Ghost in the Machine:
Essays on the Art of Coxing

Kevin C. Murphy, Ex-Coxswain,
Harvard Varsity Lightweights '93-97

(Copyright 1997-2013, All Rights Reserved.
(Originally appeared at, 1997-1999)

(originally appeared at Rowersworld, 12/8/99)

Ok, so you read my last post about keeping involved during the winter months, you've been diligently taking notes during tank pieces, and you've been individually coxing the oarswomen during erg workouts. And yet, as the weeks of indoor training pile up, you're still feeling about as useful as a box of 5 and a quarter inch floppies. Well, here's another way to both pass the hours and improve your boat speed: make a mix tape.

A mix tape, you say? In the age of CD's, minidiscs, and MP3's, isn't the mix tape a dead art? Wasn't the sole purpose of making mix tapes in the first place to impress the alternateen girl in your ninth grade Algebra class? Well, yes, no, and no. In fact, making a mix tape for your crew can enhance boat cohesion, consolidate your command, and increase the benefits of winter exercise.

Regarding the latter claim, the fact that listening to music improves exercise performance has been proven by a number of medical studies and a wealth of anecdotal evidence (After all, millions of aerobic instructors can't be wrong.) However, the right music can also aid boat speed in additional ways. Two of the main elements of excellent rowing are (a) rhythm and (b) motivation. Listening to 90 minutes of beat-intensive, in-your-face, coxing-inspired music a day can only serve to improve these two fundamental conditions of boat speed in your oarsmen.

If you've ever made yourself an exercise mix tape, you are already pretty much aware of the type of music that will inspire your team to greater performance. If not, keep in mind that you want to buffet your rowers with rhythms and lyrics bursting with angry, self-confident, empowering machismo. For example, LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" or The Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" are going to help athletes break through the fatigue wall much more easily than would Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" or Madonna's "Holiday." Think Wu-Tang over R. Kelly and Rage Against the Machine over 98 Degrees. Moreover, dense, brooding techno rhythms can also be a great boon to oarswomen giving it all on an erg - the multi-layered, methodical interworkings of a carefully constructed electronica cut can encourage a Zen-like trance through which she can forget her aches and pains and concentrate instead on the rhythm of her rowing.

If you're not a fan of hip-hop or electronica, choose the types of music that you listen to to psych yourself up for a daunting endeavor. Anytime you can transmit the nuances of your personality to the rowers, you are improving the coxswain-oarsmen dialectic and, by extension, your boat speed. Just remember that if a rower has just gotten nasty on the first 1750 of a 2500 meter erg piece and you leave him/her hanging on the last 750 with a low-tempo, swooning romantic ballad, your tape may be doing more harm than good.

Other than improving rowers' training performance and rhythm, a coxswain-created mix tape can also help lay the groundwork for certain calls in the Spring. For example, if you've put Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" on a tape that the boathouse was playing all winter, the boat's response will be much stronger if you take "Ten to kick 'em in the Yeah!" in the spring. In short, a good coxswain tape will transmit a better understanding of your more esoteric calls to your team. For this reason, the more personal and creative you can be on your tape, the better -- add dialogue snippets from your favorite movies, or squeeze clips of you calling a ten between songs. If one of the rowers on your team has a (non-derogatory) nickname that can evoked in song, add it to the reel.

After completing the tape, make three copies -- one for the boathouse and two for rowers to take home and dub. Alternatively, you can make a copy for each rower on your boat. The more they listen (and, trust me - they'll listen; not only do they have nothing better to do while stretching, running, and lifting, rowers are conditioned by their sport to listen to their coxswains), the closer they'll be to understanding what makes you tick, and, thus, the closer they'll feel to you. The worst that can happen is that they don't much like the tape, in which case, no harm has been done. Even in that case, a solid 90 minute beatfest by you will serve to remind them in the dog days of winter that you are still very much a part of the team.

I. The Coxswain
II. The Eyes Have It
III. Karaoke Time
IV. Zen and the Art of Coxing
V. Back in the Saddle
VI. Bring Me the Head of the Charles
VII. 8 Minute Bones: Dieting Tips for Coxswains
VIII. From the Vaults: Racing Skillz
IX. From the Vaults: Steering
X. From the Vaults: Coxing 101 for Novices and Journeymen
XI. From the Vaults: Dancing Around the Monolith
XII. From the Vaults: Potpourri
XIII. The Winter of Your Discontent
XIV. Staying In the Mix

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