Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- "Higgs Boson Blues" live in London

The new album from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- Push the Sky Away -- is understated and brilliant. It rarely goes near the crazed-shaman/preacher ravings that made the two Grinderman records (and much of Nick's early career) so satisfyingly over-the-top in the psycho-bluesiness department. But, lord oh lord, this record rises and falls and grooves and, yes, even thunders, in its own way, and never better than on this song, "Higgs Boson Blues." Here's a live version from a recent gig in London. Enjoy the slow burn.... and, yeah, that Pitchfork review nailed it perfectly: this is "On the Beach" version 2013.

"And you're the best girl I ever had...."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The no-breakfast (or delayed-breakfast) thang

"Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with lunch and dinner. I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas or at home — and regardless of whether or not I have been to bed — breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of Key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert... Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next twenty-four hours and at least one source of good music… All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked."

- Hunter S. Thompson

If you are an aficionado of as many paleo/primal blogs as I am, you will quickly find that if you try to follow *every* piece of advice you are given on those sites, you will lose your mind -- all in a very paleo/primal way, of course, but you will go completely batshit crazy with contradictions and competing advice.

No, it's not that one paleo site is going to tell you to forego grains while the other has you at Pizza Hut five nights a week. They all agree on the *basics*, but it's at the fringes where you will learn that you have to collect the advice, sort through it and -- get this -- figure it out yourself, like a grownup.

And that's cool for a number of reasons. First, it makes you put on your big boy/girl pants and take responsibility for your own health. Secondly, it gets you out of the mindset of the average processed-carb-scarfing automatons on the street who just want someone else to tell them what to do with every aspect of their lives, including what to eat. You know... you get to *think*. And thirdly, it fits in well with a simple fact: we are all a little different from one another, and what works great for one person may not be the perfect solution for the next guy (or gal) in line.

Again, the basics of primal/paleo work for almost everyone, but at the edges, there is a lot of room for experimentation toward the ultimate goal of feeling and performing at a level of awesome you never knew you had in you.

And if you aren't trying to be awesome, as a friend of mine says, "What the fuck are you doing with your life anyway?"

Which brings us to breakfast.

I love breakfast. I love breakfast as much as Dr. Thompson, just with some, er, slightly different ingredients. So when I started reading recently on sites like the Bulletproof Executive and Dangerously Hardcore (intentionally provocative) phrases like, "Breakfast sucks!" well, let's just say that my initial reaction involved a two-word phrase -- the second word of which was either "you" or "off," depending on whether I was feeling more American or British in my usage.

But... one of the things you learn, after you realize that what you like is not always the same as what is really good for you, is that sometimes you need to open your mind and take a second look at what may, at one time, have seemed unimaginable.

Which brings us, again, to breakfast.

Lately, I haven't been eating it. Or, more precisely, I haven't been eating for quite a few hours after I wake up. And, instead of the expected reaction -- which was some sort of low-blood-sugar-rage-inspired decision to invade a small foreign country or eat shelter-puppy sushi -- it's been all sunshine and lollipops (paleo version: sunshine and bacon strips).

Here's the deal. It's not that I am not consuming *anything*. I have one cup of coffee (the vaunted caffeine experiment was cool, but, after three weeks I decided I really really like that one cup... Just one). That cup has a bunch of coconut oil and (unsalted!) grassfed butter (Kerrygold or Smjor) in it. The caffeine makes everything perky and the fat from the coconut oil and butter -- besides upping the deliciousness factor to eleven on a scale of one to ten -- keeps me full. I also seem to be much smarter and more creative (if I do say so myself) during those "fasted" hours. There was a day last week where I woke up at 5 or so, had that cup of fatty coffee and hit the computer for an epic morning of heavy-duty thought/creativity related to my day job (about which, you may recall, we never ever speak). My god, the big thoughts were bigger than usual. I was, for a brief time, The Most Clever Man on Earth.

Seriously, I got shit done. (And that's all you're gonna hear about *that*).

I eventually ate a meal -- Breakfast? Lunch? Whatever, dude? -- at 12:30 pm.

12 freakin' 30!!!!

Really. If you told me a year ago that I could have *survived* that long without breakfast, let alone *thrived* that way, well, we would have been back to that two-word phrase, maybe both the British *and* American versions.

And it hasn't been the same every day. Sometimes, I got hungry sooner than that, so, y'know what? I ate. It's all about listening to your body. Just as every person is a little different, every day is too.

But the bottom line is that I like this no-breakfast thing.

It also, getting away from the "how I feel" part of the equation to more biochemical angles, has an added bonus: you burn fat like a mofo (not actually a biochemistry term).

See, as I understand it, everyone (except a diabetic) wakes up, after a good night's sleep, in a ketogenic state. In ketosis, your body and brain are using fat, as opposed to glucose, as the primary fuel source. You are burning fat.

If you want to continue that state of awesomeness that is already there when you first wake up -- and really, how many things in life are that free? -- a cup of coffee with good fat, particularly the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) in the coconut oil, does the job for much, or all, of the morning. Then, eventually, when you eat a solid paleo meal, you go back to your normal state, until bedtime and it starts all over again.

I love it. I also don't do it *every* day. I do it most days, but if I have to be somewhere other than home or the office, i.e., a place where I might not have food when the Hunger Dragon finally comes knocking, I eat breakfast like a normal person -- but a normal paleo person, mind you, meaning it is pretty damn (good)fat-heavy anyway.

And, unsurprisingly, I guess, I don't feel as witty, clever, creative, awesome, etc, on the breakfast days as I do on the delayed/no-breakfast days.

So there you have it. Like I said, I love it. But I also make no claim that this will work for *you*. Perhaps I am a mutant; perhaps not. Go figure it all out for yourself, like a big boy or girl.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The "carb-backloading" experiment

So, there's this guy named John Kiefer. He is a physicist and has figured something out: if you go low-carb/ketogenic most of the day, work out by lifting heavy shit in the late afternoon and then eat the hell out of good-for-you carbs, you will lose body fat and look more ripped than you do now.

Now, it is all more complicated (and maybe, in some aspects, more simple) than that. There is a book, and a website, and you should read both of those, particularly if you want to dial this plan in at the highest level. (And, by the way, why yes, you *can* pull this off if you work out in the morning, but that requires minor adjustments).

But let me tell you something: you can get pretty damn good results -- in terms of body composition, even less between-meal hunger than standard paleo/primal, and generally feeling awesome -- just by lifting heavy and "partitioning" your carbs in two ways. First, don't eat any carbs other than green vegetables before 5 pm. Yes, you read that right. No fruit. No nuts. No Larabars. No carbs at all, except the little bit you get from green veggies. Secondly, if you worked out that day, stuff in the (good) carbs that night. Really... Eat the hell out of them. White rice, sweet potatoes, ripe bananas, ripe plantains, white potatoes. Stuff 'em in. The next morning, don't eat breakfast right away. Drink black or "bulletproof" (coconut oil and grassfed butter) coffee, and eat later in the morning once you are actually hungry.

If this sounds a little like intermittent fasting crossed with a ketogenic approach during the day crossed with a whole lot of glorious eating at night, particularly on workout days, then yeah, you would be right-on with that observation.

What this whole deal does is spike your insulin post-workout, allowing your muscles to employ all those carbs you are stuffing in for use in building more muscle. It also helps you burn fat.

Now, there are *tons* of extra angles to this. The book is science-y as hell. Technically, if you are a work-out-every-other-day guy like me, you are better off loading the carbs in the night *before* your workout, not after, and if you work out in the morning, that is doubly true. Oh, and the carbs you eat at night while backloading? Well, let's just say that some people (not me) go pretty far off the paleo reservation with those. (I believe the phrase "Fruity pebbles have no gluten!" is uttered by Kiefer at one point in one of the videos. And yeah, even I have eaten a little more post-workout Ben & Jerry's in the last few weeks than I used to.) If you want to get in that deep, really... read the book and scour the website (and YouTube) for more info.

But you don't *have* to follow the book and website perfectly to get decent results. Yes, if you are trying to look like a bodybuilder, go do everything exactly the way Kiefer tells you in the book and on the website. But if, like me, you just want to burn some fat and feed your muscles, so you look a little better than you do now, try lifting heavy (but you were already doing that, right?), partitioning your carbs solely into the post-5 p.m. window and eating more of those carbs the night right after a workout. Ketogenic all day, carby at night, particularly post-workout. It is pretty simple.

Just by doing that, my results have been awesome. I feel great, wake up with pretty great abs for an old guy, never get crazy hungry or feel the need to snack, and I am sleeping really well. And I feel stronger and more energetic at the gym.

I like it. Thanks, Kiefer. It's pretty damn cool. And maybe, just maybe, I will go the whole nine yards eventually and follow the book and website to a T. But even this much has gotten me great results.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013


One of the weirdest, and saddest, things about my elderly father's descent into the strange and bizarre world of frontal-lobe dementia is his repeated theme that tonight -- it's always *tonight* -- he is getting some type of award. It could be for work, for civic/charitable activity, whatever. But, apparently -- and I always sort of got this impression from him back in the sane(r) days as well, but now it's overwhelming -- he is fairly consumed by the notion that he never quite got his due, not in money, mind you, but in accolades.

Man... what a way to live.

I have seen the mantra written hundreds of times: dwelling in the past leads to regret; dwelling in the future leads to anxiety. Only by focusing on the here and now will you avoid regret and anxiety and just enjoy yourself.

Sounds pretty basic, but I started wondering about it terms of a word you hear all the time: ambition.

And I realized that, at this point of my life, I think I don't have any. And I think it's better that way.

When I say "ambition," I don't mean just "plans." We all have plans. Mine usually involve vacations and traveling, or hiking or music or whatever makes me happy. No, ambition is something bigger; it's driven by a feeling that you haven't achieved what you think you should (or want), and you are striving to get that thing.

And it's not necessarily bad, but, wow, as the old man reminds me every time that I see him ("Tonight!"), it can lead to either anxiety or regret if things don't work out.

My day job involves a very large employer and someone, it seems, is always retiring. So a common thread in group conversation among those of us for whom retirement is something on the near, rather than the far, horizon is a sort of "then what?" focus.

Invariably, someone will ask me what my own "plan" is: "Uhhhhh, trying to stay really happy?"

"What the fuck does that mean?" is usually the next line, often from a preposterously unhappy person.

I just want to be happy. And I usually am. I have done everything "big" in life that I ever wanted to do. I have traveled a lot, played music with talented people in great bands, met wonderful people, done some pretty fucking spectacular work in said day job (if I do say so myself, and, no, we aren't going to talk about that any more than that), married an amazing woman, had a couple of great kids and even tried put them as best I could on the path to being happy as well.

And that's about all the specific ambition I have: to keep on keeping on, and that mostly means doing things that make me happy. And don't think for a second that that is a small order. But it really is a pretty simple one. Exercise, good food, good friends, a great family and an emphasis on one word: fun. Anything more specific than that, and it could lead me to regret or anxiety.

And I am really really against both of those.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wussy -- a genuine American treasure

It was 2005, and I had heard a few good things about Wussy's first album, Funeral Dress, and so I bought it. All I knew when I put it on was what someone had told me: "It's Chuck from the Ass Ponys and his girlfriend Lisa, who has a kickass voice."

And I kinda lost my mind. I loved them.

My description at the time went something like this, no doubt in a high-speed, excited tone: "Dude! [Note: It always starts with "dude!"] This band is working this crazy Pixies-crossed-with-Neil-Young-loud/soft-Americana thing, but they sound like they wanna drone the fuck out of something at times too! They're awesome! Ok, the drummer doesn't seem to be awesome, but she's all right, and everything else is... Awesome!!!!"

Then I saw them as part of the bill at Twangfest in St Louis that year (or was it 2006?) and my description held.... Sadly, including the drummer. I loved the band, but she wasn't very good, and I kinda felt bad for her because, as I understood it, she had learned how to play drums specifically to join this band. But I distinctly remember my very English musician friend Louise coming up to me mid-set, interrupting my enraptured state and screaming at me full bore in her very English accent: "You're a fucking *drummer*, man! How can you like this?" My answer amounted to loving the records and loving everything else about them live and just kinda putting up with the drums. Go have another drink, my friend. It's a festival set. It can't go more than an hour. I went back to digging them.

But she had a point about the drums. They were dragging the band down a little -- enough, as a matter of fact, that when that show was over, I took a break from the band for a bit, still buying the records, but I didn't make a point to see them again for a while.

Fast forward: I next saw Wussy in the spring of 2010 in Philly. I had heard that the drummer had been replaced by a dude who could, to quote another friend, "really fucking play," and that Wussy had been officially and quickly launched into stratospheric heights of double-awesomeness as a live band.

My god, was that description ever spot-on.

See, the first three records -- Funeral Dress, Left For Dead and Wussy -- are great. (This was the tour supporting the third album). Those albums work the said Americana/Neil/loud/soft/Pixies/jangly/hell-of-a-lot-louder-than-jangly juxtaposition really really well. The drumming is competent, and I don't think it sticks out as awful, but it's not driving the boat, and, underneath it all, I really *really* want the drummer to steer that fucker, and lock it all down.

Enter drummer Joe Klug. He joined Wussy after the third album and before that 2010 tour, and he is *perfect* for this band. And when I saw the overwhelming look of joy on bass player Mark Messerly's face as they launched into "Funeral Dress" to start that 2010 show, and I heard the roar, and the groove and everything that makes live rock and roll a life-affirming gift, I knew they had hit their stride, and were going to stay there.

That show was perfect, and the record that followed, 2011's Strawberry, was pretty close as well, upping the drone factor a bit, while still keeping all the other elements that make Wussy their own unique snowflake of genius amidst a sea of mediocrity.

And they keep pushing the envelope. They did an acoustic reworking of their first record that somehow works, upping the twang and the jangle, but losing none of the intensity. And then, just recently, they released a freebie album of rarities, live stuff, and goofball moments. And all the while -- from what I hear -- they just keep getting better as a live band, having added former Ass Ponys guitarist John Erhardt on pedal steel.

And I say, "from what I hear," because they came through Philly last summer but I wasn't there because the show conflicted with that amazing vacation that I was on at the time.

So let's just say that I kinda lost my mind a little (yes, again) when I heard that, on March 8, Wussy is playing a show at the North Star Bar in Philly. Tickets are ten dollars. I have mine. Yes, ten dollars. For the love of all that is good and right, go see this band and help them sell it out. Yes, I secretly hate their name too (Wussy? Really?) but they are a force of nature live. Show 'em some love.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book review: Greg Everett -- Screaming at a Wall (Reissue)

If you stop by this page with any regularity, you most likely are here from some sort of paleo/exercise/lifestyle perspective that may make the name Greg Everett a familiar one to you. Yup, he is the weightlifting coach/author who runs Catalyst Athletics and plays funny/sarcastic/grammar-and-usage-aware (to say nothing of smart/informed and knowing when to stay in the background) sidekick to Robb Wolf on Robb's weekly Paleo Solution podcast.

But who knew what he was all about before all that? Not me. Screaming at a Wall is Everett's "fictionalized autobiography" of his teens and early twenties.

Published ten years ago -- self-published under Everett's then-barely-scraping-by Grundle Ink Publications -- the book was long out of print until the January 2013 reissue, which is, quite honestly, one of the quietest reissues ever. (Christ, I can't even find a good online photo of the reissue cover, so the one you see above is of the 2003 version).

But never mind the word "quiet" in any other application to this book. It seethes with a Rollins-esque bitterness, but filtered, unlike Henry Rollins' books, through both a fairly appalling level of drug use and, strange as it sounds, a burning desire, somewhere underneath all the sarcasm, for a lot more human contact and love. Yeah, the author will tell you, for most of the book, that he is, first, a drug-using asshole who doesn't give a fuck about the feelings of people -- particularly the women with whom he has a neverending series of something just a little more than hookups -- and, second, once he gets (mostly) clean, a non-using asshole who hates everything about the drug and drink scene that he has ditched. Like Rollins, he is a fucked-up loner, but, even early on, there's a yearning there for love and respect amidst the cocaine/LSD/weed/booze/glue (glue?! Fucking glue.... good lord) binges. And, as he gets cleaner, he simultaneously cares more and more about real relationships, and opens himself up a little more with each of those relationships to getting hurt. He also starts to pursue his publishing dream.

My bottom line: I loved it. First of all, I am a big fan of Everett's sarcastic sense of humor on the Paleo Solution podcasts, and that shines through here, in a book written years before that podcast ever got started. The same wonderful funny-as-hell intolerance of folks who write into the podcast with questions written in third-grade-ese is present in Everett's disgust with the no-future losers he seems surrounded by in high school and then college (his anti-hippie rants against his fellow Prescott College students are particularly funny). Secondly, I love Henry Rollins' writing, and while Everett is no Rollins clone, his writing is clearly informed by Rollins, both stylistically and attitude-wise. He mixes his seething and his self-deprecation well. Thirdly, his punk-rock frame of reference -- Rollins Band, Minor Threat, etc. -- mirrors my own. Finally, let's just say that I can relate -- not precisely, mind you. I never took a boatload of drugs, but an unhealthy relationship with booze in my younger years and a sometimes-appallingly-casual attitude toward the feelings of a number of women in my life at certain points, and well.... A lot of this hit home -- particularly regarding a notion that is pervasive throughout the entire book: I am running out of time.

And, mind you, I found this probably more uplifting than it was ever intended to be when written. Realizing what the author survived back then to still get where we can all see he is now? Pretty inspirational, even if it's mostly a 20/20 hindsight, ten-years-later sort of inspiration.

This is a great book. It has nothing -- nothing -- to do with weightlifting, paleo, exercise or any of that stuff you otherwise associate with Greg Everett. But it's a "solution" of its own to some gnarly real-world issues of addiction, loneliness and self-worth. Get it.

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