It's not that I bear any ill will towards Julie Andrews.
She has that peculiar British pluck, that surprising worldly-wise wry sense of humor that her stately demeanor belies. Those are traits that I really do appreciate and greatly admire. If I am completely honest, there are even one or two tunes from My Fair Lady that I do enjoy when I happen to hear them, or, more likely, when they rise briefly from memory to play in my mind's ear. Admittedly that is, thankfully, a very, very rare occurrence nowadays.
You see, when I was a young'un, things were very different. Before the internet, before cable, before CDs, when HiFi not WiFi was the state of the art. In those distant times, still as sharp in my mind as the point of a tack, Julie Andrews show tunes including Camelot, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and, of course, (shudder) Mary Poppins, were mercilessly etched into the neural pathways of my brain. Those LPs played and played relentlessly in our house, courtesy of one or two members of my family who shall remain nameless. They know who they are.
Just as my father-in-law, rest his soul, learned to despise even the sweetest, most succulent August corn, fresh from the harvest, its only crime being that it, and it alone, sustained his life through the unbearable hardships of World War II, I despise the sound, the merest suggestion even, of the vast majority of Julie Andrew's remarkable body of work, and chief among them, the sweet treacly Sound of Music.
It's a small wonder then that I appreciate music at all. But I truly do.
Jazz moves me, almost unfailingly. And the blues, well, nothing resonates more agreeably than a really good blues track.
Oddly, counter-intutively, the place I enjoy the music I love the most, is on the road, playing in my helmet, as I cruise along. That's the sound of music I'm talking about.
Wednesday morning was one of those mornings. I came to work through Outremont, south over the eastern shoulder of the mountain on Park, west up Pine Avenue to Peel, then south again sweeping down Peel past the McGill Faculty of Law, right on de Maisonneuve, left on Mountain and into the underground parking at 1350 René-Lévesque. That last bit was accompanied by Colin James' rendition of Three Hours Past Midnight.
If you have a Sena SMH10, synched to an iPhone, and you wear ear plugs (yes ear plugs), you know what I mean. Man oh man!
If I had to make a list of the most surprising things I have experienced since I began riding a motorbike, that experience easily tops the list as the most surprising, the most unexpected, the most inexplicably marvelous.
It is the confluence of things that, by themselves, taken individually, you would never expect could yield such a pleasurable result. I certainly never would have believed it.
Take ear plugs to start. Ear plugs are born of pain, suffering, and fear. Certainly not pleasure by any means. I had read that some riders wore ear plugs. I had read forum posts by experienced riders exhorting fellow riders to wear them. Even offering free ear plugs to anyone willing to try them out. Nuts I thought. Crazy what people think. Ear plugs? I want to hear the idiot coming at me thanks very much! Sheesh!
And then I cut my windshield to an unfortunate height. The deep rumbling turbulence drummed maddeningly in my ears. I truly feared irreversible loss of hearing. I met a rider whose loud pipes had so far saved his life, but sadly largely destroyed his hearing. And so I resorted to ear plugs. Yuck. It took forever for my tender ears to accept them without pain. I hated my footsteps resonating in my skull with every stride I took. It felt terrible. But at least I wasn't going slowly deaf.
By the time I recut the windshield to a more sensible height that eliminated the sonic cranial assault, a curious thing had happened. I was accustomed to wearing ear plugs. I could still hear surrounding traffic just fine. It was the harsh sounds of riding that were pleasantly muted. The wind tearing at my ears had become a pleasant rush, the sound of my bike had acquired a nice soothing tone, I felt more attuned to the traffic around me, more immersed in the ride, less distracted by the clatter of the commute. It was a revelation. The first revelation. Riding without ear plugs was harsh.
And then the Sena happened. I got it as a Christmas gift for my road trip with Bob and Karen. I was after the intercom. The phone connectivity was a bonus, maybe. And the sound of music a very, very distant consideration, if at all. I worried that the Sena protruding on the left side of my helmet would emit more troublesome turbulence. I wondered if I could still wear ear plugs and be able to use the Sena effectively. I was sure there would be painful trade-offs to endure.
But the ability to communicate effectively on a road trip was worth the hassle.
Let me say now that the unexpected result of combining these elements that individually have potentially noxious features, is heaven. There is no turbulence from the Sena. And the Sena is fine with ear plugs. More than fine. By some accoustic black art, ear plugs raise the Sena to sound studio perfection. Phone calls and the intercom are crystal clear, like a Star Trek communicator. Completely impossibly perfect. As if I am government agent with a million dollar communications system at my disposal. It's that good. People are amazed that I'm riding at 100 kilometers an hour while we chat.
And the music... the sound of music... bliss inducing. That's the only way I can describe it.
Can I still hear the traffic? Absolutely. Am I distracted? Not one little bit.
The music playing has an insulating effect similar to the earplugs. My ability to focus on the traffic is improved. The music soothes, calms my mind, eliminates the need to rush, the impulse to dart. It gives me a serene environment where cool thought focuses my attention on what's truly important, the traffic that surrounds me, the distance I'm maintaining from the vehicle in front of me, the intentions of the drivers in adjacent lanes, and the rest of my commuter's world.
That's my sound of music.
If I've piqued your curiosity, and you think you might give ear plugs a try, I suggest ordering a trial pack of earplugs from the Aerostitch catalog. For under $20 you'll get a grab bag of different high-quality ear plugs in assorted sizes, shapes and colours. The likelihood is that you'll find a pair or two in the lot that will work for you. Or you can pick some up in the hardware store where the safety equipment is sold, or at your local pharmacy. Ordering from legendary Aerostich is just plain fun all by itself though.
Be warned though, the eventual pleasure that ear plugs promise, comes with some short term pain. A little like new shoes, or leather flip-flops that cause pain for a while before making friends with your body. I suggest you bear with it. Ear plugs will surely pay dividends over time by saving your hearing, but surprisingly will reward you in the near term too, by increasing your riding pleasure.