We sing when we’re happy; we eke happiness, generally speaking, from outdoor experiences. So the topic of what we sing and how we come about singing while outdoors unsurprisingly sparked up some excellent conversation and banter round our campfire one musical night.

Indeed, the very name of our site: “The Outdoor Type” is the title of a song made famous by Evan Dando back in 2001. While the lyrics of this song (written by Tom Morgan) allude to a phobia of the outdoors, that’s not the case for us. In total contrast, we love the outdoors, which is why we spend so much time typing about it.

The rhythms of walking, pedaling, paddling, driving, and other outdoor activities are undisputable. And there’s no disputing the rhythms of nature. Whether enjoyably, repetitively, annoyingly or emotionally, we Outdoor Types understand and acknowledge the significance and irony ‘song’ has for such places and pastimes.

Here, we discuss how songs, music and tunes work for us while outdoors, and while there’s no denying we’ve come up with a combined playlist of both memorable and forgettable songs, we three concur that the ultimate orchestral symphony comes from the very noises of nature Herself.

Dave: Music and landscapes

My silver Nissan Pulsar, laden with camping and hiking gear, seemed to glide along the black top across the desert. Blue skies, red earth, and wide open spaces.

I had deliberately packed only CDs by Australian bands for my journey; I wanted to test a theory I had postulated a few years ago – that music has a place, a physical landscape for which it suited perfectly. Australian rock of the likes of INXS, The Cruel Sea and Midnight Oil, with the great use of space, is perfect for the open landscapes of outback Australia.

On more recent road trips, I’ve made compilation CDs of driving songs, particularly those that evoke the vibe of sultry summer nights, such as “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping” by the Eels (2001), and the Flaming Lips cover of Beck’s “The Golden Age” (2003). Their laidback tempo and poignant lyrics provide the perfect soundtrack to a meditative drive on a summer night.

Adventures of the more strenuous kind, such as hikes and lilo trips, where I rely solely on my internal memory of songs, bring out all sorts of surprises. As my mind passes through phases of acute awareness to daydreams to fatigue, my mind can be filled with songs such as “Catch the Sun” by Doves (2000), “Homelands” by Gelbison (2004), the circular noodling of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Ride the Cliché” (1996), and on my recent Blue Gum Forest hike, “Bar Clearing, Good Times” by Saxon Shore (2009) and “Shining Path” by Decoder Ring (2004) have been passing through my head. The fact that the latter two are both instrumental tracks makes humming and whistling the tune all the more interesting.

I should also mention that I don’t usually have a choice over which songs will pop into my head. Having become a father means that I listen to a lot more nursery rhymes and children’s songs, which leads to an interesting mix of songs running through my head, and my internal soundtrack can switch between the aforementioned songs to “Go go go go stop!” (Hi-5) (2005), “Dr Knickerbocker” (covered by The Wiggles) (2008), and timeless classics such as “Do your ears hang low?” and “Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes”.

Blair: The fun of song for a musical dunderhead

Ask anyone: I have no sense of musical rhythm whatsoever. And my nasally baritone voice has been known to peel bark off trees. Once on a bush track, while belting out an opera tune I’d composed on the spot, a koala dropped from above and while bleeding from its ears died right at my feet. I sing that badly! That’s not to say I don’t like singing while on outdoor pursuits. I do: the outdoors is a happy place, so why not sing?

While we were discussing songs and the outdoors, I found myself thinking of a passage in Joe Simpson’s book ‘Touching the Void’ where he’s stuck in the mountains with a broken leg and near death and he cannot get Boney M.’s “Rivers of Babylon” out of his head.

I agree with Dave though, about music having a place in the physical landscape, but unfortunately that’s not how it pans out in my head. I never know what tune I might involuntarily drag from the back of my mind’s sock drawer until I’m well and truly relaxed into the experience.

I can only wish I had some of the lovely songs on Dave’s playlist in my head. But no! During a recent outing I found myself singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn (1973) – a song I hadn’t heard since my friends played it as a joke many years ago at my twenty-first birthday party. Hammy, yes, but what could I do?

I can catch songs spontaneously too. On another recent outdoor soiree someone amiably told me I was out of touch (I think in relation to my innate technophobia) which started me singing the song of the same name by Hall and Oats (1984).

Ask anyone also: I love a malapropism. I can unconsciously make a mess of the most basic song lyric; I’m hopeless at remembering words. Sometimes a tune can come back and bite me in this way – I’ve had so many loops of the same song fragmented in my head I’ve stopped in my tracks and screamed out loud. It’s like singing a round of “Row Row Row Your Boat” repeated by camping groups of ten-thousand or more. Round and round and round and round!

If I have to suffer with the horrors of my skewed internal monologue, others do too! One of my favourite social outdoor pastimes is to ‘infect’ my outdoor buddies with as worse a song or tune as the one I have to live with. I’ll sing or whistle within earshot of others and take great enjoyment, say, the following morning when I might hear the same terrible song being sung or whistled back at me. It’s the small pleasures…

Luckily enough for myself and those around me, at my turning of age I’m currently listening to contemporary Australian folk artists such as Bob Evans, Xavier Rudd, Sarah Blasko and Josh Pike; which has thankfully, sometimes but not always, nestled some great songs befitting of the outdoors alongside the other annoying old ditties already rattling around in my head.

Garry: I can hear music

Thinking back, music was always somehow in the mix on the journey from A to B – from leaving suburbia and travelling to some place of nature.

I can remember songs like “Mister Sandman” by the Chordettes (1954), “What a Wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong (1968), “Lady in Red” by Chris De Burg (1986) and “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel (1983). These were just some of the songs I listened to on the radio while driving to Wiseman’s Ferry with my father for the weekend. And if I were to hear any of these songs on the radio today I would be taken straight back to my youth, to those memories of the days and nights driving along a country road surrounded by bush and farms.

To me, music has no real relevance to nature – it is simply the music I listened to at the time. But I can relate music to places I’ve been. Some songs even take me back to the car I was in on certain trips. Listening to the double album “Jars of Flies/Sap” by Alice in Chains (1994) takes me back to the Snowy Mountains in a Holden Commodore ute. And listening to “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973) by Pink Floyd instantly fills me with memories of a trip to Yass and Wee Jasper”.

I don’t sing when I’m in the bush. The acoustics just aren’t right and don’t come anywhere close to matching the acoustics when I sing in the shower. The only time I might start singing something while outdoors is when I have a song repeating in my head. Also a father like Dave, on a recent camping trip I had a Wiggles song circulating in my head for hours. Of all the songs in the world, I was tormented by a children’s song written deliberately to get into the minds of children but somehow finding its way into mine. Though lucky for me I rarely have songs trapped inside my head, especially in nature.

On that note I think it only fair that next time in the presence of Blair (father to be), that Dave and I should infect his mind with the Wiggles and then wait for his screams to be heard. The wiggles are coming for you, Blair!

If I had to choose a song that describes the way I feel about the outdoors and nature, it would be “America” by Marcy Playground (1999). Although the song relates to America, the lyrics reflect similar feelings of the way I feel about places in nature.

Most of all though, when I’m camping I just like to listen to nature. For me nature has the ability to create its own music. There may not be any order, rhythm or beat but it certainly gives off its own special vibe.

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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