Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

A Light Bulb Goes On in my Mind

Posted in Books,Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the June 16th, 2019

I am reading Mark Fisher’s brilliant posthumous collection, K-Pop: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016) (edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books, 2018) and come across the following passage from his 2004 essay, “K-Punk, or the Glampunk Art Pop Discontinuum.” In the piece, Fisher is trying to define the position of glam rock (in particular, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music) in a history of UK youth subcultures.

Here’s the passage that caught me up (p. 279):

After the Fifties, pop and art have always been reversible and reciprocally implicating in British culture in the way that they are not in America. […] British pop’s irreducible artificiality makes it resistant to the Romanticist naturalisation that the likes of Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs achieved in respect of American rock. There’s no way of grounding British art pop in a landscape.

Not a natural landscape in any case. […] in the late-twentieth century the ‘space’ of the internal-psychological was completely penetrated by what [J.G.] Ballard calls the media landscape.

When the British pop star sings, it is not ‘the land’ which speaks (and what does Marcus hear in the American rock he mythologises in Mystery Train if not the American land?) but the deterritority of American-originated consumer culture.

Fisher is guilty of a bit of over-generalization here, of course, but he’s also onto something. And the light bulb goes on in my head:

“We are the Village Green Preservation Society, God save Donald Duck, vaudeville, and variety” (“Village Green Preservation Society,” The Kinks, 1968)

“We’ll surf, like they do in the U.S.A.” (“Australia,” The Kinks, 1969)

“Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy/But my heart lies in old West Virginia/Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee/Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen” (“Muswell Hillbilly,” The Kinks, 1971)

“Everything around me seems unreal/Everywhere I go it looks and feels like America” (“Working Man’s Cafe,” Ray Davies, 2007).

Of course, Ray Davies had this realization long before I did.

Americana. It started as a flickering light sending black-and-white images through an old movie projector. Faces of cowboys and Indians, superheros, the good guys victorious over the emissaries of evil. Then as I grew the music took over. Rock, jazz, skiffle…the blues…and country songs came to liberate me, a north Londoner, growing in [sic] up in the austerity of postwar Britain. The music gave me hope and feeling that I could express myself in song through this new art form called rock and roll.

(Ray Davies, Americana: The Kinks, the Road, the Story [Sterling, 2013], p. viii)

Comments Off on A Light Bulb Goes On in my Mind

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”

Comments Off on What I Listened to in 2018

Yet Another Unjustly Overlooked Song by The Kinks

Posted in Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the July 25th, 2014

Do yourself a favor and take three minutes to listen to this 1971 recording, an outtake from the Muswell Hillbillies sessions.. Make sure you read Ray Davies’ lyrics, too. The song has everything: (working) class consciousness, a critique of urban renewal, a deft melody and la-di-doo-da nonsense syllables, which here take on distinct semiotic content. You’re welcome.

“Lavender Lane” (source)
Written by: Raymond Douglas Davies
Published by: Davray Music Ltd.

Daisy and Teddy had two Cockney boys
And two Cockney sisters and they all shared their toys
With old Rosie Rooke and Peggy O’Day
They all lived together down in Lavender Lane

Lavender Lane, oh my Lavender Lane
The people were poor and the people were plain
They didn’t have much but they shared what they gained
Contented to drift along Lavender Lane

Oh Lord, such a pity that the world’s gotta change

All of the houses were old and decayed
The people were proud who lived in Lavender Lane
Oh Lord, Lavender Lane
Oh Lord, Lavender Lane

Sometimes I wanna get back home and do the things we did before
And break down the old school tie, and all the la-di-do-dahs

The knobs and the toffs sent down two la-di-dahs
To mix with the people and to drink in their bars
They looked down their noses and they puffed their cigars
Instead of ‘off’ they say ‘orf’, instead of ‘yeah’ they say ‘ya’

And oh Lord
And Ted and Daisy said, ‘what a shame’

They’ll knock all the houses down for financial gain
And send all the people to a new town estate
Oh Lord, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane

Sometimes I wanna get back home and do the things we did before
And break down the old school tie, and all the la-di-do-dahs

In the great London Council a decision was made
By the bright civil servants and the people in grey
They sent all their navvies with their buckets and spades
To knock all the houses down in Lavender Lane

But worst of all, they’ve taken all the people away
Now only memories are all that remain
Of all of the people down in Lavender Lane
Oh Lord, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane
Whoa-oh, they gutted Lavender Lane

Comments Off on Yet Another Unjustly Overlooked Song by The Kinks

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….

Comments Off on Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)

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.

Comments Off on Scenes from a Month in the Life

Featured Book of the Week

Posted in Books,J-Pop,J-Rock,Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the March 6th, 2012

Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop is the “featured book of the week” on the Columbia University Press blog. Among other things, they’re giving away a free copy, but hurry: the contest ends this Friday. Details are available here.

In celebration, let me leave you with “To My Dear Friends” (Waga yoki tomo yo), a 1975 hit for Kamayatsu Hiroshi. Kamayatsu is one of the heroes of my chapter four, “Working within the System: Group Sounds and the Commercial and Revolutionary Potential of Noise.” The tune, composed by Yoshida Takuro, was the biggest hit of Kamayatsu’s solo career, which followed his stint as resident musical genius for 1960s’ garage rockers, The Spiders.

Kamayatsu was the son of Tib Kamayatsu, a Japanese-American jazz singer whose career in Tokyo dated back to the 1930s. He debuted in the late 1950s as a country-western and rockabilly singer before joining the Spiders. He was one of the first Japanese rock-and-rollers to really “get” the new Merseybeat sound when it exploded onto the scene in 1964 and went on to compose many of the Spiders’ hits. In his seventies now, “Monsieur” Kamayatsu remains an active force on the Japanese music scene today. One of my biggest thrills as a music fan came in 2006, when I ended up sitting a couple of rows away from him in the balcony for a show by the reunited Sadistic Mika Band. It took enormous will power to stop me from cornering him to gush about how much I love his work.

Incidentally, Kamayatsu was (and is) a huge Kinks fan. Listen to the opening riff from the Spiders’ 1966 recording of “Little Roby,” lifted more or less directly from the Kinks’ “Set Me Free.”

Comments Off on Featured Book of the Week

Unhealthy Obsession

Posted in J-Pop,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the November 10th, 2010

I have about 20,000 songs stored on my I-Pod. A few months ago, I became haunted by the bizarre notion that I should listen to them all at least once: some vague idea about the ethics of ownership, about taking responsibility for music that I’d decided to hoard. I started going out of my way to listen to tracks with a 0 play count, proceeding alphabetically by artist name.

I’d gotten up to K with that method. But I was faltering, because this procedure required me to devote, for example, several days to listening solely to the Beatles or Blur. I’d get bored listening over and over to the same artist. Wasn’t there a better way?

I finally figured it out this past Monday: I’ve created a “Smart Playlist” consisting of all the songs that have zero plays (excluding those from the genres of classical and podcast) and then use the “shuffle songs” setting when I play it. The I-Pod now randomly plays songs from the list and, because I used the “live update” setting, it eliminates them from the collection once they been played. I started out with about 3500 songs in the playlist; that’s down to 3300 at this point.

You can’t imagine how pleased I am with myself over this technological breakthrough. I’m exploring the nether regions of my music collection, skipping around from artist to artist so rapidly that I never find any particular style tedious.

While typing in this entry, I’ve listened too:

“All Night Stand,” The Kinks (bootleg unreleased demo)
「慕情」, Southern All Stars
“Love’s Gonna Walk Out on Me,” Toots and the Maytals
“COLORS,” Utada Hikaru

Four down, 3296 to go…. I’m so excited about this.

It’s kinda sad, really.

Comments Off on Unhealthy Obsession

This and That

Posted in Classical,Current Events,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the November 5th, 2010

It’s been a jumbled week, with little time for arranging thoughts into anything so orderly as sentences.

A week ago Thursday, I made my first visit of the season to Symphony Center to see Jaap van Zweden lead the local favorites in a very fine program of Mahler, Shostakovich, and John Luther Adams. Both Andrew Patner of the Sun-Times and and John von Rhein of the Tribune loved the Shostakovich but had reservations about the Adams and the Mahler, but I heard it the other way around. My usual bad taste, of course.

Adams’ “Dark Waves” was a hypnotic piece, a single sustained wave of sound that develops details of texture and dynamics across its twelve minutes. Adams was in the house and took a bow with the orchestra after the piece. The Mahler consisted of four songs from his “Des Knaben Wunderhorn,” in which the composer wears his charming hat, as opposed to his bombastic helmet (think, for example, of the last movement from his Fourth Symphony). Measha Brueggergosman was the guest vocalist, and she performed with grace and wit. Patner and von Rhein complained about her vocal chops, but my only fear was that we might all be blinded: she wore a shiny all-platinum dress and I thought somebody might take a flash picture. The program closed with Shostakovich’s magnificent (and seldom played) Symphony No. 8 in C minor. The local newspaper critics both fall over themselves in their rush to praise the performance, but I thought the long first movement was rather perfunctory. It did come to life in the latter half, though, with particularly brilliant performances from the woodwinds.

I’ll be back to see the Chicago Symphony again in early December, when Pierre Boulez conducts Janáček and Schoenberg: more glorious twentieth-century classical. I can’t wait.

In the meanwhile, out there in the world there appears to have been an election of some sort. Why anyone would hand the keys back to the same people who crashed the car two years ago is a mystery to me, but then again democracy always is a little bit mysterious.

David Byrne, in the meanwhile, is marrying folks in NYC. Stew is out on the road, playing gigs (he’ll be here in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art next week). And Dave Davies makes it painfully clear that the Kinks won’t be reuniting anytime soon.

Older brother Ray, on the other hand, continues touring in Europe. Let me leave you with some fan video from Sunday night in Paris and Monday night in Amsterdam. Here’s hoping next week is a quiet one, for you and me both.

Comments Off on This and That

Ray Davies and Friends

Posted in Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the September 22nd, 2010

Head Kink Ray Davies’ new album will be released in the UK on November 1. See My Friends will consist of duets with a variety of musicians, covering Kinks’ Klassiks from the Katalog. The U.S. release date is still unknown, but there are hints of a U.S. tour near the end of this year.

Here’s the track listing from the U.K. version of the album, as announced on Ray’s Facebook page:

Better Things – Ray Davies & Bruce Springsteen

Celluloid Heroes – Ray Davies, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora

Days/This Time Tomorrow – Ray Davies & Mumford & Sons

Long Way From Home – Ray Davies, Lucinda Williams & The 88

You Really Got Me – Ray Davies & Metallica

Lola – Ray Davies & Paloma Faith

Waterloo Sunset – Ray Davies & Jackson Browne

‘Til The End of The Day – Ray Davies, Alex Chilton & The 88

Dead End Street – Ray Davies & Amy MacDonald

See My Friends – Ray Davies & Spoon

This Is Where I Belong – Ray Davies & Black Francis

David Watts – Ray Davies & The 88

Tired Of Waiting – Ray Davies & Gary Lightbody

All Day And All Of The Night/Destroyer – Ray Davies & Billy Corgan

[Update: The album now has its own webpage, complete with sound samples and video clips.)

Comments Off on Ray Davies and Friends

Thanks, Ray

Posted in Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the August 30th, 2010

Last week at a music festival in Denmark, Ray Davies revived one of the many great unknown Kinks’ songs, “The Way Love Used To Be,” with full orchestra. The original Kinks’ version (listen here) appeared on the obscure soundtrack to the 1971 film Percy.

Comments Off on Thanks, Ray
Next Page »