Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Engaging Commodities, Day 1

Posted in Music by bourdaghs on the May 22nd, 2010

Our conference, “Engaging Commodities: Crossing Mass Culture and the Avant Garde in 1960s Japanese Film, Music and Art” got off to an exhilarating start yesterday. In the afternoon, we had our first panel, “Popular Music as Engaged, Popular Music as Commodity.” James Dorsey (Dartmouth) spoke on how the censorship of protest folk singer Okabayashi Nobuyasu actually generated new opportunities for creative agency on the part of musicians, audiences, and the music industry. Christine Yano (University of Hawaii) presented on the great enka diva Misora Hibari as a figure of “jet set culture,” in whose work a musical cosmopolitanism existed in tandem with an increasing sense of cultural nationalism. Michael Molasky (Hitotsubashi University) explored the changing meaning of “jazz” in Japan from the late 1950s through the 1960s, especially with an eye toward the rise of the “jazu kissa” (jazz coffeehouse) as a crucial institution in the rise of the “modern jazz” of such figures as Miles Davis and Art Blakey.

The evening program began with a talk session with musician Alan Merrill, who was active in Japan from 1968 to 1974. He told remarkable stories about his days with the Group Sounds band The Lead, as a solo performer under the management of the all-powerful Watanabe Pro agency, and as the founder of the pioneering glam rock band Vodka Collins. He wrapped up his presentation with a terrific acoustic set of some of his best-known compositions, playing “Sands of Time” and “Automatic Pilot” from his Vodka Collins days before closing with a high-energy rendition of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the song he wrote and recorded with his band The Arrows in 1975 and that later became a worldwide hit for Joan Jett and others.

Alan brought down the house–and we were just getting started. Following his set, we screened the terrific documentary, The Golden Cups: One More Time, about the legendary Yokohama Group Sounds band. This was followed by a lively question-and-answer session with three original members of the Golden Cups: Eddie Ban (lead guitar), Louise Louis Kabe (bass), and Mamoru Manu (drums). We had a large delegation of Cups’ fans in the audience, including people who had traveled from Japan, Florida, and elsewhere to be there, which all added to the sense that something very special was happening. The evening closed with a jam session between Eddie Ban and Alan Merrill, as they performed “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Namida” (Alan’s 1969 solo hit), and finally “Route 66.”

I’m extremely grateful to Alan Merrill, the Golden Cups, the people from Altamira Pictures and Altamira Music who made the arrangements to bring the Cups over from Japan, the fans and scholars: everyone who made this memorable day possible. Next up is day two, when we turn our focus to film and art….

Alan Merrill with Vodka Collins, “Sands of Time” (1972)

The Golden Cups’ astonishing 1968 recording of “Hey Joe”; pay special attention to Louise Louis Kabe’s blazing bass lines:

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