This month's song is a bit of a departure for us, in that it's not particularly personal or at least is ostensibly about someone else, namely British cycling legend, Tommy Simpson. I first came across the story that inspired this song when I read Will Fotheringham's biography of Tommy, also called 'Put me back on my bike', which are allegedly some of the final words of this '60s cycling legend, shortly before he died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. It's a story of endeavour, of someone with extraordinary grit, ambition and talent, such that he became a huge success, but that same ambition arguably led to his tragic demise... a classic tragedy. Definitely worth a read, or a watch of this documentary about him. Anyway, we're both keen cycling fans and cyclists and the idea of someone literally riding themselves to death seemed to have a natural sense of drama in it, and with this final words, something about it made the songwriter in me perk up.
It so happened that I injured myself playing football a couple of years ago, and was in plaster for a few weeks, and so obviously couldn't cycle, and one of the things I missed most was cycling. Those words 'put me back on my bike' kept going round my head, and of course being temporarily incapacitated I had time on my hands, and so was able to work up this song. I can't think of another song that I've crafted and honed as much, to get it just so. It started out as a simple narrative told as if it were a letter home to his mother, but somewhere along the line I found the equivalence of a miner and cyclist, both professions in which working men use their bodies and risk their lives to make a living. It may be sport to us, but it's life and death to some poor soul....
Although there is definitely a personal resonance, it is clearly someone else's story, which makes me think it's somehow proper songwriting, as in it's the sort of thing that first made people write songs, to spread stories and songs, not unburden themselves of their own troubles...so goes the self-doubt of the confessional songwriter.
Anyhoo, I'm well-pleased to get it down and share it with you, especially given the synchronicity with the Tour de France. I'm sure had Tommy lived, he'd have been pleased to see a British(ish) rider leading a British team taking lumps out of the continental riders, wearing yellow up the slopes of the great French slopes where he gave his life in pursuit of le maillot jaune.