Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Effect of Common Drugs on Spiders

What Are We Celebrating Today?

Norman Mailer is 84.

I've met Mr. Mailer twice, on both coasts. First, in Los Angeles, at the Century City Brentano's, in early 1997, as he was touring to promote his novel, The Gospel According to the Son.

It was then that he signed my copy of the one and only book of his that I have read and fully enjoyed, 1967's Why Are We in Vietnam?

I saw him again in New York, a year later, when he was touring to promote The Time of Our Time, an anthologized brick of his work. The first edition was issued in mass quantities with a signed tipped-in page. At the Barnes & Noble flagship store in Union Square, he inscribed a copy for me.

Mr. Mailer's been in the news of late, with a new novel about the childhood of Adolph Hitler, entitled The Castle in the Forest: A Novel.

And, Ernie Banks is 76 today.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr. Banks, on August 7, 1978. My one and only trip to Cooperstown was way back then, as I accompanied my dad to the hallowed ground, not only to see the museum, but to attend the annual Hall of Fame Game. From the Baseball Hall of Fame website:

Rain Knots Tigers and Mets at 4-4, Aug. 7, 1978

Milt May made the most of the six frames the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets would play in the 1978 Game, belting two solo home runs and driving in three runs for Detroit before rain ended the game in a 4-4 tie in the top of the seventh inning. Lenny Randle's three-run blast gave New York a 4-3 lead entering the bottom of the fifth inning, before May's second clout evened the score. May would hit a first-inning home run, and later doubled in Tigers rookie Alan Trammell in the third-inning to give the club a 2-1 lead. Tom Grieve homered for New York to even the score at 1-1 in the second.

I don't remember much of the game. What I do remember is obtaining autographs from Tigers' future stars Jack Morris, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, along with Milt Wilcox. And, prior to the game starting, Dad pointed out Mr. Banks, sitting in the stands. "Mr. Cub" had been inducted to the Hall that year. I approached him, shook his hand and got his autograph.

I kept all these autographs in my wallet, which was stolen a few weeks later, in Springfield, Illinois, at a swimming facility. Easy come, easy go.

Oh, yeah, and have a
For more information on this special day, visit the official National Gorilla Suit Day site.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cool Stuff People Send Me: Drawing a Woman from the Inside Out

Click this link here to see an artist's rendering of the human form, female, drawn from the inside out.

Tuesday Miscellany

Apparently, the Naked Brothers Band, is big news among the under 5-foot set. BillyBlog visits spiked yesterday to over 120 hits. Still small in blogosphere standards, but I still remember the days when I averaged 25. Still no calls for the girls from agents yet.

Since commencing in the Fall of 2005, The New York Times Magazine has run several serialized novels in their weekly issues. They started with Elmore Leonard, then Patricia Cornwell, then Scott Turow, then Michael Connelly. Anyway, last week the Connelly ended and the series resumed this week with Michael Chabon, one of my favorite writers. If you don't get the Times, you can read each chapter online every week here.

The power of BillyBlog is the bane of BillyBlog. The next chapter in the Great Chime Mystery may get murkier. If you google the phrase "new york wind chimes neighbor," this is the result. I guess the cat would be out of the bag and I may have some explaining to do. I've been objective though, and have not libeled or slandered anyone's good name. Calls to the FBI regarding wind chime abduction statistics have gone unanswered.

The BilliPod was acting up yesterday, freezing and seizing, heating up to an uncomfortable level for about thirty minutes, then "releasing" as if nothing had happened. It has made for some quiet train rides. Apple Customer Support recommended I "restore" the original settings to remedy this issue which, they warned me, would erase the iPod, and I would just have to re-sync with iTunes to get my music back. Of course, over 13,000+ songs took a bit of time to reload. Time will tell, but my service contract runs out in March and if BilliPod is going to go kaput, I'd rather it do so before then.

Most interesting song on the commute this morning: the cover of Kansas' "Carry on Wayward Son" by the Oak Ridge Boys. Quite a surprise. How did the Oak Ridge Boys get on BilliPod?

Granted, the Kansas tune holds a special place in my heart. On December 31, 1979, it was quite possibly my favorite song. Back then, I didn't have many records or tapes, so I had to rely on radio for most of my music.

I was living at 739 Hausten Street in Honolulu, and the radio station KIKI (pronounced kay-eye-kay-eye, not kee-kee) was doing a New Year's weekend top thousand songs of the Seventies, programmed to play #1 around midnight. I listened attentively, knowing that it would rank very high. The top 50 started, and I still had not heard it. I was a naive 12-year old whose record collection included Chic's "Le Freak" and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" on 45s.

As the midnight hour approached, and the new decade was about to dawn, we entered the top 10. I worked myself into a fevered pitch. Still, no Kansas. Finally, they played #2 and were about to go into the new decade playing the #1 song of the Seventies. I was so excited. I had waited patiently all night for this moment.

The DJ came on and announced that this was the moment we had been waiting for. He said this was a perfect song that exemplified the decade and would carry us into the 1980's. I had my head close to the boombox as I waited to savor those first notes.....when the DJ announced, "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night.

I howled, yes literally howled, with disbelief.

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog..."

The 1980's began with me cursing a radio station and learning that life was just not fair, that radio stations were idiots, and that songs about bullfrogs had no business being on radio. It took me years, and I literally mean, years, before I understood how that song could have been number one and "Carry on Wayward Son," a song that only peaked at #11 on the Billboard pp singles chart in 1977, wasn't even considered among the best songs of the 70's.

How's that for a digression?

Monday, January 29, 2007

More Nakedidity

R. Lachsvolkes posted a comment bringing to my attention that the Naked Brothers were featured in "The Talk of the Town" section of the current issue of The New Yorker.

Here's the bit by Nick Paumgarten:

Issue of 2007-01-29
Posted 2007-01-22

Nat and Alex Wolff, the brothers in the Naked Brothers Band, have been working together for five years, since the evening they got out of the bathtub and began singing and jumping around. Eventually, they got dressed, picked up instruments, and, along with a few friends, started playing neighborhood gigs. Nat, who is twelve and is known as “the girl magnet,” is the singer, songwriter, and piano man; Alex, nine, plays drums. Their big single, which Nat wrote when he was six, is called “Crazy Car.” As a nine-year-old female fan remarked the other day, “I like it because it’s about a love that leads you nowhere.”

Nat and Alex live with their parents, the jazz pianist Michael Wolff and the actress Polly Draper, on lower Fifth Avenue. Two and a half years ago, Draper decided that it would be funny to make a film about them. The result, a winsome, relatively ungoofy, half-made-up chronicle of the boys’ exploits—“Spinal Tap” meets Our Gang—was picked up by Nickelodeon, which then signed the boys on for a TV series. The movie airs Saturday; the show begins next week. It parodies fame, and probably dooms them to it. Here’s a prediction: Nat makes the cover of Tiger Beat, if not Rolling Stone, by year’s end.

The tricky thing with the Naked Brothers is figuring out what’s real and what’s not. On the show and in the movie, for example, their father, as played by their father, is a dorky accordionist who is desperate to join the band. In real life, he’s got his own thing going on. And on TV the boys are motherless; Draper, who writes and directs most of the episodes, thought the show would be better off without a mother imposing order on the kids’ rock-star idyll. Nat and Alex, though, seem to be pretty much what you see on TV: Nat, a lanky treble with a sunny stage manner and a Paul McCartney mullet, is the pop-hook prodigy, and Alex, with long curly hair and fake tattoos, is the imp—Ringo, by way of Alex Van Halen.

“A lot of the time when I get recognized, and I have been recognized like five times, people think I’m my character,” Nat said one night last week.

“Well, you are your character,” Draper said.

“I know, but they don’t make the distinction.”

“They never do,” Wolff said.

The four were sitting around their dining-room table, eating lasagna, salad, and green beans. Alex slouched in his seat, bare feet on the table; Nat was animated, playing air bass and humming falsetto melodies.

Alex: “The difference is that Nat’s cool in the show. Ha-ha-ha-ha.”

Draper: “He’s not that cool in the show.”

Nat: “Thanks, Mom.”

Wolff quietly urged Alex to remove his feet from the table.

Talk turned to the Beatles, Nat’s favorite band. “O.K., guys, I can do all four Beatles,” Nat said, adopting an accent that sounded more Tufnel than Scouser. “This is John: ‘This just the way it, you know, goes.’ He talks like this. And then Paul talks like this: ‘You know, um, we’re just, you know, a little band.’ ” The parents beamed.

Alex piped up, “I’m Ringo. ‘Ringo. Ringo.’ I can do it, Mommy. ‘Ring-go, Ring-go.’ ”

“But Ringo wouldn’t say his own name,” Nat said.

Alex writes songs, too. He’d recently recorded one called “Three Is Enough.” (“One is O.K., two is fine, three is enough.”)

“It’s about girls,” his mother said.

“No, it’s about math,” Nat said.

“It’s about doughnuts,” Alex said.

“It’s about girls,” his mother repeated.

“Shut up, it’s about doughnuts!”

Everyone laughed, and Alex, holding up a glass of milk, declared woozily, “Let’s drink to that.”

Alex sneaked off to watch some unsanctioned TV (a family friend once remarked of him, “Do you ever get the feeling that Alex is just an independent contractor working out of your home?”) while Nat donned boxing gloves and jabbed at a heavy bag that hung near the table. Then he began dunking a basketball into a six-foot hoop, nearby.

After a while, the parents coaxed the boys into putting on a little show. A drum kit and a grand piano occupied a corner of the living room. Nat sang a number called “I’ll Do Anything for You” as Alex bashed away, neighbors be damned. Wolff said, “He plays the drums like a man.”

More songs followed (Nat has written more than a hundred and fifty). “Everyone’s cried at least once.” Then: “Your love keeps me on the ground.” And finally: “You need a taxicab!”

“Guys, it’s time to brush your teeth,” Wolff said. Alex obeyed. Nat resisted. “I like to stay up,” he said. “That’s when I write all my best stuff.” He picked up an acoustic guitar and started playing the intro to “Day Tripper.”

“Nat, brush your teeth.”

Nat ignored his father and played a few bars of “Smoke on the Water.”

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Naked Brothers Band

On October 24 2005, The Naked Brothers Band won the Audience Award for a Family Feature Film at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Last night (Saturday, January 27, 2007), it made its world premiere on television, airing on Nickelodeon, in anticipation of the show becoming a series, starting next week.

In a nutshell, this film is a "mockumentary," in the tradition of This Is Spinal Tap, only with a kid band.

At about halfway through the movie, Nat, the lead singer and keyboard-player, performs at the piano, mourning the fact that their band, The Silver Boulders, has broken up over creative differences, leaving Nat and his younger brother Alex, the drummer and, in true VH1 Behind the Music form, lime soda addict, alone in the world, as life goes on while fans mourn the passing of the Silver Boulders. Check out this 40-second clip:

Upon first glance, those who know the Kingdom of BillyBlog, may not notice anything unusual about that clip, other than that it seems geared toward a Nickelodeon audience. Well, let's just say it's a multigenerational gangbusters week for the family of BillyBlog.

Remember the two mourning fans, laying flowers at the memorial to the Silver Boulders?

How could you miss them? They totally steal the scene. Of course, I am only saying that because they are none other than Shayna and Jolee, in their motion picture debuts.

Did I mention that this film was a prize winner in an international film festival? So it's not the Palme D'Or at Cannes, but still. Jolee is proud of her technique, lost to many viewers, as below, she wipes away an imaginary tear.

She wasn't crying folks, she was acting! And she wasn't told to do that, she improvised it. A stunning debut, indeed.

So, you're all likely wondering how this happened, and why we may not have been crowing about it before today. And, yes, they do look rather younger in the scene, that's true.

Cut to my birthday, July 3, 2004, I get to choose where we eat and I have selected Tennessee Mountain Barbecue in Manhattan, more specifically SoHo. The family and I take the subway to the Broadway/Lafayette stop on the D line. It's my birthday, and I have a hankering to stop at the Housing Works Used Books Cafe and look at some books before dinner. So we come up in the late afternoon heat that is Manhattan in July and start down the cobblestoned Crosby street, that runs parallel between Broadway and Lafayette, and at the intersection of Crosby and Jersey Streets, a stone's throw from the Book Cafe, is a small group of people with film equipment.

An excited woman moves toward us. She's looking at Jolee and Shayna. She almost looks desperate, but also looks as if her prayers have been answered. She asks if the girls would like to be in a scene in the movie she's making about a band her sons are in. She says they have been waiting for some young girls to come walking by, but there haven't been many. SoHo is usually not a place where young, under-10, kids hang out, and usually not on Crosby Street, which is old and doesn't have nearly the number of stores as Broadway does, a block away.

She introduces herself as Polly Draper, probably best known as Ellyn in the show "thirtysomething" . We also meet her husband and co-producer, Michael Wolff. They explain the concept behind the Naked Brothers Band. The scene they're shooting is a simple one: they have set up a makeshift memorial to the Silver Boulders, the band of young musicians who have broken up. Jolee and Shayna are meant to be the mourning fans, laying flowers under the band's name where a makeshift memorial has been placed. They should look sad. They get it in two or three takes. They might have needed a fourth, just to be safe.

We sign releases, etc etc. As a former production coordinator, I knew the drill. I also gauged that the scene would most likely never see film. Jolee was particularly excited, but we cautioned her that it would be a while before she could see the movie, and that she might not make it into the final cut. The line producer, Caron Rudner, gave me her number to call for updates. Something may have been mentioned about coming to the premiere.

The girls also got to meet Alex Wolff, the younger brother who plays drums, and really steals the show. The drummer is usually the funny one in the band, right? In fact, while we were waiting for the set-up, Jolee played a little Frisbee with him.

It was quite the fun experience. Remember, at this time, Jolee was just shy of 8, and Shayna was 5. The Book Cafe was nice and the barbecue was excellent.

Months later, I called the producer, Caron, for an update. I didn't hear anything. More time passed and I received a message from Caron, but never got a return call after I called back. We kind of forgot about this whole deal until late last Fall, when we started seeing the promos from the show premiering in January 2007.

We braced ourselves as the plot line reached its set-up for Jolee and Shayna to appear. I kept telling myself, cutting room floor, cutting room floor, and then -poof!- there they were for one, two, thr, two-and-a-half seconds! Still, very cool.

Of course it was weird seeing them so much younger, but still it's great to see this come to fruition after so long.

In case you're interested, the scene comes at about 1 hour and 2 minutes into the show, which is re-airing on Nickelodeon Sunday, January 28, at 7:00 PM and Friday, February 2, at 8:00 PM.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Currently Reading All Aunt Hagar's Children

I am currently reading All Aunt Hagar's Children, a collection of short stories by Edward P. Jones, a Pulitzer-prize winning author.
This is from the story I am currently reading:

They caught him after he had killed the second man. The law would never connect him to the first murder. So the victim—a stocky fellow Caesar Matthews shot in a Northeast alley only two blocks from the home of the guy’s parents, a man who died over a woman who was actually in love with a third man—was destined to lie in his grave without anyone officially paying for what had happened to him. It was almost as if, at least on the books the law kept, Caesar had got away with a free killing.

Read the whole story here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Chime Update

The mystery lingers.

Stephanie called me back this morning and I missed the call, but she did leave me the following message:

Hey Bill, this is Steph, your next door neighbor. Sorry it took me a little while to return your call. I'm sorry, I don't have your wind chimes. In fact I just assumed you guys had taken it down for a while because I haven't heard it for quite some time. Yeah, it was kind of an issue actually, but I don't have it, sorry. I guess you're gonna have to get a new one. It's been really windy so, I mean, who knows? Anyway, when you do get a new one, if it is really windy like it has been, I'd really appreciate it if you could, you know, remember to take it down because it does actually keep me up at night. My window or my bedroom is right outside of, you know, where you hang it and it does become pretty annoying. But I'm sorry I don't have it. Hopefully, I don't know, maybe if you like check downstairs or something it may have fallen or broken or something. Anyway, give me a call back if you still need to discuss it. You have my home number and, anyway, I hope it all works out and sorry and take care. Bye.

That's the message, verbatim. I removed all the "uhs" and "ums" and of course, you can't hear the stresses on words that she uses that makes her sound like she's not trying to sound annoyed, but isn't really succeeding.

So the mystery continues. Did I take them down myself and stow them somewhere in the apartment and just forget that I did so? It's possible, I guess, and more likely than the Renegade Squirrel Theory.

Unfortunately, by my own stupidity, I have opened Pandora's Box in that, now that I have documented a sort of complaint, if the chimes do show up, there is a basis for a good old-fashioned New York City neighbor dispute. We just loved those chimes.

Check this out:

No Music to Their Ears Question: The tenant below us has installed chimes on his terrace and when the wind hits the chimes they clink relentlessly. The only way my wife and I can ''turn off'' the noise is to close our windows and leave our terrace. We have asked him to remove them but he has refused. The building's management says there is nothing they can do? Is that true? .H. W., Manhattan Answer: Yes. According to Andrew McCarthy, a spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, the Noise Code does not include wind chimes as a source of noise or public disturbance.

''If the neighbor were running construction equipment or a printing press it would be a different matter and we could intercede,'' he said. ''But even though they might not like the sound of wind chimes they are not being prevented from using their balcony. This issue would have to be resolved neighbor to neighbor. We cannot go in and remove them.''

That's from the New York Times "Q & A" section, from the October 11, 1987 archives.

There have been revisions to the Noise Code, once in 1998 and attempts during the Bloomberg Administration in 2004, as well.

Wind chimes do not appear in either of these revisions, although Bloomberg applied the "reasonable person" standard. What this means is that the noise created by the chimes would disturb a "reasonable person". For example, if I kept a Howler Monkey (like the one pictured above) on my balcony, that might be disturbing to a reasonable person.

The most disturbing thing about the chimes, apparently, is that they work. They make a sound when the wind blows. Go figure.

The Return of the Friday Five

I ran into BillyBlog reader Colin a couple weeks back in Los Angeles and he remarked that I hadn't done a random 5-song shuffle on the BilliPod lately. The last one was way back here, I think.

So here we go....

1) Great, I'll get slack for this, I'm sure. "Back to Dungaree High" by Queens of the Stone Age from the Turbonegro tribute album Alpha Motherfuckers. I was debating whether or not to mention the album title, but I am showing the album cover, so who's kidding who? I am not in the habit of censoring myself, and I am merely referring to a song on an album. Using symobols (#@!) wouldn't fool anyone. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended.

Anyway, Turbonegro is a legendary punk/thrash band hailing from Norway, Oslo to be more precise and Queens of the Stone Age do a nice little number on this song.

Listen: Turbonegro - The Age of Pamparius (mp3), courtesy of the blog Afterbirth of the Cool, who does a nice post on Turbonegro's 1998 album Apocalypse Dudes here.

2) Great. I see where this Friday Five is going. The next song is Rob Zombie's "Meet the Creeper (Brute Man and Wonder Girl Mix)" from the CD of greatest hits/remixes American Made Music to Strip By. Colin is very likely on the floor right now, laughing hysterically, as we share a funny story about the song "More Human than Human," by Rob's band White Zombie. Of course, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

3) Ok, I just got a little more respectable. "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen, from his 1982 solo album Nebraska.

Here's Bruce & Co. performing the song in 1985:

4) "Baby Please Don't Go," by Big Joe Williams from the Martin Scorcese documentary The Blues. This song has been recorded by Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Them, Paul Butterfield and Paul Revere & the Raiders, Amboy Dukes(Ted Nugent), AC/DC, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Aerosmith, but Big Joe wrote it and did it first.

And through the wonder of YouTube, see him performing this, from 1963, playing the 9-string guitar. According to wikipedia:

Big Joe's guitar playing is decidedly in the Delta Blues style, and yet is unique. He played driving rhythm and virtuosic lead lines simultaneously, and sang over it all. He played with picks both on his thumb and index finger, plus his guitar was very heavily modified.

Williams added a rudimentary electric pick-up, whose wires coiled all over the top of his guitar. He also added three extra strings, creating unison pairs for the first and second courses and an octave pair for the fourth course.

Totally worth the three minutes to watch.

and last, but not least,

5) "Breaking Honey's Heart" by The Supersuckers, off their 2006 album Paid. I basically became familiar with this band through their association with, go figure, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. Ed performed with them at The Showbox in Seattle in 2001. He worked with them on a cover of the punk band X's song "Poor Girl" for a benefit album for the West Memphis 3.

Feel free to add your Fabulous Friday Five in the comments section. Just grab an mp3 player, shuffle, and tell us the first five tracks that appear.

What Are They Were Reading on the Subway, January 25, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Just a brief windchimes update. (To catch up, read the previous post here).

Thursday evening, a week after Neighbor Stephanie's "friend" said he would give her my message, I called again, this time from the home phone, and left a long message.

I reminded her that I had basically given her implied approval to remove the chimes if she was being disturbed by them and we weren't home.

I told her they were nowhere to be found on the ground or in our apartment.

I let her know that if she did not have them, then the only logical explanataion was that someone else must have climbed up on the balcony and stolen them, and that they could climb up on her balcony and steal her things too.

I asked her to call me even if she didn't have the chimes, so at least I would know she received my message.

I asked her, if she did have the chimes, to return them. Because we didn't want to go out and buy new wind chimes if she had our old ones.

I particularly like that statement because, if nothing happens, and I do buy new chimes, they will most likely not be as pleasant as the ones that "disappeared".

I tried to sound cheery through all of this, and not at all angry. "Oh well," I chimed, "This is life in the big city, for you," or something like that.

My greatest fear is that I will discover the chimes somewhere in the apartment and remember "Oh yeah, this is where I put them on that super windy day back in November."

To be continued.....

You're In For a Treat

Today's New York Times "Home and Garden" section has an article entitled "For the High-End Bathroom, Something Unexpected". Registration may be required, but the article is here.

The following photos accompanied the article:

Those babies are all designed by Clark Sorenson. They are all fully functional sculpture urinals. Those and the ones below range in price from $6500 to $9500. If I was designing my dream bathroom, I'd most likely opt for the Hibiscus one below.

These of course are all viable options, once Melanie and I win the lottery. Then again, if I were a bachelor, I might opt for this classic:

And, since I can't leave a good thing alone, and I'd hate to piss away a great theme, here's some more pictures for urine-tertainment:

Now before people start sending me e-mails, or leaving me comments, try and hold it in, there were many more photos I could have posted, but I do have a slight shred of human decency. I also ran out of puns. I guess urea-lly lucked out!