10 Things to Keep in Mind When It Comes to Getting in Shape

10 Things to Keep in Mind When It Comes to Getting in Shape

Within the past couple of weeks, I reached out to a few of my dear friends and readers just to reconnect and see how things are in their world.

There were many subjects discussed, and a frequent topic of correspondence was fitness, namely, what we’re all doing or not doing about our own. Since I’ve learned that so many of you are interested in the subject, I figured I’d take the answers I gave to different people’s questions and combine them into an easy list to share.

Here it is. 🙂

1. You can do it. 

You don’t need anyone’s permission or support. The only thing stopping you is yourself. You can decide right this very instant to make a positive change in your life, for yourself, and no one else. You don’t need a partner, or a trainer — if you see someone in a shape you’d like to be, ask them for pointers. (This applies to more than just diet and exercise.)

My journey into fitness started ten years ago. I was in a band with a guy who was in great physical shape, and I asked him if he would teach me how to exercise properly. He was happy to do so. Simple as that. It’s only hard in your mind (see #9), and it gets easier over time, through consistency.

2. Consistency is the key to success. 

There has to be some sort of physical activity every single day. It doesn’t always have to be cardio, or heavy lifting, but the body requires movement on a daily basis. The body wants to exert itself. Your body wants to exercise. You don’t. You have to honor your body’s request every 24 hours somehow.

How do I get my physical activity in? I do these exercises 25 minutes each: kettlebell workout and jump rope at home (Sundays and Wednesdays); jump rope at home and shoulder exercises at the gym (Mondays and Fridays); jump rope at home then train for 90 minutes at Ambrose Academy (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays).

3. Sleep has to be the top priority. 

So much growth and recovery happens during sleep. And different ages require different amounts — i.e. a 3-month-old baby needs at least 12 hours a day, whereas a 35-year-old requires 7-8 hours at a minimum. By neglecting your sleep, you are impairing your ability to function in many ways beyond simply being “a little tired” — decision-making, emotional balance, qualitative results, interpersonal communication, and more are all impacted by lack of sleep.

I used to believe sleeping fewer hours and working longer hours was a badge of honor. I now know it’s a badge of ignorance. Sleep was the first commitment I made to myself: get seven hours of sleep minimum per night, no matter what. I also do my best to adhere to my circadian rhythm — I dim and turn off lights in the house once the sun goes down, stop looking at screens by 11:00pm, sleep in darkness, and wake at 7:00am daily. I feel refreshed and focused at the beginning of every day, and adhering to a consistent sleep schedule has radically changed my energy levels, along with the benefits of making better decisions, being more emotionally balanced, getting great results, and nurturing more relationships.

4. Diet is more important than exercise.

Consuming nothing but water for an hour after waking up; a 2:00pm caffeine curfew; staying away from sugar and grains as best as possible; eating organic, free-range, cage-free, grass-fed and -finished meats and dairy products; consuming fresh, organic vegetables and fruits; supplementing with important vitamins, oils, herbs, roots, and minerals; …these are my new ways of eating.

Input dictates output, and what we consume directly informs what we see in the mirror, far beyond anything exercise can accomplish alone. If you keep eating the same food as you begin your journey toward achieving your fitness goals, you’ll become frustrated when you see minimal results even though you exercise consistently. In fact, you may even appear to have gained weight, because in addition to the inflammation already in your body from eating inflammation-causing foods, you’re causing inflammation through exercise. What you eat, and when you eat it (see #6), is much more critical than how much you can bench press or squat, or how many calories you burn on the treadmill. Garbage in, garbage out.

5. Sugar is the enemy.

The first piece of trash most Americans need to take out? SUGAR. Fat is not the problem. Sugar is. It’s terrible for you, and it’s incredibly addictive — the same spots in the brain light up in sugar eaters as do cocaine users. And when sugar is combined with saturated fats, it wreaks havoc on the whole body, causing all sorts of fallout from cortisol-cycle deregulation to insulin production issues, storing excess fat, diseases, sleep problems, emotional imbalance, etc.

My guideline is no more than 25 grams of sugar in a day, if I even have sugar. Most days, I don’t. It’s tough, because I love sweets, and sugar is in a lot of things you wouldn’t expect. But bottom line, sugar screws with your mind and makes you fat. Eat healthy fats, stay away from sugar.

6. Intermittent fasting promotes quicker results.

If you want to get faster results, fast. Too many people think that “fasting” means “anorexia,” or “hunger strike.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not saying go for days with nothing but water, though that is a good thing to do perhaps once a year to hit the body’s reset button, according to studies I’ve read. I’m talking about intermittent fasting: By shortening the time period within which you eat each day — that is, anywhere from a 9- to 12-hour window — you can kick your metabolism into high gear.

I get up at 7:00 each day and do my morning thing, then at 8:00 I sit down with my cup of coffee to work. If I eat breakfast, it’s at 10:30, and my dinner will be at 8:30, giving me a 10-hour window; if I’m not going to eat breakfast, I blend my coffee with a tablespoon each of butter, MCT oil, and grass-fed beef collagen protein powder, which gives me fuel and energy for 6-8 hours, and tricks the body into thinking I still haven’t eaten. I’ll have lunch somewhere around 2-3:30, and I don’t eat past 10:00pm, which gives me a 6 1/2- to 8-hour window, like hitting a turbo boost.

7. A jump rope is the best piece of fitness equipment.

“I’ve never seen a boxer who didn’t jump rope,” my mom once told me. I bought a jump rope the next day.

A jump rope works your upper body, lower body, and core, and strengthens your skeletal and muscular system. It’s an aerobic exercise, so you’re getting cardio, and it increases your hand/eye/foot/ear coordination. It’s lightweight, portable, and can fit in most purses or shaving kits, so you can take it anywhere  (my last one went to Europe with me on tour). It’s safe, doesn’t break easily, and is simple to use, no instructions necessary. And it works, regardless of gender.

You don’t need a gym membership to start working out, or buy an expensive piece of equipment or a few dumbbells, or get a pricey Blu-Ray set, or hire a personal trainer. At first, just buy a jump rope. It’s the best. One final thought: Most runners run heel-toe, because running shoes are designed to absorb shock in the heel. That’s because we’re not meant to run on our heels, but on our toes. I’ve found that by jumping rope, I’m getting the cardio benefits of running without the knee pain, and I’m jumping on the pads of my feet, which is strengthening my knees (or so I think).

8. If it doesn’t work for you, it’s pure entertainment. 

Speaking of “or so I think,” that’s the real question — what is actually going to work for you? It depends. I’m not a doctor by any means, but I have intimate experience with my body (gross). Through trial and error and research and study, I’ve found what works and doesn’t work for me. This list is based on my personal experience.

You have to do the same for yourself. Don’t jump on every exercise or health food fad that comes around, but do look into what makes most sense to you and try it out. Does the Atkins diet work? Should you become a pescatarian? Should you do the butter coffee as I do? Perhaps. I don’t know. Take what you know, apply it to what you don’t know, and figure it out. It’s about whatever works for you, because as Sijo says, if it doesn’t work for you, it’s pure entertainment.

9. It’s a mental game. 

The folks who achieve their fitness goals do so by getting their minds right first. This isn’t just about positive self-talk — which is important, too — it’s about everything I’ve already listed above.

Knowing you can do it hits the brain’s delete button on the old program; being consistent reprograms the brain’s subconscious to run the new software you’re installing; getting a good night’s sleep improves the brain’s cognitive function; consuming the right foods promotes a healthy brain; staying away from sugar vastly reduces brain inflammation; fasting causes the brain to adapt and become more efficient; exercise improves memory and thinking skills.

And finally, if something isn’t working for you — a relationship, a job, a particular situation — it usually results in a certain amount of anxiety, however great or small, which can damage the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory.

Get the mental game right, and you’re halfway there before you lift a single weight. Find out what doesn’t work for you — don’t let the tooth rot; extract it.

10. The benefits exceed physical health. 

Beyond keeping your body healthy, it helps your sleep, sharpens your mind, and improves your sex life. Case closed.

That’s what works for me. What works for you??

P.S. Good news! Spotify finally got me my own Artist Page! 😀 You can follow me on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7Lx9QDuqrvKCyr1jr1Q324

P.P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the books Fitness Confidential and The Bulletproof Diet, as they are two major influences on my views above.

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

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Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

According to the last person who unsubscribed from my mailing list, I have a problem: I’m too negative.

I don’t normally follow up with those who unsubscribe, but this was an exception. This particular person is someone I met during my Koffin Kats days, a wonderful human being who is kind, generous, and supportive of my endeavors. They joined my mailing list just before my days with KK were over, and interacted with me regularly.

And then, just after I sent my last blog, they unsubscribed. So I had to reach out and ask why.

They informed me that “it all started back when you made a few comments on FB about your time/feelings towards/experiences with the Koffin Kats. I was really disappointed to read some of the disparaging things you wrote. I unfollowed you on FB at that time because I felt like it there was a lot of needless negativity there and I just didn’t want to see any more of it. You are totally entitled to your feelings, they are yours and therefore they ARE valid. I would never say otherwise. It just wasn’t something I was interested in seeing.

“More recently, your email/blog post about Nelson Ellis’s passing felt like a platform that you used to complain about sensing your own mortality. There was so much negativity in it. As well as the previous email regarding the band mates who abruptly severed ties with you.

“Please understand John, I’m not here to say that any of this was wrong on your part. You have an incredible way of expressing yourself, and you are entitled to your feelings and opinions. It’s not my place to say that any of it is ‘wrong’ or ‘not valid’ because they are your thoughts and opinions. You own that shit and no one can take your freedom of expression away. There’s just a LOT of negativity saturating these emails and I have a really hard time digesting it.

“I desperately need to be surrounded by uplifting things. Music, listening to my kid laughing at the crab in Moana for the THOUSANDTH time, stupid memes.. anything!!! And lately (because their frequency has picked up) your emails are more of a source of frustration. I know I could just NOT read them.. but I like knowing what’s been new with you and what you’ve been doing. I truly hope things are better with you than how they are often sounding.

“I sincerely hope you understand that I mean no ill towards you whatsoever. I’m just doing everything I can to keep my eyes fixed on the lighter side of life… cuz there’s a huge scary dark side to it all, and it’s suffocating…”

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

I thought that showing my warts and being honest about the hurdles on my path was the way to truly connect with others, but it seems to be driving people away.

The fact is…my life is great. Yes, I experience setbacks from time to time, but for the most part, everything is fine.

But in a strange way, I’ve always felt that I should play down how good things are, because they can end at any moment, be ruined by some unforeseen event or situation.

I haven’t written anything since receiving that email because I knew that the next thing I wrote would absolutely have to be about that email, and I’ve been scared to let it out.

Well, here it is. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that when I mention something good that’s happening, it will end or be ruined somehow.

I’m afraid that if I communicate my vision for the next ten years, it won’t come to fruition.

I’m afraid to introduce the people on my team, lest they end up leaving.

I’m afraid to say how happy I am, because the pattern of my life is such that when I talk about something good, it ends.

I don’t want what’s happening in my life right now to end.

And I feel that if I speak publicly about the good things, then the evil part of the universe — It, if you will, dear friends and neighbors — will conspire to eradicate them all.

But I must, because my “negativity” is driving people away.

Fine.

(deep breath)

I have a great house in a wonderful neighborhood, with a backyard I can mow.

I have a beautiful woman in my life, and we have designs on getting a dog soon.

I have a growing family, and have begun to reconnect with family members I haven’t seen in years.

I have been training in Wing Chun Do for just over a year, and am a few months away from being an “advanced” student.

I’ve got two new songs in production, and one being mastered right now for public release.

I’ve got a great group of people learning, practicing, and rehearsing my music in order to perform and tour.

I have amazing fans all over the United States from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles, California, who love my music and can’t wait for me to come to town and play for them.

I have a clear vision of where I want to be in ten years, and I am making the necessary sacrifices and taking the calculated risks to get there.

Guys and gals, I want you to know that if you’re still reading this, or any of my musings, I appreciate you. I get dozens of emails after sending these out, and though I don’t respond to all of them, I read every one. I love hearing from all of you, and staying up to date on your happenings.

Whatever your opinion of my music, writing, podcast, etc., I want to hear it — I’m not just creating for the sake of creation, I’m creating to make an impact on others, to improve people’s lives.

So if you feel my content is focused too much on the negative, say so. I’ll listen.

But I promise, from here on out, I will endeavor to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,” as my mother always says.

Is that cool with YOU?

P.S. Downplaying my strengths has been a pattern of mine for as long as I can recall, and I had an epiphany regarding this subject in my latest podcast with Cody Hawken.

P.P.S. If you met me during my Koffin Kats days and want to know the REAL story of why I’m no longer in the group, message me privately.

P.P.P.S. Everything’s fine.
———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

Take Out the Trash

Take Out the Trash

“Nothing’s changed.”

Those who are connected with me on Facebook see that phrase every day.

Each morning, I go to the On This Day app within Facebook (many others use the Timehop app) and look at my posts from previous years. I use it to assess my progress and foster a sense of gratitude first thing in the day.

When my old posts are still relevant, I comment with “Nothing’s changed.” Those types of posts are usually centered on my core values, my humor, the way I feel about my family, my ambitions and goals, my love for music — these have never changed.

But when my posts are irrelevant, I take out the trash.

I created my Facebook account in early 2009, and I’m the same person, but not the same personality I was eight — or even five — years ago. Plus, I’ve learned a lot about social media and privacy since first joining (God knows what’s still on my MySpace account).

For most of 2009-2012, I was drunk. Not just on alcohol, which I was, but also on my nascent audio engineering career and the success of my band at the time (Bat On Fire), along with the subsequent praise I was getting from my growing network of peers and colleagues at shows, on the radio, and especially on social media.

I got caught up in the idea of being a local celebrity: getting into all the good concerts for free, getting drinks bought for me, getting invited out to everything, being with women.

Because of my personal headtrash, my Facebook posts from 2009 to mid-2011 mostly revolved around my band; clients I was recording, mixing, or producing; partying; being an audio engineering blowhard; and “bad decisions” (getting laid).

The problem was I felt like I had power. It’s quite embarrassing to read some of the things I posted back then.

I was lost. That is not who I really am, or ever really was.

So, I get rid of it all. I delete the posts, or I remove myself from being tagged in them.

I don’t do this because I’m afraid a future employer will find it, or my girlfriend or family will think less of me if they see it (hell, they’ve known me this whole time).

I’m doing this because I don’t want to remember any of it. Certain episodes, events, and chapters in my past, in a way, disgust me. I want to forgive myself for being a douchebag, forget it, and move on.

It’s not that the past is burdening me, or that I have closure issues — I’m putting as much goodness out into the world as possible, which I hope outweighs my past transgressions; I’m at peace, and karma works in wondrous ways.

The issue is my photographic memory.

When I see these old posts, my mind catapults me back in time to the circumstances surrounding the post, how I felt at the time, what my diet was like, what my belief system was caught up in, how ego-driven I was. The trash posts drum up old feelings of guilt and shame.

But again, these posts are accompanied by many other posts which are positive in nature and timeless in their value. They remain relevant to me and my life, and remind me that even though I made some bad decisions or behaved like a jerk from time to time, I’m still walking a righteous path.

I want to focus on the good, not the bad. In order to improve that focus, I take out the trash. Not just on social media, but in real life, too. Anything that takes away my focus from the present and moves me further away from my goals, I eliminate it.

My mom taught my brother and I from a very young age to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Maybe it’s a testament to her that I do that exact thing every morning, first thing…

Nothing’s changed.

———

Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com
Email: blog@therealjohnkay.com

Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, all rights reserved.

Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

https://youtu.be/sfmQvc6tB1o

I don’t cry often, but I have sensitive spots, and this commercial hits a spot.

A creature — an idea — is born, “scary and messy and fragile”.  It walks the streets, receiving looks of disgust from passersby, its fur and tail matted with filth.  An outcast everywhere it goes, it seems it doesn’t have a home.  The creature appears quite sad.

And then a person puts their arm around the creature and guides it into the GE building, smiling and talking and laughing, the creature’s fur and tail becoming cleaner and prettier with each passing moment.

In the final scene, the creature, now clean and colorful, walks alone onto a stage in front of a large audience — they are giving a standing ovation.  The scene fades out as the creature steps behind a microphone to address the audience.

The tagline is “Yes, ideas are scary, and messy, and fragile…but under the proper care, they become something beautiful.”

Gets me every time.

The point is, we’ve all got something to say, and even the scariest and messiest and most fragile of us need love in order to become our best, to bring our ideas to fruition.

Everything and everyone contains a unique opportunity.

Back in June 2016, I read my local paper and saw a bunch of errors, so I found out who the publisher was and scheduled a meeting to discuss how I could assist in making their paper better.  This meeting led to me being hired to do some editing and also to rewrite a political ad.

Rewriting that ad was the experience which led to working with a candidate for Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge.  I crafted a 14,000-word story about her life and career, and used it as the centerpiece of a grassroots social media mobilization, which, according to her social media marketing manager, was the crucial ingredient in her being elected to a seat on the bench.

When the judge and I first met, she asked me how I came to write political ads for the Redford Connection.  I explained to her that I looked at the paper, saw the errors, and instead of seeing a problem, I saw…

She finished the sentence for me, “You saw opportunity.”

She nailed it.  I heard opportunity knocking, and I opened the door.

It was an opportunity to help my community by assisting the local newspaper, which is run by two gentlemen who place great value on engagement, growth, humility, integrity, and a servant mentality.  They love the community of Redford, and they love its citizens.  They want to be the best they can be.

But the opportunity to help these gentlemen would never have been discovered if I wasn’t already in the habit of cultivating awareness.  If I wasn’t so focused on details, the little things that most others dismiss as unimportant in the grand scheme of life, I wouldn’t have noticed any errors to begin with.

The judge’s social media marketing manager was impressed with my skill set, and has since introduced me to several business owners in the hopes of engaging my talents to help them write their stories and create content which will add value for their customers and (ultimately) profits to their business.

I had a meeting yesterday with one of these business owners.  We spoke for less than an hour, then he shook my hand and told me that, from here on out, I am his go-to premium content creator.  This was after he asked what he could do to help me get further along my path, how I preferred to work, what my schedule is like, and what my rates are.

After that meeting, I went to the office of the publisher of the newspaper which started this journey, and discussed working together to transition the paper into a formidable source of Redford news, information, journalism, and community outreach, with a strong online presence via a website and social media.  I’m now formulating an overall strategy, and coordinating the team which will implement it.

None of these things would be possible, I would not know any of these people, if when I picked up the paper from my porch seven months ago I didn’t notice any errors, or saw the errors and threw the paper away, dismissing it as an amateur rag.  None of these opportunities would have come to be if I didn’t recognize an opportunity in the first place.

Understand: a heightened sense of awareness helps in all areas of life.

You need to be aware of the opportunities around you, especially if you are already somehow at a disadvantage.  Take advantage of all opportunities that are available to you, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing so.

There may already be an opportunity that you know is right for you, an opportunity that completely aligns with your value system and who you are, and what you really want to do.  But that opportunity may challenge the beliefs of people who are close to you, people who you love, or who you associate with regularly.  They may say it’s too risky, or too difficult, or too expensive, or too selfish, or too different, too radical, too scary.

I’m telling you now, go get that opportunity.  Go take that opportunity and make it the best opportunity for you.

Be warned, some opportunities will present themselves to you that may seem like good opportunities, but in fact are not, and rob you of precious time and resources which would otherwise be used for better opportunities.  The key is to be aware of the path that you’re on and what values you hold within yourself, and adhere to those values, letting them guide your decision-making.  Let your experience and your values be your map and compass.

Remember: you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is the result of the decisions you make today.  Hold yourself accountable to making better decisions today, and you’ll wake up with a better tomorrow.

If someone whose values align with yours is willing to offer their help, take it.  If there’s a tool that will help you become more effective at your job, get it and use it.  If there’s a person who supports your endeavors, love that person and champion them.

A lot of people don’t answer when opportunity knocks.  A lot of people can’t recognize when opportunity knocks, or they’re not prepared when it does.  A lot of people are unaware of all of the opportunities available to them.  Knowing all of this puts you at an advantage.

So be prepared and be aware, because opportunity is always knocking.  You just have to know how to listen.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Music: johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

P.S. Episode 003 of my podcast Get After It!, with my guest Jim Doyon, is now live!  Jim is the founder and co-owner of InkAddict, a tattoo lifestyle apparel company, and he hates doing interviews, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share with you his insight and wisdom on life and business.  Click the link and get after it!  http://getafterit.libsyn.com/get-after-it-w-john-kay-003-jim-doyon

P.P.S.  I’m working on a new song, and plan to have the recording process wrapped up this week.  😀

P.P.P.S.  If you haven’t given me your feedback on my newest song, I’d love to hear it.  Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and based on what I’m being told, this may be my best song yet.  What do YOU think?  Check it out here, then let me know: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

New Year, New Song, New Podcast

New Year, New Song, New Podcast

2016 is finally over.

For many, it was a particularly brutal year.  For me, it was one of the best years of my life.

Mind you, it still had its challenges, from being laid up with injuries to having my car in the shop nine times, and my laptop — the heart of my business! — dying in the summer.

But mostly, it was a great year.

I bought a nice house less than three miles from my mom and dad, got my hands dirty and did some pre-move construction and finishing with my best friend, and moved myself and my queen in in February.  We took out the above-ground pool, and installed a fire pit, around which we hosted two fun parties with many of the awesome people in our life.

I bought a great car and use it to drive for Uber and Lyft, which has proven to be both a viable source of income to cover my household overhead and a way to retain my agency as an entrepreneur.  I get to listen to podcasts — I like to learn while I earn — and meet cool people, some of whom have become fans of my music.  (Remember: Tip your Uber or Lyft driver!)

I’ve been reading anywhere from 20-80 pages of a book every day, and will include my recommended reading list below.

I got hired as a freelance writer and editor by my local newspaper, and conducted a 3-hour strategy session with them to help determine their core values as a business.

Because of the experience with my local paper, along with my blog, I ended up being hired by a candidate for Wayne County Circuit Court Judge to write a 14,000-word story of her life and career, which became the centerpiece for the grassroots social media movement I coordinated to maximize its impact.  She ultimately won the election, and the votes needed in order to secure her seat on the bench were a direct result of my efforts, according to her social media manager.

I also began training in Wing Chun Do, a self-defense-focused martial art developed by Grandmaster (“Sijo”, see-jo) James DeMile based on his years of practicing and learning with Bruce Lee in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  I had the opportunity to meet and learn directly from Sijo this past August, when he travelled from his home in Hawaii to bequeath the Wing Chun Do system and Grandmaster title to my personal instructor, Rocco Ambrose.  I’m excited and fortunate to be learning from the Grandmaster of a martial art!

There wasn’t really a single thing that I would consider to be the best thing that happened to or for me in 2016, but I think overall, I’d have to say that I learned a lot about myself and my capacity to get things done, to become my best self.  And I learned a lot about others, too.

Every day, I effort to learn something new.  Whether it’s through reading a book, or listening to a podcast, or talking with a rider when I’m out driving, I’m constantly learning and applying the knowledge gained.

I think that having a student-like mindset is a great way to approach life, and I encourage others to ask tough questions, to seek deeper knowledge in all things.

But I always keep in mind something Sijo said during his visit: “If it doesn’t work for you, it’s pure entertainment.”

So this year, I encourage you to find what works for you, and use it to help you become better at whatever you’re doing and get closer to whatever it is you’re working toward.  (I’d love to hear your story!)

What works for me is operating from a place of authenticity, and creating the best content I can.

I’m happy to announce that starting in 2017, I am now delivering content in three forms:

My blog, which, now that I have a new laptop (yay!), I will endeavor to publish on a weekly basis…

My music, of which a new song was released yesterday (the general consensus among the feedback I’m getting is that it may be my best song to date)…

Finally, my new podcastGet After It! w/ John Kay, the first installment of which was published today at 5:00 AM!  I’ve already interviewed five guests for Get After It!, respectable mavericks each of them, and plan to release a new installment on Monday of each week.

The first installment features my interview with Emily Schaller, the CEO of a Detroit-based non-profit organization called RockCF, which raises funds and awareness for the fight against cystic fibrosis.  Emily’s story and life are inspiring, and every time I talk to her I feel the need to kick my butt a little more in my own efforts.  She truly is a ray of brilliant light, and everyone can learn something from listening to her.

I’m grateful to anyone reading this right now, and to anyone who listens to my music and my podcast.  If you like my music, please buy it.  If you like what you hear on my podcast, please subscribe to it.

2016 is over.  The best is yet to come!  🙂

New song, “We Know We’re Gonna Die”: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

New podcast, interview with Emily Schaller: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/4951467

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

My 2016 recommended reading list:

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman
I was raised on the Beatles, classical music, and country music.  Anyone who is a Beatles fan generally has a favorite Beatle, and mine was always Paul, although the songs that I loved the most and wanted to learn were usually George songs.  This 800+ page book, a birthday gift from my parents, grabbed me from page one and I read it voraciously, at one point over 125 pages in a day.  Paul was the meticulous one, the one who focused on the details, staying late into the night at the studio to get his bass parts just the way he wanted them, which is to say, perfect.  This book reached into my soul, and I found myself empathizing with Paul in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible if someone told me so.  The author had McCartney’s ‘tacit approval’ to interview anyone and everyone who knew Paul about anything and everything, so this truly is the definitive Paul McCartney biography.  A must-read for anyone interested in one of the biggest superstars in the world.

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook
I hear all the time about how new music is no good, the radio sucks these days, all the songs sound the same.  Well, this book explains why.  From ABBA to Ace of Base to Kelly Clarkson and Rhianna and more, the evolution of pop music’s dominance is thoroughly broken down.  You get the inside scoop on who really writes the music we hear everywhere — mostly white, middle-aged, Scandinavian men.  This book was fascinating from start to finish, and I recommend everyone reads it.  It’s full of delicious and salacious stories, from Ke$ha’s turbulent lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke, to the time Kelly Clarkson bawled her eyes out in Clive Davis’s office because he insisted on including “Since U Been Gone” on her sophomore record (it would go on to win the Grammy for Song Of The Year).  Treat yourself to this book.  You won’t regret it, even if it does disgust you.

Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
I need to read this book again, this time with a highlighter.  That’s something I have been doing more of, highlighting books as I read them.  This year I’m going to transcribe the highlighted passages from my books onto index cards and create what’s known as a ‘commonplace book’ for myself.  A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations, and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.  The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking, or whatever it is that you do.  Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books.  Marcus Aurelius kept one, which more or less became the Meditations.  Petrarch kept one.  Montaigne, who invented the essay kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important.  Thomas Jefferson kept one.  Napoleon kept one.  Bill Gates keeps one.  I first heard of the idea of a commonplace book from Holiday’s blog, and liked the idea so much I decided to apply it.  This book will be one of the first to get transcribed.  It’s relatively short, and one can likely read it in a day or over a weekend.  Beneficial to anyone.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
This one hits you where it hurts: your smartphone.  Everywhere we turn, most people seem to be looking down at a device.  It’s the reality of the culture in which we live.  But there are devastating side effects to our new habits that are only now being discovered.  This book sheds light on those side effects.  There’s a group of friends going out to dinner and mandating the creation of a ‘cell phone tower’ in the middle of the table, where everyone stacks their device on top of the others, and the first person to grab for theirs when it rings has to pay for the entire meal.  Or consider that many young professionals fresh out of college and beginning their careers would rather talk to their colleagues, bosses, and employees through text, email, or Gchat, than have an actual one-on-one, face-to-face conversation.  We are connecting with our devices more than we are with each other.  According to Turkle, based on her research, this is a growing epidemic, the results of which are a general lack of empathy toward others and an inability to tolerate natural lulls and awkwardness in conversation.  Sound like the world we live in?  Ever since reading this book, I have effort to ‘elevate the conversation’ whenever possible.  Instead of emailing, I’ll text.  Instead of texting, I’ll call.  Instead of calling, I’ll drop by.  By elevating our conversations, we can reclaim our empathy and our connection to one another.

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington
Believe me, no one was as shocked as I that I purchased something from Arianna Huffington.  Regardless of any opinion one may have about her, the information in the book is immediately applicable.  Since reading it, I do my best to get at least 7 hours of sleep every single night.  You should, too.

When I’m 64

When I was a little kid, the majority of my Sunday evenings were spent riding home from grandma and grandpa’s house in my dad’s tiny Ford Ranger.

Dad kept a box under the bench seat with several cassette tapes of various styles and artists; Beatles, Jethro Tull, Beethoven, Monty Python, Guess Who, Mozart, more Beatles, et al.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64..?”  Dad was 64.  Right up until a month ago.  No, he didn’t die; he turned 65, eligible now for all of those tremendous senior discounts, social security…

Once every year on those musical rides home, when the mood struck, he would pop in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s seminal “Karn Evil 9” (https://youtu.be/fLS0Med0s6E).  When the tune kicked in, he became pure energy, visibly passionate and animated, singing along, hitting the steering wheel perfectly in time with the drum fills, fingering the air organ (don’t be cheeky!).

The song lasted the whole drive home, and each time he played it he would point out all the different changes, extoll how “ELP” would occasionally cover classical music, and…

And now we have earworms.  The general public is aurally assaulted on a daily basis with calculated productions, formulated to be catchy, financed to be played everywhere, advertised incessantly; productions cached and controlled by the very rich, who manipulate, extort, exhort, and exhaust both the songs and the artists who perform them.

Until finally, they are discarded, another empty Starbucks cup.

Ask anyone under the age of 25 “Who sings that ‘867-5309’ song?”  They won’t be able to tell you…but they know those digits and can sing their melody.  They’ve heard it for years in their cars and at Speedway stations and Gaps and at 7-11 and in TV commercials and at Cold Stone and…

My dad worked in commercial radio from 1969-1994, mostly in downtown Detroit, and his first 15 years were spent as a disc jockey.  He loved exploring local record stores, always discovering new music to share.  Taking his findings home, he would scrounge intensely for the “deep cuts,” songs that may not necessarily be fed to the radio station or considered commercial enough, but he believed would resonate with his audience.

Because he knew his audience.  He encouraged his listeners to call and write to him.

And he would respond, both personally and through the music he would play during his time on-air.  He took his role within the universal music community seriously.

Taking time to set up the context of songs before the lyrics kicked in, breaking down some of the core elements of songs after they finished, knowing when to keep quiet and simply let the music play…he ran his show like a well-oiled machine, educating his listeners on how to listen to music actively.

He was infamous among his colleagues for refusing to play “Stairway to Heaven” in its heyday; every other DJ was doing it, so he didn’t need to.  A fresh impact each and every show was paramount, so if a song had grown stale among his fans, he stopped spinning it.

Early in his career, my dad unearthed a deep cut from a band featuring an albino multi-instrumentalist: a synthesizer-driven instrumental, with a working title of “Double Drum Solo”.

Upon first listen, he was blown away by the tune.  Even though the song was over nine minutes in length, and had no vocals at all, he knew for sure his fans would dig it.

Understand: my father’s authenticity and attention to detail — two traits which he still exemplifies to this day, I’ll add — made his fans quickly grow to respect him.  That respect, along with the subsequent growth in his audience, earned him the trust of his bosses and the freedom to work on his own terms.

But when it came to this particular song, the station’s program director called him crazy, shouting “It’s an instrumental!!!” and protesting “Nine minutes?!  You’ll lose half your listeners!”

Fortunately for my dad, it was a time when disc jockeys were regarded across the country as the real tastemakers, and they had a modicum of power within the music industry.  He had full creative control over his show, and despite the urgings of his boss, he broke that record that night.  (To “break” a record, in radio speak, means to be the first in the world to play a song or album on the air.)

He was true to the music first — if it sounds good, it is good.

The song he debuted that night was originally released as the B-side to another song.  The two were soon reversed by the band’s label when DJs across the US and Canada were flooded with phone calls and realized the song my dad played was the hit.

The name of the band was The Edgar Winter Group, and the song was “Frankenstein”.

Even if you don’t know the song by name, you’ll know it when you hear it.  Here’s the part we all know — ba-da bop bop ba-da bop baaaaaaa!! — in a Buick commercial with Tiger Woods: https://youtu.be/MEQMxdL9ohQ.

Is my dad the cause of Edgar Winter’s success?  Irrelevant in the bigger picture, though an argument can be made, I suppose.  The point is…he took a chance on an unknown because he had the authority to do so, and it paid off for both of them.

Corporations believe they are the only ones in America with any real authority now.  They have the money, so, therefore, they figure they have the power.

But they don’t take chances on unknowns anymore, only sure things and proven commodities.

In The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, published in 2015, John Seabrook writes “Over the last two decades a new type of hit song has emerged, one that is almost inescapably catchy.  Pop songs have always had a ‘hook,’ but today’s songs bristle with them: a hook every seven seconds is the rule.  Painstakingly crafted to tweak the brain’s delight in melody, rhythm, and repetition, these songs are highly processed products.  Like snack-food engineers, modern songwriters have discovered the musical ‘bliss point.’  And just like junk food, the bliss point leaves you wanting more.”

Pop music is dominated by a few huge record companies that use data on past successes to replicate them again and again.  This has led directly to the present situation, wherein only a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits.  Popular songs, like most mass-productions, now get made via focus groups and formulas.

If you’re a DJ in American commercial radio today, you don’t have the freedom to debut any “deep cuts” — there’s a playlist provided to the station by their parent company (likely, this one) with all of the songs the labels want played, scheduled at specific times throughout the day.

The widespread influence of Big Pop even extends to music journalists who, working online, have come to understand that championing little-known artists commands far less traffic — and therefore less job security — than their critical explanations of the new Adele video or (another) Beatles re-release.

Bottom line: if you’re not making hits, or spinning hits, or talking about hits, you’re fired.  Don’t look the part, or wanna play along?  You’re left on the outside.

What the labels refuse to admit, or are incapable of comprehending, is that while algorithms and playlists and clickbait thrive on confirming one’s loves and hates, the best critics — or museum curators, or record store clerks, or DJs, or friends — peddle not only their own insights but also ways to arrive at new insights about things.

In a culture ruled by corporations, profit is the ultimate goal.  Chances are uncertain, and cannot be taken.

Can you imagine a 9-minute instrumental featuring a double drum solo from a band fronted by an albino on today’s radio stations, in shopping malls…at Starbucks??  Fat chance.  Forget “Karn Evil 9”.  It’s nearly a half hour long, whose story, told in three parts, features a 15-minute instrumental section.

Admittedly, I dismissed Emerson’s passing as simply another of our great musicians moving into the next world.  (George Martin, Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, and David Bowie all said goodbye this year, and we’re not even through March!)  He’d merely be showered with love for a weekend on social media, and then promptly forgotten, as so many others have been.

And frankly, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer never excited me in the same way as other artists.  That’s unfortunate, since Keith Emerson was a musician of the highest order.  Right up until the moment he killed himself at 71 years old.

According to his long-time partner, Mari, he was “tormented with worry” about an upcoming tour, and said he had suffered nerve damage to his right hand which affected his playing: “He didn’t want to let down his fans.  He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous, and anxious.”

Noting heart disease and depression brought about by alcohol in the full report, the coroner ruled his death a suicide — t appears Keith Emerson had so much respect for his audience that he ended his life in order to ensure that he would never let them down.

After I told this news to my queen, she paused for a moment, and her first words thereafter were “John…please don’t ever do that.”

Because she sees me as I really am: I’m a perfectionist, too.  On the occasions when I happen to screw up, it’s usually because I’m worrying too much about screwing up.  She knows how passionate I am, and how I put my heart and soul into everything I do, what I create, into my music, my performances.

But she also knows that I absolutely dread the inevitable loss of my skills.  There will come a day when I am physically or mentally unable to perform and operate at the level I regard as my standard.

The same goes for each and every person alive — we all erode in time.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

Need me?  Feed me?  Don’t care.  Will I still be able to create and perform music at the level I do now???

That’s why I believe no matter who we are, what our circumstances happen to be, or what passion we choose to embrace, it is crucial for each of us to engage in life with intensity, to make an impact during our brief time…

“In the face of our inevitable mortality we can do one of two things.  We can attempt to avoid the thought at all costs, clinging to the illusion that we have all the time in the world.  Or we can confront this reality, accept and even embrace it, converting our consciousness of death into something positive and active.  In adopting such a fearless philosophy, we gain a sense of proportion, become able to separate what is petty from what is truly important.  Knowing our days to be numbered, we have a sense of urgency and mission.  We can appreciate life all the more for its impermanence.  If we can overcome the fear of death, then there is nothing left to fear.” – Robert Greene, The 50th Law

https://youtu.be/4OkrYf4qlLM

The legends don’t really go on forever…

But what they create does!

When I heard last week that Keith Emerson died, I immediately thought of those trips home from grandma’s with my dad, over 25 years ago, when we bonded over the music he and Greg Lake and Carl Palmer made.

We can travel through time, if only in our minds.

P.S. Full disclosure: I borrowed a few phrases from a couple of Atlantic articles relevant to the content.  Check them out if you’d like: Article 1Article 2

P.P.S. There are numerous videos showcasing Keith Emerson’s talent.  Here are two examples: https://youtu.be/yg2KjxNtAiM and https://youtu.be/KjkD39dCvBI.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

Spinning Plates

I need to express how satisfying it is to be in my and my queen’s new house, sitting at our kitchen table and writing this…because at this time ten years ago, my life was flipped upside down.

I was in the process of filing bankruptcy and finalizing a contested divorce, ultimately resulting in the foreclosure of my home and repossession of my car.  Moreover, I was walking away from a career in retail sales management, and the cushy benefits and guaranteed income which came with it.

Music has been my passion since I was born, and I decided once and for all to make the creation and performance of my own music my number one priority in life.

So I took out $20k in student loans and relocated to Phoenix to attend a premier audio engineering school.  (I wanted to learn how to professionally record and mix my own music in order to save money.)  Graduating required the completion of 480 hours — 12 weeks — of an unpaid internship, and six months after arriving in Phoenix I moved to Nashville.  Once there, I bought a 1989 Mazda 929 for $400 and lived in it while interning at a newly-opened all-analog recording studio.

The car died halfway through the internship.

Without a vehicle, and with no money and nowhere to live, my parents drove the nine hours down and brought me back up to Detroit.  Just like that…poof!…I was essentially a teenager again: fresh out of school, with no car and no job, living in mom and dad’s basement on their dime.

I was utterly ashamed.  I felt like a total failure.  But I had a new skill set, and promised myself that I would work as hard as possible to get my own place within a year of moving back.  After a year of busting my butt securing occasional freelance work, I got a job as the house engineer at a venue.

I applied to get a place, but got denied a loan because I didn’t have enough history of income.  So, I built a makeshift recording studio in my parents’ basement, and toughed it out.  I had clients here and there over the following year, building my income history, and things were running smoothly until I was no longer needed at the venue I worked at.  My main source of income was now gone.  The only thing left was my band and our potential.  But due to perpetual discontent, the band dissolved within the ensuing two years.

There I was, back at square one again.  I was angry…with myself.  Because I believe you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is a result of today’s decisions.

Taking the time to reflect on everything, I ultimately realized that I wasn’t being my true self….I needed to make music which truly comes from my heart, and not just my head.  I needed to make music that speaks truth to power, and has depth and meaning.  I needed to be true to my positive habits and instincts — musical, professional, and personal — while allowing ample room for further enlightenment.

This realization led me to finally begin writing my own original music with the intent of performing it as a solo artist.  I’ve always written for bands I’ve formed with others, and I felt it was time to take the leap on my own.

Suddenly my creative juices were flowing at an unstoppable pace.  I began writing furiously, and before I knew it I had the makings of a full-length album on my hands.  I took my life savings at the time and spent it to have the songs mixed by a major label mixer, and began saving little by little to have the album professionally mastered.

And then…Koffin Kats called, offering a golden ticket to touring life.  I dropped my plans and accepted their offer wholeheartedly.  What followed was an amazing ride across the US, Canada, Europe, and the UK spanning two years.  I was excited for the future, and started making plans to finally get my own place.

Then five months ago, they told me their original guitarist was coming back to the group at the beginning of the new year, and my services would no longer be required.

Panic.  I was less than half a year away from being back at square one for the third time in six years.  I didn’t know what to do.  All I knew is I was going to make the best of the last couple of tours with the Kats, and figure it out.

On tour last November, I was chatting with a fan after one of our shows, and she asked to hear my solo material.  I explained to her that it wasn’t finished but she said she didn’t care, so I sent her a link to my Dropbox folder containing the tunes.  She got back to me a couple of days later, telling me that she loved the album, recommending I share it with others.  So I did; since first sharing with her, I’ve been in touch with over 400 people who have all listened to my tunes.

The responses have been positively overwhelming.  In my 25 years of making music, I have never received reactions such as these.  The ongoing communication with everyone has shown me that my music resonates with people, and I am honored by that.

Going back and forth with everyone has resulted in creating my website, where people can preorder my album (once I send it out for mastering) and join my new yearly fan club.  I feel incredibly humbled and grateful to say that several people have joined already, and we are all excited for what’s to come.  🙂

In the meantime, I’ve found a great way to earn viable income while growing my musical efforts: driving for Uber.

I bought a 2001 Ford Focus on its last legs back in July.  I submitted to drive for Uber in early December, thinking they’d turn me down because my car was too old, but they approved me within 48 hours.  I immediately began driving as much as possible in order to make money for…

Closing costs on a new house!  It turns out that based on the history of income from my two years with Koffin Kats, and the money in the bank from Ubering, I was able to get approved (with my dad as cosigner) for a mortgage.  We closed on New Year’s Eve, and my queen and I just moved in less than two weeks ago, after doing some remodeling and painting and whatnot.  And, the Focus died in mid-January, but based on my credit I was able to purchase a gently used 2012 Chevy Sonic!

So…I’m in my new house, sitting at the kitchen table, listening to sports radio on the sound system in the living room, and working on this letter.  And it feels so good because it feels earned.

I look at balance in life like the plate spinner.  You know, from sideshow acts, the guy or gal who takes long sticks and spins plates on top of them?  The goal is to get as many plates as possible spinning at once, so the performer can step back and say “Ta-da!”

That’s life: there’s a money plate, a job plate, a spouse plate, a family plate, friends, hobbies, spirit, health, etc.  The object is to get everything in your life in order so you can sit back and say “Ahhhhhhh…” and relax.  Just like the plate spinner, I can’t relax until I know all of my plates aren’t wobbling.  For a while, I had all of my plates on the verge of crashing to the ground.  Some did, and I had to get new plates.

It feels good to be able to step back and reflect on the journey of the last decade, to see how far I’ve come since my world was flipped upside down.  And now that the house and car and income plates are spinning again, I can get back to spinning the blog plate and the emails plate, and most importantly, the new music plate.  I’ve got another new single coming soon which reflects my newfound confidence at getting through this thing called life.

Get ready to dance.  😀

P.S. If you want to hear the album that is resonating with hundreds of people, email blog@therealjohnkay.com and I’ll share it with you personally.  🙂

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay