Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Plague Year Listening: A Look Back

Posted in J-Pop,J-Rock,Jazz,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

1). How to buy music: Never, ever order your music from 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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What I Listened to in 2018

Posted in J-Rock,Jazz,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the December 27th, 2018

It’s that time of year: I’m enjoying reading people’s top-albums-of-the-year lists. So, for what it’s worth, here are the twenty 2018 albums I listened to the most, in alphabetical order:

Courtney Barnett, “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
Cero,”Poly Life Multi Soul”
Chai, “Pink”
Shemekia Copeland, “America’s Child”
Dave Davies,”Decade”
Ray Davies, “Our Country: Americana Act 2”
Dessa, “Chime”
Betty LaVette, “Things Have Changed”
Lykke Li, “So Sad So Sexy”
Janelle Monae, “Dirty Computer”
The Kinks, “Village Green Preservation Society” box set
Chris Mars, “Note to Self”
Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
Noname, “Room 25”
Ohmme, “Parts”
Parliament, “Medicaid Fraud Dogg”
Ike Reilly, “Crooked Love”
Robyn, “Honey”
Stew and The Negro Problem, “Notes of a Native Son”
Walter Wolfman Washington, “My Future is My Past”

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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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Wish I’d Had These Books in Hand Back Then

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Jazz,Music by bourdaghs on the July 19th, 2012

I finished writing my book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop in late 2010. Chapter Five, on 1970s New Music, was the last one I worked on; the other chapters were mostly finished (and published separately as articles and chapters) years before that. I was able to make a few last-minute revisions in the summer of 2011, but for the most part my work on the book was finished in 2010. Since then, several important new books have appeared in Japan. I wish I’d had these available to me when I was doing the research for the project. They would have not only made my job easier, they would have made the book better.

Sakoguchi Sanae’s (砂古口早苗) Bugi no joo: Kasagi Shizuko (『ブギの女王・笠置シヅ子』) (Gendai Shokan, 2010) is the first biography of Kasagi Shizuko, Japan’s early postwar “Queen of Boogie Woogie” (excluding a quickie autobiography that Kasagi published in 1948, which I do cite in the book). It includes many photographs and a useful chronology of Kasagi’s life. Sakoguchi’s book fills a definite need: I wonder why it took so long for someone to write up the remarkable story of Kasagi’s life?

Ue o muite aruko (『上を向いて歩こう』)(Iwanami Shoten, 2011) by Sato Go (佐藤剛) is another long-overdue study, this one on Sakamoto Kyu’s 1963 worldwide hit, “Sukiyaki,” which I take up in my chapter three. There are several other books out about Sakamoto’s life, which I cited, but this is the first book-length study to focus on the cultural repercussions of Sakamoto’s global smash, both inside and outside of Japan. Like me, Sato is interested in Sakamoto’s relation to contemporary Western popular music, including Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Yuasa Manabu (湯浅学)is a prominent music critic in Japan–and one of the participants, along with Hagiwara Kenta, in the taidan dialogue that was included in the Japanese translation of my book. Ongaku ga orite kuru (『音楽が降りてくる』 (Kawada Shobo Shinsha, 2011) is a collection of his articles and liner notes. It opens with a series of essays on 1970s New Music (Happy End, Hosono Haruomi, Endo Kenji, etc.), including the “rock in Japanese” debate that I write about. The other chapters range widely across genres and styles: Misora Hibari, Nakajima Miyuki, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, etc.

Wajima Yusuke’s (輪島裕介) Tsukurareta ‘Nihon no kokoro’ shinwa (『創られた「日本の心」神話』)(Kobunsha Shinsho, 2010) is a critical history of postwar Japanese popular music centered on the genre of enka. The winner of the Suntory Gakugeisho book prize, it starts off with a question I explore in my own book: was Misora Hibari really an enka singer?

All of the above are highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject. When I started studying the history of Japanese popular music back in the late 1990s, I was shocked by the paucity of reliable scholarship on the topic available in Japan. As the above titles suggest, the situation has improved considerably since then, and I think it will continue to get better as writers and scholars in Japan continue to reassess the crucial legacy of music in Japan’s modernity.

If you know of any other useful recent studies of Japanese popular music, please drop a line in the “Comments” section.

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Now Available: Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon–The Book

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Jazz,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the February 20th, 2012

My new book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, has just been published by Columbia University Press. It’s available in paperback through your local neighborhood bookstore, and there’s also a Kindle e-book version. Readers in Japan can order it through You can also order it directly from the publisher here.

Stay tuned: I’ll soon be adding a web feature over at including sound samples and other online resources relevant to the book.

Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here’s Kasagi Shizuko (the heroine of chapter one) performing her signature number, “Tokyo Boogie Woogie”:

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Counterfeiting China in 1930s Japan Pop Songs

Posted in J-Pop,Jazz,Music by bourdaghs on the February 2nd, 2012

An article I wrote about “continental melodies,” a 1930s genre of pop songs from Japan that mimicked China and Korea, has just been published. Taking their cue as much from Tin Pan Alley Orientalism as from contemporary “Yellow Music” on the continent, these seductive tunes enjoyed massive popularity in Japan during the early years of its war with China.

My essay, “Japan’s Orient in Song and Dance,” is included in the volume Sino-Japanese Transculturation: Late Nineteenth Century to the End of the Pacific War (Lexington Books, 2011), edited by Richard King; Cody Poulton and Katsuhiko Endo. In it, I try to rethink the genre through the lens of recent cultural studies work on American black-face minstrel shows. Here’s how I set up my interpretation of the genre:

Here, I take up a popular music genre that was closely associated with Ri Kōran [an enormously popular wartime Japanese singer and actress who “passed” as Chinese], but which aimed at a subtly different effect. I will look at three singers in particular: Watanabe Hamako, on whose hit song the movie Shina no yoru was based; Hattori Tomiko, who played a Japanese woman in that same film (for which her brother Hattori Ryōichi composed the score); and Kasagi Shizuko, who as Ryōichi’s protégé would emerge in the postwar era as the Japanese Queen of Boogie Woogie but who began her recording career a decade earlier. All three recorded tairiku merodei (大陸メロディ, continental melodies), a genre that enjoyed enormous popularity in the years following the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge incident. These songs incorporated Orientalist elements, both musically and lyrically, to signal fantasy forms of Chineseness. Moreover, Hamako and Tomiko in particular would sometimes appear in Chinese dresses with Chinese hairstyles and all three would occasionally sing phrases in Chinese. Hamako even recorded cover versions of Chinese songs. Despite these Orientalist flourishes, though, no one would ever mistake these singers for Chinese. Their performances included elements believed to be Chinese, but unlike Ri Kōran they made no attempt to “pass.” In fact, a large part of the enjoyment of their performed Chinese-ness lay in the unmistakable fact that the singers were Japanese. In other words, these performers engaged in a game of masquerade, and their songs produced pleasure by openly acknowledging their counterfeit status. What sort of Japan-China relationship did this genre of explicitly counterfeit culture entail?

You can watch Watanabe Hamako, the “Queen of Continental Melodies” perform her signature number “Shina no yoru” (China Nights, 1938) here.  You can also listen to jazz singer Kasagi Shizuko’s delirious “Hotto Chaina” (Hot China, 1939) here. And let me leave you with a contemporary performance by Hattori Tomiko of her 1938 hit “Manshu Musume” (Manchurian Girl), with Tomiko decked out in full Orientalist trimming:

A Blue New Year?

Posted in Jazz,Music by bourdaghs on the December 30th, 2011

The year 2011 took a heavy toll on Chicago blues: the deaths of Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith contributed to the sense that an era was passing rapidly. Will the art survive, and if so, in what form? Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune published an important series of extended pieces over the course of the year on the present state of the local blues scene, well worth checking out:

“21st Century Blues: Can an Ancestral Art Form Survive?” (June 5, 2011)

“Chicago Camp Teaches Kids Blues 101” (August 20, 2011)

“Playing the Blues in Black AND White” (November 26, 2011)

“Is This the Twilight of Blues Music?” (Dec. 28, 2011)

In fact, there is a rising generation of excellent mid-career blues artists–Michael Burks, Shemekia Copeland, Sean Costello and Larry McCray immediately come to mind. Alligator Records just celebrated its fortieth anniversary and is still going strong (as also reported by Reich in the Trib). We are also blessed with the continuing presence of many strong veteran performers: we have tickets to see Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater at SPACE up in Evanston on January 28, for example. In other words, the music is hardly dead–but it is, as Reich reports, in critical condition.

The City of Chicago has, incidentally, just announced that the 2012 Chicago Blues Festival will be held June 8-10.

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Chicago Jazz Festival 2010

Posted in Jazz,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the September 5th, 2010

My first three summers in Chicago, something always came up on Labor Day weekend to keep me away from the Chicago Jazz Festival, despite my best intentions. I was bound and determined to catch at least one evening’s worth of performances this year–and, for once, it worked out as planned. We nearly froze to death: for the first time all summer, it was actually a cold evening, but as more than one person noted, this was well suited to the “cool jazz” we were enjoying.

We arrived Friday evening at Millennium Park as the Mike LeDonne Trio with special guest saxophonist Eric Alexander were winding down a groovy, organ-driven set. This was followed by flutist Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth ensemble, a double orchestra: two cellos, two trumpets, two drummers, two flutes, etc. They opened with a short piece and then proceeded to the main event, the premiere of a new 40-plus minute composition titled “The Arc of O.” It’s a complex piece of music, with one foot in twentieth-century classical idioms and the other in avant-garde jazz. Episodic in structure, it ranged across time signatures, styles, and keys, though there were a few repeated gestures that seemed to link the pieces together: the swelling crescendos played by the whole orchestra, for example, or emotional passages of scatting by the two vocalists. Mitchell spent most of her time conducting, though she did perform a few exciting passages on her flute. They closed their set with another short piece which she introduced as “The Arc of the Wind.”

Next up were the headliners, veteran Chicago pianist Ramsey Lewis celebrating his 75th birthday with a very sharp set by his trio (Larry Gray on bass, Leon Joyce on drums, both excellent). They opened with a creative workout on the old spiritual “Wade in the Water,” which Lewis has been playing for years. But much of the program was devoted to recent Lewis compositions, including “To Know Her….” from his recent collaboration with the Joffrey Balley. They also performed several keenly intelligent new pieces that had never been played live before–several of which don’t even have titles yet. The set featured terrific, confident interplay among the veteran musicians. For his encore Lewis turned in a very playful version of his 1966 hit, “The In Crowd,” including allusions to Chopin, the “Sex in the City” theme song, and who knows what else. At the end, the crowd serenaded Lewis with a round of “Happy Birthday to You.”

My teeth were chattering from the cold by the end of the evening. But I am delighted to have finally attended the Chicago Jazz Festival, and I look forward to many return visits in the future. Next year, I’ll try to remember to bring a jacket.

Here’s Howard Reich’s review of the evening from the Chicago Tribune. And here’s fan video of the Lewis encore:

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The Autumn Concert Season

Posted in Classical,J-Pop,J-Rock,Jazz,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the August 12th, 2010

Well, our upcoming fall concert-going season is pretty well set, and I’m looking forward to some exciting live music. Here are the events we’re planning to attend. How about you?

September 4-5: Chicago Jazz Festival (one of the nation’s premiere jazz events, and it’s all free!)

September 19: Aimee Mann (Old Town School of Folk Music)

September 25: Hyde Park Jazz Festival (Almost as good as the Chicago Jazz Festival, and it’s all free, too)

September 30: Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Symphony Center; Riccardo Muti conducts Mozart and Haydn)

October 1: Eels (Metro)

October 26: Sakamoto Ryuichi (Vic Theatre)

November 13: Stew and The Negro Problem, featuring Heidi Rodewald (Museum of Contemporary Art)

December 2: Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Symphony Center; Pierre Boulez conducts Schoenberg and Janáček)

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