Thursday, September 30, 2010

Timing is everything

One day after I post a plea to all legislative bodies in this great nation to take a six-month break from telling us all what to do and what not to do, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives just passed a ban on "synthetic marijuana."
Thanks. I can't even begin to tell you how much safer I feel now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A modest proposal.....

I recently heard a famous writer** interviewed and he said that his goal is to lessen the role that politics plays in all our lives. And I thought, "Now that would really be something." And then I thought about New Hampshire.

One of the things I think the Granite State has right is that their legislators are part-time. This means that "legislating" is not on their minds all day, every day. They simply can't spend each waking moment telling you what to do and not do because they have real lives and real responsibilities to which they have to attend.

So I present you with a truly modest proposal: six months, no new prohibition laws. That's right, from the smallest town council to the largest federal legislative body, just stop. Take a deep breath. And for six months, don't tell us that there's anything new on the List of Things We Cannot Do. On the small side, that speed limit you wanted to lower? No, just wait and see. On the bigger side, that thing you wanted to add to the list of things you can't do to your own body? No, leave everyone's body alone for a little while.

I realize that this will simultaneously thrill and repulse the extremes. The left will love no new drug bans, no new abortion restrictions, but hate that they can't pass any new environmental regs during the same time, or tell us what we can eat, or pass a new tax (yes, a tax is a prohibition -- on failing to pay your taxes; don't believe me? Try it and see what happens). The right will flip those hates and likes around 180 degrees. The No Fun Crowd on both extremes will have to sit down and shut up, rather than telling us what we can't do. And legislators won't know how to spend their free time.

Well, in the beginning anyway.

Then, when they recover from the initial shock of not bossing us around, they can start tackling the big problems: debt, spending, funding Social Security, etc. There is not a single prohibition law that could not wait six months to be enacted.

And, I like to think, that after six months of no new prohibitions, maybe some of those legislators might have broken their addiction to telling people what to do, and might think twice (or more!) before passing an onslaught of new prohibitions -- maybe even only pass the ones that they are absolutely sure we really need.

More realistically, perhaps even if the legislators don't see the light on their own, the electorate would enjoy the break from being told what to do and begin to insist that future candidates act accordingly.

To those of you who object, let's put it this way: try it, for six months. Not even a year, just six months. I've tried it your way for my whole life, and all I see are statute books and municipal codes overflowing with laws that say, "Though Shalt Not...." Some of them conflict. Some of them are obsolete. Some are just ridiculous. And yet the list of prohibitions grows longer every day. Stop the madness; take a deep breath; and do something else for six months than telling me more things that I am not allowed to do. Mr. or Ms. Legislator, you might even have some time for a real life, like your compatriots up in New Hampshire.


**No, I won't tell you who it is because you will immediately judge the statement based on its origin, rather than its content. If you happen to like him, you will think it's brilliant; the converse will be true if you loathe him. And, honestly, I hate that crap.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


What is it about October that sends great bands onto the road? If I were to go back through calendars of the last 30+ years, I bet I would find that I saw more shows in October than any other month. I suppose it's the perfect time to land right between hot and cold weather-wise in a lot of the country, but, then, why doesn't the same thing happen in April? One of the great mysteries of life....

Anyway, this October in Philly is no different. I have plans to see Aussie legends, the Hoodoo Gurus, at World Cafe Live on Friday October 8. The Gurus never ever have disappointed me. I first saw them in 1984 with Let's Active at the Ritz in NYC, and, lots of shows later, they remain a killer live act. Last tour, I think they said they had 60 songs ready to go on any given night, so the setlists were wild and varied.

Then on Saturday October 16, the Heavy roll into the TLA with their Stooges-tinged funk/R&B assault. I am very psyched. There is a clip (see below) of them on David Letterman that makes me smile every time I see it.

And then there's Social Distortion at the Electric Factory. If the new album is anything like the glory of the last one, we are all in for a wild show. Hope they get that released before the concert, but I am thinking no....

And I bet there are a ton more that I am missing, but those three have me pretty damn excited.

VIDEO LINK: The Heavy on David Letterman's show. I've never seen Dave so into a band.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


"I try to keep myself in situations that will teach me shit. The more challenging, the better. It keeps me young, curious, and humbled. Life isn’t supposed to be figured out. It’s supposed to have twists and turns and things you can’t predict." --Mike Watt

It's all a giant self-improvement project, but the project never ends, because as good as you may be at one thing, there's always something else you need to work on. Lately, I've been working on nutrition.

I was a runner in high school, 160 pounds and thin as a rail, but college slackerdom led to twenties slothfulness, and somewhere around the mid-1990s I realized I'd better start running again, having reached the embarrassing zenith (nadir?) of 215 pounds around age 33 or so. Renewed running burned off some of that, led to more running, and eventually to weight training which I would alternate with running. But nutrition was lagging way behind exercise in my world. In fact, for the longest time, I guess I figured that if you followed that wacky food pyramid in some vague sense, you'd be OK as long as you pounded out the miles, hoisted the iron, etc. Lots of grains (whole and otherwise), not much meat, some veggies and fruit and I thought I was eating OK.

In fact, when I made the decision about five years ago to stop eating any deep-fried food, I figured that, at that point, with my grain-filled/meat-light/nearly-vegetarian diet I was somewhere riding atop the breaking wave of good health.

But here was the weird thing -- and it didn't seem all that weird at the time, just a product of being in my mid/late 40s, I thought -- but I was hurting. After the 215-pound awfulness of age 33, I had gotten down only a year later to about 200, and lived at that weight for the next 11-12 years. I'm 6'3", so no one I knew would have called me "fat" at 200 pounds, but damn, by age 45 or so I was starting to feel old, especially in the mornings.

Then, a couple years ago, just after I turned 46, I started drumming for Mondo Topless. What does that have to do with anything? Well, as I've discussed before, all this hard/fast playing leaves a man exhausted, doubly so if you are in your 40s and already feeling the aches and pains of age. So I ramped up the weights and the cardio/running. And that helped me take off five or so pounds, but it didn't stop the pain. In fact, it just made me even more sore. My post-practice routine necessarily included 600 mg of ibuprofen or else I'd wake up with joints that felt 100 years old. Then I started doing CrossFit.and got wind of a whole new way of eating.

One digression: I'm not telling you any of this to preach at you about nutrition. I really don't care what you do or don't do in your personal life, and that includes what you eat. This is just a tale of what I've learned about my own nutritional needs. It's not a sermon.

When I get into something -- a new band, a new album, a new author, whatever -- I tend to really go for it, reading up on whatever I can regarding that new thing. That approach led me to a lot of CrossFit websites where it seemed like all the really "into it"/committed folks were eating "paleo." A little research into that phrase, and it seemed like these guys had grabbed the aforementioned food pyramid, taken it to the top of the nearest building and thrown it off.

Paleo(lithic) eating is pretty simple. To quote CrossFit founder Greg Glassman: "Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar." In slightly (but not much) more complicated terms: eat protein (meat, fish or eggs) plus non-grain carbohydrates (lots of veggies and a little fruit) plus a good monounsaturated fat (like avocado/guacamole, nuts, seeds). Avoid grains (pasta, bread, rice, cereal), dairy (milk and cheese), legumes (beans, peanuts) and sugar.

You can learn a lot more about the science behind all this from the super-smart folks at Whole 9, or from the awesome, somewhat wonky and highly informative new book by Robb Wolf called The Paleo Solution. But the bottom line is all about insulin spikes and inflammation, caused by grains, whether they are "whole" or not.   

It's a big shock to the system to learn that everything you were ever taught about a particular subject has been leading you down the wrong path. In my case the subject was nutrition. All that grainy goodness of my nearly vegetarian life was an enormous source of inflammation and bloating. After five to six months of eating mostly paleo, I am completely off the ibuprofen addiction of my post-band-practice routine. My joints ache far less than they have since my late 30s. And I know the change in diet is directly responsible because when I "cheat" and eat breads or pizza or other grains in any significant amount, the pain/bloat returns the next day. Eat clean, and it goes away and I wake up with defined abs and no aches. Cheat again, and my gut is soft and pliable and my knees and elbows hurt. I have also found that, for me, grains are a bigger source of inflammation than legumes or dairy in small amounts, but I'm sure that varies for everyone. So I still eat a little bit of cheese and some beans here and there, but my consumption of both is nevertheless way down from my nearly "vegetarian" days.

Oh, and a few other benefits -- my acid reflux issues that I've had since I was a kid are way down, and my late afternoon insulin-crash-inspired "I need to eat something or I am going to go postal" moments are much fewer and farther between. Plus, my recent physical had me for the first time at normal or better numbers in every one of the following categories: blood pressure, HDL ("good cholesterol"), LDL ("bad cholesterol"), triglycerides and blood sugar. I weigh 178 pounds.

Now, before this sounds like I just told you the key to my happiness is to eat a lot of meat and no bread, if that's all you got out of this you missed an enormous piece of the puzzle: vegetables and good fats. This way of eating is centered foremost around veggies. They are the way you get most of your carbs, and fruit supplies the rest. A typical meal is a pile of veggies, a piece of meat (or fish or eggs) and a "good" fat. This is not an Atkins-inspired meat-fest.

So why did I tell you all this? Like I said, I don't care what you do. But I do think that whatever you do, you ought to do it with full understanding of the facts. And the fact for me has been that I got lied to for a really long time. That crazy effing food pyramid where the biggest single component of a diet is grains, cereals, rice, bread and pasta is a prescription for insulin spikes, inflammation, bloat, aches and pains.Yet, everyone -- doctors, governments, etc -- seem to be drinking the (grainy) Kool Aid and passing it on to us. Do your own research. Do what you want. But know that just because you've been told something since you were a kid doesn't make it true.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A woman named Fran kicked my ass this morning

Playing drums in this band is physically demanding. In my former band, I used to have to change my shirt after we did a gig. In this band I have to change my socks...and everything else. I am gross. A gig or a practice is like a sporting event, and when I first started playing with Mondo in '08, I would come home from practice completely spent, like I'd run 15 miles really fast. Plus I'd be sore as hell for a day afterwards. So, bored with my usual fitness routine of running and lifting -- and tired of grinding myself into bits with too many reps of this or too many miles of that -- I switched about 5 months ago to a program called CrossFit.

CrossFit is a hybrid of running, rowing, Olympic weightlifting (clean/jerk, deadlift, snatch, press), and various gymnastic moves, using body weight (pullups, pushups, etc.) and rings. The whole idea is explained better if you poke around here, but it's based on a few simple concepts: routine is the enemy; lift heavy stuff; and, finally, go hard and fast with any metcon (i.e., metabolic-conditioning, or what you might call "cardio"). The workouts are short and intense. With warmup, workout and stretching afterward, you are easily done in an hour, often faster. Typically, you'll do a strength component and then a metcon. And you will be spent at the end of it.

Some of the workouts are so-called "benchmarks" -- done by CrossFit gyms everywhere and each named after a woman -- today's was "Fran" (21 barbell thrusters, 21 pullups, then 15 of each, then 9 of each). They will all beat you up, and make you stronger.

Typically, in addition to getting faster and stronger, once you start CrossFit, you also begin to listen to what CF tells you about nutrition, and then you start to feel a hell of a lot better, and your aerobic stamina goes through the roof , and your recovery after a workout (or a gig) is much faster. And if you're me, you lose 15-20 pounds of fat that you did not even know you were carrying.

So, yeah, one of the things you're going to run into here is talk about CrossFit. If I can get one of you to start doing this, I will have succeeded. And you will feel awesome.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Screaming Females

I used to stumble upon great bands all the time, but these days -- thanks to a busy life and what seems to be a glut of indie bands that don't float my boat -- those glorious moments of musical discovery seem few and far between. So, when Marissa Paternoster and her bandmates, Jarrett Dougherty and King Mike, walked onstage to open for Jay Reatard (R.I.P.) last year at Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia, I wasn't expecting anything. Having recently watched quite a few bands of "kids" play their instruments like they were electronic gadgets just bought at Radio Shack, I wasn't prepared to be impressed. Instead, I was feeling cynical and jaded when the trio picked up their instruments that night.

And then...POW!

Maybe it's because I'm a drummer, but I am hard on rhythm sections. I want a bass player and a drummer to have a "thing" -- an intangible something that glues them together through twists and turns. Jarrett and Mike have that in spades. These guys give off a Watt/Hurley vibe (and while you'll find I throw around Minutemen references on a nearly daily basis, I don't often go *that* far). Layered on top of all that glorious rhythmic tension and release is Paternoster's guitar. Good god, this woman can play. Her riffs are dark and minor, and when the whole band hunkers down and lets it rip, you'd swear it was 1984 and SST ruled the world.

And all of this brings me to their new record, Castle Talk. It's as good or better than last year's Power Move, full of that punk-rock, angular roar that hooked me in so hard at the live show. The vocals aren't "pretty," but you never worried about that with the Minutemen, did you? So don't fret about it here either. Instead, bask in the glow of a power trio that has their shit together so much better than than those other kids and their gadgets.

VIDEO LINK: "Bell" from the Power Move album.
MYSPACE LINK: Screaming Females MySpace page.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mondo Topless

I'm not going to use this blog principally as a band-promotion site, but I will post tour diaries, etc. Anything else you need to know about Mondo Topless is here.

As for my role in the band, let's just say that I'm having a blast. Loud, fast rock and roll has always been my thing, but, in the years just prior to 2008, I had been in a roots-rock band in Philly called Naked Omaha that, while a perfectly solid roots band, was not lighting my loud/fast musical fire any longer by the summer of 2008. And I got lucky...I had seen Mondo open for the Dirtbombs in April '08 and was blown away by their energy, but I had no idea they were looking for a drummer. I quit the old band in July '08, and placed a Craigslist ad looking to start a garage-rock band, and damn it if Sam didn't answer it. A smash-and-bash August '08 tryout, and I was in.

It's been a fun ride ever since. These guys are all ace musicians. And the new covers album (Freaking Out) gives you a good idea of where we're at these days. But we also make sure the back-catalog (i.e., pre-me) songs are alive and well. We've made a real effort to learn a hell of a lot of songs with me on drums. Right now we're at 50 or so that we can play any night, and we really value a solid rotation of songs through the setlists. Keeps the boredom away, y'know.

It can change you in the middle of the day

Summer 2007:
Life is a strange ball of wax. One minute the guy was riding his motorcycle. The next, he was airborne, and then dead. And a few minutes after that, there was a party of sorts, not over his death, but clearly as a direct result of it.

The few news reports that aired the next day said that he "lost control" (whatever that means) and hit the concrete median barrier. His bike kept going for a few hundred yards on the westbound side of the PA Turnpike, fortunately wiping out without incident on the shoulder, but *he* flipped over the median barrier, in the air, and was hit by three different eastbound cars, all likely traveling at speeds around 70 miles per hour. It wasn't their fault. It was the equivalent of having a body materialize in thin air over your moving car, and then drop onto it. He was killed instantly.

Eastbound traffic ground to a halt. I'd been having a hell of a ride up until that point, like a hell of a *great* ride. Turn Against This Land, the awe-inspiring debut by the London band Dogs, was blaring out of the speakers and I was flying down the road. Rock and roll and high speed is a dangerous drug, and both were soothing my cerebral cortex, when, all of a sudden, *everybody* jammed on their brakes at once. Fuck.

We all stopped, somehow without an accident of our own, and, after a few minutes of creeping forward, and jockeying for a few extra yards of progress, it all ground to a halt. Engines were shut off, windows rolled down all the way. Emergency vehicles were already ahead of us tending to whatever was up there, and more came buzzing by on the right shoulder. Eventually a few brave souls wandered forward on foot to investigate, and a bunch of us ventured out of our cars to sit on the median barrier and see what we could see. What we could see from back there, about a quarter-mile away from the accident, wasn't much, but the reports from the foot patrol came back, and they were ugly. It was a motorcyclist. He was decapitated after his helmet flew off. He lost limbs, and there were "body parts everywhere." Word soon trickled back from the cops that we weren't going to move for a long while.

"Dude, you like Yo La Tengo? Have you ever heard Ween?" The guy in the car behind me had what looked to be a six-year-old son holding his hand as they got out of the car, and he decided, based on my bumper stickers, that *I* was the guy to talk tunes with. So we did. He was pretty knowledgable, and we yapped about bands I hadn't even thought about in years, like Faith No More. Lots of people were out and about. There were impromptu soccer games on the grass, footballs in the air. Ween Dude offered me the rest of his beer--yes, the beer that he was drinking while driving with his kid in the car. "Damn good beer, man. Try it." I passed up that magical opportunity and feared slightly for Junior's safety. And the early-20s woman two cars up struck up a conversation with two guys, one of whom was the one I saw her giving her phone number to a short time later. At one point, non-phone-number guy took off across the road to buy food at the Burger King at the rest stop across the highway. "Yo, you guys want anything from BK?" they had yelled to me and Ween Dude. We thanked 'em, but declined, and then marveled as non-phone-number guy waltzed through high-speed traffic in the westbound lanes to go get food, leaving his pal alone with his date-to-be. He returned, dodging more traffic and laughing maniacally, with two gigantic bags of burgers.

Slowly but surely, it had morphed into a party. An alcohol-free party (well, except for Ween Dude, and he only had one), but a party nonetheless. The couple in front of me were dancing to hiphop while the women in the car next to me were having a raucous time, laughing and giggling. Reports continued to trickle back. We were, apparently, waiting for the Medical Examiner, and a State Police colonel, and cleanup people. It was a mess and we were nowhere near moving. By now--this had all started about 6:45pm--the sun was close to down, and I decided that if I was ever going to venture up to take a look at what had happened, it was now. Ween Dude and I were running out of conversation, and so I headed for The Front. On the way, I saw more of the same scenes that I had left behind. Football and soccer being played, lots of folks who didn't know each other two hours earlier having great conversations. Lots of laughs, a few expressions of concern.

An elderly woman about ten cars from the front told me basically all the facts I had already heard from others. I thanked her and walked closer. But at about the second or third car from the scene, it became clear that I wasn't going to see much more. The cops and firefighters had stretched a huge tarp across the road to hide the unpleasant cleanup. As a woman from Brazil cheerfully told me the story of her and her young son's aborted journey to a church service in Newark, NJ that night ("We're giving up and heading back to Philly") and elicited details of my travels/life from me for the better part of a half hour, suddenly an ambulance pulled away, and cops with flashlights started walking towards us, telling us to get in our cars, that we'd be leaving soon. The Brazilian kid had to pee. So mom headed for the bushes with him. We all headed for our cars, and the party was over. It was 9:20pm.

Life's weird. I drove away thinking, strangely, how much fun that had been-- for most of us that is. There were the few crabby people who couldn't let loose and talk to their neighbor, and just sat in their cars bitching loudly. And there were the few freaks who got impatient and tried to find a way out by driving across an abandoned lot to our right and out an alleged service road in the woods. And then there was the unfortunate motorcyclist. He'd never believe what he wrought that night. But I like to think that he would have smiled at some of it because a whole lot of people who never knew each other before that night were talking and laughing for the better part of almost three hours, all because of him. Somehow a gruesome highway death had brought a whole bunch of strangers together in a good way.

Live free and ride hard, folks, but never forget that it could be your last day on this planet, so be nice to people while you're here.

As we drove past the scene in the left lane that they cleared for us, there was a stark reminder next to the concrete median barrier, just a few feet away, of just how abruptly the line between life and death can be crossed--a battered motorcycle helmet.

A short disclaimer and welcome

Welcome to my blog. I shouldn't have to say this, but....
Nothing I say here is the opinion of anyone but me. Simple, right? If I blab on about this or that, it doesn't mean that any of my bandmates feel the same way about the issue. In fact, it's often quite likely that they don't. One of the cool things about our band is how it brings together disparate points of view and personalities and finds common musical ground, but, believe me when I tell you that there are plenty of points of view we don't share.

And, I shouldn't have to say this either, but nothing I say here has anything to do with my day job (a lawyer), either. Got it? I knew you would.

Anyway, if you stop by often enough, you'll read musings about life, death, politics, music and just about anything else that strikes me at the moment. I'm quite sure you won't agree with everything you read here. When it comes to politics, my liberal friends (and there are a lot of them) think I'm too far right (or not left enough anyway). My conservative friends (not so many of those) likely think I'm a lefty loon.

They're both wrong. I'm turned off by extremes, and you'll find me, generally, tacking toward the middle, which enrages those on either side. I suppose I'm best described as a pro-choice, leave-me-alone-to-do-what-I-want, libertarian-ish type, but even that's a crappy description in the end.

When it comes to music, I like grit -- often in the form of punk rock, but not always. Musically, I declared war on "smooth" a long time ago, and that will never change.

And drumming...hell, I drum for a fun band. More about them/us later. But when it comes to drumming, I value groove and fluidity more than anything. A drummer is there to play off of the rest of the music, particularly the bass player, not just metronomically tap along. A short list of my drumming heroes would include Mitch Mitchell, George Hurley and Bill Stevenson.

So, yeah, pull up a chair, grab a tasty beverage, and let's see where this takes us.