Wednesday, December 22, 2010

25 years since D. Boon....

All over the web today, you will see a lot of Joe Strummer tributes, and deservedly so. Joe was a great musician and a great guy. But many of my thoughts today are elsewhere. D. Boon died 25 years ago today. Take a moment to remember the man. Ask yourself the pivotal question, "What would D. Boon do?" And never, ever forget that for a brief period of time, the Minutemen were the best band on the planet with the best damn album you (n)ever heard -- Double Nickels on the Dime. Then, if you're in the mood, you can go back and read my Minutemen tribute if you missed it the first time. Stop by here if you want to see a band ruthlessly attack two songs in under two minutes. Go here if you want to see six more detonated in under 12 minutes.  And then watch the trailer for the Minutemen documentary, "We Jam Econo," which is, not coincidentally, the best damn rock doc you (n)ever saw. I miss ya, D. I'll be playing Minutemen all day long, with brief Clash interludes, of course..

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas, hold the politics....

I like this time of year -- y'know Christmas time. I'm not a religiously-inclined person (but I'm OK with you whether you are or you aren't; in fact, I think everyone ought to be free to follow his or her own path in that regard without interference from anyone), but one thing baffles me -- people who get all wound one way or the other up about Christmas. Some of those people are followers of other religions; some are non-believers and probably some are liberal Christians who think that in order to accommodate every religious belief (or non-belief) we need to keep the foot of society firmly planted on the throat of Christmas so it doesn't get too, I dunno, Christmas-y? Others are really devout Christians who oh-so-sure there's an anti-Christian conspiracy out there trying to, what's the phrase, "take Christ out of Christmas" or something like that?

Look, at this point in history, particularly American history, Christmas is, from a public-policy/governmental perspective, a secular holiday. Governmental agencies, libraries, etc are all closed, and it's not because government is bowing down in homage to Jesus. It's because a whole lot of us, theists and otherwise, celebrate the holiday with family and friends and want a day off to do it. Yup, some of those people also celebrate for religious reasons; some just like hanging out with people they love and exchanging gifts. Whatever floats yer boat. What's more punk-rock than a little freedom to celebrate a holiday as just a holiday or, if you choose, a holy day?

So why do some people get so bent out of shape about either the phrase "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays," hmmm? May I suggest that both camps need to get a life? Very few (OK, none?) of the people wishing you, the non-Christian, a "merry Christmas" are in fact speaking code that says, "Have a great day (improperly) celebrating a Christian holy day (jackass)!" They are just wishing you a nice Christmas day, season, etc. That's all. They are being nice. They aren't implying that you do (or ought to) believe in any Christian tenets. Conversely, those who wish you, the devout Christian, a "happy holiday" are not secretly speaking in code that says, "Jesus is dumb. You are dumb. I hate Christianity. Why do you believe that stuff, anyway?"

Lighten up, kids, and just enjoy a great time of year. You could spend more time being nice to people that way, which would fit in well with the season no matter what you believe in.

Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I like the idea; let's see if it has any impact at all
It's a fascinating concept. Don't lose your political point of view or your passion. Just lose the vehemence and anger. I'll be watching closely to see if it picks up steam because I certainly like the idea.

I do not understand the estate tax, Sam-I-am

Libertarian-ish types often get wound up about taxes. I'm not really one of those people. Sure, I like my taxes low, but I also get that there are many essential services to pay for. Unlike my liberal friends, I would consider replacing the income tax with a value-added/sales tax on consumption. Unlike conservatives, tax policy isn't the first thing I generally rail about. I never thought the Bush tax cuts in the middle of a war were a good idea, but, now that we are clearly still in an economic downturn, I can't see repealing 'em either. But, by and large, I am somewhere in the middle on taxes.

With one exception....

I simply do not understand the principle behind the estate tax, and, so, I don't think there should be one. Ever. Liberals get bent out of shape when you call it a "death tax," but that's exactly what it is. See, the estate tax is not an "inheritance tax." It doesn't tax the people who get the money passed on to them. Rather, it taxes the dead guy's (or gal's) money before the estate is ever split up. Literally the act of dying causes the feds to swoop in and say, "Before you start distributing that, give the government its share."


I understand income taxes. You earned some money; pay your share. But how does dying constitute a taxable event? No money was earned by the dead guy (the estate) for dying. And the money was already taxed when it was earned. And, yes, I know that only estates over a certain size pay the tax (actually in 2010, no one paid, and that's how it ought to stay, but word is that the compromise currently being struck will have the feds taking 35% of every estate over $5 million), but unless your goal is federally mandated wealth redistribution (I think we can all guess how I feel about government having that sort of power), the estate tax is an abomination -- some sort of atavism to the days when the king came riding through to take his little (or not so little) bit of everything.

It's theft, plain and simple.

So, don't get sucked in by the (Sen, I-VT) Bernie Sanders-ish types of the world who include the reinstatement of the estate tax in their laundry list of Things That Have To Happen To Achieve True Justice. That's crap, complete crap. A government that can take anyone's money for the simple act of dying is a government that has way too much power.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CrossFit...more proof that it works

I've previously gone all blahblahblah on you on the wonders of CrossFit as a fitness system, but yesterday I learned, once again, just how good it is. See, I used to be a runner years ago, but the daily grind really wore me down. Once I hit my forties, my joints were always sore and the repetitive-motion injuries that daily distance running was causing me were simply not worth it. Eventually, I started doing anything but run -- ellipticals, stair climbers, whatever. Then I started doing CrossFit, ditched all the old gym routines and went whole-hog with their integrated system of strength training and metcons that involved all sorts of fast, intense intervals of rowing, sprinting, weights, etc. Yesterday it paid off.

I ran the Haddon Township, NJ Turkey Trot, and, as an experiment, did absolutely no distance running beforehand other than ordinary CrossFit training, in which the longest "distance" I ran was one mile consisting of 4x400m as part of a larger metcon workout. The last time I ran as far as 5k before yesterday was the Warrior Dash on October 10 of this year. OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I should make clear that, when training for that race (i.e., the Warrior Dash back in October) I once ran 4.5 miles, and once ran 5k, divided up into 12-400m runs separated by pushups, pullups, lunges, etc., but, still, in the last year, prior to yesterday, I'm sure I hadn't run more than 15 miles total for the whole year, and it's probably more like 10. Just CrossFit, baby.

And it worked out great. I was never a speed demon, and I haven't run a 5k in years, but I still came in at 22:57 (or, if you believe the stupid chip timer that didn't work right, 23:02), which is less than a minute slower than a 5k that I ran when I was eight years younger and, most importantly, running all the time. And I know I could have run faster yesterday, but I held back just a little because the course was so badly marked that I never saw a one-mile or two-mile marker and was vaguely freaked out wondering how far we'd gone. So anyway, whoo-hoo CrossFit! You made a non-runner like me run almost as fast as when I was a daily runner. And I am not nearly as sore. Nice.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"It would all be so much easier (and nicer, and, yes, higher quality) if we controlled things for you...."

This past week, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), told us how much more "quality" news there would be on television if only the FCC would assert its regulatory self and take FOX News and MSNBC off the air, presumably for the crime of being too opinionated for a "news" channel. Jay apparently is pining for a bygone age of Cronkite, et al, which is fine if all he's doing is pining, but suggesting that the government ought to step into the speech wars in "our" best interest is tantamount to a full-on assault on the First Amendment.

I'm not a FOX News guy at all; I watch a little MSNBC, primarily "Morning Joe" because I think Scarborough has a reasonably accurate finger on the pulse of the independent vote in this country (you know, the one that controls national elections that you might have heard me mention before). But I will go toe-to-toe with anyone who wants to strip either of these channels of its respective right to broadcast. I don't care how "faux" their "news" is. I understand -- it's political opinion under the guise of "news." I get it, but it's still political opinion -- the very thing the First Amendment is intended to protect, no matter how noxious, dopey or otherwise offensive that opinion may be. The mere notion that a sitting U.S. senator could conceive of trying to put a sock in the mouth of a TV network under the guise (or even the honest goal) of "protecting" us or raising the "quality" of news is enough to make me quite certain that I don't want to see that senator hold his or her job for very long, regardless of party affiliation.

If you want to read more about this flap from the perspective of a Denver Post columnist, go here. If you want to be not surprised at all that Jay Rockefeller is trying to regulate cable news content, go here and learn that he's been at this sort of thing for a while now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mogwai Fear Nothing

Last night, I sat down with a freshly-bought copy of Mogwai's Burning movie. It's a 48-minute, black and white concert film spliced together from a three-day run the Scottish (mostly) instrumental quintet did at the Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn back in April 2009. The easiest way to get it is as a bonus DVD disc to the recently-released live CD Special Moves.

It's taken me a little while to reach this point, but, holy jebus, Mogwai is good at what they do. And the movie enhances every aspect of their considerable attack. My initial thoughts on the band were formed a few years back when I bought a couple albums, liked 'em fine, but dismissed them a bit as just another band working a loud/soft thing. Well, yeah, they are "working a loud/soft thing," but they clearly are not "just another band,' and there's a lot more to them than loud/soft -- particularly just enough rhythmic complexity to be interesting as hell without lapsing into proggy King Crimson-isms (not that I don't have an occasional weakness for those, mind you).

Burning takes all of that rhythmic and dynamic tension and ups the ante with wild/weird/closeup camera angles that start as disorienting and distorting and end up placing the viewer not merely in a front-row position, but onstage, up-close and personal. As a drummer, I particularly gravitated to the many shots that hovered just inches above a ride or hi-hat cymbal, or occasionally backed off just enough to give Martin Bulloch the chance to thrash and pound with precision, all seemingly only an arm's reach away from the camera.

You feel like you are in the band at many points of this film ... like on the super-quiet bit of "Mogwai Fear Satan" where the band members exchange knowing glances, after which feet tap pedals and the world of near-silence disappears into a cataclysmic explosion of sound and light. It is awe-inspiring.

And the pacing of the film could hardly be better. Things start slowly and deliberately with "The Precipice" and "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead," falter ever-so-slightly with the only vocal song in the film, "Hunted By a Freak," and then take off, never looking back, and barely breathing for air, with a five-song run of "Like Herod," "New Paths to Helicon, Pt1," "Mogwai Fear Satan," "Scotland's Shame," and "Batcat" that left me reeling.

Interspersed throughout the between-song bits are shots of the area around the venue, jarring the viewer even more by quickly jumping back to the onstage closeups only seconds later.

It's an amazing movie, maybe even the best pure concert film I've ever seen, and it has me just a little sad that it's still five months until these guys come to Philly. I already have my tickets, and I suggest you get yours.

VIDEO LINK 1 -- "Batcat" live (not from the movie)
VIDEO LINK 2 -- "Batcat" promo teaser from Burning film (so much better than Link 1)
VIDEO LINK 3 -- "Mogwai Fear Satan" (not from Burning film, but shot by same guys who made that...from a concert in a cathedral in France)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oh yes....

I love this so much, and I am about to go watch the full-length movie. Report to follow....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Democrat's guide to whom you should really really fear in 2012

I have a lot of lefty/Dem friends. And a lot of them think all Republicans are an equal threat, politically speaking. (OK, almost all Republicans; I don't know anyone who genuinely fears Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe).
When I say things like, "Oh come on, there are a lot of different kinds of Republicans. You shouldn't be equally afraid of all of them," I feel like they aren't buying it. A quick look at the potential GOP presidential field for 2012 tells me that they reject my advice on this topic at their own peril.
And look, I realize that I am not sympatico with some of the goals/means of the Dems/left. For instance, I think the current level of spending is wacko, the deficit is too high, and the government needs to permanently stop taxing everyone for the act of dying (i.e., the estate/death tax and, I know, that's a topic for another post). On the other hand, on the personal-freedom front, I'm generally with you, my Dem friends. I'm pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, and generally think the government should spend its time doing something other than telling people what to do with their personal lives. Hell, I'm even registered in your party, if only because that's where I started and if I register as an independent (which is really what I am) I'll lose the right to vote in a primary.
So, while you may not think there'd be a hell of a lot of difference between the various potential GOP presidential candidates, I'm here to tell you, as someone who believes in at least some of what you believe in, that there is.
Let's start by reviewing the potential 2012 GOP field, and then quickly narrowing it down to the ones who could actually get the nomination and then, of those, the ones that could actually win the presidency by defeating President Obama, and then, finally, of those, we'll talk about whom you should be really genuinely scared of.
The field:
Mitt Romney
Sarah Palin
Mike Huckabee
Tim Pawlenty
Newt Gingrich
John Thune
Mitch Daniels
Rick Santorum
Gary Johnson
Ron Paul
Haley Barbour
Chris Christie
Mike Pence
I'm going to discount Pence right off the bat as not really running. It seems pretty clear that he's going to run for governor of Indiana, not president. Paul and Johnson (I will digress for a moment and tell you that I really like much of what I have heard from Gary Johnson) are out because their libertarianism is too socially tolerant to get them nominated in the current GOP. I also think that, practically speaking, Thune and Barbour wouldn't stand much of a chance in any sort of crowded field, and, let's face it, the field looks crowded. Plus, this post is about whom you Dems should really fear, not who might make you a little queasy on the crazy off chance he (or she) gets nominated.
So where's that leave us: with a potential GOP nominee named Romney, Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Daniels, Santorum or Christie.
Next step....which ones of that crowd could plausibly beat Obama by capturing what I have already branded in another post as the crucial, election-deciding, center of the electorate? As I have previously discussed, I don't think Palin, Huckabee or Gingrich can win enough of the center to beat Obama. Take it from a centrist...Sarah Palin freaks us out; Mike Huckabee does too (albeit with more humor and smarts, but way too much social conservatism) and Newt Gingrich is like your mean uncle Myron who treats everyone like crap while simultaneously moralizing and visiting hookers. Newt has no credibility with the center at this point, and he seems like he'd kick you while you were down, steal your money and give you a lecture about compassion and the evils of theft all at the same time.
So...that leaves Romney, Pawlenty, Daniels, Christie and Santorum. Now, I don't expect my Dem friends to love any of these guys. Hell, I don't expect you even to like any of them, but let's be serious. You have much more to fear from one of them than the others. They are all fiscal conservatives, but only one of 'em is bent on telling you what to do in every aspect of your personal life.
Daniels? Hell, no. He's the guy calling for a truce on social issues. Christie? He hasn't mentioned a social issue in a long time either. Pawlenty? I am quite sure I don't agree with him on personal-freedom issues, but he hasn't struck me yet as a Bible-thumping demagogue. Romney? Frankly, I never believed him when he said he's anti-choice. He was governor of Massachusetts fercryingoutloud. And even if he is anti-choice, he, Daniels, Pawlenty and Christie have been hammering the economy and spending as the big issues for 2012. This isn't to say, my Dem friends, that you'd love any of 'em, but I don't see any of the four as moral crusaders bent on invading your bedroom.
No, that status is reserved for the guy who said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery." Yup, Rick Santorum.

There are so many things wrong with that statement that the mind boggles, but let's focus on just two. First, it equates consensual same-sex relations with incest and polygamy. Second, and let's not lose track of this implies that adultery ought to be illegal. Did you catch that? I realize that adultery is on the "bad" list of things you shouldn't do, but are there many adults who actually think it ought to be criminalized? Like, you know, people going to jail for it? That's our Rick. 
And he's a good campaigner and a reasonably smart charmer --  smart enough, in fact, that I think he's learned a lot from Pat Toomey's U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania: talk mostly about economic issues while quietly assuring your social-conservative pals that you are their man. The hangup for Santorum is two-fold -- he can't get the GOP nomination without winning Iowa (thereby leaping to the forefront of the field), where he can only win if he out-moralizes Palin and Huckabee, and then he may have positioned himself too far to the right, socially-speaking, to win the center in the general election. But, like I said, he's smart, and if anyone can pull off that trick, it's Santorum, not Palin or Huckabee. 
This is a guy who cannot help himself when it comes to moralizing. Where many of the other GOP candidates are focused on the economy, he is quick to tell you, "If all the focus is on spending and taxes, I think we miss the whole picture. There are great concerns about where America is going not just on the economic front." That's code for: "I am dying to tell you what to do and not do in your personal life." And his PAC can't help it either. Right there in the list of what he thinks are pressing issues in 2012: "We must protect those who are the most vulnerable." In case you aren't clear on this point, that's more code-speak. He's not talking about helping out any actually already-born Americans; I can assure you that. Santorum also supports the teaching of intelligent design in public schools and has called life-saving/changing stem-cell research: "the wholesale destruction of human life paid for by the federal government." Really, Rick? Thanks for the hysteria.
In fact, I like to think the "can't help himself" part of it will be Santorum's downfall. Let's not forget that Dems just held a Senate seat in Colorado by exposing GOP candidate Ken Buck as too socially right-wing for the residents of that fine state.
So there you have it my Dem friends. None of these guys are with you on economic issues, I realize, but, on the personal-freedom side of things Rick Santorum is a frighteningly electable cut above (below?) the others in terms of his burning desire to legislate morality at the federal level.  I don't come close to sharing your fear of all Republicans, but, if you're smart, you'll at least learn to fear some of them more than others when it comes to 2012. President Santorum ought to be a very scary prospect, indeed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Warrior Dash!!

Back on October 10, 2010, right around the time my old computer gave up the ghost, my 16-year-old son Sean and I ran in the 3.15-mile Mid-Atlantic Warrior Dash, held at a paintball place in Quarryville, PA. I highly recommend these sorts of antics to anyone who likes to run and doesn't mind getting dirty. If, like us, you are a CrossFit person, you have double the reason to do it because it incorporates a lot of your CF training when it comes time to go over/under/through the various obstacles on the course.

You can check out a course map for the race here. But, basically, it's a whole bunch of obstacles scattered over the 3.15 miles. If you want to get any sort of decent time, you need to take off reasonably fast at the start, or else, as happened to friends of ours, you will get stuck in lines at obstacles. Not us, though. We weren't flying, but we were just fast enough to avoid the lines.

I should mention that the whole operation was really run smoothly. When you check in, there were a bunch of alphabetically arranged lines to pick up your number, timing chip, etc. There was a great, well-organized checkpoint for any gear you wanted to store during the race, and yes, they give you cool fuzzy Viking helmets. We didn't wear ours during the race, but a few people did. I can't imagine that those were anything but filthy by the end.

The good organization was even evident in the way the course was plotted out. You had to run for just short of a mile before hitting the first set of obstacles. That distance allowed the racers to sort themselves out really well, so the backups didn't begin until long after we were through. Of the first six obstacles that you'll see on the course map, none were particularly difficult. The "tankers" that you had to climb over had well-positioned ropes for assistance. I suppose the cargo net was the toughest of that first group, if only because I'm a klutz and got my feet caught on the descent.

But as soon as that section was done, there was a short sprint across a field (if you are a runner in real life, you can make up a ton of time on the open sections), a quick climb through some wires that were strung across the woods, and another dash through more woodsy trails. This pic makes me look faster than I really was:


Then came the muddy stuff. There was a short blast through a tunnel, and then a big splash into the Breathless Bog. A word to the wise: don't do what I did and figure the bog can't be very deep. In this section you had to wade into the swamp and vault over a set of four or five logs. It turned out that it made a huge difference on which side of the log you were standing. The side closer to the shore was in only about 3 to 4 feet of water, whereas the side farther from shore was about 5+ feet of water. Stupid me was on the deep side of each log and it's an effing miracle that I didn't end up with a waterborne parasite thanks to all the swamp water I swallowed.

As soon as you cleared the bog, it was up and over a series of wooden boards/hurdles, into and out of another much smaller bog and up a muddy creek bank. Most people chose to walk these sections and the muddy parts in between, but I passed a ton of people by jogging these parts instead. It must've been a hell of a sight -- me staggering/running past my fellow mud zombies. The muddy creek bank was particularly interesting. You had to either hold on to tree roots or just jam your hands into the mud and hope to hang on as you climbed. Thankfully, that part was over quickly and, once we rounded a bend, there was a cheering crowd and a mud pit with barbed wire to crawl under!

A few guys -- two of them are with me in these photos, dove in headfirst. Others (who got booed) tried too hard to stay clean and actually walked between the sections of barbed wire and just kind of ducked under the wires. That seemed lame to me, so I took the middle road -- sliding into the pit feet-first, but then crawling/splashing all the way across and under the wires to the end of the pit, after which the race ended with a leap over a "wall" of flames (really a bunch of Dura-Flame logs).

You end up muddy, and really happy.

So, you might do I train for such a race? The best suggestion I have, and it's a CrossFit-inspired one, is to run as many 400-meter sections as will make up the race (in other words, for a 3-mile race, that would be about 12 400-meter intervals) and between each 400, do 10 of something (e.g., pushups, situps, burpees, push presses with a weight bar, pullups, ring dips, whatever). If you can do that, you will have no problem getting a decent time in a Warrior Dash. I was nursing a bad/recently-strained hamstring, and I finished in 27 minutes and change. My kid beat me by about 90 seconds. Neither of us are close to elite/fast runners. But we both finished up reasonably high in our age divisions, so we were happy.

We had so much fun that we are already signed up for the Poconos WD in June 2011. On the other hand, I am signed up for a "regular" 5k Thanksgiving weekend and may have to splash through puddles just to make it interesting.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Road trip

So, off we were going to go....four dudes in a van. The Mondo Topless "Midwest tour."
The original plan was to leave on Wednesday, drive to Ypsilanti, Michigan, just outside Ann Arbor, hope to pick up some long-ago Stooges vibe and rock like hell with local band Mazinga, who came highly recommended. Then there would be a succession of shows in Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, and finally, Columbus, OH -- Thursday through Sunday, then home Monday to Philly. The best-laid plans....

First we got bumped out of the Columbus gig only a day or two before we were about to leave. Something about a "house-band rehearsal" secretly scheduled at the same time as our (early) gig. That's a new one. The hell with 'em, we figured. Columbus on a Sunday night never really screamed out, "Rock 'n' roll," with or without the hootchie-coo, so we chalked it up to good luck. This way we could stay up late with our friends in St. Louis at the Beat 'n' Soul festival the night before the canceled Columbus gig, and just use Columbus as a way-station on the way home. No biggie. We still had four shows booked.

So Wednesday morning it was up at 4 a.m. to go get bass player Scott and head to Vox-guy Sam's house where we would all pile into the van, pick up guitarist Kris, and roll. It was a pretty uneventful 600 miles to Ypsi, other than the glorious stop at Beef Jerky Unlimited in Dundee, Michigan where Scott, Kris and I loaded up on various cured and salted four-legged beasts while vegetarian Sam looked on in horror. Elk, bison, alligator, venison and good old beef were all purchased and then, over the next few days, gleefully devoured. We joked that the Ypsi gig was off thanks to a jerky overdose. Turned out we were half right....

We met up with our pal Mark for one hell of a delicious meal at a Vietnamese place in Ypsi called Dalat. Awesome food (squid!) and uber-cheap. And then....the power went out at the club. Well, OK I think it'd been out already for a while that day. Instead of too much jerky, it was insufficient electricity that derailed the Ypsi gig. The club and about three or four other businesses on the block were pitch black with no hope of recovery. Promoter dude threw a few bucks at us for gas (thank you, sir; really!). We said goodbye to a sad Mark (he loves us and we love him too for his commitment to all that rocks) but we rebounded quickly, however, thanks to Meijer. How great is a store that sells everything, including alcohol? My Michigan-bred wife had long ago clued me in to the wonder of Meijer, and it saved our moods that night with a bottle of Evan Williams, some Leinenkugels (can't get that beer around here) and a pile of snacks. Band hangout night! Lampshade on Sam's head!

Only three gigs to go, and we hadn't played a gig yet.

And so, Thursday morning, Milwaukee beckoned. I hadn't been there since the early '80s, but it struck me as the same shot 'n' a beer town that I remembered. Everything was different there from Philly: the food (Scotch eggs!), the beer (Old Style!, Blatz! (has anyone ever put an exclamation point after Blatz before?)), the people (absurdly nice with no edgy East Coast vibe at all!). The venue: Frank's Power Plant.

Frank's is the epitome of a no-frills down-to-earth bar. And we love 'em for that. Starting the four-band bill at 10:45 pm on a Thursday? Not so in love with that, but we soldiered on, including an emergency "Oh shit, my pants just busted wide open and so did my belt and I don't know how to get back to the hotel so you have to help me" plea from Sam to me. It's hell being the navigator sometimes. Somehow he and I drove fast through detours, road closures and general madness back to the hotel, got him new pants and a belt and arrived back in time to wrangle our way into the third slot on the bill at the last minute (we were originally last of four) -- and when I say "the last minute," I mean DJ/promoter Wendy turned to us after band #2 and said, "Oh why not? Go on now. That'd be cool." We rocked. The setlist will never quite be known because it was thrown-together, handwritten-only amalgam of the best of what we were going to do in Ypsi and what we had planned for Milwaukee, but it went something like this:

Get Me to the World on Time
Ain't Dead Yet
Just One Thrill
Don't Want You
Magic Potion
Can't Dig It
I'm Crying
Pay to Cum
No More
Unsafe at Any Speed

And it was a blast. People seemed to dig it all. That set was the debut of our new Bad Brains cover, "Pay to Cum," and, despite a rocky start for the first five seconds or so of the new one, it kicked into gear in fine fashion and the punks up front started fist-pumping and yelling along to the "Hey!"s. Just the reaction I was hoping for. Thanks, guys. If you wanna watch a couple of videos that someone in the crowd took of us that night, go here for "Get Me To the World On Time" and here for "Can't Dig It."

The night ended with a local band who played through a best-forgotten cake/pie throwing incident engaged in by most of the remaining crowd (not me...I was packing up my gear), and all I could think at the time was: (1) "Glad my gear is in the back room away from the food-throwing," and (2) "This really isn't cool unless you are promising to clean it up." Unsurprisingly, none of the cake/pie throwers seemed to be involved in the cleanup. Hmmm....

We slept late, for us old guys anyway, hit the Denny's down the road for breakfast and drove the easy hour-plus to Chicago for a gig at Reggie's Music Joint. There was a wee bit of confusion at first about our placement on the six(!)-band bill (including one Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers). But our third slot ended up working out great. I'm pretty certain there were more people in the room raising a ruckus during our set than during any other. And, before I forget, let me send a special "hell yeah" out to 13 Tikis, who are not only a killer surf/instrumental band from the Windy City, but a band that knows the travails of the road, and, as a result, gave us their share of the door. Good on ya, boys (and girl). We truly appreciate it and hope you'll come to Philly one day. Salud!

And our set went something like this:

I Want To
Mystery Girl
Ain't Gettin' Any
Break the Ice
Left in the Dark
Nothing Can Bring Me Down
Panty Sniffer
Pay To Cum

Short, sweet, and fun despite being punctuated by ridiculous house-drum-kit nonsense where the rack tom went airborne off its stand more than once and the whole kit kept moving outward like an amoeba each song, whereupon I would take a few seconds to re-collect the pieces and we'd play the next one. We learned right after the set that Mystery Girl is the favorite song of the 13 Tikis guitar player and we learned during the set that: Pay to Cum only gets better, Panty Sniffer is a stupid song that is too too fun to play and Loose is a seething rock and roll monster that I never get tired of playing. We had a great time. Thanks, Chicago.

So Saturday morning we were St. Louis-bound, specifically off to the inaugural Beat 'n' Soul fest. A quick word about Beat 'n' Soul, actually.... it was put together by friends of mine. Marie Arsenault, John Wendland, Jason Baldwin and Mark Wyatt are all veterans of the grassroots Twangfest festival, and they are hardcore music fans who wanted to start a garage/soul fest. So they did, at considerable financial risk/expenditure. They brought together a bunch of garage and soul bands that they love, and we were honored to be on that list. Thanks, guys. You rock. I hope B'n'S has many successful years to come.

Back to the trip....
It's an easy five-hour shot down I-55 from Chicago to St Louis through farmland so flat that we were playing "count the wind farms" and quickly gave up thanks to wind-farm overload. A rest stop in Godknowswhere, Illinois produced two amusing incidents. First, we ran into the Sights, the band playing after us on the bill that night. We didn't know at first that they were the Sights, mind you. But two of our guys saw them and said, "Hey, you guys must be in a band, right?" The shit was briefly shot, and we both rolled onwards toward the big arch....but not before Kris and Scott both bought 24-oz alcoholic energy drinks that produced two wildly different reactions. Kris: "Oh my god...what chicken just shit on my tongue? Can I sue myself for damages?" Scott: "I think I might have another." He didn't. There's something like four Red Bulls and five beers worth of caffeine and alcohol in each can, and good sense won out eventually.

We showed up at our friend Rick's house (dude, really, your house was amazing, and thanks), dropped off our bags and headed to the club. Five bands were playing that night and we were second on the bill, with an hour set aside for us to play. Nice. Instead of the 12 and 13-song sets we'd done so far this tour, we got to play 17 plus a one-song encore. It was awesome. I had designed the set for maximum festival appeal -- lots of covers (13 of 'em!), and lots of energy:

Ain't Dead Yet
Take It Slow
Magic Potion
In the End
Gonna Find a Cave
Bottomless Pit
Pay to Cum
Left in the Dark
We're a Bad Trip
Freaking Out
Asteroid B-612
Panty Sniffer (encore)

I am such a music dork that, knowing I would know a bunch of people there, I had specifically included songs in the set for specific people, and, apparently in a sign that I know my friends well, nearly every one thanked me for playing the precise song that I had dropped in there for that person. I had even more fun playing than usual. Everyone in our band was jacked up and animated as hell onstage, while people were whooping it up, and, well, I'd do it again in a heartbeat, so, yeah, count us in for next time, whenever that is. Best night of the tour, and that's not even including the amazing gourmet food truck that was parked outside all night or the fact that my wife Jamie met up with me there. The Stooges cover was, as always, for you, darlin'. What a great night.

Afterparty back at Marie's was much appreciated and, thankfully, subdued enough that no one paid for it then next day.

(Photo by Jason Baldwin)

And that's pretty much it. Yeah, we drove home for two days thereafter. But there's not much to tell about seven hours to Columbus and then eight to Philly. Best night's sleep all tour was in Columbus, but the absence of a gig that night pretty much predetermined that. We arrived home, still-exhausted, a little grumpy, but glowing with the knowledge that we tore it up for three gigs. And that's why we do it, 'cause that'll keep you going when nothing else will.

Stuffing a sock in the mouth of the moralizers

Perhaps the greatest truism of American politics, at least on a national stage, is that the independent center controls elections. Every time, about 40% of the electorate is going to vote Dem; about 40% is going to vote GOP. The remaining 20% in the middle is going to swing back and forth, deciding who they feel is best equipped to handle the crisis du jour. The center is, generally speaking, fiscally fairly conservative and otherwise possesses a "leave me alone" sort of social libertarianism that is quick to recoil in horror when a candidate starts a moral crusade. Sometimes, the center goes en masse for a particular candidate, e.g. 1984, Reagan over Mondale, creating what we later dub a "landslide." Sometimes they break hard for one candidate, but not quite in one big lump, e.g., Obama over McCain. And sometimes they split down the middle and make things close, e.g. Bush and Kerry in 2000.

But....the parties are often slow to realize this. Or perhaps "tone deaf" is the better word. When primary time comes around in either party, you usually see the candidates running hard to the extremes, throwing as much red meat as possible to the "base" of the party in order to get the nomination, and leaving the eventual nominee looking more like a hardcore lefty or righty and less of a centrist. Which brings us to 2012.

You might think that Barack Obama is in trouble for 2012, based upon the midterm elections, but not so fast. Remember, it's the middle 20% who are going to decide this thing. 80% of the electorate (40 Dem and 40 Repub) already knows what party they are voting for. The key, as always, lies with the middle 20%. That middle 20% makes its decision on a multitude of factors, but it all comes down to personality and trust. Do centrist voters have a problem with many aspects of the Obama presidency? Sure, the midterms just showed that, and many of those problems revolve around spending and fiscal issues. But those problems will evaporate fast if a moralizer like Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee is the 2012 GOP nominee. The only way one of those types could win is if a third-party candidate comes in and skews the results enough that no one gets to 270 electoral votes and the whole mess ends up in the House of Representatives. Put differently, if it's Obama v. Palin (or Huckabee) in a two-way race, President Obama will be a two-termer.

So, who could the GOP turn to, if they were smart and could back off the moralizing and focus on fiscal issues? New Jersey governor Chris Christie's name gets bandied about a lot. He got elected (and has remained popular) with nary a peep about social issues, but he has recently rather definitively ruled himself out of the mix for 2012.  Mitt Romney is more of a centrist than Palin or Huckabee, but he has the reputation of flip-flopping on a lot of issues, and you have to wonder if that wouldn't come back to haunt him in both the primaries and the general election.

That leaves Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana. Daniels has a strong record of fiscal conservatism, and has already called for a "truce" on social issues. He looks, frankly, electable as all hell. He's funny, bright, blunt and plainspoken about tough choices regarding spending. By the way, this isn't an endorsement, just a discussion of electability. I'm a social libertarian and a fiscal conservative, so Daniels' stance on social issues is not in keeping with my own. I like many things about both the president and Governor Daniels and don't know for whom I would vote if they were running against one another. But here's the catch when it comes to the electability of Mitch Daniels: if he's running, it won't be on a social-issues/morality platform. His focus is purely on fiscal issues. That could have a lot of impact with the independent center -- you know, the ones who control elections.

This post was prompted by another article extolling the electability of Governor Daniels but noting how tough it may be for him to get his party's nomination if social conservatives rule the roost, as they often do, in the nominating process. If those social conservatives in the GOP were thinking tactically about winning an election, instead of figuring out new ways to tell us all what we can and can't do in our personal lives, they might wake up and see that Governor Daniels may be the most electable candidate they could put forth against President Obama. I'm not holding my breath....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stuck in the van, living to rock

I have a love/hate relationship with touring, even the kind of quickie mini-tours that we are forced to do out of life circumstance, day jobs, etc. Don't get me wrong...I love every moment of playing onstage, maybe even a little more so when it's playing in a city where the band either hasn't been in a very long time or has never played at all. The rush of a good show can keep you going for days. It can also, much like the joy of hiking up a really badass mountain (or, I've been told, childbirth), can leave you with a distorted picture of just exactly what the pain-to-joy ratio was (that'd be high, if you're wondering). Just like that amazing feeling of conquering the big peak often obscures the substantial effort and exhaustion it took to get there,  so can the great hour onstage dull the drudgery of the rest of the touring experience.

And drudgery much of it is. You wanna know, figuratively speaking, just how far up each others' asses four guys can get after six days in a van? That'd be pretty damn far. That joke was funny the first time, but not so much on Round #57. That annoying thing you do when you eat? Someone may kill you for it. Someone's penchant for too many (or too few) rest stops? This could all go postal in a short time. But, thankfully, if you play well together, most days the glory of the show that night will blot out all the bad vibes of any of the rest of the trip.

But this is not to say that there are not some really basic rules to make everyone's life a lot easier. There are, and no one has nailed those rules better than this guy. I don't know who he is, whether the band he plays in is crap or godhead, but he has pretty well gotten this aspect of band life perfectly. Just this past week, while on a Mondo Topless swing that went something like Philly to Ypsilanti (Michigan) to Milwaukee to Chicago to St. Louis to Columbus (Ohio, not Indiana) to Philly, I found myself chanting a few of these (silently, mind you, so as not to further annoy) like a mantra. I particularly like the one about the road making everyone bi-polar, so let the bad times pass by quietly, and things will get better. No life-changing decisions while in the midst of a "this/I/he/they suck(s)" bender.

But, at the risk of adding one too many rules to an already lengthy set of them, let me propose one more: when you get back, back off. Don't have band practice for a little while. How you define "a little while" can be dictated by circumstance, of course. For some, it might be a week or so. For others, take a couple months off. In our case, we are currently penciled in for a practice 10 days after we returned home. That seems about right, but, honestly, if an extra week makes it 17 days instead, that'll be just peachy too. I love playing in this band, and, when not cooped up like chickens, these guys are great to hang with, but it's a tough nut to stay shiny, happy, smiley, peace-loving for six days in close quarters. That's a fact. Dealing with it honestly is better than trying to ignore it.

Next stop....a few musical memories of the tour, 'cause it was a good one, and, yeah, I'm sure we'll do it again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I'm back, and, damn, the Hoodoo Gurus rocked

I finally have overcome the death of the ancient PC. I'm typing on a brand new fancypantsed iMac and I love it. So let's catch up a bit...there's an impending Mondo Topless Midwest tour coming up that I will tell you more about eventually, but details are here if you can't wait.

I am off to see Social Distortion tonight for the first time in a couple years, but I'm still basking in the glow of an awesome Hoodoo Gurus show a few weeks back. I started seeing these guys in 1984 when they only had one album out, and what an album it was. All these years later, I realized as I watched them at the World Cafe Live in Philly, I believe they hold the undisputed title of Band That I Have Been Going to See the Longest. And here's the thing: I think they are better than ever.

One of the things I am proudest of in Mondo Topless is that we try to keep an active list of 40-50 songs that we can play on any given night. It keeps the mind young and the cobwebs never set in that way. Boredom is the death of many a band, and I'd hate to see that happen. Well, apparently, the Gurus have the same ethos. When someone requested a song, Dave said, "I dunno...we played that one last night," and he said they were trying to mix it up as much as possible. Sure, they took requests, but I got the idea that there were few, if any, repeats from the previous night. I recall that last tour that I saw them on, three years earlier, Dave said they had 50-60 songs ready to go. That is a rarity, and having just watched them tear through a representative cluster of songs from nearly every one of their albums, I am prepared to say that they have done it again. So I make this pledge: next tour I will see them more than once because I know I will get nearly a completely different show each night.

And what a show it is. The principal difference between the Gurus of old and the current band (other than male pattern baldness thankfully removing that '80s hairdo from Dave's head) is that, ala the force of nature that is the 2000s edition of Mission of Burma, the Gurus actually rock harder these days. Sure, the pop element of their garage/pop is still there, but overall the sound is tougher and ballsier. As a result, despite the glory of first-album tracks like "Tojo" and "I Want You Back," the truly shining moment for me was this one: The Right Time," from the Crank album. Damn. (Do yourself a favor and watch that video; it's one of my favorites ever...just completely ridiculous).

One other can see that they are still enjoying the hell out of playing live, and, in the days of the tired big-shed/re-tread reunion tours, watching a bunch of old guys ride the wave of unbridled joy that comes from turning it up and letting it rip is a beautiful thing indeed. Rock on, Gurus. Rock on.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An involuntary break

I had a computer meltdown about a week ago. I am switching to an iMac, but the new beautiful machine won't arrive until later this week. Then I have to figure out how to use it, having been a PC guy all these years. So, unless I wanna blog from my phone (and I don't), the blog will be silent for a little bit. When I return, I'll catch you up on how great the Hoodoo Gurus were at World Cafe Live, how amazing it is to run a Warrior Dash, and how the Heavy are a pretty damn great live band but need to tell the lead singer to stop talking so much between songs.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do fun stuff before you die

This weekend, in a continuing effort to have fun while beating myself to a pulp, I am running in the mid-Atlantic version of the Warrior Dash.

It's a 5k -- no big deal, 3.1 miles -- but here's the fun part: obstacles! Somewhere between 11 and 14 of 'em -- hay bales, mud pits, mud pits with barbed wire stretched overhead so you have to crawl through, walls of fire to leap over, etc.

And what do you get for your efforts? A big fuzzy Viking helmet with horns! So a few of us are headed out to Totally-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania, and sloppin' through the goop and the muck, all to prove to ourselves that we earned that ridiculous helmet. Perfect.

Oh, and just for a warmup in the fun department, on Friday night I'm going to see the Hoodoo Gurus prove, once again, that you can be even older than me and rock out. Gushing review to follow (I hope!)....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What do the Minutemen mean to me? The Minutemen mean everything to me.

Everyone (well, every music freak, anyway) has That Band. You know, the one for whom your loyalty will never die. A lot of bands mean a hell of a lot to me, but one stands above the fray as the one I would bring back tomorrow, if only I could: The Minutemen.

I'm not going to give you a history lesson (part one or two). You can learn all about 'em here, because Allmusic Guide's Stephen Erlewine and Mark Deming have waxed poetic about them, and particularly about their stone-cold masterpiece Double Nickels on the Dime, better than I ever could. But I want to tell you just a little, in my own bumbling way, about what the Minutemen mean to me.

Personalities loom large in any great rock band, but the Minutemen -- maybe because they were a trio -- wore their personalities on their sleeves a little more than the rest and made a statement from Day One that they were not going to play the music game like everyone else. They were going to take the D.I.Y. attitude of punk and, instead of turning punk into a uniform, make it into an ethos for doing whatever the hell you wanted to do with your art. So Mike Watt turned the bass into not just a rhythm instrument, but an expressive, nearly conversational, driving force behind every song. Over top of the rumble and twists and turns of Watt rode D. Boon's guitar, sometimes twanging, ala "Corona" (you know, the Jackass theme, jackass), more often spraying shards of perfectly aimed shrapnel at perfectly timed moments, but never, ever doing what all those other guitar players did. And then there was George. Fuckin' a drummer I used to just dismiss the notion of him as an "influence" and instead viewed him as simply way funkier/jazzier than I could ever be -- sort of a punk version of some unattainable god -- but many years later, I can play like that, but it's still chasing the dragon, so to speak. In other words, I can do that stuff but I learn a little more every damn day I listen to the man. His powerful, jarring, solid, funky propulsive drumming is at the core of what made this band so special. And I listen a lot. Some weeks -- and this one is already looking like one -- each day I find the 100-some Minutemen songs I have on my iPod, hit shuffle and let the good times roll.

And good times they are. I used to say that a Minutemen gig (or later the same applied to fIREHOSE) was like a sporting event. It all was teamwork and brotherhood up there through sweat and hard work. Three dudes, giving their all every night. They knew that the average guy wasn't going to get to do what they were doing. Yet they also knew those same kind of average guys were in the crowd there to see three of their own who had somehow risen above the shit to do something great. So they always put out, just like they would have wanted when they were just "fucking corndogs," to borrow a lyric, going to punk shows "to drink, and pogo." And they never lost that sense of wonder -- a sort of "Damn, we are getting paid to do this? We'd do it for free!" attitude. I saw 'em 25 years ago in October 1985, and I never (ever) drive by that (former) warehouse on the 300 block of Brown Street in Philadelphia where that all-ages show was held and don't think (or usually say), "I saw the Minutemen in there." That was a bombed-out dilapidated part of town back then. Now, it's a lot more gentrified. The warehouse is something else. Apartments, maybe? Offices? But to me, it's the place where I saw Mike, D. and George jam econo.

And I try to pass on the respect. My oldest son just turned 20, and, although I've done my best to school him in music, he's charted his own path (like he should), sometimes appalling the old man with his taste (like he should), but not always. I remember when I gave an old car of mine to him a while back. I told him he could remove any of the stickers I had on there, except the one that has a pic of D. Boon on it. It says, in clearest terms, why I loved this band: "Punk is whatever we made it to be." Honestly, I was (sort of) joking, but Kevin turned to me and said, "Dad, are you nuts. I would never take a D. Boon sticker off a car. That's D. Boon!"

Well, hell yeah.

VIDEO LINK: Minutemen--"Joe McCarthy's Ghost"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Farewell to Grains

And now a different type of farewell, from her Wild.Woman blog, Jenny Martineau sends a Dear John letter to the grains that are wrecking her life. Awesome.

A Farewell to Kings

All drummers secretly have a Rush problem. I have a simple rule: I won't turn off a Rush song if it comes on the radio. I don't love them, but sometimes their complete over-the-top progginess is precisely what I need, especially something insane from the Farewell to Kings album, like the video below.

VIDEO LINK: Rush -- "Xanadu"

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.