Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam – Billy Cohen

One of New York’s most talented emerging musicians, guitarist and composer Billy Cohen died this past June 29 after a long battle with cancer. He was 23. A founding member of the charismatic rock band the Brooklyn What, Cohen was an integral part of their original three-guitar sonic cauldron, and also served as one of the group’s main songwriters. Both his guitar work and his compositions on the band’s landmark first album, The Brooklyn What for Borough President, offer a cruelly tantalizing glimpse of an already formidable talent that would have only grown, had he lived.

As a guitarist in the band, Cohen played with an edgy, brash intensity that both meshed and contrasted with John-Severin Napolillo’s purposeful powerpop sensibility and Evan O’Donnell’s slashing lead lines. Cohen was extremely adept at abrasive noise, yet was gifted with an uncanny sense of melody that he’d often employ when least expected, as demonstrated by his purist lead work on The In-Crowd and We Are the Only Ones. The shapeshifting, focus-warping song Soviet Guns illustrates another, more abstract side of his compositional skill. Cohen was also responsible for the delectably unhinged scream on the song Sunbeam Sunscream.

A musician’s musician, Cohen listened adventurously and widely throughout his life, immersing himself in styles ranging from garage rock to contemporary classical music, cinematic soundscapes and tongue-in-cheek mashups. At Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, Cohen played guitar in the jazz band as well as in the Brooklyn rock band Ellipsis; afterward, he attended the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he majored in Music Therapy and Music Composition. A song from his Ellipsis days as well as two atmospheric keyboard pieces, and a couple of clever, satirical mashup videos – including a direct and very funny one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger – are all up on his myspace page.

Cohen’s uncompromising originality, creativity, absurdist humor, fondness for the Kinks (he picked out the band’s signature cover song, I’m Not Like Everybody Else) and devotion to his beloved New York Mets lifted the spirits of his bandmates and friends and left an indelible mark. The surviving members of the Brooklyn What are playing a memorial show for Cohen at Bowery Poetry Club on August 13.

July 21, 2010 - Posted by | music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Thank you so much for paying tribute to our friend and supporting the Brooklyn What. Billy is missed.

    Comment by Liz | July 21, 2010 | Reply

  2. Thanks for writing this, for us and for Billy.

    Comment by Yelena | July 21, 2010 | Reply

  3. This piece captured the true essence of our son in regards to his greatest love MUSIC. Our family is so proud to read of his accomplishments in this tribute to our beautiful boy. His memory will not only live on for us but for many as well. When Billy was a child i was his role model and inspiration. Now he is mine. Thank you. Please come to the memorial show on 8/13 at the Bowery Poetry Club.

    Comment by steve cohen | July 22, 2010 | Reply

  4. You were obviously a good role model. What a great loss. You have our deepest sympathies. See you in August.

    Comment by the boss here | July 22, 2010 | Reply


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