Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Skitterish New J-Rock

Posted in J-Pop,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 (???????). 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?

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A Tasty Musical Snack

Posted in Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the August 22nd, 2012

Probably you’ve already seen this. Kids in a Minneapolis YMCA summer youth program created a terrific rap song called “Hot Cheetos & Takis.” With an assist from some adult producers, they released a video of the tune, which in the last week has gone viral:

You can read the back story to the video here and here. Rolling Stone magazine declared the song “the summer’s final truly great jam.”

I like the tune quite a bit. Whereas grown-up rappers focus on grown-up desires (wealth, drugs, sex), the kids rhyme about what kids really desire: snacks. It occurred to me today that another reason for liking the song is that it provides a perfect marriage of content and form–the content of the song is its form. The lyrics are all about the joys of tasty snack foods, while the song itself is the musical equivalent of an after-school snack: tangy, a little spicy, not too heavy. And the song has one great advantage over its namesakes: it doesn’t turn your fingers red (though the kids actually seem to like that aftereffect from eating red hot Cheetos).

I have to confess I’ve never eaten Takis. I’d never even heard of them before watching the video. I’ve learned since that it’s a brand of corn chips. I have no idea what they taste like, but they sure sound good.

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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.

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