Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


What I listened to in 2022

Posted in Classical,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 28th, 2022

I’ve always enjoy reading other people’s lists of their favorite music of the year past, so here in alphabetical order are 20 new albums that gave me the most listening pleasure during 2022. As usual, a heavy emphasis on local musicians from the Chicago area.

Beyonce, Rennaisance, not quite as great as Lemonade, but then again what is? (Tidal; Spotify)

Dehd, Blue Skies, alternative pop/rock by terrific Chicago band (Tidal; Spotify)

Horsegirl, Versions of Modern Performance, moody debut album from Chicago band that updates the sound of 1990s alternative rock (Tidal; Spotify)

Samara Joy, Linger Awhile, young jazz vocalist turns in a nice set of standards (Tidal; Spotify)

The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies/Everybody’s in Show Biz Box Set, two early 1970s Kinks’ albums get the fiftieth anniversary reissue treatment (Tidal and Tidal; Spotify and Spotify)

Les Rallizes Dénudés, OZ DAYS LIVE 1972-3 Kichijoi: The 50th Anniversary Collection, widely bootlegged live recordings by Japanese underground legends finally get a proper release (Tidal; Spotify)

The Linda Lindas, Growing Up, irresistible punk-pop with a nice political edge from a teenaged combo whose sudden emergence made the pandemic a little more bearable (Tidal; Spotify)

Lizzo, Special, for when I need uplift (Tidal; Spotify)

Makaya McCraven, In These Times, powerful statement by a tremendously creative Chicago jazz composer, arranger, and percussionist. (Tidal; Spotify)

ネクライトーキー (NECRY TALKIE), Memories2, the latest from eclectic Osaka-based pop/rock band (Tidal; Spotify)

Mali Obomsawim, Sweet Tooth, very appealing collage of avant-garde jazz, pop melodies, and Native American cultural traditions (Tidal; Spotify)

Nora O’Connor, My Heart, talented Chicagoan jazz/pop vocalist (Tidal; Spotify)

Gilbert O’Sullivan, Driven, new collection of pop tunes from the man whose March concert (my first popular music live show in three years) brought tears to my face when he performed “We Will” (Tidal; Spotify)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Live at the Fillmore, 1997 (Tidal, Spotify)

She & Him, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson, nice selection of Brian’s songs, tastefully covered (Tidal; Spotify)

Various artists, Starstruck: A Tribute to the Kinks, a collection of new punked-up covers of my musical heroes (Tidal; Spotify)

Wet Leg, Wet Leg, “Chaise Lounge” is probably the song I most often caught myself singing in my head this year (Tidal; Spotify)

Wilco, Cruel Country (Tidal; Spotify)

The Robert Wilkinson Band, Lost and Found, a delicious pop/rock album by Minneapolis legend that was recorded back in the 1990s but only released this year(Blackberry Way Records; Tidal; Spotify)

YeYe, 『はみ出て!』(Hamidete!), latest collection from Kyoto-based singer-songwriter who has been putting out terrific music for several years (Tidal; Spotify)

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A Book Prize for “Sound Alignments”

Posted in Books,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 3rd, 2022

  • Last month brought a bit of very welcome news: the Society for Ethnomusicology has awarded the 2022 Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize to Sound Alignments: Popular Music in Asia’s Cold Wars, which I co-edited with Paole Iovene and Kaley Mason. As someone who studies popular music without being an ethnomusicologist, this recognition feels especially meaningful. We had a terrific team of contributors to the volume, and I am delighted to see their valuable work acknowledged with this prize.

    Here is the encomium that was read at the presentation ceremony:

    The committee to award the 2022 Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize included Deonte Harris, Victoria Levine, Jesús Ramos-Kittrell, and Margaret Sarkissian. After carefully considering eight excellent nominees, we decided to award the prize to Sound Alignments: Popular Music in Asia’s Cold War, edited by Michael K. Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene, and Kaley Mason. Sound Alignments challenges us to rethink global history through investigations of the complex interplay between music and geopolitics. The contributors foreground musical routes, covers, and fronts, re-telling the Cold War from the orientation of musicians and particular songs that circulated across Asia. The authors reveal fascinating contradictions between economic, class, and social alignments through detailed analysis of both lyrics and musical structures in Asian popular songs. This is a beautifully crafted, edited, and produced volume. Annotated with scholarship in multiple non-European languages, the book has an extensive bibliography, a sturdy index, and informative contributor bios. Many of the authors work outside of US institutions, creating an international and disciplinary diversity that enhances the editors’ stated goal of decolonizing scholarship on Asian music. Sound Alignments offers critical perspectives on the position of music in Cold War studies, the narrow view that ethnomusicology has advanced, and intellectual blind spots that have driven music studies in this area. With rich ethnographic detail, theoretical sophistication, and broad content, Sound Alignments sets new standards for the study of music in the context and afterlife of global conflict. Congratulations to the editors and contributors! 

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    Plague Year Listening: A Look Back

    Posted in J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the December 22nd, 2020

    The lockdowns of 2020 provided ample opportunities to sit at home and listen to music. Here are twenty albums from the plague year that gave me the most pleasure, listed in alphabetical order.

    I got back into the habit of buying CDs this year, so thanks to the pandemic I own physical copies of most of these titles. Looking over the list, I’m pleasantly surprised to see how much of it (seven out of twenty) comes from local Chicago artists. Maybe in 2021 I’ll be able to go see them play live….

    Fiona Apple, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”
    Beach Bunny, “Honeymoon”
    Curtiss A, “Jerks of Fate”
    Ehara Mei 江原茗一, “Ampersands”
    The Flat Five, “Another World”
    Ted Hearne, “Place”
    Jyoti (Georgia Anne Muldrow), “Momma, You Can Bet!”
    Kate NV, “Room for the Moon”
    Lianne La Havas, “Lianne La Havas”
    Mary Lane, “The Real Mary Lane”
    V.V. Lightbody, “Make a Shrine or Burn It”
    Paul McCartney, “McCartney III”
    Sen Morimoto, “Sen Morimoto”
    Ohmme, “Fantasize Your Ghost”
    Kate Rusby, “Hand Me Down”
    Tokyo Incidents, 東京事変 “News” 『ニュース』
    Twin Peaks, “Side A”
    Various artists, “Save Stereogum: An ’00s Covers Comp”
    Wussy, “Ghosts”
    Zombie-Chang, “Take Me Away from Tokyo”

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    How to be an Ethical Music Fan in a Corrupt World

    Posted in Books,Change is Bad,Classical,J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the March 26th, 2019

    1). How to buy music: Never, ever order your music from Amazon.com or its woeful kin. Obviously. Your local record shop, should you be so lucky as to still have one, needs your business. Another alternative is buying directly from the artist’s website. It’ll probably cost you a couple extra bucks, but that’s a low price to pay for retaining the rights to your soul. Online retailers have replaced record companies as the Satan of the music industry. Don’t feed Satan.

    2). How to listen to music: Here’s how you can pry something out of Satan. After you have bought the CD or vinyl or mp3 download, use a streaming service to listen to the tunes. If you don’t subscribe to a streaming service, try YouTube. They all pay shit royalties to artists and composers, but after you’ve already shelled out a fair price for your own copy, listening via a streaming service throws a few more pennies in the direction of the people who actually made the music.

    3). How to find new music: Read. Good music writing teaches you about your own limits and points out a way past them. Criticism is being squeezed as badly by capitalism as any other branch of today’s music world. If you are so lucky as to live in a place where the local press runs music criticism, read it. Then like it and share it on social media: publishers count up those beans. And buy and read books. Your local bookstore has shelves bursting with excellent writing on music. You could start with Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Mark Fisher’s K-Punk, or Jim Walsh’s Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes, to name three random examples sitting on my desk right now.

    Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments. We need all the ideas we can get.

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    Hosono Haruomi: The Reluctant Frontman (11/15/2017 @ Nakano Sun Plaza)

    Posted in J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 15th, 2017


    After opening sets by manzai duo Knights and the Suzuki-Suzuki brother-sister musical impersonator team, Hosono Haruomi took to the stage at sold-out Nakano Sun Plaza. The 70-year-old revealed a surprising new look: his head is now topped with an unruly shock of white hair. Backed by a talented young band that included the wonderful and seemingly omnipresent Takada Ren on a range of stringed instruments、Iga Wataru on bass, and the duo Good Luck Heiwa on keyboards and drums, Haruomi played a characteristically low-key but quite satisfying set. I’d seen him perform live before with YMO and also with Yano Akiko, but this was my first solo Hosono concert.

    Much of the material featured his recent bent toward cover versions of standard numbers, played in Western Swing style: “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Tutti Frutti” “L’Amour,” “Angel on My Shoulder,” “Suzi Q.” This is the style found on his solid new CD, Vu Ja De, as well as on its predecessor, HoSoNoVa (2011). Several times during the night, Hosono spoke of his love for boogie-woogie tunes–a predilection that especially came forward during the final part of the evening, when stride pianist Saito Keito took over on keyboards.

    There were also nods to the “soy sauce music” of Hosono’s early solo career, with songs like “Pom Pom Joki” from 1976’s Bon Voyage Co. and “Pekin Duck” from 1975’s Tropical Dandy. The evening closed with an all-hands-on-stage final encore of “Koi wa momoiro” from Hosono House, his 1973 solo debut album. Perhaps it was only to be expected that the set list included no nods toward any of Hosono’s great bands: Apryl Fool, Happy End, YMO, or H.I.S. He did, however, play a moving tribute to the recently deceased Endo Kenji, a cover of his friend’s “Nezumi Kore wa Taiheiyo Da.”

    Hosono has never liked being the front man: he feels more comfortable playing bass at the back of the stage than standing at the mike down front. He joked when his set began that he wished everyone in the audience would stop looking at him, and he seemed delighted when he left the stage for a couple of numbers midway through to give the backing band its turn in the spotlight. Then, when it came time to bring the main set to a close, he introduced the last number by saying, And this next song, thank god, is the last one. But he carries the unwelcome burden of fronting the band well: his easygoing humor and self-deprecation have their own unmistakable charisma. And his inimitable baritone voice (well, actually, imitable, as the Suzukis showed in their opening set) remains fully intact.

    Here’s a preview of Hosono’s just-released new CD, which is well worth your while:

    [Update on 11-22-2017]: Here’s a Japanese-language review of the concert, including video:
    Hosono Haruomi 11-2017 Nakano Sun Plaza concert review

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

    Posted in J-Pop,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)

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    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.

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    Sakuma Masahide: Renaissance Man of J-Rock

    Posted in J-Pop,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.

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    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.

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    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….

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