I can no longer remember the first heavy metal song I ever listened to, but I assume it was something by Metallica. I can tell you the first album I fell in love with: Brave New World by Iron Maiden.

For metal purists, this is a strange choice. The album came out in May 2000, not exactly the heyday of the genre. In fact, this was actually the perfect introduction for me. The album was just new enough that it sounded modern and fresh, but being that it was the band’s first reunited collaboration in nearly a decade, it had just enough of their classic sound that I was hooked. It’s a damn good album too—one of the singles even got a Grammy nod.

From there, it was down the rabbit hole. The exposure had been accidental—all because in those days illegal downloads from sites like Audiogalaxy were constantly mislabeled. But it also meant that I had access to the vast back catalogs of artists that I’d have never heard on the radio.

I went through all of it. Priest. Megadeth. Dio. Sabbath. Ozzy. Blind Guardian. Dream Theater.

It’s probably every parent’s worst nightmare, especially parents of the generation mine came from. This was dumb people music to them. It was ridiculous, ugly, and only a few short steps from tattoos, drugs, long hair and dropping out of school (only a few of those things actually happened to me!)

But really, heavy metal put me on the path I am on today—in every positive sense.

A few years ago a study found that kids with the highest IQs are disproportionatelyattracted to heavy metal. The reason is that the themes of alienation, frustration, and even pain, match the experience of a smart young person struggling to fit in and make sense of the world.

So yes, most parents might think that metal songs are about drugs, violence, suicide, the devil and whatever other ridiculous stereotypes scared people project onto it. More directly, the assumption is that they somehow advocate these things to impressionable young people. Of course, the opposite is true. In fact, the music is often about coping with the complicated and dark feelings that come along with a serious intellect at an early age.

The result is often surprising. I remember that one of the first open minded and thoughtful things I heard about gay people was from a Rush song called Nobody’s Hero (the sexuality of Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest, was an open secret in heavy metal for a long time). Metallica has songs that deal with suicidedrugs and addiction in smart and moving ways and their song One is based on the anti-war novel, Johnny Get Your Gun. Metallica is not the only band to address these issues as Megadeth, Slayer, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to name a few have tackled the subject. Who else were we going to process it with?

From Iron Maiden, I fell in love with history in a new way. In fact, several studies have examined the multitude of historical themes explored by the band, ranging from Pre-History to current events, from Genghis Khan to the battle of Passchendaele. The first time I heard audio of a Winston Churchill speech wasn’t in school, it was in the intro of Iron Maiden’s 1984 music video for “Aces High”—which I downloaded off another file sharing network. It’s not as if MTV was playing it. They have a song inspired by Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and another based on an epic poem from Coleridge.

I’m not saying it was a straight line from here to studying ancient philosophy and history, but it did start the process.

It’s not just what the music is about. There is an artistry that far too many people fail to see. There’s a line in Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (based on Hemingway’s book, by the way) that goes:

“Crack of dawn, all is gone
except the will to be”

Even now, every time I hear it, I think: that is so good. It’s poetry in a different context, sure, and damn good writing. When what we had to read and study in school bored me out of my mind, it was music that stimulated me–that inspired me to think about how words could be used, what was worth studying and just what the human experience really was.

I remember reading a lot about Metallica and specifically its guitarist Kirk Hammett. After the band had kicked out its original guitarist (Dave Mustaine who would go on to form Megadeth), they invited Kirk to join the group. You know what the first thing he did was? Even though he was an accomplished player, he started taking lessons from a guy named Joe Satriani (who went on to be one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived). That is, even though he landed his dream job, he continued to learn and stay a student. I remember thinking how different that was than the notion that geniuses are just naturally that way. No, it actually takes practice and work to be good at something—even a thing that many don’t respect as real “art.”

I’m not saying this is what made me a writer, but it helped. Something you notice really quickly about the genre is that it’s more than just music. Heavy metal album covers are some of the best in the history of music. Because the bands understood that they weren’t just recording songs, but creating brands. Metallica’s cover forMaster of Puppets is spectacular. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,Somewhere in Time, Powerslave and The Number of the Beast are all ridiculously cool(mostly because of Eddie their mascot). Megadeth’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? is spectacular. Judas Priest’s British Steel is badass too.

Heavy metal has always been the clearest proof of Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans” concept. These are acts that rarely got on the radio or on television. How did they survive? How did they keep going? How do they currently sell out stadiums—literally stadiums—when most people assumed they’ve broken up? Because they know who their fans are and exist exclusively for them. They were also smart enough businessmen to figure out earlier than the rest of the industry that the money was never in record sales. One of the common dismissals of bands like Anthrax or Maiden or Megadeth is that they sold more t-shirts than albums. Yeah, that’s brilliant. Because nobody takes a cut of your merchandise sales.

Like I said, the first Iron Maiden songs I heard were pirated, but since then I’ve probably spent close to a thousand dollars on a various related products the band sold from tickets to box sets to DVDs. This is what made Metallica’s attack on Napster so ridiculous. They’d gotten popular as a band because of bootleg tapes. Their own balance sheet should have made it clear where the profit centers of the industry were. In any case, to see these bands continue to thrive when the economics of music have supposedly collapsed is a testament to the power of a loyal fan base and a universe of products.

Of course, I’m not saying that this is what got me into marketing or even that it was responsible for my time in the music industry, but it did give me a lot of good ideas.

The most important lesson I learned from heavy metal came from the band (and the singer) that caught me first. From Bruce Dickinson, I learned that you really can be good at more than one thing. And that stereotypes are total bullshit. In Dickinson, we have a man who wasn’t content to just be the lead singer in a band that sold 85 million records. He also wanted to have an acclaimed career as a solo artist, a professional airline pilot, a bestselling novelist, Olympic-level fencer and then in his spare time, have a show on BBC radio. The guy flies the band and its equipment to Iron Maiden’s sold-out shows in a custom 757. Fuuuck…was all I could think when I was 15. It’s what I think still.

If there’s one model that I’ve used to justify my peripatetic career, it’s been Bruce. Why shouldn’t I try new things? Why wouldn’t it be possible to get really good at this thing? If he can do all he’s done, I can do a fraction of it.

I know to my parents my love of heavy metal probably seemed like the beginning of a bad dream. Where will this go, they must have thought? Is he going to end up like those losers?

Of course, the entire time it was making me smarter, introducing me to new ideas, teaching me about the business of art, and inspiring me to pick a unique career.

Plus it was fun.

I don’t listen to great music as much anymore. Honestly, my taste has atrophied intowhatever will help me tune out distractions while I work. But every once in a while, a Maiden track will come on and it takes me right back. I love it.

Heavy metal changed my life. Up the Irons.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer



Dr. Drew Pinsky changed my life. I asked him one simple question, and his answer put me on a path that saved me from a very dark place. But more than that it ultimately helped me achieve success, made me a published author, saved my relationships, and made me happy.

I’m sure this is true for a lot of people. He is after all, a practicing medical specialist of many years and now the host of a major television show, Dr. Drew On Call. But these circumstances were a little different. You see, I am not and have never been an addict. I don’t have an eating disorder or a sexual or medical issue. I have never called into Loveline (though I was a fan). It happened because I walked up to him at 19 years old and asked him if he had any books he could recommend.

I was in college in the mid-aughts and I was invited to a small, private summit of college journalists that Dr. Drew, then the host of Loveline, was hosting. After it ended, he was standing in the corner and I cautiously made my way over to nervously ask a question I thought might be worth taking a shot with: “I heard you read a lot. What should I read?” He said he’d been studying a stoic philosopher named Epictetus and that I should check it out. He also recommended a biography of Theodore Roosevelt that remains one of my favorites (TR it turns out was also a fan of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius).

Dr. Drew—the sex doctor from MTV and KROQ—introduced me to classic philosophy. That night I emailed my friend Tucker Max (who would later go on to be a frequent guest on Loveline) to see if he’d read it. He told me it was amazing and that I should also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays, arrived first. My life has not been the same since.

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I had just gone through a breakup of a long relationship (from sophomore year in high school to sophomore year in college) and was wrecked. In fact, I’d spent most of the conference despondent in my hotel room. I was depressed. I was miserable. I been prescribed sleeping pills by a college therapist because I wasn’t sleeping.

So the words of Marcus Aurelius — a Roman emperor writing admonishments and reassurances to himself amidst the stresses of imperial life hit me in the face. The words of Epictetus, a lowly slave teaching at the outskirts of Rome had the same effect.

Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

It’s not about you, but how you react that matters.” — Epictetus

Anyone who remembers me from that time probably laughs at what a ridiculous convert to stoicism I became. “Have you read this?” I would ask people. “It’s SO good.” You know how young people are when they read Ayn Rand for the first time? I was like that. Enthralled! I was just amazed that something like this existed, something that wasn’t pretentious or impractical. Something that was real and solved my problems.

But unlike some silly Ayn Rand phase, this revelation has only grown for me over time. My understanding of stoicism is no longer so naive and simple, but it is equally fervent. It’s made me a better person, not a harder, less empathetic one.

I saw Dr. Drew again at another college conference a few months later (I guess he was speaking to a lot of college journalists at the time). I was a little late but I snuck up to a seat at the front. After it ended, I waited for everyone to ask their questions and I walked up to him and he remembered me: “You look so much better,” he said. There was a reason, I replied: “It’s because I read Epictetus.”

“I’m so glad,” he said, and then politely corrected my pronunciation. It’s “Epic-teat-us” not “Epic-tey-tus”—though to this day the incorrect one is imprinted on my mind. I said it so many times the wrong way during that period that I’ll never get it right. I think it was this moment that I realized not only the true power of books, but also that it didn’t matter whether I was a college student or a teenager but I could talk to and connect with just about anyone. It didn’t matter if they were a celebrity or rich or powerful — we all had the same problems and needs.

A few years later, Tucker was invited on as a guest on Loveline and I came with him to the taping studio. Of course, Dr. Drew no longer remembered me and I was much too shy to bring it up. But as I sat in that green room, all I could think about was how grateful I was, how lucky I’d been to have an opportunity to ask such a question, and how sometimes the fates align and you’re given exactly what you need.

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” — Marcus Aurelius

This man (and the philosopher he introduced me to) changed my life and in a very significant way contributed to the person I ended up becoming.

And now, over seven years later, I have the opportunity to introduce stoicism to even more people. My book The Obstacle is The Way (Portfolio/Penguin) is about a single exercise that both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius lived by: “The impediment to actions advances action What stands in the way becomes the way.” We think that the terrible things that happen to us are obstacles — as I did with my breakup — but they are in fact great opportunities. For me, those dark moments contributed to a great awakening. They exposed me, they motivated me to take a risk (to ask a question of an important, busy man) and I was rewarded for it.

The obstacle became the way. And Dr. Drew showed me that.

This post appeared originally on The Huffington Post.



This post appeared originally on the New York Observer in January 2014. Two years later I have three goats and live on a farm. A proposition that appeared “nightmarish” at the time.

I own a goat. Her name is Bucket.

Less than a year ago, I had an apartment in Manhattan, convinced I was ready to live the dream. I was a published author. I had high profile PR and marketing clients. I wasn’t sure exactly which dream I was living but I was pretty sure New York City was the place you came to celebrate it.

Twice today–once while on a conference call and then again while writing this article–I heard scratching at the door. It’s usually the dog asking to go outside. But this was my goat, and she wanted to come inside.

“No, Bucket,” I told her. “We can’t let livestock in the house.”

She scampered off to eat some leaves.

But soon enough she’d be back, like a good-natured amnesiac, to make the same request.

This is life in Austin, Texas. I have a pet goat.

Bucket is a three month old Nigerian Dwarf goat from a small farm in Seguin, Texas. She has blue eyes, a pink collar, and comes when you call her. She also enjoys being picked up and giving kisses. Currently she weighs about 20 lbs. and won’t get much bigger than a medium-sized dog. The only major change we’re expecting are her horns, which already grow a little every day.

When we first started talking about buying a goat, the veneer of utility still existed. Goats are Mother Nature’s little lawnmowers, after all, and I hate cutting the grass. Then we learned that goats do not eat grass. This fact came as a relatively late surprise in the decision making process, and eliminated the half-hearted justification my girlfriend and I had for our $350 impulse buy. She does eat weeds, clover, leaves and other such undesirables, but that doesn’t really matter anymore.

And that is because I find great peace and pleasure in sitting in my office/library and watching her out the window. She doesn’t know I can see her, but I can. I watch her bother the chickens (which have slightly more practical benefits for our fridge). On occasion I will catch her laying down in their coop for some reason. I watch her prance, and every so often, stop and make goat noises to no one in particular.

When I am on the phone, I will walk around the ground floor of the house and track her as she makes her migration around the yard. It’s a game that makes boring calls bearable, though it has required me to stifle a laugh a few times.

Only recently did my girlfriend–who I’ve been with for several years–finally come forward with her dream of living on a farm. Of course, she did this after I bought a house that is not anything like a farm, so we’re doing the best we can.

Is this my first step on the path carved by Susan Orlean? I hope not–though secretly I also hope so. The landscape she painted in her short book, Animalish, of a menagerie of unusual-but-not-exotic animals seems like a writer’s haven and just generally an interesting place to live.

Having animals is soothing (especially if your pretty farm girlfriend takes care of the details). I just get to look at them and pretend they are my friends. I get to project personalities onto them and have ridiculous conversations purely for my amusement.

My favorite is to pretend that my miniature dachshund is horribly betrayed by these new additions to the households and is constantly trying to inform on their behavior to get them in trouble. Or after hearing her dart up the stairs, that she’s breathlessly alerting me to the news that someone has let a goat into the yard.

In reality, she just wants to play. Unfortunately, Bucket does not understand fetch and feigns a headbutt if the dog gets too excited. Dachshunds are great at flushing out badgers; they are not great at taking a horned skull to the face.

When I am out of town my girlfriend sends me photos of their antics–including one recently that had both the goat and the dog wrapped up inside the coat she was wearing. There was also the infamous shot of the goat wearing an American Apparel dog hoodie.

But I also found out somewhat accidentally that my girlfriend and I have slightly different relationships and boundaries with the animal. Back in New York for meetings this week, I got a motion alert from my Dropcam, which monitors my living room and inside doorway. Usually the update is wind related, so I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the goat, the dog and Samantha all playing on the floor together. I guess that explains why Bucket always seems to expect me to open the door and let her in.

Sitting between meetings, watching this interspecies cuddlefest 1500 miles away, I realized the life I had envisioned for myself here in New York allowed for none of this. It was expensive, and it was restrictive. No question it afforded certain business opportunities, but they are purchased at a high cost. Not just in rent and cost of living, but in options–especially ridiculous options.

I’m not saying to run away and live small town life. That sounds equally nightmarish to me–that wasn’t my intention with Austin anyway. Work hard, take it seriously, embrace your ambition. And when you’re not doing that, do something–whatever it happens to be–that taps into the part of you that makes you forget about all the rest of it.

Buy a goat.