I have several projects with looming year-end deadlines. I really should be working on those this morning. Which, of course, makes this an excellent time to devote instead to an update here. 2012 is fast winding down. What kind of year was it?
A fine and memorable one, thank you. Not without its bumps and bruises, of course, but those just help remind me that I’m alive. I end the year feeling gratitude and hope.
The first half of 2012 found me on sabbatical. In early January, I flew to Seattle for the MLA convention. I saw old friends, sat in on some good panels, caught the film “The Descendants” in a cinema across from the hotel–and accepted the Scaglione Prize for the translation I co-edited of Natsume Soseki’s Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings. Later that month, I flew up to Ann Arbor to participate in a faculty workshop, and a week later I presented a talk at another faculty seminar at Northwestern University. The month ended with Satoko and I enjoying a performance by Westside blues legend Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater at SPACE, the little-club-that-could up in Evanston.
In February, we caught Ricardo Muti conducting the CSO in Franck’s Symphony in D minor and then, a few days later, I attended the University of Chicago Folk Festival, featuring Billy Boy Arnold. The most exciting event of the month: my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, came out from Columbia University Press. I heard many nice things about it from people–to the point that I started to worry that it must not be very good. If something you write doesn’t piss anyone off, how interesting can it be? But later I heard through the grapevine that a number of senior scholars in my field hated it. I felt reassured. In late February DePaul University hosted a fun workshop based on the book for Chicago public school teachers.
On the first day of March we watched Pierre Boulez lead the CSO in a wonderful performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The next morning I was off to NYC for meetings. Then on March 10-11 I co-hosted a conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. “What March 11 Means to Me” brought together an amazing group of public intellectuals from Japan for personal and philosophical reflections on the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster: Amamiya Karin, Komori Yoichi, Ryusawa Takeshi, Takahashi Tetsuya, and Yokoyu Sonoko. The following week, I traveled to Toronto for the AAS annual meeting, where I chaired a roundtable discussion on the 1950 wire recordings of Japanese performers in concert in Sacramento (more on those anon).
In April, I was back in NYC for a lecture at Columbia University. While there, I saw the acclaimed revival of “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and caught up with a few old friends. Back in Chicago, we attended a lively concert by Rodrigo y Gabriela and a fine performance by the Alvin Ailey dance company a few days later. Later in the month, I drove up to the Twin Cities to visit family and friends, catching a Twins game while there and a Beloit Snappers minor-league game on the drive home. During the month, I also finished up an article on Natsume Soseki’s conception of world literature, which appeared in the May/June issue of the Iwanami Shoten journal Bungaku.
On May Day I joined the protest march that started out from Union Park and made its way past the site of the Haymarket Massacre (the historical origin of May Day) before ending at a rally downtown. A few days later, we caught a live performance by one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year: Kids These Days. The group manages to combine rock, funk, jazz, and hip hop and make it all work; their debut album Traphouse Rock came out later in the year and was one of my favorite records of 2012.
Later in May I attended the Atomic Age II conference at Chicago. It featured a keynote address from Koide Hiroaki, one of the most important critics of Japan’s “nuclear village.” The next day, we joined a group to visit the nature preserve in the western suburbs where the remains of Chicago Piles 1 and 2 (the world’s first nuclear reactors) are buried. Later in the month we caught a surprise cameo appearance by Ray Davies at a public television benefit concert, and then I was off to Tokyo for a quick one-week visit. During that trip, I attended the May sumo tournament, met a number of scholars, visited libraries and bookstores, and stopped by an exhibit of photographs by Mike Nogami. After coming back to Chicago, I survived the NATO conference shut-down of the city, dragged the kids to the reunited Beach Boys concert at the Chicago Theater, and enjoyed a Millenium Park performance by Kelly Hogan (another key musical discovery of the year). We ended the month by catching Court Theater’s production of “Angels in America” with Larry Yando’s memorable turn as Ray Cohn.
As June began, I flew to Los Angeles to join in the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. It was lovely to catch up with old friends from UCLA, and while there I got to meet and chat briefly with one of my childhood heroes, Daniel Inouye (RIP, Senator Inouye). It turned out that he was one of the 442nd veterans involved in inviting Misora Hibari to Hawaii in 1950 for a charity concert–which led in turn to the 1950 Sacramento concert recordings. Another quick trip to Minnesota followed, and I was back home to catch the last day of the Chicago Blues Festival, including an uplifting headliner set by Mavis Staples. During June we also caught the CSO a couple times, including an eye-opening public rehearsal led by Ricardo Muti, and we visited the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute. But the cultural highlight of the month was the acclaimed production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theater, with an ensemble cast so strong that the supposed stars, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane, mostly just blended into the scenery.
July is when things really got busy. I’ll write about the second half of the year tomorrow. In the meantime, I really should get hopping on those year-end projects….
I have a powerful sense today that I am returning now to my own life after a considerable absence. For at least the past week, I have seemingly been living the life of someone else — someone with similar tastes and close connections to me, but someone operating on a different calendar, ruled by different forces. And, obviously, someone who doesn’t update their blog very much. On the whole, it wasn’t a bad week, though a bit on the hectic side. I’m glad to find myself back in my own shoes again today.
Let me trace it back to a week ago tonight. I (or whomever it was) caught the Ike Reilly Assassination in concert at Lincoln Hall. Shooter Jennings (Waylon’s boy) opened with a surprising paranoid set of Southern-fried prog-rock-country, and then Ike and his band took the stage. His parents were in the house, he announced, and it was all in all a fine show. Shooter came on stage to perform the wonderful duet, “The War on the Terror and the Drugs,” included on Ike’s most recent album. If you haven’t heard it yet, stop whatever it is you are doing immediately and click on the following video:
The next day was my anniversary, and we celebrated by watching our daughter play Lucy in a middle-school production of “Snoopy! The Musical.” Our offspring performed wonderfully well, and the show itself is great fun, including complex ensemble songs like “Edgar Allan Poe” (see video from another production below) and “Clouds.”
On Saturday afternoon, I was at the Joffrey Ballet, taking in “Eclectica,” their spring program: Gerald Arpino’s 1971 piece, Reflections, plus two world premieres: Jessica Lang’s pretty awesome Crossed , a meditation on religion and spirituality in which the dancers duck around large moving stage sets, and James Kudelka’s Pretty BALLET, also quite striking. One reviewer calls it “the most intellectually engaging Joffrey program in recent memory.” Call me engaged.
I then jumped into the car and drove to Sparta, Wisconsin, where I spent the night in a dive motel that shall remain nameless. Only the sheets have been changed to protect the innocent. The next morning, I drove up the Mississippi River to Stockholm, Wisconsin, to pick up some of my mother’s paintings for a new retrospective exhibition. I’d forgotten how pretty that part of the country is. I spent the rest of the day tracking down more paintings for the show across central Minnesota — Edina, St. Paul, North Branch.
Monday morning I helped set up the exhibit in the Art Gallery at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minnesota–where my mother, my sister, and I were all born. It’s a wonderful collection of 14 of my mother’s best works, many of which haven’t been shown publicly for years. It will be open through June 29, and there are new prints and cards of my mother’s paintings for sale in the hospital gift shop. Details on hours and how to get there can be found here.
Monday evening found me at Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins. While ingesting far too much animal protein, I watched my favorite baseball team clobber the Detroit Tigers. Wilson Ramos, the Twins’ fine young catching prospect, got three hits in his second Major League game, this after he collected four the night before in his debut, thereby setting a new rookie record and sending Twins’ fans into a mild frenzy. It’s a fine new ballpark, too, with many thoughtful details, inside and out. I didn’t mind the raindrops that fell intermittently through the evening, not one bit.
Tuesday, I drove back to Chicago, picking up along the way our oldest from his dorm to haul him home for summer vacation after his freshman year at college. Then yesterday I helped host the great historian Harry Harootunian for a couple of very stimulating talks here at the University of Chicago. The day ended at a restaurant in Chinatown, with good food and lively talk with our visitor and several colleagues.
After all that, I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror, and it was me again. Welcome back, and don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave again.