Back in April, we started following psych-rocker Rich Aucoin as he began the coast-to-coast U.S. tour for his new EP, ‘Hold’—which he’s doing on his bicycle. Read Volume 1 here, Volume 2 here, Volume 3 here, Volume 4 here, Volume 5 here,, Volume 6 here and Volume 7 here. This is Aucoin’s final entry.
Impressions From Cycling Across America
200 years ago this summer, Parisians had their minds blown witnessing German Baron Karl von Drais’ new invention, Draisienne or Laufmaschine or “Dandy Horse.” The first two-wheeled bicycle invention would be improved upon over the remainder of the 19th century until 1880s when the new standard bicycle, the safety bicycle took hold. 200 years later, there are more bicycles than any other form of transportation in the world with the most common model being the Chinese Flying Pigeon.
Traveling across a country only 40 years older than this invention and on a land with peoples 100 times older than it, I felt a great connection to this rock we live on. I can’t recommend enough traveling by some form open-air transportation with the bicycle being the most natural in my opinion. From the beautiful west coast of Southern California, I started this journey and in the dizziness of Hollywood after a non-stop month of the usual speed of touring ending at Bardot. I then biked through LA’s unending sprawl until I reached the desert and really began the journey.
I went through the most isolated section of the country seeing only snakes and birds and rolling desert dunes. Staying in the futuristic experimental artist-designed town, Soleri’ Arcosanti, I was inspired to start treating the tour like an artistic experiment and/or an artist retreat in motion. I started to really notice the decay of these small towns I was cycling through and seeing the reminders everywhere in prominently displayed photographs to an earlier age to when they were prosperous.
I narrowly avoided several major storms, not by some cunning cycling, but out of blind luck. I Met an amazing vet named Harold who gave me a tour and the history of Lonoke, Arkansas. He talked about his desire for America to be more progressive. I felt a real affinity for the musical history of Memphis. Its National Civil Rights Museum was also a powerful experience.
In Brownsville, Tenn., I saw the second of the two major sculpting works by artists in Billy Tripp’s Mind Field (the first being Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain in Niland, California). My soundtrack to Tennessee was William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways.
After biking through Appalachian Mountains down country roads in West Virginia, I ended up in Washington, D.C., where I could feel the tensions surrounding the ICE immigration detention camps. I finished the ride coming up through urban sprawl and vast industrial lands of the Northeast until I finally arrived at the iconic Statue of Liberty.
When I had originally conceived on this tour after cycling across Canada in the same manner but for the Childhood Cancer Foundation (now Childhood Cancer Canada), I had hoped to be at least moderately famous enough that I could do this tour differently with fans and friends in tow in a Forrest Gump kind of communal effort. But the chips didn’t fall that way, and halfway through the tour, I really felt like the tour wasn’t making a difference or inspiring anyone and/or doing any good for the world. It got me thinking a lot about our projections and realities and how dreams and fantasies can be motivating but make the real-life realities seem less magical. I thought about luck and how little we can claim, if anything, for our real successes other than just staying the course to our passions and energies regardless of what our outcomes may be. This is an individual mental switch and something that I think is important to keep in mind for our own mental health day to day.
This particular tour is for mental health charities: Mental Health America and The Canadian Mental Health Association. While cycling through various charities in my fundraising efforts with my music, I thought at this moment mental health would be especially good to advocate for as it’s undergoing a sea change with more people understanding and acknowledging mental illnesses and seeking help for their sickness in the way they would any disease without stigma around it. Media is starting to realize that citing mental illness as a cause to shootings and other violence is only further adding to people’s misconceptions and prejudices. All of us are re-evaluating the digital, social-media and physical health aspects of our lives to include an awareness and concern for our own mental health spectrum. In all these instances, it takes a village to help and support one another through the roadblocks and hurdles we all face, but there is more and more evidence of people listening and responding to each other as we’re seeing with growing movements like #MeToo.
Good things are happening amongst all the negative we’re bombarded with everyday. It’s important to keep yourself inspired and not to succumb to the overwhelming and draining power of the negativity that reaches into our empathetic reservoirs each day and depletes us of feeling before we’ve even started to try to do some good for the world each day. But we can do it only with each other for help.
Speaking as a musician, it can be very overwhelming as an artist in 2018 at a time where there is more content out there than one could ever possibly consume. In music, you’re not only competing with all your musical peers but also with the entire back catalogue of recorded music history at any streamer’s finger tips. I have mixed feelings with streaming because, on the one hand, it’s a great leveler of songs to be accessible to the listener, but what we’re seeing in the analytics isn’t a more diverse listening habit of the listener but a case of the big chip-holder artists getting bigger and boxing out the developing artists. Drake currently holds over half of the Billboard Hot Top 40 chart. In the new music playlists, music is becoming more and more homogenous with fewer outliers breaking from the formula. I thought online playlists might be freer from formula than terrestrial/traditional radio but turns out they’re getting more conventional at this moment.
This bike tour has been so important for me artistically for being reminded of the importance to stay inspired with the help from others. The act of just sharing things that inspire us can really make a difference as I’ve asked friends and fans for recommendations constantly which have then in turn changed my life. I’ve been very lucky that as a result of having all these hours on the bike to have the time to consume music the way I did back while I was a teenager. I think it’s so important as an artist to constantly be inputing art into our systems like gas in the tank. Listening to recommendations from friends and people you respect is better than an algorithm.
I listened to some playlists curated from all time periods too and found more evidence of top tracks remaining on top as I had to go 60 tracks deep before I heard something new to me. It seems like the playlist makers are really scared to try out something we’re not already familiar with (in the same way Hollywood will barely make a new blockbuster without analytic evidence of it already being a successful franchise). But I heard “How Long Do I Have To Wait For You?” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and it reminded me of the importance of new music especially in classic genres where it seems like we already enough classic songs filling them. Its kick drum pattern, for one thing, is unlike anything they were doing back in ’60s/’70s in the songs The Dap-Kings are emulating and drawing inspiration from. For artists making music similar to artists their inspired by, there can be a big question like, “Does the world need any more Beatles-sounding songs?” The answer is always yes because it’ll end up different even if your intention is to mimic to the point of facsimile. The world will always need whatever combination of artistic juggling it is that you do, and it’ll resonate differently as it’s made in a different time period with different cultural contextualizations.
You have a unique voice for the world in whatever it is you want to say and even if you think you’re falling into cliche, someone somewhere will find your work in whatever it is you do and benefit from your effort. As Mike Birbiglia reminds us in his comedy special Two Drink Mike, “Whatever you are, be a good one” (no matter who originally said that). Charles Wright elaborates, “express yourself,” in his song of the same name. Stay true to yourself, and you’re never a failure in the terms of its binary success/failure mentality in a world that’s so driven by the over-adoration of success, we can be equally inspired by admirable failures. I recently learned that one of the greatest sports films of all time, Rocky, had its defeat ending spurred by logistical budgetary reasons and not narrative ones, but its message about the success of an individual despite the outcome of their win is so important for our mental health and feelings of self-worth.
It was fitting that the music video I made about this idea was filmed before the tour and came out at its end. “The Dream” is a video about the importance of the striving for one’s goals over the attaining of them. “Living the Dream” doesn’t just mean following the path to some outcome but rather is a daily decision one makes to continue to live authentically to themselves. In the video, the struggling actor never gets their big break to become a celebrity but is still content knowing that they’ve done what they can do and followed it through. I was initially hoping this was what La La Land was going to be about, but I guess it makes more sense for a Hollywood love-letter film like that to have its own Hollywood ending. I’m very curious about all these stories we never hear and the pain and effort that goes into each struggling artist’s life to continue on without the Hollywood ending. I think there’s great courage and beauty in living with that pursuit. In the video we see the struggling actor resort to playing a character on Hollywood Boulevard, but they fail at it because their heart isn’t in it because they’re only doing it with the hope to get something else, a different gig. But once they realize that the means is an end in itself, they can enjoy expressing their passion now matter what the context they find themselves in. We all have to do various jobs in our careers that weren’t the intended jobs we initially wanted, I think a big thing we need to ask ourselves at moments like this is do we want to do them and can we adjust to make something good from it? If no, then we have to find something else but if yes, we need to find whatever motivation and heart we can to put ourselves into it. Never half-ass anything. Do whatever you do with love and authenticity. As an example of this, I found the performers on Hollywood Boulevard to be really sweet engaging persons and had this love for the magic they bring to tourists’ Hollywood experience.
Here’s “The Dream” directed by Mike Bromley
In all these cases, whether it’s living our dreams or balancing our mental health, we achieve success and following through only with the help of others. As Mr. Rogers often appealed to people to take a moment to think of the people who helped them get to where they are at this present moment, “We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.” That being said, here’s a playlist of artists I think deserve to be at least 1% as popular as Drake. You can succeed in the work you want to do. We will support you. We can get past this point in history and its polarization and find our common ground to improve and inspire. We can bridge the gap in our conversations and find unity with the other. We can go the distance only with each other’s help. Remember, as Victor Willis once said, “No man does it all by himself, young man, put your pride on the shelf”.
Thanks to Mental Health America and CMHA for the work you do. We achieved the fundraising goals for each!
Thank you, reader/fan/friend/donator for following along with this time of my life. Good luck in whatever lies ahead in your time. Hope to see you down the trail.
Follow me @ richaucoin.ca, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play.