The devil is a busy man
by Jeff Henderson
published by Inside Triathlon
I got a letter the other day, in itself not uncommon because I'm a race director. But - you might want to usher small children from the room and avert your eyes if the shock is too great - it was a handwritten letter. I am not making this up. I unfolded actual paper with actual script written using an actual pen, and I could tell it wasn't one of those fancy computer handwriting fonts because the ink had smudged.
The envelope was also hand-lettered, and I half-expected to see pennies taped where the stamp should have been. Steve Bradley was the author, a man who I have always found friendly and engaging in our email exchanges - but I had no idea he was also housed in a mental institution. I can draw no other conclusion from his decision to handwrite when email has become the choice of letter writers everywhere.
But I'm glad he did.
Through three pages of stylish, unique penmanship, Steve shared with me some thoughts on triathlon and music, and being that his words made me laugh and made me think a bit, I thought I would share them with you, too.
Steve began by explaining the motivation for his letter. "I'm 56, and from the time I was 16 I have been devoted almost exclusively to blues music. There is the odd foray into cajun or western swing or early jazz guitar, but my musical center is always blues. I never listen to the radio, and when I read about music that is good to listen to while working out, virtually all of it is completely unknown to me. But music is not absent from my workouts, and many, many songs go through my head when I'm working out or racing."
Steve's love of the blues immediately struck me as particularly apt for triathlon, because as we all know both of them contain five fundamental elements:
3. old dogs
5. hurtin' somethin' fierce
Steve went on to point out a variety of songs - particular favorites of his - that, like a good hound dog on the back porch, could accompany us while we indulge in the sport we love. He was quick to point out that "it's mostly the titles that work, rather than the lyrics themselves. So what goes through my head are just short passages that contain the song title, rather than the whole song." This is welcome news for those staring down the task of memorizing There's Ain't Nobody Got It Like She's Got It for their next run.
From the paragraph devoted to it in his letter, it can be surmised that Steve has a special place for the song Serves You Right to Suffer. He writes, "This is playing in my head when things are going bad, of course, but also when I am in the midst of something grueling, and it's going well, and it hurts - but I know it will bear fruit in the end. So it can be reinforcement - or a reminder that I have entered something not quite fully trained properly, or better yet, that I have gone too hard too early and now have to pay the price." Is this familiar to anyone? Can Brother Steve get an Amen and an Hallelujah?!
We've all had bad times in triathlon, much like the great blues musicians have had bad times in... well, seemingly everything. Steve has an answer for those "low moments." "There are a few other tunes that run through my head when things aren't going as hoped for or planned. These include The Sky is Falling, It Hurts Me Too, My Road is Rough and Rocky, Trouble in Mind, Poor Boy Long Ways From Home, and Fixin' to Die." You can begin to see why Steve is given wide berth at aid stations.
"More specifically, when my run became a walk - Atomic Man and Ironman Lake Placid - my mind listens to Walking by Myself (less so at Lake Placid, because I had lots of company!), Take a Little Walk with Me, Walkin' Blues, Crawling Kingsnake, and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad. And when the bonk is close and the aid stations are just too damn far apart, there's Dry Spell Blues, Goin' Down Slow, Stop Breaking Down, and Lights Out."
But don't think for a moment that Steve's enjoyment of the blues means all is doom and gloom. "There are more positive blues as well," he assures me, and I think he might even be serious. Everything's Gonna Be Alright, Live the Life I Love, Mellow Down Easy, Got My Mojo Working, Driving Wheel, Bring It on Home, and Ramblin' on My Mind. A couple years ago Steve followed the legacy of Big Bill Broonzy (I Wonder When I'll Get To Be Called A [Iron]Man, Night Time Is The Right Time [To Finish This Damn Race]) to Chicago and one of the country's biggest triathlons. He of course packed his mind full of tunes for the city that brought us urban blues: "The tape in my head was busy with Sweet Home Chicago and Chicago Bound."
Not a selfish man, Steve shares some closing thoughts for those looking to pep up a mid-winter workout with song. "I spent some time going through my music and identified a whole swack of other blues that could reflect the trials and tribulations of training and racing. I didn't do Ironman Lake Placid '03, the year of the deluge, but for those who did they could relate to High Water Everywhere and Wild Water Blues. When the wind is bad there is Wind Howlin' Blues and Poor Wind That Don't Change. A religious person could maybe get some strength from I'm Gonna Run to the City of Refuge and I'm So Glad I Got Good Religion - or conversely, be plagued by The Devil is a Busy Man."
It's clear that Steve's vinyl collections is extensive. It's also clear he has some time on his hands. But I, for one, am glad he devoted an afternoon to the ink and blotter - it's given me new material for my long winter rides. Nothing keeps the cadence high and the miles clippin' like the blues, let me tell you.