Mike Watt on Life, Death and Art

16 05 2012
Mike Watt – The man in the van with a bass in his hand.  For quite awhile now, Watt has been a lighthouse in the midst of my creative ocean – not steering me to the safety of the shore, but steering me away from it to untapped regions of the unknown where beautiful things can be born if you are brave enough to plant and water the seeds.  I’ve spoken about him in other posts so I won’t beat the same old stories to death here.  Suffice to say, he’s one very creative individual who has a beautiful mind and I’ve considered myself extremely fortunate to be able to interact with him now and again.  The world would benefit from more Mike Watts…I’ll leave it at that and move on to this recent interview with him:
Pic I took from the most recent missingmen 3rd opera tour in Philly
JS: Back in September I came down with a serious infection that took me about 5 months to fight off.  It changed my outlook on a lot of things and really spurred  me to make some long overdue lifestyle changes.  You had your own experience with a seriousness illness back in 2000.  Can you talk a little about that and how that experience spurred change in you?
WATT:  yes, the experience twelve years ago with that illness provided both the inspiration for my second opera and helped make me even more earnest to make as much work as I can with the time I’ve got left.  it was very profound feelings of mortality that shook me to my core. I was only fortytwo and still had so much more I wanted to do.  it was intense for me, big time.
JS:  I’ve come to realize from being sick that I’ve been terrified of pain all of my life and will go to great lengths to avoid it.  What do you think pain teaches us?
WATT:  I was born with bad knees and had much much pain there, surgeries in my twenties.  I think it even helped make me feel more paranoid, waiting for the next “incident” hell and shit like that.  pain can mold us into trippy shapes if we let it dominate us.  it is a tough struggle but seems like a part of the journey.   damn.   probably being born without pain is a challenge also, believe or not.   life is not easy but can be interesting if you put your heart into it.   the physical hells are struggles though, that’s for sure.
JS: We all have our own insecurities and fears.  I often am afraid of opening myself up to strangers in such a public way (as I’ve been doing on this website).  When you have pushed through your own fears in the past what have you found waiting for you on the other side?
WATT:  I got into music to be with my buddy d. boon and he definitely was not so fearful.  this helped me much and I borrowed from him on this, he inspired me to try and be brave but not conceited – he was like that: a very humble man who would try his hardest with expression.  I find when I push some fears away, there’s others waiting so the “fear problem” is never “solved” but rather constantly wrestled.  that’s a trip.
JS:  One of my favorite lyrics from your third opera “hyphenated-man” comes from the song  pinned-to-the-table-man.  “Loss and liberation, forever the connection, forever the question”.  There is so much in that one little sentence.  Can you expand upon the relationship between loss and liberation?  What is the connection and what is the question as you see it?
WATT:  I wrote that in saint petersburg (russia) way after all the other stuff.  in fact I recorded the spiel at my pedro pad when I got back cuz everything had done been done at tony maimone’s studio g in brooklyn already.  the problem was I was “ending” (I say that cuz in theory it’s supposed to be circular and unending) with the “man-shitting-man” part and I realized that folks might take that as the bottom line or some kind of summation/summary of the whole piece.  so what I did was the move the middle (hub) song to the end and instead of having one instrumental as originally planned, I wrote that spiel you refer to and put that part in the middle.  the spiel itself refers to middle years and the idea of reconciliation.  of course not everything can be reconciled and I had to acknowledge that w/a part like that “man-shitting-man” one but in other places, that can happen – even it can be very painful and be a tough lesson to learn.  man treating fellow man inhumanely can’t ever be reconciled in my thinking though, it is huge problem.
angels gate lightouse – April 22, 2008
 Mike Watt 

JS: I’ve really enjoyed your photography over the years.  Some of my favorites like the angels gate lighthouse pics can be found in your new book: mike watt  on and off bass (published by Three Rooms Press).   Have you found any intrinsic similarities between snapping pictures and making music?
WATT:  snapping pictures means trying to capture something you can’t really set up, the way I do it at the crack of dawn on the bicycle or in the kayak.  with composition, you’re more in charge of preparing the situation. there’s more chance involved I think with the pictures and more personal effort with the song stuff.  there are similarities with the idea of refining an expression in a way though, I agree with you there.
JS:  There are also excerpts from your tour diaries as well as some of your poetry in the book.  You have been exploring many different forms of art.  Is there a common thread or underlying drive that spurs you into these seemingly different artistic directions?
WATT:  laurie steelink at track 16 gallery picked the first thirtyfive shots, the three rooms people kat and peter picked the diary entries and the rest of the included images so I think in a way the book is a collaboration.  as for diary writing, I do that on tour to help keep focus and never reread them, so embarrassing to me! that’s the practical side to it.  I guess it is some sort of extension of some of the same stuff in the picture taking and bass plucking too.  I guess the common thread is fucking watt.
JS:  It sometimes appears that for many of us the act of “creating” is encoded into our DNA.  I don’t necessarily mean this in a religious way, but it just seems that we are wired to want to create.  Why do you think human beings find the act of creating, especially art, so important?
Watt:  john coltrane said something about musicians being after a truth and I’m thinking that could apply to the other arts as well.  it’s a search…

JS:  If your vast body of artistic work could only accomplish one thing, what would you want it to be?
Watt: to make folks feel safe to take risks with arts and expression in each of our journeys to find our inside voice and not just flop around in the very shallow pan of marsh, finding ourselves bound up in puppet strings.


Pic of Watt and me.  I’m over 400 pounds in this pic.  I never posted it before because I have always been ashamed at how out of whack I let my weight get around this time.  Now that I’ve lost some of this weight, it feels a little bit safer.

Mike’s book (it’s awesome, buy yourself a copy) can be purchased here: http://threeroomspress.com/

Mike’s music can be found at itunes, fine music purveyors everywhere and here at his new label: http://clenchedwrench.com/

Info on all things Mike can be found here: http://hootpage.com/

Watt’s podcast of interesting music and ideas here:  http://twfps.com/

(Thanks again Mike!)


27 04 2012

Fear holds us back. It tells us that we aren’t good enough. That we aren’t worth anything. It tells us that we can’t succeed. That we’ll never have the discipline to “make it”. That we shouldn’t try. It tells us to stay in our comfort zone. That we should not allow ourselves to become vulnerable. It tells us to be content. To not reach for something more. To not strive for something better. To forget about what we thought we were destined to become.

My fear says I’m failing. It’s says I won’t succeed. It says I can’t sustain this. My fear says that I won’t like what I see in the mirror tomorrow. It says there is no need to exercise today because staying heavy is safer. It says this slice of pizza won’t hurt me. It says go ahead, have another. It says eat and eat some more and keep eating after that…build up a wall around you. Don’t be vulnerable. Don’t let people in. Be lazy. You’re not up to this challenge. You can’t do this. Everyone is going to watch you fail. It says stay quiet. It says don’t share me with anyone. It says the person you have been is all that you will ever be. It says all hope is lost.

An Interview with Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh

20 03 2012

Early in my college experience I became aware of the thought provoking teachings of  Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Vietnamese  Zen Buddhist master, an author, poet and teacher.   Having published over 100 books and having been featured in many films,Thich Nhat Hanh is an extremely important figure in the ongoing development of Western Buddhism and likewise in the growth of  Buddhism throughout the world.  In 1967, he was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He continues to this day to advocate for peace and write extensively about ways to reduce anger and fear both in the world and in our own lives.

My initial introduction to the work of Thich Nhat Hanh came through way of a meditation audio tape entitled “Touching The Earth” which generally focuses on gratitude, mindfulness and coming to peace with some of life’s difficulties.  I don’t remember where I picked it up but I have always had a copy close at hand since initially listening to it.  This sometimes poorly recorded talk and meditation inspired me so much at the time that I began making copies for many people I thought might find it beneficial.  I remember listening to a portion of it with my brother while we were driving one night.  After listening to the main section of it, he said that in minutes what he had heard was more powerful than anything he had learned through our many years in Sunday school and in church.  I agreed that much of what a person could benefit from spirituality and emotionally could be found here on this short tape.  It encapsulated so much into a very short mindfulness mediation.  Years later I would buy it on CD and mp3 just so that I would always have it nearby .  This work (and a few others) became the initial jumping off point for me into the world of Buddhism.  And in more recent times I have enjoyed his very voluminous biography of the Buddha as well as his books on Christianity and Buddhism and the power of prayer.  The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh are timeless.  They  are far reaching over broad spectrums of people with diverse beliefs, backgrounds and experiences.  I find them truly relevant in helping to solve some of the most vexing problems of today.

It is with this in mind that I reached out in early February to the students of Plum Village in southern France where Thich Nhat Hanh resides when he is not traveling , in hopes that they would help facilitate a short interview with him on the proper mental states of eating and dieting.  I recently received word by email that the students had brought my questions to their teacher  and had transcribed Thich Nhat Hanh’s answers for me.  I am very thankful for their willingness to do this for me.  The following is a selection from that communication.  (Some very minor edits have been performed for continuity purposes and greater ease of comprehension) :

JS: I have recently adopted a plant based diet as a way of trying to naturally reverse some health problems.  Historically I have had a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.  When eating, what should be my proper state of mind?

TNH: We are very happy to read and to know your effort to live healthier.  When we eat here, we maintain our mindfulness, in contact with the people around.  (We) eat in such a way that the happiness and joy can be maintain(ed) during the whole time of eating.   We also eat in a way so we can build brotherhood and sisterhood, to nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

JS:  Are there any other eating practices at Plum Village that westerners could adopt?

TNH: We would like to invite you to come and eat with us, this is the best explanation we can give you.

JS: When faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge (in my case losing a tremendous amount of weight) how is it best to proceed? (Here I was again thinking of mental states but perhaps my question was not worded artfully enough and so I was given a literal answer which is still very good advice and probably timely considering my fixation on losing weight as quickly as I can)

TNH: Corcerning loosing weight, likely we need to do it slowly so the body will adapt to it slowly.  If you do it too quick then it will create a shock for you(r) body.


Reflecting on the answer to the first question has been interesting.  I think of how often I consume food just to consume it.  The monks at Plum Village though see it as an opportunity to “break bread” and be present in community with one  another.  I think that here in the west we often miss out on a lot of that.  I think of  my own meals and how I am often not fully present with those around me.  With the exception of going out to lunch with my brother once every month or two, every single lunch at work is a working one.  When I work late, the dinners are this way too.  When I work early, so are the breakfasts.  These are solitary experiences, spent in front of a computer monitor, often not giving much thought to what I am eating or how I am eating it.   For meals at home, you can frequently find me on my smart phone or with my head buried in a magazine or newspaper.  Even as I type this, I have eaten my dinner alone at the computer.  Not only alone, I have yet again failed to concentrate on eating at all but rather on typing.  Not very mindful, yet done while typing an interview about being more mindful.  Ironic.  It reminds me of the ancient saying “ideas like a horse and a mind like a monkey.”  Habits are hard to break….

Well now I need to figure out how I’m getting to France.  How amazing would that be?

Many thanks to Thich Nhat Hahn and the monks at Plum Village for their time and wisdom.  What a great honor and joy.

The CD/mp3 of “Touching the Earth”can be found through Sounds True or itunes among others.  I can’t recommend it enough. Thich Nhat Hanh’s books can be found at booksellers everywhere.

There is NO Substitute for Determination

12 03 2012

And so begins week 12 of my plant based lifestyle change.  I’m hesitant to use the term “diet” anymore because diets are something that people try frequently but often don’t have long term success with.  There is a new one every 6 months and the people who develop them cash in.  I’m not saying they won’t work, I’m just saying that they are hard to sustain in the long run.

Although I may modify what I eat a bit here and there in the future, I will continue to eat mostly plant based foods.  There are too many benefits to ever return to the processed garbage I had ben eating in the past.  The increased energy alone has made me a believer.

I lost an additional 3 pounds this week which bring my total weight loss to 53 pounds.  That is a little more than my 7 year old daughter weighs.  When I think about that, it really puts this journey into focus and stuns me at the same time.

People have been asking me “how are you doing it?”.  Unfortunately there is no magic bullet that will bring you long lasting success.  There is no diet, pill, surgery or gym that will work without constant determination.  And frankly, I’ve had little of that up until this point.  I was fortunate enough to get very sick and realize I needed to change.  I knew long before I got sick that my weight was out of control but sometimes a problem seems too big to even know where to start to address it.  That must seem like a copout but that is truly how I felt.  And so getting sick was a huge blessing.  It didn’t feel like it at the time, but isn’t that the way it is with a lot of life’s challenges?  We get past them and see the trials in our rearview mirror and realize they have made us who we are.

For me it was a flick of the switch in my mind.  I just decided one day that I was done with living this way.  And while food was and is one of my biggest joys it was not going to steal away the other parts of my life that I should be enjoying.  I wanted to be active.  I wanted to be able to do things that “normal” sized people could do.  I was never going to go back.  When you get there in your mind, you will know that you have found the very things you need to get you over whatever obstacles you face – willpower and determination.  Once you have found them you will then be well on your way.

Maybe you are not there today and that is okay.  I know what that is like.  Don’t let it stop you from beginning though.  You can start today.  Set a goal to lose one pound.  Just one pound.   Stop eating processed foods.  Incorporate many more plant based foods.  Begin exercising.  You can totally do this. When you get there, go for another pound.  And keep going until you’re getting to where you want to be.  And it is hard, but don’t wait until your body starts to fail you to make the change.  Do it while you can.  Do it now.  I have a long, long way to go.  I have to set mini goals of 5 and 10 pounds otherwise it would seem too great a challenge to face.  Remember anything is possible with enough determination.  When you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it done.  There is no other substitute for your determination.

Pushing Forward

5 03 2012

And so begins week 11 of my journey to lose 200+ pounds. I say + because I’m not sure where exactly I’ll end up. I’m not sure what my ideal weight is anymore but I’ll know when I get there. I figure it’s about 220 but could be a bit higher or as low as 175. Anyway, that is a long ways off.

This past week, I lost two pounds bringing my total to 49+ pounds ( I say + because I’m not sure exactly how much I weighed initially). I was happy to increase the weight loss this week. I’m two ounces away from the 50 pounds lost mark. Two ounces?? I should be able to spit that out! But that’s alright. Let it come slowly. Let it be a battle. Let it be a constant challenge. This is not a diet to me. It’s a change of lifestyle. I’m in it for the long haul.

There will be times I get discouraged, times I feel defeated, times I want to give up. But right now, in this second, I feel strong. I feel the best I have in a long, long time. 2 ounces to my next goal weight…I push forward.

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