If you’ve willingly plucked your head out of the proverbial sand at any point in the last handful of years, you’ve no doubt become aware that in a macro sense, we’re living in a pretty divisive, unstable time. If you add personal issues and unrest to the pile, the result can swallow you whole, whether you want it to or not. As an outlet, people will turn to a variety of solutions to help stem the tide of negativity; music, the arts, exercise, writing for a small punk-centric website, etc. Some people unfortunately choose more self-destructive paths that they hopefully, someday, are able to make it through minimally scarred. For Miguel Chen, the path seemed dark for a while, but has slowly, steadily become lightened – and enlightened – as it’s gone.
If you’ve been even a casual Dying Scene reader over the years, you’re no doubt familiar with Chen from his role as the bass player for iconic Wyoming pop-punk band Teenage Bottlerocket for more than a decade. Like many bands in this scene, TBR developed a reputation for working hard and partying harder, touring seemingly endlessly and enjoying the experience to the fullest. The annals of rock music history are littered with similar stories, frequently ending in disastrous consequences. “On my own path,” explains Chen, “it (went) from ‘alright, we’re in our band, it’s fun! We’re touring, it’s fun! We’re putting out records, it’s fun! Holy shit, we’re on Fat Wreck Chords, it’s fun! We’re on the road with NOFX, it’s fun!’ And the whole time, it’s just like ‘party, party, party, party, party‘.” Eventually, you return home from the road, however, and something seems to be missing. “You get home from tour,” Chen explains, “(and it’s) ‘oh fuck, this is boring, I better party. Party, party, party, party, party.’ All of a sudden, years later, it’s like ‘fuck – am I a person who has to drink or do drugs? Is that me?‘.”
While that part of the story might sound endlessly familiar to anyone that’s been in or around the music scene, Chen’s tale takes a bit of an atypical turn. Years of what he considered ultimately ineffective traditional treatment for mental health diagnoses that included bipolar disorder and anxiety – think psychotherapy and medications – led Chen to develop an increased involvement in the practice of sitting mediation. From there, the repeated insistence of friend then brought him into the world of yoga. “Finally I went and tried a class,” he explains, adding “I thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen? I’m going to sweat a bunch and it’s going to suck and I just won’t go back.‘ So I went to my first yoga class, and then the next day I went to my second yoga class and then the next day I went to my third yoga class and I just never stopped.”
Chen went from practicing yoga to teaching at a studio in his hometown of Laramie, Wyoming, to eventually taking over the studio he’d been teaching at and opening a second studio in nearby Cheyenne, Wyoming. He continues to push himself in the punk rock world – Teenage Bottlerocket released a full-length album of covers and an EP of new original material last year – and the yoga world, having just returned from an intense training in Rishikesh, India, that lasted more than a month right before we talked. “It was one of those things where I said I’m just going to dedicate a month of my life to only complete practice,” explains Chen. “From waking up at 5:00 in the morning to start my practice, and I go to bed at 8:30 or 9:00pm, and that’s all my day is all day, every day. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.“
Chen has also pushed himself positively in a new, creative way; published author. Released last week through Wisdom Publications, Chen teamed up with editor Rod Meade Sperry for the fun and insightful new read, I Wanna Be Well: How A Punk Found Peace And You Can Too. While we’re presently living in what seems to be the age of the memoir, I Wanna Be Well is not your standard rock star autobiography fare. “I knew I didn’t want to just write my story, because who gives a shit,” jokes Chen. “Everybody has a story, everybody can write a book about themselves. I wanted this book to offer something to the readers. I wanted it to be about the reader. So that’s kind of where the idea, including these practices, came into play. Obviously it’s my story – here are things from my life – but at the end of it, that’s pretty much just an anchor point.“
Each of the twenty-five chapters that make up I Wanna Be Well is broken into three four parts. First, there’s the lesson, which sometimes contains autobiographical stories and sometimes contains brief teachings from Buddhism or the self-help community, for example. Then comes the “practice” section, in which Chen gives the reader something to learn. Sometimes it’s instructions on how to start basic sitting meditation, some times it’s the steps behind some basic yoga movies, sometimes it’s just tricks to improve your own mindfulness of where you fit in to the world around you. Finally, each chapter culminates in a “tl/dr” tidbit that boils down the practice to its most essential point. “Rod had this genius idea,” tells Chen,”that people have short attention spans, so why don’t we add this thing at the end of each chapter where here’s a practice in a sentence or two for when you don’t want to fucking read the whole thing.“
Let it be known that you should read the whole thing, however. It’s a quick read that somehow covers the entire emotional spectrum pretty quickly, from dealing with the loss of his mother to cancer when he was a child to the sudden loss of his sister in an accident less than a year later, to being asked to join one of his favorite bands and to create music with some of his best friends in the world, one of whom (founding TBR drummer Brandon Carlisle) also passed away far too early several years ago. All the while, Chen explains how these incidents have made him who he is today, and how, good or bad, they’ve all served to keep him looking inward and growing outward. “The whole time I was writing this book,” says Chen, “I was thinking ‘man, if even one person really gets it, this whole thing was worth it.‘ I’m grateful to every single person that even thinks about reading it, I’m going to be thankful to every person who reads it, even the people that don’t like it. I’m really grateful to have had this chance and to help.”
Because this is 2018 and the traditional book tour circuit is becoming less and less of “a thing,” there are no formal dates where you can catch Chen promoting his tome just yet. But, as a constantly touring musician, he’s found a way around that. “Luckily I travel a lot anyway,” he explains. “My plan is to kinda keep doing that, except now I’ll bring some books along. I always leave it open when I’m on tour, like “hey, this is where I’m going to be, if anyone wants to do yoga or do some medication, shoot me a message.” And occasionally I’ll do events, like I’ll do Yoga For Punks or whatever, and I think I’ll do the same with the book. Like, if you want to pick up the book or talk about it, I’m on tour, come hang out!”