Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

The Bike by Amy Correia

The Bike

Written and Performed by Amy Correia

Originally released on an EP and then the album Carnival Love, you can buy the song from iTunes here and the album here.  You can listen to the recorded version here and a live version here. Check out Amy Correia’s website.

At first listen, “The Bike” comes off as a sweet, breezy song about a girl and her bike tooling around New York City, a perfect accompaniment for a brilliant spring day.  It’s a great example of well crafted pop music with a swelling chorus bound to lift your spirits. Open the windows, put the tops down, cruise along and blast this song. Perfect.

Hey and I’m riding around riding around on it
Hey just riding around riding around on it

On the second, third and tenth listen, “The Bike” reveals its great depth and mastery in both the song writing and the performance. The sweetness is still there, though you start to sense the mettle that girds it. And the breeziness of the chorus remains irresistible, though you begin to understand how joy seeks to overcome the underlying sadness and death that underlies that story of the bike and the life she confronts. A pop song? Yes, but one bordering a true art.

The story song tells how the singer inherits an old bike from her uncle. From the opening swirls of the organ and the easy rhythm of the guitar and rums, the music sets the light and airy tone for the song.

I became the heiress to a red and rusted bicycle
Built like a tank from Sears Roebuck circa 1952
It had been entrusted to me by my late great uncle Pat
And I guess he didn’t ride it much
Both tires on the bike were flat

She sings “heiress” both making fun of her status – inheriting a bike does not an heiress make – and embracing how she comes to feel like one. The reference to Sears and Roebuck speaks to the solidness of the bike – in its day, Sears made things that lasted, their tools even came with a lifetime guarantee – and sets it in a certain time and place. We get another terrific double entendre when she sings of her “late great uncle Pat;” that’s how she is related to him (her father’s uncle), but it also speaks to what became of his life. Pat may once have been great, but that was long ago. The flat tires tell us of the bike’s condition, but also serve as a metaphor for Pat’s life.

This summer song takes a turn for the dark side in the next verse, though the singing and music skim along and prevent the song form dipping into the morbid:

Pat had died at Christmas time in 1991
He had fallen off the wagon
And he sunk into a Christmas funk
My father he had found him
Two days after he had died
Well he drank himself to death one night
In a little home he owned by the seaside

Pat’s life had sunk to a terrible desolation, sitting alone in a seaside home, though one can’t but help see this as a weather-worn shack in a dreary winter day on the beach. His isolation had gotten so that he had been dead for two days before anyone noticed, how terribly sad that the world could not tell if he was alive or dead for it made no difference.

Correia does not allow the song to fall into a sinkhole with Pat; instead, it follows a lighter path.

Well I took the bike and I cleaned it up
And my father he patched up the tires
Am I going to town or just spinning my wheels
And when I die I wonder how it feels

How sweet and warm, father and daughter salvaging this bike, this remnant of Uncle Pat’s better days. For a moment, the song wonders what’s going on – is she moving forward or “just spinning my wheels” and she thinks of Pat, wondering how it felt to die, to vanish. The chorus provides the answer with its rising energy and vehemence.

Hey and I’m riding around riding around on it
Hey just riding around riding around on it
Hey you know I’m riding around
riding around on it. Hey!

 She makes the physicality of riding the bike palpable and the thoughts of death and loss succumb to the pure energy of those moments spinning around on the bike. Riding that bike leads to moments of bliss.

The next verse brings us back to Pat again and the family. It is one of the touching details of this song that it is so grounded in family. Pat’s loneliness, in part, come form his lack of family, “He had never married and he never had kids,” his sparsely attended funeral juxtaposed to the warmth of the singer and her father working together to salvage the bike.

We get more details of the wake (“His sister had a picture of a poodle named Pepper/She put it in his hand and then she cried”) and the funeral:

And a hired man from the State
He played taps on a coronet
And a flag was presented to his sister
For time in the service that Pat had spent

The precision and detail help ground the song and add to its resonance.

The final verse connects the singer with Uncle Pat through the bike:

When he used to ride on the bike
Way back in 52
He was starting out a life
And the bike it was brand new
And life was laid before him
Like a platter before a king
He was young and he was handsome
and the world was alive with meaning
The world was alive with meaning

 

Her joy becomes his and the source becomes explicit, “life was laid before him” and “the world was alive with meaning.” The lyrics offer hope – her bike rides connect her with the vitality of Uncle Pat’s younger life, a time with his energy and happiness could make you forget the later sadness and desolation – earlier life. At the same time, the song sets up a parallel between Pat’s life and the singer’s, they both rode the bike when young, full of life with a world alive with meaning, but she has to wonder will that all fade for her too? Will she wind up alone in the seaside shack, the world no longer noticing if she is alive or dead?

There is no definitive answer, only t the hope of the chorus:

Now I’m riding around in the city
Through the smog and the summer heat
And I’m blowing through all the red lights
I guess you could say I’m feeling lucky
And the taxis and the trucks
Everybody’s blowin’ their horns
And I got a bicycle bell to ring
And I got a notion to sing as I’m riding along

In the City, where those taxis and truck can act like the bicyclists don’t even exist, she’s exerting her existence, staking a claim for life and meaning, they can blow their horns and she can ring her bell. The swelling music, the resonance of Correia’s voice make one belief, make it possible to find meaning, to remain alive and vital even in the world where the trucks and taxis keep blowing their horns. She’s rolling through those red lights, feeling luck, happy to be riding that bike. What more can you ask? The act of writing and singing this song takes a stand against the nihilism of Uncle Pat’s demise. In the end, Correia stakes a claim that her art will enable her to survive.

*****

Amy Correia remains an interesting songwriter and singer. She came to New York from southeastern Massachusetts via Barnard College. Though she’s made a few forays to the west coast and bake to her parent’s home, she seems to have settled into New York.  Ike “The Bike,” much of her music rises on sweetness and the attractiveness of her voice, though yields great meaning and she explores issues that matter to her. The conviction in the songwriting and singing makes the songs come alive.

You can learn more at Amy Correia’s website. She’s will release her third full album, You Go Your Way, this summer (2010). She raised funds from fans to pay for the recording, a process captured by Anthony Mason in a piece for CBS news and you can buy a limited edition copy of the album now in advance of the official release by clicking here.

This song originally appeared on the album Carnival Love; you can buy the song from iTunes here and the album here.  You can buy Amy Correia’s second album, Lakeville by clicking here. You can check out the following videos for Amy Correia songs:

Jon Pareles wrote a brief review of Lakeville for the New York Times which you can read here (subscription maybe required). No Depression published two articles on Amy Correia, which you can find here.

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