Tuesday 17 January 2012

Hang the DJ

The further I run, the worse my taste in music becomes.

Last weekend I faced a 13-mile challenge. I have completed this distance only once before, when I participated in the Royal Parks half marathon last October, and a significant part of that accomplishment was directly owing to the atmosphere of the occasion: roads lined with smilingly encouraging spectators and my own dear family popping up at regular intervals to wave and cheer wildly.

On Saturday, I was on my own. I got up to freezing cold and darkness, leaving behind a warm bed and an even cosier toddler. In her white, poppered-up sleepsuit, baby Betty waved me off frowsily, hugging her bottle of milk to her. It took every ounce of my resolve not to crawl back under the duvet to her baby breath and soft burrowing body.

So as I stepped out onto the frost-rimed pavements, beneath skies that were purple with the merest suggestion of dawn, I was in dire need of aural sustenance. I have done many runs to nothing but the sound of my own pulse in my ears but increasingly as the distances stretch longer in front of me I find myself resorting to assistance from my ipod.

Early on in my running career, years ago when Grace was very, very little and the game was for far smaller chips, I crafted playlists to dream to: thoughtful, earnest warblings about spirituality, love and hope that inspired me.

They didn't last long, largely because when I listened to them on the treadmill my runs didn't either.

Next, I resorted to brash pop: Blondie was a favourite for a while and around this point I believe I managed a whole 3 miles. Then I segued into pop pop and hip-hop for a while, listening surreptitiously to Justin Timberlake (my husband did not approve) and NERD.

When my marriage was falling apart I went through a punky, shouty phase (I'm still referring to the music here) and slogged around the grid of streets near my home in Washington DC to the likes of Killing Joke and The Teardrop Explodes. Then when I fell in love again a few years later the happy optimism of old 80s favourites held sway as I skipped around Blackheath and under the big skies of Greenwich Park to playlists composed of Duran Duran and Go West.

The nearest I've come to contemplative music subsequently was probably a short while after that, when I was pregnant again  and my run was reduced to the slow glide of a stately galleon. I would advance with languorous majesty and feel Betty kick and swim inside me in response to Kate Bush -- though Aerial made me cry I played it obsessively, repeatedly.

Then I was running again, and running for the reasons detailed here over the last months. To urge me on further and faster I sought the sounds of The Chemical Brothers, Justice and Fischerspooner (Just Let Go was my mantra for many weeks as I sought to overcome heart-pounding stress and upset.)

Lately though, I've been too tired and too busy to look for quality. Frankly, given the distances I'm travelling I'm happy with a bargain bucket of 12-inch Ibiza remixes and some extra banging bits. I'm guiltily aware of the damage to my soul. In terms of self-improvement this stuff is up there with Puff the Magic Dragon. Or not, actually, because the latter at least preaches a message of understanding and inclusion, while the main theme in my playlists now appears to be how quickly and successfully one can get laid.

It can't go on. I ran those 13 miles thanks to the mindless urgings of my current playlist and felt good at the end of them. Today it helped me to complete my interval training with bells on -- beating time targets for every one of the 5 miles I belted through on the treadmill in the gym, driving my tired legs to the, ahem, phat beats. But the videos playing on the line of televisions above me there further emphasised the moral quality of the tunes I'm now sickeningly hooked on: booby ladies in shorts and gangsta thugs in gold chains somehow do not making a fitting soundtrack to my noble marathon challenge.

That said, this last phase has been liberating. It's been kind of nice not to have something else to worry about. I find that actually I don't care about being cool, I have no clue who's been listed for the Mercury Prize and I don't need to be able to say I liked x, y or z years ago.

As some fella called Dizzee's been telling me: some people think I'm bonkers, but I just think I'm free.

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