Friday, January 30, 2009

Jolee Cohen Reading "!! That So Called Sister!!"

!! That So Called Sister !!

She'd whine and whine
and beg and beg
and cry and cry
and he'd say no
and she would say why.
He would say because
and she would say because why
and because she was annoying him
he would let her do
what she wanted to do
and that got on my
nerve. That girl,
that annoying girl,
crying and crying
begging and begging
whining and whining
that so called sister.

Jolee reading "!! That SoCalled Sister !!" at The Community Bookstore in Park Slope, Brooklyn on January 27, 2009.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sweet 71!

It's the BillyBlog's Father's birthday today. The Ancient One, Blessed Be He, is a fine old Dad, and we are separated, as I type this, by two thousand eight hundred and twenty three and three quarters miles, or just under 43 hours of driving time.

The worst thing about living in Brooklyn is that I do not get to see my father as often as I did in the period of 1985 to 1997, a glorious twelve years when the majority of our lives were spent in the same time zone.

I am afraid to write something more poignant, because I fear that I will fall short of my true feelings for the dude. But he is many things besides a great father. He's a good husband (third time's a charm), a lover of Jazz, a fan of good baseball teams (the Tigers and the Dodgers, in that order), and a suffering fan of a bad football team (the Lions).

I have put him through a lot in this life. Choosing to fracture my skull at age 9, (when he wasn't able to get to my bedside, an ocean and a half continent away), piercing my ear, back when it was still slightly shocking, and moving to New York with his infant granddaughter before she even turned one.

We don't see each other enough, and that makes me sad. But, we have a relationship that is much better than most, I'd like to think, and that fills me with joy.

Today, he turns 71, and I thought I'd share these written sentiments, which feel so inadequate, in the grand scheme of things. I wish I could deliver them in person.

Above is a photograph of my father from almost seventy years ago (yes, kiddies, they had cameras back then) on April 15, 1939. I love this picture, because you can see his pronounced dimples, which make his smile, even with age, such a warm and welcoming expression.

Thanks, Dad, for all that you've done for me, all the wisdom you impart, and all the love and caring you have shown and will continue to give all of the people in your life!

With much love,


Poem Lamenting the Suspension of My YouTube Account

I pick at a blackberry
But it is the one
With two capital Bs,
Not the one
Buzzed by bees.

My fingers are unstained
But my heart is pained.
The brain is sprained, but
All I feel is preordained.

I am a documentarian,
But I have been thwarted
By a behemoth
Whose ears are deaf
To the most reasonable appeals.

The bits and bytes
That comprise
The moving image of poetry
Imprisoned on a server
Out west- a voice silenced
In perpetuity
By the click of a mouse.

Beaurocracy begins with
A capital "B".
This one stings
While sorrow sings
A sadness of loss,
Relatively speaking,
For the Rest of Time.

Sent from my mobile device

Friday, January 23, 2009

BillyBlog, in the Spirit of Chinese Democracy, Finally Posts a Review

I was going to review the new Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy similar to the way I reviewed the latest Metallica release here. That is, type it up on my BlackBerry as I experienced it via my iPod while riding the subway.

But this release is a cultural landmark. and it deserves a little more thought.

And, for all intents and purposes, this isn't an objective review. It's a pouring on of adulation. I'm no critic. I tend to acquire the things I know I'm going to like, and ignore the things I don't. If the album sucked, I wouldn't waste time reviewing it. If you want to read a bad review, just
google "guns roses chinese democracy overwrought," substituting "overwrought" with any negative buzzword that people like to employ to make them sound important.

I am coming into this "review" as a long-time G n' R fan. I still recall the Fall day, in 1987, sitting in my corner room at Pauley Hall, Room 222, at Occidental College. My door was open, and the R.A. from the ground floor, Brent Tharp, came to my door, holding a cassette tape, and said "You gotta hear this". He was holding the debut album from the band, Appetite for Destruction, which had been released that summer, and had yet to garner any significant airplay. Even tucked away in our little corner of northeast Los Angeles, Axl Rose and Co. were still unknown.

We sat and listened and I remember my reaction. How does no one know about these guys? Nothing had ever sounded like this before, and a friend recently asked me if the new album compared to the first. "Impossible," I told him. Appetite not only raised the bar to new heights, it raised the bar to an unattainable level. It's like Bob Beamon's long jump record that stood for 33 years, and Mike Powell's new mark that has stood for 17 more. Will a band ever release an album better than Appetite for Destruction? It's possible. Is it really? I'll believe it when I hear it.

And I remember hearing "Paradise City" for the first time on the radio in December 1987 in Honolulu. And then, in the Spring of 1988, the "Sweet Child o' Mine" video was released and the band achieved mega-rock star status.

Twenty years later, there's a new G n' R album. Of course purists, discounting the fact that Axl owns the band name, will say it is not G n' R without Slash, Duff, Matt, and Izzy. Whatever. I am a firm believer that, with rare exception, the sound of the singer creates the band. Don't send
me the exceptions. I know, I know. But this is my mindset.

So, there have been two types of reviews of Chinese Democracy, raving like this one in Rolling Stone, or hypercritical like this one in the Chicago Sun Times. Okay, and mixed reviews too. My favorite is from Chuck Klosterman, who has written endlessly about the mythological nature
of the album, who I even asked at a Q and A at a book signing over five years ago, if he ever thought this would be released. He was doubtful then, although he wanted to believe that it could someday happen. Read his review here.

Here's my take. It's all in the approach. If you want to hear good, new Guns N' Roses music, you'll like this effort. If you're predisposed to haterism, then you'll surely sneer at its grandiosity.

[Several days have passed]

I have decided that there isn't a song on this album that I dislike. Sure I like others better than some, but even the songs that have been singled out by other critics as crap, I still like to some degree. Which goes to show, Axl's crap is a lot better than other artists' good stuff.

Let's take a track-by-track approach, shall we?

1) "Chinese Democracy". The title track and the album's first single. The opening bars alone are worthy of accolades. The guitars rip and rattle the speakers, or earbuds, or whatever. It sets the bar high, too high for some, who would prefer the whole album sound like this. The lead guitar on this song is astoundingly complex, and whizzes about behind the lyrics like a mosquito, buzzing away. It's a phenomenal track.

2) "Shackler's Revenge" is next, announcing itself with a whining guitar. "Don't every try to tell me/how much you care for me" Axl warns. The songs has a driving beat. It's funny, whenever I focus on one of the "lesser" songs on the album, I start to think, "Oh yeah, here's one I don't like so much." Then thirty seconds in, I'm reminded how wrong I was. But there's something about this track that doesn't seems G-n-R-ish. But then, it does.

3) "Better" is probably the biggest reason "Shackler's Revenge" seems so inferior. Here we get that familiar Axl voice, with a siren-like guitar. And then the chorus hits and the song soars even higher. "Better" is certainly "better". And more amazing guitar. And no one can scream as melodically as W. Axl Rose. This song started with a dream of greatness and then blossomed into full awesomeness. It's big, bold, overblown and brassy. And it works.

4) "Street of Dreams" starts with piano, and a crooning Rose that made me think of a 21st century "November Rain". But there's that Axl sound, punctuating the soaring keys and then, boom! - the song weaves between hard power pop and radio rock. I started thinking this was a disappointing song, but it grows on you the more you hear it. It probably reminds me the most
of Slash-era G n' R.

[January 22, 2009, Ben, reader and blogger over at Once Were Bachelors emails me and takes me to task for not reviewing the album, having just discovered its release. He is shocked and questions why I haven't reviewed the album. The remainder of the review is thanks to him.]

Interlude. I started reviewing this in November 2008 and it is now two months later. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will summarize. I love this album, but can totally understand why people don't. Now, back to the track-by-track summary.

5) "If the World" has one of the most bizarre (read: interesting) intros to a Guns n' Roses song I can think of. It certainly sounds "modern," though some critics may claim it sound more like "late 90s". However, there is no mistaking this is Axl Rose singing. It's a slow-paced song, with a strange distant piece about 2 minutes in. And after multiple listenings, I am convinced it is a piece of musical brilliance, although I can't quite pinpoint why. It originally premiered in the film Body of Lies.

6) "There Was a Time" returns to a little bit of normality and sounds like a stereotypical GnR song. And it is pretty awesome. It has the guitar, the sweeping range of everything that is great about Axl's voice. And it has a strings section. Did I mention it was pretty awesome?

7) "Catcher in the Rye" starts with a piano and stays consistently interesting. It's a nice song, but is maybe the one song that takes the most getting used to. Then again, there is a pretty great guitar solo in it.

Ok, we're halfway through the album, with a few of the best songs on the album still to come.

8) "Scraped" has some crazy beginning, like some demonic barbershop quartet warming up. And then Axl has a singing battle with himself. All this laid over some pretty heavy guitar work. When you're listening to it, you think it's not so bad. But it becomes a forgettable song. Even more so, considering the next track is

9) "Riad 'N the Bedouins". Okay, strange title aside, this is one of my favorite songs on Chinese Democracy. Forget the creepy 35 seconds that start the song with some spooky sounds. But Axl's voice completely takes over once the song kicks into gear, with in-your-face lyrics that made me think of Appetite of Destruction:

Riad N' the Bedouins
Had a plan and thought they'd win
But i dont give a fuck 'bout them
Cause i am crazy
Blazing guitars, top-notch vocals. Awesome song.

10) "Sorry" is alluded to in Chuck Klosterman's review in citing the strange-sounding "but I don't want to do it" lyric. It's a slow-paced song that builds to a crescendo. I start off hating it, but find, by the end of the track, I'm enjoying it. Vocally, it's one strange tune, but ultimately, still pretty good. It probably benefits from being sandwiched between "Riad" and

11) "I.R.S.". This is all Axl's voice. Again, it starts a little weird, but then the chorus hits in that raspy Rose-ian drawl:

Gonna call the President
Gonna call a Private Eye

Gonna get the IRS

Gonna need the FBI
and he seems to be angrily addressing his critics:

I bet you think I'm doing this all for my health
I should've looked again babe at somebody else

Feelin' like I'm done way more than wrong
Feelin' like I'm livin' inside of this song
Feelin' like I'm just too tired to care

Feelin' like I done more than my share

Could it be the way that I carried on

Like a broken record for so long
And I just love this song. The vocals are great and the guitar, yet again, is jaw-droppingly awesome.

12) "Madagascar". What can I say? When I first heard this, as a live bootleg from "Rock in Rio 3" seven or eight years ago, I couldn't get enough of it. So, it's really an "old" G n' R song at this point. It has the sweeping grandeur of the monster songs like "Civil War" and "November Rain". A lot has been made of the looped-in speeches by MLK and dialogue from Cool Hand Luke. Whatever. People who had heard this from Rock in Rio would find a gaping hole in the song had these bits not been included. It remains one of my favorite songs by the band. And Slash had nothing to do with it.

13) "This I Love" is the penultimate track and has a tough act to follow, but it holds its own. Again, you hear it begin and think, "What the hell was Axl thinking?" It's him and a piano. And then some strings. And about a minute in, he starts really wailing and you can feel the emotion in his voice. If you can handle the syrupy music until 2 minutes 10 seconds in, then you detect the faint whiff of guitar. Twenty-five seconds later, it pops to the forefront of the song and takes command. And it carries it through the end of the track. It sounds like a perfect album-ender. But there's still

14) "Prostitute". At this point, I'm usually thinking, we don't need a fourteenth song. And then after a minute of slow build-up, the song picks up and Axl does his thing. But then he pulls back again, teasing. Then crescendo:

I told you when I found you
If there were doubts you
Should be careful and unafraid
Now they surround you
And all that amounts to
Is love that you fed by
Perversion and pain
And then back again. And then a tease of guitar halfway into the song. And more lyrics, and then, with 2 minutes to go, more fierce guitar work. And then a slow fade. And perhaps, this song could have been left off the album. Or perhaps not.

So, there you have it.

People will likely disagree with some, if not all of my assessment. I approached the album with a fan's ear and I still enjoy it, months later, after the novelty wore off.

It's tough to judge a band that recorded what by many is considered the greatest hard rock album of all time.

Still, I will go on record and say this is a pretty damn good effort, and one that I would recommend. But don't come back to me and say you thought it was overwrought, overproduced, overhyped, and overrated. I'm so over that.

Good Ideas Gone Bad: The Inaugublog

So, I pulled a John Roberts.

I started blogging my day on Tuesday tom commemorate the occasion. I ended up falling very short of my goal, deleting the first and middle sections of the day, and just have a snapshot of a sliver in time.

Rather than delete it forever in my gmail trashcan, I'm posting it here, for what's it worth.

8:00 am One of my old bosses gives me a black long-sleeved shirt that
states 01.20.09 Bush's Last Day. She was going to wear it to a [Expletive
Deleted] Bush party last night but was struck ill. "Bush's Revenge," she
called it. She was planning on giving it to me today anyway. Now it's up to
the women in my home to fight over it.

8:03 am Checking e-mai, at work, reading a note from Michael Moore ("We
have made it through the Dark Ages and here we are, in one of the most
redemptive moments history has ever witnessed. Barack Obama is our best
hope to get it right, to heal our national soul, to reach out to the rest
of the world with an olive branch instead of shocking brutality.")

8:49 am Read Jeff Chang's "Notes on Day Zero" from the Can't Stop Won't
Stop blog.

9:00 am Finally remember to plug the BilliPod into the computer. I won't
list all the music I listen to today, but I start with Joe Strummer & the
Mescaleros doing "Minstrel Boy" from the film Black Hawk Down.

9:01 am My boss e-mails me a link to hear the new U2 song. My company's web
security program blocks my access to the site.He invites me to his office
to hear it. I pause Joe Strummer and head next door. It's called "Get On
Your Boots" and it sounds okay. My boss says it sounds like Jim Carrey
singinging "Somebody to Love" in The Cable Guy. Having not seen that film,
the reference is lost on me. I go back to Joe Strummer. I'm drinking my
first Diet Coke of the day.
Fascinating, no?

Pleas say a prayer for the other meaningless drivel I somehow relegated to blogfodder oblivion.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blogging Inauguration Day

What better way to commemorate an historic day but by recalling all
the little things that happened.

5:30 am Rise. Check e-mail. Unload dish rack. Wash leftover dishes
that were soaking.

6:00 am Shower. Shave. Fiddle on the computer.

6:15 am Wake up Jolee. Continue to get ready for work. Marvel at two
Facebook friends who have already updated their status to reflect that
they have headed over to the Mall to get a spot for the Inauguration.

6:49 am just missed a train. Sit down. Start writing this log. Put the
BilliPod on shuffle. Sammy Hagar's "Red" starts.

6;54 am R train leaves 95th Street. "She's Automatic" by Rancid.

From the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame broadcast a few years back, "Man on
the Moon," with Eddie Vedder accompanying on vocals.

Reading the 12/28/08 New York Times Magazine "The Lives They Lived"
issue, recalling many of those who died in 2008. Jim McKay.

It's 7:01,

No express at 59th Street. I stay on the train.

Next song, "I Don't Know Anything" by Mad Season, live in Seattle,
January 8, 1995.

I get off at 36th Street, hoping to catch an express train.

"Dead Ringer for Love" by Meat Loaf, as an N pulls into the station.

I get on, standing next to a guy with a Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper
Village jacket on (maintenance? Securit?). He is reading "Starcraft"
by I. Menssk.

7:12 am. A live cover of "War Pigs" by The Flaming Lips.

"Old Age" by Hole.

7:20 We emerge on the Manhattan Bridge. The city looks tranquil, still
blanketed by an inch or two of snow. The Donnas sing "Hot Pants". It
carries me over the bridge.

"They Can't Take That Away from Me" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

After Canal Street, the train stops and waits for a few minutes.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Hoedown" flirts in my earbuds.

Announcement: Q train at 14th Street has mechanical problems ahead,
so we are making local stops.

Between 8th and 14th Streets, I get a seat. "4th of July" by
Soundgarden. I just realized I forgot to call my friend Tino
yesterday, to wish him a happy birthday. The mp3 of the song is
damaged and it keeps cutting out on me. It's torture.

At 28th Street, I finish the magazine and Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What
Can I Do". I get off at 34th Street.

It's 7:38.

"Back Door Man" by the Doors carries me through Manhattan Mall and
across 7th Avenue.

"Fell on Black Days" by Soundgarden starts as I approach my building.
The bus shelter outside reads "7:44, 20 degrees".

I'm in the office at 7:48.

11:44. I had an 11:45 appointment at the dernatologist. When I called
to confirm (and see if they had a tv in the waiting room) they told me
to come in early. I had never seen the place so empty. I'm now headed
back to the office.

Sent from my mobile device

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Random Photo from the End of 2008

Sunset at Battery Park, December 28, 2008

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pete, the Oldest Goat in Pa`auilo: 1992-December 31, 2008

Sad news from my Mom last week in Hawai'i. Pete, their goat passed away at the end of 2008. Here's what Mom had to say:

We are sorry to tell you our wonderful goat, the last of our Pepeekeo animals, is now asleep on the hill behind the garage with his twin Re-Pete and his goat friends, Ruby The Nubian Princess, and Kiddo, our first goat.

Pete was just like a big Great Dane. He always ran to the fence when called and he had a great personality--especially for a goat! His very best friend was our horse, Blue, who keeps looking for him, even today. When his twin Re-Pete died several years ago, we acquired two Hare Sheep to keep him company--but he really liked Blue best of all. The sheep, Bloomie and Blimey, are very skittish and jump at everything--unlike mellow Pete, the epitome of cool--especially for a goat!

Our thanks to Dr. Lisa Wood of Veterinary Associates for keeping Pete healthy for all of his sixteen+ years!
Pete was a great old goat, and last time we were back in Pu'auilo, the kids loved petting him and feeding him banana peels and papaya rinds. For a while, Pete and I shared a blogger profile photo together. Here's a shot from the last time we hung out together, in 2005:

Rest in Peace, Pete!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

BillyBlog Plays 52-Card Pick-Up: The Eight of Spades, A Card of Destiny

On Wednesday, December 31, I had to get stamps at the post office and headed over from home, walking north on 5th Avenue.

I picked up a dirty playing card for this feature, but the mix of wind and light snow had made it slightly dirty, so I thought I'd just photograph it on the sidewalk, instead of coming home and scanning it.

It was the Eight of Spades and I wasn't sure if I'd found it yet.

I propped it up against a fire hydrant when a gust of wind snatched it quickly away from me and threw it under a parked car. I didn't see where it landed.

Five days later, in a new year, on Sunday, January 4, I was walking south on the other side of the street when, behold:

The journey continues....

The following cards have been found previously:

The Eight of Diamonds (December 5, 2008)

The Two of Hearts and the Queen of Spades (November 1, 2008)

The King of Spades (October 26, 2008)

The Ace of Spades (September 22, 2008)

The Jack of Diamonds (September 18, 2008)

The Six of Hearts, Queen of Hearts, and Eight of Clubs (August 10, 2008)

The Six of Clubs (July 21, 2008)

The Seven of Hearts and The King of Diamonds (April 24, 2008)

The Three of Clubs (March 29, 2008)

The King of Hearts
and the Three of Spades
(February 28 and March 25, 2008)

The Ace of Diamonds (July 7, 2008)

The Jack of Hearts and Five of Hearts (July 19, 2008)

View the whole set here.

And here's the scorecard with the latest additions:

Hearts: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, Ace
Diamonds: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, Ace
Clubs: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, Ace
Spades: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, Ace

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cool Stuff People Send Me: A Popping Good Time

I only want to know who discovered this and how it works...thanks to Cynthia for sending this my way!