Sunday, December 31, 2006

Most bestest quote of the year

From last weekend:

"So what do you do, Ted?
"I teach yoga."
"What a coincidence! I work in an Indian restaurant!"


On the turntable: Audio Active, "It's a Stony!"
On the nighttable: Elisabeth Bumiller, "May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons"

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Minus Zero

Kitayama dusted...
Daimonji traced in white...
A snowman slowly dying in the riverbed...

...remnants of last night's snow


On the turntable: The Dukes of Stratosphere, "Chips from the Chocolate Fireball"
On the nighttable: Collins&LaPierre, "Freedom at Midnight"

Friday, December 29, 2006

Japan's four seasons. Now daily!

Earlier this month I mentioned Hide-san, who recently published a children's book on Orcas. He's also working on a photo project on the cats who live in Osaka's Nagai-koen. It's amazing how they recognize him from far off, and come running for a back rub in exchange for a good pose. Besides the camera, he also carries a bottle of eye drops to ease the rampant conjunctivitis common to strays.

As we walked, we were shocked to see a sakura tree in bloom, during these waning days of December. OK, I'm really scared now.

Even more so when the snow began...


On the turntable: UNKLE, "Never Never Land"
On the nighttable: Gary Snyder, "Passage Through India"

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Recalled Ford

Of course I didn't feel the same sort of spiritual connection with Gerald Ford as I did with James Brown. But I did actually meet him once in Vail, CO, during the 1988 World Alpine Ski Championships. It was at party that had living statues and huge ice sculptures, plus some of the world's top athletes. The whole time I talked with Ford, I couldn't help think about Chevy Chase and his, "No Problem." Ford was the only president I've met.

Celebrity deaths, like plane crashes, tend to happen in threes. (Schwarzenegger got off with a broken leg.) Scared to think who may be next...


On the turntable: Gil Scott-Heron, "Pieces of a Man"
On the nighttable: Nirad C. Chaudhuri, "The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian"

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hankyu Haiku

Tip of a black boot,
spied through
the train's open doors.


On the turntable: "Afro Celt Sound System, " Sound Magic"
On the nighttable: "Traveller's Tales: India"

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who Stole the Soul?

The world needs it more than ever...

RIP JB.



On the turntable: "James Brown's Funky Xmas"
On the nighttable: Kristal/Byrne, "CBGB"

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Adrift

Rereading Donald Richie's 1970 classic "The Inland Sea." I read it shortly after coming to Japan and then, as now, I was mesmerized. Yet this time I read the book with eyes that have seen much of the country and have pored over thousands of words in the local vernacular. It is not that I now understand the country as much as I have come to some sort of understanding. Throughout the book Richie bemoans the encroaching change, bringing as it does the imminent death of tradition. Yet 25 years after he took the voyage which gave birth to the book, I sat reading it on the edge of the Nog's own inland sea, the Nakaumi, marvelling at how much of what he wrote was still familiar in 1995. To me, there seem to have been far more changes in this decade between readings. And as these changes occur, the book moves further and further into the realm of fiction.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Perry's Black Ships may have opened Japan to the world, but it wasn't until the dawn of the twenty-first century that the black 0's and 1's of the internet opened the world to Japan.



On the turntable: Ali Farka Toure, "Niafunke"
On the nighttable: Stephen Turnbull, "Japanese Fortified Temples and Monestaries AD 710-1602"

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Osaka underground

"Do you know all the words in English?'
I was in the Indian Consulate to pick up my visa. There was a woman there, vacuuming the carpet in the lobby. This was how she started the conversation.
'Um, no. I probably know less than half."
She wrinkled her nose and walked into the hall. I too went out, heading to the elevators. When I got on, she was already there.
She didn't look Indian per-se, and I was sure she wasn't Japanese. "Where are you from?" I asked.
"Tibet'
"Ah--"
On the first floor she told me, "I have to the hoist the flag every morning and now I have to... What's the opposite word of hoist?"
"Take down?" Slight uncertainty in my intonation.
"Oh. That's easy. Do you know the word "Uber?"
"Yeah, it means, like, super. But it's German"
"What about tet-a-tet? "
"That's French. It means face to face."
"And gesundheit?"
"That's German. It means--"
"Bless you," we say in harmony.
She told me, "There was an American guy yesterday who didn't know most of these words."
"I read alot I guess."
She moved outside toward the Indian flag hanging near the corner of the building. "It was nice talking to you today. I'm Padmo."
"Ted. Good talking to you Padmo." I bring my hands to namaste, and move along the sidewalk.

My steps take me to the other end of the Indian subcontinent to a small Sri Lankan restaurant. I'd found it last Friday before the Kodo show. The owner, knowing I teach yoga in the Kyo, was surprised to see me again . He had made me a veggie curry without my asking, and seemed a little amused when I ordered beer. I ate to the songs of Billie Holliday on the speakers. He asked me a little about my visit to his country two years ago. He told me that it wasn't very safe now.

I have to hurry a little to make it back to the Kyo on time for my taiko lesson. The subway isn't crowded yet. I have to stand but I have room to read. When I hit Umeda, I pick up the pace, turning it into mindfulness training by attempting to walk in straight lines without yielding or changing my pace. At one point I decide to look past the backs of the people immediately in front of me and focus instead on the middle distance. After a few seconds of this, something feels strange. I assume it's because this isn't the usual way that one negotiates crowds, and that my eyes are rebelling. Then I realize where I am. A decade ago, CLo and I came to this place, in the depths of the subway terminal. It is essentially a huge open space, broken up by tall, white, almost Roman pillars. In our universe, there are an infinite number of points and an infinite number of lines intersecting them. What had so amazed CLo and I was that people seemed to be moving along every possible line of motion. It is a sight so seemingly impossible that it brought out laughter, then as now. A visual koan. So despite the chances of my being late, I stop and watch and marvel. It isn't everyday that the universe takes off her clothes.



On the turntable: Poe, "Haunted"
On the nighttable: Haruki Murakami, "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman"

Friday, December 22, 2006

Nation State of Decay

Bushwhacking along the deer trails around Himukai Jinja
minor trails emanating in all directions
"be careful Miki."
"daijob---bonk!"
down she goes.
Up past the buttress fortress hostess home of
a woman whose cold, black eyes
hide a colder, blacker soul.
'There's no there there."
Cross the bridge over an abandoned museum
built in the Gunkanjima school of
creeping vines and collapsing floors.
Bemoan the fate of curlicue waterslides
spiralling into bankrupcy and ruin.
Have we hiked into an Eliot poem?

In a purer land stands massive Agon-shu temples,
giving rise to kung fu chop socky illusions.
Climb the broad staired lair of evil Mr. Kwon,
whose bald headed minions fill the courtyard
holding a forest of spears.
We kick and spin and yelp and kick,
percussive symphony of
steel spearhead clangs
body cavity bass thump
woosh of sliced air
kiai fills.
Blue pajamas at the mercy of centrifugal force and gravity.

Hill of the Shogun reveals jagged-teeth cityscape,
forested slopes in filmatic glow
striped temple roof of yellow leaf and gray tile
lone orange maple defies the season.
Footfalls in black mud
down a mountain far older than man
walking a trail used
by people when people were still people.
Leading to a 1200 year old city of
machines with gears and teeth,
steam and breath,
RAM and hippocampus.
Yet we'll return to the mountains again
& a barked shin drawing blood
& a sudden cold wind raising goose flesh
& muscles screaming for lactic acid.
For it is in the failings of the body
Where we feel most human.

On the turntable: "African Angels"
On the nighttable: Kerouac/ Johnson, "Door Wide Open"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Suddenly Last Summer Last

The walking theme which has reappeared throughout my recent posts really began during the last weekend of September. MatsuMiki and I started the weekend with one of Dana's patently fun yoga classes at Furla, then set off into the city. Miki was in high spirits, which amazed me since she'd spent the night on a bus. Her easy laugh and light chitchat carried us along until we found ourselves in front of a large temple. A festival was in full swing, and as we stood there looking, an old man came up and gave us free tickets, entitling us not only to admission, but also to soba and snowcones. Free! So we ate, sitting on the steps of the temple, trying to see who was having more fun--the kids or the drunks.
About fifty meters away was Rainy Day Cafe. Miki had wanted to surprise Yuko-san, a friend who ran this place. Unfortunately we found it closed. As we were peeking thru the glass, thumbs raised to brows, who should spot us but Yuko, who was spending the day here in order to catch up on a translation for Coyote, the magazine she works for. She invited us in for coffee. We spent a couple happy hours here, the women catching up, me browsing the amazing collection of Beat books. Yoko told me how much trouble she was having with her current translation project and handed me a piece of paper. I found that I was holding the only existing copy of an essay Gerry Lopez wrote on yoga philosophy. Great surprise for me there.
At dusk, Miki and set off toward the heart of the Yamanote. The Roppongi Hills building was our landmark, standing huge and backlit against an overcast sky, the lights of the city turning the clouds the color of antifreeze. We wove thru Aoyama cemetary and ducked under tunnels, but no matter where we stood, or which way we turned, that tower still loomed above. I flashed on a scene from the '76 version of King Kong, where Jeff Bridges heads toward the Twin Towers to save Jessica Lange. Arriving finally at Mori's folly, we met with Dylan, an artist and former roommate of Miki's back in the Kyo. She and her husband Shinobu led us away from all that neon and glass, down not exactly a hill but into what could be more considered a hole, at the bottom of which were a dozen or so house of pre-war vintage. We settled in with wine and conversation, Shinobu entertaining us with stories about noisy neighbors and thin walls. In the house next door were a middle-aged man and his hard-of-hearing mother. Dylan said that their loud arguments more than made up for the lack of television.

The next day, MatsuMiki and I continued our walk, this time thru the forests and moss-covered graveyards of Kamakura. Three bows to D.T. Suzuki, then on into the hills, dropping down to the pirate's lair of Zeniarai Benten to wash our material wealth, and on to the Daibutsu to meditate on its impermanence as we paid admission. Queueing in the rain to enter the giant statue, where once inside we found--nothing. Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Back in Tokyo, we further reflected on this balance in the teahouse behind Leza's house, where we spent a rainy night. The good food and wine served as samsaric anchors for the lofty conversation in the main house.

Seeking another pendulum swing the next day at YogaFest. Inside the building there were dozens of yogis and yoginis clutching their mats and water bottles as they waited for their next workshop. There were also an equal number of fashionistas with their hard faces. They say it takes 43 muscles to frown, but only 17 to smile, so I reckon these latter folks were getting a damn good workout. After Leza's enjoyable pair yoga class we tried Miura Toshiro's workshop. I really found myself hooked on Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.
Afterward, as we rode the Shinkansen into a sun setting on the last day of summer, I had no idea that I'd be back in Tokyo a few days later, to begin intensive training. Yoga, and lots of it, would be the theme for autumn.



On the turntable: "Africa Fete 99"
On the nighttable: John Dougill, "Kyoto"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Architectural Dance Steps

I've mentioned in these pages that I was worried about the increase in posts about music. The fear lies in not knowing the proper steps while "dancing about architecture," a famous quip that I'd attribute to Dorothy Parker, though not without conjecture. Yet I also seem to recall Goethe's claim that architecture is frozen music, so there you go. Whatever the case, I can't write about last weekend without mentioning music.

Friday night I was in Osaka, to catch Kodo's annual year end show there. Enjoyable as always. It started out with clackers which resonated loudly thru my head to the point that the sound cleared out my sinuses. Much welcome relief after days of rain. Marcin and I sat omnipotently up in the balcony, our wisecracks drawing frightening-close comparisons with the two old codgers from the Muppet show. Many of the musical pieces tread familiar ground, though it was nice to see Yoshikazu play Odaiko again. After his long solo, as he knelt in his own sweat, back heaving, I imagined him thinking, "I'm getting too old for this shit."
Afterward, a few of us went backstage to say our hellos, then moved on to some trendy spot for a New Year's party. Later, our mad dash for trains was epic, missing the last Keihan train by five minutes, the last Hankyu by one, me humming "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown" until stepping aboard a warm JR train filled with drunks.

Saturday, MatsuMiki and I went to visit Keith and Masumi at their new digs in rural Kyoto. Local Legend Tim was in town for the party, which included a few of the local housewives and their kids. After dinner, we started to play some acoustic versions of Keith's songs. Although I've taken loads of drumming workshops this year, I haven't played in front of an audience since June, and was looking forward to connecting musically with my friends. But before things began to really cook, one of the kids fell down, drawing blood. Game over, man.

Sunday I spent drumming, three hours on Miyake, three on Yatai. Neither of these pieces are difficult musically, but require serious demands physically, particularly the calves, shoulders, and abs.. (My arms are still heavy as I write this post.) After the workshop, I rushed over to KyoDai's Seibu Kodo for Big Frog Day. I've long wanted to see this place, the center of late '60s student riots and still beyond University control. (Back in Isla Vista, I had been equally happy to see radical bands like Public Enemy, Disposable Heroes, and Rage Against the Machine play in the former Bank of America building torched during anti-war protests in 1970.) Passing thru a torii arch painted psychedelic colors, into an open lot now in full hippie vibe. I'm sure most of the usual Kyoto longhairs were here, washing down fry bread with Chai, or buying new clothing made of hemp. Many more were inside, watching Nami-san going thru his set. I've seen Nami's gigs a dozen times and have played percussion for him occasionally. (Even Ken-chan banged away on tin cups at one show.) He seems to follow some kind of hippie underground railway, playing each town with a collective of local musicians like myself. But this was the first time I'd seen him play fully fleshed out with a large band, including a young drummer playing with what I initially thought were rather unimaginative fills. But the main difference is that he was up there and I wasn't. Another quick impression was that the young girl singing backup sounded a lot better than Isako and her Yoko Ono-esque whelps and yawps. I assumed that these backup musicians were some KyoDai students. Imagine my shock when they later came out alone to play the second set. It had been Big Frog all along. Rather than Nami opening for them, they had chosen to play together. On their own tunes, they were really incredible, no real surprise considering that they're essentially the Phish of Japan. Throughout the entire show, a couple of artists were creating their visions, spray-painting white designs on clear plastic sheets hanging behind the stage. It was like watching spiders at work. Meanwhile, the band was cranking thru some really ripping songs, and despite my extreme fatigue I still found the energy to dance, far in the back with the drunks and other casualties. A couple nice hippie touches to the show were a dog wandering the stage and yawning, plus Nami-san missing his cue to rejoin the band. He wandered onstage midsong, played a few chords before putting down his guitar, made some bizarre hand gestures, then wandered off again. (Not unlike the dog, really.) Around this point I noticed Isako, having just arrived late from a long drive down from Tottori. When it was over, we both went backstage. I really felt guilty about initially underrating the band's drummer since he turned out to be an extremely friendly and nice guy. The gang seemed to be settling in with their respective substances and I didn't want to intrude, so after a short visit with Nami, I headed back out to the friendly freak scene outside. I'm sure there were some other friends around, but I was too tired to dive in. Nor did I want to linger too long on the fringe, so I created space by heading home to a Herzog DVD and his own unique take on lovable outsiders.



On the turntable: Adjabel, "Acoustic Revolution"
On the nighttable: Kerouac, Saijo, Welch, "Trip Trap"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Please accept this Laurel and Hardy handshake...

I'd like to humbly thank the editors of Time magazine for choosing me as "Person of the Year." Quite an Honor.



On the turntable: Francis Cabrel, "Samedi Soir Sur La Terre"
On the nighttable: Donald Richie, "The Inland Sea"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Street Hiking

On the day Ben-chan came to town, I had to go to Osaka to get my visa to India. Since I had hours to kill before his flight, I thought I'd pass the day on foot. I ducked into a small cafe offering cheap 200 yen coffee. The cafe was called, "Days," the name referring to what was taken off my life due to all the tobacco smoke. Escaped quickly, to the fresh air sidewalks of Osaka. Walking unfixed, turning right angles at random in emulation of that Windows screensaver. I relished this feeling, of winter sun on my face and new delights before my eyes. I've spent way too much time online this year, and was happy that I'd recently begun to "boot the computer." I really miss this aimlessness, time passing by the rhythm of my footfalls rather than on second-hand ticks; chasing the spectre of that amblin' prophet, Aaron Cometbus. I used to pass whole days this way, thumbing thru second hand book shops, people watching in parks, searching for dollar Burritos and good cheap coffee in those days before Starbucks. Walk, eat , read, write. These days, I seem to do this only while abroad, hearing the slap of my boots on the pavement take on foreign sounds. I want to reclaim that feeling of seeing the famiiar made fresh every day.

And I walked on, ducking in and out of shops to chat up their young owners, stopping often to snap a photo or jot my thoughts down in my moleskin. One common denominator throughout south Osaka is the music. For a region that takes pride in being at the forefront of alternative youth culture (and Shibuya is the same way), the theme songs are certainly commercial. It takes the monicker, "R&B," label that seems to be reapplied every decade or so, replaced by posthumous labels like "soul" or "funk." But replace that "B" with "P", throw in a "C" and an "A" and you get closer to the truth.

After two lunchs and too much caffeine, clock time kicked in once again, telling me I needed to head to the airport and pick up my friend. Feet, we should do this more often.


On the turntable: Agent Orange, "Sonic Snake Session"
On the nighttable: Prince Naruhito, "The Thames and I"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

So Many Roads...

Ben-chan was in town last week. And as we do when I visit him in San Franscisco, we walked. We were once again pioneers of our route,
up to Oku-no-in,with it's gooseflesh satori waterfall,
down the Path of Philosophy to Honen-in and it's leaf forever flowing,
past Ginkakuji to my house & yard awash with yellow debris,
over Zokei mountain to a cheap curry lunch,
along Shirakawa stream to Yoshida yama, where old men stroll in deep thought thru the garden of gods,
over to Shinnyo-do where the pout of an actress clashes with trad kimono,
through the forested graves toward Kurodani's massive dark gate,
opening into Okazaki and a refuel at 58 Cafe,
then on Sanjo, Gion, Pontocho, dodging drunk holiday party conga lines,
& winding up at Hill of Tara for music and pints.

Two days later, following the tunnels of Fushimi Inari, past the runners winding up their annual 36 peak marathon. Down through the villages and remote subtemples of Tofukuji, then back into the woods again, twisting toward the open back gate of Kiyomizu, its wide trails crowded with late leaf viewers now looking downward. Along the cobbled multi-year slopes to Maruyama Park and an picture postcard English tea shop Beatrix Potter nightmare.

And, as always, superimposed upon this physical map is the map of conversation, detailed by the meanderings of our thoughts. Yet both of us, as we stand at the brink of new and unfamiliar decades of age, find that those landmarks we'd long steered by have ceased to hold true, as if the languages that they are written in have not yet been properly translated.




On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "So Many Roads"
On the nighttable: Oyama Shiro, "A Man with No Talents"


Friday, December 15, 2006

Life imitates Art Who?

Reading "Dharma Bums" again, for the fourth time. The author often gets criticized, but this book still makes my top ten. The first time I read it was during my last summer in Tucson, at a time when I'd just finished college but was not yet willing to give up the lifestyle. It was a summer of record heat waves and broken air-conditioners, forcing my housemates and I to take the party outside and play acoustic music from the roof. (That was the first time I realized I had a voice good enough to sing with.) During the day I worked as a whistle-toting rangler of poolside children, nights I waited tables. But mostly I read, getting to those things not included in the playlist for my creative writing degree, devouring the oeuvre of Kerouac, Henry Miller, Edward Abbey (then, a recently deceased Tucson native), and for some reason, Tom McGuane. "Dharma Bums" and its protagonist stayed with me.

In Santa Barbara, I took the Far Eastern-spiced Boho simplicity thing to the extreme of living in my 1973 VW bus. I was really busy taking anthro classes at the university, plus working two jobs in a fish restaurant and used book store. Figuring I spent most of my free time outside anyway, I thought I'd save on rent and help pay my way to Japan. What I didn't foresee was the rainiest winter in 50 years. Instead of passing my days on the trails or at the beach, I instead found myself holed up at the library and in various cafes around UCSB, living quite well on less than 10 bucks a day. After about four months of this, the engine of my bus caught fire an hour out of Phoenix. Back in SB, I did the couch tour awhile, eventually squatting in what had been my last house. It was here, on the steep hillsides of the Riviera that I refound the book. The utilities of the house had recently been cut off, allowing me to look at it as a cabin lifestyle--reading by candlelight, cold showers as waterfall misogi, hikes down to the city for food.

And as "Dharma Bums" led me to Japan, the book naturally followed. My beat up, page-sheared 40 cent paperback copy now haunts the shelves of the city library back in the 'Nog. Somewhere I acquired another. And so it was today, reading in the bath, thinking how cool it would be to live in Japhy's pseudo-Japanese shack in the hills of Berkeley, until I realized, Hey man, you're living in an actual Japanese house on a mountainside in Kyoto, 'in the hills back of Northern-White-Water', where Japhy was gonna go hiking.



On the turntable: Ustad Zakir Hussein, "& Maestros"
On the nighttable: Jack Kerouac, 'The Dharma Bums"

(The saxophone solo poetics playing fine lines over the raga.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tuesday afternoon

The rain let up around lunchtime so we decided to hike after all. I met with MatsuMiki at Demachi, then biked west across town, facing peril in the form of narrow, over-trafficked streets, hood-mounted mirrors, and slow-walking grannys. My front tire went flat again, but didn't slow us down much. We arrived at Jujozan, eyeing quietly but mindfully the mamushi warning signs, and bowing hello to a couple old timers washing their muddy boots in a small stream. The path wound us up and around the 88 small temples which mimic their Shikoku counterparts. There were even "border-markers" letting us know when we were entering Tosa, for example. At each of these temples we'd stop and ring the bells, MatsuMiki taking the evens, me the odds. Many of the rope bells were now too worn to make a sound, so we'd strike the tiny bronze bowl instead, using wooden wands hand-made. Prayers were written on small cross sections of bark hanging nearby, the brush-written hiragana sounding out the Sanskrit syllables. We chanted these with hands in prayer, the sounds eventually growing familiar as dieties began to repear at various temples, their names written on wood.
Looking down from the peaks, the low clouds blotted out most of the city, except for a sea of tiled rooves, now flecked with dim lights on this dark day. It gave the illusion of a step back to a time before neon and concrete. Somewhere around temple 31, afternoon left us, so we picked up the pace, stopping only to bow and offer a simple "On" which we had by now noticed was the first syllable of each prayer. We figured that if an abbreviated "Om Namu Renge Kyo" is good enough for the Nichiren folk...
And it was like this that we walked into dusk, the light rapidly dimming into sepia. By the time we rang the bell of number 88, it was full dark. Nearby, a finger of land led to a lakeside shrine. Our god-rousing claps frightened some waterfowl, which flew off unseen into the dark.

Atop our bicycles again, we headed far to the south to Rohm's industrial park , lit once again for the holidays. The lights lined the bare branches of cherry trees, spreading like ganglia to stimulate the optical nerves of those strolling beneath. These rows of trees led us north again, pointing toward the warmth of La Jolla and a well cooked meal. Then on again, to the gaudy taishaku burst at St. Agnes school, still fireworks against the darkness of the Imperial park beyond.

Once again out of the cold, bellies full, we settled in with tea to watch the film, "Local Hero," a old favorite from way back. But midway through we began to nod, legs and heads heavy with fatigue and beer. Off to bed. Wednesday morning awaits...



On the turntable: "Costello and Nieve"
On the nighttable: Gary Snyder, "Danger on Peaks"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

You are where you live

The lock on my front door is somewhat difficult and can seemly only be opened by me. It's as if the house is unwilling to let anyone go; the psychic manifestation of a loneliness which I have yet to sense or acknowledge.


On the turntable: This Mortal Coil, "Blood"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

House of Leaves

This amazing novel is a real puzzle, written in a strange elliptical style, with bizarre textual layout and a multitude of footnotes and quotes. An actual labyrinth of a book. As you read, you can almost feel your fingers releasing one by one their grip on the precipice of linear reality.
In the margins of page 518 are some notes written in what looks like my brother's handwriting. But I'm sure I got this book from someone here in Japan.
Dragons await...



On the turntable: "Trance Planet"

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ame-mura

Three punk hipsters
Stand beside Triangle Park
Waiting for the light to change



On the turntable: "Putumayo Zydeco"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Once Upon a Time...

...there was a weekend. The weekend was just another ordinary weekend, but it started with a idea. Then the idea grew to become a plan. The plan was to go to Osaka and attend yet another publishing party. Only this time, a small group of us would be wearing kimono. Now, I've worn Japanese clothing countless times, usually samue for zen or hakama for martial arts. But I'd never worn kimono. I like the layered look that you can get with it, fashionable as well as funky. And I'd wear the style everyday if I didn't feel like such a gaijin poser. Yet MatsuMiki's logic was that since this pose is something that only gaijin can pull off, why not do it? So it was that we bought second-hand kimono at Tenjin market last week, and toted them to south Osaka to Yayoi's wickedly cool, pseudo-Santa Fe artspace.
But the rain had other ideas. After an hour or so of tea and all-around pouting, we gave up on the kimono idea and followed the twin iron rails awhile to get to the party. The event was held in honor of Hide-san's having published his most recent children's book, this one about orcas. It was a nice couple hours, where the rich conversation made up for the bland food. Since we were in Esaka, we went over to Crayon House to browse the organic foods and unusual collection of kids books. Then nearly a dozen of us packed into a grungy Chinese restaurant for a cheap supper. And back to the Kyo again, squeezed into a train of Saturday night revellers, one gender weighted down by pre-holiday shopping bags, the other by Bon-enkai booze.

The next day it was Yayoi who reversed the order by making the trek up to my place. Her husband, Yamamura Seiichi was playing a gig just down the hill from me. He is one of Kansai's best drummers and tours internationally. Tonite was the Kyoto debut of his new steel drum thing. After a quick, multi-ethnic meal of fajitas fried up in a nabe, we went to see the show. Unbelievable. Maybe one of the best gigs I've ever seen, played with mutual joy on the parts of the musicians and the crowd. I've never seen a band smile so much, or the Japanese dance so hard. Rather than the usual Milgrimesque para para moves, these guys actually began to pogo! I was off to one side of the stage, bantering with bandleader Sei-chan in my role as manzai, English teacher heckler. The band will play again March 16 at NegaPosi in Kyoto. I demand that you attend...



On the turntable: Bedrich Smetana, "Ma Vlast"
On the nighttable: Mark Z. Danielewski, "House of Leaves"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tippin' the Hat

Leaves from
my lone gingko
litter the neighbor's roof


On the turntable: Nico, "Ape Sounds"
On the nighttable: Jack Kerouac, "Book of Blues"

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Nanzenji to Daimonji

Leaving the taishoku crowds of Nanzenji behind
we climb through the forest,
bowing to multiple figures of Fudo,
pause to look through our steamed breath
at works of man bland and grey.
Blessed by the fingers of gods,
tendrils of light poking through clouds
darkening to annoint us with showers
under which foxes marry.


On the turntable: "Buddha Chillout"
On the nighttable: J. Thomas Rimer, "Kyoto Encounters"

Friday, December 01, 2006

Three-Minute Chart Topper

The broken clock above the heads of the speakers seemed a metaphor for how slowly time was passing. I was in Tokyo for a few days, and decided to attend a publishing party of sorts. But this one had an unusual theme. Two famous writers were playing songs and talking about them. The common thread was cover songs, and these two would play the original, then a cover version that differed wildly from the first. It seemed an interesting premise, but the problem was that these guys had nothing really to say. I'd expected some background information, something along the lines of Bob Dylan's amazing "Theme Time Radio Hour" program. Instead I got dialogue like:
"Wow, that song is really great."
"Yeah."
"He has a nice voice doesn't he?"
"He sure does."
"..."

I felt like I was watching two morning DJs, but without the cowbells and mirth. Really, how much can you say about music? It's so subjective. I am afraid to write too much about it since that seems to suck all the life out. Who was it that said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"? Another problem was the choice of songs. Names like Paul Anka and Tom Jones bring to mind shaggy carpets and mirrored ceilings. The songs themselves were heavy on the strings and Moog, with overblown production. Even The Beatles classic, "Yesterday" is overproduced, if you think about it. But take away the orchestra, and Shelby Flint's cover is pure swingin' jazz cool.
This event was billed as "An Evening of Adult Music." But this "adult" music was all very commercial songs, more about marketing than art, motivated (in my mind) by balding men in wide lapels and smelly cigars. Many in the crowd seemed lost in nostalgia, being mainly of that generation that still wears watches. Throughout the two hours, these watches got more than the occasional glance. Yet I still had fun and am glad I went.


A few days later in the Kyo, I attended another publishing party, this one to promote the latest issue of Kyoto Journal. But this event was light of words and heavy on community. Friendship, unlike music is very much objective. Well, except maybe to a hermit. But can a hermit be anything but subjective?



On the turntable: "Soulin' Volume 1"