Monday, February 29, 2016

From the Archives - The Big [Bike Shop] Screw-Up


It’s another slow news day at albertnet.  (More to the point, it’s a big everything-else day and none of the crap I’m busy with is worth writing about.)  So I’m plunging into the depths of my hard copy archives for a little poem to present.  Insofar as a central goal of this blog is to store copies of my work offsite, all is going according to plan.

As a bonus, I’m going to provide all-new footnotes on this poem.  Pretend you found this in your Norton Anthology of American Teen Poetry.

The Big Screw-Up – ca. 1986

Oh no, did I just wreck this stupid crank?
The tool slipped and all the threads came out!                                2
And really, if I want to be quite frank,
I gotta tell ya, J.B.’s gonna shout!

I can’t believe that I forgot the bolt
That holds the crank on under any load.                                            6
Oh lordy, did I ever feel a jolt,
When John looked at the crank and that bolt showed.

He’s gonna think I am a total jerk,
And that I don’t know anything about bikes.                                 10
And that at this bike shop I shouldn’t work,
And that I oughtta just go take a hike.

    Thank god, John fixed the crank quite easily
    But tools cannot save my dignity.                                                  14

Footnotes & commentary

Line 2:  the tool slipped and all the threads came out

If you think it’s a bit silly to write a sonnet about a mishap at a bike shop, consider that I originally envisioned this as a Broadway musical.  I worked on it for nine years before suffering a nervous breakdown.  That’s not true.

I’ll concede that I never gave much thought to the audience for this sonnet.  I mean, who the hell would even know what, and whom, I was writing about?  It’s actually entirely possible no living soul has ever read this sonnet.  And since almost nobody reads this blog, you could well be the very first reader of the sonnet!  You should win a prize, maybe a free take-apart eraser or homemade bookmark or something.

So, “crank” in this context is the crankset on a bicycle, which is what the pedals attach to.  The crank, in bikes of this era, was bolted on to the spindle of the bottom bracket:  that is, the axle-like thingy that spins around.  It was a press fit:  you stuck it on there, then cranked it down with this bolt, which pushed the crank farther onto the spindle until it was good and tight.

To remove it, you first removed the bolt, and then—because the thing was pressed on so tight there was no other way to remove it—you screwed this tool in there called a crank puller.  It had a threaded part, male, that screwed into the female threads of the crank.  Then there was this thingy that screwed inside of it and pushed on the spindle.  It’s kind of like how, when someone in a cartoon wants to pull a door open, he has to push his foot against the doorjamb.  Kind of.

You had to be careful with this type of square-shoulder spindle.  If you didn’t tighten the bolt enough, the crank could fall off, but some cranks were made of such cheap aluminum, you could destroy them by tightening too much.  If you just kept cranking on that bolt, the crank would move farther and farther up the spindle until the chainring mashed into the frame.  I once saw a guy do that on a really cheap bike, a Miyata Valley Runner (or “Valley Girl” as we called them).  

Line 4:  J.B.’s gonna shout

J.B. was John Burnell, the head mechanic at the High Wheeler (or “Thigh Feeler” as we called it).  He was a total bike guru and we were all in awe of him.  He was also a very nice guy, unless you crossed him.  We used to solder the ends of the brake and gear cables on all the bikes we built, and one time my brother Bryan accidentally let some molten solder dribble onto J.B.’s foot (he was wearing those Adidas race slippers, without socks).  J.B. issued an impressive litany of profanity, with significant volume and perfect inflection.  A cussing-out tour de force, and Bryan looked like he could have died of shame.

Line 6:  holds the crank on

Bikes weren’t quite as well designed back in those days.  If the crank was a tight fit on the spindle, you could probably get away with no bolt at all, at least for awhile.  But if the fit wasn’t so good, the whole thing would eventually rock loose and the bolt would rattle off and the whole crank would fall off onto the road.  This could happen in the first 30 days of a bike’s life, and is the #1 reason shops traditionally offered a free tune-up a month after purchase.  Nothing looks worse than a crank that literally falls off an almost-new bicycle.  (Except, perhaps, a morbidly obese cyclist wearing bright pink Lycra.)

Line 7:  lordy

Nobody says “lordy” anymore and I certainly didn’t at the time I wrote this.  This is a classic case of throwing in a worthless two-syllable word just because it happens to be iambic and pads out the line metrically.  No poet worth his salt would resort to such a cheap trick.  I could have so easily done better, though the most obvious expression that comes to mind would be blasphemy.  I’m not sure blasphemy belongs in a sonnet, at least one penned by a teenager.  In those days my brothers liked to avoid profanity by substituting “TANJ,” an acronym they made up for “there ain’t no justice.”  I found this so goody-two-shoes as to be more offensive than blasphemy.  Meanwhile, its double-entendre—there existed at that time a manufacturer of steel bike frame tubing called Tange—was erroneous because Tange was pronounced “Tan-GAY,” not “tanj.”

Line 8:  that bolt showed

How stupid was I, that I could forget to remove the bolt?  Well, oddly enough, this wasn’t a terribly uncommon mistake.  You see, bikes tended to come with a dust cap installed in the crank, which served no real purpose so all us racer-types left them off.  So removing the dust cap sometimes led the inattentive mechanic to think he’d removed the bolt.  Meanwhile, some cranks (such as Shimano) had a “one-key release” whereby removing what looked like a dust cap was also removing the bolt.  But all this is backpedaling (no pun intended).  It was a dumbass move.

Line 9:  I am a total jerk

As I came to realize years later, you have to be careful with one-syllable words when writing a Shakespearean sonnet.  As explained here, a pair of one syllable words will often have a natural inflection:  for example, saying “hot dog” or “pit bull” correctly requires the emphasis to be put on the first word.  It’s “PIT bull,” not “pit BULL.”  If the poet fails to understand this, he or she ends up with clunky lines like this one.  I could so easily have written, “He’s gonna think that I’m a total jerk” instead of “He’s gonna think I am a total jerk,” but I was as bad a poet as I was a mechanic.  Worse, probably.

Line 10:  anything about bikes

Count the feet on this line.  There are 5½.  What part of “pentameter” did I not grasp?  It’s not iambic penta-and-a-half-meter!  I guess “anything ‘bout bikes” would work better but is kind of cheating.  “And that I don’t know anything at all” would work fine, and then I could end line 12 with something about working at a mall, or cleaning bathroom stalls.  Oh well.  Too late now.

J.B. never accused me of knowing nothing about bikes, but once I was trying to file a new cotter pin for a cottered crank and getting nowhere, and he said, “You don’t know anything about cottered cranks!”  Then he paused, reflected on the state of the industry, in which cottered cranks were on the very brink of obsolescence, and conceded, “I guess that’s actually no big deal.”  Then he took the crank and the cotter pin away from me, expertly filed the pin to the right shape, and finished the repair.  You know what’s weird?  The industry has progressed so far from there that I don’t actually know much about the modern cranks on my own bike.  All this technology has passed me by.

Line 11:  at this bike shop I shouldn’t work

This line really makes me wince.  I suppose there’s plenty of precedent for a poet to put a prepositional phrase before a predicate (e.g., “at this bike shop I shouldn’t work” instead of “I shouldn’t work at this bike shop”), but nobody talks or writes that way these days, so such a construction sounds a) contrived, b) like the writer is trying to sound all belles-lettres-y, c) like the writer is trying to skate by on a technicality, and d) like Yoda.  Reading this over, I want to substitute “like I oughtta be fucking fired,” and meter be damned.

Line 12:  just go take a hike

God, it just gets worse and worse.  Nobody says “go take a hike” anymore, and nobody did in the mid-‘80s, and stupid expressions like this are so verbally weak as to be the opposite of poetry.  A poem should use vivid details that affect the reader viscerally.  This line should say something more bold, like “I should have molten solder dripped down the front of my shorts.”

Line 13:  quite easily

It’s true that J.B. fixed the crank, and I don’t remember it taking him very long, but I cannot remember how he did it, so maybe it wasn’t actually that easy.  It’s possible I only destroyed some of the threads.  The crank puller would thread in pretty far normally, but perhaps the bolt kept it from going in far enough to do real damage.  If there were good threads farther in, J.B. would have just had to tap out the wrecked ones to remove the damaged metal.  I don’t think he inserted a helicoil.  The fact that I’m still pondering this 30 years later tells you how gutted I still am about it.  I hope J.B. reads this and can at least appreciate my contrition.  He probably still remembers my jackass maneuver himself.  Someday a journalist will ask him, “Did you ever work with Dana Albert, the Campanile clock tower shooter?” and he’ll say, “Oh, yeah, he was a moron.  Once tried to pull a crank without removing the bolt.  But I didn’t figure him for a complete psycho.”

Line 14:  dignity

I have to admit, I feel pretty good about how well “easily” rhymes with “dignity.”  The notion of a tool saving something seems a bit of a stretch at first, but that’s exactly what J.B. did with the tap or whatever tool he used—he saved that crank.  Maybe it’s still going strong on some bike somewhere.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Best Advice I’ve Received


The final page of this month’s Southwest Magazine is a column called “One Question.” The question—“What’s the best advice you’ve received?”—was directed toward Hilary Duff.  Her reply ran 73 words, of which 62 had just one syllable.  Including this sentence I’m already at 52 words, with only 29 one-syllable words.  This is why Hilary Duff gets to be published in a magazine and I don’t.  Perhaps it helps that she’s an attractive actress whose photo deserves to take up 3/4 of the page.

Since I can’t be an attractive actress or published writer, I’ve decided to comfort myself by answering the One Question myself, but better.  “Better” in this context means “more words, bigger words, and no photo.”  If that’s not enough to keep you reading, here’s another hook:  I didn’t even follow the advice I’m about to cite.

The advice

The best advice I ever received was, “You don’t need to go to college.”  I did go to college, and I would advise each and every high school kid to attend college if he possibly can.  So why do I appreciate this advice?

Let’s back up and look at the mindset I had when I received this guidance.  It was the 1980s and I was a teenager in Boulder, Colorado (where everybody was middle-class or higher, well-educated, and white).  The conventional wisdom was that if you went to college you would get a white-collar job and be happy and successful.  Oh, and we were generally encouraged to attend the best college we could.

Contrast this to the mindset of what appears to be the typical teenager today in my kids’ demographic (Albany, California; middle class or higher; well-educated; white or Asian).  The conventional wisdom here is, “If you ever get a single B in high school you will never get into a decent college and you will have NO FUTURE, and by the way, grades aren’t enough so you should be taking at least four or five AP classes and also doing all kinds of extracurricular activities that will look good on your application, but no matter what you do you’re probably doomed and will never go to a top college and you’ll never achieve the standard of living your parents now provide for you, you miserable wretch.”

Okay, that’s not entirely fair.  I don’t think our current crop of teens uses the word “wretch.”

The matter of perspective

As a teenager, I appreciated the odd “skip college” advice because it opened the door, just a crack, for an alternative point of view.  Of course it helped that this point of view came from a successful person.  Obviously if a homeless dude gave me that advice, it wouldn’t mean a thing.  But by “successful” I don’t just mean “has a nice house in Boulder and some cool toys like an actual Model-T Ford that actually runs, an actual NASA space suit, a cool working jukebox, a working parking meter, and an immaculate 1950s Pontiac 8 car with fins and chrome and an in-line 8-cylinder engine so the hood goes on for days.”  By “successful” I also mean “has a really wild career that he obviously loves.”

The person dispensing this advice was Michael Aisner, who at that time was the director of the Coors International Bicycle Classic, which was the biggest, most important cycling stage race ever held in this country (and which to date has never been surpassed).  I’m going to throw in a caveat here:  I won’t put words in Mike’s mouth and claim that he’d still give this advice today (though I suspect he would), and I’ll add that he wouldn’t necessarily have given this advice to just anybody (though I suspect I wasn’t a special case).

I got to know Mike because I worked as a volunteer for his race—not just when it was going on, but year-round at their headquarters in Boulder, Colorado—“the race office,” as we all called it.  I wouldn’t say I worked as an intern, though I suppose that’s what I was, because at that time I’d never heard the word “intern,” and had no idea that volunteering your time at a company would “look good on your college application.”  If you’d asked me at the time what this job would do for my college prospects, I’d probably have  just shrugged, or said, “I guess it slightly damages my college prospects since I’m so distracted from my schoolwork.”  I volunteered at the race office because it was a cool place to hang, and there were great people there, and I would get to use a computer, and figured I’d learn a lot.

My perspective going into that job was thus fairly compatible with Mike’s.  He just took it up a notch by suggesting that if you like to work, and you are surrounded by great people, and you learn a lot, and you just keep that up, you’ll eventually start getting paid, and will go on to have a fulfilling career, and it would be pointless to halt this progress in its tracks to go sit in lecture halls for four years and incur a bunch of debt.

A couple of paradoxes

Here are a couple of paradoxes introduced by what I’ve written so far.

First, Mike himself did go to college.  (Did he graduate?  I’m not sure … when I asked him he laughed and said, “Do you know you’re the first person who’s ever asked me that?”)  The point is, he’s had this great and diverse career history based on his ability to execute, not his formal education.  Working in his office, which had no walls and no cubicles, I got to hear him in action, mostly on the phone, and probably learned more about business than if I’d studied it in college.  (I’m tempted to apologize here to any business majors who might be reading this, but who am I kidding?)

The second paradox is that I didn’t follow Mike’s advice—I did go to college.  I ignored his advice for two reasons.  One, I didn’t have the balls to believe what he was telling me.  I felt in my very bones that without a college degree, I’d never amount to anything, no matter how inspiring his example was. (I’m still glad I have that degree, even though my most important mentor, in my current career, dropped out of college because he couldn’t bear to leave a great internship at the end of the summer.)

The second reason I went to college is that even then, I loved literature and I loved writing.  Studying English for four years under brilliant professors was something I wanted to do for its own sake.  I recognized even at the time that this was a departure from the typical results-oriented mindset that would have me studying engineering or business.  I was prepared to accept that my major wouldn’t automatically lead to good career prospects.

Why Mike’s advice was so good

What made Mike’s advice so good is that it conveyed a simple but evasive message:  there are many paths to success.  This is true even with conventional notions of success (e.g., big money, big house, cool toys, respect and prestige).  I’ll concede that college is probably more important to one’s prospects than it was a generation ago, but Mike’s basic idea still holds true:  the path everybody assumes is mandatory—that is, Perfect grades à AP classes à extracurriculars à great college à great career à happy life—isn’t the only path, never was, and never will be.  While I didn’t follow Mike’s specific advice, his overall message may have emboldened me to choose the major I wanted, and worry about my prospects later.

I try to pass along this wider perspective to my daughter Alexa, who’s in high school now, but she won’t listen.  After all, my cred as an alternate-path happy person is ruined because I graduated summa cum laude from a great college.  Nor does it seem to matter that I took an alternate path to get there:  my high school grades weren’t good enough for Berkeley, so I went to UC Santa Barbara for a couple years and transferred in later.  She counters that it’s harder to get into good colleges now, and you practically have to have perfect grades even to get into UCSB.  (I have no idea if this is true.)

The problem, I think, is her peer group.  These are high-achieving nerds (a lot like I was at that age, except higher-achieving and more socially comfortable, because nerds are cool now).  But evidently somebody is feeding them doom-and-gloom scenarios involving the necessity of perfect grades, the importance of AP courses and extracurriculars, and the implication that any deviation leads to being a hopeless miserable wretch.

Why should this be?  In general, the parents in my community don’t preach this perfection-or-else paradigm.  A number of my fellow parents went to non-elite colleges and more than a few like to laugh about what screw-ups they were in high school.  That said, the parents of some of Alexa’s friends came here from other countries, had to work really hard and make serious sacrifices to get here, and never had the luxury of growing up in Boulder and just assuming everything would work out fine.  I can’t fault their perspective, but I also can’t compete with it, because it’s easier to apply pressure than to remove it.

The best advice I can give

One of the great things about Hilary Duff’s column is that, in just 73 words, she not only passed along her mother’s advice (“do as much as you can in one day”), but turned it on its head with contrapuntal advice of her own (“I’ve learned the importance of stillness”).  So I’ll try my hand at dispensing advice, too.

The best advice I can give is “Take on a hobby that is fun but competitive.”  The point of this hobby isn’t to “look good on a college application,” but to learn how to stare failure in the face instead of trying to avoid it all the time.  As a recovering bike racer, I’ve had to accept failure hundreds of times, which has really sweetened the deal on those rare occasions I’ve managed to succeed.  The pressure here comes from within, not from some rule of thumb like toeing the line and keeping your school transcript in order.

This isn’t to say I don’t accidentally put pressure on my kid.  For example, I inadvertently added to her stress in the moments before her very first mountain bike race, by the very act of trying to help her relax.  It was a cold and rainy morning, and the race course—highly technical to begin with—had turned to mud.  Figuring this alone was a lot for any kid to take on by itself, not to mention the head-to-head competition, I casually said, “The important thing is just to hang in there and try to finish.”

Who know this simple statement was like lobbing a grenade into Alexa’s pre-race psyche?  Here is her own eloquent description of this exchange, taken from her race report: 
My dad looked about as nervous as I felt, and mentioned offhandedly that his goal was for me not to drop out.  This was worrisome for a number of reasons:  a) my dad clearly wasn’t super confident about my abilities, and b) it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that I could drop out.  The fact that I was [now] aware it was a possibility made it seem likely, and I was suddenly convinced that I would be possessed by forces beyond my control, forces that are less stubbornly competitive and ambitious than I am, and these would cause me to quit.
Of course she did finish, and placed higher than I think either of us expected, and she even took it upon herself to write a self-deprecatingly funny essay about it all.  I’m cheered to see that her embrace of the “perfect-transcript-or-NO-FUTURE!” ethos hasn’t turned her into a complete CV-building, book-pounding drone.

Again with the alternate perspective

I suspect that, whatever success my daughter ultimately has in cycling, it won’t end up on her college application, and I applaud that—it means she’s doing this for its own sake, as I had.  Meanwhile, this pursuit will give my daughter something more important than bragging rights:  the all-important opportunity to fail at something without the world ending.  She will drop out of races, and will lose races, and she will get the kind of results that don’t earn an A—but none of this will besmirch any written transcript.  Moreover, as Alexa races her bike over the next four years she will realize that the traditional path toward sporting excellence—which is something like The right parents à big talent à big drive à small victories à big victories à big glory—isn’t the only one, and that alternatives exist, such as Wrong parents à embarrassing mediocrity à fighting spirit à venom à big drive à technical mastery à cunning à small victories à moral victories à ability to eat a pile of tri-tip the size of a human head and still hear people say, “I wish I had your metabolism.”

And maybe, just maybe, that accumulation of experience will give her some peace and help establish the radical idea that there are many paths to take, and an alternative path can still lead you to the success you sought, or perhaps to an alternative success you hadn’t even thought of.  This process may ultimately have the same effect as Mike Aisner’s radical, incendiary words—“You don’t have to go to college”—and their subtext, “Dive in, do something you love, do it for its own sake, do it well, and you’ll be fine.”

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Workout Megamix Liner Notes - Part IV: the Final Liner

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language and vulgar humor.


Hear my entire Megamix (200+ songs) on Spotify - click here!


This is the last installment of my Workout Megamix liner notes:  a list of, and commentary on, the music I play while riding indoors.  Click here, here, and here for installments I, II, and III respectively. (Update: I added two more over the years. The full list, with links, is at the bottom of this post.)

Let me be clear on something:  I do not condone riding outdoors with headphones.  I was once coming home from a ride and was passing this other biker when he started drifting to the left.  I yelled at him but he kept coming, until we were almost in the left gutter.  Dude almost took me out, and I couldn’t figure out what his problem was until I saw he was wearing headphones.  I strangled him with the cord and dumped his body in a well.  (Mentally.)  It’s one thing to lose yourself in music while riding indoors—in fact, that’s kind of the point—but on a public road, you need to be in the real world.

In other news, I realize my Megamix is pretty heavy on a relatively small number of singers/bands (in fact it comprises just 35). The thing is, there’s tons of good music out there but not all of it is good for riding the trainer.  Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like a low-key song.  I’ll bet a Coldplay song—even a good one—would lower my heart rate by 20 bpm.  And then there are fast-paced songs that work for a while but start to get old.  I’ve worked hard to pick only the best-suited tracks for this Megamix.

(No, I don’t actually think you’re going to go buy a bunch of CDs based on these recommendations.  But you could get some from the library to try out.  Remember libraries?  I’m a card-carrying member! And if you are more modern than that, click here for my Spotify playlist.)

Liner Notes – Dana’s Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix Part IV – The Final Liner

Take It or Leave It – The Strokes

Takeover – Jay-Z
         This song, which started a feud between Jay-Z and Nas, features  Jay-Z bagging on Nas for not being more successful.  Nas has had five number one albums and has sold over 25 million records, which is pretty amazing until you consider Jay-Z has had ten number one albums, selling over 100 million.  That said, Nas is a way better rapper.  Sales aren’t everything; consider that Herman Melville sold only 3,200 copies of Moby Dick during his lifetime, while Danielle Steel has sold 650 million novels.
         All this aside, “Takeover” is a pretty good track.  In one extended motif, it makes fun of (or pays homage to?) the David Bowie song “Fame,” substituting “lame.”  Good beat, easy to dance to … I give it a 7.

Take, Take, Take – The White Stripes

Tango – Lady Sovereign
         Continuing the “hater” theme, this song is a very funny, if vicious, attack on … who?  what?  Someone orange, to be sure:  “And you always know where she’s been,/ And you always know when she’s had a pee,/ Cause the toilet seat ain’t clean/ Cause the toilet seat has an orange sheen!”   After years of being mystified by this song, I finally did some research.  Tango, in this context, refers to an orange-flavored soft drink (surely as artificial as a fake tan) hawked in the UK by a spokesman in an orange bodysuit.  The chorus of this song:  “Slap, bang, goes on your fake tan/ Bitch, you look like the Tango man.”
        Turns out Lady Sovereign is bagging on a one-time pop-star-wannabe named Jentina who, as near as I can figure, is the British equivalent of Vanilla Ice, but without the fifteen minutes of fame.  Whether or not Jentina deserved such vitriol, this is a great song, perfect for the trainer.
         (By the way, I know somebody who once tried on a spray-on tan.  It made her almost as orange as a carrot!  Yikes!)

Tarantula – Bob Schneider
         I saw this singer live, at a small San Francisco venue called The Independent, in the early aughts.  Some friends had come all the way from San Luis Obispo to see him, so my wife and I tagged along.  It was a great show.  This guy’s music is all over the place; at the concert he did a totally straight, non-ironic cover of “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)” along with a rockabilly version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away.”  Not much of Bob Schneider’s repertoire is suitable for indoor workouts, but this song is.  You should check it out.

Tell Me Why – M.I.A.

That Was Just Your Life – Metallica
         Years ago my family was house-swapping with a family in Glasgow, and I found this Metallica album there called “Death Magnetic.”  The apartment belonged to a couple of professors and was full of great books, so I decided they must have good taste.  I wasn’t wrong:  this album totally rocks, and “That Was Just Your Life” is one of my favorite tracks on it.  If you’re getting sick of the dark, cold days and indoor workouts, the lyrics can see almost eerily apropos:  “Like a misery that keeps me focused though I’ve gone astray/ Like an endless nightmare I must awaken from each day.”

The Air Near My Fingers – The White Stripes

The Day I Tried To Live – Soundgarden

The Day That Never Comes – Metallica

The Girl Tried To Kill Me – Ice-T
         This is one of the rare rap songs that has a whole lot of electric guitar.  Very high-energy stuff, and also funny.  It’s about a guy who meets the girl of his dreams (“Hype, super-dope body and face, her mini-skirt tight/ Talkin’ ‘bout legs and lips, mindblowin’ hips/ Had to cross my legs just to look at her tits”).  Unfortunately, she turns out to be psychotic, which is bad enough news before her husband shows up.  A rap classic.

The God That Failed – Metallica

The Hardest Button to Button – The White Stripes

The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana

The Monster – Eminem with Rihanna
         This is a great song.  I suppose I could go on and try to say something interesting and original about it, but I just glanced at the Wikipedia entry and it’s just vast.  There are 121 footnoted references on that page.  It’s tempting to say that somebody (i.e., the amateur Wikipedia writer) needs to get a life, but then that’s a dangerous proposition for a blogger.  Glass houses and all that.
         Suffice to say, this is the Eminem song that everybody likes, even those who hate Eminem.  Rihanna is another famous musician.  I think she’s famous because she sells a lot of records, but for all I know, she’s famous because she has a tortured “private” life or something.

The Real Slim Shady – Eminem

The Righteous & The Wicked – Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Unforgiven – Metallica

The Unforgiven III – Metallica
         This is another of my favorites.  (I love the original “Unforgiven” as well, though it’s slightly marred by the silliness of a line in the chorus, “I dub thee unforgiven.”)  Toward the end of this track there’s this minute-long guitar solo that will have yourself pedaling like a madman.
         Case in point:  I was pedaling along to this recently, on the rollers, and started going harder and harder.  That often happens with great music, but then it dawned on me that my increased effort wasn’t entirely voluntary.  The pedaling itself was getting harder, and my heart rate was climbing.  What’s more, the bike was getting harder and harder to control.  My back was starting to hurt.  Finally I realized the problem:  I had a damn flat tire!  Who gets a flat tire on the rollers, for cryin’ out loud?  Me, that’s who!

Through Being Cool – Devo

Time To Get Ill – Beastie Boys
         Back in 1990 I was working at a bike shop with a couple of illegals from London.  On a hunch I asked one of them if the Beastie Boys were big in England.  “Absolutely huge,” he said.  I can see why.  Though they may seem as American as apple pie, these guys are quite the Anglophiles.  This song is a case in point:  it’s a tribute to “Binker,” a poem by A.A. Milne published in 1927 in the book Now We Are Six.  Skeptical?  Compare these passages:
Binker’s brave as lions when we’re running in the park;
Binker’s brave as tigers when we’re lying in the dark;
Binker’s brave as elephants.  He never, never cries…
Except (like other people) when the soap gets in his eyes.
I’d have the pedal to the metal if I had a car
But I’m chiller with the Miller cold coolin’ at the bar
I can drink a quart of Monkey and still stand still
What’s the time? It’s time to get ill.
         It’s easy to tell which is the Milne poem and which is the rap song, but the similarities are striking.  Of course the rhyme scheme is identical, and the meter very nearly the same as well, but beyond that, there’s a thematic resemblance, almost as though MCA would like to see himself as a modern-day Binker.
         By the way, I made all that up, except the bit about my bike shop pal and these guys being huge in England.

Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs – Beck
         There’s some dialogue at the beginning of this song (“You lousy puke!”/ “Why don’t you call your mommy?!”) that will jar you to attention if you start to slouch during your workout.  It’s an odd song, somewhere between a ballad and a dirge, but faster, that catalogs the squalid details of some horrible neighbors; for example, “Whiskey-stained buck-toothed back woods creep/ Grizzly bear motherfucker never goes to sleep.”  Very funny, and dark … it should have you pedaling your ass off to get away from these people (though as usual, this being the trainer, you’re going nowhere fast).

Trunk – Kings of Leon
U Wanna Be Me – Nas
         One nice side effect of all this trainer music is that you have a wider variety of songs that might pop into your head during a road (or trail) ride.  Click here and search on “wanna” for an account of a total dork who tried to school me by blowing through a stop sign and keeping his momentum for an uphill.  This song became the anthem of his comeuppance.  “You suckers, you weak, you flunkies, you fake/ You couldn’t come close on my worst day.”

Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey
         This song is the title track from the album “Ultraviolence,” which is apparently very popular.  I’d never heard of it, nor of Lana Del Ray, when I came across it in the “Lucky Day” section of the library.  It looked pretty cool, and I figured maybe the title was a reference to Clockwork Orange, so I checked it out.  Kind of a nifty sound, different, and there was a sticker the librarian put on the jewel case saying “TEEN,” which helps me pretend I’m not old and lame.  I liked this album enough to buy it, though most of the songs aren’t quite right for the trainer.  This one does the job.

Unorthadox Daughter – No Lay
         That “Unorthadox” isn’t a misspelling.  It’s really spelled that way.  I don’t know much about this song or about No Lay, other than to say I got this from a grime compilation album called “Run the Road.”  (Wikipedia is no help here; the entry is so sloppy it spells Marshall Mathers “Mashall Mathers.”  Stylistic misspelling is one thing; typos are quite another.)  This song is good and fast and I have no idea what No Lay is saying.  But that’s good … you’ll have plenty of time to puzzle this out as you flail away at the pedals, week after week, until spring.

Untutored Youth – The Hives
         I love this song.  It’s very hard to make out the lyrics but I’m pretty sure part of it goes, “And when people tell me what is OK and what is not, it should not be unexpected when I extend my middle right hand digit and say ‘Hey, would you like lemon or lime with that piece of advice, mister?’”  The Hives are great for the trainer because the songs are really short, so you can commit to absolutely hammering through them the whole way.  A Hive Interval, you might say.

Use Somebody – Kings of Leon

W.T.P. – Eminem
         A fair bit of this MegaMix is somewhat dark, so it’s nice to have some lighthearted, funny songs on there, and this is one of them.  Throughout his oeuvre Eminem has turned his humble trailer-trash roots into an asset and this song is perhaps the pinnacle:  “So let’s have us a little bash/ And if anyone asks, it ain’t no one but us trash.”  And talk about a cheap date:  “Now honey, don’t let them pricks trip, we should make a quick dip/ And go do some doughnuts in the hospital parking lot.”
         When I was in high school, a friend had this old Volvo wagon with a bad muffler, so it sounded like a muscle car, and every time we drove anywhere, he’d swing by the high school to do doughnuts in the parking lot.  It was a dirt lot, which is pretty amazing because this was Boulder, Colorado which has since been so gentrified the roads are mostly paved with teak or mahogany.

What I Got – Sublime
         I’d never heard of this band until a friend said I should check them out.  So I bought their eponymous album, tried it out, and immediately recognized several songs I’d heard a lot on the local alternative rock station (whose deejays can’t be bothered to give the name of a song or artist—we’re just supposed to know, duh!).  Three of Sublime’s songs made the cut for this Megamix.
         I’m actually not that curious about musicians, so I never looked these guys up on Wikipedia until just now.  Dang, it’s actually a very sad story which I’ll spare you from … you can always go look it up if you want.  The fact is, their subject matter is often pretty dark and trashy, but in a kind of jovial way, so it never used to bum me out.  Now I’m not sure I’ll ever hear their music the same way again.

What’s Wrong With Them – Lil Wayne
         This is another one of those rap songs where the chorus is sung by a woman with a great voice.  In this case the chanteuse is somebody called Nicki Minaj.  I won’t necessarily check out her music; sometimes these guest appearances are better than the contributing artist’s own work.  For example, I liked Amy Winehouse’s contribution to the Nas song “Cherry Wine,” so I checked out one of her albums.  Alas, I couldn’t get into it … I just didn’t like the style (though she had a great voice).  Similarly, Dido is great on Eminem’s song “Stan,” but her own songs wouldn’t work for the trainer. 
         So many pop songs featuring women have such cloying lyrics.  I asked my teenager who the hot female pop singer is and looked her up:  “I go on too many dates [chuckle]/ But I can’t make them stay … My ex-man brought his new girlfriend/ She’s like “Oh, my god!” but I’m just gonna shake.”  You know what?  I really don’t care about the romantic foibles of some drippy fool-for-love.
         Whatever Nicki Minaj typically sings about, I like her belting out, “This is times up/ Put your signs up/ They done picked my dude/ Out the lineup/ Baby what the fuck’s wrong with them/ What the fuck’s wrong with them?”  Okay, maybe this lament is about her dude (i.e., Lil Wayne), but at least it’s not just the typical unrequited love … this seems to be a commentary on dubious incarceration and the questionable practice of having eyewitnesses look at police lineups.  The way this critique is delivered, it’s got a nice kick to it.

When I Come Around – Green Day

Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana

Where Is My Mind? – The Pixies
         I love this song.  You may be tickled to learn how it came to be written.  The lead singer, Black Francis, is credited with this explanation:  “That came from me snorkeling in the Caribbean and having this very small fish trying to chase me. I don’t know why; I don’t know too much about fish behavior.” (Hey, Black has the same approach to research that I do!)
         Incidentally, there’s a great M.I.A. song called “20 Dollar” that borrows heavily from this one.

Wherever I May Roam – Metallica

Whip It – Devo

Wrong Way – Sublime

XR2 – M.I.A.

You Ain’t Got Nuthin – Lil Wayne
         The fact is, Lil Wayne’s lyrics, though good, aren’t nearly as clever as, say, Eminem’s.  But somehow Lil Wayne makes his words sound so great.  “Uhh, I get money like a muhfucker/ Shades darker than a bitch, but I can see/ I got everything, you got nothing/ But you ain’t got nothing on me.”  On the page the words fall pretty flat … but when you’re hammering on the indoor bike, heart rate at like 160, all that adrenaline and everything, these simple words seem so profound!

Young Lust – Pink Floyd

Zero Chance – Soundgarden 

More reading

Here are links to the rest of my series of Workout Megamix liner notes:
The complete Megamix list (updated December 2022)

For your convenience, here's the complete list of tracks on my Workout Megamix:

‘Till I Collapse - Eminem
16 Shots -  Stefflon Don
20 Dollar - M.I.A.
212 - Azelia Banks
8 Miles & Runnin’ - Freeway/Jay-Z
911 Is a Joke - Public Enemy
A Punchup at a Wedding - Radiohead
A Thousand Days Before - Soundgarden
A.K.A. I-D-I-O-T - The Hives
Adrenaline Rush - Obie Trice
Airbag - Radiohead
Alive - Sia
Ass Like That - Eminem
Average Man - Obie Trice
Bad Girls - M.I.A.
Bad Guy - Eminem
Be Somebody - Kings of Leon
Beautiful - Eminem
Beautiful Pain - Eminem w/ Sia
Best Rapper Alive - Lil Wayne
Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden
Black Saturday - Soundgarden
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos - Public Enemy
Blow Up the Outside World - Soundgarden
Bones of Birds - Soundgarden
Borders - M.I.A.
Born Free - M.I.A.
Brain Stew - Green Day
Broke as Fuck -  YBN Cordae
Bucky Done Gun - M.I.A.
Burden in My Hand - Soundgarden
Cash Money Millionaires - Lil Wayne
Celebrity Skin - Doja Cat
Cha Ching (Cheq 1-2 Remix) - Lady Sovereign
Charmer - Kings of Leon
Cheers - Obie Trice
Closer - Kings of Leon
Come As You Are - Nirvana
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Cool Cats - Obie Trice
Cops Shot the Kid - Nas
Creep - Radiohead
Cry Now - Obie Trice
Deja Vu - Eminem
Desperation - Eminem
Discombobulated - Eminem
Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man) - Devo
Down In It - Nine Inch Nails
Easy to Crash - Cake
Enter Sandman - Metallica
Everlong - Foo Fighters
Eyelid’s Mouth - Soundgarden
Fell In Love With a Girl - The White Stripes
Fell On Black Days - Soundgarden
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
Follow My Life - Obie Trice
Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Fresh - Devo
Galang - M.I.A.
Get Free - Lana Del Rey
Girls LGBNAF - Ice-T
Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Gnat - Eminem
Godzilla - Eminem
Got Hungry - Obie Trice
Hands On You - Eminem/Obie Trice
Happiness is a Warm Gun - The Breeders
Heart In a Cage - The Strokes
Heart Shaped Box - Nirvana
Heartbeat - Ice-T
Hustlers - Nas
Hypnotize - The White Stripes
I Am Not a Human Being - Lil Wayne
I Could Have Lied - Red Hot Chili Peppers
I Go To Work - Kool Moe Dee
I Will - Eminem
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
If I Had - Eminem
I’m Back - Eminem
I’m Your Pusher - Ice-T
It Takes a Muscle - M.I.A.
Jack My Dick - Obie Trice
Jesus Christ Pose - Soundgarden
Just Lose It - Eminem
Killing Lies - The Strokes
Knives Out - Radiohead
Know It Ain’t Right - M.I.A.
Last Nite - The Strokes
Legacy - Eminem
Like Suicide - Soundgarden
Little Acorns - The White Stripes
Loco-Motive - Nas
Lollipop - Lil Wayne
Longview - Green Day
Look In My Eyes - Obie Trice
Loot My Body - Man Man
Lose Yourself - Eminem
Love Me - 50 Cent
Love Me or Hate Me - Lady Sovereign
Love the Way You Lie - Eminem
Matangi - M.I.A.
Mockingbird - Eminem
Money Over Bullsh*t - Nas
Mother - Pink Floyd
Move Your Body - Sia
Mr. Brightside - The Killers
Mr. Carter - Lil Wayne
Mrs. Officer - Bobby Valentino/Lil Wayne
My Dad’s Gone Crazy - Eminem
My England - Lady Sovereign
My Mom - Eminem
My Name Is - Eminem
My Wave - Soundgarden
No Love - Lil Wayne/Eminem
No Regrets - Eminem
Non-State Actor - Soundgarden
Not Going Back - Nas
Not the Same Anymore - The Strokes
Nothing Else Matters - Metallica
Offend In Every Way - The White Stripes
On the Other Side - The Strokes
One Mic - Nas
One Time 4 Your Mind - Nas
Outshined - Soundgarden
Overfloater - Soundgarden
Paint It Black - The Rolling Stones
Paper Planes - M.I.A.
Personal - Ice-T
Pony - Ginuwine
Pump Your Fist - Kool Moe Dee
R.A.K.I.M. - Rakim
Rabbit Run - Eminem
Radio Suckers - Ice-T
Rap God - Eminem
Rewind - Nas
Rhinosaur - Soundgarden
Richard - Obie Trice
Roughnecks - Obie Trice
Safe From Harm - Massive Attack
Santeria - Sublime
Searching With My Good Eye Closed - Soundgarden
Seduction - Eminem
Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
Sexodus - M.I.A.
Shoot Me Down -Lil Wayne
Shooter - Lil Wayne
Sick Of You - Cake
Sing For the Moment - Eminem
Smack That - Eminem
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Smile Like You Mean It - The Killers
So Human - Lady Sovereign
Soul of a Man - Beck
Spoonman - Soundgarden
Stan - Eminem
Stop - Jane’s Addiction
Suck My Kiss - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Sunshowers - M.I.A.
Superunknown - Soundgarden
Survival - Eminem
Sympathy For the Devil - The Rolling Stones
Take It or Leave It - The Strokes
Take, Take, Take - The White Stripes
Takeover - Jay-Z
Tango - Lady Sovereign
Tarantula - Bob Schneider
Tell Me Why - M.I.A.
That Was Just Your Life - Metallica
The Adults Are Talking - The Strokes
The Air Near My Fingers - The White Stripes
The Day I Tried To Live - Soundgarden
The Day That Never Comes - Metallica
The Girl Tried To Kill Me - Ice-T
The God That Failed - Metallica
The Hardest Button to Button - The White Stripes
The Man Who Sold the World - Nirvana
The Monster - Eminem with Rihanna
The Real Slim Shady - Eminem
The Righteous & The Wicked - Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Unforgiven - Metallica
The Unforgiven III - Metallica
Thrift Shop - Macklemore
Through Being Cool - Devo
Time To Get Ill - Beastie Boys
Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs - Beck
Trunk - Kings of Leon
U Wanna Be Me - Nas
Ultraviolence - Lana Del Rey
Unorthadox Daughter - No Lay
Untutored Youth - The Hives
Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
W.T.P. - Eminem
What I Got - Sublime
What’s Up Danger - Black Caviar & Blackway
What’s Wrong With Them - Lil Wayne
When I Come Around – Green Day
Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana
Where Is My Mind? - The Pixies
Wherever I May Roam - Metallica
Whip It - Devo
Why Are Sundays So Depressing - The Strokes
Worse Dreams - Soundgarden
Wrong Way - Sublime
XR2 - M.I.A.
Yah Yah - Eminem
You Ain’t Got Nuthin - Lil Wayne
Young Lust - Pink Floyd
Zero Chance - Soundgarden

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