2.24.2011

CMT: Putting Your Endorphins at Risk

The past few times that I've been to the gym, I have been plagued by crocodile tears. Big, fat, watery ones welling up in my eyes. The kind that take some time to spill over, but when they do, they really do.

Not for the reasons you might think.

Not because of a painfully strained muscle. Not out of frustration or physical determination. Not even as a result of some kind of offensive gym-odor assuaulting my olfactory sense. Crocodile tears are plaguing me at the gym for one reason, and one reason only...

CMT.

Yes. Country Music Television is turning me into a blubbering fool on the elliptical trainer every time I step onto it.

I'm not sure why channel 62 is the first station I select on the personal "theater" system attached to each elliptical trainer. News channels slow me down in depression. Movies are too engrossing. Food and Home networks don't exactly make me want to pound the pavement. So that leaves the music channels. And since my ears bleed whenever they are subjected to the train wreck that is Ke$ha (Keesha? Kesh-a? Ke dollar-sign sha?) and others of her ilk, then CMT it is.

But I have never been a big fan of country music, with its characteristic, twangy slide guitar in every song, and its recurring "I'm-a-redneck-and-proud-of-it" theme that that pops up way more frequently than it should. However, I've been testing the waters lately while at the gym, and finding that some of it is not so bad. In fact, some of it is pretty likeable and suitable for the gym...happy, upbeat tunes that stand in contrast to the dark, weird, scary undertones currently occupying much of the music video world.

It's just that every so often...probably several times an hour, I'm guessing...CMT will sucker-punch you with a trademark tearjerker. You know the ones I'm talking about. Lots of close-ups of soulful eyes brimming with emotion, a fuzzy filter on the camera lens, flashbacks, dramatic storylines, and guitar-picking in the background that might as well be plucking the strings of your cotton-pickin' heart.

So there I was on the elliptical machine, bopping right along to Faith Hill's bubble-gummy "The Way You Love Me" from a few years back, and feeling pretty good as the endorphins in my brain started kicking in. And next up, out of left field, a blow to the stomach, is "Hello, World" by Lady Antebellum. The moving power-ballad is emotionally strong enough to stand on its own, even without a heart-wrenching video to accompany it. The song is about appreciating life's joys, the ones that we take for granted. But the video depicts a tragic car accident involving a little girl...who pulls through and opens her eyes in the end.

Embarrassingly enough, right there in the crowded cardio area in the middle of my workout, my throat constricts and eyes well up, just as the CMT producers intended. What happened to my endorphins? Exercise is supposed to relieve emotional stress! I duck my head, hoping no one around me notices. Pay no attention to the crying girl on the elliptical machine.

I attempt to recover to the next video, Brad Paisley's live performance at the CMA's, an anthem-like tribute to the entire genre..."Turn it on, turn it up, and sing along...This is real; this is your life in a song...Yeah, this is country music!" He sings it with pride in his voice, and even as someone outside the "family," I can't help but smile. The endorphins start to come back.

But what's this? Schizophrenically, right on the heels of Brad Paisley's feel-good song is "The Shape I'm In" by somebody named Joe Nichols. The video portrays the stories of two modern war veterans, one who has lost his leg, and the other who has lost his eyesight. "I'm doing all right...for the shape I'm in," drawls Nichols, as I watch these two men struggle through their life tasks amidst tones of gray and brown. And, as predictably as Pavlov's dog, the song triggers in me what "Hello, World" had already begun: a big old lump in my throat.

There have been several other emotional elliptical episodes...one brought on by the video for "Journey On" by Ty Herndon, which stars former NFL player Kevin Turner, who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. And yesterday, I saw American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox singing about how she "ain't no farmer's daughter anymore, mama dear" because of abuse in her past, against a backdrop of her flashbacks of a solitary child suffering alone.

So what it all comes down to is this: there are places you cry. Your room. Church. Outside. Even the bathroom. But, barring some injury, the gym should not be one of those places. Therefore, I submit to you all, based on the above evidence, that CMT and the gym are generally incompatible. For the sake of your endorphins, use extra caution when viewing that channel while exercising. Or for that matter, if you're a tenderhearted sap like me, use caution when viewing it anytime.

I do take my hat off to country music for all the good in it. But now, please pass me my iPod to lighten the mood. I need my NKOTB.

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