}

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Airborne Toxic Event's Mikel Jollett on Kicking Your Own Ass...

So as I mentioned a few posts back I'm in the process of finishing up an interview with a great band we caught at SXSW this year, The Airborne Toxic Event. In the course of my research beforehand, I'd found the article below, then, apparently, forgot about it. Airborne's lead songwriter, singer, and rhythm guitarist Mikel Jollett was a freelance writer prior to the band and wrote the article below. It's downright disgusting how beautifully this cat writes.

Note: I could not locate where it was published initially, the link is just where I'd found it.

Brad Pitt Whipped Me Into Shape
By Mikel Jollett

I was a big fat slob. Then I went to the movies.

You can find the motivation to get in shape in the oddest places.

Some guys find it in a doctor's office after a sobering chest exam or blood test or biopsy. Others find it at a high-school reunion when That Girl from 10th-grade biology doesnt recognize them through the haze of cheap vodka, male-pattern baldness, and so many forgotten years. As any good Russian novelist could tell you, life reaches a crossroads - and big changes follow - when sex seems less likely than death.

I found my motivation in the back of a movie theatre in Santa Monica, California. That's where Brad Pitt comes in, but more about him later.

I was 25 years old, working a hundred hours a week in an office. I hadn't really set out for that life, but you know how those things go. You'd trade a kidney for an extra zero at the end of your paycheck, and so on. My days were filled with 5-year plans, capital-amortization reports, key-performance indices - i.e., the tortured lexicon of the modern office. For the first time in my life, there wasn't much time for exercise. Hell, there wasn't much time for anything but sleep and work. And eating.

Why do so many office events involve food? The candy jar on the secretary's desk. Doughnuts at morning budget meetings. Rubbery chicken lunches at the Yale Club. Steak dinners with board members. It's like we're trying to feed some existential hunger, trying to fill a dark void at the center of office life with caramels, Hershey's Kisses, and muffin baskets. People eat at the office for the same reason they drink at a bar: to forget they're there.

I don't know exactly when it got away from me. In college, on the track team, I had been all-Pac 10 in the 10,000 meters, a svelte 148 pounds whipping around the oval at 70 seconds per quarter mile. At that age, those of us on the cross-country team, those of us who ran 12 to 15 miles a day and ate mountains of food at night, felt like wild beasts. Like we were born to leap boulders, like we were panting, pawing, screaming to run. It's probably mixed up with some milk-toothed adolescent fantasy, but we really felt like we were pushing the limits of mortality. All that pain and strain and exhaustion and exhiliration. How far can we go? How fast can we run? How much can we take? Let's find out.

But by age 25, after 3 years in office purgatory, 3 years of meetings and dinners and lunches and drinks, I was up to 225 pounds. Sitting there, listening to these middle-aged men make jokes about their wives over two-martini lunches, I felt caged, fenced in, trapped, old, tired, fat, bored.

I would find myself walking the flourescent-lit corridors of that ungodly building with reams of green-and-white printout paper covered with endless rows of numbers, a big, round gut hanging over the 38-inch waistline of my green slacks, seething about the budget. "Have you seen these numbers, people?" Every now and then I'd catch a glimpse of my reflection in the office glass and wonder who the fat man was.

Then it happened. In that movie theater in Santa Monica. Fight Club. I know that sounds trite. I know it should have been the birth of my first child or something. But it was Fight Club that did it. I remember seeing Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter), with that ragged eyeliner and waifish body. She was so trashy and dirty and hot and broke. And Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) lived in this abandoned house in the middle of nowhere with the anonymous narrator (Ed Norton). All they ever did was get in fights, wreak havoc, work out, and make fun of the automatons. Though it all ended miserably - but triumphantly! - with that Pixies song when those buildings blew up, God, my life just seemed so tame by comparison, so forgettable, so compliant. I thought, What the hell am I doing? I'm 25 years old.

I saw the movie four times in one week. And I cracked. I quit my job. I dumped my girlfriend. I started working out constantly. Running, swimming, lifting weights, drinking protein shakes, eating apples.

My routine was basic. I thought of it as a matter of simple physics: If I burn more than I consume, my body will metabolize fat. It has to. I figured that at my weight, with my metabolism, I burned about 2,500 calories a day. So I kept to a 2,000 calorie diet and worked out like mad. Four runs a week (100 calories per mile), three swims (100 calories per 15 minutes), four weight sessions (300 calories per hour, plus beach muscles). I made sure I never rang up more than a 7,000 calorie deficit (which equals 2 pounds of fat) in a given week, since your body freaks out when you do that.

It was tedious at first. The runs were painful, I was always sore, and it took so much damn time. I had to make a decision: The plan would come first - it was the only obligation I absolutely had to fulfill. Everything else in my life would have to fit in around it.

After about a month, after the initial shock had worn off, once my feet had calloused over and my hair had become ragged from the chlorine, the plan became something else. A dare. Not in the okay-tough-guy, No Fear, come-over-here-and-check-out-my-glutes kind of way. More like it was a daring thing to do.

Because if you think about it, it's kind of absurd. Grown adults running through fields, unprompted, unchased, lifting heavy objects for no practical purpose, swimming back and forth repeatedly across a rectangle of water and heavy chemicals. It prompts a question in your mind, while you're persuing these senseless tasks: What sort of creature does this kind of thing, anyway?

Over time, the answer becomes obvious, even if it's just something you feel in your bones: Because this is what I was born to do. This is what this body was made for.

As for the desk job, those hellishly vapid budget reports: Was I honestly made for that crap?

When the money that I'd saved ran out, I started working as a carpenter, walking around with a tool belt on all day, driving a 5-ton truck, familiarizing myself with the layout of Home Depot. It was good to be paid to sweat. The guys I worked with couldn't quite understand why I was doing basic construction instead of the cushy office job I'd left. "Hey, Stanford U," they'd say to me, "think you could nail this two-by-four in that frame over there? They teach you how to do that in school?"

The work itself had its benefits. At the end of the day, when my back hurt and my hands ached from pounding a hammer or wielding a screw gun for 8 hours, I felt as though I'd earned a drink. And anyway, there is a certain manful pride in knowing your way around a miter saw and a speed square. But it was mostly monotonous and nothing I had aspired to. I wasn't in it for that.

I was in it for the sense of possibility. For the idea that you can shake your life up like a soda bottle and smask it against the wall. That whatever prisons we construct in our lives - whether it's an awful job, a gut, an unhappy marriage, an addiction, the things in life that hem us in, that make us wake up in the morning in a cold sweat and think, How did I get like this? and How can I escape? - all these things are transient. For me, and maybe for anyone, the answer was, just leave. Tear the entire thing down.

In 6 months, I was down 55 pounds - to 170 - and had all the accoutrements that so famously go with exercise: more energy, more confidence, better sleep, less stress. In place of the gut, I had the six-pack I'd had in college. I was also broke and single and had squandered what I had once understood to be a promising future. I didn't care.

I met a girl in Las Vegas. We exchanged phone numbers, and when I got back to Los Angeles, I called her. She invited me over to her place, a real dump in Culver City that was brimming with empty wine bottles and Liz Phair posters. When I walked in, she was sitting on the couch - skinny, big eyes, flat chested, her shirt half unbuttoned, dirty blonde hair, and lots of eyeliner. My own private Marla Singer. I nearly cried.

"Have you seen this movie?" she asked, pointing to the television. And I couldn't even make this up: It was Fight Club - the scene where Ed Norton fakes a fight with his boss to get fired. In the process he destroys the office, cutting his hands and back and face on the shattered galss of a coffee table. He walks out, whistling, pushing a pile of office equipment in a cart, with a smile on his face and blood dripping down his shirt. Fantastic.

I know, I know. Sophomoric. It is, a bit. But whatever the motivation, once I started taking exercise seriously, I felt more alive. I felt that my life had possibilities. I felt stronger. There's really nothing so basically transformative, nothing so regenerative, as getting in shape. Some of it is simple blood sugar, blood pressure, metabolism, and endorphins. Your high-school P.E. teacher could have told you that. But it's also the sense that if you can change your body, you can change anything. You feel your muscles working beneath your clothes, you become aware of your heartbeat, and you remember that you're an animal first and animals do not like to be fenced in.

The fact is, we're going to be dead someday, and I don't care how important we are or how much money we make, how refined our taste in wine, music, clothes, literature, art, women. Those things are great, but there's just no escaping that your life begins and ends in your own body, your health, your ability to talk to That Girl with confidence, smile in the face of sobering news, senselessly lift heavy objects, swim great distances across various geometric figures, test your mortality, shatter some glass, eat an apple, tear across the plains, and run down a bloody gazelle.

It may be absurd, but honestly, you have to fill the void somehow, and you're simply not going to do it with muffin baskets.

7 comments:

Lumilog said...

This article originally appeared in the magazine Men's Health, March 2006. I was searching for what had become of Jollet after writing the article and came across your blog.

Nick said...

I'm glad you put this on your blog. It's on the internet for the world to see now. I wish everyone could read this. Fight Club is the movie of our generation. Everyone has their "fight club" moment when it all becomes clear and you change it up and start seeing what's real and what's not. great great article. Saved!

Nick-

Megan said...

Man, I love this guy. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Mikel is profound, and really nice, too.

Kerr said...

Thanks for posting this article by Mikel. I've been looking for some of his writing, and as I suspected, it speaks to me as his music does.

Cristy said...

He's such an amazing writer and performer. I just was at an Airborne Toxic Event concert last night and it was a great live show. Definitely worth the long late night drive home and the sleep deprived day at work today!

Anonymous said...

I remember when this came out in Mens Health magazine. I cut the article out and kept it. Glad to find it online, thanks for posting!