I don't like to tell many people about this book. Not because it's bad, but because it's so awesome. By knowing about it, I somehow feel like I'm in a sort of secret club - a club whose only dues are the knowledge and appreciation of the book itself. It's a silly mindset to be in, I know, but one that I have a hard time shaking. Maybe it has something to do with the manner in which I was introduced to the book. One day, over 10 years ago, my English teacher, Mike Stanitski, pulled me aside as class was letting out. He told me that he had a book he thought I might enjoy. And, which that statement, he handed me his very own copy of Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder.
| || || |
| || |
| || || |
It was a Friday. I remember that very clearly because I had a book report due for Mr. Stanitski the following Monday. What a crazy time to be handing a student an extra curricular book. It was as if he was saying, without words, that this book was more important than the outstanding report; that there was something here, something that couldn't wait even three more days. I don't know why he picked me exactly. I certainly wasn't the only student in his gym class. I felt selected, as if I were carefully chosen amongst the eligible to be the next bearer of this book.
I started reading the book that day on the bus ride home and couldn't put it down until I was done with it, late Saturday night. It was mesmerizing. Part depressing, part inspirational, part warning; it was gritty and unflinching, but it was elegant and well crafted. Written by an Oxford educated Literary major and the son of two English professors, it demonstrated a mastery of the English language; definitely not what one would expect to find in an autobiography about bodybuilding.
Over the years, as it was passed on to me, so have I passed this book onto others that I thought would appreciate it. And, while I have enjoyed the secrecy of this club, I am beginning to feel that keeping this book to myself is too greedy. I am sure that there are others out there that would feel about this book as I do, and I know that were our positions reversed, I would be grateful for being included. So it is with some hesitation but much benevolence that I pass this book on you.
. . . .
You spot them on the streets of the city and, increasingly, in the malls and parks of the suburbs. Sometimes they band together. Mostly, they walk alone. Bodybuilders. You know the kind. They strut like no others, holding their elbows wider than their shoulders, legs far apart. I know, I was one of them.
For four long years, I trained four hours a day, six days a week with them. I broke whole wheat bread with them. I filled my body with steroids alongside them. I lived with them. And, finally, I competed on stage against them.
The following is an account of my journey - what I did, what I saw, what I felt. Those in search of a steroid primer or an exercise manual are advised to look elsewhere; my purpose is different. Part ditty, part dirge, I sing of arms and the man, of weight rooms and muscle pits, of biceps and triceps, bench press and low pulley rows, of young and old, woman and man, straining and hoisting iron to the boom box sounds of Top 40 record stations in bodybuilding gyms across the land.
I sing of dreamers and addicts, rogues and visionaries. And I sing of my own solitary pilgrimage into this strange world. A world filled with wrist straps and ammonia, BIG Chewables and "the juice." A world governed by a savage force that swallowed me whole from a bookstore in New York City, and did not relent until it had chewed me up and spit me out 80 pounds heavier and 3,000 miles later on a posing dais in Burbank, California. I was swabbed in posing oil and competition color, flexing with all my might, when I came to, a sadder and wiser man.
. . . .
What an introduction. Even now, reading it for perhaps the 10th time since it has come into my possession, I am overcome with a desire to read the book again. This is not unusual; I reread the book every year or two. Every time I am feeling down, or in a rut, I dust it off and take a day to go through it. It always leaves me satisfied and inspired. Every time that I read it, I come away with something new. Whether it's a new point or a new passage to underline, it's a book that keeps on giving.
If the introduction above was not enough to pull you in, I'd like to share with you a few of my favorite passages below.
. . . .
(Page 25) It was simple at first - at least, so I thought. By making myself larger than life, I might make myself a little less frail, a little less assailable when it came down to it, a little less human.
(Page 31) It this "no pain, no gain" adage were true, then, I would learn not just to accept pain, but to embrace it.
(Page 43) There was a beautiful simplicity about it. I pushed the iron, and my body grew. The harder I worked, the better I felt. My routine brought order amid chaos.
(Page 48) There wasn't enough pomade, mouthwash, deodorant and talk in this world to eradicate my sins, but what if I created a shell to suppress them? What if my armour not only kept the world out, but kept me in?
(Page 61) Iron made sense to no one. To no one, that is, but me. All I knew was that I had found a sanctuary in the gym, and the more I trained, the better I felt. Out on the streets of New York, I'd found nothing but impediments, red lights, and stop signs everywhere. Inside the gym, I saw only green. ... From exercise to exercise I'd go, feeling as if I were driving a car on a dark, wet night in the city. Suddenly, the stoplight just ahead turns green, the next one green, and green again. YOu don't need to brake for even one light. All you see is the road before you. You're not quite sure why, but you're going at the right speed at the right place and time. You take a quick look at the speedometer. Just to memorize the reading. But there's no need. Just keep it going, another light, another block, another weight, another exercise. Green, green, green.
(Page 61) It beat the street. It beat my girlfriend. It beat my family. I didn't have to think. I didn't have to care. I didn't have to feel. I simply had to lift.
(Page 73) I had always been told that to grow up meant to stop wanting those things you can't have. But everything I'd learned from bodybuilding taught me to fight this notion. You can become the person you dream of being, bodybuilders say. You can defy both nurture and nature and transform yourself.
(Page 80) On my off days, I grew impatient, yearning to speed up time and start the next day's workout. The more I trained, the more desperately I needed to train. My body ached for the pump. I couldn't live without it, that burning sensation acquired through bombing a muscle area. At first it feels like someone rubbing heat balm on the particular muscle you're working, it feels almost numb; then the analgesic spreads. Within minutes, you feel your whole body glowing, as if you're the sole source of illumination in a dark world. You can't help but smile. And it was the pump that kept me going, endorphins running to the rescue whenever I called. If Sisyphus gets a pump from his eternal exercise, I assure you all this time he's been a happy man.
(Page 82) I longed for that conviction, the ease and peace of mind that would come from the simplistic belief that there is a top and a bottom in this world. Top and bottom, black and white, good and evil, positive and negative, big and small, I retreated into a narrow world of dichotomy. I no longer had questions, only solutions, and they all pointed to the weight room.
(page 97) In the final arena, there will be no judges, only witnesses to my greatness.
(Page 194) I didn't need to see passerbys doing double takes to be aware of my own movements, to watch myself - this huge, ungainly creature, suffocated by a world of his own making. In the end, "the Walk" I did, the being I had become, felt stifling, limiting, claustrophobic, far from liberating, as it had once been on the corner of Fifty-third and Second back in New York.
. . . .
My work here is done. I only ask that as I have given it you, you must pass this onto others that might enjoy it.
Looking For A New Job?
- Mid-Level Developer - Remote at Meeting Play
- Cold Fusion Developer/Designer at BPO Elks of the USA
- 10 year + CF lead Programmer/Developer with expert dot net/sql skills at Atprime Media Services
- ColdFusion Developer (advanced) at Intoria Internet Architects
- Full-time, remote CF Developer for Motorsport SaaS Company at MotorsportReg.com
I'll definitely give it a gander.
Im Gonna recommend this to my brother , thanks for sharing :D
MOst of the body bilders I know, whether on TV or in peson sem to be taking muscle mass intakes......what other confession coud one make !
I have had the pleasure of Sam's company countless times over the past years and reading this, after knowing the man, this read is shocking and exciting. The man in the book is driven to an anything goes kind of mentality. The Sam Fussell I know is smart, funny and engaging. Your everyday nice guy. Your everyday BIG nice guy, but a good neighbor kind of person. Now knowing the two sides of Sam, this book is even more interesting. I have the opportunity to see the Jekyll and the Hyde of the author.
That's so awesome that you know him. I'd be flattered if you might pass this blog entry along to him; I'd get a kick knowing that somehow, somewhere he's reading it. This book has been an awesome part of my life.
I agree, it's like a special club, those of us who appreciate Sam and his book. I was just as engulfed in "bodybuilding" as Sam was. It was VERY difficult to return to being "mortal" after nearly a decade of being a super-human. He did a terriffic job telling his story, the story of thousands of would-be Arnolds, and I would be honored to some day shake his hand and say "well done and thanks for your courage and honesty." I reread his book every year or two myself. It's too bad that he hasn't written anything else. Or has he?
I think maybe he wrote another book, but not on the same topic. There's really not that many good books out there like this, especially non-fiction. I've read some decent fictions ones, but they are scarce.
This book is surely for my son as he is a bodt building freak. And am impressed with the way you share the important details with references to each page.
I've reasd a few pages of the book and i fel its inspiring but at the same time gives a a truely insight into the mind of obession to become something more than ones-self....Sams book is pushing me and driving me to become more myself. Excellent read and i will come back with more soon.
Glad you're liking it. It still remains one of my favorite books.
Have recommended to at least 5 friends and ex colleagues who all did a subtle form of 'the walk' Yes you need to have leafed through a copy of flex with something beyond revulsion gleaming and swung some iron around with a serious grimace
That's awesome that you like it! It's not often that I've even run into another persona that's heard of it, let alone liked it - can you believe I've met people that didn't like it!
It's probably time I give it another read :)
Good book, great for a bodybuilding book. I read it and passed it on to my sons. Nice to know someone else enjoyed it as much as I did. I didn't think very many people had read it (still don't think so, unfortunately), but you sort of have to have gone through the experience (I used to work out at Power Source in Burbank, whose owner sponsored the Golden Valley contest) to appreciate the book completely, And let's face it, most people, especially ones who appreciate books, aren't bodybuilders.
I too would like to read more by Fussel, if anyone knows of anything. Also, where is the guy and what's he doing now?
Yeah, even among lifters, I find that some people (that I've tried to introduce) don't like the book. When I meet someone who seems like they might appreciate it, I get a little park of joy inside thinking about passing such a good book on.
Talk about synchronicity!! I just saw a copy of this book last night. Was intrigued with it and decided to see what the author was up to these days. Did a google search and arrived here seeing multiple people wondering the same thing. Most excellent. Thanks for the great discussion. I am going back to buy the book today. :)
Awesome. When you start reading it, I'd love for you to drop by and share your comments. I happen to love the book and am always happy to have a good conversation about it.
I came across this book in the library about 2003. It was a book I hardly put down before finishing, and later I bought a copy on eBay to send to my stepson who was then in Iraq. Read the book again before mailing it. He liked it too, and asked me if I had another copy.
I am astonished the book is not more widely known and read.
The book is a little glib, a little arty, but very, very good. I am not sure Fussell is being straight with us; it is as though he tells us things that he thinks will sell his book. Nevertheless, he is quite on target with what I know about bodybuilding. In fact, I think the truth is now way beyond what he told about.
Bodybuilding is a -- sport? profession? obsession? -- full of contradictions that well deserves Sam Fussell's book. "Muscle" poses as an antidote to an adolescent fantasy. But still it feeds the fantasy.
I know exactly what you mean - I could hardly put the book down when I read it the first time. As far as what he tells us in the book, I'll admit that some of it does sound outlandish; but, I have given it to some people who come back and tell me things like:
"Yeah, I remember the YMCA back then - it was exactly like that".
So, at least parts of it are apparently dead-on.
I wish the book was more well known. I try to pass it on to all the people I think might appreciate it.
Wow this sounds awesome!
Gonna have to get myself a copy now. The whole body building 'scene' is so interesting - especially to those who take things to the ultimate extremes. I remember watching Arnies come back body building documentary and being captivated by it..
If you recommend this book Ben I have to get it...
I definitely recommend it. It's one of my favorite books.
Needs to be noted that Fussell was a bodybuilder in the late 80s, when Arnold was seen as an extreme versus Frank Zane.
But Arnold was about 6'1.5" and weighed 235 or so at competition. Compare that to guys like Ronnie and Markus and Jay who stand 5'10" and are nearly 300 lbs at competition weight. The 1980s seem archaic and naive by comparison.
And women in the heavyweight class are more muscular than Frank Zane was when he won the Olympia. I used to have a crush on Annie Reviccio. Well, she now is unrecognizable as female, and the gracile female bodybuilders of the late 80s would have no chance in anything but figure or bikini competition.
A very interesting observation.
Proof of the 'sport's rapid descent into dismorphia and caricature aided and abetted by DRUGS.
Speaking of females does anyone remember Lynda Lyons?
Thanks for sharing
Yeah, there is definitely some extreme female muscle out there. The problem, too, is that soo much of it the female bodybuilders are seen during competition when they have no fat in their faces (where the masculanization seems the most apparent to me). When in the off-season, the women have a softer, rounder face which is much more pleasant.
Yeah, there is definitely a lot of drug use. When most of the female bodybuilders talk, you can hear the effects of it (an unfortunate and irreversible side-effect).
It's been interesting reading some of the comments on Sam's book. Like Ben, I really appreciated his literary take on the subject of bodybuilding and his reasons for wanting to something more than a frail human being, the "armour" keepng the world out and himself in.I know because I do it for the same reasons.
Someone said that he rereads the book every year.....so do I for; it's humour, it's insightfullness and it's honesty.
That may have been me (re: rereading it). In fact, It's been a while.
I recently gave this book to one of the personal trainers at my gym. He loved it and passed it onto one of the other trainers who told me it is addictive. I'm glad to finally be passing it around to some good people.
Response to Sarasota: I don't see Sam's book as an attack on steroid use in particular. It is just as much an attack on the whole culture, mindset and establishment of bodybuilding and gym rathood [gymratcy?].
I do find the book's moral to be a little pat and smug, btw. Seems that Sam Fussell STILL exercises, and as we see here, the book has a lot of appeal to those of us who bodybuild. Why? I think because we all have these thoughts about our activity but do it anyway.
What keeps me up nites wondering, is: Who is the narcisstic gym owner in the book? Joe Gold or Ken Sprague? And who the heck is G-Spot?
I've read this book 3 times over the last 15 years. I can't recall ever reading a book more than once and am not really sure why I read it so many times... There was and still is something about this story that is so fascinating (I've kept it on my shelf all of these years).
I've tried to google the author to see what became of his life after this story. I would love to see an update and sometimes wonder if he has contact with any of his bodybuilding friends from New York or California.
I was intrigued to see the earlier post from someone who knew him and hoped to hear something more...
Samuel, if you're out there, thanks for the great story. Hope all is well.
Agreed - there is something fascinating about the story. It has characters you just want to learn more about. I emailed briefly with someone who was a friend of Sam's; but apparently, they never talk about this time in his life.
I just read the message you sent. I just dont check my gmail like I should. I will mention it to Sam when I speak to him next. Scouts honor.
Will it be published in German as well? I can write and read English, but for me as a German it would be much easier to get the book in my mother language.
Yowser!!! I cannot believe how long ago I posted here!!! :( Hi Ben, Thanks for your reply months ago! I read Samuel's book cover to cover and know I will read it again! What an inspiration and at points hilarious book!!! I am so glad I went back and it was still there at the book store. I know I would like to meet this guy. He really let his personality and true nature shine through in the pages of this book. :) Such an amazing journey to share with him through his words. Thank you for this page and discussion. A great read in itself!
No worries my man :) But if you do, awesome!
No idea. I don't know how translation stuff gets decided.
Glad you liked the book. There's something so genuine about the book which is why I think it is such a pleasure to read.
Sam Fussell is a rescue/recovery diver in the interior Pacific Northwest.
In other words, he works underwater in rivers and lakes and whitewater to rescue or recover victims or items in crime scenes. In rapids. Under the ice. Way down deep.
Here's a link to show him in action:
To dive under the ice is very, very hardcore...
One more link, this one from the NY Times piece his mother wrote about hunting with him in Montana:
Wow, that's pretty cool! Thanks for sharing the links.
I just finished reading this book, lent to me by a friend, and have been googling obsessively to find out what happened to Sam. His writing does that: it draws you in and you become so attached to his character that you just HAVE to know what the intervening years held for him.
And I related in some way to his story, not because I have ever been a bodybuilder, but because I too have taken refuge from the pain of living in dysmorphic food/exercise patterns. I'm all better now. But I still need a lot of exercise.
So glad to know What Came Next, thanks everyone.
So glad you liked the book. I agree that there is something about the writing that really draws you in. I think you just get the sense that it is completely and utterly genuine. And that really makes you want to know the character further.
The world of exercise is tough; I think anyone who exercises is a bit "driven" in ways that they can't always control. I know I've been working out for years as a past-time and it still is a crucial part of my happiness.
Another take by Sam Fussell on the muscleworld is his essay, "Bodybuilder Americanus," published by the University of Michigan Press in a book called The Male Body.
It is friggin' hilarious and devastatingly accurate.
I chuckle when I remember one of the critics lauding Sam Fussell as "The Bastard son of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe."
I chuckle because can you imagine Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe bench pressing over 400 lbs???!!!!
Awesome, I was not aware of any other writings. I just found it on Google in one of Google's online digital books. I'll definitely be reading that.
I did a little digging on-line to come up with some more of Sam's stuff.
Washington Post, 10/4/91, "Hulk Maniac: When Muscle Won Out Over Mind," by Samuel Wilson Fussell.
Washington Post Book World, 4/4/93, "Trying to Make a Man of Him," Sam Fussell reviews Anthony Rotundo's American Manhood.
Washington Post Book World, 11/5/95, "From Rebel Son to House Husband," Sam Fussell reviews Michael Kimmel's Manhood in America.
Washington Post Book World, 10/10/99 "The Trouble With Guys", Sam Fussell reviews Susan Faludi's Stiffed.
I just read "Bodybuilder Americanus" by Fussell - great read; he's quite the fantastic author! His thoughts are so effectively articulated. It is both inspiring as a person and as a writer.
Just found this thread. I first read this book in the late 90s when I was about 14. I must have read it about 100 times now, and have been through several copies due to wearing them out through over-reading!
It is quite simply an amazing book. The characters contained within it, from Mousie and Sweepea in the early days through to Vinnie and Co, are unforgettable, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking.
I have consigned nearly all of the book to memory, as has my brother, and find myself using some of the quotes in casual commentary. Vinnie's reference to leaving Sam's housing issues with him to sort "I#ll see what I can cook up fo' ya New York" still make me laugh.
Thanks for this blog and all who have commented upon it.
I wonder if Sam still follows body-building? And, like one of the posters above, I really want to know who G-Spot, Raoul et al were. I have searched in vain, all to no avail. Can anybody share any light?
Keep posting, a hugely interesting subject and subject manner within the posts.
"I sing of dreamers and addicts, rogues and visionaries..." the man is a genius. His father's a bloody good writer too.
My dad gave me this book in 1991 after Samuel Fussell was interviewed on a radio show that his friend hosted. As others have commented, I have read this book numerous times over the years. I never knew that anyone else really knew about this book and enjoyed it as much as I did.
What kind of stuff has his father written? Sam is the only one in the family that I really know of (although I know in the book he mentions that both of his parents were in the education world?). Is there something you can recommend I look into?
I too have owned about 5 copies of it over the years. I like to lend them out to my close friends and typically I never get it back :)
Glad to know there are so many of us out there that really appreciate this book.
@Ben, Hi Ben,
His father has written masses, he is quite famous - written on history, notions of social class, and English lit. He's a professor of English literature and a historian. His wikipedia entry mentions Sam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Fussell
I used one of his books (The Great War and Modern Memory)when I was doing my history degree. He has written extensively on the war and it's representations in popular memory (I think Sam mentions his father had fought in the war). His father is quite a prolific writer - he has written or edited 23 books, along with numerous academic journal articles.
Regarding Sam, the first page in my copy mentions that Sam is (in 1991) currently working on a crime novel. I have yet to find this, perhaps it was never completed? Would be great to hear if anybody has come across it.
Hope this helps Ben.
Wow, his father really has done a lot of stuff!
I have not heard of the crime novel. If you ever find it, please feel free to share it over here.
I read the book a few years ago.I had a look at it again because of a reference to his father I came across.I thought,"Fussell,I remember that name."
Father,and son are very different men.But then I suspect that has everything to do with Sam's course in life.Don't be like Dad.
Since a few of you wanted to know who the people in the book really were;I can tell you who G-Spot is.
I've followed Bodybuilding for a long time.I saw Pumping Iron,and Pumping Iron 2;The Women when I was kid.I just became fascinated with it.Watched the contests.Bought the magazines,and books.Started working out when I was about twelve.
Page 251; "G-spot won the Junior Nationals and made the cover of Female Bodybuilding ("A Bodybuilder's Boudoir:Hot Lingerie Looks").
Female Bodybuilding No 12 November 1988;
Kelly Riley won the 1986 Junior Nationals.She worked out at the time at a Gold's in Huntington Beach.
Kelly was no freak.She was muscular,and she may well have used steroids.But she was actually an attractive woman.The character in the book is walking shock effect.
The book is an entertaining read.But I'm convinced it's full of exaggeration.
I also own Pumping Iron II: The Women... I thought maybe I was the only one :) Fun side-note, I actually ran into Lydia Cheng's daughter on the subway here in NYC (Lydia Cheng was one of the women in the shower scene).
You certainly don't have to sell me on the idea that athletic women are attractive. I find most body types attractive in their own way.
As far as exaggeration goes, I think you have to think about it from the characters point of view. When you are involved in fitness, that aspect of your life is "heightened". You're definitely tuned into all-things physical much more than when you're not in the pumping-life. As such, things appear to be exaggerated. I know for me, I assume that people are instantly aware of things like the size difference between my left and right arm :)
Now, was there really someone who wore diapers when they worked out? I can't say; I know I've never seen that in my gyms. But then again, I haven't been to any real hard-core gyms.
All in all, though, it's just a quality read.
To my mind, Muscle's blood courses and pumps through the veins of satire, the tradition running from Swift (and way before that) to the 'Gonzo Journalism' of Hunter S. Thompson.
Hardcore bodybuilding itself is such an extreme, exaggerated activity.
For instance, does anyone actually believe Schwarzenegger ever was what his purported physical resume claimed he was?
Do you honestly believe he ever had 20 inch calves?
Or 22 and 1/4 inch arms?
Or, for that matter, was ever six foot 2 inches tall?
Bodybuilding is a lie through which we see the truth.
In other words, Schwarzenegger based a career on lying, but his arms were so outrageous that he could lead you to believe what he pretended.
Ditto the rest of his physical resume.
(Doesn't anyone find it outrageous and obscene that the movie, Pumping Iron, never mentions the word, 'steroids?' Not once. Talk about living a lie! (I guess the image of bodybuilders shooting up with syringes doesn't mesh well with apple pie, even dosed with protein powder).
Again, in my personal opinion, the diaper wearing deadlifter in Fussell's book continues the theme of the baby food eating bodybuilders, gobbling Gerber with tiny spoons at the juice bar, post-workout.
In other words, it's a world reduced to infantalism.
Or, perhaps, given the "Mine is bigger than yours is" goal of the activity, arrested adolescence.
Which isn't to say it's not a blast.
Ditto, the book.
If you want the standard public relations view of bodybuilding, stick to the magazines, who have a vested interest in lying in order to sell you products...
Fussell, I believe, touches on some of these concepts in his book as well. He definitely talks about how bodybuilding and the world therein is very much about theater (bad theater) and self-reinvention. As far the actual details, I am not sure that they are that critical. As you say, the fact that Arnold's physique was so amazing was what mattered - the actual inch measurements were merely some codification of that, but not what people were intriguted with.
As far as steroids, I might be wrong, but I don't think they were illegal at the time of the filming. At that, I don't think they even talked about protein intake in the movie either. I'm not trying to dismiss your comment - I'm just suggesting that the information was perhaps not discusses out of some alterior motive, but rather as something that simply wasn't covered. To me, the movie was more about the psycho-social aspects of bodybuilding more than any technical/nutritional manual.
Have you ever watched the 25th Anniversary edition of the movie with the behind the scenes? I'd highly recommend it - it just really good. Arnold himself talks about how he perhaps took his whole "persona" too far. The director also talks about how he artificially created and played up much more competition that was actually there. At the end of the day, it's all about good entertainment, I suppose.
Have you seen Bigger, Faster, Stronger - The Side Effects of Being American? I would recommend that as well.
... it gives a much more honest, more critical view of the fitness world, this time concentrating very much on the topic of steroids (even in women's sports).
That's interesting that you met Lydia Cheng's daughter.I do remember the whole cast of people from that film.
I couldn't help liking Bev Francis.She seemed like a kind of gentle giant.Giant muscles anyway.
She married Steve Weinberger who was the younger man training with her.They own a Powerhouse gym in Syosset New York,and have a couple of kids.
As far as the exaggeration in the book;I think it's all just for the entertainment value.
Vinnie bashing his head on a barbell,and then Sam punching him in the face,all to get pumped up for a set of squats.I can't help but suspect that might get you thrown out of most gyms.They would at least make you clean up the blood.
And the big oaf Lamar unloading in the toilet,and saying forlornly "Oh no,I've lost some size!".
Fussell is entertaining,and the characters can be funny,and sad.But I think he must have put everything he observed,and heard of in these few characters.Just compacted it into his cast.
Actually I doubt he would have denied that.I don't know.Shame he had such bitter feelings about his experience.
It reminds me of that man who wrote a book about his drug addiction a few years ago.Oprah chose it for her book club.Turned out he made up,or changed a number of things.Big scandal.He had to apologize.Just call it fiction inspired by true events.Ass covered.
I have seen Bigger Stronger Faster.Very well done,and honest.
One of the best books I've read on Bodybuilding is Muscle by Jon Hotten.The writer is English,and much of it is about Dorian Yates.
He also covers the career and death of Andreas Munzer.Hotten does a great job of getting you into the scene.
You might enjoy it.
@AzuzeFrettyArgent, @Ben @Reg,
This thread is great, the discussion is hugely interesting. I watched Bigger Stronger Faster, it was very revealing and honest to boot. As for Jon Hotten's book, I loved it, particularly his following around of the Welsh amateur bodybuilder who was trying to get a pro card (I think he has one now). It's another fascinating insight into the world of bodybuilding. I kinda wish somebody like Wayne Demilia would write one. And, considering Lee Priest's honesty, humour and intelligence, I think one by him now his pro career is drawing to a close, would be worth putting pen to paper for.
I am not a bodybuilder by any means but find it fascinating. As for steroids, I'd say they are one part if a hugely committed sport. Or lifestyle. Or whatever one seeks to label it as.
Bev Francis seems a really nice person with a self deprecating humour. And anybody who thinks bodybuliders lack intelligence should watch a few clips of Bob Cicherillo, to disabuse themselves of that notion.
Thanks for this thread, it's well worth following and I've recommended it to a few friends.
Coming back to Fussell, I've seen people doing variations of the heightened arousal technique and don't think it's that unusual. Nor do I think Fussell was particularly trying to slag off bodybuilding. His insights and critique contained within the book remain, however, fascinating.
Keep up the posts.
A. Fussell earned his words. Talk about a hardcore gym-rat. Don't think so? Try benching 400 plus, squatting 500 plus and deadlifting 500 plus.
B. The reason the book was controversial when it came out, 19 years ago (!) is that he was honest, not dishonest.
If you think the behavior of the bodybuilders was embellished, it means you've never trained at a hardcore gym. These gyms are about lift-and-scream, not lift-and-giggle. These gyms are about growing, not toning, suffering, not smiling. The use of chalk and the practice of spitting (and, if need be, puking) is allowed - if not encouraged.
In hardcore gyms, there is almost a hierarchical status based on crazed, hardcore behavior. The inmates take great pride, in the asylum, to see just how outrageous they can behave. It's part of the fun, for God's sake. It's entertaining.
c. A more apt guest for public penance for lying for the Oprah show would be Bev Francis (or any other pro bodybuilder). She built her career in the early 80's by lying through her teeth about her use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. But now, still lying 30 years later, she might shed some public tears on Oprah to garner sympathy and something of a plea bargain for her husband, nailed in a steroid distribution ring from their gym... Turns out the physical giant (well, sort of: she's five foot one inch tall) is a moral midget.
Agreed on the hardcore gyms.
Any one who prefers the image to reality ("The truth? You can't handle the truth!), shouldn't read books, much less Fussell's book.
Bodybuilding is a 'sport' (or at least competition) of appearances.
In the far more financially lucrative field of physical appearances, female modeling, models regularly stick a finger down their throat to regurgitate food, use drugs as diuretics and as appetite-suppressants, and frequently supplement their incomes by taking 'play-for-pay' when it comes the bedroom. But who cares about the truth? They are paid to 'give good face,' regardless of how they get it (or how much they pay their plastic surgeon for it).
Ditto, competition bodybuilding.
It turns out the beauty contest is not so beautiful.
Or the Fairy Tale doesn't have such a happy ending.
Given this, I suspect Fussell actually sugar-coated much of the story in order to protect his friends.
For instance, Gordon Kimbrough, who competed against Fussell for the heavyweight title of Mr. Golden Valley, ended up murdering his live-in girlfriend with a kitchen knife sliced across her throat when she actually had the nerve to object to his cheating on her. Oh yeah, he beat her up first before he took a knife to her throat.
When the police SWAT team stormed through the door of his San Francisco apartment, they found him on the floor with his girlfriend's nearly severed head lolling on his lap. And what was Kimbrough doing?
As they trained their weapons on him, he was busy trying to use one of his steroid syringes to inject bleach into his carotid artery to kill himself.
Honestly, you can't make this stuff up. Reality's too rich, as is.
As to Oprah, it would be great to see Fussell on the show. Since he's a guy who had the guts to fight the establishment and to write his own autobiographry, and she's the talk-show host who had a ghost writer pen her 'autobiography' and then cancel it, pre-publication, because she realized that her image and brand would be tainted by the truth, yes, by all means, bring them together and let her take notes on what it means to be truthful (and what it costs).
I have not heard of the other Muscle book by Jon Hotten; I'll have to check it out. Other muscle-based, but fictional books are:
- Body (Harry Crews)
- Chemical Pink (Jon Hotten)
Both of them are more focused on the Female bodybuilding word, which is entincing in and of itself.
Glad you're liking the thread - I love this topic. Now that the bodybuilding world is getting more main stream (not quite there yet), it would be great to see some more books on the matter. Every now and then, I'll go to Amazon and search for known books just to see "What other who viewed this book ended up buying"... in an attempt to see what else is now out there.
Sounds like the Jon Hotten book is worth looking into.
I haven't really been to any hardcore gyms. I'd love to one day (there's a few in the city here); but, it's very intimidating. But, even in regular gyms - my college gym for that matter - there is plenty of heightened attitude. I used to have one friend who would shake the entire squat rack for 5 seconds (knocking plats off the side) to get himself psyched up for the set.
Ooooh, I totally forgot, there used to be this one guy in my gym would would walk around in the most ridiculous outfits and sunglasses and occassionally yell out, "It's GO TIME!!" Every now and then he would even common-dear the loud speaker and announce, "I'm about to hit it hard - anyone here thinks they can keep up with, then let's do this!!"
I used to have so much fun with my lifting buddies just discussing the "personalities" at the gym.
On the topic of giving good face, the irony of the bodybuilding world is that when these people "look" their "best" is actually when they are probably in the most unhealthy shape possible. In the book, he talks about it hurting to walk because there's no fat on his feet. But, even today, you always hear about people passing out back stage or needing oxygen tanks or having horrendous muscle cramps.
If you ever read "Flexibility" by Flex Wheeler, he talks about how he needs to sleep with a pillow under between his legs and under his arms because otherwise, the weight of his limbs upon his body is enough to interfere with proper blood circulation. He even said that if he didn't hug a pillow, his arm would put too much strain on his chest. He also talks about how his girlfriend would have to help him get to the bathroom when he was often too weak from dieting to walk.
It's a bit crazy, right?
this was the first book i ever read i found it in my older brothers room after he'd moved out and i couldn't put it down iv read it a few times now and it just seems to get better and better
Awesome find in your brother's room! Like you, I couldn't put it down when I first read it.
I read this book a few years ago, coming across it my chance, probably from a mention in a blog. it's always stayed in my psyche. Since then I've given to every trainer and training partner I've had. As far as I'm concerned it's required reading
The gym owner was Doug Brignole..a 1982 aau mr california, 1986 mr americ and 1986 mr universe class winner..a great guy, and used by Fussell as a charicature. I have known Doug since he was 18..we are both 50 now. I liked the book by Fussell, it really captures alot of the fake drama that bodybuilders wrap themselves in, but Fussell comes from wealth, privelege and academia and his reduction of many people in the book to little more than lab experiments in his head wreaked of a tad bit more than your garden variety elitism.
I was a competitve bodybuilder in the so cal area at this time, and knew of the gyms...Shangra La was really Brignoles in Pasadena...Bulldog gym was the only gym mentioned by its real name...overall a good read.
Brilliant post, I always wondered who 'Raoul' was. Thanks for clearing this up. I love the book, it's my favourite read, but perhaps there is an element of snobbery in there. Do you perchance know who Vinny, BammBamm et al were? Would be fascinated to know. I'd love to see BammBamm's pics from the NPC California when he said he didn't place because of 'powitics' but had actually neglected to diet!
I recently re-read this book and it's still amazing. Not many books you can read for 15 years and still enjoy turning the page.
There were many names that were changed, in fact most if not all. Doug had mentioned that the girl Sam "dated" was very innacurate..not that people like that do not exist, but perhaps because it would make a more dramatic read. Lonnie Terper is a very good friend of Doug, and his review of the book was pretty accurate. Doug had mentioned that Sam had never approached him with the manuscript, or told anyone he was writing it. Not that he needed to , but to get an accurate read on a person, you think you would want to have a few one on one conversations with that person.
Bamm Bamm and Vinnie and other chracters are I am sure commonplace in gyms all over the world. The beauty of it was/is when you read the book most people who were or are in the iron game could say "Gosh, I know a guy just like him"...
To really get a better angle on the story of 'Raoul" read the Lonnie Terper interview online in Iron Man titled "Back in the Iron Game". What most people outside of California, or from a different era may not understand is that Sam was working out in Pasadena..not in Santa Monica or Venice, at either World Gym or Golds...so there are probably not many exciting revelations about who was who..
I remember running across Doug at World Gym before the 1982 AAU Mr. Cal....I was training with a guy named Joe who won the short class, and lost the overall to Doug.
I've also given it to most of the people I've worked out with; also gave it to a number of trainers at the gym (actually, one of them still has a copy). I've only had one person say that they didn't like it; I was so disappointed.
I am not sure if I ever felt a layer of elitism coming from the book. The book is told in hindsight, which I think just always comes across as detached a bit from a situation, which might come across as elitist? I think people are just more judgmental of things in hindsight.
As far as "Gosh, I know a guy just like him"... ha ha, word up :) Every gym I've ever been to has had a good mix of "personalities". I used to work out with this guy who always talked with a Schwarzenegger accent... always. He would constantly talk about the way his back would cause a solar eclipse and spread darkness across the gym :) It was good times. It was like being in your own soap opera.
A well written book for sure, and the archetypes surely resonate. Because the time and people and location are in my wheelhouse I probably more than most did some research on Sam. His parents address at that point, or at least his novelist/historian father came up as Pasadena/south Pasadena. This explains Sams' arrival at "shangrila" versus say Golds or World Gym. But it also makes me question his whole living arrangement. Just my natural cynicism I guess.
the other thing that tweaked me was his mention of the "Latino bodybuilders" at the San Gabriel Valley contest and southern cal in general. Perhaps I am too sensitive since that would in an abstract outsiders sense describe me, but not sure if he was in New Jersey if he would have made the same observation about Italian Americans or some other ethnic group.
Great thread Ben...and if you have not read Lonnie Terpers article on Doug, you should. It puts a human face on Raoul, and tells more of the story that I knew to be true.
Thanks for signposting us to the Lonnie Teper article. I'll read it, thanks.
I've been watching some footage of Doug and he is still in great shape. Competed last year it seems, seems a really laid back nice guy.
I wonder if Sam ever gets the itch to return to the gym?
I've leant it recently to a friend who doesn't like bodybuilding and is not a regular reader. They finished the book in just about one sitting and now don't want to give me the book back. Haha, such is the effect of the book. They loved it.
I think if I leant it to somebody and they didn't like it I'd probably try to get them to see a doctor ;)
Out of interest what on earth happened to the guy who used to speak in an Arnie accent? That is hilarious!
if you google doug brignole, and you will see back in the iron game by lonnie teper...that is the interview...I feel I have said too much, and 'Raoul" deserves his privacy, yet at the same time, I want people to see the accomplishemnts and story behind the character in the book...he deserves that too.....
Was it you who posted that Sam is now a rescue diver in Big Fork Montana? Maybe that is his adrenaline rush now!
Well he certainly seems to be doing well. Good luck to him. And he's still definitely in shape!
Yeah Fussell surprised me as I thought he was destined for something vaguely academic (as 'a pencil-necked geek', to paraphrase Vinnie) but he seems to be doing something completely different.
The article is very good, thanks.
I was speaking to Sam Fussell recently, and I told him about the interest that "Confessions" still generates and about your blog. He seemed a little caught of guard by it. He's still writing but he wont divulge what its about. I might have a photo for you of his latest exploits if he gives me the OK, but thats gonna take some cajoling on my part. Its always good to see what other people think about a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Thru Sam's fly on the wall kind of descriptions and knowing his keen sense of whos who, I always liked the way he took you as you were. Thats one of Sam's best qualities..acceptance. Knowing that, I never thought he was putting people in any one kinda category or another when describing the people at the gym or in the sport.
Ben, it's always a pleasure to add my two cents to this discussion on this book.
Perhaps it says something about me that I felt Sams' look back at his foray into the bodybuilding world was seasoned with pinches of elitism. I do feel it is well written, but with you knowing Sam, and me knowing "Raoul", as with most writing either 'real" or fiction, there is more than a smidgeon of creative license involved. I work in broadcast and post production, and as an editor, even in the documentary format, there is a story and script that the reality is "cut" to fit. Having said that, I do not doubt that Sam is a fine man. In fact, that is why I liked reading and rereading the book so much. It hit the nail on the head in so many areas of competitive bodybuilding, and the warped value system of some of the characters and participants, and perhaps only someone who entered the world of it like Sam did could give it that unique perspective that he did.
On a somewhat related note, last June I took my son to see Dave Eggars speak in person. He is a well known author, whose first published work 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" was a chronicling of him having to raise his much younger brother after both his parents succumbed to cancer. The book is a rather personal account...Eggars had exposed a large chunk of personal information about his family in the novel...gave alot of himself in this book.
After he spoke a person in the audience asked a question wondering if he was going to write a follow up to that book. He was very nice in his answer, but you could tell he was a bit flabbergasted..."How much do you people want?" I am sure went through his head. The Fussell book reminds me of that in that people want to know if he will write another book on his experiences in bodybuilding. At the end of "Confessions" he already talks about losing the muscle he gained and how he left that life behind, yet some still ask if there is more?
I for one am glad to have what he wrote. For a more personal view on the same topic, Bob Paris' "Gorilla Suit" is also a great read.
@ben et al,
Glad the debate is continuing, Fussell and this topic never gets boring. On a slightly different part of the book, I never did really work out why Sweepea wore that big pirates hat on his head?! Would have loved to see that!
I don't know if it's been mentioned here before but I just found out there was a musical adapted from the book! See: http://www.chicagotheater.com/revMusc.html
I do want to make something very clear...the statements made here are ALL MINE. I, in no way, speak for Sam. He's a big boy and has no problem speaking up for himself. I know Sam is a writer, but I THINK, being a writer he is always working on the next thing close to his heart.
I just wanted to make that clear.
Yes I agree with you on every point. There is a saying my pop loved...every incident has 3 sides, yours, mine and the truth. Truth is different for everyone. We all remember each situation differently.
That being said, I think knowing, or better said "trusting" the story teller to be honest, we listen to the tale they spin for our entertainment, egerly awaiting the next word.. That doesn't mean we are all gonna see things the same, but we trusted Sam's account and lets be honest...it was a good book!
Well put. I think of the film by Kurosawa, "Roshamon", where a crime is retold by three different witnesses with three very different perspectives.
Okay, after rereading my last post, I hope it did not come across as too harsh. That was not the intent. My point was we all bring our unique life experiences to everything we experience, and thus we all get a slightly different perspective, as beautifully illustrtated in the movie "Rashomon".
I loved Sams' book, and have recommended it many a time, and have in fact seen it as a kind of after the fact "litmus test". I am always amazed at who liked it, who hated it, or who didn't 'get it". I am glad to have found this thread and feel like I have a found a community who "gets it".
Ha ha, I don't know what happened the Arnold Accent guy. I think he may have gone on to become a lawyer. There's were a solid number of "characters" in the gym. Definitely caricatures of real life... IN real life :)
I read Gorilla Suit as well. It was a good book and definitely shed some light on the behind-the-scenes of the professional bodybuilding world. I remember wanting to read it after I read this one because I became hungry for books of this nature. Some of the others I've liked are Body and Chemical Pink.
Ha ha, holy cow! I would not have expected that. I am not sure if I would want to see it, only because I am afraid that it wouldn't live up to the vision of have of the book :) Really funny, to be sure though.
A friend of mine actually got Sam to sign a book for my recent birthday (just turned 30 a few months back). I don't know how she did it, but she found him and contacted him. He actually wrote me a really touching letter as well. I go back and forth as to whether or not I should share it. I don't have any personal problem with it; but, I wouldn't want to betray any trust that he had in sending it. I suppose at the very least, I can take a photo of myself with the signed book :D
Awesome that you got a signed book and letter!
I will pick those up to read...thanks for the suggestions. Happy Holidays
Thanks my man. I keep forgetting to take a picture of it. Perhaps this weekend.
They are fun books. Those two (Body and Chemical Pink) actually use females as the fictional leads of the bodybuilding plot; but, they are quite entertaining. Chemical Pink happens to be very weird.
Bought this book in '99 or so and have read it many times since. I can relate to it even though I've never been a bodybuilder myself or had a great yearn to be one. Using something to hide from your fears, to avoid feeling and facing love, life, yourself, is pretty common to a lot of us. It just depends on which form you choose. As Sam says "it didnt have to be bodybuilding it could have been tax law, 18TH century literature or arbitrage". In my case though it was Music and sex.
'Muscle' is fine read as Sam stumbles his way to self realisation and there is some good self mocking humour in the midst of sadness.
hey Ben its first time that I'm inside any blog on the net since last 10-12 years... and this is due to the respect I've for Sam, the no-fuss guy !
Like you people I too have my experience with this book and mine is much more different but most interesting than yours and will tell you soon... but at this time all I want to say that this is the platform I see to say-- Thanks Sam for... for making me... what I am... love you guys... love your entries... will right soon !
I imagine our host Ben is a bit surprised by the way this thread on Sam Fussell's book has endured and grown. Well, so has the book.
Think about it: after something like 25 years, Sam's book has finally sparked off a TV series! How often does that happen?
The book itself goes not quite go all the way back to the good old days of bodybuilding. But the contradictions of the sport that Sam talked about are still here in spades, more of them now, with so many casualties of the sport having spectacularly crashed and burned-- a long tale of premature death, early disease, and crime.
What is most amazing is that bodybuilding practitioners see and know all this and still forge on. How many of us who read Sam's book still like bodybuilding? I'd say most. We have an extreme tolerance for ambiguity. Part of the attraction of the sport is it's hardcore dangerous nature. It's not for health and happiness and longevity that men and women train heavy, it's for the love and the pain.
Often wondered what all the characters looked like. Sweepie, Mousie, Austin, Macon, Lamar, Moses, Cuddles, Vinnie, G Spot, Tara, Xandra, Nimrod, Bam Bam and Jerry - his nemesis on the NY street. Cuddles wouldnt be too hard, but Macon I've always pictured as Ben Stiller (Frank Costanza) maybe becasue of the dysfunctional relationship he had with his son. Bam Bam emigrated to Sydney. This is where I've lived my whole life. I've always hoped I dont run into him!
I meant Jerry Stiller:)
Wow, the comments take me back to the time of reading the book. I was around 38 when it came out, watching some daytime tv talk show. The guest was a guy who was big in the bodybuilding world as a gym owner or coach/writer or something. He'd been a top competitor in decades past, I can almost see his face. He'd been asked about his reaction to the book, which was portrayed as something of an expose.
Well, the guest responded by criticizing Fussell's physique... as in "he doesn't have the structure to be a top champion" and so on. I'd thought that was odd. He had obviously seen Fussell as attacking his sport and way of life, and reacted by counterattacking Fussell's build - which seemed kind of squareheaded and sophomoric to me.
But OTOH, the book seemed like it would be an interesting insight by a thinking person into a world where he didn't quite belong, but was obsessed with. It did turn out to be quite an absorbing adventure narrative, always centering on the *striving*.
I might find my copy and maybe I'll read it all again. However, I don't have any particular interest in who-was-who or in what Fussell is doing or thinking now. Though come to think of it, it could be interesting to hear an interview about his recollections of the time after the book came out.
This thread is heading for the three-year mark :) I liked the way it began, with the 'secret club' aspect. Good show.
As fate would have it, I'm one of the characters in Sam's book.
Many a moons have passed since my time with my workout partner.
Big Sam, a giggle and tear is due over coffee.
That's too cool :) Small world!
It's interesting when people have a negative reaction to the book or to things that Fussell was talking about. It's just a fun, engaging, and insightful read. Definitely a good time!
Sounds enticing. I'm looking forward to hearing about your personal experience!
Holy cow! I didn't know about a TV series! That's just bananas and by that, I mean awesome. I just did a bit of Googleing and I found a link to some information (albeit not that much):
Still, it's exciting.
And, I agree - most people who loved this book do/still love Bodybuilding in general. Even as critical as the book can be at times, I think anyone in that arena takes it in stride and can love it even in spite of itself. Not that I think he was trying to attack anything, but I'm just saying that all the gym people I have given the book to actually love the book (and have passed it on to the people they know).
I have also wondered what they looked like. They were definitely beasty in my mind :)
Are you still in touch with "Raoul"? I have known him since we were 18, and when I read the book I knew who Sam was referencing, although I knew more of the underlying details that were not touched on in the book.
Unfortunately, I'm no longer in touch with anyone from that chapter in my life. I get updated on tidbits of information from friends that still live in Pasadena, but, I'm quite out of the loop.
You may not remember me (you and Big Sam were too busy doing your hardcore lifting routines and shouting and slapping and spitting at each other to encourage maximum muscular growth), but I was the older guy (I was in my mid-40's then) in the background doing deadlifts five days a week back in the late 80's in Pasadena, California.
I used to wear shaded aviator spectacles and cotton gray sweatpants and a tight, midriff-baring, pastel-shade t-shirt. I wore my hair (I had remnants of hair back then) swept back. Pat Riley adopted my style in the years to come.
I did not have abs then. Or guns.
I don't have them now either.
But you and Sam used to lift your arms to the ceiling and scream "Chuck!" sometimes when you would work out, as a form of encouragement, I think, to me.
I always looked over and waved and the two of you would wave back.
We formed quite a bond. I got the feeling we were all in that together.
I think, maybe, I was something of a mascot for the two of you.
It is a fond memory.
It was nice to hear of you, so clear out of the blue, on Ben's website. I think the three greatest things on earth are incense, peppermints, and Kelly (and not in that order).
Do you have any photos you could send me?
Clothed or in competition costume?
I would also be very interested in purchasing a Kelly calendar - if you have any printed this year. Or a Kelly keychain. Or Kelly placemats. Or a Kelly tea cozy. Or a Kelly sunshade for my vehicle. Or Kelly Kettlebells for my home gym. Or a Kelly nightlight. Or a Kelly coloring book. Or a Kelly screensaver.
When it comes to coffee when you return to Pasadena, do you think you could give me a call? I could take you to Burger Continental and it would be my treat. Unlimited refill for you, Kelly.
But please do not bring Big Sam.
First he would openly insult your boyfriend and call him the Chicano Dwarf. Then he would hog all of the food. Then he would sleep with Ryan's girlfriend. And he would probably write about it.
If you wanted, after our Burger Continental meal, I would also be interested in any 'wrestling sessions' you might provide.
Do you accomodate the 'lift and carry?'
I think schmoe is an ugly word. Don't you?
Do you take credit cards?
Do you have a website? Do you accept PayPal? How can I get in touch with you?
Chuck (Deadlifter, female bodybuilding enthusiast)
I worked with Sam at Random House. We were both "kids" back then. When he began his transformation I screamed at him for eating a dozen eggs and whatever else he was eating as I watched him "grow"! My last contact with Sam was when I saw him on Geraldo's TV show. His book was a great read! I'd love to see him again. I have fond memories of Sam and that time in my life.
Wow, you just took this innocent thread to a whole new freakish level. I wouldn't expect to receive any calls for coffe (from anyone) anytime soon...
All others, I've really enjoyed reading the posts and wait with anticipation as more of the "inside" story seems to unfold. This was a great story and it seems as though from what I have read, Sam may have other great stories to tell about his adventures post bodybuilding. I hope he writes about them.
Thank you again for the great posts.
I agree, Chuck that has to be one of the most disturbing posts I've read in a long time. I suspect that offer won't be taken up anytime soon. Very worrying.
And....'doing deadlifts 5 days a week?'. Never mind.
Great thread though, it's still going strong. Pleased to see a show is being made about the book, this is a long overdue development.
This book is a classic for me, and so achingly true of the bodybuilding journey, however far removed from Reagan era NYC.
This book was very inspirational for me as well. I was 25, 6', 165 lbs and woefully skinny in my eyes. I followed a similar path as Sam up to a point. When I got up to 225 lbs, and realized that I would need to juice to get to the next level, his cautionary tale kept me from going down that path. But I thought long and hard about taking steroids. I have always wanted to write and thank him, but he is a hard person to track down. It appears he has succeeded in building up his armor from the world is ways other than bodybuilding.
I loved this book, and now I'm reading it for the third time! My dad thought it was a good idea for me to read it. I'm not a bodybuilder, but I am as I call it, a gym junkie!! I would love to train up for a sportsmodel, and it is what I am doing. This book was such a boost of inspiration!! I am glad my dad gave it to me whilst I am still young, I have a long time a head of me of hard training, and this book has helped!!
Did this book inspire you in any way to do the some thing as Sam ?? Become a bodybuilder?
Or has it inspired you to dedicate your life to something in the same way same has done with bodybuilding??
Folks are still reading Sam Fussell's book, googling his name, and finding Ben's site!
Maybe its time for a reprinting of "Muscle"!
One reason why not is that so much water has flowed uner the bridge of bodybuilding since then. "Muscle" tells of an earlier and more elysian era. The saga of the kid who got sand kicked in his face at the beach and sent off for those programs or exercisers advertised in the backs of the magazines in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, bearing the names of Mr. Atlas or Joe Weider, and went the distance instead of getting married, getting a regular job and working on a beer belly.
How many bodybuilders have died or been forced to live with reduced heart or kidney function? (Here I'm thinking of Tom Prince and Mike Matarrazzo, and the dead, including Andreas Muntzer, Sonny Schmidt, Youngblood, and so on.) How many have been involved in violence? (Craig Titus and Bertil Fox are still doing time for murder.) No, I am not one of those who throw a fit about steroids; I am a libertarian drug-wise, and there are worse things than steroids.
I think "Muscle" is kind of the "Happy Days" of bodybuilding, when there was less science and more mystery, when it was more a culture than a business, transitioning from Muscle Beach to the Olympia. Just as we like to watch reruns of "Happy Days" on TV and forget about the segregation and comical (in retrospect) worries about the cold war, so is it pleasant to read Sam's story.
It's time for this book to go Kindle or Nook!
All of my paperbacks have the middle photo sheets falling out. My first edition hardback is in a mylar sleeve on my bookshelf!
Anyone have any more work from Fussell? Articles, interviews? I'm curious about how he approached life > after < the iron. I had a very similar experience akin to Fussell, but 20 years later, it feels like I'm still chasing a ghost I never laid to rest.
Has anyone compiled a list of similar reads!?
Oddly enough, a similar read, though in a different field, is a book called A Mouthful of Rocks by Christian Jennings.
It's about an Englishman who leaves everything behind to join the French Foreign Legion.
The Legion, like the lifters, has their own specific subculture, their own slang, their own esprit de corps, their own way of doing things, and this behavior is inculcated and taught from the elders to the younger.
The Legion, like lifting, also requires a kind of tunnel vision and spectacular desire and dedication.
The physical trial is, in a sense, the easy part. It's the mental toughness that gets you through the physical part.
Jennings, as an Englishmen, stands out as a foreigner, but, like Fussell, it's all about heart and commitment, not citizenship papers or lineage, so he's a natural.
Further, at the time Jennings was in the Legion (in the 1980's), the Legion was not active (in the sense that one can bet they've been very busy indeed the last 20 years). In other words, Jennings spent his time training rather than killing.
Because of this, being a man of honesty, he had to ask himself if he truly was a soldier or a toy soldier.
Ditto the bodybuilder, who has to ask himself is he a man or an 'ornamental male'?
Good books are rare and truly worth celebrating.
Did this book inspire you in any way to do the some thing as Sam ?? Become a bodybuilder?
Or has it inspired you to dedicate your life to something in the same way same has done with bodybuilding??
Wow...amazing to find such a long discussion of this book! I have no personal connection to Sam Fussell but I have loved this book for many years. It's just a wonderful piece of writing. But for all the folks saying that it represents a more 'innocent' age of bodybuilding, I'm not sure you read the same book I did. Did you skip all the parts about injecting megadoses of steroids?
This thread is proof that a really fine piece of writing never dies, it will attract and keep readers who keep it alive.
I've been lurking here for at least 3 years, reading the comments. I think I've read this book more times than any other in my life. As an 'Ecto' with ambitions of muscle, Sam's tale has acted as cautionary tale to me about how far to go to change my body and the real worth of that gained muscle. I still find Muscle an inspiration to my training, but the thought of Lemar & Macon's wretched lifestyle helps put it into perspective.
Read it years ago. Still open of my favourites.
Favourite quote on competing in bb contests (Badly Remembered) "You are only king for a day, but by god, you're the f****** king".
I met Sam when I was an undergrad in New York and had gotten a summer membership at the Vanderbilt Y just to work out. This was back before gyms were really much of anything other places to exercise. The weight room was tiny and Sam had already quit his publishing job and was really there all the time. I remember he and a bunch of the other guys took a trip to Venice Beach just to check it out. I was too young to go and I don't think I was even invited, but the place had a good vibe and I remember Sam as being pretty nice and open about his story. For those who are wondering, the Y part of the book was pretty accurate. He also taught me a lot about lifting that summer. I returned to Columbia sophomore year having put on a fair amount of bulk and was really thankful for the time I had spent there. I knew Sam had left to pursue bodybuilding full time but didn't know about his book until years later when I saw a used copy at the Strand at Central Park. I agree, its a great story and it looks like its being made into a movie or series. Too bad about his relationship with his father. I sure hope they reconciled and hope he's doing well.
I posted earlier about having known Sam at Random House. Reading these posts brings back so many memories of Sam and others who I met when I worked there. Some of us have remained friends. I'm sorry that he and I lost touch but his book was a fascinating read that I think I'll reread. I found Sam to be shy, smart, intense and what I then considered to be a bit of an underachiever. Heck, what did I KNOW back then...LOL! Random House gave its employees a discount to join that gym. I joined for a bit but rarely went. To watch him grow from a tall, skinny kid to the hulk was incredible! Maybe fate will allow us to meet again...And, I do recall him having some "issues" with his dad.
I read this book after high school going into college and regard this as one of the best books I've ever read. I've always wanted to be a bodybuilder and have kept at the weights acquiring moderate gains for a tall ecto-meso guy. My closest brush with this lifestyle was when after my divorce I hired a competitive bodybuilder to train me. Got a lot of insight and an epigastric hernia from the intensity of working out under this guy, lol. Loved the comments from coworkers when I started to get bigger, the attention is almost addictive. I was going through a really painful time in my life and bodybuilding help boost my self-esteem. In the end like in Sam's book other obligations and priorities took over. Would have loved to push it further and being able to go through the experience of a competition.
I bought this book many long years ago from a second-hand bookshop, mostly as a whim. I'm nit a bodybuilder, though I do work out an hour a day and used to powerlift casually till a back injury forced me to stop. My own reasons for working out are the opposite of Sam's, actually - I have a weight problem and need to keep the fat off.
While I liked the book, as far as content goes, I must say that stylistically it isn't that great. Sam asks questions without answering them (like Titanium asking why he, a bodybuilder, was in a powerlifting competition, which he makes mention of without talking of his answer). He rambles in places and is too succinct in others. Still, a superb book - and a cautionary tale.
P.S. I don't think it would surprise you that my favourite part of the book is the bench press competition. As an ex powerlifter, I have little sympathy for the bodybuilding fraternity.
If there is any bodybuilder I want to meet, it certainly should be Samuel. I read Muscle in the middle a time consuming project, yet i was done by the 3rd day. The book is engaging and I see it more of a business book than an ordinary narration of a man's experience.
So glad to know this guy is still around and hope day I will have a chance meeting with him.
This is a great thread. I just recently found Fussell's book, and I must say I feel the same way about it as Ben mentioned in his original post. In part that may reveal my age since I first picked up weights at 15 yrs of age, some 27 yrs ago now - so a lot of the names resonated with me in the book. This book would make a wonderful gift. It's really too bad that Fussell doesn't seem to have a presence on the web - would be terrific to see what he is up to now and one has to wonder if he works out recreationaly, or not. Thanks so much for starting this thread, Ben. I'm looking forward to checking out Jon Hotten's book, as well as Bob Paris's book next.
So glad to have found these comments. I too read Sams' book many eons ago and was captivated beyond reason. As a fellow skinny guy trying to bulk up to fend off the rest of the world I could relate to Sam and his struggle on so many levels.
I was semi heartbroken when I realized that the book was "slightly" lol sensationalized a bit but it sure still had plenty of validity to ring true to this young gym rat!
I have always wondered if this revelation really stung hard on Sam because of his parents literary careers and the negative perception of literary license that must be present in those circles to at least some extent. At the end of the book it seems he was ready to dive back into his parents world and maybe this wastn't possible?
Whether he fled to the mountains to hide and seek a new identity and persona I'll never know but it seems he may have made some peace with the world.
I am so glad there are others out there who remember fondly this book and how it influenced them in a way like it did myself!
The only critics that ever claimed Sam's book is sensationalized were the liars-for-hire that worked for Joe Weider's magazines, because Sam had the nads to slam Weider in his book for the lies (and sensationalism) of his magazines. In other words, the Weider organization did its best to fight back. Sam laughed at them, and kept on going. There was another liar-for-hire, Looney Tippler or Lonely Leper or Lonnie Teper, a shmo who worked for Ironman Magazine who tried to slam Sam, but this same guy originally accepted money from Weider for doing puff-pieces, not honest reporting, on bodybuilders. That makes him, by definition, on the take and bent.
At the time Sam wrote his book, the standard company line was that ZERO PERCENT of the best bodybuilders in the world took steroids. That was such a laughable lie that had been used, as company policy, for twenty straight years before Sam wandered into a gym.
In the 1960's, the muscle mags figured out that they made x amount of dollars selling gym equipment to their audience. But if they sold protein powder and such to their audience, they made 10x dollars. BUT, in order to sell the protein powder, they had to convince their audience that the protein powder was the key to muscular growth, not anabolic steroids, which 100% of their models used to grow, but 100% of them publicly lied about taking, or else they would not get used in the magazines.
Sam was nailed for his honesty.
Not for his dishonesty.
In other words, no one in the muscle world objected to the utterly dishonest puff-piece articles on bodybuilders and the ludicrous claims of exaggerated strength or 'drug free' propaganda. Those in the know simply smiled and winked, because it was business as usual.
Sam didn't tell it like it wasn't.
He told it like it was.
And got heat for that.
End of story.
As far as Sam moving to the mountains to 'hide,' uh, I have another theory: I think Sam probably had enough of people pretending to be something they are not for a living. It's evident in the book that the more he saw of Los Angeles, the more he wanted to walk away from the fraudulent lives there. Who wants to pose for a living?
As a rescue/recovery diver in the Pacific Northwest, he doesn't pose for a living. He doesn't have a makeup artist to work on him in a parked Winnebago or someone to yell 'Action' at him before he pretends to be something he is not for a living. Unlike many a bodybuilder, he did not pursue the next form of fraud: acting.
From what I understand, when a drowning victim or a homicide victim or a suicide victim drowns Sam's team is on the scene. They don't do it for money or for applause. They do it because it's the right thing to be done. They also salvage submerged boats or automobiles. This is dangerous, highly-skilled work. It's done in remote places (mountain rivers, deep glacial lakes, underneath the ice, etc).
As to CH's comments above, for Sam to lead this life, which is unbelievably honorable, but far, far removed from the television world of fame and fortune, shows, I think, just how far Sam is removed from sensationalism or attempts to capitalize off of cheap publicity. As to his academic parents, given I first read Sam's book as and undergraduate at Yale for a course on Contemporary American Nonfiction, I would think they would be highly pleased, and you?
Okay, long-time listener, first time caller.
Thank you, Ben, for running this site. It's great.
And it's finally time for me to chime in about Sam's book.
Sensationalistic, my ass.
When Sam wrote that book, the absurd consensus was that if you looked 'healthy,'you were healthy.
In other words, you were what you looked like and your appearance was not, in fact, skin-deep.
The bodybuilding world and the bodybuilding magazines pushed this fallacy and Sam was there to take them on and call BS on their lies (the magazines were making a mint selling the idea that appearance was actuality because they then claimed their vitamins and protein powder were the way to look like that).
Actually, hard, consistent training over many years and taking anabolic steroids is,and was, the way to look like that.
Sam pointed this out.
Sam lifted in the 1980's. His book recounts this steroid era (not that it has changed today). To those who are idiotic enough to believe he 'embellished' or invented facts or outright lied, LET'S REVIEW what has gone down in the bodybuilding world since Sam wrote the book:
1. Pro bodybuilder Momo Bennaziza dropped dead (at 33) while competing.
2. Pro bodybuilder Andreas Munzer dropped dead (at 30) while competing.
3. Pro bodybuilder Paul Dillette nearly dropped dead while competing (from diuretics), and retired early to live longer. Dillette was so physically frozen in his cramped state, that he had to be tipped sideways in his bathing suit on stage, and carted off like furniture (why wasn't a dolly handy backstage?).
4. Professional bodybuilder Tina Plakinger came forward to document her own steroid hell.
5. Professional bodybuilder Craig Titus, with the aid of his professional fitness model wife, murdered his girlfriend, tried to burn her body to a crisp and dumped her corpse in the desert.
6. Professional bodybuilder Bertil Fox murdered his girlfriend by walking into her dress shop and firing his pistol at her point-blank.
7. Professional bodybuilder Steve Michalik (who gets a cameo in Sam's book), years after getting a second lease on life with a kidney transplant (from decades of steroid abuse) puts the barrel of a handgun in his mouth and pulls the trigger and blows his brains out.
8. Gordon Kimbrough, who also gets a cameo in Sam's book, murdered his live-in girlfriend with a knife,then tries to take his own life by injecting Lysol into his carotid artery with one of his steroid syringes while the SWAT team breaks down his door (the neighbors heard the screaming as Kimbrough was busy trying to decapitate his wife).
SHALL WE CONTINUE?
Bodybuilding and health:
Schwarzenegger, open-heart surgery, in his mid 40's.
Lou Ferrigno: knee and hip replacement surgery.
Jim Quinn: shoulder and hip replacement surgery.
We know about Jim Quinn's surgery because he's honest. We know about Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno's surgery because they couldn't keep it a secret.
Dennis Newman, kidney problems.
Flexx Wheeler: kidney tranplant.
Mike Francois, ulcerative colitis.
Don Long: kidney failure.
Tom Prince: kidney failure.
Ed Corney: stroke.
Boyer Coe: heart problems.
Danny Padilla: heart problems
Pete Grymkowski:heart problems
Paul Grand, kidney transplant at 43, dead at 60.
Nasser El-Sonbatty, dead at 47 (if you ever read Nasser on bodybuilding and bodybuilders, you know the truth is so far out there, Fussell, in faith to his friends, clearly sugar-coated it).
Lyle Alzado: dead at 42.
Denny Gable: dead at 49.
Don Ross: dead at 55.
Paul DeMayo: dead at 38.
Ray Mentzer: dead at 47.
Mike Mentzer: dead at 49.
Scott Klein: dead at 30.
Luke Wood: dead at 35.
Frank Hillebrand: dead at 45.
Joe Meeko: dead at 49.
Eduardo Kawak: dead at 47.
Robert Benavente: dead at 30.
Trevor Smith: dead at 33.
Eric Fromm: dead at 36.
Ron Teufel: dead at 45.
Sonny Schmidt: dead at 46.
Shellie Beattie: dead at 39 (suicide)
Dan Duchaine (who also makes a cameo in Sam's book): dead at 48.
Paul DeMayo, dead at 38 (who served time in prison for attempting to murder his girlfriend).
Don Youngblood, dead at 51.
Trevor Smith: dead at 33.
Charles Durr: dead at 44.
Eric Otero: dead at 37.
Fannie Barrios: dead at 41.
Art Atwood: dead at 37.
Rob Sager: dead at 29.
Charles Durr: dead at 44.
Curtis Leffler: dead at 36.
Derrick Whitset: dead at 38.
Dan Puckett: dead at 22.
Please note: this is a partial list and doesn't even touch the number of pro wrestlers or pro strongmen who died long before their time, like Jon Pall Sigmarsson, one of the strongest men who ever lived, who died at 32,while deadlifting (I mean, really, who can make this stuff up?).
This list does not enumerate or expand on the health issues each one of these lifters had prior to their death. In most cases, it was extensive, involved many trips to the hospital (usually heart or kidney or thyroid issues) and was very, very costly.
Fact: since Sam wrote his book (nearly a quarter Century ago!), only two people have ever come forward to dispute the facts: the real-life "Raoul" and his publicist, who has never actually lifted weights,but who makes a monetary living off of lifters. "Raoul" has an ax to grind because he felt humiliated by Sam's book. His publicist was happy to help him in an effort to rehabilitate "Raoul's" career, because he has always been happy to lie about lifting as long as there was a paycheck in it.
How do I know this? Because I was there.
I lifted at "Raoul's" gym and watched as he, classy guy, slept with his employees (only the blondes), as he gazed at himself in the mirror (any mirror would do), as he was led out of his own gym in handcuffs for his steroid scandal, and as declared bankruptcy (twice) in order to evade responsibility or accountability for stealing from his investors. Ask about "Raoul" around Pasadena, CA, and you'll find he barely escaped lynching when he closed his last gym, pocketed the money, and fled to Venice CA. "Raoul's" non-lifting lifting publicist once admitted that "Raoul" was close to suicide after he 'lost' his last gym. Funny,that, because if only half of Pasadena had known,they would have been more than happy to supply Raoul with a noose. Many gyms now thrive in Pasadena. In other words, the market was always there. So the fault of failure lies not in the opportunity but the man. And his cancer of character. To this day, "Raoul" attempts to resuscitate his 'career' (what career?) with Rogaine, capped teeth, and a fake tan. As Sam put it, devastating but accurate, "Raoul" is 'still working on his overall presentation.'
In sum, Sam's book is clearly an homage to Hunter S. Thompson and clearly written in that over-the-top, hysterical (and hysterically funny) style of Gonzo Journalism, where the narrating journalist becomes the participant. BUT, people still read Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe today because, above all, they were devastatingly accurate. Bodybuilding, going so far outside physical norm, is, by definition,sensational. As Hunter S. Thompson would put it: "if you don't want the ride, don't take the ticket."
Sam was dead-on accurate, and, as events have unfolded, prescient.
(PS: I love to lift, but I also love honesty about lifting. As to Sam, one man's comedian is another man's sadist. If you take too much offense, may I suggest you try looking in the mirror one more time but look inside rather than your outside).
Here's a fascinating academic take on bodybuilding and Sam's book:
Here's a 9,000 word interview Sam just did with a Dr./author on sports performance from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN:
It explains why he wrote the book, how he wrote the book, and how, years later, he loves lifting - even if he is no longer a daily disciple of Iron.