You regular readers might look at this title and think that I’ve finally run out of topics to cover. How does health of any sort have anything to do with the business of rock and roll? I will admit that health ranks much higher in importance in my 50’s than it did in my 20’s. When you get to this point in life and consider that this is all you know how to do, being healthy enough to do it becomes paramount. And, you think about some of the lifestyle choices you have made decades prior and wonder if they might come back to handicap your ability to do that thing you do in the golden years of your craft.
I am going to approach health from three perspectives over these next few articles. In this first installment I am going to discuss personal health from diet to lifestyle choices. The premise is really making smart choices and taking some personal responsibility. In the second installment, we’ll discuss relational health. There’s an old joke that goes “what’s a musician without a girlfriend…homeless”. I’ll dust off the psychology degree to offer some practical suggestions to keep the home fires burning while you bask in the spotlight. Then finally, we will take a look at fiscal health. Creative types are historically horrible with finances. Bad financial management compounds over the years just like interest, just in a way that sinks your ship as you sail off into the sunset of retirement. They don’t hire greeters at Walmart with sleeves, piercings and gauges – it scares the kiddies…
I must start this series with a disclaimer. ***So much prep work to just write articles*** By covering these topics, I by no means insinuate that I have these things figured out and applied in my own life. After my first session with a therapist, he leaned back and said that I had an incredible amount of personal insight but a remarkable detachment from any application of the insight. Maybe you can practice what I preach even if I can’t.
Good health is never accidental. It’s the product of a combination of our genetic inheritance with our lifestyle habits. I’ve known guys who can eat an entire supreme pizza and not gain an ounce while other guys who accidentally brush up against the box and gain weight on the spot. I’ve also known guys who can drink and smoke all night then sing a full set the next night with no issue while other guys who lose it just being around second hand smoke. It’s important to be aware of the genetic hand you’ve been dealt and then make deliberate choices that develop into healthy habits that will prevail across years of your life and career.
There’s probably no aspect of our daily life that will impact our health anymore predictably than diet. There are thousands of books and opinions by nutritionists that are way more qualified than I am to address this issue. I am speaking more from the perspective of a touring musician painfully familiar with the eating habits of the road and the pitfalls of our lifestyle that will eventually have negative consequences on our health. When you add these built in negatives to your personal set of genetics, some of us will fare poorly. We have to agree that eating high fat, low nutritional value foods on a regular basis has a negative impact on our health. Not that you need them, but here are some statistics to demonstrate what I propose:
- In a survey of young adults who consumed fast food just two times a week, the average weight gain over a 7 year period was 10 lbs and they ran a much greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Every year poor diet combined with a lack of exercise is directly related to anywhere from 320,000 to 580,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
- Obesity and associated illness kills more people than guns or drug use.
- You would have to walk for 7 hours straight to burn off the calories contained in one large Coke, regular fry and a Big Mac.
Here are some simple but very effective ways to hedge your dietary bets.
1. Schedule for healthy meals – When you get off work at 2 or 3 AM, the healthy alternatives for meals are minimal. Fast, fried and processed do not keep jack being nimble for those leaping stage dives. Leave a little early and pick up something healthy on the way to the gig for your first break or eat before the gig. If you want to escape earth’s orbit on a rocket ship, you don’t wait until you get into space to fuel up. Choose combinations that combine good carbs with healthy protein as well as easily digested fruits. Make it easy on your digestion system to convert what you eat into energy for your rocking stage show.
2. Stock your backstage area with healthy snacks – It’s a proven fact that you’ll munch on whatever is sitting on the beaten down coffee table behind the stage. While this sounds more like the advice for the rotary club luncheon, pick up or request a vegetable or fresh fruit tray if you can versus 5 boxes of greasy cheesy pizza. Again, look at what you eat as fuel to burn for your propulsion. As well, milk products like cheese and high acidic products like spicy Mexican food can contribute to something called acid reflux – detrimental to your voice health.
3. Hydrate – beer might contain water but rest assured, it won’t have the same rehydration potential as the liquid that comprises 65% of your body. Water aids digestion and revitalizes everything from your respiratory system to brain function to blood system. Water is also phenomenal in it’s impact on your ability to sing and maintaining that delicate balance on mucus on your vocal chords. As constructive as pure water is on the voice, alcohol and caffeine are equally destructive. Again, hedge the bets for vocal health with healthy choices in beverage consumption.
4. Choose healthy portions – eating until you are literally escorted out of the buffet for abuse is a bad habit. Overeating diverts energy into the digestive system that you could otherwise use for those speed metal double kick drum solos. Moderation is a good habit in so many areas of our life but especially so in diet. The average human needs about 2200 calories per day to maintain normal bodily functions. Since a musician is somewhat of an athlete at least for 4 hours a night, you can add another 300 calories worth of fuel to the fire. Still, anything that you consume over this amount is eventually converted into fat. Even if you maybe add a pound per year of your life, by the time you hit 50, you’re dealing with 30 extra pounds of weight to carry around when your body is growing less and less capable of carriage. Your septuagenarian self will appreciate your self-controlled 20-year-old self.
Any self-respecting rocker is laughing at this sub heading. For years I laughed and mocked those poor schmucks on the treadmill at the hotels. After a foot injury earlier this year and three months of sedentary opiate filled recovery, I decided that I needed to do a little something to improve my health. Running around the stage left me a little more winded than it used to. I would find myself winded a lot quicker than I remembered and ran out of energy quickly. My sleeping was restless… blah, blah, blah. I sound like a commercial for Geritol. Once a decade, I decide to try to get healthy and trade my keg abs for a six-pack. It never lasts but it does move me back into a healthier space for a little longer. You might not be inclined to hit the gym 3 times a week, but here are some simple things that are easily incorporated into your road routine that will make a difference for you.
1. Walk when you can – take the steps or walk across the street to a restaurant instead of eating from the snack machine. It’s amazing how a good brisk walk impacts your blood circulation, breathing and energy level. Plus, it will sort of offset some poor choices in the dietary section of this article. There is no comparison between fresh air and sunshine to compressed hotel room air and incandescent lighting. Get some sunshine!
2. Do something to exercise your muscles and raise your heart rate – You don’t have to have a gym membership or a fitness center in your hotel to exercise along the lines of calisthenics and resistance. Do a couple sets of pushups and sit ups. Put a dumbbell on the bus (and I’m not talking about the drummers girl friend). Have a couple of yoga poses that you learn to stretch and maintain flexibility. For that matter, take a chance and move around the stage during the show if you can. Live performance should be somewhat athletic so take it up a notch.
3. Lift and carry safely – most of us don’t have roadies to carry our gear. Even if you’re young, dumb and full of spunk, you can still injure yourself if you don’t lift smart and stage gear so that you don’t set yourself up for injury. Make sure your staging area is well lighted and access to the stage is clutter free. This doesn’t seem like an exercise issue but bone and muscular health again are protected intentionally. Lift with your legs at healthy angles. All it takes is a poorly timed fall from a riser to break a wrist, dislocate a finger or even cause more serious injury, no matter your physical fitness. You can’t play your “Freebird” riff from ICU.
I’m chuckling at my own heading. But, I shake thousands of hands per year and I have no idea where they been or what they’ve touched. Get the picture?
1. Wash your hands!!! – antibacterial hand wash is cheap but very effective at minimizing what you take back to the bus with you from meet and greets. While fans might not intend to pass along their flu virus and cause you to lose your voice for 2 weeks, all it takes is a mucus filled cough right before shake their hand to pass it along. I’m not advocating Michael Jackson face masks but taking a moment to wash your hands regularly might just keep you healthier or keep you from passing something along yourself.
2. Be conscious of food preparation and safety – You might love potato salad and lemon meringue pie. But two of worst hospital visits and near death experiences I’ve endured were a result of food poisoning from the mayonnaise in potato salad and the egg whites in meringue. Food sitting out at room temperature is a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. If the ranch dressing or ham feels warm, step away from the deli tray.
3. Rest is your body’s best friend – If you are a weekend warrior, rest is not in your vocabulary. But you have to be realistic about the need for the body to recover, replenish and renew. This too requires intention. If you know you have a 6 AM lobby call, it takes some self-discipline to walk past the hotel bar when the runner drops you off at midnight. One drink turns into closing the bar down. That’s not even a realistic scenario for the average weekend warrior. Try this: if your first grader has to be dropped off at school the next morning at 7, it takes discipline to leave the single guys in the band behind after the gig to go home and catch some winks before you get up, feed the kid and drop him off on your way to the day gig. Place a value on rest and recovery. This business will make an old man out of you. No sense in getting there in more of a hurry!
Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll - Why is it that sex and drugs became so connected to rock and roll? Maybe there was something devilish about Elvis’ pelvic thrusts. Regardless, the symbiotic relationship between entertainment and the other two factors in the colloquialism are palpable. Entertainers are enticed to delve into both and the entertained seemed to expect their entertainers to do so. Addressing sexuality and chemical use in this article is by no means an endorsement. What I hope to endorse here is practical self-governance and personal responsibility in light of facts about the pitfalls of indulgence. While our values vary as much as the demographics of folks who read my articles (from church ladies to exotic dancers – probably an exaggeration but it makes for interesting reading), the facts regarding irresponsible chemical use and sexuality are constant. Whew, hope that gets me off the hook with the clergy.
Chemicals and Entertainment
I will confess that I have struggled with aspects of this at times over my career in entertainment. Obviously, not everyone has this proclivity so it would be unfair to generalize all musicians as alcoholics or addicts in the making. But there are some facts about chemicals that need to be acknowledged to make a value decision for yourself.
1. Alcohol is a drug – It might be socially acceptable and engrained in the entertainment experience but it is in fact a drug that effects the user proportionally with the amount of use.
2. Chemicals and drugs impair the user – Many of you will disagree with me and I am willing to meet you and record you when you are high or drunk to compare your drunk performance with a sober performance. Our bodies are designed with an amazing ability to naturally elevate our moods and pump our system with chemicals that enhance our concentration and acuity. Adding additional chemicals into this mix impairs the body’s natural ability to do this. If you feel like having a couple beers at the top of the set relaxes you and makes you go for it, maybe it is actually relaxing your sense of caring about your performance instead. Alcohol is a sedative. You’re not going for it as well as you would if you were not impaired. If you need a bump: drop, do 20 pushups and get a dose of endorphins – the body’s natural stimulant.
3. Use, possession or abuse of chemicals can lead to legal problems – Unless you are in a handful of states, possession of marijuana is still illegal and in all 50 states possession of controlled substances is feloniously illegal. Getting clipped with a simple marijuana possession charge usually gets you a fine in most places. But, try to enter Canada or several other countries with a possession charge on your record. I’ve seen guys left at the border for that as well as having a DUI. Sure, a DUI will cost you 10 to 15 K, but from a practical sense, hauling your Marshall stack and Fender strat onto the city bus to get to the gig will always takes a chunk out of your swagger. Be realistic and be responsible for yourself.
4. Strive for excellence – Being able to be paid to entertain is a great and awesome privilege. Respect that. A few years ago, my band agreed to not drink or use any chemical before and during the show. We felt like fans and clients were paying great money to see us at our best. We agreed that we could not guarantee our best under the influence. I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a band and it is reflected in our stage show. In one of Elvis’ classic drug fueled tirades, he swore that he had never been high on anything but music. Practice what he preached.
Sex and Entertainment
This is a sensitive issue to approach. Again, I don’t want to come off as tacitly endorsing casual sexuality, especially in the oft instance of chemical use and transient connections. I will discuss this more in next week’s Relational Health article. But, it is an activity that gets passionately associated with entertainment. Sex sells and this is exploited in marketing entertainment. Here are some observations that apply whether you are an entertainer or whether you are being entertained:
1. Alcohol or drug use and sexual liaisons are horrible partners (pun intended) – if chemicals impair your ability to perform music well, they certainly impair your judgement, impair your control and put you in risky situations.
2. Treat your fans like you would want to have your sister treated – exploiting impaired or indiscrete fans is a horrible misuse of your influence as an entertainer. Sometimes the moment might be just as intoxicating as the chemicals but it wears off leaving a mark that is permanent.
3. In a Health and US News report on sexually transmitted disease, it is estimated that 110 million Americans have STDs. There are more than 20 million new infections each year. If you have unprotected sex, the odds are against you. In the words of the old Steely Dan song, don’t do it “without your fez on.”
Wow, that was heavier conversation than you would usually associate with feel-good-health-nut talk. I hope that what you take away from these points is the encouragement to approach your personal health with some self-control and deliberate responsibility. Everything you do and the choices you make effect your ability to execute your craft. Some choices merely make you a little gassy during the show. Some choices can severely diminish your ability to entertain. Other choices will eventually prevent you from working period. Be smart. If I have generated some self-awareness, then it’s been worth a little discomfort in exchange. As always, entertain with good personal health my friends!