Saturday, December 31, 2005

Haunted, as the Minutes Drag

The year is waning, as is my enthusiasm.
These last six months have involved a lot of geographic rushing around, coupled with the rebuilding of a social life. As that structure went up, it began to grow top heavy with the weight of new friends, acquaintances, and students. I faced a New Years bustling with activity. Instead I pulled a move straight out of Jenga and brought it all down. This week, I will stay indoors alone, with my books and films. As the snow builds up silently outside, I will sit by the glow of the kerosene stove, filling my soul with Coltrane and Bach.
The later is reminiscent of a scene a few years back. I went to visit Roland, an artist friend who lived high up a mountain road where he grew indigo in converted rice fields. One afternoon we sat in his workshop, all senses plugged in. Falling snow for the eyes. Composting indigo for the nose. Bach for the ears. Sake for the tongue. Warmth from a iron stove for the skin. The memory pierces.
And memory lasts far longer than an arbitrary number given to an random period of time in my life, the structure of which is governed by chaos.
The year is waning, as are my words. Not that I put full faith in twelve sheets of paper. Gregory, I thumb my nose at thee.

On the turntable: CocoRosie, "Noah's Ark"
On the nighttable: Julian Barnes, "Something to Declare"

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Do Your Own Music Video

Sitting on a train listening to The Clash's "The Card Cheat." It's a pretty upbeat tune. An old man walks briskly up the platform, talking to himself. It looks like he's singing along.

On the turntable: Dwight Yoakum, "Live From Austin, TX 2005"
On the nighttable, "Julian Barnes, "Something to Declare"

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Make It Stop!

Snowy ride thru the mountains toward Okayama. It's been snowing heavily since last night. As the train gets later and later, I watch the other riders' tensions increase by factors of ten. How amazing perspective is. I have nowhere to be, so am delighted by the beauty of the scenery. The suits are all clenched faced as they make further excuses on their cell phones. At one particularly long delay, I get off the train to take photos. I'm happy to see a couple other guys show childlike glee at the situation. It feels like a school snow day, really.
The countryside is gorgeous. At one point, the snowfall is so heavy that all features are lost, and I'm facing a wall of white on which to paint my thoughts. As usual, I use music to alter the mood. Elliot Smith's boyish voice is pure Winter Wonderland. This gives way to Godspeed, You Black Emperor!, who's steady driving percussive pulse is ominous, a hint at how deadly these storms really are.
And the train slowly rolls on. Snow is piled high on rooves to look like white kayabuki. A thermometer reads -5C. Rivers boulders wear white cowboy hats. Water beads down the window, but freezes before it reaches the bottom of the pane. The snow continues to fall, but I'm happy and warm on this train, an extra in Dr. Zhivago.

On the turntable: Elliot Smith, "X.O."
Godspeed, You Black Emperor! "Yanqui U.X.O."
On the nighttable: Taslima Nasrin, "Lajja"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How not to take an aikido test

Don't travel to Tokyo two days before, arriving five hours late due to heavy snow. Following this, don't stay up til three drinking wine with friends.

Don't wander Tokyo in an exhausted haze, nearly falling asleep during a Kodo show(!), and then be too tired to have much to say during the party following the show.

Don't begin to hate Nagoya as your train once again sits in the station because of snow. Do giggle in disbelief as it stops again for an earthquake. Don't ride a train which will become over two hours late.

Don't arrive back in town thirty minutes before said test, giving you no time to prepare mentally.

Failing the above steps, be sure to drink heavily at the New Years party following the test. Your drunk sensei will hint that you passed, but is sure to mention how lousy you performed. Alternate drinking sake with the group and drinking Guinness by yourself in a private show of mourning for your Irish Nana. Run into a couple friends out on the street after the party. Agree to "a drink," culminating in mimosas and karaoke at three am.

Following these steps, you're certain to awaken the next morning still drunk. Best of luck!

On the turntable: "Latin Playground"
On the nighttable: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, "The Mistress of Spices"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday for one

Had myself a traditional little Xmas , eating tacos and watching the DVD Siddhartha. Hey, tradition's gotta start somewhere.

SAFETY TIP! If faced with an seemly unending series of days of snow and freezing rain, play some bossa nova and dance around the house. It'll help you forget how cold it is.

Also, the homepage for the yoga studio is finally up! Click if you care...

On the turntable: Stan Getz & Juao Gilberto, "Getz/Gilberto"
On the nightable: Kiyohiro Miura, "He's Leaving Home; My Young Son Becomes a Zen Monk"

Sunday, December 25, 2005

All I want for Xmas... for Pete to get off my lap.

On the turntable: Bach "Cantatas"
On the nightable: Joachim-Ernst Berendt, "The World is Sound"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Margaret Barry Sjostedt

Last night, my grandmother passed away in Connecticut. She would've been 94 next week. A bit of sweetness is lost in the world, and this morning is darker for it. Pleasant journey Nana...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dreaming of a Green Xmas

Fought the incessant snow and wind to play two impromptu gigs last weekend. Music broke out at the English School Xmas party, in the form of a couple guitars strumming carols to a djembe beat. An R2D2 karaoke machine was also in attendance, and much fawned over.

Sunday saw Nami-san's thing at GuruGuru in Kurayoshi. Due to the roads, there were maybe a dozen people there. It was very chilled out affair. Nami's first set was all sung in Spanish, a nod to DeNada, his backing band. I sat on the floor and beat out the Latin rhythms I learnt in Tokyo last month. The price of admittance also included a plate of curry and a delicious cookie. Since I only had large money, I was given a second cookie in lieu of 50 yen. A little bit later, I realized that the cookies came with a secret toy surprise inside. Oops! Generally, I don't partake, but... I wouldn't have gotten so fucked up if only I'd had the right change! Visiting the striped shirted inmates of Lawson much later, I laughed at how oblivious they were to late night munchie culture. On the way out, I saw the first snowplow I've ever seen in this country, plowing a parking lot. Meanwhile the roads were death. That's so Japan, man!

On the turntable: Juan MacClean, "Less than Human"
On the nightable: Patrick Bernard, "Music as Yoga"

Friday, December 16, 2005

A one and a two and a...

Reading a music score while playing drums is like wearing a watch to your job in a clock shop.

On the turntable: Wilco, "Kicking Television"

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Two weekends ago, I went to Tokyo to take part in a yoga workshop featuring Lance Schuler, founder of Inspya Yoga in Byron Bay, Australia. It was pretty hard but good fun. Lance is a long time judo practitioner and his yoga is, well, a bit martial. His approach is light and jovial, but he's definitely driven. The main goal for the weekend was to push us past our usual comfort levels and beyond fear. As a result, I think all of us were able to do poses we'd never done before. I've never done yoga that was so yang.
During one of his talks he mentioned how people who've been through trauma tend to become quite flexible mentally and emotionally. I had this in mind yesterday when I found out that the teacher training I'd planned to attend next month had been pushed back to April. My non-refundable plane ticket sits in my desk. So yet again I'm US-bound, though now without any real goal except to down pints with friends. (I'm beginning to worry that if you searched this blog, you'd find more references to booze than yoga.) This really doesn't bother me. What does bother me is that when I paid for my ticket, I was expected to give a contact address for my first night. I've experienced this during travels to Asia, but never when going to the country of my birth. Are you fucking kidding me?

On the turntable: Tom Waits, "Blood Money"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Monday morning, Kurashiki

Late Sunday, on just three hours sleep, drove down to Kurashiki for no real reason at all. I came here on my first morning in Japan and 11-plus years later I still love the place. Just spent six months bemoaning the fact that I miss Western "culture," then escaping to Tokyo two or three times a month to try to drown in it. Yet on a quiet Monday morning I was reminded why I love being in this country, surrounded by the weathered. (Though the weathered opinions and mindset I can often do without.)

Walking Hondori as it awakes. Light snow falls on storehouses whose beams were purposely blacked by flame. Pass a small temple, apparently empty. Yet just inside the doors, someone has left tea and mikan and rice crackers for those who may come by to pray. Stop for coffee in a jazz club at 10a.m. Itself a former storehouse, thick beams bisect white plaster walls. In the morning, jazz clubs have a completely different atmosphere. Sunbeams hang instead of smoke. It feels open and airy, rather than the usual dark, jazz-hovel feel of night. A cloud passes and the light coming thru the window is suddenly cut as if the slatted shutters were closed. When the sun returns, the stained glass throws blue and red shadows on a fern. And the recorded sound of jazz is pure, without the additional nighttime treble of tinkling glass and bass of laughter.

On the turntable: Merle Haggard and the Strangers, "Honky Tonkin'"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mama said there'd be days like this

As if my schedule hasn't been insane enough with weekend trips to Tokyo. Here's what I did in the 'Nog on Saturday:

Tea lesson in the morning, complete with four sake lunch.

Helped prep food at the Xmas dinner thing.

Off to the studio for a couple hours to try to create something entertaining for that night's party. Came up with a ska Xmas carol medley thing. Simultaneously sang and drummed for the first time ever. Whaled through a ripping jazz piece that will have to wait 'til next time. Tim, Mi-chan, and I very much on the same page, jammatically speaking.

Back to the Xmas dinner to eat and play percussion on pot-bottoms. (Great band name, that.)

Rushed over to the Xmas party. Besides our own set, played or sang songs with three other bands. Also, Ushi, Takao, and I led the room in a Monkees song to mellow things out after some yakuza fisticuffs. Xmas spirit.

After hours at Missile. Shocked by a good friend's hijinks with candlewax in the toilet! Danced until 4:30.

Up at 7:30. Noooooooooooooooooooooooo! Why?

On the turntable: Radiohead, "Hail to the Thief"
On the nightable: Brendan Behan, "Borstal Boy"

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thursdays in the Kyo

Arrived in Kyoto yesterday to find yet another city in the midst of seasonal confusion. Bright colors above outstretched arms, patches of white underfoot. Jumped a cab north. SAFETY TIP! Don't take the really posh looking taxis unless you are either well employed or are a trustafarian. The sticker says 680 yen, but the fine print clocks 80 yen per 250 meters. Ouch. Arrived at Kinkakuji with a light wallet.

I was meeting with a woman about renting out a room in a beautiful, well-lit house next to the temple. I hadn't done the roomie interview thing in almost fifteen years. Weird. A couple hours later I returned to meet the other roommate. To a soundtrack of Brazilian acoustic tunes, and with a clink of red wine we toasted the beginning of something. I'm thrilled. After fifteen years, I finally did it. I moved to Kyoto.

Met up with Amanda later. She'd just come from Mandala's great gig at Tofukuji. It was one of those magic evenings where the audience grabs stuff and begins to bring da noise. A few familiar faces were in the house, including one down from Tokyo. Man! I hate missing great gigs. Amanda also regaled me with tales of the bomb scare at Kyoto Station. Apparently, someone had left behind a large trunk which had been cordoned off by the cops. Yet the trains were running, and passengers were walking past to get to the platforms, as police in bomb-gear tiptoed up to the mystery objet. I wonder if the cops bow before defusing.

Made my Friday a.m. turn back to the 'Nog, playing commuter with coffee in hand. Gingerbread Latte tastes just as amazing as it did last year. 'Tis the season...

On the turntable: "Tokyo: The Sex, The City, The Music"
On the nightable: Donald Riche, "A View from the Chuo Line"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Beat up, Gettin the Beat Down

Had a bizarre experience yesterday. For a couple hours in the afternoon, my masseuse worked the last bits of three Tokyo weekends out of fatigued muscles. A few hours later, I went to do aikido. I was a literal marionette on the mat, joints loose, spinning and whirling. These same joints felt like they would give every time I was thrown, pieces of me flying like shrapnel to the far corners of the dojo. Lots of rolling, my pressure points buzzing from the earlier bodywork. I finished the workout feeling spacy and euphoric.

Home, I watched the collision of three recent purchases, djembe, DVD of "Festival Express," and a bottle of red slightly pricier than usual. As the wine worked warmth from inside out, I jammed along to the bands on the TV, battering away at the cold winter night.

On the turntable: Elliot Smith, "Elliot Smith"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Kind old-timey

What a delight today to get a Xmas card, with real ink and paper and everything. I had a hard time opening it at first , finding no place to double-click. Then the dust on my brain began to stir a bit, and I remembered that I had the ability to use my fingers in ways other than attempted emulation of old typewriter keys. (Remember them, man?) Severe paper shredding soon followed.
Penned by Cath, during down time from drinking in London pubs and howling at the moon. Cheers dude!

On the turntable: "Darker than Blue, Soul from Jamdown, 1973-1980"
On the nightable: Frances Mayes, "Bella Tuscany"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Raaaaaaag aaaaaaaarm.....

Being gaijin on a train is like being the last kid picked for a sports team.

On the turntable: Crooklyn soundtrack

Monday, December 05, 2005

Snowy San-in Satori

Left sunny autumn Tokyo to return to the 'Nog and into the open arms of a snowstorm. As it embraced me, I stiffened. It's too early for this much snow. The gingko trees are still at their peak and haven't yet let go of their bright yellow brilliance. I'm not ready, especially this year, with a summer which wouldn't end. Yet I was able to delight in gliding on a sarangi through snowy mountainscapes. There's a certain dignity in snow. And a melancholy in its beauty.
I was also able to come up with this:

How pleasant to walk
Thru snow covered streets,
My belly full of rice

Tonite I'll settle myself in with a Krishna Das DVD and some warm sake, fending off the cold...

On the turntable: Sultan Khan/Krishna Das, "a drop of the ocean"
On the nightable: Hanif Kureishi, "Intimacy"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ecumenical Linguistic Gymnastics

One of the first lines in the Tao Te Ching is that the Tao that can be named us not the true Tao. Genesis however begins by saying that in the beginning was the word and the word was God. It's ironic that for the Christians, faith alone isn't enough. God must be defined in human terms. It's like God's word is greater than God's glory, or reality. Which comes closer to what I believe the Tao, or God, to be. Although it is beyond human concepts, I can recognize elements of it everywhere around me.
I remember a few years ago when a devout Baptist friend asked me if I believed in God. In a move more Zen than Taoist, I pointed at the snow-covered countryside beyond the train window. How could a person take in so much beauty and not believe?

On the turntable: John Coltrane, "Coltrane for Lovers"
On the nightable: Nicholson Baker, "The Everlasting Story of Nory"