If you hold something tightly enough, you will suffocate it


Cyclists like Fabio Parra (as well as Colombia's soccer players of the time) were one of the few things outside of music that held my attention during my youth.

On that day, the news spread like wildfire, albeit a small wildfire that no one outside my immediate circle of friends noticed. To us, however, this was a huge deal, and we were all in disbelief. Once I tell you what this bit of news was, you will either write me off as a lunatic (if you haven't done so already), or simply dismiss the event as the sort of overly dramatic interactions that are common among eleven year olds. I ask you not to do either before I explain.

Colombia in the late 1980s was, in some respects, culturally divorced from the rest of the world. When it came to music and literature, the effects were more acute due to severe restrictions regarding importing goods into the country (in an effort to boost Colombia's economy). To most kids, these trade restrictions only meant that buying American clothing and tennis shoes was a difficult affair, one that usually involved buying smuggled goods in a potentially frightening business district known as "San Andresito". But for me and my friends, these restrictions meant that accessing the music we loved and lived for, was nearly impossible. Like many other kids in other parts of the world at that time, we had become obsessed with metal in all its forms and iterations, as well as punk rock and hardcore music. We lived and died for that music, and our bond to it was (in retrospect) very clearly derived from the difficulty of obtaining the music itself.

At the time, absolutely no music store in the city carried anything beyond Colombian folk music, and english-speaking artists like Pet Shop Boys. There was no mail order, no publications, no clubs, no radio shows, no underground record stores. The few cassettes that we had of bands like Agnostic Front, Slayer and Venom were usually tenth or fifteenth generation dubs, which we guarded like treasures, and often used as badges of honor, since getting anyone to let you dub their tapes was a coup in and of itself. You had to be deemed worthy of borrowing a rare cassette, since dubbing it would mean that you too would now be in on the secret club.

If "underground" music was indeed underground in places like the United States and Europe....I can't think of a word to describe what it was in Colombia in the 1980s. Live performances by the few local punk rock and metal bands that existed were themselves extremely rare and hard to find....so much so that an entire movie was made about it in the late 80s. The film correctly depicts performances going on in abandoned buildings in Medellin's shanty towns. These bands were often made up of teenage assassins who lived in the poorest neighborhoods of Colombia's cities (Medellin in particular), so simply buying a ticket and showing up was not an option. These were neighborhoods that the police wouldn't dare go into back then, and they were usually designated among the most dangerous places on earth by the UN. This was beyond underground, it was beyond dangerous, and it soon became my hobby, my pastime, my lifestyle...my everything.

Short clip from the movie Rodgrigo D No Futuro. The movie used actual street kids from bands in Medellin as the cast. Sadly, since these were not actors (but kids who made money as assassins for the Cartels), almost the entire cast was killed during the filming of the movie, and the entire thing had to be re-shot multiple times in order for it to have some continuity.

As a result of how difficult it was to access this music, my friends and I developed a bond to this subculture that was far beyond what teenagers usually develop when they are introduced to certain subcultures. In our eyes, our club was a secret club. Knowing about the bands that we knew about, or having ever actually heard them was a complicated and difficult accomplishment. It's for this reason that the news that morning in school seemed so huge to us. How on earth could it be that a kid in our school had suddenly showed up wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt under his uniform? Who the hell was he? Where had he gotten the shirt? How did he even know about the band? We were all surprised, angered and anxious. We had to find out, and quickly.

Our secret club was secret no more. The secret was out, and we were pissed.

As I've grown older, I continue to think back to that day in Colombia. I think about how ridiculous it is to claim ownership of an idea, of a movement, a musical style, or a way of thinking. While I understood then—as I do today—why my bond to this idea and to that music was so strong, I still can't help but laugh about the whole thing. Why is it that when we find something we like, we enjoy, and perhaps love, we want to hold it so close that we risk suffocating it, and killing it? Why is any musical style or activity so sacred, that only a select few should be allowed in? Is cycling that sacred to you? Do you laugh at other people's bikes or attire? Do you laugh at the new guy? Do you laugh at the guy with a bike that's "too good" for him? Does it seriously matter that much to you? Is your secret club less secret today? Is cycling the new golf? Does it matter?

If the relationship you have with your bike and riding it is so personal, how can it be disturbed (if only minimally and for a second) by the mere sight of someone else riding a bike in a different manner? Is that the equivalent of seeing someone wear an Iron Maiden shirt? Do you hold cycling so stubbornly close that you are choking it, by virtue of becoming irritable, unkind and unwelcoming? If that's the case, I suggest you let go, and that you do so quickly.