At The Cultch until April 20
Posted on April 16, 2013
I’m usually not one for epiphanies. But Evalyn Parry, SPIN creator/performer/spoken word poet, sent me freewheeling back to my nine-year-old self.
Can you see me? My pigtails are flying out behind me, my skirt is thrashing in the wind, my skinny legs are pumping like crazy as I rush – a little late – to David Lloyd George school.
My 9th-birthday bike is a used, black, one-speed, girls’ CCM with a bell and a basket. It’s my bike, my car, my horse, my whatever-I-want-it-to-be. On weekends I ride to visit my Grandpa on what was then Lulu Island (now Richmond). I ride past Lansdowne Race Track (now Lansdowne Mall), stopping for a while to sit on the fence to watch the horses thundering past. Then on to my Grandpa’s farm where he grows everything from A to Z (apples to zucchinis); it all ends up for sale from his cockeyed wooden kiosk on Number 3 Road where city folk stop in their cars to buy eggs, corn, daffodils, boysenberries – all manner of fruits and vegetables. And then I head home again, across two wooden bridges that span the Fraser River, my bike basket stuffed with fresh eggs or maybe carrots with dirt still on them.
But here’s the epiphany: I suddenly realized, as Parry was singing, “She gets on her bicycle/She rides!” that I felt, when I was nine and riding my bike, just like a boy. I could ride as fast and as wild as the neighbourhood boys. I didn’t have to stay clean, wear a skirt, be polite. I could get dirty, skin my knee, lose the ribbons that kept my pigtails neat and tidy. My knee sox could fall down. Heck, I bet I could have spit and said, “Damn” if I’d wanted to. Freedom. At nine. Thank you, Ms. Parry, for the flashback.
So how was SPIN? Using a word that confident, statuesque Parry might not like: lovely. In red boots, skinny black pants and red ‘tails’ she charmed the bicycle clips off us with a couple of electric guitars and a strong, ever-so-slightly throaty voice. Accompanied on the electro-acoustic bicycle-instrument – an amplified 1972 CCM Galaxie that’s struck, plucked and bowed by dapper Brad Hart, Parry took us on a bicycle history trip beginning in 1895 with Frances Willard who, at the age of fifty-three, learned to ride a bicycle and gained, as she said, “mastery of her life.” The craze caught on; soon bloomers replaced skirts and a year later, Sarah Bernhardt wrote, “The bicycle is on the way to transforming our way of life more deeply than you might think. All these girls and women who are devouring space are refusing domestic family life.” Who would have thought the simple two-wheeler could do that?
Later in the 1890s, Annie Londonderry, a Bostonian mother of three, took and won – a wager that she could cycle around the world, earn $5000 and do it all in fifteen months. The prize, so it was said, was $10,000 but rumour has it that there was no wager, there was no prize at all. Londonderry just wanted to get out of the house.
Parry’s music and lyrics are great, the performance winning. And she spikes it with wit, wisdom and truisms. “A wheel would collapse without its spokes.” Now there’s a metaphor for just about everything. A bicycle: “The iron horse you never need to feed.” Cycling and living: “Without resistance, we’d never get anywhere.”
Produced by Outspoke Productions (Toronto), it’s all over in an hour and ten after some shameless, slightly tongue-in-cheek self-promotion (CDs for sale in the Cultch lobby). But Parry’s is the same kind of self-promotion that allowed Annie Londonderry to thumb her nose at domesticity and pedal to beat the band around the world.
Of bicycling, H.G. Wells said, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” Mayor Gregor Robertson couldn’t have said it better.