Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

This and That

Posted in Jazz,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other,Sumo,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the June 24th, 2010

We spent yesterday afternoon at the Field Museum of Natural History, taking in the “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age” exhibit. The centerpiece artifact is Lyuba, the one-month-old mammoth discovered frozen below the permafrost in northern Russia in 2007. She is remarkably well preserved for a creature some 40,000 years old: she is even cute in a baby animal sort of way. But as I gawked I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what separated this scientific exhibit from, say, the curios that drew crowds in 1840s and 50s New York to P.T. Barnum’s Museum. Well, it’s something to do with the kids on a summer afternoon, and it’s air conditioned.

(Image source)

If I were in England this weekend, I’d be trying to worm my way into the Glastonbury Festival. Among many others, one Raymond Douglas Davies will be taking the stage for a set on Sunday. A preview article notes the role the Kinks had in establishing this annual music festival back in 1970:

In 1970, founder and dairy farmer Michael Eavis decided to hold a music event and booked the Kinks for 500 pounds but, when they failed to show, got Marc Bolan instead.

Typical. Ray is a little better about these things nowadays, so presumably he will actually play his scheduled set.

Tonight, the plan is to catch the fabulous jazz chanteuse Dee Alexander in a free concert out on the Midway Plaisance. Summertime, and the living’s easy….

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Engaging Commodities, Day 1

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

Posted in Art,Film,J-Rock,Japanese film,Jazz,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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This and That: Science and Technology Edition

Posted in baseball,Current Events,Jazz,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the April 5th, 2010

We enjoyed a quiet Easter. I managed to get to church — but cheated, in that my “worship service” consisted of the Art Hoyle Quintet performance at Hyde Park Union Church, sponsored by the always wonderful Jazz Sundays series organized by the Hyde Park Jazz Society.

Some interesting science and technology news that’s caught my eye lately:

The lunatic notion that genetic codes found in nature can be patented is finally facing skeptical court scrutiny, the New York Times reported last week. For the sake of culture and scholarship, we really need to curb the voracious appetite for infinitely expanding intellectual property claims, and this seems a modest step in the right direction.

Are the problems faced by scientists trying to gear up the Large Haldron Collider actually the work of a Terminator sent from the future in a desperate attempt to head off an unwelcome scientific development? The possibility has been suggested in a series of recent scientific papers, Time magazine reports.

Finally, a whole slew of new technological devices and digital scientific analytical techniques are being applied to baseball. The conclusion from statistical crunching of multi-angle digitized tracking of pitches over the course of an entire season? That good pitchers paint the corners, while bad ones hang it over the plate. Now they’re turning their attention to batters and defenders and will not doubt reach many revolutionary hypotheses, such as declaring that batters should try to hit the ball with the sweet spot of the bat and that fielders should try to catch the ball with both hands. Ah, the marvels of science.

In the meanwhile, play ball! The Twins kick off their season tonight in Anaheim.

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Asakawa Maki (1942-2010)

Posted in J-Pop,Jazz,Music by bourdaghs on the January 18th, 2010

The Yomiuri newspaper is reporting (Japanese-language only) that legendary singer Asakawa Maki was found dead Sunday in a Nagoya hotel. She was 67 years old. A legendary, charismatic figure, she was the late 1960s “Queen of Underground Music.” Asakawa began appearing in Terayama Shuji’s experimental theatrical productions in 1968 and quickly became an icon of New Left culture. She released her debut album in 1970, featuring a melancholic singing style that combined jazz, blues, and chanson. Her persona coupled a cool, mysterious sexiness with searing intelligence. Asakawa always dressed in black and was usually surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke (or at least, that was the image). She continued to perform and record regularly over the decades and was in Nagoya this weekend for live appearances at a jazz club there.


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