Skip to content

Mid South: a Heaven fit for the Talking Heads

Mid South is the type of Heaven the Talking Heads always imagined. Here is why:

One of the Talking Heads most enduring songs comes from their famous 1979 album called the Fear of Music. “Heaven,” is a mystifying listen, with conflicting readings, sentiments and contextual contradictions. Heaven is described is in the song most simply as a place where nothing ever happens. A bar, a party and a kiss are all described as heavenly – yet simultaneously grinding and interminable. 

The band in heaven,” the song goes, “they play my favorite song. Play it one more time. Play it all night long.” On the one hand, there is your favorite song, playing for you in everlasting joy. Then again, that is your favorite song, being played over and over until it has lost its luster and then being played again infinitely more. 

The song is so intertwined with the mystique and lore of the Talking Heads and David Byrne it’s hazardous to take it too far out of context. It is something that probably should be either taken superficially or on a deeply psychological level. 

Yet sometimes a song plays at the right time and the context of your moment replaces the context that it was born from.

The Mid South, to me, embodies much of the same complexity and joy that the song Heaven contains on its surface. The race is as rapturous as any bar worthy of being considered heavenly. It is filled with joyful expression and music, but at the same time does anything new ever really happen? Or is the joy in the familiarity to the party that always play out the same way?

The red dirt of Oklahoma was plastered to my face, and teeth, and bike. I couldn't have been happier about it.
The red dirt of Oklahoma was plastered to my face, and teeth, and bike. I couldn’t have been happier about it. Photo: Joshua Strong

Obviously, if you take this metaphor too literally it quickly falls into shambles. There is so much to the event that is changing, with new faces, new courses and new weather providing different race experiences. Yet beyond those simple factors, there is an identity which is quite steadfast and reliable in a way that makes the event enduring. 

First and foremost is the excitement. The joy of Mid South is rock solid year after year as the scores of people prepare for their first big test of the year along the imperious red of the roads. Expectations of the race are as much around the buzz of the venue and the permeating sense of togetherness as it is of the race itself. It is beautiful that the race is such a beckon to that kind of energy that seems to even find its way into the closed-off and performance mindset of the few European pros who have sniffed out one of the last best remaining vessels of the true spirit of American gravel. 

And it’s beautiful that the feeling isn’t going anywhere. 

Nevertheless, every year I am filled with a bit of fear when I load up whatever vehicle I am taking from wherever I am to go to Stillwater, Oklahoma. I fear that something will be missing; the edge of the event gone; it will feel too big; it will feel too corporate; or that I will simply be over it. Alas, up until this point, Stillwater only ever feels like a better-fitting glove when I show up on Mid South weekend. Because no matter what small alterations occur, it always feels exactly the same.

Maybe that is because part of what makes the race feel so heavenly is the absurdity of where it is. Stillwater is a blank spot for so many in the United States. It is a university town far from the interstate. It is a city that holds onto the ethos that for many of the folks in the town nothing, nothing ever happens. Except for once a year when that one thing always happens, and the town can change its colors into a place of extreme diversity, activity, music, levity and love. What is amazing is that whether all the people of the city feel the same doesn’t really matter. Somehow someway the event has eclipsed their feelings. Mid South is bigger than them. 

And it’s beautiful that the place isn’t going anywhere. 

Lastly, of course, is Bobby Wintle. Bobby is the band in this extended metaphor in that he crafts the rhythm to everything that swirls around him. The race is his song that to many is their favorite that they would listen to all night long. While Bobby is so many things, one thing he is not is someone who changes much. Looking back through the years and you will see his wild hair, rock-star charisma and unbridled enthusiasm are omnipresent. 

Not only is Bobby the band, but he is probably David Byrne himself, the architect of the whole dang experiment, the ethereal voice that sparks the intrigue of the whole song. When you speak to Bobby away from the race weekend, it’s clear he thinks very deeply about his event, his town and his place in all of it.

Bobby is not always stoked. In fact, Bobby sometimes worries about the existential questions, especially in his relationship to his event. For Bobby, the event is wonderful, but it is also, in reality, far from a blissful utopia. It is filled with all the drudgery and complexity of his work – his day-to-day life. 

Yet, I am sure that only gets Bobby down from time to time. At the end of the day, he knows their is a heaven to many in what he has created. He knows that at his event there is a party, and everyone is there. Everyone will leave at exactly the same time. When this party’s over it will start again. It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same. 

And it’s beautiful that he isn’t going anywhere. 

When it comes down to it, what makes Mid South heavenly is not the course or the racing, where the monotony of goals and effort can feel hellish in its repetition. It is in the community, the place and the energy. That elixir will stay the exact same and to me, it’s hard to imagine that it could be so exciting, could be this much fun

Thank you Mid South, I’ll see you next year and I, for one, hope you are exactly the same.

Share this post

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.