Saturday, December 31, 2005

Top 20 Books, #9

Well, it's been over 2 weeks since I announced favorite book #10, so #9 is a bit overdue. Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls did not make the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels lists, although a couple of other Hemingway novels did.

But we may have all read The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises may rank higher, but this novel about the Spanish Civil War was my first true Hemingway experience. It was this novel in which I first gasped at the beautiful power of his prose, and I still recall sitting riveted on my lunch breaks at the Bank of America cafeteria, oblivious to the noises around me.

Hemingway's pure, simple language allowed me to see through the eyes of the protagonist, Robert Jordan, free-lancing as a demolitions expert fighting the fascists in Spain, intent on destroying a bridge. In the noise of war, there is the pristine silence of the forest, and the repeating cadence of the sounds of the war intruding into this natural scene.

For Whom the Bell Tolls has been called one of the greatest war novels ever written. I not only read this book, I felt it. When night's chill fell, I shivered. When the sun blazed, my temperature rose. I fell in love. I feared for my life and, at the end, I was at peace, feeling as if I had accomplished something great, as the blue sky blazed and I sensed the world creeping forward, leaving me behind in its wake.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Farewell Vincent

Vincent Schiavelli has died.

The name may mean nothing, but he was a great character actor, who appeared in over a hundred films, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Mr. Schiavelli, who died at the age of 57 in Italy, was a Brooklyn native, and may be most familiar to a younger generation as he appeared in several "teen" films in the 1980's as an eccentric teacher.

He was Mr. Vargas, the biology teacher, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mr. Kerber, the deadpan math teacher in Better Off Dead, who steals a scene when he asks Lane Meier, John Cusack's character, if he can date his ex-girlfriend, Beth, since he had heard they had broken up. They are later seen driving off together is Mr. Kerber's sporty convertible, much to Cusack's amazement.

You can read a fuller obit here. Quite interesting, as Schiavelli was an accomplished cook as well, and wrote several cookbooks in recent years. He died at the young age of 57, from lung cancer, on December 26.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cheaper by the Studio

Inexplicably, Twentieth Century Fox has released a sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen, the 2003 film remake that showed us that Steve Martin clearly has a price and will sell out, regardless of the project. I love Steve Martin, but I was so offended by the shoddy production values in the first film, which revealed in the theater that a major studio can put out a film in which the boom microphone appears on multiple occasions throughout the course of the movie. Also, although not noticed at the time, I found a link on the Internet Movie Database, which lists all the other goofs in the movie. The site has also showed that the film made $136 million domestically, which explains the sequel.

Anyway, the best quote I have seen so far is from the Sacramento Union: 'Cheaper By The Dozen 2' is Lousier By The Bushel. If anyone goes to see it, let me know if you can see the boom.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lives They Lived

The New York Times Sunday magazine is one of my must-reads weekly, especially the crossword and acrostics. However, there are two issues annually that simply rock. One is the "Year in Ideas" issue mentioned here previously. The second is the "Lives They Lived" issue, two weeks later (or, this past Sunday). This issue can be linked here for the time being. This issue re-visits the lives of people who died, and not necessarily the most famous passings, but those of the second tier, people we may or may not have heard of.

One I read today that blew me away was the obit for Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate. If you're going to read any of these, read this one here. In retrospect, it is a shame he became such the butt of jokes after the Perot-running mate scenario. He was quite a heroic figure, and the 1992 Vice Presidential debate did not do justice to a man who served his country in such a heroic fashion.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hit Machine!

What was I doing? Thinking what the first albums I owned were.....bootleg tape copies from Honolulu's 98 Rock's broadcasts of "6-Pack", a Saturday night feature in which they played 6 albums in their entirety. Very similar to LA's KLOS' Uncle Joe Benson's "The Seventh Day," which was 7 albums on Sunday night.

Anyway, enough possessives. I taped on my boombox three albums that still ring nostalgic with me:

The Cars first eponymous album, Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door, and Lynyrd Skynyrd's In Through the Out Door.

As I prepared to praise these three albums (all praiseworthy in their own right), a lightbulb went off. These were not technically the first albums I owned. It could have been a Shaun Cassidy LP, but I will give full credit to our good friends at K-Tel. I think one reader who knows me from way back then, alluded to it in his comments to my Warren Zevon post on September 13, 2005.

That album was K-Tel's hit machine. I could go on for hours about this compilation, but I'll spare you. Here, however, is the track list, which I recently was able to recreate and put on the trusty iPod:

Shake Your Booty by K.C. & the Sunshine Band
Right Back Where We Started From by Evelyn "Champagne" King
Moonlight Feels Right by Starbuck
Summer by WAR
When Will I Be Loved by Linda Ronstadt
Happy Days by Pratt and McClain
Our Day Will Come by Frankie Valli
(You're) Having My Baby by Paul Anka
Love Really Hurts Without You by Billy Ocean
Disco Duck by Rick Dees (yes, THAT Rick Dees)
Island Girl by Elton John
Fifth Of Beethoven, A by Walter Murphy
Let Your Love Flow by The Bellamy Brothers
Welcome Back by John Sebastian
Evil Woman by ELO
I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night by KISS
I'm Not Lisa by Jessi Coulter
Who Loves You by The Four Seasons
Disco Lady by Johnny Taylor

So before metal, and before The Beatles, there was HIT MACHINE, thanks to K-TEL.

I may come back and revisit this post in the future, because there are some real gems in there.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Day After.....

Well, we are recuperating still from the craziness of the past week.

I wanted to note two landmarks that had been reached in the last seven days. First, BillyBlog attained its 1500th hit. That's a nice number, as is the other landmark, the 100th post to the site. I was worried when I first started this in September, that I would be able to keep up with it. I joined blogspot in July of 2004, and after a couple of short-lived attempts to get going, I was skeptical.

Here's hoping all me legions of readers had a wonderful Christmas and first night of Chanukah!

This week should be interesting, as my California fam will be in town ringing in the new year and celebrating the 25th anniversary of Leon and Donna Cohen on January 1. They will be flying in tomorrow night and I am taking the week off to join them as they experience the Big Apple's warmer-than-normal end of December.

So, stay tuned, and see what BillyBlog brings for the remainder of 2005!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy December 25

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Shopping Gone Bad

Ok, this is a stretch, but in the theme of Things I Found on the Subway and Found Magazine, here is my latest find, which I didn't think was worth sending in to Found, but may be worth a gander here.

I found this Thursday evening on the way to picking up the kids with Melanie and Alicia.

First, I love the fact that the insect at the top of the notepad looks like a squashed ladybug.

It's less than a week to Christmas and Channukah. I think, if anything, this would be a wacky holiday shopping list: Toaster, Lamp Shades (How do you wrap those?), Keys to Karen, New Eye Glasses, and the most intriguing "Podiatrist letter."


"Dear Podiatrist:

If my insurance company doesn't cover your services, who will foot the bill?"

Sorry, couldn't resist. Happy holidays.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Train Kept A Rollin'

The morning commute seemed effortless. 2 dollars well-spent. The glam-band Cinderella had a hit with a song many years ago, a song that has been echoing in my head since yesterday morning, "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)."

This morning I learned something, as I resumed use of the iPod and searched for appropriate commuting songs, such as "Train" by Four Non-Blondes and "Train in Vain" by The Clash. On January 4, 1983, I attended my first serious rock concert, seeing Aerosmith on their "Rock in a Hard Place" tour where they concluded their show with a blistering version of what I thought was their original song, "Train Kept A Rollin." Well, I have the song on my iPod, but not the Aerosmith version, but a version by the Yardbirds, recorded in the 1960's.

I have since learned that the song was originally co-written and introduced by r&b bandleader Tiny Bradshaw (pictured, left) on the King label in 1951, and later recorded as rockabilly by Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio. From there, the Yardbirds acquired it, which in turn spawned Aerosmith's seminal version. Since then, you can find versions by Guns N' Roses, Skid Row, The Stray Cats, Hanoi Rocks, The Living End, and Twisted Sister.

So no more train talk, it's back to business at BillyBlog.

Stay tuned for resumption of our regularly-scheduled programming.

Well, on a train, I met a dame,
She rather handsome, but kind of looked the same.
She was pretty, from New York City
I'm walkin' down that old fair lane,
I'm in heat, I'm in love,
But I just couldn't tell her so

I said, train kept a-rollin' all night long
Train kept a-rollin' all night long
Train kept a-rollin' all night long
Train kept a-rollin' all night long
With a "heave!", and a "ho!"
But I just couldn't tell her so, no, no, no

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stee-rike Three! They're STILL out!

Sadly, many New Yorkers, some fueled by prejudice that runs deeper than daily routine, think jail is too good for Toussaint. And now, as this article in The New York Times reports, here comes our old friend Mr. Race Card. I'm sure the Post cover, of a man of color behind bars, will further infuriate the critics.

Ah, the Post took the low road, while the Daily News aimed a bit higher.

Either way, it sucks, although difficult commutes are punctuated, if timed right, by moments of brilliant spectacle, courtesy of Mother Nature. I had my camera with me yesterday as I made my way across the Brooklyn Bridge. Here are some more personal shots than what you see in the media:

And what else can you say about this sunset?

I took these while walking so the vantage point changes as the sun goes down. In the one above, there's Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty waving her torch at us.

Everything but the green flash. The arched structure in the distance is the Bayonne Bridge, which connects Staten Island to New jersey.

Anyway, more mind (and leg) numbing stats:

Yesterday's trip home, leaving around 4:00, arriving around 5:20----

11.79 miles

Average Speed 8.64 MPH

Total trip time 1 hour, 21 minutes

Top speed 19.3 MPH

This morning:

11.52 miles

Average Speed 10.86 MPH

Trip Time 1 hour, 3 minutes

Top speed 18.9 MPH

I estimate that, since Tuesday morning, I've logged approximately 58 miles.

Oh yeah, it's warmer today, reports currently 29 degrees and feels like a balmy 24.

We have been fortunate with the weather. One wonders if the strike might have been shortened had we had inclement weather, which would have further infuriated commuters. As I write this, negotiators have returned to the bargaining tables, so we may see some progress today.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stee-rike Two! Plus, Pandora's Box.

Ah, the New York rags!

It's day 2. What can I say? New Yorkers are seemingly united in their disdain for the Transit Workers Union.

Unfortunately, those that suffer the most are the lower-middle to working-class people, single parents many of them, living in an expensive city during difficult economic times, and having no way to get to work without spending what they would normally budget in a week for 5-7 days of relative ease.

And while I appreciate the shared communal

experience of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge during sunset with thousands of commuters, as I embarked on my third leg in two days, I thought that the novelty had worn thin.

But here I am, at 31st and 7th in Midtown, leg-weary and a bit discombobulated. Toe-warmers, neat little chemical packs that you stick to your socks, made the morning commute a little more tolerable. That, and a noticably lighter level of traffic on the streets, although there were more people and bikes on the bridge at 6 AM than yesterday.

For those of you playing the home game, The Weather Channel currently indicates the temperature as 25 degrees, but (aha!) "feels like 16 degrees F". I will say it felt warmer today, go figure. Maybe it was the toe-warmers, maybe the body's weariness not caring. At 23 miles round-trip, I'm at 34.5 milkes in two days. Today I had to walk the bike across parts of the bridge.

It wasn't as congested as yesterday, but after some NYPD folks advised us to dismount and walk the bikes, we complied, until they were behind us, whereas we re-mounted and rode cautiously until another sentry point predicated the repetition of the gesture.

Some stats for today's ride, and this includes the factoring of walking the bike for a portion of the bridge:

11.62 miles, Average Speed 10.73 MPH, total trip 1 hour and 5 minutes, max speed 19.4 MPH.

Yesterday, I made it in 5 minutes less, my avg speed is normally around 12 MPH, and on this trip, generally, I usually max out in the high 20's, as I coast down the bridge into Manhattan.

I don't know if this interesting at all to anyone but me, but what the hell, it infuses me with a greater sense of accomplishment.

As my pal Monty says, "And now for something completely different...."

A fellow blogger turned me on to a great website for people who like streaming music into their PCs. It's called, and it's linked to the Music Genome Project.

Here's how it works:

Go to

Pick a favorite band.

The site will stream a song by that band.

When it's over, it goes to the next song, a "similar" sound, based on the project's analysis of the music.

If you register, you can set up different genres.

To give an example, I started with Pearl Jam's "Immortality" from their 2003 Benaroya Hall concert in Seattle. I then got the following stream of music:

"Over Now (Live)" by Alice in Chains
"History" by the Verve
"Welcome to Paradise" by Green Day
"The Bitch Song" by Bowling for Soup
"Message in a Beer Bottle" by Screeching Weasel
"Trusty Chords" by Hot Water Music
"Today" by Smashing Pumpkins

You expose yourself to bands that you may not have heard of. Interesting. Let's change speeds and put on the Zeppelin Station:

"Shandi" by KISS
"Make Love Like a Man" by Def Leppard
"Undivided" by Bon Jovi

Ok, you get the picture, try it out, it's more fun than cycling to work in 20-degree weather!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Stee-rike One!

I arrived at work at 6:30 AM. Current NYC temperature is 22 degrees. It took 25 minutes for me to regain feeling in my toes. Yes Virginia, you can ride a bike in the dark for 11.5 miles in December and smile about it. Although this city is held hostage by this illegal labor action, and the financial impact is immeasurable (on my way in this morning, I was thinking of all the bodegas situated behind bus stops, and all the business they lose from all those commuters waiting for the bus now not waiting for a bus), I know we will survive. Worse things have happened, and New Yorkers unite in their collective suffering.

Or as my daughter Jolee yipped last week when told how a strike would affect her, "Yay, school starts late!"

At least it's not snowing.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Good Morning.

This is a subject-less post.

Making up words again.

I actually had my first two-day posting gap since BillyBlog was born.

Busy weekend, with holiday shopping, moving furniture, books, etc.

We are looking at what appears to be a greater inevitability of a transit strike at 12:01 AM tomorrow morning. The forecast tomorrow is clear, so I will be biking to work, if the transit workers walk.

I cannot even begin to fathom how crippling it will be to the people of New York, as well as to all our kind visitors.

I picked up some items at the library on Saturday. Here they are:

1) John Dunning's last Cliff Janeway mystery, The Sign of the Book.

2) George Saunders' latest novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.

3) Pearl Jam's Yield

4) Beck's Guero

2 books, 2 disks. The books haven't been cracked yet, but will be the subject of later blogs. The disks are now on the iPod. For some reason, I didn't have a copy of Yield, but feel compelled to talk about it, albeit briefly. Released in February, 1998, Yield is a pretty damn good album. From

In 1998, Pearl Jam released its fifth album, Yield. The album was proclaimed as a return to the band's early, straightforward rock sound. Yield also continued the musical growth shown on previous albums, although this album is more divided and more complicated than their early work. By 1998, the majority of Pearl Jam's fan base had been dissolved, as shown by the fact that this is the first album not to peak at #1 in the billboard charts since Ten in 1991. Yield debuted at #2, but like No Code, it fell quickly down the charts. For the first time since 1993, Pearl Jam allowed a video to be made for their single, "Do The Evolution", and they toured in support of the album. The album went platinum in the US, selling 1,500,000 copies. Yield included the singles "Given to Fly" and "Wishlist".

"Wishlist" is a favorite of mine by Pearl Jam.

I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off
I wish I was a sacrifice but somehow still lived on
I wish I was a sentimental ornament you hung on
The christmas tree, I wish I was the star that went on top
I wish I was the evidence, I wish I was the grounds
For 50 million hands upraised and open toward the sky
I wish I was a sailor with someone who waited for me
I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me
I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good
I wish I was the full moon shining off a camaro’s hood
I wish I was an alien at home behind the sun
I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house key on
I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on
I wish I was the verb ’to trust’ and never let you down
I wish I was a radio song, the one that you turned up
I wish...I wish...

I'll talk about Guero at a later time.

Friday, December 16, 2005

ClustrMap Fun!

On occasion, I will add something fun and interesting to BillyBlog's sidebar. The other day I discovered the "ClustrMap" which tracks hits to the blog and plots them on a satellite picture of the world.

The first few days I only had a few dots, with larger dots representing a greater concentration of hits in New York and somewhere in the middle of the country. I also saw spots in L.A., Hawaii, the Bay Area in Northern California and up in Seattle.

This morning I checked and there are indications that people in Europe and South America also checked out BillyBlog.

It's weird, in a way, to think that something I've written is being read by a stranger thousands of miles away. Of course, I have hit the "Next Blog" key on blogspot and checked out Canadian, Australian, European, and Latin American blogs.

Our transit strike was averted, at least temporarily, thanks in part to my efforts to communicate to employees what to do in the event of a strike. Also, my attempt to thwart geography by crashing on a friend's couch in lower Manhattan. So we've avoided the mess for now, although the new deadline is next Tuesday at Midnight.

Tonight we have our company Holiday party at Planet Hollywood in Times Square.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Prelude to Chaos -or- The Muffin's Revenge

OK, this is topical.

For those of you outside of the Big Apple, we are on the verge of a Transit Strike. For most anywhere else in the U.S., this wouldn't be catastrophic, but in New York City, with an estimated 7 million riders a day, our transit system is essential to our daily existence.

As an HR Director, you can imagine what kind of panic I am facing at work. We are trying to give people all the options, but many are not going to come in. The forecast for tomorrow morning is heavy rain, and it's a Friday, so the three-day weekend scenario is tempting. But we also are having our company holiday party tomorrow night at Planet Hollywood in Times Square. 170 employees are supposed to come. If people can't get in, but the party goes on, there will be general disgruntlement. And more food.

Anyway, the Union and the State and the City are throwing spitballs at one another. We are formulating plans to come to work. If rain wasn't in the forecast, I'd bike the 12 miles in, but riding in rain is unpleasant enough, moreso when the mercury dips below 40. So I am tentatively crashing at a friend's in lower Manhattan.

But the point of this post is to tell a story.

This morning, I took the kids in to their afterschool place, which also takes the kids in to school in the AM, for us working stiffs. Thursday is my day to drop them at Cool School, as the place is known.

I give my children a healthy Thursday breakfast, a bottle of apple juice and an individually-wrapped blueberry muffin. The breakfast of champions. I used to give them chocolate donuts and Red Bull, but the school complained. I'm still paying for those broken windows and the school mascot's veterinary bills.

So anyway, this morning, Jolee and I approach the counter and Jolee drops her muffin. Thankfully, it is wearing its plastic wrapper. It bounces and hits a gentleman in the foot. I say, "Jolee, don't throw your food at people." The guy says, "That's okay, everyone's mad at the transit workers."

He smiles, I laugh, and he goes outside and gets in his idling bus.

I guess it was funnier at the time, but I had to write about something.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Top 20 Books, #10

The Thought Gang, by Tibor Fischer, is #10 on my list of favorite 20 books. Most people have never heard of Mr. Fischer, as he is a British writer, who was nominated for a Booker Prize in 1992 for his debut novel Under the Frog.

This is most likely the most obscure book on my list, and it isn't for everyone, but it is a wild, bizarre romp through a twisted imagination.

The premise is this: a societal malcontent goes on a bank-robbing spree while spewing philosophy. That's about it but then there's more.

John Updike, in The New Yorker, didn't like it so much:

"Could serve as a textbook example of an author outsmarting himself."

But then there's Carey Harrison, from The San Francisco Chronicle, who said: "A bundle of delights, a fireworks display of jokes, an acrobatic display of language tormented by a professional linguistic arm-twister."

Read the first chapter here. Then post what you think. You'll love it or hate it. I finally had the pleasure last year of meeting Mr. Fischer in New York at a reading at the famous KGB Bar. He was touring for his latest book Voyage to the End of the Room.

Try out Under the Frog as well, although this ribald, irreverant comedy had me laughing out loud and wishing for more.

Fischer was one of Granta's TOP 20 Young British Novellists way back when.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

American Nightmoral

Catchy title, no? Let me self-congratulate. A google search comes up empty, until now I guess.

This is not a "Top 20" post, but one of a rarer sort. I completed a book, in conjunction with the Bay Ridge Jewish Center's Book Club, I just finished reading Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.

This frightening novel, a fictional "what if...." scenario, is extremely riveting, as the reader is confronted by an America that takes a turn for the worse when Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election.

Roth is a great writer, although he has not cracked my top 20 list which is, admittedly a tough list to make. I also must admit that I have not read a lot of Philip Roth, only Portnoy's Complaint and Sabbath's Theater.

Portnoy is a classic, but Sabbath's Theater was my favorite of the three I have read. I also acknowledge that he has written numerous other books that have received awards and acclaim that are most likely very good as well. I started American Pastoral, but my attention wandered and I moved on.

Nonetheless, I would recommend The Plot Against America as a valuable lesson in alternate history. Of course, one of the most famous "alt-history" books is by another Philip, the science fiction pioneer Philip K. Dick, whose The Man in the High Castle envisions a futuristic world in which, if you judge a book by its cover, the Germans and Japanese won WWII. In so mentioning ths book, I realize that Dick isn't on the top 20 list, either, and I gave pause to consider if that was not a grave error on my part. After some reflection, I would say no, that despite reading a dozen of his books, that the novels tend to blend in to one another in a rather Dickian paranoia, that his short stories tend to be stronger. With that in mind, it is no surprise that his posthumous contributions as the man in the "film based on the short story by" are the basis for his growing cult status. His official site is a rather nice place to start, if you're interested in reading some of his work.

But this post started with Roth and so it shall end. The swastika is featured prominently on the book's cover, as anti-semitism during the 1940's is the driving force behind this good novel. I thought it would be interesting to see how the cover of the book appeared in Germany, where the symbol is illegal:

Interesting, and I'll leave you on this note. Obviously the swastika is gone but, it should be noted, the title has changed in translation to The Conspiracy Against America. Why change the title? Too inflammatory? Is the word plot not in the German language? Something to wonder about...

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Year in Ideas

Every December, The New York Times Magazine publishes their "Year in Ideas" issue, which can be accessed here. I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of you can, or read the issue on-line. This is their fifth year publishing the "Year in Ideas," and it is always fascinating.

Don't forget to do the Concert Meme!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Meme in Concert

Ok, here's a fun weekend activity, in the form of a meme. If y'all don't remember what a meme is, check here.

First, share with us your top 3 concert experiences. And I mean, the best three concerts in terms of the music you heard.

Then, the top 3 musical performances you would have liked to have seen. If you can't pick a specific one, just tell us the artist. Below, I have linked, when applicable, the setlists to the post.

Initially, I had 5, but I was tormented by the order, so I reduced it to three.

Join in! The more the merrier!

Top 3 Concerts for Bill:

1) Rolling Stones, Guns N' Roses, Living Colour, October 19, 1989, Steel Wheels Tour, L.A. Colisseum

I saw this concert with Melanie and Chris "Tofu" Ferreira. It was my first Stones show and, despite seeing them again several years later with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Buddy Guy in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl, I felt that this concert was better based on several factors:

There was an electricity in the air based on the prior night's show. Guns 'N Roses had played a song from their Lies album called "One in a Million" which includes "controversial" lyrics in which the "N-word" is used, along with a derogatory term for homosexuals. Living Colour, an African-American rock band apparently took offense, and made a statement at the concert we went to. Axl and the band performed without incident. The Stones were spot-on, and the highlight for me was Eric Clapton joining the Stones on stage for the blues staple "Little Red Rooster." Excellent.

2) Robert Plant and The Who, Madison Square Garden, August 3, 2002

I have to give this show the nod because it allowed Melanie and me to see two living legends. Plant performed an amazing version of "Going to California." The Who had recently suffered the death of John Entwhistle, but the band played on. Flawlessly.

3) Pearl Jam, Madison Square Garden, July 8, 2003, Riot Act Tour

Pearl Jam afficionados give the nod to the previous night's concert as the better of the two they played at the Garden, but this is the one I went to. Pearl Jam will be the subject of a later post, but I went from someone who liked the band to an all-out fan. Pearl Jam makes every show available for purchase hours after the show, and in so doing, they won a fan for life. An amazing show, including the first time Eddie Vedder pulled out a cell-phone and called Johnny Ramone (who wasn't home). They covered the Ramones, the Clash, and the Beatles, with Eddie playing acoustic guitar solo for "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away."

Top 3 Performances I Wish I'd Seen, Live

1) Queen, Wembley Stadium, Live Aid, July 13, 1985

Live Aid aired in Hawai'i at 3 AM and I was with a bunch of my friends at someone's house in Kailua. I remember bits and pieces of the concert, but I still get chills remembering the chills I felt watching Freddie Mercury perform, and the crowd's interaction, especially during "Radio Ga Ga." It was only a 21-minute set, but if you think about it, being there meant you would have seen performances from Status Quo, Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Elvis Costello, Sting and Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry, U2, and Dire Straits, all before Queen took the stage, and then, David Bowie, The Who, Elton John and Paul McCartney.

2) Nirvana, Sony Music Studios, MTV taping of Nirvana: Live Unplugged in New York, November 18, 1993

Wait 'til my top 20 album list, this performance is in the top 5. Half the songs are obscure covers, or were onscure covers, but this performance showed the world that Nirvana's grunge was just a facet of their talent. I cannot think of a rawer, more emotional performance by a musician.

3) Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, August 18, 1969

The concert is a legend. The performance is mythical. The man was a musical genius. He closed the show.

(tie) The Doors, Madison Square Garden, New York, January 24, 1969
I have to include a Doors concert, so I'll name this one, but interchange it with any others. A year later, the Doors played several shows at the Felt Forum in NYC, the recordings of which made it into the mainstream Doors' concert albums. I would, perhaps, point the time machine to March 7, 1968, at the Scene Club in New York, when Hendrix jammed with Morrison through 8 songs. Imagine that.

Honorable mentions (lest you think I'm completely oblivious to music other than rock):

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, 1957

Marion Anderson, April 9, 1939, Lincoln Memorial

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Part 8

Same tree, different angle. 6:00 AM, Friday, December 9, 2005.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I was going to mark today as the three-month anniversary of BillyBlog, but a more pressing need arose.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. It was a senseless, sad murder then and, in retrospect, a huge loss to our culture. Imagine, what a man of such talent and moral conviction would have accomplished in the last twenty-five years. Imagine the music that was never written. Imagine.

Lennon's death was a landmark for me, as a 13-year old growing up in Hawai'i, a state far away from New York, but linked to the murderer.

I still recall waking up on the morning of December 9, 1980, getting ready for school. I did not turn on the TV, but I did retrieve the morning paper, The Honolulu Advertiser. I do not recall the exact headline, but it was something like "John Lennon Killed by Former Honolulu Man." It was still dark outside.

I had only really begun to understand who The Beatles were. A group of my friends at 'Iolani were very much into them. Me, not so much. I ran to school where we talked about how sad it was.

It was only through Lennon's death, and the ensuing worldwide emotional outpouring, that I became a fan of the Beatles. Those that knew me then could recall that I hurled myself full-force into their music, pretty much listening to nothing else until 2 years later when I began listening to metal. Those were formative years, and I listened to as much as I could, read every Beatles book I could find, annoyed dj's at school dances by requesting they play Beatles' songs. My family would even pray, while playing Trivial Pursuit, that I not get any Beatles questions.

It is sad that, only through his death, did I discover the greatness of John Lennon's music. Would I have discovered it eventually? Most likely. Would I have become such a huge fan? Not necessarily so.

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Top 20 Books, # 11

I recently did a post about famously recognizable opening lines in novels.

There is one book that was not mentioned in this context and, in the spirit of the list, I must now introduce the only book on the top 20 list that is considered "non-fiction." I say considered, despite the fact that book #11 on my top 20 list is routinely filed under "current affairs" and/or "journalism." Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Behold, the opening line that I still routinely quote:

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
and then:

I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

Yes, oh Hunter S. Thompson, your Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is #11 on my list of favorite books of all time.

It's not only Thompson's writing, but Ralph Steadman's psychotic illustrations that punctuate the text, that combine to provide an incredible reading experience.

It is interesting, as well, nearly 30 years later, knowing how much Las Vegas has changed its face, that deep down is still the rotting core of American greed, driving an economy based on gambling and sex.

People either love Vegas or hate it. There's an endless tream of popular culture attached to it, from the Rat Pack, to Robert Urich's Vegas, to Stephen King's apocalyptic The Stand, to Scorsese's Casino, to CBS' groundbreaking CSI:Las Vegas, and the surgically-augmented NBC hit Las Vegas.

But I digress. I love Vegas, in part due to this book. It is amazing piece of writing. It is hilarious and irreverent. It holds such a place in my heart, that I have yet to muster the courage to sit through Terry Gilliam's film based on the book, and I love Gilliam's work as well.

By the way, all you holiday shoppers, an unsigned first edition (below)

makes a great holiday gift and can be bought for only a cool $1000.

After college, I would join a group of friends in an annual pilgrimage to Vegas for the opening weekend of football season and an obligatory bachelor party. On more than one occasion, I would crack open my dog-earred copy of Fear and Loathing... and read it to whoever was nearby, usually the person driving the car, and usually right outside of Barstow. It was transcendent.

I have many Vegas stories, but as they say, what happens there, stays there, but I will share here one of many Thompson-esque moments. In fact, I will leave you with the one that I feel had "Fear and Loathing" all over it.

I do not recall the year. Early 1990's. Treasure Island had just opened. Those of you who have been there know that they have a pirate show in the area in front of the hotel, a huge pyrotechnic display with pirate ships and acrobats and swinging pirates. We had pledged as a group to see it. We decided for the 6:30 show. It was Labor Day weekend and the temperature was in the high, dry 90s. There were perhaps a dozen of us crashed out in an Imperial Palace suite. Or it may have been another hotel, they all blur together.

I awoke in a chair in the room, disoriented. I was not completely sober. My watch read 6:25. A film was playing on the TV. It was called "Autobiography of a Flea." The plot synopsis is here. Before you link, let me just say that one of the stars was John Holmes. That may be enough for you. There were a few friends unconscious around me, but the main proponents of going to see the Pirate Show were absent.

I tried to rouse the remaining people in the room. No one was interested. Alone, I stumbled from the room, stumbled into the elevator, stumbled into the casino. I wended my way through the labyrinthine chaos that is any casino floor and found an exit that I remembered would regurgitate me out in the direction of Treasure Island.

The heat, even at 6:28 PM, was rudely brutal, as I shot out through revolving doors onto the strip. I had no sunglasses, the waning sunlight and flickering neon disoriented me. I felt like a zombie, there was a crowd moving toward Treasure Island in a big amorphous blob. Time slowed. I looked to my right, next to a retaining wall, were three homeless people, grubby and out of place among the tourists on the strip. I locked eyes with one of them, a double-amputee in an old wheelchair. His eyes were dark wells of suffering that sucked at me as I walked past, was pulled past by the current of the crowd. It seemed horrifying that, at the base of all this glitz and wealth and consumption, there was this vision of abject poverty and demoralized humanity. It was haunting, but I was drawn with the masses, away from reality to the spectacle that replayed like clockwork. Cannons roared, flames heated up the sizzling sky, water sprayed from imaginary cannonballs. The crowd groaned its approval. I miraculously found one of my friends in all the chaos. We watched rapt, as the image of the downtrodden was washed away by special effects. The imprint, however, has remained etched into my memories of Las Vegas, on the edge of the desert, glittering like an American dream.