The second biggest bike race in the world, the Giro d’Italia swung into Belfast for two days this weekend. It was a big deal for the city and country which was festooned in pink (the race’s official color); people turned out in their hundreds of thousands to cheer on the riders as they whizzed past, all colourful lycra and bulging thighs. For once we were united, old grievances forgotten in a haze of sporting, multi-colored, cycling fever.
It reminded me of that old 12-bar blues song, C.C. Rider or See See Rider, or possibly even Easy Rider, recorded by a great many artists over the years, first by Ma Rainey in 1924. It’s hard to know exactly what or who this See See or Easy Rider was. Theories vary, from it referring to a person with easy going sexual morals, to it being an itinerant bluesman with a guitar slung over his back or a “county circuit” preacher, to Big Bill Broonzy’s tale of a local fiddle player named See See Rider who taught him the blues. Seems to me that “see see” and “easy” sound pretty similar and that the term most likely refers to an easy lover, man or woman, someone who was habitually unfaithful – the subject of many a blues song.
The song has been recorded by a host of artists, including classic blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly and Lightnin’ Hopkins, as well as artists like Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Animals and Elvis. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s also been covered by Bruce Springsteen, appearing on the Boss’s “Detroit Medley” contribution to the 1979 No Nukes Live album.
Film director Martin Scorsese counts Lead Belly’s version of the song as formative for him: “One day, around 1958, I remember hearing something that was unlike anything I’d ever heard before…The music was demanding, “Listen to me!”…The song was called “See See Rider,” [and the] name of the singer was Lead Belly… Lead Belly’s music opened something up for me. If I could have played guitar, really played it, I never would have become a filmmaker.”
Whatever exactly the easy rider of the song means, there’s nothing easy about what these professional cyclists do. It’s a punishing sport with riders clocking up hundreds of kilometres of racing day after day, in all weathers, up and down mountains and across countryside and urban landscapes. Now that the sport’s cleaned itself up after decades of drug abuse culminating in the shameful Lance Armstrong years, the sight of the peleton whizzing past at speed or the pain endured by the riders on the upper slopes of high mountains is a thing of wonder. Easy it’s not.
But I guess that’s true for almost everything in life. As author Scott Alexander says, “All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.”