Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


Yet Another Unjustly Overlooked Song by The Kinks

Posted in Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the July 25th, 2014

Do yourself a favor and take three minutes to listen to this 1971 recording, an outtake from the Muswell Hillbillies sessions.. Make sure you read Ray Davies’ lyrics, too. The song has everything: (working) class consciousness, a critique of urban renewal, a deft melody and la-di-doo-da nonsense syllables, which here take on distinct semiotic content. You’re welcome.

“Lavender Lane” (source)
Written by: Raymond Douglas Davies
Published by: Davray Music Ltd.

Daisy and Teddy had two Cockney boys
And two Cockney sisters and they all shared their toys
With old Rosie Rooke and Peggy O’Day
They all lived together down in Lavender Lane

Lavender Lane, oh my Lavender Lane
The people were poor and the people were plain
They didn’t have much but they shared what they gained
Contented to drift along Lavender Lane

Oh Lord, such a pity that the world’s gotta change

All of the houses were old and decayed
The people were proud who lived in Lavender Lane
Oh Lord, Lavender Lane
Oh Lord, Lavender Lane

Sometimes I wanna get back home and do the things we did before
And break down the old school tie, and all the la-di-do-dahs

The knobs and the toffs sent down two la-di-dahs
To mix with the people and to drink in their bars
They looked down their noses and they puffed their cigars
Instead of ‘off’ they say ‘orf’, instead of ‘yeah’ they say ‘ya’

And oh Lord
And Ted and Daisy said, ‘what a shame’

They’ll knock all the houses down for financial gain
And send all the people to a new town estate
Oh Lord, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane

Sometimes I wanna get back home and do the things we did before
And break down the old school tie, and all the la-di-do-dahs

In the great London Council a decision was made
By the bright civil servants and the people in grey
They sent all their navvies with their buckets and spades
To knock all the houses down in Lavender Lane

But worst of all, they’ve taken all the people away
Now only memories are all that remain
Of all of the people down in Lavender Lane
Oh Lord, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane

Comments Off

Watch and Listen to Yours Truly

Posted in J-Pop,Japanese literature,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the July 7th, 2014

It’s become common these days for universities to videotape public lectures and make them available online. A few talks I’ve given in recent years are available for your viewing pleasure, should you be so inclined.

Last October at the University of Chicago’s Humanities Day, I spoke about the curious life and career of Kasai “George” Jiuji, UChicago Class of 1913, and how his example might help us rethink the meaning of the Cold War and Japan’s role in it:

A few months before that, I gave a talk at Boston University on “Misora Hibari and the Popular Music of Cold War Japan: Mimesis, Alterity, Cosmopolitanism.”

Michael Bourdaghs, April 11 2013 from BU Center for the Study of Asia on Vimeo.

In addition, a 2013 talk at Penn State on Natsume Soseki and “Theorizing Literature from Japan, 1907″ is available online.

Another 2011 talk I gave on “Psychology and Natsume Soseki’s Mon (The Gate)” at the University of Michigan is available here.

If you prefer listening to watching me, a 2012 segment on Japanese popular music that I did for the public radio program “To the Best of Our Knowledge” is archived here. And if you want to hear what I sounded like as a callow lad of 19, you can hear the recently unearthed recording of a January 1981 interview with The Replacements (probably the band’s first-ever radio interview), back when I was a deejay for WMCN, Macalester College’s radio station.

On the whole, though, the printed word remains my medium of choice.

Comments Off

Fully Human: Remembering Jerry K. Fisher

Posted in Change is Bad,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the June 24th, 2014

(Professor Jerry K. Fisher of Macalester College passed away on May 7. He was not only my undergraduate adviser, but also the person who first introduced me to Japan and in many other ways acted as my role model. Below is an edited version of remarks I made at a June 22 memorial service at Macalester’s Weyerhauser Chapel.)

jerryfisher2008smaller

I’m honored to speak today as one of the hundreds of students who studied with Jerry over the years. I have a theory that there are three kinds of professors: those who make their mark through their scholarship, those who make their mark as administrators, and those who make their mark through the students they teach—we know them through their students. (Of course, there’s a fourth category, too: professors who never make any mark whatsoever. That’s the category I’ve set my own eyes on). I think Jerry was very much a member of the third category, the kind of professor who devotes himself to his students.

Jerry was a Macalester alum, class of 1958. He then returned to Macalester to teach in 1969, teaching first in the History Department and later in Media and Cultural Studies as well. He earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia in 1975 with a dissertation on the Meirokusha group. Jerry also earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1964. His Christian faith was an important component of his make-up as a scholar and teacher.

I first studied with Jerry in 1979, my freshman year at Mac. To be honest, he wasn’t always the most spell-binding of classroom lecturers, but he was remarkably able at engaging students in dialogue. This in part represented the influence of the Japanese philosopher and educator Hayashi Takeji (林竹二, 1906-1985), who was one of Jerry’s intellectual mentors. Hayashi was the first president of Miyagi University of Education in Sendai, where Jerry spent time as a visiting professor. Hayashi was famous for engaging students of all ages in Socratic dialogue. Like nearly every Japanese university in the late 1960s, Miyagi University of Education was occupied by its students, who barricaded and shut down the campus to protest government policies. But unlike virtually every other Japanese university president, Hayashi did not call in the riot police to clear the students out by force. Instead, he went behind the barricades and personally engaged the students in a dialogue that extended for days. As a result, the protest reached a peaceful conclusion. The lesson was not lost on Jerry.

hayashi takeji

Jerry’s greatest impact as a teacher came from the personal mentoring he did outside the classroom. He made a practice of intervening in students’ lives, pointing them down roads that they hadn’t even known existed. Jerry practically adopted some of his students. I have a friend who never studied with Jerry but who knows personally several of these students who Jerry seemingly adopted: my friend calls this group “Jerry’s kids.” With apologies to Andy and Cynthia, Jerry’s real kids, and to Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, let me tell you what it was like to be one of Jerry’s kids.

During my first year and a half at Mac, I took a couple of classes with Jerry. Then I dropped out of school for a few years. When I returned to Mac in 1983 I found myself in his classroom again. I still didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with myself. That’s when Jerry made his first intervention in my life. In late 1983, he phoned me to inform me that I was going to spend the 1984-85 academic year as an exchange student in Japan. Macalester had an exchange agreement with Miyagi University of Education. It included one fellowship for a Mac student to come to Sendai every year, and that year no one had applied for it. So Jerry told me to apply for it, and having no better ideas myself, I did. Before that it never would have occurred to me to go to Japan. In fact, my real interest was in China, and the main reason I accepted the idea of going to Japan was that it was close to China. I figured if Jerry could get me 6,000 miles across the Pacific to Japan, I ought to be able to manage the remaining few hundred miles and get to China on my own.

I started my year in Sendai in September 1984 and somehow I got stuck in Japan, the way I think Jerry knew I would. I never made it to China—in fact, it took thirty more years before I finally managed to get to China. I spent that year in Sendai and had the amazing experience that Jerry knew I would have. One of the things that happened that year was that I met Hinata Yasushi (日向康, 1925-2006). Hinata was a novelist and scholar, another disciple of Hayashi Takeji, and Jerry’s best friend in the world. Hinata would become one of my own intellectual mentors. Another thing that happened that year was that I met Ogura Satoko, who a few years later would become my wife.

Hinata

In other words, thanks to Jerry’s intervention that year, I acquired not only my lifelong interest in Japanese culture and history, but also the most important parts of my personal life. But Jerry wasn’t done with me yet.

His second intervention in my life came in late 1986. After I graduated from Mac, I was working at a store that specialized in making gourmet popcorn in dozens of different flavors. That should give you some idea of the career I was bound for if left to my own devices. Jerry called me up and told me I was going to Japan again. His work as a consultant on Asian business for Hubbard Broadcasting had reached a level where he needed a full-time assistant based in Tokyo to serve as a liaison with Hubbard’s Japanese business partners. He wanted me to do it. It certainly beat making popcorn for a living.

And so in January 1987 I headed back to Japan and worked there for two-and-a-half years, with Jerry as my boss. I lived in an apartment in the western suburbs of Tokyo, a ten-minute walk away from the house Jerry and Aiko owned there. It was an amazing time for me. I learned what it was like to be a salaryman in Tokyo. I also got to meet more of Jerry’s intellectual colleagues: the journalists, scholars, and activists that formed his personal network in Japan. The financial stability of the job also allowed me in 1988 to get married to Satoko, right here in Weyerhauser Chapel, with Jerry and Aiko in attendance.

The third major intervention Jerry made in my life came in 1989. I did my best working for Hubbard Broadcasting, but I think it was clear to all that I wasn’t meant for the business world. Jerry told me it was time for me to go to graduate school. I asked him where I should apply, and he told me Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Minnesota. I applied to the Japanese literature program at all three schools. Jerry wrote letters of recommendation for me, of course, but I later learned that he also personally contacted professors he knew at all three schools and lobbied them not only to accept me, but also to offer me a major fellowship. The outcome was that I received fellowship offers from all three schools. I ended up going to Cornell. In 1996 I finished my Ph.D. there and became an assistant professor at UCLA. In 2007, I moved to the University of Chicago, where today I am Professor of Japanese Literature.

So you see, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I owe my life to Jerry. My wife, my children, my career, my interest in Japanese culture: none of it would exist had he not intervened on several occasions to set me on the right path. This is what it was like to be one of Jerry’s kids. I think there are dozens of other people, former students of Jerry’s, who could tell you similar tales. In his devotion to his students, Jerry was exceptional. Once, when I asked him how I could possibly repay him for all he had done for me, Jerry said I could do so by helping my own students in turn. I try to do that, but Jerry set the bar awfully high.

The last few weeks, I’ve had the honor of helping Jerry’s family go through his personal library, to try to find good homes for the many books he accumulated over the years. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to retrace the trajectory of Jerry’s intellectual life. And I’ve been reminded of some of the key principles that motivated him as a scholar and teacher.

Jerry specialized in the intellectual history of modern Japan, and later in the new field of global media studies. But I think he was particularly concerned with what we might call the ethics of scholarship, the way our classroom teaching and book knowledge intersect with the real world, with how scholars can contribute to the cause of social justice and help produce a better world. Among his publications, I think he was proudest of those that appeared in venues like the Asahi Journal, aimed at a general readership in Japan.

To be a scholar of Asian Studies in the 1960s meant confronting directly the role that scholarship played in supporting the Vietnam War. Like others of his generation, including his good friend John Dower, Jerry wasn’t afraid to confront famous scholars at Ivy League powerhouses when they spoke dishonestly or disingenuously about Asian culture and history in order to legitimate what Jerry thought were indefensible policies. Even as a vulnerable graduate student, Jerry publicly took on Edwin Reischauer, Harvard University Professor and at the time U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

In part, this was driven by the training Jerry received at Union Theological Seminary, where he studied the thought of theologian Reinhold Niehbur. Jerry was especially attracted to Niehbur’s 1932 book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, with its argument that we can never expect institutions to act in accord with a sense of morality, that only individual humans can act morally.

NiebuhrMoral

Another way Jerry practiced this ethics of scholarship was in his engagement with Japanese intellectuals. Japan Studies scholars from North America during the 1960s and 70s too often tended to look down on or ignore their counterparts in Japan. But from the start, Jerry was unusual in this regard: he actively sought out opportunities to engage with Japanese scholars like Hayashi Takeji or Hinata Yasushi, meeting them on their own ground by speaking, reading, and writing in Japanese. Jerry also insisted that his own students do likewise.

Let me conclude by quoting a passage from a 1986 article that Jerry published the year after Hayashi Takeji died. The piece is titled “Hayashi Takeji and Tanaka Shōzō.” It explores Hayashi’s role in the 1960s rediscovery of Tanaka Shōzō (田中正造, 1841-1913), an early 20th century environmental activist and philosopher. This is what Jerry wrote:

Hayashi believed that contemporary Japanese had much to learn from Tanaka Shōzō. For one, membership in an intimate group which is just and caring is of central value to humans. Secondly, other larger structures and institutions are of only relative importance. Indeed, their value and importance is measured in relation to their support of the primary group. Finally, an individual has a cosmic imperative to act upon what he knows to be morally right. Only then is he or she human. (Waseda Journal of Asian Studies, 8 [1986], 1-13)

Jerry Fisher was fully and gloriously human. My sympathy and condolences to Aiko, Andy, Cynthia, and their families.

Wakamatsu Koji’s “United Red Army”

Posted in Film,Japanese film by bourdaghs on the November 8th, 2013

Recently I’ve been thinking about film director Wakamatsu Kōji (若松孝二). In part, this was because of his role as an early advocate for the music of Hayakawa Yoshio and JACKS; he hired them to provide the soundtrack for his 1968 independent “pink” film, Haragashi Onna 『腹貸し女』.

This all nudged me into finally watching Wakamatsu’s “United Red Army” 『実録・連合赤軍 あさま山荘への道程』. I’d been wanting to see this one since it first came out to great acclaim in 2008–it ended up being ranked #3 on that year’s Kinema Junpō Best Ten list. Finding an opportunity was always difficult, though, in part due to its epic length (three hours plus). But we sat down with the DVD last Saturday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I’m especially fascinated by what Wakamatsu intended by the first word of the Japanese title: jitsuroku 「実録」. A more literal translation of the title would be, “True Record: United Red Army–The Road to the Asama Sansō Incident.” As someone tangentially involved in 1960s leftist politics, Wakamatsu in his later years clearly felt an ethical, political, and artistic obligation to leave behind a “true record” of the violent faction that became notorious for a series of terrorist acts in early 1970s Japan and elsewhere.

The film begins with a kind of documentary survey of the history of the radical left in 1960s Japan, intercut with shots introducing us to the main characters we will follow. We find ourselves in the hands of a voice-over narrator who speaks in grizzled, weather-beaten tones. I thought the speaker might be Wakamatsu himself; the film has that sort of very personal feel to it. It was only when the closing credits rolled that I realized the voice actually belonged to the actor Harada Yoshio, certainly an apt choice–but one that also foregrounds the fictional, acted-out elements of this “true record.”

The middle hour uses actors to trace in horrific, numbing detail the self-destructive lynchings that took place as the possibility of actual revolution faded and the increasingly isolated faction sought to enforce impossible standards of ideological purity. Then the last hour of the film recreates the infamous 1972 Asama Sansō standoff, the incident that is conventionally depicted as the last gasp of 1960s radicalism in Japan. For the most part, we view the unfolding crisis from the perspective of the five gunmen and their hostage inside the mountain lodge, but at key moments — especially the final police assault on the villa — we see things from the external perspective of the police.

The soundtrack by Jim O’Rourke provides one set of clues as to how we are meant to take the film. In the first hour or so, it consists mainly of psychedelic guitar jams that convey a sense of liberation and possibility; by the last hour, it is almost entirely elegiac string quartet.

The climax of the film, the police raid, calls to mind nothing so much as the final shot in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; the heroes are tragically misguided and doomed. What is striking is the non-judgmental tone of the presentation. For all the problems inherent in the idea of a partially fictional film as jitsuroku, it is clear that it was the driving concern behind the work. Wakamatsu neither celebrates nor condemns; he wants us to understand how the participants ended up doing what they did. He wants to leave behind a true record of what happened.

The last visual image in the film is a brief clip from news footage of a JAL jet being blown up on an airport tarmac at the end of a hijacking. It’s hard to know how we’re supposed to take this. Should we revel in the visceral excitement of the explosion footage? Or is it a meditation on the ultimate nihilism of violence as political means? Does it signal victory or defeat? Again, the answer seems to be: jitsuroku. It is what it is.

Comments Off

On Lou Reed

Posted in Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the October 28th, 2013

Since the unwelcome news of Lou Reed’s death arrived yesterday, I’ve been fascinated to read many different personal accounts about how people first encountered his music. The stories all more or less resemble one another, and yet they are all also indelibly personal.

For me, it was back in 1977 or 78. I was a high school student in St. Paul, and Reed and the Velvet Underground were mostly a rumor, a fascinating ghost that everyone knew about but no one had seen. Their records were out of print, and this was of course long before the Internet. Then I stumbled across a cheap used copy of the second VU album in eleventh grade. That scratched-up vinyl passed its way through the hands of all my friends, like a holy relic. Not long after, I came across another used-record treasure: Reed’s eponymous solo debut from 1972. Again, the album circulated among my friends; I wonder how many cassette tapes were recorded from it.

On Facebook the Minneapolis critic Jim Walsh yesterday reminded me of another crucial source of info we had: cover versions of VU songs by cool local bands. The Flamin’ Oh’s, for example, used to close sets with a fiery version of “Waiting for My Man.”

Then in 1979, my freshman year of college, I splurged and bought a new copy of the 1974 live “Rock and Roll Animal,” and that was that. I fell so hard in love with side one and its extended workouts on “Sweet Jane” and “Heroin” that I think a year or two passed before I even bothered to flip it over and listen to side two. That year I also bought Reed’s “Growing Up in Public” when it first came out; the album never got much critical respect, but it’s always been one of my favorites.

In the years that followed I gradually accumulated all of the VU albums, plus most of Reed’s solo works. I also discovered the solo career of John Cale, Reed’s VU bandmate, and even got to interview Cale circa 1982. But I didn’t get to see Reed play live until just a few years ago–the 2009 Lollapalooza Festival. Here’s how I wrote up my reaction to that show on an earlier incarnation of this blog:

After that [Neko Case's set] I caught a bit of Dan Auerbach’s neo-garage psychedelic set before retiring to a quiet spot in the grass to rest up a bit for the main event.

Which, for me anyhow, was Uncle Lou Reed. I first discovered Lou and the Velvets back in 1977, but I’d never seen him live before. Tonight’s set was in some ways disappointing, but in a Lou Reed kind of way: I’m gonna show you muthas that I don’t give a rat’s ass about Lollapalooza or any other show biz bullshit. So I guess that means it was good, right? He came on quite late, but all was forgiven with the opening chords to “Sweet Jane,” the first number. He then proceeded to play a string of remarkably obscure songs: “Waves of Fear,” Dirty Blvd.,” “Mad” and “Paranoia Key of E.” After that, we got about ten minutes of metal machine music, which finally morphed into the two-chord riff of “Waiting for the Man,” much to the crowd’s delight. He closed with “Walk on the Wild Side,” of course, and even smiled once or twice during it.

By strange coincidence, early last week I felt a sudden urge to revisit Reed. It had been a year or more since I’d last listened to him. As a result, my soundtrack during the week leading up to his death was spent in the company of his music — mostly “New York” and “Growing Up in Public.” In thinking about Reed, I also looked up some of Robert Christgau’s writings and came across the following review of “New York”:

Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation–all that’s missing is a disquisition on real estate. [...] As usual, the pleasure of the lyrics is mostly tone and delivery–plus the impulse they validate, their affirmation that you can write songs about this stuff.

Christgau really puts his finger on something here. Reed’s songs are sometimes musically unmemorable (though of course he showed repeatedly that he could compose a killer riff or melody when he put his mind to it). His lyrics, while naked and sharp, don’t always make for great poetry when you read them off the page. But something happens when Reed sings those words to those tunes: a great New York voice takes over, funny and angry, wisecracking and wise. It’s the tone and the delivery–the voice.

Comments Off

Last Friday’s Concert: Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide

Posted in J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the October 22nd, 2013

Thanks to all who turned out for last Friday’s concert at International House, University of Chicago, by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide. It was the keynote performance for the 2013 Association for Japanese Literary Studies Annual Meeting. The theme of the conference was “Performance and Japanese Literature,” and the concert turned into a powerful instance of performance in all of its aspects: ephemeral, emotional, communal. Many in the audience ended up in tears, including those who spoke no Japanese and were responding solely to the music itself. The concert ended with three standing ovations and two encores.

In the weeks leading up to the event I wrote a series of blog entries here and on the conference website, introducing the performers and their music. I found it a struggle all along: song lyrics never submit willingly to translation, and I often found myself flailing as I tried to find apt words to convey what the pieces were doing. For example, I described Hayakawa’s composition “Tosan e no tegami” (Letter to my father) as an act of musical mourning. That never felt quite right, but I couldn’t find better words to name the performance the song carries out.

Watching it and the other pieces being played last Friday night, though, it hit me. The songs aren’t about mourning; they are about the struggle that art mounts against death. I didn’t feel it was my place to announce here or in introducing the band that Sakuma has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and that this could turn out to be one his final live performances (Sakuma has himself been very frank about his illness on his own blog, where he writes movingly about the difficulties he has faced since the discovery of a brain tumor this past summer: often his hands won’t move the way he wants them to along the neck of his guitar). But Hayakawa mentioned the illness from the stage on Friday evening and turned the concert into a tribute to his longtime collaborator.

Suddenly, the songs took on a new hue. That magnificent coda in ”Karada to uta dake no kankei” (The direct relation between body and song), a cover of a song originally done by hi-posis but that Hayakawa has very much made his own, never felt so powerful. The pounding, repetitive music of the early verses, with their overtly sexual lyrics depicting music almost as a kind of animal rutting, suddenly shifts to a sweet, soaring melodic line, and Hayakawa sings with passion “Uta dake ga nokoru” (only the song remains: in other words, the only thing that will get out alive is the music itself). It’s always a cathartic moment, but under the circumstances on Friday it became unforgettable. Watching Hayakawa’s face as he sung and Sakuma’s hands as he played, the message was clear: we will all die soon enough, but as long as we are playing music, we’re still alive. And even after death wins out over us individually, the music will live on as a trace of our struggle.

It’s a theme Hayakawa returns to over and over in his compositions, especially in those from the years since his 1994 return to music. Art and eros are our only flimsy weapons in the fight to hold death at bay. Death will surely win in the end, but we will continue singing until then, and if we are lucky the song will persist after we are gone. It’s a simple message and not a particularly new one. Yet on Friday night, we could feel its truthfulness in our flesh, in the goosebumps and tears that the music summoned up.

The set list:

1) 「ひまわりの花」(Himawari no hana; Sunflowers): title song from Hayakawa’s 1995 solo album
2) 「赤色のワンピース」 (Akairo no wanpiisu; Red dress)
3) 「堕天使ロック」(Datenshi rokku; Fallen angel rock): one of two JACKS’ songs in the set
4) 「サルビアの花」 (Sarubia no hana: Salvia Flowers): Hayakawa’s best-known composition
5) 「H」 (H=Japanese slang for sexual desire)
6) 「躁と鬱の間で」(So to utsu no aida de; Between sadness and melancholy)
7) 「父さんへの手紙」 (Tosan e no tegami; Letter to my father)
8) 「身体と歌だけの関係」(Karada to uta dake no kankei; The direct relation between body and song)
9) 「青い月」(Aoi tsuki, Blue moon): a new song.
10) 「いつか」 (Itsuka; Sometime)
11) 「からっぽの世界」 (Karappo no sekai; Vacant world): JACKS’s debut single from 1968

First encore:
「この世で一番キレイなもの」(Kono yo de ichiban kirei na mono; The most beautiful thing in the world): title track from Hayakawa’s 1994 comeback solo album

Second encore:
「君でなくちゃだめさ」(Kimi de nakucha dame sa; Nobody but you)

Comments Off

The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (5): “Music”

Posted in J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the October 15th, 2013

(In anticipation of the October 18, 2013 concert by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide at the University of Chicago, over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of entries here introducing Hayakawa’s music. More information about the concert, which is free and open to the public, is available here.)

iu mono wa shirazu

With the song “Music” (Ongaku), Hayakawa returns to a theme he’s explored in a number of compositions: the basic purpose of music. Suspicious of attempts to analyze his art rationally, Hayakawa seeks the meaning of music at a more basic, erotic level of emotion and physical existence. Musically, the song enacts its lyrical sentiment, stripping the arrangement down to the very basics: pulsating piano chords that underscore Hayakawa’s passionate vocals.

The song first appeared on his 2000 solo album, Hear songs from where there is no song (Uta wa uta no nai tokoro kara kikoete kuru). Hayakawa also included a concert performance of the song on his 2002 live album, Those who speak don’t understand, those who understand don’t speak (Iu mono wa shirazu, shiru mono wa iwazu).

Here is the original 2000 recording of the song:

“Music”
(Words and music by Hayakawa Yoshio)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

You can sing without your voice
Sounds come where there is no sound:
In the big round moon, in your smiling face
Life itself plays music

It’s not only songs that sing
A heart that feels is music
A word that gives courage, a teardrop that clarifies
To sing with every moment: that’s the ultimate

Words only reflect the heart
Speak or scream them, a mirror only reflects
But the truly wondrous defies interpretation
Music aims at something beyond music

What was I born to do?
It’s not always easy, this becoming myself
The brilliant sparks across the sky, music reverberates through flesh
With no particular goal, I walk on toward the end

********
“Ongaku”

Koe o dasanakutomo uta wa utaeru
Oto no nai tokoro ni oto wa orite kuru
Pokkari ukanda marui tsuki, anata no egao
Sonzai sono mono ga ongaku o kanaderu

Uta o utau no ga uta da to wa kagiranai
Kandō suru kokoro ga ongaku nan da
Yūki o morau hitokoto, yogore o otosu namida
Nichijō de utau koto ga nani yori mo suteki

Kotoba wa jibun no kokoro o utsushidasu mono
Nani o katatte mo sakende mo kagami ni utsuru dake
Hontō ni suburashii mono wa kaisetsu o kyozetsu suru
Ongaku ga mezashite iru no wa ongaku de wa nai

Boku wa nani o suru tame ni umarete kita no darō
Nando mo ochikominagaramo boku wa boku ni natte yuku
Yozora ni hanatsu ōkina hana, karada ni hibiku ongaku
Nan no yashin mo naku owari ni mukatte aruku

Comments Off

Sakuma Masahide: Renaissance Man of J-Rock

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the October 12th, 2013

Sakuma Masahide (佐久間正英) will be appearing with Hayakawa Yoshio in a free public concert here at the University of Chicago at 7:30 p.m. on October 18, 2013 (details here). A few words about Sakuma’s amazing career are certainly in order. He is a key figure in the history of Japanese popular music in many different guises–most notably, perhaps, as producer for more than 140 different acts that range across the spectrum, including such notable musicians as the Blue Hearts, BOØWY, HY, Judy and Mary, Teresa Teng, Glay, Soul Flower Union, Watanabe Misato, and L’Arc〜en〜Ciel.

Like Hayakawa, Sakuma is an alumnus of Wako University. While still a student, he began playing in folk groups. It was around 1975 when he joined the progressive rock group Yonin Bayashi (四人囃子) as its new bassist that he first attracted national attention. The band broke up a few years later, but Sakuma would be involved in a series of reunions that began in 1989 and have continued in the years since.

“Lady Violetta” by Yonin Bayashi, from their 1976 album, Golden Picnics:

From 1978-1981 Sakuma was a member of Plastics, a new wave band whose absurdist style and postmodern sound made them comrades to such Western contemporaries as the B-52s and Devo. Plastics enjoyed enormous critical success, both inside and outside of Japan. They toured regularly in North America and Europe, in addition to Japan, and appeared as musical guests on the SCTV program in North America. Trouser Press in its entry on the group describes them as ” A great, cool, original band that might just as well be from Mars.”

Plastics performing “Top Secret Man” live in Los Angeles, 1980

Sakuma’s career as a producer took off in earnest after the break up of Plastics. He also continued to be active as a performer and studio musician. In 1999, he became a member of NiNa, an international supergroup that brought together musicians from the B-52s (Kate Pierson), Judy and Mary (YUKI), the British new-wave band Japan (Mick Karn), Plastics (Sakuma and Shima Takemi), and acclaimed studio drummer Steven Wolf. The group released one album and several singles.

In 2001 Sakuma became a founding member of another international supergroup. The d.e.p. brought together Sakuma and Karn with Taiwanese vocalist Vivian Hsu 徐若瑄, Tsuchiya Masami (Ippu-Do), and Gota Yashiki (Simply Red). The name was an abbreviation of “doggie eels project.” As Sakuma would later explain,

“Dogs and eels are such a strange combination….The band is kind of like that. Putting Vivian (Hsu), Mick Karn, Gota (Yashiki) and all of us in a band together is such a strange combination.”

The band released one album and a couple of singles–and reformed briefly in 2010 to record new material in support of bandmate Karn after he announced that he was suffering from cancer.

Around 2004 Sakuma began collaborating with Hayakawa Yoshio, recording together and playing live–sometimes under the name Ces Chiens. In the decade since, they’ve continued to perform Hayakawa’s music, both from Hayakawa’s days as leader of the legendary 1960s underground folk-rock band the Jacks and from his subsequent solo career.

In 2008 Sakuma formed another band, unsuspected monogram. The unit includes members from a number of Japanese alternative rock bands and has so far released one album.

One other unique musical activity deserves mention. Beginning in 2010 Sakuma launched a remarkable series under the title “Goodnight to Followers.” For more than three years, every evening he would issue a new recording of an original composition to his followers on Twitter and Facebook. By the time he decided to slow down the pace of the project this past March, the series consisted of more than one thousand original pieces. The recordings from the series, mostly ambient acoustic numbers, are archived on Sakuma’s SoundCloud page. Here’s one typical piece from the project:

What a remarkable career! Sakuma truly is the Renaissance Man of J-Rock.

Comments Off

The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (4): “Letter to My Father”

Posted in J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the October 7th, 2013

(In anticipation of the October 18, 2013 concert by Hayakawa Yoshio and Sakuma Masahide at the University of Chicago, over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of entries here introducing Hayakawa’s music. More information about the concert, which is free and open to the public, is available here.)

HayakawYoshio

“Letter to My Father” 「父さんへの手紙」 appears on Hayakawa’s sixth solo album, Uta wa uta no nai tokoro kara kikoete kuru (Sony, 2000). Taking autobiographical materials as its source, the song explores a topic that Hayakawa also sometimes writes about in his published essays: his relations with his own family. Simultaneously elegiac and celebratory, the song explores the possibility that music can help us accomplish the work of mourning.

Video of Hayakawa performing “Letter to My Father” in a television appearance:

“Letter to My Father”
(Music and lyrics by Hayakawa Yoshio)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

Back in the days when my father was dating my mother
That line Dad spoke in front of the shaved-ice café:
‘I’ll wait here outside, so
You go in by yourself and have some.’

Such a funny dad
Drove me crazy, but I love him
The same blood flows in me

Hey, Dad, how you doing?
I’m still singing my songs
About that uncontrollable part inside of me
About those sad thoughts with nowhere to go

Still don’t understand a thing
Still seeking out beauty
Wish you could hear them, Dad

Hey, Dad, there’s this great place in Hakone Okuyumoto
Let’s go soak in the hot springs and watch the moon together

Me, I haven’t changed a bit, still a difficult person
Never feel the same as others do
Never go visit your grave, Dad
Just stare absentminded at the sky

But it’s not as if you were
Really there beneath the black soil;
Look within each heart

Hey, Dad, all those rituals and ceremonies, they’re just pointless, for show, right?
Hey, Dad, how do I become a good person?

Hey, Dad, I wish we’d shared more laughs, more heart-to-heart talks
Hey, Dad, let’s take Mom to watch the fireworks again someday

******

“Tōsan e no tegami”

Mukashi, tōsan ga kaasan to deito shita toki
Kōriya no mae de tōsan ga itta serifu
Watashi wa soto de matte imasu kara
Anata dake tabete kinasai

Sonna okashi na tōsan ga
Boku wa komaru kedo suki da yo
Onaji chi ga nagarete iru

Nee tōsan, ogenki desu ka
Are kara boku wa uta o utattemasu
Jibun no naka no te ni oenu bubun ya
Yukiba no nai kanashimi ya omoi o

Nani hitotsu wakatte nai kedo
Utsukushii mono o tsukamitakute
Tōsan ni mo kiite moraitakute

Nee tōsan, Hakone Okuyumoto ni ii onsen ga arunda
Nee tōsan, tsuki o minagara issho ni atatamarō yo

Aimokawarazu boku wa henkutsu na no de
Hito to onaji kimochi ni narenai
Tōsan no hakamairi ni mo ikazu
Bonyari to sora o nagametemasu

Kurai tsuchi no naka ni tōsan ga
Nemutte iru wake wa nai
Sorezore no kokoro no naka sa

Nee tōsan, arayuru gishiki wa wazatorashiku muda de kokkei na mono da yo ne
Nee tōsan, dōshitara boku wa sunao ni nareru no deshō ka

Nee tōsan, motto uchitokete shimijimi to katari warai aitakatta
Nee tōsan, mata kaasan to issho ni hanabi o miyō ne

Comments Off

My Viennese Summer

Posted in Art,Books,Classical,Fiction,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the September 28th, 2013

I hope that you had a good summer, wherever and however you spent it. Classes at UChicago start Monday, so let me try to recap my own summer. For me, 2013 was the summer of Vienna, in imagination and reality.

The July 31 free concert by the Grant Park Orchestra in Millennium Park helped get things started. The program consisted of a single piece: the rarely performed Symphony No. 2 by Viennese composer Antonio Bruckner. It’s a delightfully sweet composition, especially in the slow movement, and the performance on a fine summer evening captured it quite gracefully. Mentally I was already walking alongside the Danube, the Blue Danube.

Around the same time, I began my background reading: two fine cultural histories of Vienna: Frederic Morton’s A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 (1980) and Carl E. Schorske’s Fin–de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1980). From there, I moved onto Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday (1942), an elegiac memoir of the novelist’s life in Vienna that he completed in exile in South America, the day before he committed suicide. I also read Vienna Idylls, a collection of short stories by Arthur Schnitzler. It’s easy to understand why Freud loved Schnitzler: his fiction throbs with repressed desires and unspoken impulses. His characters say one thing, but clearly mean something entirely different. They think they desire one object, but obviously covet the exact opposite. Modernity in a nutshell.

On the morning of August 6, we arrived at the airport in Vienna, took the express train into the city and then the subway to Graben. The moment we emerged at the top of the escalator from the Stephansplatz underground and into the ancient plaza was stunning–as was the heat. We checked into our hotel and began a dazed four-day visit. The highlights for me were visiting Berggasse 19–the apartment where Sigmund Freud lived and worked from 1891 until 1938, when he went into exile after the Nazis took over Austria–and the Prater amusement park, home of the famous Ferris wheel. I’ve always loved carnivals and fairs (a few weeks after Vienna we made our annual pilgrimage to the Minnesota State Fair), and I especially liked Prater because it was the only time during our visit to Austria that we mingled with working class, immigrants, teen-agers: ordinary folks, out like us for a good time on a pleasant summer night.

Another highlight was the Secession museum, where we spent half an hour in the company of Klimt’s Beethoven freize.
the-beethoven-frieze-the-hostile-powers-left-part-detail.jpg!Blog
The Secession was also hosting an exhibit of the work of Thomas Locher, inspired by Jacques Derrida’s writings on Mauss and the gift–which have been enormously influential on my own scholarship. We had to rush through that exhibit, though, as the museum was closing. After exiting we wandered through the outdoor night market that lies just outside the museum.

In the two months since we returned from Vienna, I find myself stumbling into references to Vienna everywhere. Summer’s gone, but I’m still walking alongside the Danube.

Comments Off
Next Page »