It's that time of year again, when I retire this year's music mix that I listen to on the way to and from rides and come up with a new playlist for next year.
The right song can get me up a long hill, through a nasty headwind, past a tiring few century miles, or hammering along a flat stretch at top speed.
Here's the playlist, in order. It seems the songs, instead of just reminding me of roads and scenery, summarize a year in which a lot in my life changed. 2009 has a soundtrack.
Mojave (Afro Celt Sound System): On my mountain bike at Mercer County Park, riding along the berm near the dam, about to descend the big hill that runs along the Assunpink Creek. And turning too early, missing the steepest part.
Shelter Me (Bob Mould): By March I'd been noticing for a while that my boss was acting strangely, being nasty to me, and being less communicative that usual to all of us. He finally told me I had to leave because he'd rather spend his diminishing funds on a post-doc than a tech he no longer needed now that we were down to half the number of people. None of us had known how bad the situation was; he'd hidden it from us, acting like a jerk instead of being honest. I wasn't upset at having to leave; I was upset at the way I'd been treated. Since August 2007 the job had been slowly sliding into stupid anyway. Fortunately my boss got wind of a job opening in another lab. He suggested my name to them, told me after the fact, and said I'd be a good fit. I started work in the Brain Factory on April 20.
Cellphone's Dead (Beck): This one never really went anywhere.
The Bead Goes On (Talvin Singh): With a steady beat this song was good for keeping me moving when I was starting to get tired. I see a shady hill somewhere in Burlington County.
Wake (Big Country): Doing chest presses at the gym, lying on my back, staring at the ceiling. Cycling songs make good lifting music.
My Wave (Soundgarden): I should know better than to throw in a song with a weird time signature I can't pedal to.
Ayub's Song/As You Were (Afro Celt Sound System): Days before the job interview, during which I pretty much hated all science and scientists, Cheryl, Mike, and I cycled to Oldwick. It was on Rockaway Road, with this song in my head, that my mind finally cleared. Ayub's Song and Rockaway Road belong together.
Back to the Earth (Rusted Root): Begins slowly, speeds up, and works as a good filler until conversation starts up again.
Keep the Car Running (Arcade Fire): Same as above, but always fast.
Weapon of Choice (Fatboy Slim): "If you walk without rhythm/You won't attract the worm." Huh?
Holden Oversoul (Widespread Panic): Better in theory than in practice as far as bike tunes go.
Johnny at Sea (Afro Celt Sound System): You pretty much can't go wrong with these guys. There will come a day when I'll have used all their music. Some Spinning instructors might have already reached that point.
Wild, Sweet and Cool (The Crystal Method): Bad techno, middling as a bike tune. Next...
Helium (Bob Mould): Now we're getting into Fido territory.
Pittsburgh (Ants In Japan): January 12, around 6:30 a.m. I lost a third of the vision in my right eye. I thought it was a migraine, popped some naproxen, and took the train to work. By the time I got to Penn it had diminished by half but I knew this wasn't my typical migraine aura. I went to the ER. Five hours later I was diagnosed with a migraine with the remote possibility I'd had a stroke or a TIA. The blind spot, at this point, had gone from looking like France to settling into the profile of a Siberian Husky. I named it Fido. Many appointments (neurology, opthalmology, neuro-opthalmology, GP, OB-GYN), misdiagnoses (migraine, maybe stroke, maybe TIA, maybe MS), and procedures (MRI, ultrasound, IUD, visual field tests) later I was off the pill (that and migraines being a stroke risk) and diagnosed with "Multiple Evanescent White Dot Syndrome," a benign event that happens to women my age who are under stress, influenced by hormones, and whatever else causes weird shit like this to happen. I rearranged my life. I went off the pill. I stopped going to the gym at 5:20 a.m. I started getting seven hours of sleep each night. I changed jobs. My blood pressure returned to normal. I lost weight. And Fido started to fade. Today, nearly a year later, I can still see Fido if I close my good eye and look at a white surface. He looks more like a shoe than a dog these days.
River Run (Philip Glass): Getting an MRI of the head is like being dragged, slowly, through the unfinished pieces of a Philip Glass composition.
OK (Talvin Singh): Weird beats just don't work on the road.
Trouble No More (Allman Brothers): What I felt when I got out of a bad job.
Fuel My Fire (The Prodigy): A good, angry song for mashing.
Arleen (John Keene Dance Mix) (Widespread Panic): Who knew bluesy jam bands could concoct a dance mix? Well, it works. Good for flat roads.
Sandstorm (Darude): Pure techno garbage, and absolutely perfect for getting a move on no matter the terrain. When you saw me take the lead last summer I probably had this song in my head.
Further in Time (Afro Celt Sound System): See Johnny At Sea, but even better.
It's Too Funky In Here (James Brown): If you look online for the lyrics this is what you get. 'Nuff said.
Stop-Go (Widespread Panic): In the early Fido days, while I was lifting at the gym, I realized that forcing myself to slow down was exactly what I needed.
Further On Up the Road (Live) (Eric Clapton): This one goes out to a certain pair of adulterers in the Princeton Freewheelers. Your antics destroyed several lives and pretty much ruined the second half of the season for a lot of us. Not that you give a shit.
Rising Up (The Roots): As I began recovering from losing my vision and my job I had this song in my head a lot. Not that the lyrics have anything to do with what I was going through. They don't. But in the playlist this song comes before...
...Powaqqatsi Anthem Part 3 (Philip Glass): When, in late spring, as you lead Cheryl, Mike, and Theresa along Route 27, by the Millstone River, on the way to the Freewheeler's Spring Fling, and the sun is shining, sparkling on the water, and it's finally warm enough to shed the jacket and leggings, and you're feeling strong, and you have a new job you like, and you can see again, when you know you're finally pulling out of a bad winter, when you want a piece of triumphant cycling music, this is it.
Amber (Afro Celt Sound System): "Rain becomes silver/Leaves turn to gold/Cloth become amber/Wind turn to snow." See ya on the road in January!