Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Dan John -- Simple Strength, a.k.a. restarting my deadlift

Five or six years ago, this was me, deadlifting 425 pounds three times using a trap bar:


It's nothing spectacular (that third rep... as I say in the video: "Hooooooo!"), but it's pretty damn solid for a then-early-fifties dude who never made powerlifting anything other than just a way to stay strong. I wasn't competing, just lifting at a CrossFit gym. I bet you know someone that can deadlift a lot more. But more on-point is that you probably know a lot more who can't.

Fast forward to the present, and that "pretty damn solid" deadlifting person is not really me. I'm not weak by any means, but I am pretty sure that I've let my deadlift atrophy to the point of not being able to do anything close to what's in that video. The excuses pile up fast: I didn't have time because of work; I was doing a lot of (valuable) HIIT-style training; I got injured. Blah blah blah fucking blah....

I'm semi-retired now. I have time. I'd like to get my deadlift going again.

When I want to do something simple like "get stronger," my go-to person -- my guardo camino -- has always been Dan John. He's not fancy. He's just simple and direct. Currently, I would fail his basic test of being in really good shape: being able to deadlift 60 reps in 30 minutes at 315 pounds. I'd like to get to a point where I can do that again (yes, again; back when that video was filmed I could pass that 30-minute/60-rep/315-pound test).

So I found this Dan John article online.

It's called "Simple Strength." It's... simple. After warm-up, take the biggest weight that you can lift comfortably for five reps and, instead of five reps, do: 1-2-3 (with breaks) three total times (so 18 total reps). The reps should be easy-ish, not a struggle. Bump up the weight as it gets too easy.

I started last night (on a straight bar; I don't own a trap bar), and today I have that glorious just-slightly-sore post-deadlift feeling that I've been missing. I'm planning on deadlifting twice a week for now. I may never get back to three reps at 425. That's fine. I just want to recover what I can and be stronger than now.

And stay stronger than all those old dudes who don't deadlift.

Let's go.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Catching up.... with a question about the carnivore diet

Sometimes people email me questions. Usually I just respond directly, but I'm tellin' ya... that job that I just quit had me so busy that I was ignoring a lot of things that I usually pay attention to. One was my Paleo Drummer email account. Another, by the way, was the task of approving comments on this blog. I'll approve almost any comment, except spam, that is. But if I didn't have the comments set up the way they are to require approval, the comment section would be overrun with Viagra spam or, lately (why????), escort-service ads. Anyway, if you were waiting for your comment to be approved, it's been done. Or it's been rejected as spammy. Either way, I've slogged my way through that list. So now it's on to the mailbag....

I've gotten this question emailed to me a lot: "What's your opinion of the carnivore diet?"

My answer is neither entirely pro nor entirely con. I'll start by saying that my initial reaction was the same as a lot of yours: how the hell do you not end up with scurvy from eating just meat? I don't know what the "how" part of the answer is, but it seems that if you really just eat meat, somehow your Vitamin C requirements to avoid scurvy (which are reallllllly low anyway) get even lower. There are people who have been strictly adhering to a carnivore diet for 10, or even 20, years and they are not suffering from scurvy. On the other hand, if you eat some grains regularly and otherwise just eat meat -- in other words, if you don't go all-in on carnivore and half-ass it -- you may find your Vitamin C needs are higher than for the all-carnivores and you may have a deficiency in that regard. Why? I do not know. I'm not a doctor, or a biochemist. But it appears that if your sole concern is scurvy, super strict adherence to the carnivore diet is not likely to be the first train to Scurvyville for you.

On the other hand, the pluses of the carnivore diet seem real. Reduced body fat, higher energy, super low triglycerides, weight loss if that's what you're looking for. Honestly, the benefits seem, most of the time, to be almost exactly the same benefits as you'd get from eating strict very-low-carb paleo, but they are the real deal.
 
My best guess is that the reason people who are metabolically damaged see such spectacular results from going all-in carnivore are mostly the very same reasons the same type of drastic improvement occurs with a Whole 30 or all-in paleo. Elimination diets do wonders for short-term results. There is a huge benefit to ditching grains and sugar.

So have I considered going all-carnivore? I have. But I'm not likely to do it for two reasons. First, one of the principal reasons I'm not a vegetarian or [shudder] a vegan is because I think that vegetarianism and veganism often leave you lacking in important nutrients, particularly B-12. I feel the same way about the lack of antioxidant intake for a carnivore diet. Vegetables, particularly organic ones, are a rich and varied source of antioxidants that are plainly beneficial. Can you live without them? Sure. Should you though? I really haven't figured out why you would want to unless you are a rare one-percenter for whom all vegetables seem to be a gut irritant.

The second reason I'm not all-carnivore is just because I like eating meat and vegetables too much, and I feel great eating that way. Eating only meat is, for me, going to rob me of some of the joy of food to a degree that I'm not interested in it and I can't imagine the pluses are going to outweigh that minus. (On the other hand, eliminating most carbs is a huge plus for me. I feel way better low-carb than I do eating grains regularly). It's all about weighing the individual costs and benefits. If I ate only meat, eating meat would seem like a job, and I'm against turning food prep and the act of eating into a job. As I've said before in other contexts, I'd eat dirt if you can convince me it's a great idea in terms of costs versus benefits. But I'm, so far, unconvinced on this one that it's for me. I'm good with mostly meat and greens.

However, am I telling you not to go carnivore? Of course not. I think you should try it if it interests you. See how you do on it. You may love it. You may live a long and healthy life that way. I have friends who are all-carnivore or 98% carnivore (with the remaining 2% just a few greens and berries). My doctor is mostly carnivore, fercryinoutloud. Give it a shot. Hell, I feel the same way about veganism. Try it. See what happens. There's enough sucks/rules dogmatic bullshit and food-related hysteria out there already. But there's your answer -- for me. I'm not likely to jump on that train anytime soon. I'm good with low-carb paleo/primal eating. Cheers.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Well... That was a bad idea. Time to reconsider. And move forward.

I've led a sort of charmed life when it comes to employment. When I retired last December from a 30-ish-year stint as a public defender, I could honestly say that I'd never had a job that I didn't like. Really, never. When I was in high school and college, I worked as a stock guy at a KMart, as a cashier at a convenience store, and as a data-entry guy at an office. I liked all those jobs just fine. They served their purpose -- cash for the money-strapped student -- and I am still friends with some coworkers from way back then. As a lawyer, I went from judicial law clerk to a stint in a private firm to a career as a public defender and I loved every one of those jobs too.

So back in January, when I wrote this article, I made a joke about possibly hating a new lawyer gig that I was taking on -- a public-interest position in Philly.

But that was gallows humor. I didn't really believe that I'd hate that job.

Well, shit.... As it turns out, I hated that job.

It was a confluence of blech -- a lot of hours away from home, work that I wasn't crazy about, and a strange prison-like solitude because of the odd structure of the office where my work group was small and stuffed into an office with a larger group that knew nothing of what we were doing.

Seriously, other than some of the people, whom I genuinely liked, I really hated that job.

So I quit. After only five months.

Now it's time to sort out what "retirement" really means for me. Once again, I'm lucky: I bring home a large percentage of my former salary thanks to a pension. So that frees me up to, well, dabble. There will be some law -- I'm still really good at that, particularly in New Jersey, where I practiced law for more than three decades before the unfortunate detour into Pennsylvania. But there will be vacations to take, and bands to play in -- I'm in three of those right now: one, two, and three. I've even decided to offer myself up to friends (who live in cool places) as an occasional live-in dogsitter. And there will certainly be more time for the gym and yoga.

And maybe, just maybe, there will be a lot more writing here. I'm not going to promise you anything reckless like a daily post, but I really want to get back to the frequency of, say, 2014 or so when it comes to spewing my blahblahblah on this page. It's fun and sometimes creative. Occasionally I even say something smart. And I meet more of you that way. Really!

I'll end by quoting Frank Costanza -- not for the first time:


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Stepping up to the brain challenge



It's a repeating theme in my head: I'm running out of time.

No, not imminently (that I know of), but I'm 56 years old. If I'm really lucky, I'll get 30 or so more very healthy years on the planet. What am I going to do with that time?

As I told you a few months ago, I recently "retired" from a job, as a public-interest lawyer, that I had for almost 30 years. When I decided to leave, I hadn't nailed down exactly what the next step was. But I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to keep my brain busy.

Just about every study/article/conclusion on healthy aging involves an active mind. Gray matter will rot, figuratively speaking, if not stimulated.

Well... here comes the stimulation: shortly after I made the retirement decision, a public-interest law practice in Philly chased me down and made me a full-time offer. I accepted. So I "retired" for all of two months, and I'm headed back to work, in a different state, doing work that is related to my old work, in a very general sense, but it's really not the same kind of job.

"You understand that basically no one does what you're about to do? No one jumps jurisdictions at age 56 and takes on a whole new body of law. This move is going to be amazing for your brain." That was a friend telling me the positives of the new gig. "No one" is an exaggeration, but the point is a solid one. My aging brain will be still on the move, and that's awesome.

But it's going to be a hell of a challenge too. There's a reason that "no one does what [I'm]] about to do": because it's really hard work. I'm a very good lawyer. But, unlike my old job, where I already knew 98% of what I needed to do the job, this one has required me to realize that I have a lot of information to amass in a short time. I know New Jersey law; Pennsylvania is a land of mystery, so to speak.

So the last few weeks, I've been studying up. I've spent at least a few hours each day, sometimes a lot more, reading (and reading and reading...) case law with which I was previously mostly unfamiliar. I'm entering a new arena.

It's a little daunting.

It's also exhilarating and cool. And really, I don't screw around when it comes to being prepared. I don't know if "most people" would start prepping three to four weeks in advance for a new job, but I'm not most people, and prepping is exactly what I've been doing.

If I'm lucky, I balance this job with all the fun creative things I do as a drummer, and my brain is so awash in endorphins, challenges, and growth that I am -- to quote a tattoo artist who made me laugh when he applied the phrase to me -- "crushing life."

Or I suppose that I could hate it.

I'm about to find out. Wish me luck. My brain already is thanking me.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

An "aging" podcast that's well worth your time, or: how eating paleo/primal matters a lot more as you get older

As I've been heard to say: "As you get older, don't eat like a six-year-old and don't drink like a college student."

Here's some science behind that concept:

I started playing catch-up with some Robb Wolf podcasts recently and stumbled on this one. Wow. What a keeper.

Dr. Michael Rose's research, which he describes at length in the podcast, has led to the conclusion that aging represents a cessation of adaptation. Translated, from a dietary perspective: at a certain age, our bodies cease to be able to handle certain neolithic foods as well as we previously have.

So, while no one should be eating crappy processed Frankenfood at any age, younger folks can do fine, even thrive, on a wide-ranging diet that is not remotely paleolithic. However, at a certain point -- Rose says between 30 and 50 years old for most people -- the ability to handle that neolithic food load decreases sharply.

In other words, between ages 30 and 50, the *adaptation* to neolithic foods disappears and those foods become a significant source of inflammation and aging. His prescription: eat paleo as you get older than 30, and certainly by age 50.

The concept makes sense to me. I watch 20-something friends shovel in all sorts of things that I wouldn't eat now, and they do so without significant current consequence. When I ate those things in my thirties and early forties, I got heavier, softer, less-athletic, and generally less healthy. When I went paleo in 2010 at age 46, things changed quickly for the better. I leaned out, gained energy, and generally felt stronger and more alive.

You probably knew the basic idea already: when you get to a certain age, you cannot eff around with bad food and drink like you used to. Dr. Rose's research provides a strong genetic/evolutionary-science basis for that "obvious" fact.

Link to the podcast is here.

Friday, December 28, 2018

I do yoga because I suck at yoga

 "Adult humans are really bad about sticking with something that is good for them, but that they aren't great at. Doing something difficult requires strength. Be strong. "
-- my yoga teacher this morning, dropping a truth bomb.

*************

For a while now, I've been operating under the theory that we are happiest if we are really good, even great, at at least two things. It helps if one of those things is the way the person makes a living -- you know, a skill that leaves you able to afford food/housing/etc. at a level that makes you happy/comfortable or at least takes away some worries. I also think that, ideally, the second thing ought to be a hell of a lot of fun. (Obviously, if you're lucky enough to combine fun and making a living, you get some sort of Life Bonus Points).

I'm doing OK on both of those fronts. I've always been pretty accomplished at my attorney day gig. And I've become a pretty damn good drummer too. "10,000 hours," and all that.

But lately I've been thinking about another category: doing something that you suck at. Because if "relentless self-improvement" is the goal -- hint: it is; it really is -- just improving the things that you're already great at seems like cheating, or selling yourself short.

**************

I've been going to the same yoga studio for the last three years, and they're closing. No big deal, right? Just find another, you say. There are tons of yoga places around. OK, sure. So I shopped a bit, looking for a mix of different types of classes, at convenient times, etc. And I found a studio that seems to fit the bill.

When I got out of the chilled-out/hippie comfort zone of my usual yoga place, I was then almost immediately reminded of one thing: good lord, I suck at yoga.

I'm 56 years old. Despite being in generally good shape -- healthy, decently strong, good aerobic capacity, etc. -- I have arthritis in both knees, both shoulders and at least my right elbow (and probably the left one too). That right elbow is also damaged enough from 37 years of drumming that it doesn't allow my right arm to fully straighten in a locked-out position. I was at the old yoga place -- a quiet studio with a mostly older clientele -- for so long that I sort of forgot how many rungs down the proverbial ladder of yoga skills I am. I can get left in the dust pretty quickly.

At the new place, a lot more than at the old one, the proverbial dust and I get a little time together quite often, while the rest of the class plows ahead at full speed. The clients here are all ages, and all skill levels, but mostly they are much more accomplished at yoga than I am. It's a humbling exercise to be practicing at this studio.

**************

But yoga is not about competition, you might say (and you'd be right). Sometimes, being a bit of an overly-competitive jackass, I have to remind myself of that fact over and over. "YOGA IS NOT ABOUT COMPETITION," I mentally yell to my inner self as I wait for class to begin and the room fills with beautiful people who can accomplish twisty/bendy things with their bodies that appear to be flat-out sorcery.

I mostly focus inward and, depending on the class and the teacher, struggle somewhere between a little and a lot.

But, in the new studio, I'm already learning cool new things too: like that doing yoga when the room is already warm-ish and there is also a giant infrared lamp turned on does crazy positive things to both my state of mind and my flexibility. That ginormous glowing infrared lamp doesn't heat the room. Nope, in its own bit of sorcery, it heats the people in the room but not the room itself. My only prior experience, a couple years ago, with "hot yoga" was in a grossly humid studio that was so unpleasant that we were one small step from doing yoga in Satan's armpit (or close to this). The infrared experience is nothing like that. Or at least the humidity/armpit part is removed. You get really warm; you sweat; but you do not feel like you are in a rain forest. The heat comes from within because the lamp heats your insides. I told you: sorcery. Wonderful wonderful sorcery.

Just the other day, in an infrared class, instead of mentally mumbling, "Oh I don't think so," to myself when the teacher suggested transitioning one difficult pose into another tougher one, I just... did the harder pose. When sweat is pouring out of me, I am not thinking about anything else. I'm in the moment -- you know, that place we're always supposed to be?

*************

But this post is about sucking at something, not about success, and let's not pretend -- despite small gains being made in the mental and flexibility arenas -- that I don't suck at yoga. I definitely suck at yoga.

But here's the thing: in a Zen trick of sorts, that's kind of the point, hmmm? Somewhere, even amidst the modest improvements, there is an ever-present thought that no matter how much yoga I practice, I am never going to be able to do whatever the hell that pose was that the teacher showed us at one point today. And that's OK.

Really, it's not just OK; it's why I keep moving forward.

It's fine to do things that you're good at, and it's even better to get really good at those things, but sometimes -- despite my reflexive recoil against such new-agey phrases -- it really is the journey and not the destination that's important. That concept right there is why I do yoga: because I suck at yoga, the "journey" will be an endless path forward, and forward is a good direction. Indeed it's the only direction worth going.


Monday, December 17, 2018

When the going gets tough....

"This was us all on the planet lamenting the loss of a man who was a master human being. And the density of that loss is of great weight: a mass of massive missingness."
--Howe Gelb (1994) in the Pioneertown Sun lamenting the death of friend and collaborator Pappy Allen.

"The massive missingness." That wordsmithery stuck with me all these years. Mired in New Jersey at the time -- in every way not romanticized by the Artist Formerly Known as Mr. Julianne Phillips -- I never read that particular issue, or any other, of the Cali-desert-based Pioneertown Sun. But I was a big fan of Gelb's band Giant Sand -- deeply obsessed with their then-current album, Glum -- and I must have read an interview with him, likely in Option Magazine (speaking of obsessions), where he employed that phrase. I read that line, dug it, remembered it, and put it into the tool kit, filed under: "Don't overuse."

******
More than once in the blahblahbloggery of these many years, I've made reference to my alleged superpower: mostly I look forward, not back. That approach is mostly positive, some sort of nod to the wisdom of Zen. I am generally not bogged down in the slop of the past. Hell, I can't even stay angry with anyone for very long. I'm just driving toward that shiny thing on the horizon, figuring that we've all been through some shit and that we'll all break through it. Or not -- and having watched the "or not" play itself out in the lives of others is a scary incentive for me to rarely look back much at all, and almost never at losses.

Or at present-tense losses to be.

*******
I'm usually someone that bangs out a blog post pretty quickly. But not this one. I wrote a little and then it has sat, untouched, for a few weeks. When I first began this post, I wrote what you see above and also the following bit:

"In a few days, I'm out the door at a job as an attorney that I've had for 29 years.

I'm not leaving because I'm burnt out, or feel myself slipping, or winding down. (More here if you really care about the reasoning).

More than one person has noted to me that I don't seem very sentimental, and that others are a lot more sentimental about me leaving than I am.

I plead (mostly) guilty. And here is your explanation: forward means forward, and the fear of the massive missingness is strong. We all build up walls. They aren't all bad. Some are extremely useful. This particular 'always forward' mentality is generally a good one in that regard."

*********
Well, non-sentimentality and forward thinking was the plan anyway.... I thought I could just plow through all those feelings in a Cyborg-like way.

But then my job threw me two different retirement parties, and I got to thinking -- always dangerous, I know -- and I got a little better realization of how some people were really positively affected by my work over the years, and how much we'd miss each other. Sure enough, the Guy Who Doesn't Really Do the Past got forced to take the past into account. The "massive missingness" was present more than I expected.

It took about a week post-job, but, damn, when the "feels" hit after all those goodbyes those feelings were truly something. Like all sources of stress in my life, this particular one visited most prominently at 3 am one night, and then the next night again. Despite being "retired" -- supposedly free from the bullshit demands of a job, at least temporarily (more on that in another post -- we can't cover everything in this one) -- I was a bit of a sleep-derived mess after just a couple nights like that.

**********
If you've been around these parts for very long, you'll know just what I decided to do next:
re-start my meditation practice.

"WHY DID YOU EVER STOP?' some of you are yelling at me. Because, like most of us, I have -- I dunno -- shit to do, and, like some of us, I usually feel pretty good most of the time. So I get lazy. When I have lots on my plate and I am not feeling bad, I often slowly but surely lapse out of daily meditation.

Ironically, just two days before I left work at the old job forever, we had a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar on mindfulness for attorneys. It was run by a guy named Jon Krop, and his meditation pitch was simple -- very close to what I've previously said on these pages, actually (and, yes, then ignored myself) -- and direct: just do it, every day. A strong theme of Krop's talk was that repetition is more important than duration. In other words, ten minutes of meditation every day is far more valuable than a whole lot of meditation crammed into one day a week.

Krop is specifically a proponent of morning meditation, for a basic reason: it just fits better into the day. "Just do it first thing," he urged us, "Before anything else." I decided to give that strategy a shot. I'm a nighttime/before-bed meditator traditionally, but, as I've made clear, I'm also known for ditching meditation too easily sometimes. "Too tired to meditate" is an easy excuse just before bed. Maybe my morning routine could start with 10-15 minutes of meditation? Maybe I'll keep at it for a longer while that way? I jumped back in.

**********
Unsurprisingly, the results have been spectacular. Yes, I've had all the usual thoughts that I never should have stopped meditating. But the stressful 3 a.m. wakeups also immediately vanished. I learned to address some of those "missingness" feelings more head-on than I'd been doing. Hell, I even made a few changes to my fitness routine to get me to the gym and to yoga more often than I'd been going in the last couple of months.

It's almost like when your head is stress-free (or at least lower-stress), you make better decisions more often. Almost exactly like that.

Granted, restarting meditation for me is like the proverbial bicycle ride; I never "forget" how to meditate. That's because I've been at it for years. A few months away? No big deal. I just settle in, and let that wave of calm wash over me and, yeah, I invariably wonder what my damn problem is that I quit too easily. But it's not a struggle to restart. If you've never been as deeply into a meditation routine, your mileage may vary in that regard.

But really, whether you are an experienced practitioner or not, Mr. Krop has the one critical part of meditation right: just do it, every day. Repetition is the key to success.

Maybe we should start another meditation challenge soon? I think so. More on that idea soon. In the meantime, I'll be staying the course, every morning.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cutting the Cord, a.k.a. Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space

Honestly, it's a little weird.

I've been in the same job for 29 years, and I'm leaving in two months.

Thanks to a retirement system that I never used to think about when I was younger, I don't have to get a new job to have enough money to live on. I'm a lucky man, and I'm grateful as hell.

But I'll almost certainly keep working in some form or other.

I'm leaving because I have pretty solid info that moves are afoot -- among those who have the power to make such moves -- to change aspects of that very retirement system in a way that would cost me a lot of money if I stick around. It would be a ridiculous and foolish risk to stay -- or so say those who advise me on financial decisions. The math on leaving adds up -- easily -- whereas the math on staying makes the obvious sentimentality of that potential course of action seem something close to reckless.

**************
By the way, in case you can't tell, I'm being intentionally vague. If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll know that we don't ever talk about my day job as a lawyer here. I'm trying to maintain that facade, for now anyway.
**************

OK, it's probably closer to really weird. I'm really good at my day job. I could keep doing it forever.

But it's also exhilarating as hell to be free-falling, with a giant safety net below me.

I'm 56 years old and in two months I can do whatever I want.

Have I mentioned the exhilaration part of the deal?

I'm in two bands. I do volunteer work. I teach. Add in travel, gym, yoga, playing sports, etc., and I don't think I'll be anything close to bored. Last night I had a few ciders with a guy that works in a law office that I might want to join one day. Or not. I can also just handle individual cases once I'm "retired." There's talk of relocating to the Mountain West some day.

Hell, there might even be a book in me. There could be some freelancing or other work in the "paleo" world.

None of these things could come true, or all of them, or, more likely, something somewhere in between.

The exhilaration is real. The uncertainty is pretty cool.

 It's time to have (more) fun (than ever). Let's go.
















Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Little Garage Gym That Could

In June 2010, I quit the standard-issue gym where I'd been keeping myself in okay shape, and I showed up at 7 a.m. at a one-car garage in the suburban town of Cherry Hill, NJ, ready to try CrossFit.

These were the early days -- for New Jersey anyway -- of CrossFit. At the time, there were two CF gyms in the area, and I chose the upstart for a really simple reason: I was fairly sure that I was a decently fast runner for an old guy, but I otherwise didn't know anything about barbells. So, my brain reasoned, I could embarrass myself a lot less at a smaller CrossFit gym, especially a new one. We'd all be newbies in this thing together, sucking toward some higher goal, right? Right.

When I say, "One-car garage," I shit you not. This wasn't one of those sort of 1.5-wide garages where you could keep the beer fridge on one side of the car and maybe a folded-up ping-pong table on the other side and still have room to open your car door. Nope. One car. One. (Count it). To make room, the car was parked outside. There was a pullup bar. One. There was a barbell and there were some weight plates. There might have been two barbells, actually. There were some dumbbells and a fucked-up-looking thing or two that I later learned was called a kettlebell.

I remember a few very specific things about that morning:

--Justin and Alycia, the owners, were really nice, enthusiastic, and ready to talk all things CrossFit at the drop of a hat. As a new convert, so was I, so the CF-oriented yapping was exactly what I wanted.

--Justin played loud music and also told me that he played bass in a band. Now we were getting somewhere. CrossFit and music/band talk? Sign me up. (I signed up).

--I deadlifted for the first time ever. Dude. Deadlifting. I felt like Barney in the Simpsons when he has that first drink ever and yells, "Whoa. Where ya been all my life?" It was like Jesus, the Buddha, and the Quaker Oats man had all shone their little lights -- or whatever it is that they do -- on me simultaneously. I was hooked. This deadlifting was a thing I could get into. It was nothing like Olympic lifts -- cleans, snatches, or jerks -- all of which seemed at the time more like magic tricks than actual achievable feats. Deadlifting was just digging in, with the right basic form, and standing up while holding a heavy thing that had been on the floor. I've never stopped loving deadlifts. Ever.

When I joined CrossFit Aspire, I think I was the fourth member. I learned a lot. I got really fit, not just runner fit. I eventually, a few years later, got a three-rep deadlift at 425 pounds that made my then-51-year-old self pretty effing happy.

But back to 2010. Fast forward to the end of that first year and there were enough people showing up on a regular basis that Justin and Alycia ditched the garage for a rented space. The new place seemed huge.

A year later the gym got even bigger, moving to a much larger space. That one seemed extra huge.

From 2010 through 2015 -- when an injury sidelined me enough that I quit CF altogether -- CrossFit Aspire, whether located in a garage or a giant warehouse, was a centerpiece of my life. CrossFit gyms are rarely just gyms. They have parties and dinners and pig roasts and generally become an important part of a member's social life.  Even after I quit, my wife remained an Aspire member and we still hung out with lots of CF friends fairly often.

My wife got an email yesterday that CrossFit Aspire is closing -- for good -- in less than two weeks. The gym world is rough, and never stays the same for long. A thriving enterprise one year is yesterday's news the next year. I don't even know all the details. I just know all that matters: that consistently, without fail, over the years Justin and Alycia ran a top-notch facility where the nice people were in charge and attracted a clientele that includes some of the best people I know.

Impermanence is a repeating-theme blues in all of our lives, and gratitude is not overrated. So you cherish the good times and the people that made them. And you move on, but always remember. Thanks, CrossFit Aspire. "You changed my life for the better" might sound trite. Nope. Really. You did.






Sunday, September 9, 2018

Live Review: The Jesus Lizard, Philly, September 8, 2018

"Oh, stop!" were the first words out of David Yow's mouth last night in Philadelphia as his band, the Jesus Lizard, took the stage at a sold-out Union Transfer and he waved his hand dismissively in a faux gesture of humility. A few seconds later the rest of the band was off into the crushing riffage of "Puss," and he was off as well: off the stage -- horizontally riding the crowd as he delivered his vocal chaos -- seemingly off balance, and off the hook. Within a few more minutes, as the band ground another song to a simultaneously punishing and precise halt, another Yow emerged.

The faux humility was gone. He knew they were killing it:

"Amazing. Fucking amazing," Yow said in wonderment of his bandmates. "I am SO HAPPY for you people to get to see this." And then a wry smirk came across his face: "This has to be the highlight of your life. I mean, after all, you live in Philadelphia."
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"One [Steve] Albini trademark was to mix the vocals very low -- on the Jesus Lizard albums that Albini recorded, singer David Yow sounds like a kidnap victim trying to howl through the duct tape over his mouth; the effect is horrific." --Michael Azerrad ("Our Band Could Be Your Life")
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My attempts to describe the sound of the Jesus Lizard invariably end up at some sort of melange of noise and math rock -- maybe the Butthole Surfers and Fugazi had a love child? (That's reasonably close, actually). But I most like what my rock-critic friend Mark Deming just today said about the band: "An amazing balance of precision and chaos."

Yeah. That's the one. Precision and chaos.

Mac McNeilly (drums) and David Wm. Sims (bass) lay down a thunderous groove, often in time signatures that seem familiar, but which then veer off to something more unsettling -- after which they return to the familiar. Repeat, ad infinitum. The two are so inextricably bound together that I just assume that they eat meals at the same time even when they are thousands of miles apart. They sound a little bit like it would if, in a cartoon, you threw a perfectly-tuned drum kit and bass guitar down the stairs, and they landed together. The rumble is frantic, but with the exacting perfection of genius musicians.

Over top of that rhythm ride two things, one providing shimmering texture and one... uh, not. Duane Denison's guitar is the texture. While McNeilly and Sims roar and seeth, Denison adds flavor, sometimes joining in the musical brutality of the rhythm section, but more often operating in (somewhat) more ethereal tones.

When I first heard this band, I thought vocalist David Yow's name was Yowl. It would fit. He provides most of the chaos. Yow speaks, growls, screams, and occasionally sings the words. Most of the time, I have to look up the lyrics; sometimes when I do, I wish I hadn't.

I knew all that -- I've owned this band's records for years -- but nothing prepared me for the first time I saw them live.

That first time -- inexplicably (I have no excuse) -- was last night.

Christ, it was powerful. It was, no shit, one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. My thesaurus is broken. I have no more words. Everything I just said about the nearly disturbing power of this band? In the live context, it's increased by several orders of magnitude. These men are all in their late fifties, just a couple years older than I am, but McNeilly attacks the drums with the testosterone-fueled aggression of a teenager and Yow spends song after song stage diving while continuing to vocalize as the crowd passes him around. Sims and Denison are less physically aggressive than their bandmates, but their musical delivery is no less precise, mathematical, and deadly.

I really don't know that in 41 years of seeing bands that I've ever seen anything better than the Jesus Lizard last night. And they went on for 26 songs -- 15 in the regular set and then three multisong encores. I believe the set was the same exact order as this one, but I'll post the Philly setlist when it gets published.

Ordinarily, I'd tell you what the very biggest highlights of the evening were, but every single song fit that bill. Yes, 26 strategic blasts of perfect tactical chaos. I'm a drummer; I've played in bands for years, and I simply don't know how they pulled off that sustained intensity for a whole set, and I don't know, specifically, how Mac McNeilly isn't in the fucking hospital, or, at a minimum, on long-term doses of anti-inflammatories.

I hit the drums really fucking hard, harder than most guys my age. But Mac hits them harder. Sometimes most of the joints in my body ache as a result of the way I play. In fact they ache so hard that a soon-to-be post will address the relative wonders of CBD oil for chronic pain. But... Mac, dude, sir, I do not know how the hell you do what you do. But please keep doing it.

This band is a multiheaded hydra of power and precision. And, yeah, chaos too. They have no peers.

It may take weeks for me to fully recover from this one.

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