Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Day That Never Comes

After 15 years, 14 studios, and 13-million dollars, it finally happened. On November 23rd, 2008, Guns N' Roses released the most-rumored, ├╝ber-anticipated, and oft-ridiculed album in the history of rock music: Chinese Democracy.

For anyone not familiar with the back story, suffice it to say that Chinese Democracy is the biggest boy-who-cried-wolf album of all time. Originally slated for release circa 1999, the album has been perpetually promised and delayed by the maligned Axl Rose, a rock 'n' roll has-been notorious for his maniacal perfectionism. But after enough empty deliveries, the music world called Axl's bluff, and Chinese Democracy became a myth, if not a joke; nothing more than a magnum opus in the mind of its troubled creator.

On the day of its release (a rare Sunday), I walked into Best Buy on 86th Street in an anticipatory state, half-excited but half-unsure if anyone else could sense the weight of the momentous day. History was being made, but with the hustle and bustle of New York City, palpability for these things tend to get lost in the melting pot.

Although the album was quickly accessible and well-placed in the center of the store on its own display rack, the overall experience was anticlimactic. I walked up and tried to admire the prominence of the exhibit, but it was mitigated by the fact that I was the only one who seemed to care or notice at the time. It didn't matter, though, for I was finally holding a piece of history in my hands.

Because Chinese Democracy was actually leaked to MySpace a few days before its official release, I briefly thought about going about my standard operating procedure, which is sampling the music first and then buying the CD or just downloading a few songs that I like. But then it hit me: It didn't matter how much I might dislike Chinese Democracy—with this kind of mythology, I had to own it regardless. Because in the age of iTunes, it was an instant collector's item that deserved a physical purchase. And in a time where truly great rock albums are in decline, it's worth even more.

My full review of Chinese Democracy:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Distant Memories

Over Christmas vacation I saw my grandpa for the first time in a year. Although he's been suffering from dementia since 2005, seeing him over the break made a lasting impression, especially since it was the first time not having my grandma at his side.

For the past four years he hasn't really remembered me or my family at all. It's unbelievable to sit in front of a person I've been around my whole life who has no idea who I am. This is someone who watched me grow up; someone who came to many of my sporting events; someone whose lawn I mowed countless times; and someone who's passed down his wisdom and life lessons to me. And there I am in front of him, a complete stranger.

When we visit, my grandpa always starts by asking about our physical appearance, be it my build or length of my brothers' beards. A few minutes later he asks the same questions, making it impossible to carry on a lasting or meaningful conversation beyond the weather, the food at the retirement home, or what he's watching on TV. But his fish-like memory notwithstanding, he's not overtly confused about who we are or what we're doing there. He just plays along, over and over again.

As a half-stranger, it's odd to realize that while his memory is mostly gone, his personality isn't. His sharp wit remains intact and allows him to crack jokes just as he always did. This past Christmas, I learned that his perception is still present, as my off-color utterance about the "cold as balls" weather did not go unnoticed: "Listen, young man, I'll be doing the fine talk around here." Yessir.

But perhaps the saddest thing is that the one person he does remember is no longer with him, as his wife passed away last July. When he asks if she's sitting behind him in the backseat, or when she's coming back to his room, the nurses and my parents tell him the half-truth that she's not there or that she's in heaven. After absorbing it for a few seconds, he seems fine with either answer. Even at her funeral, he was unsure whose it was.

One thing I keep wondering about is what's going on inside his head during all of this. Like when my dad is driving him to our house for dinner, I can't help but imagine that while my grandpa remains quiet, he's freaking out in his mind thinking, "Where the hell is this stranger taking me??" The only time he gets confused is when we tell him it's time to take him home, because at that point he thinks that he lives with us. Confused, but never unnerved.

Another terrifying thing about all this is that my grandfather on my dad's side has been stricken with an even-worse case of dementia in the last two years. Which begs the question: Who's next to come down with this soul-robbing form of identity theft? My parents? Me? Because once you have it, there's no going back. It all reminds me of this line from The Notebook:

"It is a barren disease, as empty and lifeless as a desert. It is a thief of hearts and souls and memories."

Reading that makes me realize how our memories are the most precious things we have. In all that we do in life, it's all for naught if we can't remember anything about the lives we've lived—the places we've been, the things we've accomplished, or the people we know and love. The value of our memories is far beyond priceless. Without them, there is hardly any self-awareness or self-identity. Without them, life is just existence.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year

Hopefully you think differently of my blog!

On a musical note, you'll notice on the right sidebar that I've added selected album reviews I've done, as well as a list of recent songs that I can't stop playing.