I have previously waxed nostalgic in this blog space about the amazing impact music has on our lives–whether we realize it or not–and I had another defining moment involving music that I wanted to share.
Earlier this week, I was up early–like 3 a.m. early–writing, as has become my habit since moving into full-time photojournalism a year ago.
I write better in the early morning when everyone else is asleep, so I was getting some serious work done.
But after two hours and two cups of java, I was ready to get up and move.
So, at 5 a.m., I donned my PT (physical training) gear, what I call S4 (shorts, shirt, socks, shoes), which also includes a shuffle iPod and headphones, for a walk/run.
I say walk/run because that’s what I do. I walk flat land and up hills, and run down hills. I find it’s easier on my back, knees, neck, joints, etc. Those over the age of 40 will understand my meaning.
I do this often. I tell my wife it’s my “walk-about,” where I walk and think about things.
I also call it my “neighborhood patrol,” where I walk/run the streets of my “hood” and make sure everything is secure. Hey, I’m a Marine; walking post is in my blood.
It is a different world at 5 a.m. Nothing is stirring; it’s very dark, very quiet, and very cool. The darkness masks out all the background so that the world consists of what your eye can see from ambient light. It is a world dominated by shadows.
My peripheral vision must become more acute so I can see into the shadows; in the dark you can see more if you don’t look directly at objects, something to do with the rod cells that are on the outside edges of your eye.
Maybe this change in vision is why it’s easy for me to think, because all the background distractions are masked out.
I am armed with a flashlight, but I try to keep it off because it zaps my night vision and it ruins the mood. Sometimes the darkness is so complete I can’t see my feet, only hear them as my footsteps echo off the houses on either side of me.
As the Georgia summer gets hotter and more humid, it’s good to have this early-morning habit; only mad dogs and Englishmen work out in the mid-day heat–though Marines are known to do it as well.
There’s a ginormous hill in our neighborhood. It slopes down (or up, depending on which end you’re on) at a curvy 40-degree angle for about a third of a mile.
I walk/run a one-mile loop, two to four times, reversing direction so sometimes I’m run/walking backwards or side-shuffling up the hill (helps develop those small flexor muscles in your lower legs) and sometimes I’m running down the hill.
This early in the morning, if somebody sees me they’ll probably call the police: “Hey, there’s some dude running sideways up our street.” No danger, just me trying to stay in shape.
My generally serious desire to stay in shape has been heightened after a Saturday of interviews and photos of Marine Corps “poolees” in Atlanta for an article I am preparing for Leatherneck magazine.
Poolees are 18- to 22-year-old men and women who are preparing to enter Marine Corps boot camp; 13 weeks of the toughest basic military training in the world. They are taking their initial strength test–a 1.5-mile run, pull-ups and crunches.
I am amazed as I talk with and photograph these impressive young men and women who are knowingly and voluntarily preparing to leave their homes and families to embark on a new and probably dangerous lifestyle, a new culture, a new belief system that will forever change them.
But more to the point of this missive, I see the extreme physical effort they exert in their effort to exceed the minimum standards.
So back to my walk-about.
I’m on the second loop, going into my third, feeling sorry for myself, whining about how early it is and how much it hurts, fantasizing about the omelet and cup of coffee waiting for me at home.
I get to the top of the hill; it’s time to run, but I’m sore, whiny, thinking maybe I should just walk this one.
Just then, the next song cycles onto my iPod. As I begin the slow and painful descent down the long hill, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor starts playing.
The iconic theme song from “Rocky III” ignites something in me; the music connects to the photos in my mind of those heroic young men and women, those poolees getting ready for the toughest test of their lives.
My pace picks up. Gravity begins to pull me faster. I am propelling down the hill.
I am 18. There is no soreness, pain is weakness leaving the body. I am now flying down that hill. My feet are barely touching the ground.
When the first words of the song start, I imagine I am–no, I am–Rocky Balboa running down the street: “Risin’ up, back on the street, did my time, took my chances.”
Now the words are carrying me: “Went the distance now I’m back on my feet, just a man and his will to survive.”
As the song continues, I see myself hitting those 72 steps leading up to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (much easier doing them downhill, but hey, it’s my vision!): “Had the guts, got the glory, Went the distance now I’m not gonna’ stop, Just a man and his will to survive.”
The music of the guitars, bass, keyboard and drums is pushing me beyond my comfort zone. “Bom – bom bom bom – bom bom bom – bom bom bommmmm,” the music speaks to me, tells me I will survive this run and anything else the world throws at me. Bring it on!
As I get to the bottom of the hill (top of the Rocky Steps in my vision) I begin to do the victory dance, arms high in the air, still running in place, doing victory circles. I want to yell, “Adrienne,” but my better judgment kicks in and I figure the police will definitely be called if I do that.
The song ends. The adrenaline recedes and I slow my pace as I walk/run back home.
As I do, I wonder how many other people have been equally driven by that song since it was written at the request of actor Sylvester Stallone for Rocky III. He originally wanted to use “Another One Bites The Dust,” but couldn’t get permission from Queen; their loss.
Music. It can soothe the savage beast, or it can take us places we never imagined.
So today, think about–or better yet, play–the song that drives you (I know you have one) and see where it takes you.
Me? I’m going to put “Eye of the Tiger” on loop and go for the Gold.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, who also served until recently in municipal parks and recreation, lives in Peachtree City, Ga., and can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email email@example.com.