It’s Pronounced Bro-ga

For years, various people have encouraged me to try yoga; my mother, a personal trainer, and most gently, my therapist. All of them said something to the effect of “it will help you get out of your own head.”

I was always dismissive in response, saying “Why do I need to get out of my head? I know the territory.” The unspoken being that even though the stuff in my head might be weird, dark, and a little anxious, I was perfectly capable of handling it without yoga. This is essentially the thinking man’s version of “If I meditate I’ll lose my creative edge,” which is bullshit.

For over a year I meditated every day on the train home from work, and I’m familiar with all its benefits. It made me a much better, less anxious driver. Snafus at work bothered me less and less, and when others started to panic I stayed calm. On one of the initial dates with my now girlfriend, Leslie, I asked about her yoga practice. At that point I knew she went several times a week, and I definitely made a joke about “meditating hard.” Although athletic and fit, she was modest about her level of skill. “It helps me be connected to my body,” she said.

I replied, “Sometimes I wish I was less connected to my body.”

Thankfully, she laughed. Maybe a month or so later she asked if I wanted to join her in a yoga class.

I didn’t say yes because she’s great and I wanted to keep seeing her, although that was definitely part of the reason. After having so many smart people pushing yoga on me it seemed like a good idea to finally try it, mostly so I could ignore any and all future suggestions.

It was a few weeks before we could go to a class together, and we planned to go to an easier session appropriate for new yogis, something called Outdoor Flow. The morning of we were a little late in leaving and hit traffic on the way. “We’ll have to do the next one,” she explained. “My studio is strict about not letting people in after the class has started.”

“That’s fine,” I said, not realizing the drastic disparity between different types of classes. I was only looking to avoid hot yoga or one of the more intense classes Leslie preferred, sessions with names like Sculpt and Power Yoga. We arrived and signed up for a ninety-minute class called Vinyasa. Leslie left to park her car and the woman at the front desk gave me a mat and a towel. “The mats sometimes get slippery,” she explained, “so you can lay the towel on top for more traction.”

Right, as if I wouldn’t be able to master my own yoga mat.

Leslie returned and found me in the entry area where yogis take off their shoes. She walked up and kissed me. “Thank you for doing this. Vinyasa is a harder class than I would normally start you with.”

“It’s fine,” I said again. “And I’m definitely not nervous at all.”

Part of the reason I had agreed to Vinyasa was because Leslie had described Derek, the instructor, as somewhat “basic,” which I took to mean easier than most. We set up our mats at the back of the room, and after a few minutes the instructor came by to shake my hand, welcome me, and ask if I was okay with him using his hands to adjust my poses. “Sure,” I lied. My new goal was to avoid having him touch me at all. Derek was attractive in a stereotypical yoga bro sort of way. His brown hair hung to his shoulders, and he was muscular without looking like a beefy gym rat. He vaguely resembled Russell Brand, although I doubt he would’ve considered marrying Katy Perry.

I was not the only male in the class, but I was the only one wearing a Ryan Adams t-shirt, which made me feel perversely superior. I got this shirt for $20 at a rock concert, not Lululemon! I felt an immediate kinship with a woman wearing a shirt covered with cupcakes and unicorns. Before now, anytime someone asked if I practiced yoga I said I practiced bro-ga. “It’s when a bunch of people who probably should do yoga sit around and talk about how they don’t do yoga,” I would explain.

Things started easy enough, with all of us lying with our backs “to the earth,” focusing on our breathing. About ten minutes after that I was drenched in sweat and having a very hard time staying on my mat. My beloved Ryan Adams shirt proved ineffective in wiping my face since it was completely soaked. It was another fifteen minutes before I relented and put down my complimentary towel.

I’m by no means a yoga savant, but I also didn’t completely embarrass myself. I at least did better than the lady next to me, and she had her own mat. (I know it’s not a contest, but let me have this one.) This might not make sense to non-musicians, but I knew I was doing the movements properly when it felt like my body moved where it needed to go, exactly the same feeling of completing a V – I chord progression in a song. To put it another way, hum “Pop Goes the Weasel,” but stop before you get to the final note. When you stop the song on wea-, our ears are conditioned to expect the melody to resolve to the root note sung with -sel. Delaying that is how I’ve always imagined Tourette’s to feel, like there’s an itch you need to scratch. When you finally do resolve the melody there’s an inherent sense of rightness to the entire string of notes. For most of the class I tried to adjust my poses until I got to that sense of completeness or resolution within my body. It wasn’t until then I understood the attraction of yoga for so many, and the sense of connection Leslie had described. Yoga felt good, even though I was quickly learning it was a brutal workout.

I doubt I have ever sweated as much as I did in those ninety minutes. My hair did that annoying thing when it’s wet to form a big curlicue on my forehead. At various points Leslie reached over to squeeze my hand. I squeezed back and smiled, trying to indicate I wasn’t nearly as dead as I looked. I did take a breather about an hour into the class, laying down on my back to catch my breath. As I rejoined the class Derek came over to delicately correct my pigeon pose. Up until then he’d only come near me to suggest I try to get slightly lower during crow pose. As he pulled my leg a little farther back behind me I again felt the sense of completeness in the motion. I also realized how exhausted I was because even my toes were tired. The class ended with backbends which felt surprisingly good, although I didn’t bend all the way to the floor as Derek demonstrated. (The worst part was that he wasn’t even smug about it. Damn, yogi.)

When we stood up Leslie hugged and kissed me even though we were both impossibly sweaty, thanking me again for doing the class. “You were a rock star,” she said. “I was surprised you were able to do some of the poses.”

“I… liked it,” I managed, still trying to catch my breath. Leslie ran to get our things from her locker, and I wandered around the lobby to convince myself I wasn’t about to vomit everywhere. It was a close call for a few minutes, but by the time Leslie returned the nausea had passed.

As we were leaving Derek thanked us both for coming. Turning to me he asked, “Are you new to the practice?”

“Today was my first day.”

“Really? Very impressive! You did a lot better than some people in their first class. Seriously.” He seemed sincere although it’s possible he was merely being kind in the hopes I’d come back.

Walking back to the car I asked Leslie, “So Derek’s class was basic?”

She laughed. “Definitely.”

“Fuck.”

Turns out I’m the basic yoga bitch.

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Cover of Ryan Adams’ “Dear Chicago”

I thought I lost this recording a couple apartments ago, but found it buried in my Dropbox. “Dear Chicago” was too difficult for me to learn on guitar, so I came up with this piano arrangement. It’s a bummer, but ultimately hopeful, and one of my favorite songs by any artist.

It’s My Birthday, I Can Write What I Want To

Looking at the title you might be thinking, “Isn’t that what Evan does every month?” You are correct, but I typically write about things most people are interested in. Today, in honor of the 29th anniversary of my birth, I will be writing about my most cherished of obsessions, the music of Ryan Adams. Specifically his album 29, and the song “Carolina Rain.”

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Adams’ 29 is the final installment in a trilogy of records he released in 2005, and it is by far the weirdest record of the three, and maybe even of his entire career. Adams has claimed the album is a loose concept album about his twenties, with each song about a single year. That’s like saying Batman comics are about a guy whose parents were killed; there’s much more going on, and it’s a bit of an undersell.

The album opens with the blues burner “29” and ends with the fragile and biblical “Voices.” In between the record ranges between lush piano numbers (“Nightbirds”), Spaghetti Western flourishes (“The Sadness”), and the murder balladry of “Carolina Rain,” one of my absolute favorites of all of Adams’ songs.

On one of my live recordings of this song, Adams introduces it by saying, “This next song is about a ghost, and several people that… die.” The characters include a waitress, a dead landlord, Caroline, her husband Alderman Haint, Caroline’s sister Percy, Percy’s husband the narrator, and a recently deputized sheriff.

The song relates the story of a drifter who arrives in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, falls in love with Caroline, and then marries Caroline’s sister “if only to be closer to you, Caroline.” Along the way we learn Rose is a prostitute who reveals the truth of Caroline and the narrator’s relationship to Alderman. Alderman is subsequently murdered and thrown into the quarry, where his misplaced rosary alerts the sheriff that something is amiss. Oh, but before that, both of Percy and the narrator’s daughters die. Then the narrator is killed outside the banquet hall as the song ends.

To say that I’ve become obsessed with this song since first hearing it is a bit of an understatement. In college, I attempted to adapt “Carolina Rain” into a short story. My writing workshop responded with, “This doesn’t make any goddamn sense.” To which I said, “I know! Isn’t it great?”

It’s unclear who exactly killed Alderman Haint, and sometimes I’m convinced he’s the landlord offed by Rose at the song’s beginning. Other times I think the narrator killed Alderman, and the nameless landlord was murdered only to set the stage for the bloodshed to come. But that would mean the narrator was killed for a murder he didn’t commit, which seems to defy the song’s fated logic. I’ll never be sure either way, which is what draws me back to “Carolina Rain” again and again.

Somehow, Adams manages to reinvigorate a traditional folk song form with all sorts of postmodern weirdness, and the result is utterly lovely despite its abundance of death. Death is one of 29‘s major preoccupations, which isn’t surprising since it was written by a man on the cusp of his thirties. The album’s cover is a painting by Adams, seemingly showing Death leading a group of people to a house to do God knows what. I like to imagine Death’s three followers as Alderman Haint, the song’s narrator, and maybe the landlord or Rose, all of them following Death hoping to learn who exactly killed whom. Whatever they find in that house, I bet it doesn’t make any goddamn sense.