Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Peter Hook and the Light playing New Order at the Troc in Philadelphia

You may recall that a while ago I reviewed the reissue of Greg Everett's brilliant "fictionalized autobiography" of his formative years -- Screaming at a Wall. In it, there is a repeating theme: Life is short, and I am running out of time; so let's go.

I fully concur with that particular notion, and so it was with great interest that I read a few interviews with Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook in which he seemed fixated on the same notion. In Hook's instance, a few years back, he started a project: play every song he ever recorded live, on tour, with his band The Light. He began -- as well he should have -- with Joy Division.

I could do three or four blog posts alone on what that early-1980s gloomy Brit scene meant to me at the time. I *liked* lots of it, but two bands -- Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division -- stood head and shoulders above the pack, for my tastes. Amidst a scene dominated by what Lemmy once called "a bunch of blokes in long overcoats moaning about how miserable the world is," those two bands -- while undoubtedly all that -- were full of raw power, especially in live recordings. They seemed to understand that gloom and grit were much more, well, *powerful* when harnessed together. I dug, immensely.

And I got to see the Bunnymen a whole lot of times (those memories could fill a whole 'nother blog post waxing about the one-two punch of Will Sergeant's guitar and Pete deFreitas' drum attack.... that'll be another day....) But Joy Division never got themselves over here to play. Right before their first U.S. tour, lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide, and the remaining band members moved on, becoming New Order.

And then New Order quickly moved on as well, morphing from a very brief sonic foray into Joy Division Take Two (their first album, Movement), through a period of epic genius (the second album, Power, Corruption and Lies, and the singles of that era as well) that merged the JD sound with a more electronic approach, and thereafter into poppier, more *commercial* songcraft that, frankly, lost me a little.

So, in the last few years, having left New Order amidst some rancor, Hooky formed this band, Peter Hook and the Light, and his first move, a couple years ago, was to tour playing Joy Division songs, eventually expanding the band's repertoire to include, I believe, every JD song.

I missed those shows. I am somewhat unclear *how* I missed those shows. I saw the Bunnymen play their first two albums, raw and loud, on a reunion tour in 2011, but Hooky's JD appearance? I skipped it. Maybe I doubted his vocal skills (he wasn't the lead singer in either Joy Division or New Order)? I don't know, but I fucked up.

I heard good post-show reports from those tours, and then I heard an interview with Mr. Hook on the Sound Opinions radio show on NPR. What I heard from him there sounded nothing like what I expected, which was a jaded twat of a rock star bitching about his former bandmates. Instead, he seemed genuinely, and humbly, into a simple notion: Joy Division and early New Order had great songs, and no one had been playing them for years; so, life is short; let's go do something about that. Better yet, let's do it really spectacularly well and powerfully, with respect and, yeah, *joy*.

So, almost simultaneously upon hearing that interview, I did two things: bought Hook and the Light's Live in Australia album, where the band plays all of Joy Division's first album, Unknown Pleasures, plus some early singles, and bought tickets to see the band playing in Philly -- touring, get this, the first two New Order albums in their entirety, plus early singles.

Best decision I made all year? Quite possibly.

The live album is spectacular. The songs are, unleashed from the sterile production of the studio records, almost Who-ish in their scope. And the vocals are nearly perfect. No, Hooky doesn't have Ian Curtis' vocal range, but he has learned how to work brilliantly in the range that he has, often adding a gleeful "Yah!" as the band drives forward at full power. Highly recommended, particularly for curious JD fans wondering how these songs sound, 30-some years removed from their beginnings in Manchester.

But the live show? My god, man. Go see this band.

First of all, there are two bass players -- Hook and his son Jack. Jack plays all Hooky's parts when Hook sings, and then the man himself joins in, going, of course, way up high on that bass neck to deliver his trademark solos and riffs. The interplay between the two of them is wonderful to watch. At more than one point, Hook stood, poised to take over, as Jack pounded out his riffs and smirked, shaking his head, as if to say, "Hold on, dad. It's still my turn." And then, done with his part, Jack grinned, nodded his head and Hook took over, the two of them crouched down in the same stance, beating the living bejeezus out of the bass strings. The rest of the band are no slouches either, expertly (OK, mostly.... There were a few glitches, comically laughed off) recreating the full power of the early New Order albums. Let's just say that their epic post-punk glory has a fair share of right-now punk in it. This band roars and thunders.

But all of that wasn't even the best part.

I went into this show with only one regret: that it was, seemingly, entirely focused on New Order, and not Joy Division. I dearly love early NO, but Joy Division? Whoa, it's much more than love. So Hooky did us all one better than the already-epic step of playing the first two New Order albums: he and his band opened for themselves with a quick set of Joy Division.

Billed as the Slaves of Venus -- an early, thankfully rejected, name for JD -- they blasted out seven Joy Division songs, returned to the stage a short time later, and did all the early New Order, and left us with minds blown. The setlists? Slaves of Venus on the left, Peter Hook and the Light on the right:

Knowing about the Slaves of Venus in advance was great. It allowed me to make a request of Mr. Hook beforehand, via Twitter, for my two favorite Joy Division songs: Disorder and Twenty-Four Hours. It went like this, a few hours before the show:

"@SteveThrash62: psyched to see @peter_hook1 + band do New Order's first 2 albums, and opening for themselves with Joy Division. 24Hrs? Disorder? Please?"

As I left my house for the show, Hooky retweeted it. Totally geeked by this exchange, I was pretty sure I was going to get my wish, and I did, with the added extra of my *third* favorite Joy Division song -- Interzone-- sandwiched between those two. It was glorious,and, for my money, the finest use of social media ever.

Other highlights? I kid you not when I say that it was *all* a highlight. New Order's Movement is a brilliant record, but it can be murky. It's not murky at all when Hook and the Light get a hold of it. The dynamics of this band are unbelievable, and they turn a run of songs like, for example, all of side two of Movement--which is solid on album, but not mindblowing--into a force of nature that seems just a short leap to, say, Quadrophenia.

And the "big" songs -- you know, like Age of Consent, Leave Me Alone and Temptation? Let's just say that this is not one of those shows where the "hits" seem rote or by-the-numbers.

I may have even uttered the words: "Now I think I can die happy," after the band finished turning Temptation -- what is already one of my favorite songs -- into something even more. They put punch and guts and glory into a song that I didn't think had room for any more perfect than it already had.

Word is that, in pursuit of his noble goal of Playing It All Before He Dies, Hooky and band will be back next year touring New Order's Brotherhood and Low-Life. I don't love either of those records (although Sunrise is a serious keeper of a song), but I am pretty damn sure that I will be there front and center to see this band roar through them. Well played, Mr. Hook. Well played.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Ain't it amazing all the people I meet...." The value of volunteering.

The head trainer at our CrossFit gym has a great saying, "Be nice to someone. It'll change your life."

In the early 1990s, I volunteered as a "patient escort" at a women's reproductive-health clinic. They offered a whole array of medical services there, but the fact that one of those services was early-term abortions was the reason for the presence of the escorts. See, I don't really care what your personal view of abortion is, but if it includes really angry people spewing hate and waving signs, gross photos and fake body parts at scared women (sometimes not women at all, but teenage girls), then really, fuck you. I am completely unclear on the details of how I originally got into escorting patients there, but it quickly became very rewarding if your definition of "rewarding" is "feeling good about doing something good."

The patients would park at the facility on private property, so, usually (but not always) the angry protestors were confined to the public sidewalk out front. But, man, those protestors were noisy, and obnoxious, and the patients could easily hear and see them. The escort's goal was, first, to assure the patient knew that he was one of the good guys ("Hi, my name's Steve, and I'm a patient escort here at the center. I am going to walk you into the building"), and then, basically to distract them from the crap going on ("OK, when we round this corner and head for the door there are a bunch of people with nothing better to do today than yell things at us and wave signs. Don't watch them. Don't listen to them. They're dumb. I have better words, but we'll go with 'dumb.' Just talk to me, about anything. The weather. The Phillies. The Eagles. The Flyers. Your favorite flavor of ice cream. Anything. Just keep walking and talking to me"). The patients generally thanked us profusely when we got to the door. There were a lot of patient tears caused by those idiots out front, but I like to think we escorts did our best to minimize them.

Eventually, after quite a few years of this nonsense -- and more than one "rescue" attempt by the protestors in which they tried to form a human chain, trespassing on private property, to block the doors (the cooler ones amongst the responding cops would allow us to gleefully point out which particularly gross and obnoxious "rescuers" to arrest first; "Him, officer! He likes to scream obscenities at teenage girls," and so it went....) -- the protests mostly stopped and the center said they didn't need us very often anymore.

Around this same time, my kids started getting old enough that they were playing sports -- a lot of sports. And they needed coaches, so I hung up my escort duds and coached as a volunteer for almost ten years: baseball, soccer and indoor soccer.... It was fun, and, undoubtedly, a whole bunch of kids benefitted, but competition and modern parents being what they are, it rarely felt as purely humanitarian/helpful as the escort gig did. The pursuit of victory, can -- over the long haul -- conflict a bit with trying to always just be a helpful volunteer. By the time my kids' athletic abilities outgrew my coaching prowess, I wasn't terribly sorry to let more skilled folks take over. The grind of overcompetition (by other parents, and, more often than I like to admit, myself) had worn me down a bit.

Then my dad's health (mental and physical) took a multiyear slide into the abyss that I have detailed on this blog quite a bit, and.... I got out of the public volunteering business while I did my best to help him out from a bit of a distance.

But then he passed away a few months ago, and my wife and I started talking about how, with kids off at college and grad school, we suddenly had a boatload of free time.

And, man, we *love* dogs.

See, our local county animal shelter is, technically, a "kill" shelter. They will euthanize if there is no room for that animal in the shelter. But they are really good about notifying rescue groups first to get the dog or cat out to a foster family, and so euthanizing is pretty rare there. But the shelter employees have a lot of work to do, and *entertaining* the animals with exercise is not one of them. So there is a "friends of the shelter" group that handles dog walking.

We jumped on the chance to join them as volunteers. It's been a few weeks now and I think this may be more rewarding than even the escort gig was. We have four big dogs of our own; we are used to a bit of fuzzy chaos. So we graduated pretty quickly to being cleared to walk most of the dogs in the shelter. Only the most behaviorally challenged pups are off-limits to us at this point. So in we go, a few times a week, for an hour or more, to take these guys for walks. They are a blast. They do happy dances when they realize you are going to pick them. They smother you in affection, and, yes, sometimes they poop so much that you run out of poop bags. Their zeal for getting the hell out of there is often matched by their ability to tug harder on the leash than you ever thought possible to get to the gate to get outside. It's like a core strength/balance workout. And once you start returning to volunteer fairly often, the dogs start recognizing you, and throwing a special "celebrate you" party that is so gleeful that it's hard to describe.

We leave there feeling great *every* time. And the dogs feel better than when we got there. (And, yes, *our* dogs just about strip-search us when we arrive home, trying to figure out where we have been and why there were so many dogs there). It's a sad place, but we get to add a little happiness to the mix, and that makes everyone involved, dogs and people, feel better.

So what's the point of all this, you might ask?

It's my small pitch to get you to go volunteer somewhere doing something. Anything. Anywhere. Pick it. But, invariably, the benefits of it are more than just the obvious assistance to whomever you might be helping. Because whether it's the happy look of a just-walked dog, the "thank you" whispered by the scared girl you just walked into a medical clinic, the appreciation expressed by the parents of the kids you just coached for a season, or some other indication that somehow you made the world a little nicer place with a little giving of your time and effort, you'll personally get a world of benefit out of the whole experience as well. Go be nice to someone. It'll change your life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 15, 2013

F#%k the dietary "cheat." Or why eating has nothing to do with "cheating."

Here's most of what the Free says about the word "cheat":


v. cheat·ed, cheat·ing, cheats
1. To deceive by trickery; swindle: cheated customers by overcharging them for purchases.
2. To deprive by trickery; defraud: cheated them of their land.
3. To mislead; fool: illusions that cheat the eye....

1. To act dishonestly; practice fraud.
2. To violate rules deliberately, as in a game: was accused of cheating at cards.
3. Informal To be sexually unfaithful: cheat on a spouse.

1. An act of cheating; a fraud or swindle.
2. One who cheats; a swindler."

Do you see a repeating theme?

Dishonesty. Doing something wrong. Something you are going to feel guilty about.

Yet, in paleo/CrossFit-land -- but also all over your television -- you hear constantly about dietary "cheats," as if there's some set of ironclad rules somewhere that you ought to feel guilty about breaking.

I've hit on points related to this topic once or twice before, but some things I have read lately about "emotional eating" raise the subject again. So I thought it was worth another quick look.

I'll start with a "confession" of sorts: I don't *really* understand emotional eating. Food is fuel to me, first and foremost. Do I sometimes indulge in delicious things that aren't the best for me? Sure, but not out of some sort of desire for emotional comfort; I occasionally eat less-than-optimal food because it .... (wait for it) .... tastes good.

I also won't pretend that I have some grand strategy for completely getting those of you who *are* emotional eaters out of your rut in that regard, but I *do* have one small suggestion.

It's about dietary "cheats."

You really need to stop thinking of the consumption of any food item -- yes, even gluten -- as a moral wrong. You are not dishonest, a deceiver, a "swindler," or otherwise a bad person in any way if you eat food that isn't good for you.

And I think the whole drama of the emotional-eating roller coaster would be greatly lessened if you stopped beating the living crap out of yourself for supposedly doing something "wrong": you know, for "cheating."

Now, on the other hand, do you need to figure out a way to eat that makes you happy? (Note, I said "happy," not healthy).

Yeah, you do, and, for me, happy *is* pretty damn healthy. It feels good to feel good. But that decision, and the path by which you get there is your personal choice, not a moral right or wrong. Personally, I think the path to happiness for me involves smart exercise, eating clean primal food almost all the time, *and* occasionally enjoying something that's not quite so primal. And when I do that not-so-primal meal, I enjoy the hell out of it. I also occasionally think, in retrospect, that it wasn't such a great idea, and I adjust my behavior thereafter. You know... I *learn* from it. But I never ever feel "guilty" about food, and I certainly don't feel like I did something "wrong."

Getting to that state of mind where you can just treat food as food -- some healthy, some not-so-healthy -- begins by not turning the decision whether to eat something into a morality-filled choice. You have never "cheated" when you have eaten something. You just ate something. You are still the same person you were before you dug in, whether what you ate was a grassfed steak, a plate full of vegetables or a double-fudge brownie with CoffeeCoffeeBuzzBuzzBuzz on top.

I like to think that if you remove the "cheating" lingo, there's no moral wrong implied. Remove the implication of a moral wrong and there's no reason for guilt. Remove the guilt and there's no reason for the drama. And if the drama's gone, you have to think the emotion/food connection is going to start to loosen up a little. At that point, you might just consider food as just food.

Then you can figure out how to eat it in a way that makes you really happy.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leaving the regular doc in the dust (a.k.a., Part Two of "A Visit to a Paleo Doc")

You may recall that I recently had my first appointment with a local doc from the Paleo Physicians Network and Primal Docs. I ranted. I raved. I generally was thrilled with the notion that you could talk to a paleo doc about crazy stuff like inflammation, paleo eating, K2, and a host of other subjects that would make my regular doc either squirm or look puzzled.

Today, I had my paleo-doc followup to review the incredibly detailed bloodwork (it's like 8 pages long!!)....

My diagnosis: inflammation markers are awesome. Blood-sugar management is great. HDL is high and triglycerides super-low. More awesome. It's like I eat paleo or something. But... LDL-p (particle number, not the LDL on your "regular" bloodwork) is on the high (bad) side of normal. Vitamin D is "normal" but not optimal. Most surprising to me, my Omega 6 to 3 ratio is 3.5:1. I was hoping for closer to 1:1. ("Normal" -- but awful -- for most people is 10:1 or worse, by the way, so I'm hardly terrible on that count, but my copious intake of grassfed ruminants and wild-caught salmon and sardines had me hoping for a lower/better O-6:O-3 ratio).

My "prescription" for those "bad" issues: no "prescription" at all, but here's what the doc suggested....

--reduce intake of O-6s and up the O-3s. So chicken, pork, nuts and avocado are going (almost entirely) out the window. I'll likely eat them a little if I am out, but no more at home. I'm concentrating, as I (mostly) do already -- but "already" has not been "entirely," mind you... after all I am the sausage-and-kale guy -- on grassfed beef and lamb plus fish for my protein. I'm adding some daily fish oil (containing 1000 mg of O-3s). So, "Bye-bye" to sausage."Auf wiedersehen" to avocados. "Later, dudes" to nuts and nut butters, and we'll dial the bacon down to what the lawyers call a "de minimus" amount..
-- get more Vitamin D. I'm going to supplement my daily fermented cod-liver oil/butter-oil capsules with a drop of liquid D3.
--keep otherwise eating paleo and exercising the way I do. There was one particular blood marker that the doc referred to as "the easy way to call BS on someone who lies about not eating grains," and mine was great. "You obviously don't eat any grains," he said. Plus, he told me my inflammation markers were super low from the CrossFit/paleo combo.
--stop eating my *ridiculously*-oversized meals and opt for something slightly smaller, with a bit less fat and added protein subbing for that fat. Apparently, the wise doc thinks, part of my high LDL-p is the fact that I eat gargantuan-sized (good)fat-loaded meals -- an interesting theory.... because I do.
--Come back in four months to see if all that made a difference.

I love it. Keep eating paleo. Keep doing CrossFit the way I do now (three days a week plus a day of heavy lifting). Make a few minor tweaks. Feel (and be) even better.

Or I could go to my regular doc and take a statin and eat whole grains. Hahahahaha. I crack myself up....

By the way, the longest no-alcohol experiment of my adult life has reached around six weeks. I feel so good that I just have no idea when I will have a drink again, but it's definitely not going to be at least until that 300-pound front squat arrives.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Keith Moon died 35 years ago today.

Comparing Keith Moon to other drummers isn't fair -- to Keith Moon or to other drummers. He played  unlike anyone else. There was rarely a "pocket" -- the absence of which would sound the death knell for any other drummer -- but somehow with Townsend, of all people, holding down the rhythm while still slashing and burning and Entwistle exploring dark caverns of the unknown that most bass players couldn't get near, Moonie was free to conduct an orchestra back there. This is my favorite Who song, from my favorite Who album. It isn't necessarily Moonie's greatest performance, but for my ears, it's close. And like most of his best stuff, it starts rather mundanely, and then goes wild. Dig.

35 years today. Four years longer than he was ever around. Fuck.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

The unbearable lightness of shirking your duty

Just once, when a U.S. senator or rep votes, "Present," on an issue as important and morally significant as, say, killing people, I would like to see someone (anyone!) respond, "Thanks for checking in, asshole. We didn't see you sitting over there. Now which way are you voting?"

Or they could at least send this guy in.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A fitness goal is set, and a barrier to it removed

For the simple reason that the effect is blowing my mind, I have made reference to this subject a *lot* on Facebook lately (and if you aren't following me on the FB, how 'bout going here and throwing me a "like," hmmm?). So, if you are reading this and thinking, "What? Again with this shit?" then you have my apologies for, to quote Jimi Hendrix, "wasting all your precious time." But it may be helpful to a few people, which is, ostensibly, why I write here in the first place (secret: "a few people" includes me), so if it ain't yer thing, wompwompwomp.... and all that.

Anyway.... summertime being what it is, July and early August involved a greater amount of revelry for me than the months that preceded it. Mind you, I didn't actually get *drunk* at any point then. I haven't been drunk in so long that I can't actually tell you when I last was That Guy. (I fucking hate That Guy, by the way, which is why it has been so long). But, during that same time, with just a daily drink or two, I noticed that my stomach was bugging me more than usual. "Usual" isn't very bad, but I have always had a bit of reflux-y things going on -- less in the actual "reflux" category and more in the "vaguely gnawing pain" category, to be accurate -- and so, after a scope stuck in there from the top down showed some "cheap inflammation," to quote the doc who was driving that particular bus, four weeks ago I decided to heal my stuff up.

Principally, the idea was to remove all the potential irritants (coffee and alcohol, along with tomatoes, spicy stuff, etc. as well), take some "delicious" (read: awful)-tasting supplements and see where things went.

It has worked well. And it is still a work in progress. The full run of supplements, etc. isn't done yet, so I won't bore you with that regimen. (We'll save *that* level of excitement for another post). But it's been good. I drank black or green tea for the first few weeks, and was able to add coffee back in -- one cup, bulletproof, each morning -- pretty easily. But I kept the alcohol out. Because that seemed to be the principal stomach irritant? Maybe, but more because, out of nowhere, I began PR-ing every lift I did in the gym, nearly every day I am in there.

Honestly, it's ridiculous. I can't tell you what *all* the biochemical/physical processes at work are, but let's just say that it would appear that if I don't distract my liver with processing alcohol, it is just on crazy fucking super-efficient cruise control (that's CFSECC to the scientists) when it comes to supplying glycogen to muscles.

And it keeps getting better, as if the more time I have away from the sauce, the higher Zen plane of CFSECC my liver reaches in its role as supply depot on the Muscle Glycogen Highway. Yesterday I PR'd my front squat solidly enough for three reps at 275 that suddenly I got an idea.... A fitness goal. By and large, I don't have those. I am just in this game for health and longevity, and I think setting too many (or too extreme) fitness goals can distract (or even impede) you from the main prize: living long and being happy.

But a 300-pound front squat -- by the end of this year, for at least one rep -- would be pretty sweet for this 51-yr-old dude.

So I am going to continue this no-alcohol experiment for a while in pursuit of that vaunted (read: vaguely egomaniacal and utterly arbitrary) number. I am mentioning it here for two reasons: (1) it's a little closer to a blood oath when it's here for all to see, so when Christina Hendricks phones me up (like she always does) and asks me to drink whisky with her over a smart/flirtatious discussion of obscure, but important, grammar/usage rules, I'll have an additional reason to turn her down (like I always do), and (2) as a suggestion for a training tweak for those so inclined to try it.

I don't care whether you drink, but, even more than some of the other suggestions I offer here, ditching alcohol lately has had a particularly dramatic and immediate effect on my pursuit of happiness (which includes at least better-than-the-general-populace strength numbers). I can't keep my mouth shut when things works that well. What you choose to do with that info is your call, though, as always. I ain't yer poppa.

“There’s something about coffee where when I drink it I just instantly feel better. It’s the same thing I had with alcohol minus the shame.” -- Jon Wurster