Friday, 22 February 2013

Rage as Motivation

Rage – O Goddess, sing of the ruinous rage of Achilles, son of Peleus,
that brought innumerable losses to the Achaeans
and cast down so many brave heroes to Hades,
great warriors’ souls, their bodies carrion
Feasts for the dogs and the crows.

- The Iliad - Book 1.

The poem’s initial word, μῆνιν (mēnin) is often translated as “wrath, rage or fury” and sets the theme for much of what’s to follow.  In some ways, it serves as a reminder that rage, when allowed to run wild at least, is not very conducive to a long and happy life.  At least it didn’t turn out so hot for Achilles, minus the everlasting glory and fame. 

For the most part, I think this is a pretty valuable lesson.  There’s not much to be gained from anger – for the most part it’s a pretty useless and unproductive emotion.  Nothing much good comes from it.  I think one notable exception to this, however, is weightlifting.  Rage can be a pretty powerful motivator. There was a great video clip over at RossTraining about the type of inner rage that’s necessary for squatting really heavy weights (I mean stupid heavy!).

Now, I think I’m a pretty content and relaxed dude in most areas of my life, but I fully understand this idea.   In a lot of athletic endeavours, anger probably makes people do dumb things and make mistakes.  It’s probably best to cultivate more of a zen-like sense of calm detachment.  Not so with the iron, at least in my humble opinion.  Nothing gets that last rep off the ground like a healthy dose of pure rage.

But what’s a guy to do if he’s not humming with rage at all times.  How to turn it on when needed?  For me, music is a good way (not to mention a free, or at least very low cost way) to quickly tap into that wellspring.  I always lift better with music.  And here’s where I differ with Henry Rollins who wrote in his absolutely fantastic essay Iron and the Soul, in which he mentions how he mostly listens to ballads when lifting.  As clichéd as it may sound, for me it has to be metal. 

A lot of bands often do the trick for me – Primordial, Mastodon, early Tool (their later stuff is amazing but not as angry), Machinehead, Killswitch Engage, Protest the Hero.  But no other band does it better than Lamb of God.  Something about Randy Blythe’s vocals and the pure all-American thrash every time.
One of my all-time favourites is the song Reclamation.  
The whole song is kick-ass, but there’s one section where 
the lyrics are: 

“Only after the last tree's cut
and the last river poisoned,
only after the last fish is caught
will you find that money cannot be eaten”
At that point it just breaks down into the most vicious, demonic riffs on earth.
That, combined with the whole theme of the song about how we’re mindlessly trashing the planet to the detriment of future generations - As a father, that gets me pretty angry.
I was out at lunch doing muscle-ups on Wednesday – this song was playing, the snow was falling, wind blowing, the river iced over and the sky grey. It was pretty bleak. The song fades out to the sound of waves lapping against the shore. It struck me like the scene in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road when father and son finally make it to the sea, to find nothing but more ash and desolation.

Another fantastic motivator on the same album, fittingly titled ‘Wrath’, is a song called “Grace”.
I f@#king love this song, and for some reason the bit around the 1:45 mark give me tingles
every single time I hear it: 

“Forgiving the father Read the story on my skin
Tell me more about the man I should have been,
I'll be the martyr
Falling from his grace again
This is where the end begins”

Now, given the band’s usual anti-religious themes, these lyrics are probably meant more in the celestial father sense but I always internalize them to take on a more familial undertone. Now, I don’t want to sound like a whiny little bitch here. I get along pretty well with my father these days and I really don’t have any bad feeling toward him. But the fact is, he took off when I was 2 months old and we were never close. I suppose there’s always been some underlying
resentment there, like I wasn’t good enough or something. Pretty stupid – a lot of people have had it a whole hell of a lot worse – fathers that beat them up or abused them. My own situation pales in comparison. But it’s still a good motivator. 99.9% of my life I harbour no ill will toward
my dad. But at the moment when I’ve got a few hundred pounds of iron across my shoulders, grinding out the last couple of reps, and that song comes on, I hate that motherf#(ker with every fiber of my being. And then it’s done. Catharsis.

Whatever it takes to spark that rage, find it and use it. I’ve had a pretty bloody fortunate life so I find it really hard to get angry about much. Music is a bit of a crutch I guess but, hey, whatever works, right? I think that’s one of the great things about lifting weights, sprinting, swinging a sledgehammer at tires – anything that demands giving 100% of your physical capacity. It’s a productive outlet for rage and anger – a release. Once you’ve used up that fuel, it’s gone and doesn’t negatively affect the rest of your life, until the next time you need it