Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

“Engaging Commodities: Crossing Mass Culture and the Avant Garde in 1960s Japanese Film, Music and Art”

Posted in Art,Japanese film,Music by bourdaghs on the May 10th, 2010

On May 21-22, the University of Chicago will host “Engaging Commodities: Crossing Mass Culture and the Avant Garde in 1960s Japanese Film, Music and Art,” a conference focusing on the remarkable world of 1960s Japanese culture. During that turbulent decade, Japanese filmmakers, musicians and artists operated in a highly fluid environment in which boundaries between mass-culture entertainment and avant-garde art came under constant pressure. This remarkable environment gave rise to hit songs and movies that incorporated abstract experimental techniques, as well as to avant-garde art pieces that freely integrated elements from commercial culture. The conference will include new scholarly papers on experimental film, popular genre film, jazz, folk music, rock-and-roll, animation and other cultural forms from the period.

The conference will also feature special appearances by musicians who were key figures in the 1960s Japan rock scene, including Alan Merrill, an American singer/songwriter who was a member of the Group Sounds band The Lead, then a solo performer signed by the influential Watanabe Pro management agency, and subsequently the leader of the pioneering glam rock outfit Vodka Collins. (After leaving Japan in 1973, Merrill founded The Arrows, a band that had several hits in the UK, including the original version of “I Love Rock and Roll,” a Merrill composition later recorded by Joan Jett and many others).

Three original members of the legendary Group Sounds band The Golden Cups will also appear at the event — lead guitarist Eddie Ban, bassist Louise Louis Kabe, and drummer/singer Mamoru Manu — and the conference will include a screening of The Golden Cups: One More Time, an acclaimed 2004 documentary about the band.

All events are free and open to the public, but RSVP is required for the Friday evening sessions featuring Merrill and The Golden Cups. The RSVP link and a full conference schedule are available on line at:

The event is the eighth in the annual Japan@Chicago conference series and is sponsored by the Committee on Japanese Studies at the Center for East Asian Studies. Persons who may need assistance to participate should call 773-702-2715. For additional information, please contact Sarah Arehart, Outreach Coordinator for the Center for East Asian Studies (

[Updated May 13: We have added the RSVP system for the Friday night sessions mentioned above because we anticipate a large demand for the limited number of seats available]

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A Week in the Life….of Somebody

Posted in Art,baseball,Dance,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the May 6th, 2010

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.

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