Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bix Demimondaine

How can you not be intrigued by bixi-babes, Liliths from the cycling half-world, suicide tattoo wheel wenches? Demimondaines was what they called girls who accepted bicycles for carnal favors or acted as if marriage meant nothing in pursuit of fun. Before that society cast aspersion with terms concubines, courtesans, odalisques or prostitutes. Then it became “panks” for disciples of Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragettes beaten and raped in their struggle to secure the right to vote. Chippies, femme fatales, flappers, hardboiled Hawksian or modern women followed. These days rap artists reduce women to body parts while vulgar minds label them escorts, feminists, gold diggers, nymphos, porn stars, skanks, and skirts. What of equals, lovers, mothers, partners?

Participatory democracy is a relatively new phenomenon. Only a few men had a chance to vote before suffragism extended it to a few women qualified by age or rank. It’s been one century that the other half of population commenced in Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, and Norway. Though promised, Saudi women are still prohibited; the only other place on earth is Vatican City. Why? Subjugation. Slavery has only been abolished by law, not in uniform practice. Clerics, criminals, dictators and elected officials routinely break laws. People forget the bloodshed and sacrifices forebears endured to obtain rights that, in an instant, can be denied, even eliminated. At NYU, Elizabeth Jose described how bicycling can still emancipate untrammeled womanhood as it did before 1900.

For the first time in U.S. history a woman is running for its presidency against a contumelious misogynist. That alone ought to call entire gender above age to ballot boxes. Suited to serve? Dependency is a human, not primarily female, condition. Trying to remain nonjudgmental and observational, admit lambasting conservatives, dictators, fascists, and nazis who all seek to control and dominate others. Understand it’s the direct result of always being disappointed and never getting heard. Disorganized activities are human and natural since needs vary by individual. You get to control yourself only. To divide for conquerers’ sakes ignores consequential stakes. Enforcing unilateral conformity polarizes populations, results in random losses, and sustains terrorism. Candidates ought to run on experience in office and merit of message. Only one among those running held a cabinet position, negotiated international deals, and once lived in White House. Rest are comparative amateurs.

According to David Byrne, voters live in echo chambers where limited exposure is reinforced by social media, negative opinions are continually fortified, and rational thinking is woefully deselected. To expect everything to fail or go wrong best represents common sense. Must remind you what politically savvy Hunter S Thompson so aptly said, “Anybody who thinks that, 'it doesn't matter who's President,' has never been drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid war on the other side of the world - or been beaten and gassed by Police for trespassing on public property - or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons - or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is President or Governor or Police Chief. That is when you will wish you had voted.” Amen.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Creative Demesne

So many are made, not even film critics see every movie. You can find online lists of highly relevant titles, but then you miss independent productions or scenes in others that represent bicycling culture just as well. The more planet’s population grows, the more stories there are to tell. This might make you increasingly selective amidst a vast demesne of what’s expressively creative. Everyone can only stomach so much mayhem, only tolerate cold so often, so turns instead to visual demonstrations of indomitable spirit versus trials both contrived and natural. Working backward from release dates, here are 8 over last decade likely overlooked:

Dark, French, sophisticated comedy Bicycling with Molière (Wanda Films, 2014, dir. Phillippe Le Guay) stars Fabrice Luchini and Lambert Wilson as actors, one trying to lure the misanthropic other out of retirement. Maya Sansa, a bored hotel maid at island’s resort, makes life interesting during offseason.

In American indie comedy Adult World (dir. Scott Coffey, 2013), budding poetess Amy (Emma Roberts) idolizes marginally known but once published Rat Billings (John Cusack). After leaving home, she arrives in Syracuse’s art underground, begins working in a porn shop, and crashes with transvestite Rubia (Armando Riesco). Together on a stolen tandem they remarkably stalk Billings driving home in the snow. Amy is determined to become poet’s protege, but learns that being special is a state of mind and life’s goal is to “fail better” in an Adult World. Positively reviewed, a “smart but wince-inducing satirical comedy” (New York Times) and thoroughly enjoyable, film was barely shown and lost money at box office.

Singletrack High (Pedal Born Films, dirs. Jacob and Isaac Seigel-Boettner, 2012) documents how today’s teen athletes in California gravitate to bicycling, mountain and road, and offers solutions for social awkwardness commonly experienced during high school. View entire hour video.

World documentary With My Own Two Wheels (Pedal Born Films, dirs. Jacob and Isaac Seigel-Boettner, 2011) contrasts the choices made and necessities faced by bicyclists around the globe, and portrays the power of pedaling to improve lives, including “bicitech”, that is, machines made from castoff bicycles that accelerate repetitive tasks for indigenous poor.

Cycling documentary Chasing Legends (dir. Jason Berry, 2010) covers the commitments made by riders who take on challenge of Le Tour de France as seen through eyes of Team Columbia HTC.

German drama Phantomschmerz (Phantom Pain, d. Matthias Emcke, 2009) stars Til Schweiger as an avid cyclist who loses a leg in a hit-and-run only to bounce back. It’s based on life story of Stephen Sumner, who also doubles for Til’s character.

Never mentioned (with good reason) German slasher nasty Blood Trails (aka Gyilkos Hegy, dir. Robert Krause, 2006) about bicycle messenger Rebecca Palmer and her boyfriend Tom Frederic, who go innocently on a mountain biking holiday, only to be stalked by serial killing cop Ben Price, a fellow cyclist with whom she had an accursed fling.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Big “Exchane”

Bicyclists slow due to conditions, hills, mechanics and wind. What can be done about hills? There to stay, going around might take longer than slogging directly over them. A steep climb could be rewarded with a long, luxurious rollout that hurries miles along. Then again, ice and snow intermittently keep you indoors or turn you into a pedestrian. Takes 15 minutes just to assemble and don booties, cleats, glasses, gloves, head covering, helmet, layers, mask and outerwear, as if you needed another excuse not to ride. Bad pavement and motor traffic often interfere with headway. A bike that doesn’t fit you, has fat tires, or performs poorly will definitely impede. Broken spokes, escaped chains, flat tires, or snapped frames stop you outright. Cleated pedals and stiff soles boost range by increasing leverage to propel faster. Hard, narrow tires reduce resistance. Even if you’re not effectively equipped and physically fit, you should be able to average 9 mph. Bicyclists collectively average over 12 mph. Exceptional racers on flat tracks can maintain 30+ mph for an hour. The current 24 hour record holder averaged 21.7 mph. But wind will always be the greatest hindrance. With a gale in your face, you’ll crawl along almost stalled. Such thoughts occupy your mind as winter transitions to spring, yet you'll defy such hassles for a few hours outdoors.

Once believed that writer’s block existed, but oceans of notions flow while engaged in anything physical, especially bicycling, since you’re on balance in the moment and seldom mollified by media. Doubts, experiences, observations, pains, and pleasures while pedaling out there inspire lucid conclusions to share. Engineers design motor vehicles to insulate drivers: bumps smoothed, doors locked, dust filtered, odors blocked, sounds muffled, temperature controlled, touchscreen selected media with which to fill sensory under-load. On one hand, you might enjoy whatever literary artists, reporters and songsmiths want to deliver, whether from internet, over airwaves, or recorded. Books on tape truly make long commutes tolerable. On the other hand, to do so without a chance to respond is tantamount to being browbeaten and dominated. You only need to click on “comments” below to turn any post here into a two-way conversation.

Recently, after reading an interesting article on wealth inequality in staunchly liberal weekly The Nation, wanted to pass along insights gained after writing for decades on that very topic, but was denied because only paid subscribers are allowed. Doesn’t this conspicuously discriminate against those who are the most detrimentally impacted by poverty? Sure, go ahead, pontificate, profit off situation, then silence those whose opinions matter most. Among friend notifications, Facebook mixes in pure advertising pap to which you can’t reply. Corporations pay for opinions when they can get them for free in social media. Recruiters do use posts to profile and rule out candidates. Occupy Movement, begun 7 years ago, was victimized by such tactics. Protesters could be discussed by reporters (after they occupied Wall Street itself in 2011 and raised hackles) but couldn’t voice own views, since media is a big business wholly managed and owned by billionaires, who use such stories in a vain attempt to distance themselves from blame. Both conservatives and liberals exhibit holier-than-thou extremism. Incorporated factories at least churn out goods people need, not necessarily so information spewers. Hard to say what indispensable nugget you might glean from a news story, though surely you’ll have to read miles of columns to find one.

As it has ever been throughout history, the focused practitioner, frontier explorer, separate entity, small man, or system outsider offers best insights, so must be encouraged to speak freely. Civilization would have advanced faster if Hittites didn’t extend Bronze Age by keeping iron a secret for centuries. Without open exploration and shared discoveries mankind would be doomed. Sticklers don’t take enough chances to learn through failures, rather conform or rely on experience and knowledge of movers and shakers. So why limit communication to a one-sided monologue? Conceit, massive egos, narcissism, and sociopathy hand down laws, “Do it MY WAY or hit the highway.” To quote self from decades ago, “Authorities without ethics driven by greed are your children’s role models.” Because most aren’t motivated to filter raw effluent, they expect “experts” to do it for them, lest something crucial goes unnoticed, but even professionals and scientists get ignored. Every exchange in ideas can potentially propel innovation, yet people would rather act like jackasses than admit they don’t know, maintain nominal than move forward, spin in place than welcome in world. Like a bicycle undergoing a chain drop, progress crashes to an abrupt stop.

The most important yet mostly neglected areas for betterment in this millennium involve ethics, governance, and politics: How people treat people. When a pope calls you or your candidate unchristian, maybe you ought to listen. When will humans collectively dismiss mental defectives mad to rule? Freewheeling debate collapses their power base. Beware of every instance where they seek to stifle, or shout each other down. Elected officials and those society rewards make all the trouble. How stupid is everyone else? Always asking, “How are we doing?” instills doubt and sounds insincere. You have to really care enough and reciprocate accordingly so this question need never be asked. But society must bring itself to a big stop, examine values, exchange demands, and mend fences before forward movement can proceed. To do otherwise beckons revolution or war.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bottleneck Duane

Media! They say movies are the greatest entertainment; over a century trillions of dollars have been invested in them. Films capture and compress culture and history, thus play an integral role in education and progress. Though denied by the guilty, much of what folks do follows screen examples: how to express intimacy, imagine innovation, protect against enemies, react in conflicts, and stop stupidity. Films marshall acting, costumes, dialogue, music, plots, settings, sounds, special effects, and visual imagery. Prestigious awards are given for exceptional examples. Anyone who directs or produces them agrees the single most important element to success is superior sound. You have to hear what’s being said while music sets an emotional tone; one cannot obscure the other, rather, balance and clarity must be achieved, even though noisy action usually dominates.

A book of fiction takes longer to read than watching the same story on film. Although something will always be lost in translation between each medium, movies might even bring new perspectives and improve upon themes. Like bicycling, the key lies in time you save. Conversely, documentaries, nonfiction in film, can often be inferior to reading, convey simple but useful reality dragged out over strained imagery and stumbling interviews, and minimize layers of input, such as action or music. Books efficiently collect gospel truths, jurisprudence canons, personal testimonies, or science texts. Religions are founded on books that lay down laws. All media fill niches along a continuum from waste of everyone’s sweat to well worth your time. Which you choose is up to you.

Through songs bishops and clerics exhort congregations to behave. Muezzins melodiously call muslims to prayer 5 times a day. Music supposedly soothes savage souls; assuredly, certain chords stimulate neurons in weird ways. Even more than books and films, songs decode meaning, encapsulate events, represent culture, and take only minutes to hear. They suit attention deficits and audiences enduring contemporary stress. Sometimes merely bundled memes, tunes become neatly packaged commodities sold for basic monetary units, a buck each. They'd even be called d-i-y currency if not for the facts that billions of them discourage scrutiny and only those in demand temporarily posses value. Songs are more like ripe fruits than safe deposits. But interdependency among books, films and songs elevates each to an invaluable portal into the unknown.

Had he not died at 24 years old in a motorcycle crash in 1971, Duane Allman might have enjoyed his 69th birthday and fulfilled a promising career. Despite playing on only 3 Allman Brothers albums, though scores of others including Derek & the Dominos’ platinum certified Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Duane gets rated among the best rock guitarists, second only to Jimi Hendrix. Duane never completed high school, majored in guitar instead. Influenced by B.B. King, Elmore James and other blues and jazz greats from his Southern roots, his style featured slide, which he produced by sticking his ring finger into a Coricidin bottle. A subsequent Allman Brothers album was dedicated to him and named for his reply to an interviewer about his involvement in counterculture, “Revolution? Evolution... When I’m in Georgia I’ll ‘Eat a Peach’ for peace.” While not about bicycling per se, these Allman lyrics signify, “Well, I’ve got to run to keep from hiding, and I’m bound to keep on riding... the road goes on forever... I’ve gone by the point of caring... but I’m not gonna let them catch me, no, not gonna let ‘em catch the ‘Midnight Rider’”. Far too many die on roads, so cyclists ride warily. Camera assistant Sarah Jones working on the Allman Brothers biopic sharing that song’s name (never released) was killed while shooting alongside a railroad. Labann dumped a motorcycle, as do many who foolishly replace pedal bikes for speedy scooters, and played guitar in bands, so naturally appreciates Skydog’s celebrations of life and ethereal licks from nearly a half century ago as reminders of how timeless gifts from the universe will always be.

Do care how songs influence bicyclists and listeners worldwide, so recently united those listed in book with those mentioned in blog followups. This new directory of over 1,850 titles constitutes the most comprehensive yet of recorded bicycling related songs and includes countless corrections and updates; applied plethora of details that since became available over internet. Readers should still consult blog and book for caveats, explanations, links, quotes, and references. This amalgamates and salutes all the work done by scores of researchers worldwide, for example, The Wheelmen Organization, who traced sheet music back to 1868's Velocipede Galop, possibly the first bike song ever, because that's when Michaux's pedal contraption instigated original craze. Although sound recording began in France 150 years ago (1860's), Edison wouldn't invent a repeatable method until 1877. Dacre’s "Daisy Bell" was the very first bicycle song to be recorded, reputedly sung by Dan W. Quinn in 1893. On a video clip, an 1894 cover by Edward M. Favor leads notable tracks through present. Didn’t overlook the fact that Dacre’s ditty forever objectifies women. Did include a few early covers and many newly found (if not so new, French have long adored Le Tour) originals. But, ever wary of those who pad lists and what they lump, removed any that didn’t align or pass examination upon hearing and studying further, some existing only as on-line videos.

Bicycle related songs released by year, 1990 - 2015

Hundreds of indie songsmiths were empowered by a worldwide web, which became popular as a whole new egalitarian medium around 1990. Of songs indexed where origin could be determined, 81% were released after 1990, 68% after 2000. Annual numbers steadily grew (click on graph above to enlarge) from 1990 to 2006, when it reached a peak of 129 titles, then declined. A trend makes one wonder why. Was the bicycle-built-for-two-or-you honeymoon over? Have gasoline prices again become bearable? The years from 2001 to 2009 do enclose double zeroes, which resemble a pair of bracketed wheels and won't happen again this millennium. Awareness of sustainable practices grew while state economies around globe collapsed, so many chose cheaper/cleaner transportation alternatives. Coincidences realized, 2009 was aptly called the Year of the Bicycle. But did all this signal a real movement or retro fad?

Intended to neither deceive readers nor downplay/exclude artists or groups, though they are legion. Like a bottleneck, an author can only present a snapshot of facts collected and crosschecked within a timeframe. Was also handcuffed by attempting to be accurate and informative, though that classifies anyone as a know-it-all to be feared and hated. Filling out, formatting, and proofreading table was an exhausting task for midnight riding through cyberspace in winter downtime, yet worthy of cycling champions - Anquetil, Armstrong, Bartali, Contador, Coppi, Gimondi, Indurain, Hinault, Merckx, Pantani, Poulidor, Taylor - who've been celebrated in media.