Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


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 on My Viennese Summer

The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (3): “The Most Beautiful Thing in this World”

Posted in J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the September 22nd, 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.)

早川義夫 キレイ

“The Most Beautiful Thing in This World” (Kono yo de ichiban kirei na mono) is the title track from Hayakawa’s second solo album, released in 1994 on Sony Records. With music and lyrics by Hayakawa, this was the song by which he announced his return to active recording and performing after more than two decades of self-imposed exile from the music industry. During his years away from performing, Hayakawa managed a bookstore in the suburbs of Tokyo and published a number of books of essays.

You can hear the original 1994 recording of the song here:

The Most Beautiful Thing in This World
(Music and lyrics by Hayakawa Yoshio)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

Feel my weak heart in my fingertips
Trembling pathetically
Naked in front of you all
Curled up, wretched me.

Why do I sing these songs?
What do I want to say—and to whom?
Wish I’d been born a stronger man
But I can’t help it, this is who I am.

The most beautiful thing in this world
The thing you need the most
The vast cosmos that embraces us all
A single teardrop, life seeking life

The most beautiful thing is not somewhere out there
It waits inside of you
Be a good person, be simple and true
The heart that knows beauty is beauty

*****

Yowai kokoro ga yubisaki ni tsutawatte
Itaitashii hodo furuete iru
Minna no mae de hadaka ni natte
Chijikomatte iru mijime na boku

Naze ni boku wa uta o utau no darō
Dare ni nani o tsutaetai no darō
Motto tsuyoku umaretakatta
Shikata ga nai ne kore ga boku da mono

Kono yo de ichiban kirei na mono wa
Anata ni totte hitsuyō na mono
Bokura o tsutsumu sōdai na uchū
Hitoshizuku no namida motomeau inochi

Kirei na mono wa doko ka ni aru no dewa nakute
Anata no naka ni nemutteru mono nan da
Ii hito wa ii ne sunao de ii ne
Kirei to omou kokoro ga kirei na no sa

Comments Off on The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (3): “The Most Beautiful Thing in this World”

New Fiction: “In My Room (Ganz Allein)”

Posted in Fiction,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the September 20th, 2013

My novelette (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella) “In My Room (Ganz Allein)” has just been published by Eunoia Review. It’s an online literary journal based in Singapore that presents a new piece of creative writing every day.

The title is a Beach Boys’ allusion made in two different languages. You’ll see why if you read on. Enjoy!

      “In My Room (Ganz Allein)”
          For Wilfred

You need the softest touch to open the door to Ken’s apartment. If you don’t hold the key just right it jams in the lock—and then you’re screwed. This afternoon Tokyo is one colossal steam bath. Ken’s hands are greased over with sweat, and the plastic keychain, a souvenir from Thailand, keeps slipping in his fingers. After a wearied day teaching English conversation, he just wants inside. He starts to panic, like a refugee halted at a border crossing. But this little story delivers a happy ending: at last, he gets the key exactly right. He rotates it ever so gently, feels the tumblers click into place and the lock spring open. Ken should call his landlord about getting the lock fixed, but the thought of explaining it all in Japanese is more than he can handle.

He slips off his black dress shoes in the entryway. A large cockroach buzzes past his nose; in Japan they have wings, kamikaze roaches. But Ken is beyond caring. He disregards the insect. From outside his balcony window, he can hear the cicadas chant their horny mating call: meen meen meen. Carry on, ye wingèd vermin of the East.

He clicks on the air conditioner and flops down at his little kitchen table. Leaning forward so his sweaty shirt won’t stick to the chair, he glances at the morning’s Japan Times, wilted across the tabletop. A photo of Ronald Reagan holds down the front page. Behind the wrinkly president stand Senator Daniel Inouye and a dozen other aging Japanese-Americans. Reagan is smiling as if he were actually pleased to sign the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the official apology for the wartime internment camps.

(Read the rest here on Eunoia Review’s website)

Comments Off on New Fiction: “In My Room (Ganz Allein)”

The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (2): “Salvia Flowers”

Posted in J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the September 17th, 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.)

hayakawa yoshio kakko ii koto

The Jacks broke up after releasing two studio albums, and in 1969 Hayakawa recorded his first solo album. Things That Are Cool Are Somehow So Uncool (Kakko ii koto wa nante kakko warui darō). Released on the underground URC label, the LP received widespread acclaim, with critics in particular singling out the track “Salvia Flowers” (サルビアの花), with music by Hayakawa and lyrics by Aizawa Yasuko, for praise. Whereas The Jacks’ music had been primarily guitar-based, for his solo debut Hayakawa switched to piano as his main instrument.

With its achingly beautiful melody and elegiac lyrics, “Salvia Flowers” became Hayakawa’s most widely covered composition. It has subsequently been performed by numerous performers from across the popular music spectrum, ranging from Kuwata Keisuke (Southern All Stars) to Inoue Yōsui, Yuki Saori, Agata Morio, and Yamamoto Linda. It also remains a fixture of Hayakawa’s concert repertoire.

The original 1969 recording of “Salvia Flowers”:

Hayakawa performing the song with violinist Honzi on Japanese television circa 2005:

“Salvia Flowers” (Sarubia no hana)
(Music by Hayakawa Yoshio, lyrics by Aizawa Yasuko)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

Always, always wanted to do it: take salvia flowers
and drop them into your room
To cover your bed in red salvia flowers
And hold you till we die

And yet, and yet: you’ve gone to another
Even though my love is deeper

Weeping, I chased you through a storm of cherry blossoms
The church bell rang untrue

The doors opened and you appeared, the false flower-bride
Threw a glance at my stunned face
Weeping, I chased you through a storm of cherry blossoms
Falling and stumbling, falling and stumbling, I ran on and on

******

Itsumo itsumo omotteta sarubia no hana o
Anata no heya no naka ni nageiretakute
Soshite kimi no beddo ni sarubia no akai hana shikitsumete
Boku wa kimi o shinu made dakishimete iyō to

Nanoni nanoni dōshite hoka no hito no tokoro ni
Boku no ai no hō ga suteki nanoni

Nakinagara kimi no ato o oikakete hanafubuki mau michi o
Kyōkai no kane no ne wa nante usoppachi nanosa

Tobira ga aite dete kita kimi wa itsuwari no hanayome
Hoho o kowabarase boku o chiratto mita
Nakinagara kimi no ato o oikakete hanafubuki mau michi o
Korogenagara korogenagara hashiritsuzuketa no sa

Comments Off on The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (2): “Salvia Flowers”

The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (1): “Love Generation”

Posted in J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music by bourdaghs on the September 11th, 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.)

VacantWorld

“Love Generation” (「ラブ・ゼネレーション」) with lyrics and music by Hayakawa, was a stand-out track on Vacant World [Jakkusu no sekai, 1968], the celebrated debut album by The Jacks, Hayakawa’s 1960s folk-rock group. With Hayakawa’s searing vocals, Mizuhashi Haruo’s psychedelic guitar, Tanino Hitoshi’s fluid bass, and Kida Takasuke’s jazz-influenced drumming, the original recording is an excellent example of the dark, moody style of The Jacks that captivated audiences on the underground music scene of late 1960s Japan.

Okabayashi Nobuyasu, the “God of Japanese Folk Music,” recorded a cover version of “Love Generation” on his classic 1970 album, Leap Before You Look (Miru mae ni tobe). Hayakawa himself has also revisited this composition repeatedly during his solo career. In addition, the song provided the title for Hayakawa’s first book, a lively collection of essays first published in 1972 and still in print today.

The original Jacks’ recording of “Love Generation”:

Hayakawa’s cover of the song from his 1995 solo album Sunflower [Himawari no hana]:

“Love Generation”
(Lyrics and music by Hayakawa Yoshio)
English translation by Michael Bourdaghs

When we want to start something
We don’t want to fake being alive
So sometimes we fake being dead
That’s right: we fake being dead.

If you want to, you can fly through the sky
The swelling of joy when you feel that way
We cry as we exchange cups of a saké you can’t drink
That’s right: we exchange cups of a sake you can’t drink

It’s those things everyone says are true because they want to believe
It’s all those lofty things: those are the things you should question

Adults are supposed to be better than this
You’ll find the real adults among the children

It’s because I want to be alone
That I talk with so many people, like a fool
But deep in our words, the love—
But deep in our words, the love—
Overflows

***********

Bokura wa nani ka o shihajimeyō to
Ikiteru furi o shitakunai tame ni
Toki ni wa shinda furi o shite miseru
Toki ni wa shinda furi o shite miseru no da.

Shiyō to omoeba sora datte toberu
Sō omoeru toki ureshisa no amari
Nakinagara nomenai sake o kawasu
Nakinagara nomenai sake o kawasu no da.

Shinjitai tame ni tadashii to omowarete iru mono koso
Subete arayuru ōkina mono o utagau no da

Otonnatte iu no wa motto suteki nan da
Kodomo no naka ni otona wa ikiten da

Jitsu wa hitori ni naritai yue ni
Baka mitai ni takusan no hito to hanasu no da
Bokura no kotoba no oku ni wa ai ga
Bokura no kotoba no oku ni wa ai ga
Ippai aru.

Comments Off on The Music of Hayakawa Yoshio (1): “Love Generation”