I’ve always considered myself a runner, albeit a fair weather runner, but still a runner. My husband laughs at my self-characterization. I started running in high school seeking some kind of exercise in the off-season from organized sports, but I found something more than exercise. Equipped with a bulky Walkman that played cassettes, (remember them) I set out on our town’s track to run a few miles, usually two, and on a few good days maybe two and a half. The weather had to be somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees, sunny with zero humidity. Now you might understand why my husband laughs at my self-imposed title of runner but consider the source of ridicule, he is an overachiever who completed an Ironman in NYC’s August heat and thought it was no big deal, including swimming in the polluted Hudson River, something I would have trouble doing to save my life.
The physical exercise of running never appealed to me, but the emotional escape and clearing of my thoughts is what kept me going. I love listening to music, and back in high school I would pop in a cassette, head down to the quiet track alone and listen to music while I ran. I was hooked. But there was a limit to how far those lyrics could carry me. There was nothing better, a beautiful day, fresh air and “Don’t You Want me Baby” by the Human League singing in my ears. She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar that much was true, and I couldn’t stop running until I found out if she lived her life on her own or goes back to you know who. It was the lyrics to all these songs that kept me running around the track maybe eight times or so, but I could never go farther. The lyrics were good, but not good enough to break my two-mile barrier. It didn’t matter if it was Olivia Newton John singing “Let’s Get Physical” or The Police singing “Every Little Breath You Take.”
In college I also ran, again armed with my faithful Walkman and cassettes, but my taste in music changed. It was now The Beastie Boys yelling at me to fight for my right to party, and New Order that made me feel so extraordinary that something had a hold on me, and I got this feeling I was in motion, and I had to run another lap. The best was Timbuk3 telling me, my future was so bright, I had to wear shades. These were lyrics I could relate to, and kept me running around Eddies Parade, the green field many a jogger made their way around at Fordham University. Well truth be told, it wasn’t just the lyrics at that time, but also the added pleasure of spying my latest crush that fueled my adrenaline and took me another half mile or so around Eddies.
It wasn’t until a year ago I started running four, five and six miles at a time and abandoned looping around a track. Now I was running on streets and up big hills without any crushes to fuel me. One of my friends in town spotted me running a few miles from my house. She called me to inquire how I could run so far. I thought about her question. Why was I now running farther than I had ever run before? I loved to listen to music, I explained although I didn’t confess what type of music. No longer was I carrying my Walkman. I had ditched it long ago and added it to New Jersey’s landfills. I now ran with my sleeker, lighter iPhone with infinite capacity for songs. I explained to my girlfriend how music and lyrics kept me running. She inquired what songs I liked to listen to, as her runs were brief and maybe my choice in music would inspire her to exercise longer. It was then I realized I couldn’t confess to what music I was listening. Being technologically challenged, my iPhone had inadvertently synched with my son’s song list, and it was the lyrics to his songs that had me running farther and farther. Apparently, I was mesmerized by J. Cole, Kanye West, Kid Cudi and the like. The lyrics took me by surprise, kept me entertained, and invigorated me. Who would have thought?
It started with Kanye West’s ‘Stronger.’ It inspired me, that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger, I need you to hurry up now, and I ran a little longer. “Now, let’s get lost tonight, you could be my black Kate Moss tonight, play secretary I’m the boss tonight, and you don’t give a f*** what they all say, right?” WOW, I was getting lost in the visual. Did they really use the f-word in the song? It was good for at least another mile trying to make out the words to see what happened next. I remember looking around while I was listening to the song to see if anyone saw me, a forty-something, suburban, stay-at-home mom, listening to provocative rap music. It felt wrong but titillating and got my adrenalin rushing. I finished my four-mile run just as J. Cole hit the ‘Lights Please.’ The lights were hit right after something about unhooking a bra and going down low. I couldn’t wait to run again tomorrow to see what else I would find on my iPhone. This was far better than 50 Shades of Grey as I was getting a lot of exercise.
The next day while the kids were in school, I looked up the words to the songs I had heard. I wanted to read the lyrics to see if I had heard them correctly or was it just mondegreens, like the famous, ‘hold me closer Tony Danza’ in the popular Elton John song, ‘Tiny Dancer.’ To my surprise, there were no mondegreens to be had. I had heard everything loud and clear. I decided to go for another run. I was excited! About three and a half miles into my run, just as I was about to quit, I found another captivating refrain, “I heard you got a main chick, a mistress and some hoes, you be up to no good, and everybody knows.” It was really catchy, and I could relate. I knew a few men who were having affairs; in essence, they had a main chick, a mistress, and who knows, maybe even some “hoes.” I had to listen to the song three times from the beginning: “Now I ain’t got no kids yet, but this right here’s for practice. I hate to get the seats in the Benz wet, but that’s how good yo’ ass is, Make an old man get his glasses, make Wesley pay his taxes, then follow yo’ moves all week on Twitter, prolly make a gay nigga reconsider.” OMG, the seats in his Benz were wet and there was the N word. I couldn’t believe it. No wonder I was two more miles from home. As I was trying to make out what was making the seats in his Benz wet, apparently I was running up a very steep hill. I was so surprised by the answer that I reached the top without even so much as a huff or puff. It was unbelievable to me, both the hill and the lyrics. It had me laughing. I couldn’t believe anyone could sing these lyrics with a straight face, and I also thought about how far music had come. I remember being in the car with my dad in 1975, his white Buick convertible, when Bad Company’s ‘Feel Like Making Love’ came on the radio, and I cringed in embarrassment at the refrain.
By the end of the summer, I was consistently running five miles a day, rain or shine with heat and humidity, the farthest I had ever run on a regular basis. I had listened to all of my son’s songs and had had a lot of fun doing so. The lyrics kept me going. Each time, I found something new. I never confessed to my girlfriend what I was really listening to; instead, I told her my secret to running is all in the lyrics. I love to run to the oldies but goodies I lied, like Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and Styx, that is what she probably expected of me anyway. What I was really listening to was ‘My Dirty Little Secret.’