When I was 12-years old I received the book Pumping Iron — a gift from my mom. Being reading challenged, and knowing I was already interested in bodybuilding, she thought it might pull me in to read more.
I’d keep that book within reach for the next five or six years — often looking through it daily. The photographs where my primary motivation to get into the weight room each night. By the age of 18 though, I still hadn’t read the book — not from beginning to end. I read the captions under the photographs, but that was it.
When I was preparing to take my GED, and knew I needed to improve my reading comprehension, Pumping Iron was my starting point. I figured that reading about my primary interest would serve me better than picking up a book on physics or game theory. So I opened Pumping Iron and read it from beginning to end.
The book highlighted the the offbeat world of competitive bodybuilding, focusing on several local and international bodybuilding competitions in the early 70s. The true subject of the book though, was a compelling figure named Arnold Schwarzenegger and his preparation for the 1973 Mr. Olympia competition.
I wouldn’t know it as a 12-year-old or even as an 18-year-old, but that book would influence me throughout my life, and for different reasons during different decades. Pumping Iron ultimately lead me far beyond the rusty iron plates and torn vinyl benches of the weight room. It was a three-tiered influence that helped forge the creative me.
The first influence was that I wanted to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m still waiting for that to pan out, but don’t hold your breath. I skipped my workout last night to write this, and dinner was a half-dozen egg rolls soaked in sweet-and-sour sauce — but I did take my creatine.
As a creative outlet, bodybuilding became front and center to my life. It’s fair to say I’ve built my entire life around the weight room. I may not have become the next Arnold, but bodybuilding has been my primary form of expression for 48-years.
The second influence of Pumping Iron was writing. When I opened the book to actually read it, something changed in me. Charles Gaines is an artist with words. Every page include at least one phrase or sentence that was so clever that I wanted to keep reading until the next page — and the next page always led me to another. I wouldn’t realize it for a few more years, but Charles Gaines made me want to be a writer — every bit as much as Arnold inspired me to be a bodybuilder. To this day, a primary objective is to include at least one well-turned phrase in each essay.
If Pumping Iron had a secret weapon though, it was the black-and-white photography of George Butler. For the photographs in the book, Butler used a vintage Leica camera and Tri-X film which he developed himself. There are only two (non-historic) photographs in the book not taken by Butler, both taken by Annie Liebowitz. Leibowitz, after the book’s publication, sent Butler a note apologizing for dumbing down the quality of the photography. Imagine that.
When I started my business in Fallbrook in 2001, I built my own website, created my own marketing materials, and used only my own photography. Being true to Butler’s influence, I took only black-and-white photographs in my weight room, and only in natural light. To this day, whenever I take or edit a black-and-white photograph, I think of George Butler.
I never created anything close to the physique of Arnold. I’m proud of my writing, but it’s amateurish at best. And my photography…? I’ve taken a few gems, but nothing worthy of any awards. That’s cool.
George Butler passed away last week. When I was riding after learning of this, I got to thinking about the influence that he and his friend Charles Gaines, and the object of their creativity, Arnold Schwarzenegger have had on my life. And in truth, the influence Gaines, Butler, and Schwarzenegger have had on popular culture is far greater than one might see on the surface.
In reflection, I remind myself that creativity is like a message in a bottle — you throw it out there, but you never really know who’s going to open it and how it’s going to influence them.
This is what I think about when I ride… Jhciacb
This week by the numbers…
Bikes Ridden: 7
Mph Avg: 15.3
Seat Time: 11 hours 45 minutes
Whether you ride a bike or not, thank you for taking the time to ride along with me today. If you haven’t already, please scroll up and subscribe. If you like what you read, give it a like and a share. If not, just keep scrollin’. Oh, and there’s this from Coleman Williams. Enjoy…