Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the October 5th, 2017

About a decade ago, when I was writing Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Prehistory of J-Pop, I had the idea of trying to organize the release in the U.S. of a series of compilation CDs of a variety of Japanese popular music genres: city pop, folk-rock, etc. I even pursued informal conversations with a record label about doing this, and they showed a fair amount of interest. But then I thought about it seriously and realized that once I got to work on a project like that, it would take over my life for the next several years. As much as I liked the idea of having the CDs out there, I wasn’t all that eager to surrender control over my life. So it never happened.

But now the good people at Light in the Attic Records have stepped up with a fine compilation CD, Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973, which collects a nice cross section of the genre. They’ve done an excellent job of curating, combining well-known tracks (Happy End’s “Natsu nandesu,” Hachimitsu Pie’s “Hei no Ue de,” or Yoshida Takuro’s “Aoi Natsu”) with some quite obscure treasures (Yamahira Kazuhiko & The Sherman’s “Sotto Futari de,” for example). Kagawa Ryo passed away earlier this year; I wish he’d lived long enough to see his first official U.S. release: the brilliant 1971 song “Zeni no Koyoryoku ni tsuite,” with fierce backing from Happy End, is included. The compilation also introduces terrific recordings by Asakawa Maki, Kato Kazuhiko (as a solo artist), Kanenobu Sachiko, Hosono Haruomi, and The Dylan II, among others. The CD comes with excellent liner notes on each of the artists, plus English translations for the lyrics. If I have any complaint with this set, it’s that I wished they also included the original Japanese lyrics in the booklet, but that’s a minor detail.

Even better: the label plans to bring out more reissues of Japanese popular music in the coming years. I’m so glad that somebody finally got around to doing this, that they did it so well–and that it didn’t have to be me.

Track Listing
1. Curry Rice (Endo Kenji)
2. Sotto Futari De (Yamahira Kazuhiko & The Sherman)
3. Anata Kara Toku E (Kanenobu Sachiko)
4. Rokudenashi (Fluid)
5. Arthur Hakase No Jinriki Hikouki (Kato Kazuhiko)
6. Natsu Nandesu (Happy End)
7. Man-in No Ki (Nishioka Takashi)
8. Yoru Wo Kugurinukeru Made (Minami Masato)
9. Konna Fu Ni Sugite Iku No Nara (Asakawa Maki)
10. Mizu Tamari (Nunoya Fumio)
11. Boku Wa Chotto (Hosono Haruomi)
12. Aoi Natsu (Yoshida Takuro)
13. Takeda No Komori Uta (Akai Tori)
14. Marianne (Gu)
15. Ware Ware Wa (Saito Tetsuo)
16. Sugishi Hi Wo Mitsumete (Gypsy Blood)
17. Hei No Ue De (Hachimitsu Pie)
18. Zeni No Kouryouryoku Ni Tsuite (Kagawa Ryo)
19. Otokorashiitte Wakaru Kai (I Shall Be Released) (The Dylan II)

Comments Off on Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973

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 on Watch and Listen to Yours Truly

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 on Sakuma Masahide: Renaissance Man of J-Rock

Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

July brought many exciting developments. I was promoted to full Professor and became chair of my department at the University of Chicago. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon came out from Byakuya Shobo. At around the same time, the discovery I helped make of some previously unknown 1950 Sacramento concert recordings by Misora Hibari, Kasagi Shizuko, Yamaguchi Yoshiko and many other Japanese singing stars became big news in Japan. I was apparently a featured item on television “wide shows” for a couple of days; I’m told that at least one of the shows introduced me with a photograph that was not actually of me. The Japanese edition of the book was well received, too; dozens of newspapers and magazines ran favorable reviews.

The whole family flew to Tokyo in late July. I spent a couple of days doing press interviews at my publishers’ offices in Takadanobaba. On July 29, Satoko and I were able to participate in one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations of the year, a march that started from Hibiya Park and ended up surrounding the Diet building. We celebrated the children’s birthdays up in Sendai with Satoko’s parents. With the help of a reporter from the Kyodo Tsushin wire service, I was able to get a copy of the 1950 wire recording of her Sacramento concert to 92-year-old Yamaguchi Yoshiko, who gave an interview about how delighted she was to hear it. As a result, once again I showed up in newspapers across Japan.

We returned to Chicago in early August. I recorded a segment for public radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” which was broadcast nationally later in the month (you can listen online here). We brought the whole family to a terrific play,”The Death of Harry Houdini,” at the House Theater. We ran up to Minnesota again to celebrate what would have been my father’s 75th birthday on August 15, and while there I saw another ballgame at Target Field. I also got to see one of my old favorite local bands, the Flamin’ Oh’s, play a show at Mears Park in downtown St. Paul. Back in Chicago at the end of the month, we attended the opening night “Tribute to Ella” with Dee Alexander, Frieda Lee, and Spider Saloff at the Chicago Jazz Festival. I returned again on the last day of the festival to catch stellar sets by the Steve Coleman Group and Pierre Dørge And The New Jungle Orchestra–two more favorite musical discoveries of the year.

In September things started gearing up in my new role as department chair, but on a stormy night we saw Bruce Springsteen give a fine concert up at Wrigley Field, and when the Twins swung through town early in the month I ran over to New Comiskey Park to take in a game. Late in the month I filled my car with grad students and drove to Kalamazoo for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs meeting at Western Michigan University.

Classes started in October. I taught two seminars this past fall–one on Japanese literary discourses of “furusato” (hometown), the other on Japanese cultures of the Cold War. As usual, I learned a great deal from the students in both. Extracurricular activities slowed down as I resumed full-time teaching, of course, but I still managed to get out now and then. In early October, I saw a nice set by guitarist Wayne Krantz at Martyr’s and later in the month caught an intriguing performance by shamisen composer Kimura Shunsuke. In October, I attended the Association for Japanese Literary Studies meeting at Ohio State, reconnecting with many old friends and meeting some new ones. I also enjoyed the opportunity to make a presentation about the 1950 wire recordings at the annual Humanities Day celebration here on campus in Hyde Park.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, with me preparing the turkey as usual. In December, we enjoyed a show by Leo Kottke up at SPACE in Evanston, as well as a terrific performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony by the CSO. I made another trip to Los Angeles to give a talk at UCLA and to film an interview about the 1950 wire recording of Misora Hibari for a television special which was broadcast in Japan on the BS-TBS network on December 7. We spent Christmas with family in Minnesota, quiet and relaxing. On Boxing Day, we went ice skating with a big group of my cousins and their children.

Later today we’ll bring our 2012 cultural calendar to a close by attending the acclaimed production of “Annie” at the Paramount Theater in Illinois: the last few years, our family has made a tradition of attending a musical in the week between Christmas and New Years. We also have tickets to see the opening night of Buddy Guy’s annual stand at his own blues club downtown later this week, and we’re off to Second City a few days after that for some comedy.

It really has been a blessed year for us: writing this up has helped remind me how lucky I am. I’m surrounded by a supportive family, wonderful friends and colleagues, students who keep me on my toes, and a city that bustles with creativity and energy. As usual, I have compiled a long list of New Years’ resolutions, but I won’t bore you with those. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to 2013.

Let me end by wishing you joy, peace, and health in 2013. Thanks for stopping by.

Comments Off on Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)

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….

Comments Off on Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)

Bang! Bang! Bang!: The Evolution of a J-Rock Classic

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Japanese film,Music by bourdaghs on the November 30th, 2012

(Recycling something originally posted here in 2009)

In 1967, Group Sounds superstars The Spiders recorded a song composed by their rhythm guitarist, Kamayatsu Hiroshi. Not much was expected of “Ban Ban Ban,” a crude three-chord rocker with throwaway lyrics and a riff supposedly lifted from a song by The Mindbenders. The tune was originally used as the B-side for a single and later included on the band’s fourth album. Here’s the original Spiders’ version, taken from one of their movies:

There was something about “Ban Ban Ban,” though, that made it stick in people’s minds: the rhythm, the catchy chorus, the sheer joy of it all. It’s become a J-rock classic now, one that every J-Rock band has to know, something akin to the status of “Wild Thing” or “Smoke on the Water” in the West.

Here are 1990s rockers Flying Kids performing the song on a drive through Tokyo. They get bonus points for digging up replicas of The Spiders’ old red doorman costumes:

http://nicoviewer.net/sm9906496

And here are today’s fave-rave indie rockers Go!Go!7188 performing the song live.

Probably the most memorable cover of the song comes from “Monsieur” Kamayatsu himself. In early 1990, he was recording a new album in London. Word came down that all hell was breaking lose in Berlin, and so Kamayatsu headed over to Germany to see what was happening. The Wall had been breached, but not torn down yet, and there were still military patrols on both sides. Kamayatsu writes in his autobiography that he figured out that patrols walked by at two-minute intervals. Timing it carefully, he waited for one patrol to pass, then scrambled up to the top of the wall with acoustic guitar in hand. He dashed off an impromptu rendition of “Ban Ban Ban” for the assembled crowd, and luckily the moment was captured on video.

Comments Off on Bang! Bang! Bang!: The Evolution of a J-Rock Classic

Pop Envy

Posted in Current Events,J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the November 27th, 2012

I think I’m the last human being on earth who actually cares about this. NHK yesterday announced the line-up for this year’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” its annual New Years Eve pop music spectacle. At first glance, the only thing that caught my eye was the fact that recently reunited J-Rock veterans Princess Princess were going to be making their debut appearance on the show. Beyond that, it was just a ho-hum list of the usual suspects. You can check out the whole roster here (Japanese-language).

But then press reports (e.g., here and here) started pointing out a conspicuous absence. In recent years, the bill has always included top K-Pop idols, but this year nary a single performer from across the Sea of Japan (or, depending on one’s geopolitical allegiances, the East Sea). NHK cites “public opinion” as the reason for this, referring obliquely to the flare-up earlier this year over the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islands (see this report from the NY Times on the increasingly bitter row).

This carries on a news thread from earlier this year: the odd fact that Japan was the one place on earth where PSY’s Internet sensation “Gangnam Style,” now the single most watched video in YouTube history, failed to become a hit. According to news reports, South Korea was “irked” about this indifference. Ian Martin, writing in the Japan Times last month, speculates that this may be entirely to Japan’s credit:

But it’s Psy who is the first Korean artist that the West gathers to its collective heart, while Japan stands by nonplussed, and I have to wonder if a lot of the reason for “Gangnam Style” ‘s Western popularity still boils down to, “Hey, look at the funny little Asian man dancing!” (This was essentially the gist of a sketch on comedy show Saturday Night Live that parodied “Gangnam Style” on Sept. 15. Psy also made an appearance in that sketch.)

It’s an awkward area to go into; no one likes to think of themselves as prejudiced. However, even if you’re not, mass media still wields influence on what society collectively considers cool. So think for a moment: How many genuinely “cool” Asian celebrities are there in the West? I don’t mean subcultural or art-house cool, so scrub Cornelius and Tony Leung off your list. I’m talking about Asian stars in the Western mainstream whose image is something people aspire toward and seek to imitate.

What’s struck me most about the “Gangnam Style” phenomenon is its close resemblance to 1963 and Sakamoto Kyu’s accidental worldwide hit, “Sukiyaki.” As I argue in my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon, that incident has to be understood within its specific historical context, including the massive 1960 protests in Tokyo against renewal of AMPO–the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty–and the Cold War strain of Orientalism that transformed Japan into an object of fetishistic desire. Not to mention the escalating Vietnam War, for which Japan and Okinawa would serve as major staging areas.

The current tensions recall to mind something that Karatani Kojin wrote about a couple of decades ago. We have to always keep in mind that historians someday will write that we were living in the pre-war era.

This and That

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Japanese literature,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 10th, 2012

Apologies for the lack of updates these last two months. Not only have I returned to teaching from my sabbatical, I’ve also become department chair. Life is busy, in other words–but it keeps me off the streets.

This has come up rather suddenly, but I’ll be giving a talk at UCLA next week (Friday, November 16) on “Tokyo Boogie Woogie in California: The 1950 Sacramento Recordings in Japanese and Japanese-American Cultural History” (details available here). In the presentation, I’ll introduce the collection of 1950 concert recordings of Japanese musicians (Misora Hibari, Kawada Haruhisa, Yamaguchi Yoshiko, Watanabe Hamako, Kasagi Shizuko, among others) that I helped authenticate and that were in the news in Japan this past summer (see, for example, here and here). The man who discovered the recordings has now donated the entire collection to the UCLA library. While in Los Angeles, I’ll also be filming an interview for a television special about the recordings that will air later this year. I’ll post details about broadcast times when they become available.

I was also recently a guest on the NPR radio program “To the Best of our Knowledge,” talking about my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop. You can listen to or download my segment here. And don’t forget about the online companion for the book that I’ve put together: I’ve heard from a few people who are teaching the book this all that the webpage was very useful.

The Japanese translation of the book continues to do very well, with nice reviews coming out in many magazines and newspapers (for example, here and here).

In the meanwhile, I am moving on to other scholarly projects: co-editing a two-volume series of new scholarly essays and translations related to early postwar Japanese literary criticism, finishing up a translation of Karatani Kojin’s magnum opus The Structure of World History (Sekaishi no kozo), and returning to a longstanding project that involves rethinking Natsume Soseki in relation to the problems of modern property regimes and world literature.

I’ll try to blog here a little more regularly in the coming months, too. It keeps me off the streets–the wild, wild streets.

Comments Off on This and That

Skitterish New J-Rock

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Music by bourdaghs on the August 28th, 2012

I learned this morning from the Tokyo Hive website about a just-released new video from Sakanaction (サカナクション). They’ve been one of the more intriguing mainstream J-Rock bands the past five or six years. The song “Yoru no odoriko” (Dancing girl at night) is their seventh single and is set for release on August 29. The promotional video is directed by Tanaka Yusuke, who has worked with the band in the past.

Some instant analysis: musically, it’s very much in the band’s usual style. But both the video and song flirt with exotic Japanese elements–fer crissakes, they’re playing at the foot of Mount Fuji. But the seeming Japanese-ness is all underwritten by a strongly ironic bent: sudden shifts in camera distance function like jump cuts to remind us repeatedly that what we are seeing is mediated by technology. These hints become more explicit as the video progresses and images of goggles and binoculars become central. The lyrics (available here) reinforce this: the back-up singers’ first line is “Mite ita furi shite” (Only pretending to look), and later the singer talks about mirages and about images.

My initial response: intriguing. What do you think?

Comments Off on Skitterish New J-Rock

Scenes from a Month in the Life

It’s been exactly a month since I posted here. I spent that month mostly on the road — two weeks in Japan and a week in Minnesota, sandwiched around a brief stay at home in Chicago. What did I do during that month? A few randomly chosen scenes:

Rediscovery of Zazen Boys. After enjoying their first two CDs very much and watching them play a live set in Sendai back in 2006, I’d drifted away from this post-punk/funk combo. But an entry of Patrick St. Michel’s excellent blog alerted me to “Potato Salad,” a wonderful new track from a forthcoming release, and while in Japan I picked up a copy of Zazen Boys 4, their 2008 CD. Terrific stuff, and back on heavy rotation in my life.

Celebrating what would have been my father’s 75th birthday. The whole family gathered in St. Paul for the event on August 15. We took in a Twins’ game on a lovely afternoon at Target Field (alack, a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, with Ben Revere hitting a triple for the only Minnesota highlight of the day), then supped on pizza, wine, and cake in the evening as we passed around photos of Dad and swapped stories. The next day, I dragged the kids to a free concert in Mears Park in downtown St. Paul by the Flamin’ Ohs, a local Minnesota band I adored during their late 1970s, early 1980s, heyday. The kids hated the show; I loved it. You can decide for yourself:

Enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame. I did about a dozen media interviews in Japan and here about my book and the discovery of wire recordings of 1950 concerts in Sacramento by a number of prominent Japanese musicians, including Misora Hibari and Yamaguchi Yoshiko. This resulted in a large number of stories and reviews in newspapers and magazines, as well as a fair amount of television coverage. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon seems to be selling well, and the press comments so far have been quite positive. Here in the States, I’ll be on the August 26 edition of the public radio program, “To The Best of Our Knowledge.” It will be available as a podcast after the broadcast.

Participating in the July 29 “Encircle the National Diet Building” Anti-Nuclear Protest in Tokyo. It was a disorienting but exhilarating event: tens of thousands of marchers trying to follow bizarre police directions that made me feel increasingly like a laboratory rat trapped in a maze. We were repeatedly directed to walk away from the Diet Building, but eventually we did find the cheese: a swirling carnival that occupied a blocked-off street in front of the main entrance to the building. In the meanwhile, the weekly Friday afternoon protests in front of the Prime Minister’s residence continue.

Dashing off an Angry E-Mail to NBC. How could they possible cut Ray Davies’ performance of “Waterloo Sunset” from the American broadcast of the London Olympics closing ceremony? It was the emotional centerpiece of the whole show. Sigh. I wasn’t the only one who was mad about it, either.

Comments Off on Scenes from a Month in the Life
Next Page »