....well, Ryan did this. This is my favorite Bob Mould song, sung by my favorite singer-songwriter (not named Neko) of the last ten years.

I'm amazed by diachronicity.

If anybody could read my mind
And share with me these thoughts
Of all the enemies left behind
And friends that time forgot
Pretending nothing could ever phase you
Well, some things never change
Tell me, why do these words ring home?
How can you heartbreak a stranger?
Plato asked the same question of poetry: how does its power drive men mad?

I met Bob once. My recently-departed and much-missed friend Thomas has spoken with him many, many times. But he's an enigma.

And sometimes, his words eviscerate us.

But sometimes, that heartbreak doesn't just rend. It also binds. One could say that I ride a bike today (and suffer all the madness that choice has fostered) because I ran into Miah at a Bob Mould show, four years after he and Thomas and I drove halfway across Iowa to watch Bob play a solo show in Ames. I'm thinking now of all the choices I've made because of the bike, all the new friends in my life today. Where I went to grad school. Those choices were catalyzed by a shared affection for Bob's work.

Sometimes, you can save a stranger. So thanks for that, Bob. We'll see you sometime on the road.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Autumn Leaves, and hope

I've written here before about the motivational challenges I face in the Fall, especially now that I'm living in the Midwest. Impending cold and enforced confinement looms over October and November, and I still carry the memory of the 87 straight days we spent with snow on the ground during that awful winter of 2009-10.

But Autumn holds eternal promise for the cyclists around here, even as our training time decreases and our waistlines expand. My friend Mark Savery is crushing the Master's 1/2 category on the 'cross bike, (he was 3 for 3 at Jingle Cross this weekend) and his Midwest Cycling teammate Matt Tillinghast has also taken a bunch of USGP podiums. Mark's ramping up for Master's nats and worlds. Wow. Jeremy Cook won the Cat 3 Nebraska State Championship in 'cross, and Bryan, well--he's had all sort of news about a new member of his clan.

But I've gone down the rabbit hole these last six weeks--and come back out with 155 new dissertation pages.

Not all of it is really new. This writing is the culmination of two years' worth of in-depth archival research, sorting, outlining, fretting, thinking, and cursing. But by the end of the year, I hope to stop spending my days hip deep in sheep dip. I'll get back to writing about poetry and literary theory, not just eighteenth-century agricultural writing.

So there's a light, as my man Mozzer used to say.

And cycling hopes remain. They're based on ephemera, but without our ridiculous dreams, would any of us ever bother to pin on a number? Looking back on the season that was, I got blown off the back of half the events I entered. I lost a chance to sprint for a master's championship when I dropped my chain 300 meters from the finish line after an excellent lead out from my friend Kevin. I attacked the shit out of three crits to help teammates establish the winning move. I missed a turn in a TT. I won a road race that Shim and I pretty much controlled by ourselves. I successfully raced four 'cross events without falling on my face.

And now, it's fall. I weigh less today than I have on any december 1st in 17 years--I'm just 2 pounds above this summer's race weight. I've usually ballooned past 205 by this point in the year, but so far, I'm doing okay at reducing my portion sizes to reflect my reduced training. I've forced myself to take a few days totally off the bike, and I feel refreshed and eager to start lifting and trainer workouts.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: if I can come into march weighing 190 (vs. my usual 210) and still pushing ~325 watts at threshold, I can certainly build on a base of fitness. I could conceivably weigh 185 and push 350-375 watts by may. Assuming I can still sprint at that weight, I should be able to help the fast guys a lot more next year. I just have to hope that I can avoid packing on my normal autumn 15.

But the numbers don't matter as much as the hope. Hope gets you out the door when it's 30 degrees outside and you have a three-hour endurance ride on your schedule. Hope forces you onto the trainer in a dark basement at 6:00 AM. Hope makes you complete another set of Bulgarian split squats when all you want to do is puke instead. Hope makes you try to train totally unlike Shim and Spence, both of whom have 20 years of riding in their legs and can go fast all the freaking time.

Hope compels you to leave Omaha at 18, and it pushes you to persevere long enough to earn three Grammy nominations:

Hope makes you scour another archive and discover a use of adynaton that makes all of the dissertation bits look like they belong together. 

So I hope. When the days grow short and the light recedes, I remember, as always, Uncle Bill:
                    we have within ourselves
Enough to fill the present day with joy,
And overspread the future years with hope.
 I hope that it's enough.