Muddying the waters – cycling the new blues

I’m reading a biography at the minute, “Can’t be satisfied: The life and times of Muddy Waters’.  Waters’ early life is fascinating and heart rending. The oppression of cotton workers in the Mississippi Delta. The abstract poverty of everyday life. Escape and release into music. It’s clear that from our seat in the 21st century Western World we are very fortunate indeed. Mention blues to most and visions of  aging rockers going through the motions at packed music venues springs to mind. But the origin of the blues is far removed from that. The blues was pain and brief escape. Anaesthetic and Adrenaline sonically despatched.

While getting lost in the sound of crickets, swaying corn and whiskey whirligigs, I stumbled across this section that struck – if you excuse the pun – a chord.

Blues came from hardship and became nothing less than a tool for survival. Like gospel music, blues offered release, relief. It commands the present moment, demanding that you forget the toil of your past, forget the woes ahead, that you get into this song and this feeling right now and give yourself over entirely to it.

Now why does that seem so familiar?

Ronde 2012

Modern lives are so very, very different. We choose our food, shop for clothes, pick paints and wallpaper – rather than torn pieces of newspaper – for our walls. We choose what we do and when we do it. We live comfortable and arguably decadent lives; certainly by comparison to Muddy’s existence and awful circumstance. But that description of the blues as a method of coping with life’s pressures, stresses and demands, really does remind me of the need for fresh air, big hills, long trails and mind clearing rides. I guess the irony – in my case at least – is that almost the reverse is true. Modern stresses are frequently more mental than physical and corporeal challenges are where the mind finds release. For me, I find the harder rides, the demanding rides, where the wind strips moisture from your skin, where cobbles and trails cause bouncing and discomfort, where climbs effect burning muscles and force lungs to fight for air, to be the most effective release of all. For some of us soft Northern Hemisphere cycling types, perhaps rides are the new blues.

‘Cant’ be satisfied: The life and times of Muddy Waters’  by Robert Gordon is available here.

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