Meet MIGUEL CHEN of TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET "I Wanna Be Well" INTERVIEW
If I were to ask you to draw in your head what a punk rocker looks like to you, your brain probably starts conjuring up the cliche' images of the stereotypical adolescent teenager with blue hair, with studded patched jacket. Doing. Punk. Shit.
The last image I bet you would've pictured is a very peaceful, very tattooed Miguel Chen sitting in a lotus pose on his yoga mat meditating. Yoga teacher by day, punk rock bassist by night, writer of things in between. Miguel is most recognized as bassist for punk rock band TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET.
So what the hell does yoga and meditating have to do with punk rock? Well, recently Miguel wrote a book (with help from Rod Meade Sperry) called I Wanna Be Well: How A Punk Found Peace And You Can Too about the basics in finding peace in one's own crazy existence as well as tying his own personal accounts, sharing brief stories on how learning meditation and Buddhism helped him overcome such things as his mother's battle with cancer to substance abuses over the years. He knows a little bit about the subject since he teaches several yoga classes/week at his studio Blossom Yoga in Laramie and Cheyenne, WY and also hosts Yoga for Punks.
I Wanna Be Well covers from front to back the fundamentals of meditation and focuses on your breathing, also centers around key ideas related to meditating and yoga. For anyone, who doesn't have anyone to talk to about being in a shitty situation and wanting to try to get out of it, this helps. Each chapter starts the same with a personal story of Miguel's that focuses around the topic at hand like how to tackle food cravings, traumatic events like death and even how to treat other people, when you don't like them at all. This is all followed by a new easy step-by-step way to meditate and practice the exercises. For you lazy ones, a "tl;dr" (too long, didn't read) version is at the end of every chapter summarizing in 10 words or less.
I recently had the chance to chat with this SOON-TO-BE punk rock pops (yup, he's also going to be a daddy soon!) about his intentions for writing the book, first experiences meditating, and how to deal with toxic people and environments.
TPPD: First I have to ask. Was the book title inspired by The Ramones song?
CHEN: 100%. All Ramones all the time!
TPPD: It seems like you’re here to break the stereotypical “bald dude in pajamas humming to a statue” True?
CHEN: Most definitely. I think spiritual practice seems so far away from many of our day to day lives. We see monks and yogis and they don't represent us and how we live. But yoga and meditation don't belong only to them, they belong to all of us. These practices are meant for people who live seemingly normal lives. It's how we take our day to day and transform it into something amazing.
TPPD: Its crazy, I’ve said the same shit for years the same way you talked about a morning routine in ch 7. Get up, school/work, then force a “go get em” attitude. That you're a self propitiating monster and the overall attitude is “I hate this, fuck this, my boss sucks.”
- Do you think that a solution to a lot of these problems are that if you dislike your situation/ routine, then get a new one. (I left my job of 6 years because of it). CHEN: It's a little of both. There is the side of: if you don't like something, change it. There is also the side of: you already have everything you need to be happy. Our reality exists somewhere in the middle. We can change a lot more than we think we can, but we also don't need to change everything to be happy. The purpose of these practices is to find our own truth, where you will know what needs changed and what just needs a change of perspective.
TPPD: “We’ve been living for the future our entire lives”. Is an amazing quote.
- Do you think that people try to live up to others expectations and even take on too much at once? CHEN: I think ego wants to live up to expectations, but our deeper Self sees the illusion. That's what this whole game is about, letting go of ego, moving inward and connecting to that part. Here we can truly do our best without worrying about the results. Multi-tasking is another illusion. It doesn't get more done, it just keeps us disconnected. Doing one thing at a time helps us again to connect inward.
TPPD: Do you think that toxic people, and environment affect the “best” in people?
CHEN: I'll refer here to the: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sutra 1.33. maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam This roughly translates to: "We can cultivate an attitude of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, joy for the virtuous and neutrality toward those we perceive to be non-virtuous." This leads to a calm, undisturbed mind. So yes, these toxic people and situations *could affect the best in us, but we don't have to let it. We can work to cultivate a different mindset and free ourselves from these disturbances and this mindset comes from non-attachment and compassion.
TPPD: As I was reading through your book, (as fucking Oprah as this sounds) it’s like it was written about me or FOR ME with as much as we have in common. Every band I’ve ever been in, I’ve predominantly been the bassist, I went a little crazy in my early 20s (I was like the east coast Fat Mike), and then my dad passed away in 2012 of sepsis after a misdiagnosis of cancer. Totally fucked everyone in our family up.
- Was an intent going into writing I Wanna Get Well to help others out there who have had similar traumatic experiences similar to your own? CHEN: My intent was simply to share my experiences and hope they might help other people out as well. No two lives will look the same, but we all understand love, joy and pain.
TPPD: On a way lighter topic, I've tried meditation on several occasions and it's the first time someone “got my problem”. Like TOO MANY THOUGHTS. And you described the way I think while meditating PERFECTLY. (Birds shitting).
Then I thought “Well if Miguel gets my over-thinking, maybe I'll understand his process”. Well, your methods were THE FIRST TIME I had results. - What were your first experiences like and did you ever have the: “fuck this, I quit." moments like I did? CHEN: I've absolutely had experiences where it felt like I was completely wasting my time. Still do some days haha! Consistency is key. In my experience that's where progress starts to show up
TPPD: One of the most powerful chapters is your one on forgiveness. I know people that go a lifetime holding a grudge over a boyfriend from 9th grade.
- How do you stress to people that are coping with that stubbornness? CHEN: You can hold on, or you can move forward. It's not up to anyone else. Wouldn't it be a relief to let go of the old shit?
TPPD: It’s awesome to hear that you’re not this like “vegan super health nut” but at the same time you push mindful eating habits. Myself, I went from 250lbs to 189lbs twice in my life, so I definitely know the struggle especially when depression or cravings hit.
- Are there any craving tips? I’m a giant foodie. CHEN: Everything in moderation right? Notice your cravings, notice what part of you is having them. Know you don't have to constantly torture yourself and deny your cravings, but you also don't have to give in to every single one
TPPD: The punk rock community has been know to "tightrope walk" the fine line of addiction, partying, drinking. There's also the polar opposite punks who have said “fuck this” and went like total vegan, work out hardcore, and like won’t even take an Aspirin.
- Where do you see yourself in this category? CHEN: I live in the middle. And honestly I think most of us do. There is great relief that comes from knowing you don't have to live on either extreme, you can figure out where your home is in the middle and live quite happily.
TPPD: I saw some of the quotes from dudes like Jim Lindberg (Pennywise) and Zach Blair (Rise Against), while talking about your book.
- How has the overall response from the community been? And when naysayers do start shit, any words of wisdom to sway them around? CHEN: Honestly 99% of the response has been super positive. I'm grateful for that, but I'll also add that this isn't about me. People can think what they want, take what they want and live how they see fit. If this isn't for them, well it's not for me to try and change their minds. I can't tell anyone how to best live their life except for myself.
TPPD: When on tour with all the commotion, crew, other bands, etc. where do you go to block it all out and find time to meditate and practice yoga?
CHEN: I usually try and find a quiet room backstage, or wake up early at the hotel and find the gym. If nothing else I get up and practice in the room while whoever else is still asleep.
TPPD: And lastly I cant go without asking. I see that TBR is going on tour this coming Spring/Summer.
- Any new songs or surprises for fans on this tour? CHEN: We've been writing, we're always writing. Nothing has made it's way onto the set list yet, but who knows!
I Wanna Be Well is out now! For more on Miguel click ANY of the links below. Check Miguel out on tour this spring/summer with TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET.
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