The other day I was stumbling up out of the rocky creekbed at Sunol’s Little Yosemite with Lou Reed’s “Heroin” in my headphones.
Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, its my wife and its my life
Because a mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I’m better off than dead
And I found myself thinking if Lou had done a bit more hiking, he’d have been a bit less needful of needle-induced stimulation. Then I was thinking about the adventure junkies who get a similar rush from activities in which death is a plausible outcome. I’ve never been a druggie (too damn cheap and jail-averse) but for some reason this is one of my favorite songs.
I used to think you had to have every sense tuned to the natural world so you wouldn’t miss the bee’s buzz or the hawk’s scream, but lately I’ve been thinking that if I’m going to be out walking for four or five hours, I might as well multitask. The only free time I have to listen to tunes is when I’m working out or hiking.
There are hassles: the headphone cord wants to get tangled. You have to take them off to talk to people. You get those “why does he need his headphones out here in nature?” looks. I used to give those looks.
In an ideal world you’d never listen to music while trying to do something else — it would detract from both activities. In my magical utopia I’d be able to go to rock concerts every night and not wake up with ringing ears, aching brain and empty wallet. I’d hike every morning at dawn with the bird chorus to keep me company. I’d never have to work at a job that made somebody else richer while while I eked along on whatever that somebody imagined my labors were worth.
Of course the lessons of history are that utopian quests end in grief, and that humans either adapt to their circumstances or drive themselves nuts railing against them. I get about 80 percent of what I like about listening to music if I do it while hiking; I lose about 20 percent of the hiking experience that comes from hearing every twig snap. Eighty percent of something’s better than 100 percent of nothing.
I’m one of those guys who can barely contain the urge to scream along when Brian Johnson growls “Stand up and be counted, for what you are about to receive…” (it’s curious that I enjoy AC/DC more now than I did in their heyday, but that’s a subject for somebody else’s blog). With my iPhone set on shuffle, the next tune might be Chet Baker or Beethoven, a contrast akin to walking out of the trees onto a grassy hillside, or stepping out of the wind blast on a hilltop.
They do kinda go together.