“Show me how to live.” The words rang in my ears this morning as I meditated on the life of the late Chris Cornell, the lead vocalist for Audioslave and Soundgarden. Sadly, Cornell ended his life in May, and his friend Chester Bennington, the lead vocalist for Linkin Park who performed at Cornell’s funeral, did the same in July. In spite of never knowing artists personally, there’s always a sense of loss that accompanies the death of a musician that we like. Perhaps its rooted in finality, the cessation of the possibility of receiving new music again. We have what they released – which is wonderful and to be treasured – but nothing more will come.
Running, a simple exercise that has an unrivaled ability to lift the mood, sometimes falls flat from time to time. Cardiovascular gains are made, yes, but the spirit can struggle to reconcile a sense of loss inside of an activity that yields gains. Loss undoubtedly extends beyond a well-known musician though; it can touch home quickly with the sudden passing of a beloved family member, relative, or friend. Moments in time like this produce what I call melancholy miles.
Melancholy miles can be summarized, at least from a song standpoint, in the 1993 hit “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. In a recent Billboard article about the 25th anniversary of Automatic for the People, the band’s eighth studio album, guitarist Peter Buck spoke of the staying power of this despondent tune. “My feeling was – not in a negative way – is that it was kind of a down record with a lot of minor keys, and we were at the age when Michael [Stipe] was thinking a lot about mortality, so I didn’t expect it to be a huge hit.” But “Everybody Hurts” resonated in a profound way.
During those moments in life when loss is close and immensely felt, should running shoes be shelved? Should the shorts or skirt stay tucked away in the drawer? No. I’d argue that it is the right time – the ideal time actually – to venture outdoors and allow nature to provide a smoothing salve for a ransacked spirit. If anything should be left in the gear bag, might I suggest music? This is a hard ask of myself as music is a constant presence in my runs, but there are times when the music should be exchanged for silence.
Running is a catharsis, a catalyst for release, liberation, freedom. In the words of running blogger Jon Waldron, “Sometimes the running we need is intense; sometimes it’s long and slow. It sounds pretentious to say it, but there really is an art to incorporating running into your life in a way that it enhances everything else in your life, and doesn’t make you useless for anything else.” Running is a balm for the battering ram that we call life; it provides a respite in a way that no other activity can, save prayer.
Personally, I’m coming up on a year since my father passed. It’s hard to recall what running I was doing in the days leading up to and after his death. His departure from this life wasn’t unexpected though; it was the culmination of a life steeped in unhealthy vices. I wish that he would have been more intentional about staying healthy, but this wasn’t my father. No, he marched to the beat of his own drum and traveled his own path.
Like other fans, I tend to heavily listen to a musician’s library after they pass. I did this for Chris Cornell and for Chester Bennington. Tom Petty is the latest rock star to perish. Known for hits like “Free Fallin’” (1989) and “I Won’t Back Down” (1989), Petty died on October 2nd in Santa Monica, California. I didn’t listen to Petty much, but I have developed an intrigue with his other songs that gained critical acclaim, along with the lesser-known deep tracks.
Incidentally, “I Won’t Back Down” is an anthem song for runners (and non-runners) in the midst of pain when life is melancholy and grief is raw. The song is a call to stand tall during heartache and hardship, death and despair, anger and angst. Those runs in the days that followed my father’s death were melancholy. The miles felt long and hard and sluggish. But I persisted as I processed the pain and came to terms with a life now devoid of a dad. But melancholy miles are, and will always be, meaningful miles.