Sunday, May 29, 2016

You cannot defeat genetics

For me, the "clean eating" thing has never been about purity. It's about what works. For me. Not for you. As proof, here's a true story: at this very moment, as I type this, I am eating cheese.

"The Paleo Drummer" is eating cheese.

It's really good cheese, from grassfed cows, but it's cheese nonetheless. How paleo is that, you might ask?

It's not. And the number of fucks I give about that fact is exactly zero.

Why? Because it seems to work for me. I get no digestive distress these days from really good cheese. So I eat it.

What doesn't work for me very well is a whole lot of carbs. I found this particular fact out through bloodwork and then through some categorical dumbassery.

Having a blog doesn't exempt one from dumbassery; it just makes it more likely that the dumbassery will eventually be on public display, at least if it relates to the subject of the blog. Here we go....


A part of the blood testing that my paleo doc does the first time you come through his office is genetic. It shows tendencies that one might have for all sorts of nasty, undesirable things: catastrophic blood clots, Alzheimer's, etc.  Once you have that done, the doc doesn't need to do it again because, durrrr, your genetic makeup isn't going to change.

If you have to trust me on that one to keep reading on, so be it. (Really, your genetics are NOT GOING TO CHANGE).

What can change, however, is your penchant for foolish behavior in light of learning about said genetics.

I found out a few years ago that, genetically speaking, I am part of a 10% (or so) group of the populace that actually sees what most folks would consider to be "better" lipid numbers -- lower LDL and higher HDL -- with a little moderate alcohol consumption. I blogged all about it here and here.

But with the positive booze news (for me) came another angle. This particular mutation -- an ApoE 2/3, (if you care; go ahead and Google: "What is ApoE?" and set aside some time for the ensuing shitstorm of information) -- means that, compared to most of the populace, I don't process carbohydratess very well at all. By and large, I know that, hypothetically speaking, I should be eating high fat, moderate protein and low carb -- all from high-quality sources, of course (but you know all about that "high quality" emphasis already).

But hypotheticals are all so...  hypothetical, right?

No, actually, and that's the point of this particular exercise in letting my blahblahblah tendencies run wild: you can't flat-out defeat your genetics. You can work with what mom and pop gave you and minimize risk, or you can be a dumbass and ignore the problem, perhaps even flaunting your ignorance while shaking your moneymaker.

It seems that I chose Door #2, to a degree, anyway.


Over the last few years, with pretty damn spectacularly "clean" mostly-paleo eating most of the time, I have managed to keep inflammation really low. I also have low insulin (awesome!), high HDL (great!), low triglycerides (great again!), and high-ish LDL (not so great, but not a crisis by any means because of low inflammation and low insulin).

The LDL used to be a lot worse than high-ish. The "ish" was nowhere to be seen back then. In the last year or so I have put a more Mediterranean emphasis on my own paleo eating (details coming to a blog post near you soon, I swear) and swapped out some of the globs of butter for high-quality olive oil, a lot of vegetables and enough sardines to make the Baby Jesus cry (that is about 5-6 cans per week if you are keeping score at home). I still eat plenty of other animals, mostly grassfed cows and lambs, but the Mediterranean-ish twist has paid off nicely.

My recent bloodwork with the paleo doc showed all that. He liked it. (Hey, Mikey!)

It also showed something else. He said, "So while you've been doing smart things, have you also been maybe eating more carbs?"

No! Wait....

Maybe! Wait....

Oh shit. [drummer guy hangs head in shame]. Yes.

Yes I have.

He didn't like that.

And then I started adding it all up for him. It seems that from the last bloodwork to this one, I did all those great high-fat Mediterranean-y things, but I also glommed down a lot more carbs. Rarely were those carbs of the gluten-y variety, but they were carbs nonetheless.

Potatoes. A lot of fucking potatoes.
Rice. Mmmm, rice.
More gluten-free granola than I care to admit.
Tacos. There are only two kinds of people who say they don't like tacos: morons and liars.

Some of you can do these carb binges all you want. I can't.

Because genetics.

And here's the kicker: I KNEW THAT ALREADY.

Or at least I was supposed to.

The doc reminded me: "You are an ApoE 2/3. You don't process carbs well." 

How, you might ask, did the doc figure out that I hadn't been "with the program," so to speak?

Was my fasting glucose spectacularly high? No.

Was my insulin high? No.

But my HBa1C -- a measurement of glucose over the past few months, as opposed to just that day of the blood draw -- was up quite a bit. Not at crisis levels, but certainly at "How about you knock it the fuck off, drummer boy?" levels.
The Reader's Digest version is that my bloodwork caught me in a soon-to-be giant mess before it actually happened. The solution is easy. All that carb-y-ness? I can't eat it very often. High-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb is my jam, genetically speaking.

So what's the point, you ask, beyond the not-so-surprising notion that you can't beat your genetics? Am I telling you that you ought to get genetic testing done?

No, not necessarily. If you have spectacular bloodwork and don't need to change anything, then cool. But if you don't, and you make some changes, and still aren't entirely happy with the results, before you go leaping straight for a medication-based response, you might want to get a paleo doc to look under the hood a bit more. The car analogy? It's more apt than you think, because genetic testing can run a few hundred bucks and often isn't covered by insurance, but I bet you that if it were your car that needed a few hundred bucks worth of work, you'd likely spring for that right away. Well, if your bloodwork is FUBAR and you want to figure out things like... WHY? then I'd say that springing for the genetic angle is worth your while. Life: it's more important than your car, every time.

The other, completely opposite sort of point: if you get bad bloodwork results, give yourself a bit of a break, hmmm, and pass up on the self-flagellation and guilt? Address the "problem" for sure, but don't beat yourself up. I'm someone who supposedly knows what he is doing regarding this stuff. I get super-deep into nerdville with my paleo doc when we talk bloodwork. I know my paleo/primal shit, mostly anyway. And yet still, I made a mistake so death-defyingly simple as to routinely and consistently pig out on something that I KNOW isn't a good move for my genetic type that I made my bloodwork moderately explode.

Because dumbassery.
Because genetics.
Because delicious potatoes.
And because tacos. Mmmmm, tacos.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Wussy, live in Baltimore, March 5, 2016 -- a review

To lay my cards on the table at the outset, let's be clear: I'm not even remotely objective about the shimmering, droning, jangling, harmony-filled roar of the Cincinnati indie-rock band Wussy. I love them. On album. Live. Always. They do not have a single song on their six albums that I do not like and there are, in fact, only a handful that I don't flat-out love. I've rattled on and on about all of that, through the years of this blog. If you were to click on this link, you'd run headlong into a complete collection of all the fannish gushing I've done about them in the past.

That's my bias, in all its glory, and I stand by every fucking word.

(And, really, I am a jaded SOB. I think the number of truly great bands in 2016 is a mighty short list).

But the new Wussy album? It's better than all that.

And the show I saw them do last night? It left that new record in the dust.

Forever Sounds is the Wussy album that the rock critics are going to peg as the one where the band's live sound completely broke through to the studio. (Check Robert Christgau's upcoming 2020 release of "The Best Albums of the '10s" if you don't believe me). See, at a live show, especially since John Erhardt joined the band on a third guitar -- electric or steel depending on the song -- this band's studio subtleties get all intermingled into the roar of a jet engine. Their dynamics have dynamics. Drummer Joe Klug and bass player Mark Messerly hold down the bottom end like the bastard love child of the night Danko/Helm jammed with Peter Hook and Janet Weiss, while the three-guitar army weaves circles around each other. Glorious, kerranging, twisting and turning circles. Atop all that magnificence are soaring harmonies and lead vocals from Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker that are so simultaneously distinctive and awe-inspiring that, well, I lose control of my metaphors and resort to writing things like: all that great stuff that makes this band so stunning at a live show? This new album is buried in it. 'Nuff said about that. It's just about perfect. Buy it.

But when I took a ride down to Baltimore yesterday to see the band in a house concert, even though I was already over 24 hours into full immersion with Forever Sounds, and loving every second of it, I had little idea of what I was about to witness.

Let's take a moment to dispel the notion of the house concert as some sort of boring Kumbaya singalong session with musicians armed with nothing more threatening than an acoustic guitar and maybe a harmonica. There's certainly a time and a place for acoustic guitars and harmonicas. (Side One of this would be one of those). But this show was full-on electric.

"We may be a little loud tonight," Chuck said, with a smirk. "The neighbors are gonna shut us down." "I think most of them are in here!" Lisa corrected him. There were 50 of us crammed into the Special Secret Posh Neighborhood Location, and I think a not-insignificant number of the 50 fit that neighborly description. And then Wussy were off to the races....

The ensuing 90 minutes were glorious. It was a perfect night, even though I believe the total song count from the band's first three albums was exactly one. They hit the new album hard, and it hit back, like Muhammad Ali -- no, more like Ken Norton beating Muhammad Ali. The windows of the SSPNL shook hard during the hookline of "Sidewalk Sale," and the stops on "She's Killed Hundreds" sucked all the air out of the room right before the band slammed back in each time to restore our collective ability to breathe. They were on, way fucking on. If I had to pick one standout highlight from all the perfection of the live takes of the new songs, I'd say that somehow -- and I have no idea how this can be -- Lisa's vocals on "Donny's Death Scene" were even better than the on the studio version. But picking that one out serves only to minimize how great it all was. They are a band on a mission, and they surpassed all of the absurdly high hopes I had for them last night. Everything that they played from the new album -- and they played all but two songs -- was incendiary. But they also had that slapdash, adorable between-song banter and bickering between band members that always manages to make them more freaking endearing than their music already makes them. (A quick, nerdish aside: you just haven't seen an onstage look until you see that one that Lisa gives Mark when she has determined that he's gone "just too fucking far, dude," at the microphone between songs. I think I counted four of them during this show alone).

2014's Attica album was drawn on for a number of songs as well -- yes, of course they did "Teenage Wasteland," and of course it was the same mix of gorgeous, powerful and uplifting that every Who anthem that it evokes ever was. And "Pizza King," from Strawberry -- which I would have sworn was the best album they'd ever do, that is until Forever Sounds just came out and blew away that silly notion -- was another highlight, one which somehow keeps getting better on every tour.

But the secret weapon of a house concert is that it's likely to get weird and wonderful. Apparently the secret weapon of a Wussy house concert is that it gets really fucking weird and wonderful. On the weird end of things, there was Chuck's quick take on the B-side "Folk Night at Fucky's" and the band's amped-up version of a serious obscurity: the Twinkeyz' "Aliens in Our Midst." 

And the wonderful? Well, it was all wonderful, but the highlight of highlights, the thing that made me say, "Holy shit" to a friend just as he said, "Wow,"  and we both went fucking bug-eyed with awe, was "Ceremony."

Yes. That "Ceremony."

For me, "Ceremony" has the stature of, say, "Baba O'Reilly" on a hot date with "Sister Ray" and "Sympathy for the Devil." Iconic and anthemic don't begin to cut it as a description. Somewhere a few years ago, I heard a recording of Wussy sort of screwing around with bits of the song. But last night's version was not, in the slightest, screwing around. They nailed it, completely -- with Lisa and Chuck wailing away on the vocals, Mark Peter-Hook-ing the hell out of the bass, the guitars setting each other on fire and Joe perfectly harnessing the controlled dynamics of the drum part. My metaphors are again shot to hell, but really, it was one of those "Notch this one in your brain because it's top ten of all time, motherfucker" moments.

Really. Top ten of all time.

If you read this as "Everything was perfect, but Ceremony was more perfect than perfect," I will have successfully conveyed my thesis.

And then, when it was encore time, Lisa came out on her own for what surely must be a rarity: a solo, soaring "Majestic 12." Then the band came back out and reached way back to the debut album for a fierce "Airborne." And it was all over.

Afterwards, I shot the shit with Mark about how I first saw the band back in like 2005 at Twangfest, am going to see them again at the same festival this year, and other nerdish fanboy shit (shocking, I know), and I yapped John's ear off about the majesty of Scrawl, the success of the recent Ass Ponys reunion, and the perils of rock and roll parenting. (Someday I am going to wax seriously poetic about Scrawl, but this post is long enough already....)

If it's not clear, I had a religious experience of sorts last night seeing this band. If it's also not clear, you cannot go wrong with Wussy. Buy their shit. See their shows. Make them famous. I'll be slightly sad when they headline Wembley Stadium and forget about us little people, but I wouldn't be sad for long. They deserve to be treated like the best damn band in the world.

Because they're the best damn band in the world.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The movement prescription

Back on New Year's Day, I wrote a long post about how I was in the process of making some big changes. A knee injury led me to some decisions that included leaving my CrossFit gym where I'd been a member for over five years, adding yoga and Core Align work to my flexibility regimen, and, most importantly, switching to a gym where my entire workout would be individually programmed for me. The idea was to have a trainer, who came highly recommended, set up a series of workouts, including specific warmups geared towards loosening up all my many immobilities.

It's all working really well.

Since last August when I tore the lateral meniscus on my left knee, I'd been sluggish, for me anyway. I was walking every day, but I wasn't lifting much, wasn't as active as usual and just wasn't moving enough.

Moving is good. Really good. A typical week for me now looks like three days in the gym, two or three days of yoga, a Core Align session and maybe a band practice (drumming is moving, believe me). It sounds like a lot (ish), but I'm still getting "rest days," and, honestly, the remedial (read: arthritic) way I do yoga makes it less energetic than a full-on gym session, so those days are more "active rest" than they are hardcore movement. But still... I'm MOVING. I'm moving a lot. As a result, I'm less dependent on caffeine, more energetic and generally in an absurdly good mood. And I am also not getting injured because I am riding that line between "Wooooooo yeah!" and "Damn it, I've overdone it again." Hell, I even ventured to New England for the 29th year of that glorious meeting of musician friends that we call Band Camp, played two gigs while I was there, including one that had me drumming on songs I'd never practiced or played before, and I not only survived all the late nights and madness without getting sick or run down; I loved every second of it.

I know... it's truly fucking absurd to have started all these big changes right with the new year -- cliché anyone? -- but, really, January 2016 has kick-started my engine. Moving: I highly recommend it.

Friday, January 1, 2016

F*ck resolutions, but changes are good

If there is anything more clichéd than a New Year's post about big changes, I don't know what it is. But I swear that it wasn't supposed to happen this way. This post has nothing to do with New Year's resolutions. Timing is everything, and mine sucks. Try to keep the barfing noises to a minimum, and I promise that we'll get through this as smoothly as possible....

Let's go back to late August 2015.

There I was, doing my thing at the CrossFit gym where I have been a member for over five years. My shtick for at least the past three years, and probably longer, has been that I am one of the first people you will see modifying a CF workout so I don't get injured. I've always been one of the older people at that particular gym, and the process of sensibly scaling workouts, or even completely changing and substituting various movements for others, has served me well. I sort of pride myself on being Captain Sensible in that regard (no, not that Captain Sensible).

That day we were doing some sort of three-round conditioning workout that involved 30 wall-ball shots each round. I remember thinking that 90 wall balls seemed like a lot of really repetitive grinding, but I didn't modify anything. Not so sensible after all, as it turned out.

At about the 75th rep, I felt this "snap" on the outside of my knee. It was as if something with some "give" to it ("Maybe the IT band?" I thought) got hung up on something else, stretched out, and then went "BANG" back into place. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

So, of course, being the eminently sensible human being that I am, I immediately went to the doc to see what was up.

Well.... no. 

I thought it was just the IT band. So my brain and I opted to not "bother" the regular doc -- because of course it really "bothers" a doctor when a patient comes to see him or her complaining of an injury (gahhhh, what the fuck am I thinking sometimes?) -- and instead I consulted with Dr. Google about the possible causes/symptoms/treatments. Dr. Google almost immediately had me convinced that I had "IT band syndrome," which is often cured through a stretching routine over quite a while. Dr. Google -- helpful, all-knowing physician at large -- even showed me sites where there were many of these IT-band stretches. 

I did them, sort of. 

I also went on a vacation to Oregon with my wife in September. As we often do, we did a lot of hiking. The uphills felt great. The downhills? Even with a knee brace, not so much.

So when I got home, in late September, I immediately consulted a real doctor!

Well... no. Not quite. Not actually at all. Not yet, anyway. I decided the knee needed rest.

But sometimes I'd try to exercise.

This pattern of unrelenting genius continued until mid-November when I finally decided to see my doc about the knee issues. That knee was full of fluid and not bending very far. I was immediately sent for X-rays and an orthopedic consultation. I was told not to wait so damn long next time. I might have seen the nurse practitioner write "stupid" in my file.

I went to see the ortho doc. I learned that Dr. Google is an asshole. I learned that I am an asshole for relying on Dr. Google. It wasn't an IT-band thing at all. I had torn the lateral meniscus in my left knee. As such things go, it's not a major tear. But it also can't be fixed with surgery. Meniscus tears, particularly in people my age and older, aren't easily repaired. A lot of the meniscus doesn't get proper blood flow to allow a repair to really work. So the only surgical option would be to remove it. That's a mess, my ortho doc informed me, and a last-resort kind of option, because, without a lateral meniscus, I'd need a knee replacement in the near future. 


But one decision was easy: No surgery for me.

Also, by the way, the doc informed me, my mobility sucks. He may have added "donkey balls," but I may have imagined that. He certainly made it clear that I suffered from an aggravated, extreme case of awful mobility, not just a minor issue. In fact, the injury probably happened because I was forcing myself into positions that my (lack of) mobility couldn't handle. 

He wouldn't let me leave his office until I sang this song to him start-to-finish:


So the prescription was, er, pretty simple:

Change everything.

The first step was going to be physical therapy, then a slow return to exercise. 

The physical therapist did a top-to-bottom movement assessment on me. She seemed, well, pretty horrified, but she was totally up for the challenge of mobilizing me. My favorite quote from the first session: "Most of the people I see with a torn meniscus are fat, weak and immobile. You certainly aren't fat, and you're strong. But, wow, do you have mobility issues! I mean really. Wow." I'm wow-worthy for all the wrong reasons. I've been working with her twice a week for the last seven weeks to get me on a less horrific track. She's also been assigning me (and I've been doing!) 30-45 minutes of mobility "homework" to do at home each night. Every night. Really. The results have been amazing. I've learned that my left ankle and left hip have been in an immobile conspiracy against my left knee for a while now. Like a long while. The physical therapist has also convinced me of the truth of something the orthopedist tried to tell me, but I didn't want to hear at the time: maybe I need to take a long break from CrossFit and get into something -- maybe a number of somethings -- that focus more on getting me mobile and also tailor my strength and conditioning work more precisely to my individual needs.

So I decided to try a little of everything.

I tried Pilates, specifically mat Pilates. Pilates is... interesting. First of all, not many guys do Pilates. I don't know if any other men ever go to the studio where I have been going. I certainly have never seen one. But it's not actually "girly" at all and one's Man Card is in no danger of being torn up and discarded at a Pilates studio. Pilates was designed by a guy -- Joseph Pilates -- and its emphasis is on core strength and alignment, which can lead to progress in mobility, but I don't feel like mobility is the primary goal. Pro athletes like Pilates. I like Pilates. I like it a lot, actually. But, trying to keep mobility as my primary goal, when my initial multi-class ticket was fully punched at the Pilates studio, I decided to switch gears and give yoga a shot, in order to compare the two.

Let's spend a moment to fully take in the enormity of what was about to go down.

Me doing yoga
For reals. 
My view of yoga has always best been summed up in this manner:

I signed up for a beginner class. I liked it. I liked it a lot. (You may sense a theme here). I even dug all the hippie-dippie shit around the fringes of the class. Hell, I even liked the little "You control your own happiness/Happiness is a decision" talk that the teacher gave at the beginning of that first class. At other junctures of my life, I would have gagged a little on the unrelenting joy of that spiel and gone home and blasted the first four Black Sabbath albums to cleanse my soul. Instead, it's like I walked in there, had my Sarcasm Card immediately temporarily confiscated from me, and not only didn't complain, but actually enjoyed it. So I went to another class, and then another one. I started inquiring about which yoga classes are suitable to drag my lame inflexible ass into and which ones would leave me in traction. I learned that using the phrase "my lame inflexible ass" is not actually favored in a yoga studio.

I soldiered onward.

Yoga is a really good thing for me. Yeah in a mental sense, it perfectly augments my meditation practice, but it's the physical angle that I am really digging, particularly the way it seems to be working in conjunction with my PT regimen. As soon as I started yoga, my PT could see even more improvement in my mobility. I also have to admit that I like the fact that it's so non-competitive and non-judgmental. Hell, I've spent my whole life being competitive and judgmental. The personal-growth opportunity here is seriously too much to pass up.

Then, cleared by my PT to do so, I signed up for individualized strength and conditioning with a trainer. I went for a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) with said trainer, who came highly recommended. I don't think it's possible to "fail" such a screen, but my score was low. If it were possible to "fail," I would have been the king of failure. I would have gotten my photo placed up on the wall under a motivational sign that says: "If he can do it, you know you can too." It was going to be a low score anyway, but Trainer Dude picked up on side-to-side imbalances that even my PT wasn't as focused on. Those imbalances made the FMS score even lower. It seems like 35 years of drumming has taken its toll on me in more ways than just wrecking my right elbow. I have my right side, from top to bottom, working much more efficiently than my left. It kind of figures. In fact, he said something that really clued me in to how, er, "lucky" I was to only have torn my meniscus. He said, "I can't believe you don't have back problems." Apparently, most people who are as out-of-balance as I am start to "corkscrew" their backs and injure themselves. I'm strong enough that I haven't done that, but, the trainer said, keep on going down the current path of out-of-balance immobility and back problems are in my future. 

So the score so far is:  

Physical therapy: Yes!
Mat Pilates: Not right now!
Yoga: Yes! (Yeah, I'm still trying to absorb that one).
Individualized S&C programming with Trainer Dude: Yes!
CrossFit: Not for a long while! (But I still love it. It changed my life). 
Drumming: Well, of course, yes!

But there was one thing still to try....
When I was finishing up my initial run of mat Pilates, my instructor -- who drives me sorta batshit crazy in a good way by being just as insightful about all my imbalances and immobility issues as my PT and Trainer Dude are; seriously, somehow I am lucky enough to have met three geniuses and entrusted them all with fixing me up -- said, "I think you might want to try Core Align." I'd never heard of it.

For something that looks so calm and sedate, Core Align is completely nuts. In a good way. You stand with one foot on each of two "carts," which you could consider to be a Nordic-Track type of deal, except so frictionless that it is like being on ice. You do all sorts of movements, focusing on balance and control, using not just the larger muscle groups, but the smaller ones too. It is so much harder than it looks, and, while I have not yet landed on my sorry ass, I've come close. Core Align forces to me to work through all the side-to-side imbalances and find some normality in my movement patterns. 

So yeah, yoga a couple times a week, PT a couple times a week, plus "homework" each night, S&C training two or three times a week and a weekly Core Align session. It's a lot of change. It's kind of time-consuming. I'm totally digging it. Because really, if I don't have time for my health and feeling good, what the hell am I spending my time on?

My sorry ass is on its way to getting fixed.

See? I told you this all had nothing to do with New Year's resolutions. Forward....

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lemmy Kilmister, 24 Dec 1945 - 28 Dec 2015

In April 1981, my brother Paul and I had tickets to see Ozzy Osbourne on his first solo tour. It was at the Tower Theatre just outside of Philly. Randy Rhoads on guitar. Lots of Sabbath songs in the setlist. It was the sort of thing the kids call "epic."

The opener was this band Motorhead, on their first American tour. I knew about them from my days as an avid reader of Trouser Press (RIP), my fave rock mag ever, but neither of us was prepared for what hit us.

Despite some familiarity with Lemmy from the couple early '70s Hawkwind songs that he sang, to quote Bob Dylan, we had "no idea what kind of shit was about to go down." From the seventh row at the Tower, it was like we were witnessing a biker gang on speed playing instruments with the accompaniment of a 747 taking off -- right next to our eardrums. The setlist went like this.

I was 18. Paul was 15. I wasn't wearing earplugs. Paul wasn't either. No one was wearing earplugs. In 1981 earplugs could get your Man Card revoked in seconds flat. As a result my Man Card is far better shape than my hearing these days.

I wish I could say that either of us fully and properly appreciated Motorhead that night. But, literally, I've never been so completely freaked out by volume in my life. "Punishing" is too tame of a word. Within seconds of the band launching into "Ace of Spades" my left ear began this whistling howl that never happened before or since. We hung in there for a few songs, but both of us could feel our hearing actually shutting down.

We did something neither of us has ever done since: we ducked just into the lobby to escape the volume. We were not the only ones by any means. There was a crowd of people doing the same, but we still wanted to see the band. So we stood at the doorway between the lobby and the theater and took in the spectacle. I've seen a lot of punk rock over the years -- and let's remember that Motorhead were at least as much a punk band back then as a metal band -- but I still don't think I have ever witnessed that level of attack on a stage. It was the kind of thing you survived as much as enjoyed. Moreover the sound mix sucked. Ozzy's mix later on was perfect, but you can just imagine Ozzy's soundman fucking with the Motorhead mix just a little to make sure his boy wasn't smoked off the stage by these renegade tough guys. Phil Taylor's drums sounded like a train going over Niagara Falls in perfect time. And Lemmy and Fast Eddie never let up for a second either.

Then we went back to our seats and Ozzy blew our minds -- and the rest of our remaining hearing -- so much that on the walk back to the train station, when the roar had subsided, two things became evident: (1) I was not going to hear a word anyone said to me that night unless that person was on my right side (my left ear was stone fucking deaf), and (2) the hearing that remained in my right ear was limited only to higher tones at that point. The low end had been mostly smoked by Motorhead and Ozzy had finished it off. Everyone's voice sounded like the product of a massive hit of helium.

Two days later, my hearing was back. The human body is an amazing thing.

I didn't see Motorhead again until 2005. It was their 30th anniversary tour at the Tower Theatre and I was psyched, armed with earplugs and hanging out with my buddy Robert Wisdom (R.I.P.) whose musical taste was self-described as "I am a tempo junkie, Steve. Will it be fast? I am there." This one was perfect. My hearing survived. No, the setlist wasn't nearly as great as in 1981, but it was no slouch either. And the sheer level of attack? Still there. Only Lemmy remained from the 1981 lineup at that point. But they blew the doors off the place. Redemption was mine.

Now Lemmy's gone. Robert died a little over seven years ago. My hearing, from years of drumming without earplugs, until I finally got on that train in like 2009, is, shall we say, less than optimal. Or as my wife says, "You are *so* fucking deaf sometimes." The world keeps moving.

Regret nothing, my friends. Regret nothing.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

On December 1, 2015, a new 30-day meditation challenge starts

Hey there, it's that time of year again -- you know: when otherwise rational people lose their shit over the holidays.

So I figured that maybe, just maybe, it's time to resurrect the 30-day meditation challenge.

We've done this before.

More than once, as a matter of fact.

A lot of people have really dug it -- so much that they have been moved to commit philosophy (or at least prose) about it -- like her, and her and him.

The deal is simple: starting December 1 -- sooner if you want, later if you want (this isn't a competition) -- meditate for fifteen minutes every day. Every day.

No, really... every day.

There are lots of ways to meditate. The only one of those that I know anything about is this way. It's pretty simple. I believe the Buddha himself once endorsed it as "totally fucking simple." But then again, he also said, "Don't believe every quote that's attributed to me," so you'll have to sort your way through all that. You could also choose to do it any of a myriad of other ways -- with your eyes closed, chanting, surrounded by fluffy ducklings, etc. Whatever works. The Buddha said that too.

The goal is simple: to try to empty your mind for that 15 minutes.

Note the use of the word "try." As I have attempted to convince you so many times that if you searched the word "meditation" on this blog, you'd find yourself overwhelmed by my blahblahblah about Zen, it's the "trying" that matters, not the actual emptying. Find that thing to focus on -- breathing patterns, a spot on the wall, whatever (dude) -- and focus on it to the exclusion of all else.

It won't work.

What I mean is... that first day, it won't "work." (Note the quotes). You'll get really frustrated. A couple seconds into it, you'll think: "This is the stupidest damn thing I have ever tried and if I ever meet that drummer guy I will wring his fucking neck."

But if you are smart about it, you'll keep trying. Every day. For 30 days. Somewhere around maybe the tenth day, when you've actually occasionally gotten an "empty" five seconds or so in your mind -- five seconds when the swarming nest of bees that is your typical thought process actually shuts down and gives you some space to live -- you'll realize that that little bit of emptiness didn't happen as some sort of cosmic fucking accident. Nope: you made it happen. You had a thought -- or maybe 5000 thoughts -- arise and you dismissed every single one of them, until there were none left.

For five seconds.

And then you learn how to stretch that five seconds to maybe six, or even seven.

And then, if you're one of those people that often can't shut off his or her brain at 3 a.m. when you wake up and can't get back to sleep, you'll start using that emptying technique -- that dismissiveness of sorts that you've taught yourself -- to actually get a good night's sleep.

And your whole life might change. Because now you're sleeping better.

Or maybe your stressed-out stomach will give you a break. Your acid reflux might take a hiatus.

And your whole life might change.

And then after a while, if you are a dumbass like me, you'll slack off because things are pretty cool. And then around and around we go....

Fifteen minutes a day. For 30 days. It might do so much to de-stress your holiday season that you'll want to hug me instead of wringing my neck. Or not.

It all starts Tuesday December 1. Daily annoyances/reminders/encouragements will be posted on my Facebook page.

Let's do this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The never-ending lesson....

Sometimes it's necessary to have a good long conversation with yourself.

Mine resulted from learning that I tore my lateral meniscus in my left knee. Surgery isn't the first option being explored because, apparently, once a person is of a certain age, meniscus repairs give way to just clipping out the offending portion of the little bastard, leaving a person temporarily with less discomfort but ultimately headed for a full knee replacement sooner than later.

Actually it's necessary, or inevitable, for me to have many conversations with myself in situations like this. The first was pretty practical: a realization that, for right now, CrossFit is a bad idea. Physical therapy, including manual therapy, plus some yoga, plus walking, plus pressing and deadlifting are a good idea (although "Ix-nay on the eadlift-day until the swelling goes down," said my PT). Cool.

That first conversation was a model of adult-i-ness.

It always is.

It's the second conversation with myself that can go south quicker than a rich New Englander in December. And that one usually gets out of hand a lot quicker when I've been a little slack-o-licious in my meditation practice. Because, really, unmoored from mindfulness, I can engage in Disaster Thought quicker than you can imagine.

It went like this today (at 4:15 a.m., of course, because that's when that second conversation with myself always happens.... I guess I'm lucky that it wasn't 2:30 a.m.):

"Fuck, so I can't deep-squat ever again. Fuck, so I can't do CrossFit for now. Fuck, I'll never run again. Fuck, I'll never be healthy in time for indoor-volleyball season in January. Fuck, I can't ... <pause>... EVER DO ANYTHING FUN ANYMORE AND I'M GOING TO DIE ORTHOPEDICALLY WRECKED AND MISERABLE IN, LIKE, NO TIME AT ALL!!!"

Never mind that I am otherwise healthy, perfectly capable of doing a lot of things right now, including drumming, walking, some lifting and that my life is full of people (and dogs) that love me.

4:15 a.m. second conversations with myself are never logical.

The only way to stop them is not to have them. I know this. When I am meditating regularly, I don't allow these little self-torture sessions to happen. I shut them down cold, cutting their legs out from under them like an NFL cornerback moving in for the kill on a hapless airborne wide receiver. "Just fucking go away," I tell That Fucking Guy, and he does. Instantly. And back to sleep I go.

Seriously... I know better. Mindfulness is no joke. I'm jumping back on the daily meditation train right now. Because really... I know better.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Automatic -- a.k.a. why it's been so damn quiet around here

I feel like I have to explain myself, just a little, for all this silence.

2015 has been the year that I've written the fewest posts ever on this blog. The question of "Why?" comes down to a simple answer: I spend approximately zero minutes per day thinking about "eating paleo." And if I'm not thinking about eating paleo, I'm not thinking about writing about eating paleo.

It's not because I think "paleo" is an unfortunate name for this anti-inflammatory way of eating, although I do. It's "just a word" to me, but it's a word that, sadly, gives the naysayers a too-easy platform from which to launch this and that theory about what cavepeople really ate, or how long they lived. And I don't care about any of that because I'm not staging a reenactment -- paleolithic, mesozoic or otherwise. The list of the number of fucks that I give about what cavepeople ate would be the world's shortest book.

I'm just eating foods that my body seems to like and not eating the ones that it doesn't. I got to this point through an initial plunge into no-grain, no-dairy, etc. eating and have gotten to where I am now through some experimentation inside -- and outside -- those parameters. And now I never think about it. In fact, I'm spending way more time in this post thinking about not thinking about it then I ever spend thinking about it.

Really. (Yeah, I didn't like that sentence all that much either).

If I walk through a supermarket -- yes, even Whole Foods -- I don't see a lot of food in the interior aisles of the store. There's a lot of processed shit in boxes that is so far from what I consider food that the chances of me grabbing something to eat out of, say, the pasta aisle is about the same as me munching down on a tasty item from the auto-parts store. The notion just doesn't compute for me at this point.

Short of a quick diversion to the stinky-fish aisle for some sardines or maybe the dark-chocolate or almond-butter aisles for a little of their wonders, I'm not even in that interior section of the store. And I'm not plagued by existential crisis or otherwise conflicted with thoughts of buying packages of processed pseudo-food. I've been on this ride so long now that the line between "food" and "not actually food" seems so clear that, really: I don't even think about it

So where's this leave me in Blogland?

There's a saying that goes: "It's hard to prove a negative." I think the blogging corollary to that piece of wisdom is that it's hard to write about something that's become so automatic that I just don't give it any consideration any longer.

I'm not making any broad-based declarations that I'm done with blogging. I enjoy writing too much to walk away entirely. But in case you're one of a small group that stops by occasionally to read my latest "paleo" blahblablah, I just wanted you to know why it's been so quiet around here, which amounts to: I don't spend a lot of time thinking about food at this point.

So, who knows.... Maybe we'll do a December meditation challenge. If we're going to think about the absence of something, it might as well be the absence of thinking. And the "holiday season" (hear my brain making "aaaauugghhrrrrrffffllmmkkk" noises?) seems like the perfect unduly-stressful time of year to head for emptiness. Stay tuned.... well, sort of.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Making plans on sure things that aren't" -- live review: Eleventh Dream Day in Philly and NYC, August 20-21, 2015

Scene: 1989, Philadelphia, the Chestnut Cabaret....

I was outside in a line waiting to get into the club to see the Meat Puppets. Guy #1 in front of me asked Guy #2: "Hey man, you know anything about this opening band Eleventh Dream Day?" He didn't. I interrupted them: "They're awesome. They are at least half the reason why I'm here. I love the Meat Puppets, but these guys are killing it. Their new album is all I've been playing lately. Just layers and layers of guitars. It's like X and the Velvets mixed with Crazy Horse." The two guys, in their best Philly accents: "Whoa. Noice!"

Fast forward to the end of the EDD set that night. Guy #2 comes crashing/careening through the crowd to find me. "Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude!" he shrieks to me, grabbing my shoulders, and shaking me. "That was fucking unbelievable!"

Another satisfied customer.

Guy #2 was right on the money to get so wound up. At the time the band was touring what is still, for me, a Desert Island Disc called Beet. From its opening salvo of "Between Here and There" about the joys of "the MC5 way past midnight" through the closer, "Go," the album roars and rumbles and twangs and slides and shouts and just fucking rocks like little else from the time period. The X/Velvets/Crazy Horse comparison that I gave that night? I don't think I can do any better than that. They carved out a special part of the musical universe all their own on that record. The harmonies are gorgeously jagged, the guitars overdriven and the tales of the seedier side of life are spot-on observational genius. (For no finer example of those lyrics, check out: "Teenage Pin Queen"). And live? The ante was upped considerably from the album. I was, instantaneously, signed up as a fan for life of this band.

So I've seen them a bunch of times over the years since then, but while they've never lost the intensity of their live shows, the frequency of their tours has dwindled quite a bit from the early days. Kids and marriages and divorces and jobs and all that heavy shit of life can seriously get in the way of a band. Many have collapsed under a lesser weight. But EDD keep soldiering on, just not quite so often. They'll give us a new album every three, four, maybe five years since the mid-'90s, and maybe a really short tour thereafter. In fact sometimes the "tour" is just a New York City show or two plus whatever they put together a little more frequently in their home base of Chicago.

So when I saw there was a new album -- called Works For Tomorrow -- coming out this summer, I started checking for a NYC date. They hadn't played Philly in years, so I was expecting to have to travel. Sure enough, August 21 at the Mercury Lounge! I was in. Tickets were bought; plans were made. It was even an "early show" with doors at 6:30. (I'd be lying if I didn't fess up that my old self dug that part).

Then, two weeks later, a Philly date was announced at Johnny Brenda's the night before the NYC show. In the spirit of YOLO, I said, "Oh, what the hell. It's been a few years. I'll see them twice in two nights."

I chose well. Philly was great. NYC was several levels of stunning way past "great."

Little things, like where you happen to choose to stand, really matter at a concert, especially in a small club. I picked a spot in Johnny Brenda's -- at the bar only a few feet from the side of the stage -- that has served me well in the past. But that night, I lost a little in the sound mix. I was stationed a bit too close to Mark Greenberg's keyboard amp and a bit too far from Jim Elkington's guitar amp on the other end of the stage. I could see that Jim was playing different, complementary riffs to Rick Rizzo's slash-and-burn ones, but I couldn't always hear them in Philly as well as I wanted. They were getting lost in the keyboards. (I know... why not move, dumbass, you might ask? Uhhh, because I was settled in nicely at the bar and the venue was crowded enough that I would have either had to go to the back of the room or plant my 6'3" frame right in front of someone already standing in a premium spot -- a dick move that I try to avoid. So I stayed put). And let's not overstate the sound issue; the show really was great. The set focused heavily on the new album, highlighting just how clear it is that this band may have just released their best record since the mid '90s. But "Bagdad's Last Ride" (from Beet) seemed a little less urgent than usual, and the Wipers cover ("Taking So Long") seemed a little flat, energy-wise, as well. The show finished, however, on a huge uptick in energy, with "Orange Moon" building into a wall of power and fury and "New Rules" letting Rick take us to places on the guitar solo that sounded a whole lot like Weld/Ragged-Glory-era Neil Young. Sandwiched in between those two was a chance for Janet Bean to get out from behind the drum kit, replaced by Greenberg, to sing a bluesy wailer that had her bouncing all over the stage.

I left thinking, "Damn, they still have it going on." But I also thought that maybe I could do even better in NYC with a little strategic placement of myself a little closer to both guitars.

After arriving at the Mercury Lounge the next night and having a quick drummer's conversation with Janet (It began: "OK, so I saw you guys last night in Philly and I have a totally dorky question: what is up with that bent-up ride cymbal of yours? It's wild!" Seriously, I never ask "gear" questions, but that crazy cymbal warranted some inquiry, and possibly now warrants some shopping....), I declared to my friend Pete, with laser-like focus on the sonic prize at stake: "OK, so we can hang back here for Antietam, but then let's go up there for EDD," pointing to a spot in the front just between where I knew Elkington and Rizzo would each be attacking their guitars. I explained the sound-mix issue of the previous night, and Pete agreed with my ultimate conclusion: "What we lose in hearing will be made up for in rock."

That turned out to be the understatement of the year. I shit you not when I tell you that even though the NYC set differed song-wise from Philly only in one respect -- swapping out "New Rules" for a burning slide-guitar-filled encore of "Tarantula" instead -- every single song was better in NYC. You could simply chalk that up to getting our heads torn off in NYC by the Verlaine/Lloyd guitar interplay of Rizzo and Elkington, and you'd be mostly right, but it wasn't just that. Janet was attacking the drums with a little extra energy at the Mercury Lounge. Everyone in the band looked, and sounded, more "on" at the NYC show. Did the earlier start time play into that? Maybe. I can personally testify that rocking out in one's forties and fifties requires considerably more caffeine than it did in my twenties, and I'll always take an earlier start time to a later one. (In fact, I read somewhere recently that the Mekons simply will not take the stage later than 11 pm anymore, which is about when EDD started in Philly). But whatever it was, it all just fucking smoked at the Mercury Lounge. They were a force of nature.

The new album shone mightily, with particular nods to "Go Tell It" and "Cheap Gasoline" as standouts, but, really, the NYC versions of every song that they played from that one -- and they played nearly all of it -- made it clearer than ever that the new record is nearly the equal of their late '80s and early-'90s perfection. Bands that have been around that long just don't pull off that trick very often, but EDD has done it. And the rest of the set had a little extra kick as well. "Bagdad" shook off the cobwebs from the Philly version and, instead, Elkington and Rizzo transported us right back to 1989, as if Rizzo and his old guitar partner Baird Figi were wielding their frantic firepower of yore on the Beet tour. The Wipers cover had all the urgency of the original, and "Orange Moon"???? Whoa. I thought they had done a mighty version the night before, but I had no idea what we were in store for in NYC with that one. "Matt Rizzo! Your momma wants you onstage right now!!" Janet Bean called from behind the drums, summoning her and Rick's son to the stage to add to the roar with a third guitar. The steady build of "Orange Moon" into a kerranging thundering beast is ordinarily a thing of beauty, but add to that the beaming looks of the proud parents as their kid joined them to make some noise and, damn it, I thought that it just doesn't get much better than this. Janet hit the drums a little bit harder on that one, and I thought Rick's slashing and soloing were going to rip every string off his guitar by the end of it. Passion, enthusiasm, dynamics -- really... that rendition of "Orange Moon" had it all. I've seen them a lot over the years, but they've never been better than that single moment.

It looked like this (photo by Jeff Economy):

By the way, special kudos to the two openers from Philly and NYC whose sets I caught in full. Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band put on a riveting clinic on the art of the well-focused jam. I think they played only four songs in their 45-minute set -- a potential recipe for self-indulgent disaster -- but, instead of wandering too far into excess, the band locked down in hard jazz-influenced grooves that gave the two guitarists just enough room to explore without ever losing the attention of the listener. I hadn't run into them before, despite the fact that they're centered in Philly, and I'll be seeing them again as a result of that set. And Antietam? I have seen them so many times over the years, often opening for other bands, like Yo La Tengo, and they are always solid -- with the noteworthy guitar skills of Tara Key prominently displayed each time -- but this set, with horns on some songs, a backup singer on many others and a hook-filled selection of songs, was the best I've ever seen them. It was the perfect lead-in to the glory of the EDD set.

It was a hell of a 24 hours.... I imagine that, their busy lives being what they are, it may be a few more years before I get to witness another Eleventh Dream Day show. I'll be there, and this pair of them will carry me through for quite a while until then.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The mailbag returns with... the dreaded "macros" question

So, let me ask you a question: why are you doing this diet/lifestyle-change thing anyway?

If it's for some aesthetic goal, like a "beach body" or "great abs," or any of that shit, then I have nothing for you. Go do whatever you are going to do and have a good time with it.

But if you are in this game for good health, long life, all those kinds of important, life-changing, sustainable goals, etc., then the answer is pretty simple: start by eating real food. We've gone over that before. If you want to specifically lose fat, I've given you a multi-level guide to that previously, as well as the Reader's Digest version.

But then I got a question, just the other day: "Hey Steve, what do you think of this 'macros' thing?"

My answer's pretty simple: mostly, I don't like it.

See, here's the thing: a whole lot of people have seriously fucked-up relationships with food. And for those people, turning mealtime into a math problem is not going to change their seriously fucked-up relationships with food. It's going to make the problems worse. What's going to fix all that is throwing out all the awful food in the house and eating real food to satiety (every single time). Do that for a month, or two, or three or four. Learn how to feed yourself properly. Learn how to love yourself, to stop hating your body and to love eating real food. Learn how to think, "I eat whatever I want and, you know what? No, I actually don't want to eat food that makes me feel awful." (Or, sometimes: "Hell, yes, I want that awful thing, and I'll eat it, love the hell out of the experience, and get right back on the real-food bus, guilt-free.") Then, once your whole perspective on food/life/everything has changed, you can start playing with macronutrient ratios, if that really is necessary at that point. (But, really, it's probably not).

Because if you take the average person who hates the way she looks, hates mealtime, hates just about everything at this point, and start her with weighing and measuring the amount of hate she is stuffing into her mouth three, four, whatever times a day, exactly how is that going to help? (And yes, I just made that hypothetical person a woman, because facts are facts, and more women than men have horrendous food neuroses). Let's cut to the chase: it's not. And if this sounds like "Free your mind, and your ass will follow," well, yeah. Truly sustainable changes in the way you eat come from your head, not your stomach. And if you aren't here to make a truly sustainable change, then you're just on a fucking diet, and those are categorically stupid and unsustainable. And they have nothing to do with long-term health.

The other point is this: you can "zone" or "macro-count" frozen pizza, cookies and diet Coke. It's just a math game; that math has nothing to do with underlying food quality. Yet, what's more important to health -- the reason you're here, remember? -- than food quality? That would be nothing.

So, you're here for good health. Good health requires eating good quality food in a sustainable way. I can't see how turning mealtime into a math problem is going to help most people do that. Sure, there are a few rare birds out there among us who already have a great relationship with food, and already consistently eat high-quality food, and still want to tweak macronutrient ratios -- maybe to help attain certain athletic goals. And that's fine. But applying the dietary strategy of those few to the masses is as misguided as applying programming that is designed for a CrossFit Games athlete to the average gym goer. It's utterly inappropriate.

Fix your head. Eat real food. Love yourself. Love the whole food experience. If you get all that straight and then you still want to go all math-nerd on your amazing food... whatever, dude. Have a ball. It just seems like the wrong strategy for the vast majority of people.