Saturday, April 18, 2015


Thursday morning, late winter: "Hey! We need some more up-beat music!" Cara, she's been taking my indoor cycle class for years. She often comments on the workout (always good) and occasionally praises a song. Usually something by the Who or the Stones or Neil Young or the Doors. She's opinionated, but not critical. In fact, she is one of the most polite people I encounter on a regular basis. Her outburst surprised me.

"Those last two songs were Nirvana, so I'm not really sure what you're talking about." This got some chuckles. It lightened the mood. My next three songs, a block of sixties garage rock – Louie, Louie, Wooly Bully and Double Shot of my Baby's Love – actually got people singing along. All was forgotten. Until I introduced a set of speed-work with Sonic Youth's "Purr." This started a mini-rebellion. I closed out the workout with a pair of live Clash cuts and Nirvana's "Molly's Lips.” Then I cooled everyone down with the Cure’ s ”Fire in Cairo.” The room was alive with tension. My music selection had pissed people off. As if I was challenging everyone with my play list. And I probably was. “Deal with it or leave.” As everyone mopped up their sweat at the end of class, I felt guilty. My class starts at 5:30 AM. They get up early for this. This is their workout. "We'll start next week with Pop-Music Monday." I got a little cheer.

I was in a crappy mood the rest of the day. A great spin-class is tricky to achieve. I can rarely tell when the class is going to gel into a something memorable. But that's the bar I set for myself. I want every class to astonish. To elicit a dazed and satisfied “OMG!” as we're walking out the door. But many factors make or break a class. The music, sure. The drills. But it's also the mood of the class, the mood of the instructor. Even the weather plays a role, even though it's an indoor class. I often go into a class knowing it will be good, but will it be great? It will be fine (I hate that tepid word). It will get the job done (not crazy about that phrase either). On occasion, I go into a class with a workout so perfect, I know it will change people's lives.

That Thursday was one of those days. I had already used this workout the week before and I loved it. A twenty-four minute series of three-minute songs – two minutes hard, the last minute, all out. Sucking wind. Each song with more tension than the last. Slowly catching our breath for two minutes, and kill it again. Rocking songs! They needed to motivate. Drawn heavily from my punk/alt-rock library. Clash, Pixies, X. The rest of the workout, hard flats interspersed with sprints, climbs and jumps. Well-choreographed, well-paced. Intense, but doable.

The first time I used the workout, It was a very snowy morning. A shut-down-the-town sort of day. Only two riders showed up. This was an A-list workout, wasted on two people. So I reused it a week later – Thursday. I made some song changes, improved the play list, I thought – swapped in the Nirvana, the live Clash, a Gang of Four song. And you know the rest.

I’ve been leading this cycle class for 4 years. The music clearly isn’t for everyone, but most people seem to like it. Older people primarily, people whose tastes range beyond pop. My class, initially branded “Punk*Cycle” started as all punk, all the time, but that got boring. Not enough variety, the songs too short. My class, usually two or three people. So I started adding in other genres: roots rock, blues, classic rock; Some reggae and alt-country; Even a bit of pop music now and then – generally, eighties new wave. For the most part, not radio music, but I choose songs that are tuneful. Music that should have been popular – if anyone ever heard it.

A rocking mix, songs that grow on people. The reviews are mixed, but mostly positive. I've heard many times that I have the best music of all the instructors. I've also heard that I have “the weirdest.” Once or twice, "the worst." It all comes down to taste. And I'm not very accommodating. I play what I prefer. Now and then, I push to see what I can get away with. Seems like Thursday was one of those mornings.

Music. I spend much of my time thinking about it. There is always a tune bouncing through my head. And the music I like, much of it I love. When looking through the prism of love, you see only the good. You somehow overlook the ugly. I've done this in past relationships, and I do this with songs, too. A good example is the Gang of Four's “I Found that Essence Rare.” I listen to that song and I hear energetic dance music. A song with a clever tune and a catchy beat. My wife hears it and says “WTF?” It is dissonant and grating. She's a good barometer. She loves the Ramones, the Clash, Green Day, but she was raised on Sheena Easton, Michael Jackson and Prince. She can tell me which songs are going to bomb, so I try to avoid asking her.

That fateful Thursday morning was about four weeks ago. Since then, I spend more time tweaking my playlist. More time trying to balance and evaluate songs. A shift in perspective. Will the songs appeal to conservative riders like Cara. Can I still use Blast's cover of “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue?” Maybe. If I lead in with Bruno Mars and chase it with Taylor Swift.

I seem to be entering a new phase in my relationship with spin. More mature. More realistic. Like a courtship that is getting serious. I am finding that I need to compromise a bit. Give up Blast to avoid Taylor Swift. Or recognize that three Nirvana songs in a one hour workout is expending weeks of goodwill. Thinking like this takes extra effort. It even erodes a bit of the fun. Compromise, maturity. Blah. Maybe I should return to my roots. Return to Punk*Cycle. My raw, head-banging class. My almost empty room. 

Now seriously, listen to Molly's Lips. This song rocks.

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