By Christopher Cudworth
On the way home from a business appointment yesterday the Chicago Music station known as The Drive began playing an entire side of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s iconic “Deja Vu” album. I owned that LP back in the day. It ultimately disappeared into some roommate’s collection. But thanks to Spotify and other music-sharing Internet sites, it has been possible to keep that music playing in my house and in my head.
The amazing vocal break in the song Carry On is an epiphany in its way. It’s as if the entire era of that music peaked at that moment in 1970. Rock was catching its breath for a moment before heading into the era of the Eagles, Springsteen and the whole post-Beatles outputs of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Music and media
It was 44 years ago that Deja Vu came out on vinyl. There were no other forms of music media then, other than 8-tracks, which you could not rewind. Then along came cassettes, the first truly portable form of music, and Sony Walkmans. And that’s when the running world first grabbed onto the concept of listening to music while training.
Since then the music media world has moved through a litany of devices to take with you on the run or the ride. You can even swim with music playing in special waterproof devices. I will say that makes sense. People who swim for an hour or more deserve some entertainment.
The Digital Age and Classic Rock
Of course there is almost no limit to the type of music to which you can listen these days while training. With music mix stations such as Pandora, iTunes and others now offering essentially unlimited catalogs, you can mix your own music.
But there’s one category of music that seems dominant in society. And that is Classic Rock.
You can categorize it any way you want, but Classic Rock constitutes that whole era from the mid-1960s when bands like the Beatles, Cream, Led Zeppelin and CSN&Y led the way, all the way through the early 1980s when Talking Heads, Springsteen and Tom Petty pumped out one great album after another.
We should not be surprised that music is still being played. Sirius XM has channels devoted to Classic Vinyl and Deep Tracks. Even Spectrum hauls out Classic Rock when it fits.
It’s everywhere you go, in fact. The grocery store now plays Springsteen! Who would have thought?
Classic Rock On the Road
Of course lumped in with those great musical characters are some quasi-classic artists like REO Speedwagon and Styx. Marshall Tucker and Lynyrd Skynrd. The list truly goes on and on. And by the way, if you’re looking for resources on Classic Rock, you can do no better than the “record shop” (it truly is) in my hometown of Batavia, Illinois. Visit Kiss The Sky (link to site). It rocks.
Van Halen? I don’t know. They start to slide off the register for me at some point. As Classic, anyway. We all have our music meters.
Off the Charts
But what do you do with bands such as Head East, whose obnoxious, annoying hit “Never Been Any Reason” took over our college dorm room freshman year? That music just seemed to attract the shallowest crowd. People who liked Head East would stare at you with that drunk look in their eyes when you asked if they’d ever heard of Traffic and John Barleycorn Must Die. A Classic album if there ever was one, yet completely missed by the Classic Era party animals to whom music was nothing for than a soundtrack for hard drinking and the vacuous escape from reality.
Soundtrack to Success?
When The Cars came along however, our cross country team adopted that first album as the soundtrack for our season. We played it loud at the starting line of our 30-team invitational. It blared through the biggest speakers we could find. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight. Just What I Needed. Moving In Stereo.
Despite that inspiration we took second to Augustana College, our most hated rivals in the Midwest. They were too much like us. And yet not.
The music did not, it turned out, help us triumph.
Is Classic Rock Good for You?
Those are fun yet strange memories of how music impacts our lives. Yet if indeed Classic Rock is that soundtrack for so many of us, is that a good thing? Is listening to Classic Rock still good for you?
There are so many associations that go along with music. We learned from the film American Graffiti that music can literally define an age. But then we got doused in Grease with its pseudo-50s observations of love and life and things started to get confused. Suddenly it felt like our musical sensibilities were being used to shove sentiment down our throats.
And so it has continued to this day. Classic Rock is played with a sort of assumption that everyone will automatically love it. Yet I have grown so tired of certain Classic Rock hits that I never want to hear them again. Most of the Doobie Brothers catalog can feel that way. Those songs were played on such heavy rotation in the 70s that they take on a flat dimension upon another hearing. Plus the associations with former girlfriends, bad nights spent drinking Stroh’s beer in some forlorn parking lot or going home alone and depressed to your parent’s house are so strong the music almost seems to pass right through you like some soul-sucking Dementor from Harry Potter.
Not So Classic Moments
Then come the really, really bad memories. The girlfriend who was so jealous she first tried to ruin your running with vicious drinking and sex bouts, and then quit school so you felt guilty. Or that boyfriend who respected you in private but made fun of you in public? Not so good memories.
Then came that awful factory where you worked that summer job with people who had already quit in life. You barely survived all those things. And now the songs that remind you of those days keep coming back on the radio or through some odd Pandora mix. You turn to the music and ask, WTF? Classic Rock is truly one of the tarsnakes in this world. It can be both good and bad for you.
But there always seems to be some sort of redemptive quality to Classic Rock. So you almost always forgive it. The song Almost Cut My Hair that played on that Deja Vu listen the other day in my car? It sounded absolutely great on the Harmon Kardon stereo in my Subaru Outback. You can feel David Crosby’s voice shredding the air around him. His perfect pitch and bluesy approach feel genuine to the point that his aural apology to an era is palpable. It takes you back to a time when cutting your hair was actually a sign of giving in to the very ugly social trends we are still fighting today. Aggressively blind conservatism. The military-industrial complex. Unending wars.
Truly Classic Rock fought all that false politik and its associated byproducts; racism, oppression, discrimination. Add to that mix today the continuing battle for women’s equal rights and gay marriage, action on global warming and environmental destruction wrought by bio-engineered crops that kill milkweed and with it, the Monarch butterflies that are an icon of summer itself. Don’t cut your rhetorical hair. The fights aren’t over yet.
Then you realize upon a fresh listen that certain songs have so much yet to offer. Have you listened lately to Drive All Night off the Bruce Springsteen album The River? It will tear your heart out. It may remind you of a lost relationship but what the hell? We all lose love at times. Listen to the music. Yes, Bruce wanders all over the phony map at times with lyrics about factories and all, but this is one-t0-one yearning that will make you hug the one you love now.
And so it goes. The music we’ve been carrying with us all these years can carry us now. You put on the right music for a run or a ride and out the door you go.
I’ve even been stopped in my tracks at times while running to listen to a track without the thud of my feet on the ground.
I don’t listen to music while riding. Too dangerous in my opinion. A rider in our area was so absorbed in his music that he crossed some rural railroad tracks and got crushed by an oncoming train. There’s nothing Classic or Rockin’ about that at all. Our music should sustain us, not kill us.
There’s one other aspect of Classic Rock that must be considered in terms of our emotions and our thinking. If you have ever heard of the Mozart Effect, then you perhaps know that Classical Music, not Classic Rock is better designed for encouraging creative thought processes. Rock, with its incessant beats, infectious licks and suggestive lyrics has the effect of actually over-writing or replacing our thoughts rather than encouraging new ones. So while you might like the supposedly motivational feel of Classic Rock while you run and ride, you may actually, in some ways, be holding yourself back. Think about it.
Keep On Rocking…
it’s a fine line sometimes as to whether Classic Rock is good for you or not. Some of those songs are so powerfully associated with events in our lives you can almost smell the pot, feel the heat of the one you were with and remember those moments like they were yesterday. Whether those memories are good to dredge up or not is a question for the ages.
Psychologists could probably tell us more. It is said that smells are some of the most powerful memory-makers in our lives. But music must come in a close second.
But as we’ve all learned, sometimes coming in second is a real treasured experience. You do your best and if your best isn’t good enough to win, at least you have the memory of your effort, and live to take on another day.
That may be the ultimate value of Classic Rock for all of us. We’ve made it through a lot in life, and plan to keep on trucking. If the music gets you there, it’s hard to argue that it’s not good for you. In some ways.