Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Part 11

End of April tree shot from 1:20 PM EDT, April 30, 2006:

Last tree shot is here. Part 10 was a moon shot, an added bonus.

Found Poem to End National Poetry Month

Since the debacle of the sheet of found lyrics, I haven't found much of interest in the streets of the Big Apple. Yet Friday I found this poem in Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn:

This being the tail end of National Poetry Month, I thought it apropos to post it. It's hard to read, but let me transcribe the best I can. [ ] marks words I can't quite decipher:

Cold blew through my hair


what a sight !

Knees quiver as I shiver

what a sight!

It's [ ] [ ]time

[ ] the bells chime

The [ ] [ ] & [ ]

so let the bells chime

I had no problem.

'Cause they were

all word problem.

A 97, A 97 I got a 97

Oh my oh my I've

gone to heaven.


This is folded on 3 x 5 index card. Someone must have done well on a test. Comments and guesses at the missing words are welcome.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

BillyBlog's a HappyBlog

Ten Club members received their CDs yesterday and today. The album is not in stores until May 2. Already listened to it once through. Very impressive.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Five Shuffle

It's that time again...the Friday Five, as seen here. My Friday Five:

1. "Blue Skies" by Ella Fitzgerald from a compilation called Ultimate Jazz.

2. "Anybody Seeing My Body" by the Rolling Stones (from 40 Licks)

3. "Cheated Hearts" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs from their new album Show Your Bones

4. "Natural Mystic" by Bob Marley, from Exodus

5. "Revolver" by Rage Against the Machine, from Evil Empire

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Poem of the Week

National poetry month is winding down, so I'll throw one more out at you. It's a short and sweet one by Charles Simic, who I discovered in college while thumbing through old issues of Poetry magazine in the library.

by Charles Simic

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.

From Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk, by Charles Simic. Published by George Braziller. Copyright © 1974. All rights reserved.

I have seen Simic read multiple times and have at least three dozen items signed by him. I aspire to write with his concision and brilliance. Ah, here's another classic:

from Watch Repair
by Charles Simic

A small wheel
Shivering like
A pinned butterfly.

Pointing in all directions:
The crossroads
One enters
In a nightmare.

Higher than anyone
Number 12 presides
Like a beekeeper
Over the swarming honeycomb
Of the open watch.

"Watch Repair" (excerpt) from Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk by Charles Simic. Copyright © 1974


Look ahead to the introduction of BillyBlog's Top 20 Albums, which is close to completion. I'm working on the technicawherewithalal to add mp3s to BillyBlog so that readers can listen to (and buy) the albums discussed. Thanks to those of you who have commented positively on the new look of BillyBlog.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Another Fine Moment in New York Journalism

From Tuesday's New York Post, what else?

A slow news day indeed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Kindred by Octavia Butler

For a little spell last week, I considered knocking a book off of my Top 20 list to make room for Kindred by Octavia Butler.

Ms. Butler passed away on February 24 in what seemed to be a deluge of celebrity passings. She died on the same day as Don Knotts and Dennis Weaver, so her death may have been lost to many. Being a Black Science Fiction writer probably did little to elevate her to page one news. However, those in the know were very aware of Ms. Butler's talents. Her obituary clearly reflects her value to the literary world.

I learned of Ms. Butler's passing from one of BillyBlog's readers, Tony. Shortly thereafter, her book Kindred was suggested for our book club at the Bay Ridge Jewish Center. And so it goes.

I knew of Butler because she had been a fixture in my old home of Pasadena. She was born there, was a graduate of Pasadena City College and a Southern California treasure who often read and signed at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, one of the best independent bookstores in the country.

Kindred is best summed up like so:

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back again and again for Rufus, yet each time the stay grows longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has even begun.

Although classified as a science fiction writer, this is no robot and alien tale. I was distinctly reminded of another classic from the 1970's, Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). There is a transportation between two periods of American history, with no scientific explanation, which makes the jumps that much more frightening.

I was riveted throughout the book. Butler's command of the language and her descriptions of life on a early 19th century Maryland plantation is terrifyingly realistic (or so it seems).

The biggest disappointment of the book is the introduction to the 25th anniversary edition which, without warning, discusses plot points that steal the thunder from the original text. One should skip the intro and go back and read it after completing the book. It detracted slightly from my enjoyment.

The concept is great and the execution is brilliant. Some may have an issue with the way it ends, but I found it fitting and poignant. I strongly recommend. I'll leave you with a link to an excerpt an Amazon here.

It's a book you won't soon forget.

Chili, Part 2

In response to Jill's comment below, the photo from the previous post is by Mark Seliger and served as the cover for Rolling Stone #633 (June 25, 1992). I don't know what was wrong with Kiedis' hand in the photo. He had an infamous mtorcycle accident in 1997 which damaged his wrist and killed a tour (and album sales), but there is little published about any injury in 1992. Interestingly, the photo was taken in April, at the peak of Blood Sugar Sex Magik's success. Also to note, there are only 3 Chili Peppers on the cover. The photo below has four. What gives? The guy on the far right, I believe is guitarist John Frusciante, who left the band in May 1992, mid-tour. The Rolling Stone Cover photo was shot the month before, so they cropped him out for the June issue. Frusciante rejoined the RHCP in 1998.

Red Hot Chili

Check out this post from Ear Farm. It's a recording from BBC radio last weekend of a gig the Peppers did at a small club in England last week. They sound great. The Mrs. and I saw them sandwiched between Buddy Guy and the Rolling Stones at the Rose Bowl on the Stones' Voodoo Lounge tour. Although it was great to see them at the Rose Bowl, I'd love to see them in a smaller setting. This blog helped me realize how great they still sound, and how I am much more likely to get their new album, Stadium Arcadium, which will be released on May 9.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Part 2 of the Murakami Story from the Guardian

If you missed part 1, click here.

Theme Song

Oh, why not?

Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2

"Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away"

You see the beauty in life, especially in ordinary everyday moments.
And if you're feeling down, even that seems a little beautiful too.

Baseball Notes

Despite the threat of a deluge, we got to the Yankees-Oriole game yesterday. The Big Unit was on the mound and he pitched well, giving up only 3 hits, all to Miguel Tejada, one of which was a home run off the left-field foul pole. The O's added an additional hit when Mariano Rivera came on in relief. Guess who? Miguel Tejada, who finished the day 4 for 4. The rest of the Orioles were 0 for 27.

Jason Giambi spiced things up, with a solo homer, a 2-run shot, and with men on first and second and the chance to follow the sequence, with a 3-rbi blast, he fell victim to a stiff wind blowing in from left field, and settled for a two-rbi double off the base of the left-field wall.

The Yankees won 7-1 and Shayna and Jolee experienced their first game in "The House that Ruth Built." Well, Jolee sat in the bleachers for a Tigers-Yankees game in 1997, but she doesn't remember much before her 1st birthday.

In an unrelated matter, I heard this gem today:

Hernandez questions presence of female trainer in Padres dugout

SAN DIEGO -- Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez's comment that women "don't belong in the dugout" drew criticism Sunday from Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who supported the female member of his training staff and said he was surprised her gender even came up.

Hernandez made the remarks during the second inning of New York's 8-1 victory in San Diego on Saturday night. Mike Piazza homered for the Padres and exchanged a high-five in the dugout with 33-year-old Kelly Calabrese, the Padres' massage therapist.

"Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair?" Hernandez said. "What's going on here? You have got to be kidding me. Only player personnel in the dugout."

Hernandez found out later in the broadcast that Calabrese was with the Padres training staff.
"I won't say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don't belong in the dugout," Hernandez said.

Hernandez, a former Mets first baseman, then laughed and said: "You know I am only teasing. I love you gals out there -- always have."

Bochy said before San Diego's 7-4 win over New York on Sunday that he did not hear first-hand what Hernandez said but was told about it -- and was not amused.

"Kelly is a part of this ballclub," Bochy said. "She's a part of the training staff. I don't know the actual comments, I just heard about it, but she's been here for a while and played a major role with this club in getting guys ready to play a ballgame."

"I didn't think gender was even an issue anymore," Bochy said.

Calabrese said she was flabbergasted by Hernandez's comments. "It amazes me that somebody of that caliber that has obviously played the game before and is in front of an audience of millions of people would say something like that," she said of Hernandez, a former Mets player. "It's a little shocking but you know what, it happens.

"He not only discredited me as a person, but he discredited women," she said.

Calabrese then walked down the hallway to the Padres training room and joked, "Should I go in the kitchen now?"

Hernandez had no comment after the game but said during the second inning of the broadcast Sunday that he was sorry if he offended anyone.


Nice job, Keith!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Obligatory Pearl Jam Post

Nothing original here, just me embedding a YouTube clip of Eddie Vedder and Springsteen & Co. jamming on "Better Man," during the Vote for Change tour in 2004, a phenomenal treatment of a super song. Hey, no worries. If you don't like 'em, no play 'em. Have a good weekend anyway!

I'm tagging on some links here, to prevent me from doing multiple Pearl Jam posts. Rolling Stone gives a glowing review of the new album (to be released May 2), calling it their best album in over ten years. There's also a neat little Q & A with Eddie Vedder here. I'll try and leave it at that, but I am registered with the fan club to be eligible to see them do a set after the Late Show with David Letterman. If I win, you'll be hearing about that too.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Five on BillyBlog

Last week, The Best Week Ever blog skipped their "Friday Five" post in which they play iPod shuffle games. They link The Onion's A.V. Club which features a semi-celebrity shuffler.

Last week, I improvised and shuffled in 58 songs with a presidential interview. The results here seemed to be a bust. Too much of a good thing, perhaps.

Anyway, let's play the simple Friday Five again. Here's my five:

1. "Sloppy Drunk" by Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes from Live at the Greek. What can you say? This concert cd, recorded Live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in the fall of 1999, combines a powerhouse from the 90's with a living legend. "Sloppy Drunk" is an old blues standard by Sonny Boy Williamson.

2. "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare" by Mr. Bungle, from their album California. A former co-worker turned me on to Mr. Bungle, who are described on wikipedia as "an avant-garde, experimental musical group that cycled through several musical genres oftentimes within the course of a single song, fusing radically different styles together."
California was their third and most accessible album. Some sample lyrics:

"Get me out of this air-conditioned nightmare
Rots your brain just like a catchy tune
You will hate life more than life hates you

Happiness is your illness in an air-conditioned nightmare"

3. "Courage (Asymmetric Aria)" by Joshua Redman, from the album Beyond. Redman, an amazing saxophonist, is a true talent. Smart too, he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1991. So, young too, by jazz standards. His website is here.

4. "Now's the Time" by Charlie Parker, from The Ken Burns Jazz Collection. Two saxmen in a row? Nice. One of Parker's great tunes.

And last but not least:

5. "Little Wing," not by Jim Hendrix, but the cover by the Irish folk band The Corrs. Hendrix purists may protest, but this is refreshing version that is truly haunting. It's from their 1999 MTV Unplugged album.

Hope you don't mind my sharing. It could be worse. Earlier in the week, I had done a similar project to the Bush interview, but replacing it with Matt Lauer of NBC and his interview with Tom "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do." Cruise. Good sense spared me from publishing it.

Chinese Democracy

At 10 AM EDT, Guns N' Roses tickets go on sale for two shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. I expect them to sell out before I can blink. Axl and Gang will be previewing songs from their long-awaited Chinese Democracy CD. To commemorate the shows, here is a little irony from today's New York tabloids, reporting on yesterday's meeting at The White House. Funny how there is no allusion to the disruption on The Post cover, whereas that's the big story for the Daily News:

Poem of the Day

The poet Wallace Stevens is considered one of the masters of the 20th Century. I am paricularly fond of him, because he not only succeeded as a poet, but did out of academic circles. Stevens was an insurance man by trade, and the fact that he succeeded in the poetry world while working a 9-5 job sets him apart from the great writers of his time.

And he wrote a mean poem. A lot of his stuff is difficult to discern and requires great brain power, what many people don't like about poetry. But then, he wrote poems that had sounds, were filled with language that evoked sonic imagery. And whereas you have such brilliant thoughts like "Let be be finale of seem," from "The Emperor of Ice Cream," there is other more high-minded imagery, such as "The High-Toned Old Christian Woman."

Stevens is best known for his "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which has been copied and mimicked, perhaps, more than any other poem in the English language. See: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man by Henry Louis Gates, or "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Thunderbird" by David Ives. I even wrote a poem once called "A Blackbird Looking Thirteen Ways." If you want to read Mr. Stevens poem, along with mine, they are posted one following the other on BillyBlog2 here.

However, one of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems is a little ditty called "Bantams in Pine-Woods." I just like the way it sounds:

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Part 10

A bit of a departure, a bit blurry, but a different perspective. 6:00 AM EDT April 19, 2006

Super Size Me!

I have gone from an avid movie-goer in the early 1990's to a sporadic movie-goer in the 21st Century. I blame parenthood, of course, although that is not the sole culprit. Addiction to cheap reality television and the invention of the DVR have also ravaged my propensity for film.

I am aware of the cinema, but rarely get to experience it. Seriously, since last January 2005, these are the movies I have seen in a theater:

Meet the Fokkers

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

um, I sure there may be one or two more, but I can't recall. And DVD's I have seen are mostly kids films: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, hmmmm.

Anyway, The Mrs. and I just finished watching the 2004 documentary "Super Size Me," a must-see film written and directed by Morgan Spurlock, as it really sheds light on the fast food industry, especially McDonald's. I'm not going to say anything here that you can't find elsewhere in greater, more blogworthy detail, but I will put a personal spin on it.

In July 2003, shortly after my 35th birthday, I started losing weight with Weight Watchers. I was unaware of my weight. I figured it to be in the 220s, and I rode a bike to stay in shape. One day that month, I rode my bike in the morning, probably my 7-mile circuit, and on the way to work I stopped at McDonald's.

I had a new sandwich for breakfast that day, the gloriously deadly McGriddle. I still remember that McGriddle. I felt as if one bite cancelled my morning ride in a matter of seconds.

That night, I stepped on the scale at home and registered a 235.6 weight which dumbfounded me. That was not all McGriddle, but I remembered that taste as a token of all the crap I ever ate at McDonald's, going all the way back to when I was seven or eight, after a collegiate game in an Illinois summer league. I was the bat boy, and after a game against Galesburg, the team had McDonald's. I was proud of the fact that I was able to eat 2 Big Macs at one sitting.
Anyway, if you haven't seen Super Size Me, be sure to do so. I think it should be mandatory viewing for all parents. I remember when my kids were younger, they would be "treated" to McDonald's at least once a week. I feel better as a role model for them by making it a much rare occasion. I ended up losing 55 pounds, and although I have put some of that back on, I am still 40 pounds lighter than I was the day I had my last McGriddle.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I am Midnight, Hear Me Snore

You Are Midnight

You are more than a little eccentric, and you're apt to keep very unusual habits.
Whether you're a nightowl, living in a commune, or taking a vow of silence - you like to experiment with your lifestyle.
Expressing your individuality is important to you, and you often lie awake in bed thinking about the world and your place in it.
You enjoy staying home, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You also appreciate quality time with family and close friends.

Song of the Day - Never Learned to Cry

OK, I am trying something new and it is called "Song of the Day". It will be an irregular feature, posted whenever I feel like it.

I will only choose songs I have "discovered," not in the sense that I am embarking on introducing them to the world, but in the sense that I heard them and said, "Hey, that's good. I'm intrigued!"

So, I was streaming KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" Monday at work and I heard something I liked. I couldn't figure out if I was streaming last Thursday's show or that day's, so I couldn't tell what I was hearing, so I googled the lyrics and found out that I was listening to Brooklyn's own "The Rogers Sisters" and the song was called "Never Learned to Cry."

If you're not buying their music, you can download the video for the song here from The Rogers Sisters' website. You can also go to their myspace page and listen to a few of their songs there (and download some, as well). But if you like "Never Learn to Cry," you gotta buy it (99 cents on iTunes).

I won't talk about it much, just let you listen. I will say it reminds me of some of the good music of the 80's. Enjoy, and please come back and post in the comments section if you like them or not.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Obituary of the Day - Louise Smith

People who know me, know I like reading obituaries of semi-famous people. They are so much more fascinating than those of A-list celebrities. Here's one from today:

Louise Smith, 89, First Woman in International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Dies

Published: April 18, 2006

Louise Smith, a driver on the Nascar circuit from 1945 to 1956 and the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, in 1999, died in Greensville, S.C., on Saturday. She was 89.

Her death was announced by the Westville Funeral Home in Greenville. Smith had cancer and had been in hospice care, one of her nieces, Dora E. Owens, told The Greenville News.

Smith, known as "the first lady of racing," gained a reputation for fearlessness. She won 38 modified events. "It was hard on me," she told The Associated Press in 1998. "Them men were not liking it to start with and they wouldn't give you an inch."

A native of Barnesville, Ga., she lived in Greenville most of her life. She received her start in racing when the young promoter Bill France was looking for a way to get people to the track. He asked about women who drove, and someone mentioned Smith.

Smith was married to the late Noah Smith, a junkyard owner who did not approve of her job. Her father and brothers were mechanics. She did not have children. She barnstormed for $100 to $150 in first prizes and some extra appearance money, and she was remembered for some spectacular crashes.

In 1947, she went to watch beach races at Daytona in her husband's new Ford coupe, but when she arrived, she decided she had to race. So she entered the car and wrecked it.

"Her husband said, 'Where's the car, Louise?' And she said, 'That ol' trap broke down in Augusta,' " Benny Parsons, a longtime Nascar star and commentator, recalled. "He showed her the newspaper. The wrecked car was on the front page."

Smith quit racing in 1956 but stayed close to the sport, working with Darlington Raceway's pageant before resigning as grand patron in November 1989 after more than a decade.

What's Your Hobbit Name?

Mine is:

Bungo Knotwise of Michel Delving

Tell us what yours is after clicking here.

And, if you are curious about your elven name, go here.

Among the elves, I am known as Galdor Ancalimë.

For obvious reasons, I prefer the elf name.

I'm guessing Jill, despiser of all things Tolkien, will pass on this.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Part 9

It's Spring and we love our tree across the street this time of year. The leaves are almost a flourescent green and they dazzle in the light. Below is a picture from a perspective at ground level. All photos from April 17, 2006 at approximately 6:30 P.M. EDT.

Previous tree posts are here (earlier this month) and here the Fall-Winter cycle.

Sadly, a neighbor's tree on the sidewalk, two doors down, disappeared yesterday. Last week we saw few sheets of bark come off of it, almost as if it were shedding a skin. Apparently, that indicated to the Parks Department, or some city organization that the tree was ill. And so it goes. This is all that's left:

Melanie and I have sworn that, if the tree across the street, subject of the "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" posts, were to succumb to an ailment that would render it chainsawable, we would have to move. Hopefully, it won't come to that....

Monday, April 17, 2006

New Haruki Murakami story

The Guardian in England is running a two-part story by Haruki Murakami called "Hanalei Bay." Not only is it my favorite author, but it is Hawai'i-themed. Check it out with the above link, should you feel so inclined.

Fiddling with the Sidebar

As many of you may have noticed, BillyBlog has undergone some cosmetic surgery recently, with a changed layout, and additional items on the sidebar.

The learning curve is becoming easier to cope with and, although there's tons I still haven't figured out, I have been steadily improving BillyBlog with adjustments here and there.

Curious about the weather in Brooklyn? It's at the bottom of the page below the counter. Want to relive my top 20 books? They're all there on the sidebar.

I am also adding a new feature, a listing of blogs dedicated specifically to music. Many sites offer free songs for preview by artists, while encouraging readers to purchase the music. Visitors may right click to save the song(s), or just click and listen. It's pretty cool, and you may discover your new favorite band. On occasion, I'll mention one of them in a post, too. Such as today.... there's a cool blog devoted to music from the 1980's. It's called Lost in the 80's and is sub-titled "Rescuing music from day-glo obscurity." Check it out.

The cool/maddening thing about these blogs is that they, too, have lists of blogs on their sidebars, and you can be sucked into a music blog vortex indefinitely, until you are somehow released from the grip of the blogosphere.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Miscellaneous Easter Post

Hey all....

A little tired today, rode 23.5 miles on the bike this morning.

Pearl Jam performed 2 songs last night on Saturday Night Live. Great versions of "Worldwide Suicide," their new single, and "Severed Hand," first time performing it live.

This is a first for me: let's see if it works. Here is the "Worldwide Suicide" performance:


and here is "Severed Hand":


On an unrelated note, voting is open in the next bracket for Band Madness. Go do your part.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

President Bush Meets My iPod

I waited with baited breath for the VH1 Best Week Ever blog to produce a "Friday Five" iPod post like they did here and here.

Well, they didn't. Wracked with despair, I came up with an idea. It will be either a dismal failure or a terrific success. If you like it, please say so. If you hate it, do that too.

Here goes:

I copied a transcript from an interview Tim Russert did with President Bush on Meet the Press in early 2004, nine months before the last presidential election. You can read the unabridged transcript here.

What I did was erase most of the President's responses, and replace them with the first 58 song titles from the BilliPod, on shuffle. It's too lengthy for someone to reproduce in the comments and try on their own, but if you want to try, go ahead. Or, e-mail me your version and I will find a way to post it. I did abridge the interview some (as seen with ellipsis...) and my replacement of the President's comments are in bold.

Some of these make very little sense, but others are funny and some are just plain uncanny. It's also interesting to see the questions Russert was asking over two years ago.

And away we go!





Tim Russert: And we are in the Oval Office this morning with the President of the United States. Mr. President, welcome back to “Meet The Press.”

President Bush: "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes

Russert: On Friday, you announced a committee, commission to look into intelligence failures regarding the Iraq war and our entire intelligence community. You have been reluctant to do that for some time. Why?

President Bush: "Frozen" by Madonna

Russert: Prime Minister Blair has set up a similar commission in Great Britain...His is going to report back in July...Ours is not going to be until March of 2005, five months after the presidential election...Shouldn't the American people have the benefit of the commission before the election?

President Bush: "Finest Worksong (Mutual Drum Horn Mix)" by R.E.M.

Russert: Will you testify before the commission?

President Bush: "My Ass is on Fire" by Mr. Bungle (I kid you not)

Russert: There’s another commission right now looking into September 11th...Will you testify before that commission?

President Bush: "Calypso" by Robert Randolph and the Family Band

Russert: Would you submit for questioning, though, to the 9/11 Commission?

President Bush: "Under the Blade" by Twisted Sister (I swear, I didn't cheat!)

Russert: Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican ... said he is absolutely convinced we will capture Osama bin Laden before the election.

President Bush: "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones (This response alone, thanks to the magic of Shuffle, is worth the post.)

Russert: Do we have a pretty good idea where Osama is?

President Bush: "A Different Drum" by Peter Gabriel

Russert: Let me turn to Iraq. And this is the whole idea of what you based your decision to go to war on...The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

President Bush: "Hide Away" by Mick Jagger (weird)

Russert: That apparently is not the case.

President Bush: "Thirteen" by Big Star (See, if I was cheating, that would have made sense)

Russert: How do you respond to critics who say that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?

President Bush: "Pygmy Twylyte" by Frank Zappa

Russert: Mr. President, the Director of the CIA said that his briefings had qualifiers and caveats, but when you spoke to the country, you said "there is no doubt." When Vice President Cheney spoke to the country, he said "there is no doubt." Secretary Powell, "no doubt." Secretary Rumsfeld, "no doubt, we know where the weapons are." You said, quote, "The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency.” “Saddam Hussein is a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible."

You gave the clear sense that this was an immediate threat that must be dealt with.

President Bush: I think, if I might remind you that in my language I called it a grave and gathering threat, but I don't want to get into word contests. But what I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America. No doubt.

Russert: In what way?

President Bush: "Smoking" by Bill Hicks

Russert: But can you launch a pre-emptive war without iron-clad, absolute intelligence that he had weapons of mass destruction?

President Bush: "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" by Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Russert: But it may have been wrong.

President Bush: "Walking Blues" by R.L. Burnside

Russert: ...Do you believe if you had gone to the Congress and said [Sadaam Hussein]should be removed because he's a threat to his people but I'm not sure he has weapons of mass destruction, Congress would authorize war?

President Bush: "Up the Wolves" by The Mountain Goats

Russert: There’s a sense in the country that the intelligence that was given was ambiguous, and that you took it and molded it and shaped it — your opponents have said "hyped" it — and rushed to war.

President Bush: "Stand by Me" by John Lennon (Now, THAT'S irony)

Russert: And now, in the world, if you, in the future, say we must go into North Korea or we must go into Iran because they have nuclear capability, either this country or the world will say, ‘Excuse you, Mr. President, we want it now in hard, cold facts.’

President Bush: "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" by Ozzie Kotani

Russert: ...There are lots of madmen in the world, Fidel Castro … in Iran, in North Korea, in Burma, and yet we don't go in and take down those governments.

President Bush: "Tuesday's Gone" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Russert: On Iraq, the vice president said, “we would be greeted as liberators.”

President Bush: "Stuart" by The Dead Milkmen (lyrics here)

Russert: It's now nearly a year, and we are in a very difficult situation. Did we miscalculate how we would be treated and received in Iraq?

President Bush: "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" by Bruce Springsteen

Russert: Are you surprised by the level and intensity of resistance?

President Bush: "Mindshaker Meltdown" by Mother Love Bone

Russert: If the Iraqis choose, however, an Islamic extremist regime, would you accept that, and would that be better for the United States than Saddam Hussein?

President Bush: "Big Lizard" by The Dead Milkmen

Russert: You do seem to have changed your mind from the 2000 campaign. In a debate, you said, "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called 'nation-building.'"

President Bush: "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" by Ricky Van Shelton (cover of Elvis song)

Russert: We clearly are involved in nation-building.

President Bush: "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" by Aretha Franklin

Russert: But this is nation-building.

President Bush: "Cemetery" by Silverchair (hmmmm)

Russert: Are you now willing to allow the United Nations to play a central role in the reconstruction?

President Bush: "Knives Out" by Radiohead (interesting)

Russert: In transferring power, the U.N. will play a central role?

President Bush: "Yesterdays" by Miles Davis

Russert: Before we take a break, now that we have determined there are probably not these stockpiles of weapons that we had thought, and the primary rationale for the war had been to disarm Saddam Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary, said that you had settled on weapons of mass destruction as an issue we could agree on, but there were three. “One was the weapons of mass destruction, the second is the support for terrorism, and third is Saddam's criminal treatment of his Iraqi people.”

He said the “third one by itself is a reason to help Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did.” ... Now looking back, in your mind, is it worth the loss of 530 American lives and 3,000 injuries and woundings simply to remove Saddam Hussein, even though there were no weapons of mass destruction?

President Bush: "Not About Love" by Fiona Apple

Russert: In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?

President Bush: "Walking Blues" by Robert Johnson (Weird, 2nd appearance of that song)

Russert: We’re going to take a quick break.

President Bush: "Apple Tree" by Wolfmother

Russert: We’re going to come back and talk to the President a lot more about our world and our economy here at home and the presidential election of 2004. We’re in the Oval Office with President George W. Bush.


Russert: And we are back in the Oval Office talking to the President of the United States.

Mr. President, this campaign is fully engaged. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, said this last week: "I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn't show up when he should have showed up…"

President Bush: Yeah

Russert: How do you respond?

President Bush: "Four Sticks" by The Rollins Band (Led Zeppelin Cover)

Russert: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of the records and said there’s no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.

President Bush: "Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin (my shuffle loves that song)

Russert: You did — were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired. Was there a reason?

President Bush: "Girls on Film" by Duran Duran (Priceless!)

Russert: When allegations were made about John McCain or Wesley Clark on their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that?

President Bush: "Red Light" by The Strokes

Russert: But you would allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?

President Bush: "Man in the Box" by Alice in Chains

Russert: But you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

President Bush: "Goat" by Pearl Jam

Russert: Were you favor of the war in Vietnam?

President Bush: "Is This It" by The Strokes (is he dropping a hint?)

Russert: But you didn't volunteer or enlist to go.

President Bush: "It Won't Be Long" by The Beatles (apparently, he's done)

Russert: Let me turn to the economy...And this is one of my charts that I would like to show you....The Bush-Cheney first three years, the unemployment rate has gone up 33 percent, there has been a loss of 2.2 million jobs. We've gone from a $281 billion surplus to a $521 billion deficit. The debt has gone from $5.7 trillion, to $7 trillion — up 23 percent.

Based on that record, why should the American people rehire you as CEO?

President Bush: "The Lemon Song" by Led Zeppelin

Russert: But when you proposed your first tax cut in 2001, you said this was going to generate 800,000 new jobs. Your tax cut of 2003, create a million new jobs. That has not happened.

President Bush: "Custard Pie" by, you guessed it, Led Zeppelin

Russert: The General Accounting Office, which are the nation's auditors ... have done a study of our finances...And this is what your legacy will be to the next generation. It says that our “current fiscal policy is unsustainable.” They did a computer simulation that shows that balancing the budget in 2040 could require either cutting total federal spending in half or doubling federal taxes...How — why, as a fiscal conservative as you like to call yourself, would you allow a $500 billion deficit and this kind of deficit disaster?

President Bush: "MFC" by Pearl Jam, live in San Diego, July 10, 1998 ("MFC" means "mini fast cars, inspired by cars and traffic in Italy)

Russert: But your base conservatives — and listen to Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, they're all saying you are the biggest spender in American history.

President Bush: "Paint it Black" by The Meteors

Russert: ...Every president since the Civil War who has gone to war has raised taxes, not cut them.

President Bush: "You Just Can't Push Me (Demo Version) by The Cars

Russert: Raised to pay for it. Why not say, I will not cut taxes any more until we have balanced the budget? If our situation is so precious and delicate because of the war, why do you keep cutting taxes and draining money from the treasury?

President Bush: "Paint it Black" by The London Symphony Orchestra

Russert: How about no more tax cuts until the budget is balanced?

President Bush: " 'Au'a ia E Kama Kona moku" by Kawena Pukui from Hawaiian Drum Chants (Translation: "Kama refused to part with his island").

Russert: We’re going to take another quick break. We’ll be right back with more of our conversation with the President in the Oval Office, right after this.


Russert: And we are back.

Mr. President, last time you were on this show you said that you wanted to change the tone in the nation.

President Bush: "Mosquito Knees" by Stan Getz

Russert: This is Time magazine: "Love Him or Hate Him: Why George Bush arouses such passion and what it means for the country."

President Bush: "Take It or Leave It" by Jet (how bizarre)

Russert: Tom Daschle, the Democratic Leader in the Senate, said that you've changed the tone for the worse; that it's more acrimonious, more confrontations, that you are the most partisan political president he's ever worked with.

Our exit polls of primary voters, not just Democrats but Independents in South Carolina and New Hampshire, more than 70 percent of them said they are angry or dissatisfied with you, and they point to this whole idea of being a uniter as opposed to a divider.

Why do you think you are perceived as such a divider?

President Bush: "Someday" by The Strokes

Russert: But around the world, in Europe, favorable ratings — unfavorable ratings, 70 in Germany, 67 in France....Why do people hold you in such low esteem?

President Bush: "On the Run from the MI5" by Arctic Monkeys (How funny! MI5 is the British counterintelligence and security agency)

Russert: Two polls out this weekend show're trailing John Kerry in both U.S.A. Today and Newsweek polls by seven and five points.

President Bush: "Pride (In the Name of Love)" by U2

Russert: This is what John Kerry had to say last year. He said that his colleagues are appalled at the quote "President's lack of knowledge. They've managed him the same way they've managed Ronald Reagan. They send him out to the press for one event a day. They put him in a brown jacket and jeans and get him to move some hay or move a truck, and all of a sudden he's the Marlboro Man. I know this guy. He was two years behind me at Yale. I knew him, and he's still the same guy.”

Did you know him at Yale?

President Bush: "Nutty" by Thelonious Monk

Russert: How do you respond to that?

President Bush: "Best of You" by Foo Fighters

Russert: You were both in Skull and Bones, the secret society.

President Bush: "Heaven is in Your Mind" by Traffic

Russert: What does that mean for America? The conspiracy theorists are going to go wild.

President Bush: "See America Right" by The Mountain Goats (strange co-inky-dink?)

Russert: Are you prepared to lose?

President Bush: "Church-Renewing Vows (Sweet Release)" by Wynton Marsalis (Not as strange as you'd first suspect)

Russert: If you did, what would you do?

President Bush: "Some Swedish Trees" by The Mountain Goats

Russert: Biggest issues in the upcoming campaign?

President Bush: "Drive My Car" by The Donnas (on a Beatles tribute album) (Note, there have been multiple car references-the President is addicted to oil, remember.)

Russert: Mr. President, we thank you for sharing your views. I hope we can come back and talk about issues during the course of the campaign.

President Bush: "Break My Body" by the Pixies

Russert: That's all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's “Meet The Press.”

Well, let me know what you thought. I, personally, had tons of fun and enjoyed greatly. If this goes over well, perhaps I will make this a recurring game.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Memories of My Melancholy Whores

I just finished reading Gabriel García Márquez's most recent book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores. If you've ever read and enjoyed García Márquez, this little book, at 128 pages, is highly recommended. If you've never read him, this story will give you an insight into his world, with love, lust, and the passage of time running as themes through the book.

It has a fantastic opening line: "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." And it never looks back from there. Less a novel, and more of a novella or extended short story, this book reads quickly, and is guaranteed to raise eyebrows on the subway or at your local fill-in-the-blank.

Some reviewers have complained about this latest offering, García Márquez's first novel in nearly ten years, expecting much more from a Nobel laureate. Then again, many others praised the book from the last remaining old master of the Latin American novel. One review here by John Updike, in The New Yorker, ends positively: "The septuagenarian Gabriel García Márquez, while he is still alive, has composed, with his usual sensual gravity and Olympian humor, a love letter to the dying light."

I would concur, the world of a García Márquez novel is a dazzling adventure for the senses. This short little novel is a welcome breath of fresh air which I would definitely recommend.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Poem for the Day: "Cremation" by Robinson Jeffers

Along with Jack Kemp and Terry Gilliam, Occidental College's most famous alumnus is probably the great poet Robinson Jeffers.

It is a great regret in my life that I did not come to fully appreciate Jeffers until after I left Oxy, and during the college's centennial year, in 1987, when Jeffers was celebrated with literary events and readings, I was distracted by literally being a sophomore (from wikipedia: "the word is said to mean "wise fool"; consequently sophomoric means "pretentious, bombastic, inflated in style or manner; immature, crude, superficial" (according to the Oxford English Dictionary)."

Let's just say I was heavy on the fool, and light on the wise, but oh what fun!

Suprise! I digressed. The point is, I was late in coming to love Jeffers, and if there was any doubt in mind, the following poem, one of my favorites, clinched it for me:


It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,

When I think of cremation. To rot in the earth

Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame—besides, I am used to it,

I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,

No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.

We had a great joy of my body. Scatter the ashes.

I found this poem first in a wonderful anthology edited by Czeslaw Milosz entitled A Book of Luminous Things. Click the title to get it from If you're going to buy one poetry anthology this National Poetry Month, this is a great one to have.

What's so wonderful about this poem by Jeffers is how beautiful it is, in the face of death. It is a celebratory poem, of a life well-lived, and a fully-satisfied soul. And the economy of language is astounding; there is not a word wasted. My poems tend to run longer than they should. This poem is a perfect example of how so much can be said in so little space. The marriage of love and death in the language is exquisite.

Jeffers' wife Una, was the inspiration for this poem. She succumbed to cancer in 1950, a dozen years before Jeffers died in 1962. His ashes were scattered at his home, Tor House, in Carmel.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Top 20 ?????

About halfway through my top 20 book list, I realized that this day would come. I have no further books to list on the top 20. What to do? What to do?

Beginning in the near future, I will begin a new top 20 list. I will be counting down my favorite "albums" of all time.

By "album" I mean an original collection by an artist released in record or CD form.

My list will follow the same guidelines as my book list. Only one spot per artist. You can relax, there won't be more than one Pearl Jam CD, if any at all. Emphasis will be given to albums that were integral to my development and growth, so expect to see some fine metal bands from the 1980s represented.

The list is not complete yet, but will be by the time the list begins meandering through the annals of BillyBlog.

Meanwhile, look for my top 20 Books to appear soon on the sidebar.

On a digression, tonight begins Passover, and I hereby honor the greatest rock song ever written about the important holiday, Metallica's "Creeping Death" from the Ride the Lightning LP.

Metallica's guitarist, Kirk Hammett, was key in composing the song, and as a result of that and a photo I once saw of him wearing a Hebrew Coca-Cola shirt, I always thought he was Jewish. Apparently, I was wrong. Kirk is Buddhist, and the song was written originally when Kirk was with his band Exodus (nice coincidence). It was inspired by the movie "The Ten Commandments." You can learn all about the song here at Encyclopedia Metallica.

Happy Passover!

BillyBlog's Sister Does Good

BillyBlog's sister, Alicia Cohen, is mentioned in the L.A. Daily News, and it's not for a car chase or outstanding arrest warrants. She actually will be working with Cal State/Northridge students in New Orleans, over Spring Break, helping with recovery efforts. You can link the article above, or go to BillyBlog2 for the story.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Top 20 Books, #1: The Finale

Before proceeding, you may want to read part 1 of this post here. If you like suspense, don't scroll down, click the link.

Anyway, where were we? The future Mrs. out in Highland Springs (not in Banning, as originally reported), low-end Hollywood party, chatting with Randolph Mantooth, the awkward final first date, yadda-yadda-yadda...

Ok, up to speed. Here goes:

Scroll back to the party, a week before the final first date. At the party, or after the party, in the ride back to the other person's car, a book was discussed (Yes, a book. That's the point of this post, remember?). Books, go figure, are common subjects in my conversations. The following is an estimation of the discussion.

She: Have you read any John Irving?

Me: Yes, I loved [The World According to] Garp.

She: What about Owen Meany?

Me: Who's that?

She: Not who. What. A Prayer for Owen Meany. By John Irving.

Me: Never heard of it.

She: Well, you have to read it. It's an amazing book.

Me: OK

She: No, you don't understand. It's brilliant. By far his best.

Me: (Incredulously) Not better than Garp.

(Somewhere I remember Tino agreeing with me. Garp is classic. It can't be better than Garp.)

She: Better.

Me: No. I don't believe it. Now I don't want to read it.

She: What?

Me: I hate when people tell you something is the best ever. You go in with super high expectations and then you are disappointed.

Then, she said something that I have often repeated, almost verbatim, when I talk about Owen Meany.

She: No. Better than Garp. I guarantee it.

Me: Whaddaya mean, guarantee it?

She: Trust me. I was just like you when someone told me to read Owen Meany. I couldn't believe it could be that good. I started it as a skeptic. And I won't lie to you, the first 75-100 pages are nothing special, just your basic novel stuff. Then wham! It takes off. It's unbelievable. It keeps building and building and takes you to the very last page. And then it's over. And I was, like, depressed, yet exhilarated. Depressed because it was over. Exhilirated because it was the best book I've ever read.

Me: Really?

She: I hate it when people hype things up: a book, a movie, whatever. But this is the exception to the rule. It will not disappoint. Read it.

Me: I will.

I said I would, but I was still skeptical. But we had planned to go to dinner a week later and I wanted to show I was open-minded. And you know what, dear readers? She was dead on right. The date may have ended in failed expectations, but A Prayer for Owen Meany rocked. I finished it in a few days. She was right, the first sixty, seventy pages were just okay and I said to myself, "Aha! See, she overhyped this!" And then I remembered, she said it would be this way, and then I hit that 100th page, and the world changed, all the way to the last page, and then silence.

She was right. Owen Meany was the best book I had ever read. And whenever I talk to people about books, the book inevitably comes up, and I give them the same speech I received in L.A. in 1992, and they are skeptical, but they all agree in the end. With one exception, someone who worked for me several years ago hated it. She didn't finish it. She just couldn't get into it, she said. I was horrified at the time, but when we had to fire her, I forgave the exception.

"In April 2003 the BBC's Big Read began the search for the nation's best-loved novel, and [they] asked [readers] to nominate [their] favourite books." Owen was #28 (see the complete list here).

Cintra Wilson, on, says the following: it was "the first book ever to make me cry." She continues:

Owen Meany is simply a great and luminous character, a man whom you wish you knew and hung out with, and the novel is driven by the merits of his palpable soul. This is a book about the interconnectedness of things and the importance of seemingly meaningless details and the yielding nature of true friendship, and how everything plays a part in recognizing a larger force and ultimate plan. There are always pitfalls and disasters, but these too play a part in the eventual logic of events. I think this is what all people want from faith -- a feeling that the seemingly senseless indignities of life ultimately serve the higher purpose of educating the soul. Like life, nothing in this book makes any particular sense until later in the book when it all falls gracefully together into a whole that means more than the sum of its parts.

"Owen Meany" is John Irving's heroic stab at connecting all of the metaphysical dots.
The full review is here, but I recommend not reading it (spoilers) until you've read the book.

I'll be honest, it is not hard to find negative comments about this book:

"Like Garp it is unnecessarily prolix and self-interrupting, but where Garp rambled to no purpose A Prayer For Owen Meany is rather too perfectly constructed. It is a book for people who want life to be explicable, who can't bear loose ends." - Stephen Games, The Guardian

"My advice is to run while you can." - Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek

"(T)he thinking behind it all seems juvenile, preppy, is much too pleased with itself." - Alfred Kazin, The New York Times Book Review

Of course, book critics are idiots, unless you happen to agree with them. Then they're brilliant. But in this case, they're wrong, so I wave rotten vegetables at them.

And maybe my emotional response to the book is based less on the quality of the book, and more on what was going on in my life when I read the book. Sure, anyone can say that about any book they've read at an emotional time in their lives. Anyone who's read Peter Høeg's Smila's Sense of Snow may recall the stark desolation of Høeg's prose, which was compounded for me by my reading it on my way back to L.A. from New York, at the beginning of a two and a half month separation from my wife and infant daughter.

I can only tell you what I know. If you like John Irving, you should love A Prayer for Owen Meany. If you don't like the author, then you may not like it as much. But I still stand by this being my favorite book. If you don't agree with me, well, obviously there's something terribly wrong with you. But seriously, the book is amazing.