One of the first questions people want to know when they find out I’m a rock ‘n’ roll doctor is “what’s it like to be around a rock star?” (Right after they ask, “how much drugs and sex are really going on backstage?”)
When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles, the biggest surprise is that their lives are a lot like yours and mine. Maxed out, overbooked, and working around other people’s schedules. Ahem. Sound familiar? But that’s only the beginning of what happens pre-show, on tour busses, and in hotel rooms to keep these guys performing at the top of their game.
Check out this sneak peek into the mayhem of an average rockstar day in an unreleased chapter of my book The Rockstar Remedy that I’m posting for music fans. Enjoy!
A Day in the Life…of a (Healthy) Rock Star
Rock stars are stressed out, overbooked, and perpetually living on someone else’s schedule. Sound familiar? This description may sound like your life, especially if you travel for your job or you’re a parent living around the rhythm of your kids.
If you’re a rock star, you’ve got the demands and the stress of a high-energy, high-profile job that keeps you awake half the night. We know from research that people need about seven to nine hours of sleep each night with established bedtimes and wake times. That’s a fantasy for most of us. It’s virtually impossible for rock stars.
Artists on tour typically stay up late after a show, often until 4 a.m., because they’re on a natural adrenaline high, and then they get up early the next morning to move to the next city. In some cases they will sleep on the bus that takes them to the next city, and then wake up early in the next concert location to begin their pre-show interviews. The mornings are always hectic and some artists may find that they don’t have anything but coffee from the time the wake until midafternoon. This is when I try to intervene with a highly nutritional protein smoothie for them to sip on throughout the morning. It helps keep the blood sugar in balance even if they don’t have time to eat. Travel days are spent much like any other person’s travel day on a typical vacation. They’re bouncing between planes and buses and car services. They’re either traveling or doing tours or moving into a hotel room and unpacking. Not that glamorous.
By mid-afternoon, when most of us experience a mid-day energy slump, rock stars are finishing back-to-back interviews with local and national radio and television stations, newspapers, and bloggers. Unfortunately, no desk job means no eating lunch at your desk while you work. Most of these guys and gals are lucky if they get time to drink one of my shakes between appointments, which they’ll usually sip with coffee to make up for their lack of sleep. By four o’clock in the afternoon, they’re at the venue doing sound check and gearing up for another performance.
Most of my bands love sound check because that’s when they can find me backstage giving mini massages, chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture. They’ll also come ask questions about whatever is ailing them, like, “I haven’t pooped in three days, can you give me something to help?” And I send them off with some herbs. Few situations are more uncomfortable than giving a two-hour show in front of 50,000 screaming fans while you are constipated.
Sound check ends around 7 p.m., which is when artists disappear into their dressing rooms to get changed and ready for the show. Caterers set up food and if the band is eating healthy, their menu includes organic and vegetarian options as well as water, juice, health drinks, soda, Red Bull and beer. While the band eats and gets pumped up for the show, I’m backstage giving full massages and getting their bodies loosened up. Once they go on stage, I stay back and work on the crew, the girlfriends, the wives, the sound engineers, and basically everyone who has spent all day putting the concert together.
Artists put an extreme amount of energy into the show. It’s focused. It’s intense. And because they can spend 90 minutes to four hours on stage, it takes a lot out of them. I always push artists to drink enough water before they go on. Of course, some are drinking water and alcohol at the same time, but it’s better than nothing. I’m a fan of sneaking electrolytes into their bottles to keep them hydrated while they’re sweating on stage and encouraging them to eat lots of protein so their blood sugar levels don’t crash while they’re performing.
There is never a dull moment on tour. For example, if an artist has been drinking all day and becomes completely dehydrated, their blood sugar will crash because they haven’t had any protein. My role is to hydrate them, nourish their bodies and when they wake up hung over, I give them remedies to alleviate the side effects, like anti-inflammatory herbs or acupuncture to ease their headaches. If an artist is craving a stimulant, I’ll give them a natural herb that stimulates their adrenals. Eating properly also plays a big role. If they’re just downing Doritos and hamburgers backstage, their energy levels will drop during the show, and that makes my job harder.
If they are partying too much, they’re getting bumps and bruises they might not normally have. I’ll do massage or chiropractic to help band members recover from falls the night before. It’s really just meeting them where they are in a non-judgmental way. The key is to provide rock stars with treatments that lessen the side effects of their full-on lifestyles, in addition to suggesting natural options that they can either take or leave. Usually, the rigor of tour means that they can’t keep it up the unhealthy behavior for long without crashing, which makes them more open to alternative remedies. The hectic nature of life on the road serves as its own positive reinforcement for making healthier choices.
When the show is over, rock stars are sweaty and fatigued and hyper-excited all at once. Journalists and friends come backstage to talk to them and somehow fans manage to sneak back, so it quickly turns into a party. That goes on for hours and it’s usually not until 2 or 3 in the morning when the band gets back to their rooms. Most nights they have trouble falling asleep because they’re so pumped up from the show, so I’ll use natural medicines to calm their nervous systems and help them sleep, like acupuncture, herbal remedies or an amino acid blend that helps produce serotonin and GABA so they can relax and get over the anxious post-show feeling. If they don’t sleep, their bodies cannot rejuvenate for the next day. They’re lucky if they get six hours before waking up and moving to the next city, so they have to make sure they’re getting good-quality rest. If not, they’ll have to squeeze in naps on planes and buses en route to the next gig.
What Rock Stars Aren’t Doing
One of the most common misconceptions about rock stars is that they’re living completely self-destructive lives, with massive amounts of sex and drugs backstage before shows.
That’s not really happening. If for no other reason than their yoga teacher or nanny or partner is in the way. By the time artists are in their 30s, their girlfriends and wives are on tour with them, and by the 40s, you’ve got the entire family.
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Steel Wheelchair Tour
I was at a Rolling Stones concert and overheard a group of 40-something, overweight, caps-to-cover-the-balding, health-challenged guys making fun of the band. They were saying things like, “How old are these guys” Are they going to come out on stage in wheelchairs?” I butted in, “Have you ever seen the Stones before? Apparently not! For the next four hours Mick Jagger will be running across this football field without stopping. He performs like this four nights per week. I don’t think he will need help getting to the stage.” I ran into the same guys after the show and they were too drunk to walk. I asked if they wanted me to wheel them out in the Stones’ unused wheelchairs.
If someone is still touring at that age, there’s a reason they’re able to do it. How do you think the Rolling Stones still tour into their 70s? It’s not because they’re drinking and taking drugs all day long. Mick Jagger is running across football fields every night. He couldn’t do this if he were strung out every day from the night before, right?
Artists who have staying power actually take care of themselves, eat well and exercise. They have more stamina and energy. Their relationships with family, friends and band members are strong and supportive. And they look younger, live longer and bounce back more quickly from medical complications. These aren’t the bodies and minds of heavy drug users. With four-hour shows each night and the corporate-controlled schedules being so well timed, if an artist is using, the promoters will likely pull the tour and put him in treatment before they’ll let him get back on the road. Plus, in the end, rock stars are performance-oriented. They want to put on a good show. They want to remember their song lyrics.
Younger stars tend to need a little breaking in. They have tons of energy because they haven’t polluted themselves yet. And they’re in that initial stage of “Woo-hoo I’m a rock star” so they live it up. Two years of touring non-stop gives them a reality check. How do the veteran rock stars do this? By the next big tour, they mature and begin to realize if they want to maintain their creativity and their ability to go on the road, (which is where the money is) they’ve got to find a balance. By the time they’re a little older, they’ve traded groupies for yoga teachers and trainers.
Faith is also a strong anchor for nearly all artists, whether they’re Buddhists, Hindus, Christian or simply spiritual. Many bands have completely different personas on stage than what their true belief systems reflect, like the heavy metal groups that seem like Satan worshipers, but backstage are really Born Again Christians. You’ve got other artists into Eastern religions and others are following the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. Lots of rocks stars having their weekly consultations with their psychotherapists, gurus, or astrologers. Most artists all very open to spirituality and self-help and, as a group, are not afraid to seek the deeper meaning in a lifestyle that can feel incredibly chaotic.
You, the Rock Star
More often than not, the challenges of being a rock star on tour are faced by non-rock star clients in their regular lives, every day. Non-rock stars are stretched, work on other people’s schedules, experience insomnia, eat poorly if at all, skip exercise and feel anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed because of all they have to do on a daily basis. I see the same scenarios play out over and over where patients tell me that they’re planning to spend the next few weeks working 14 hours a day, cramming for a deadline and not taking care of themselves. Then when they’re done, they’ll go back to exercising and eating right. It’s their version of being on tour. During that time, treatments will be focused on supporting their bodies through the intensity, so as to minimize the harm. It’s the downtime between huge projects that we’re able to come back into balance.
What the rock stars have taught me is that not everyone can be moderate in how they live every day. And like the bands I work with, many of you lead really crazed lifestyles for months at a time. Your opportunity to make significant health changes will come when the pendulum swings back to whatever your normal is.
The key is making sure that when the pendulum swings back to normal, your less-than-healthy food, exercise and lifestyle habits don’t stay overdrive.
To get the same advice I give to my musician clients, check out The Rockstar Remedy.