Happening:

First Person


Cyle Talley

‘That’s what life is all about: catching air on your bike.’

Brendan Shafer, on BMX-ing with the kids in his neighborhood and life’s simple pleasures
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Courtesy of Brendan Shafer

Brendan Shafer, recording sound art.
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Courtesy of Brendan Shafer

Brendan Shafer, recording sound art.

Banjoist and cyclist-extraordinaire Brendan Shafer tells me more than once during our conversation that my questions are too deep. “You’ve got to ease up,” he says. “Questions like that make people want to try to say profound things, but when you try to sound profound, nothing profound comes out, you know?” Despite himself, Brendan has something profound to say and – spoiler alert – it involves Seinfeld and frozen pizza. I tell his story here, in his own words.

Near my house, there’s one of those housing complexes – what’re they called, subsidized housing? Affordable housing? I guess it’s not important. Anyway, there’re all of these kids that live there and they ride the shittiest bikes around in the alley behind my house. These things are not pretty. They don’t have grips, they barely even roll, but these kids ride them around in a pack, wreaking havoc. I’ll get on my BMX bike and ride with them, and it’s so much fun. It’s one of my favorite things to do. We have this dirt hill on the corner of my block and you can catch air off it. That’s what life is about. There’s the answer to your question – that’s what life is all about: catching air on your bike. That’s no [eff]ing joke.

Anyway, those kids rip around. They’ll try to do tricks, and I never really want to be like, “OK, kids, let Uncle Brendan show you how to do this!” but I’ll kinda egg ’em on. I’ll take my hand off the handlebar in the air, and then they’ll try to do it, and it’s totally sketchy. So often, when a kid is going off that dirt hill and I’m not sure what they’re going to do, I’m like, “Oh God!” I’m just waiting for the day that some kid eats shit. If one of those kids ever gets hurt or something, I don’t know what I would do. Now that I think about it, I don’t know any of these kids’ last names, or who their parents even are. I guess I’d have to be like, “I gotta go. Good luck.”

One day, this adult lady came out of the complex and was kinda looking at me as we were all riding around and goes, “Miguel said ...” – there’s this kid named Miguel, and I think this was his mom. “Miguel said that he was going to go and hang out with his 30-year old friend in the alley. I just wanted to see what that was about.” I was like, “Yep! That’s me!” And then she left! That was all she said!

Miguel is the nicest kid. I had this BMX bike and I couldn’t figure out what I did with it for the longest time. I just couldn’t find it anywhere. So anyway, one day I go out to ride with the kids, and Miguel is riding it! I was like, “What the hell, Miguel?! Dude, that’s my bike! Where did you get that?!” And he – he is the nicest kid – he says, “Oh, my uncle found it by the river when he was running from the cops and he passed out for two days and he woke up and it was right there and then he brought it back here!” And I was so confused. “What the hell are you talking about, Miguel?” Miguel showed me the bike and the logos had been all scraped off and it had paint pen all over it, and I was just like, “Whatever, Miguel. It’s yours. You can keep it. Just – I don’t know – put it inside and don’t let anyone take it. I’m glad you have it.” I wasn’t gonna take it back. It’s Miguel. He’s the shit. He was having a great time on it, too. Before that, he had a Wal-Mart girl’s bike, so now he’s beyond stoked and he can actually ride it a little bit better. So it’s good. I need less shit in my life, so it’s good that it went to Miguel.

I really like those kids. They get it. We go out, we have a great time riding around, and then we all go home. That’s the shit. You make a living however you can, you go do something fun, you go home, and you sit on the couch and watch Seinfeld. You don’t need to load up your bicycle with your USA-made douche bags – that’s douche-hyphen-bag, it’s a play on words – and going somewhere, getting rained on and being uncomfortable, but still [puts nose up in the air] “I’m out in nature, there’s no one here; no one else is around me and I’m doing something authentic!” No, dude. You’re not. Just go home and watch TV. It’s the best. There’s nothing better than sitting on the couch and watching Seinfeld with a frozen pizza.

Cyle Talley sometimes sits and thinks, and sometimes he just sits, and sometimes he uses album titles in place of his feelings. Email him at: cyle@cyletalley.com