Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gravity's Rainbow

As we got deeper into November, my hillside began to experiment with red and yellow clothes. Autumn in the Kyo seems much more colorful than in the 'Nog. The thousands of tourists in town to see all this color would probably agree.
Last night while wandering Kyoto University at dusk, I came across a small canvas of yellow and couldn't resist the urge to sign it. The result was almost a reverse-image of a man's writing his name in the snow. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I suggest you listen to more Frank Zappa.

Next, on a nearby patch of grass, I performed my performance piece, "Leaf Angel."

If Basho can take his artistic name from the banana tree, I can take mine from the ginkgo. I thus carried its scent with me the rest of the night.

On the turntable: Ramblin' Jack Elliott, "Kerouac's Last Dream"
On the nighttable: Kenji Tokitsu, "Miyamoto Musashi, His Life and Writings"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Go West

After a couple years as a practicing nomad, I thought that things would slow down after setting up my yurt in the Kyo. This fall, it doesn't seem so. Besides repeated commutes to Tokyo every few weeks for yoga training, I also took a couple trips out to Western Japan. In mid-October, I took a overnight trip to the 'Nog to visit my son Kenshiro's grave and to deal with some baggage, both figuratively and literally.
Last week, MatsuMiki and I spent the weekend in Hiroshima. Saturday afternoon we crossed over into Yamaguchi for my first ever visit to Iwakuni, drifting up and across the famous bridge like Mary Poppins, following the direction of our raised umbrellas. We carried on into the heavy seasonal rain, into the mountains to the lair of bandits. Sanzoku is a series of ramshakle buildings built along a small stream which leads to a small shrine. We settled into the loft of one of these buildings, marvelling at the dexterity of the servers who ducked under the thick roof beams taken from a tree many centuries old. We ate massive chicken haunches off the bone like 'Enry the Eighth. I was, I was.
We saved some room for sukiyaki, served up by MatsuMiki's mom back in Hiroshima. The food theme carried over to the next day, where we had a lunch date out on Nomijima, the island where MatsuMiki grew up. As the ferry cut through water both above and below decks, my thoughts were less on my stomach and more on the poetry of Donald Richie. Thus we sailed on into the realm of pirates and the Heike, their once terrifying faces now expressionless in death.

On the turntable: Bob Dylan, "Blues"
On the nighttable: John Carroll, "Lightning in the Void"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

On the turntable: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, "Blow in the Wind"
On the nighttable: Todd Crowell, Stephanie Forman Morimura, "Tokyo: City on the Edge"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Suddenly Last Summer 4

Mid August. I headed out to Sado for EC. Again, many others have written on this, and I myself have said too much about Kodo already. So I won't comment on the show other than to say how visually exciting their performances have become, due no doubt to the Bando connection. Musically, the first night's Miyake was the best I've ever seen. Plus Kodo playing Ravel's Bolero as an encore? C'mon!
Like last year, I worked in the EC shop as translator, took a Miyake Daiko workshop, wandered the flea market. This year I met many young Japanese artists coming from various parts of Japan. I also spent more time wandering Ogi itself. Marcin and I found an onsen and a new place for swimming, partaking of both twice a day. (His own take on the festival is here:
On Monday, after it was all over, I helped take down the stage. Eight gruelling hours in the unrelenting sun. I was too exhausted to really enjoy the post-fest party that night. The group too seemed surprisingly mellow. Unlike the musical highs of last years, they felt that things didn't really click this time, that the audience never really cut loose. Artistic Director Kaoru Watanabe seemed especially down. I told him that the choreography of the show itself was fantasic. Then he told me all the things that should've happened but didn't, due to missed cues or whatever. Oh man! What a show that would've been. But only Kaoru got to see it.

Late August. Spent the weekend with MatsuMiki at Gallery Moon, deep in the wilds of Nara. I love this part of the world, spooky and creaky with the weight of ancient history and its ghosts. The gallery owner is MatsuMiki's friend, as is Chie, the young macrobiotic food artist who was putting on a show of her talent. Saturday night we cleaned up the gallery and the adjoining farmhouse where the following day, lunch would be served up on the beautiful pottery currently on display. After the cleanup, we seven weary bodies had a simple dinner then fell into our futons to a cicada serenade.
Just before noon the next day, the guests began to arrive. I was immediately thrust back into my former life as a waiter. What was it, serve from the right, clear from the left? Stacking incredibly rare and expensive pottery up one arm had all the thrills of an extreme sport. As I worked, I thought about how different service is in Japan compared with the West. The topic deserves a post of it's own, but it's a post that I'd find too boring to write.
At the end of the day, after clean-up, Chie drove us back to Nara city. On the way, we all talked about her next show. We began to joke about the theme--MacroDonarudo, to follow the local pronunciation. Imagine, rather than a Happy Meal, a Healthy Meal-- soy and veggies molded into the shape of burger and fries. I'm lovin' it.

August last. Day hike with friends. Again, pass the mic the MC Marcin:

On the turntable: JFA, "We Know You Suck"
On the nighttable: Hillary Raphael, "I (heart) Lord Buddha"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You're gettin' old when...

...the newest James Bond is younger than you.

On the turntable: Christopher Rouse, "Passion Wheels"
On the nighttable: Larry Watson, "Justice"

Friday, November 17, 2006

Suddenly last summer 3

August. Mid-Obon, MatuMiki and I took a bus north to the village of Hanase for the Matsuage Fire Festival. We walked along the river to a nice spot, then passed the time with our rice balls and ice cream. Shortly after dark, a long line of happi-clad men passed before us, holding torches high in their hands. They moved across the river and began to spread out, setting fire to hundreds of torches which had been staked into a large space that had probably once been rice paddies. When they were all lit, the entire pin-point glow silhouetted the actions of the men beyond, who were by this time surrounding a massive tower. I couldn't help but think of the title of an incredible book I'd long age read. "Fires on the Plain." It was eerily beautiful. The men then began to take some of these torches, whirl then round and round, and heave them up toward the basket which sat atop the 20m tower. These balls of fire resemble the movement of comets, and when they'd come near the basket, the crowd would grow excited, then suddenly groan as the flames fell back to earth. After about ten minutes of this, the crowd erupted as one man found his mark. The excitement grew as fireball after fireball joined the original, creating a bigger and bigger flame. It went beyond beautiful, and had all the excitement of a sporting match. After a further ten minutes this massive flaming tower began to list, then fell toward us. We were sitting a safe distance away, but when the thing hit the ground, a massive wall of flame rolled toward us like some Hollywood pyrotechnics. The heat was unreal, even on a muggy midsummer night. the crowd began to leave then, and the men of the village walked amongst us, banging a huge drum and singing in accompaniment to their proud drunken studly swagger. MatsuMiki and I stood on the bridge awhile looking out over the fields, now filling with smoke as local firemen put out the flames. We didn't speak, too much in awe of the quiet and the violence and the beauty. It's like we'd just witnessed a battle.

Through Obon, the fire theme continues. The next night, we biked the streets of Kyoto in a mad zigzag dash for the perfect vantage point from which to see each of the six hillsides aflame: the annual sendoff to ghostly Obon visitors. The okuribi is another of those things that every Kyoto blogger seems to write about, so I won't waste more bandwidth on it here. I'll simply say they we were able to catch them all, dodging cars and shadowy pedestrians adding sport to a mad sort of scavenger hunt. The reward being the fun of the ride.

On the turntable: Christpher Rouse, "Passion Wheels"
On the nighttable: Colin Reeve, "The Way of Artistry and Grace"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Suddenly Last Night

Soul Flower Union (or at least a mini-version of them) played an acoustic gig in the Kyo, consisting solely of guitar, accordian, and piano. They played at Taku Taku, a venue with some history apparently, having hosted such major acts as Dr. John and Los Lobos. Yet it's small setting was perfect for a mellow set played to a somewhat older crowd. As the show began, I wondered if they could recreate the energy of their electric show, but the power of the songs and the lyrics, brought us higher and higher. The piano of Rikuo, the sole non SFU member, was so brilliant it was ridiculous. (Even Shinya, SFU's usual pianist, humbly said that until tonight, he'd always assumed that there were no living piano players better than himself.) Plus all the usual cover songs (Van Morrison, Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles), sing-alongs and stage banter, which this time touched on the price of veggies in Okinawa. Brilliant!

(I realize that I've been writing a fair amount on music these days, but it goes to show how starved I was for good live acts up in the 'Nog. I promise this blog will have more variety again soon.)

On the turntable: Kodo, "Mono-Prism"
On the nighttable: Alan Drysdel, "Doing Aikido"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Halloween weekend

Last summer I got in touch with Roger Walch, in the hopes of tracking down the three films which compose his "Kyoto Trilogy." I'd thought he lived in Switzerland, but was pleasantly surprised to find that he lives here in the Kyo. Even better was that he was playing a gig in town. I was happy to go.

Let me interject quickly that this was one of my patented marathon days. In the morning, I'd had breakfast with MatsuMiki and friends, followed by a short KJ meeting. The afternoon was split between a lecture on traditional weaving in Nishijin, and a stoll around Koetsu-ji with E-Ma Eric. So by the time I got to the show, held in a small gallery, I was slightly beat. But the tone of the music was a further surprise. Simple, light trad jazz played on piano and shakuhachi.

I filled a plastic cup with red wine, found a space on the tatami, and proceeded to "get lost", using the music as my vessel, rather than chemicals ala Chet Baker. Roger was simply a master on the keyboard, as skilled there as he is as a writer and filmmaker. He's played in many bands and is at home in many styles. Tonight's set gave him space to shine, handling well even the technically difficult Monk and Miles stuff. At one point, he was walking eighths on a blues piece in 7/4. I didn't even know that that was mathematically possible.
Matsumoto Taro on shakuhachi further amazed. In the spirit of Halloween a true chameleon: playing his lines like he was on soprano sax, bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter, yet looking rockabilly in black threads and pompadour. I too play shak, and find synchronizing with other musicians on Western tunes challenging. But Taro avoided this limitation by changing flutes on every tune, choosing from a veritable forest of different lengths and pitches. And while he might unavoidably sound a bit flat on a familiar classic like, "Porkpie Hat," it still came across well. And there was no doubt of his classical Japanese music training too, especially the flurry of trills and violence on his arrangement of the "Zatoichi" theme. His zanshin at the end of each piece was so suspenseful that the audience too would join him in holding our breath.

It was still early as the gig finished, so I decided to catch Mandala at El Latino's Halloween party. They were great as usual but after the first set I felt that I needed to escape the people and the smoke. MatsuMiki and I wandered off to Kurotani, up the hill and through the graves to find a quiet spot to sit and look over the lights of the city, talking about those things that couples talk about when they are in love and that love is still new.

On the turntable: "Putumayo, Women of the World"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Reality shows

The other day, David Byrne wrote his thoughts on the recent election and on the state of society in general. This was not so much a victory for Democrats or Liberals, but more a defeat over arrogance and mean-spiritedness.

After my son died, I spent close to a full year in "zombie-mode," functioning without really functioning. Little by little I began to wonder about the other walking wounded out there. The woman who stepped in front of us in line at the supermarket, or the guy who cut us off in his car-- who knows what's going on in their lives. Did she just lose her job? Was he returning from the doctor's office where he was given a terminal diagnosis? I'm sure that I too unwittingly did and said some lousy things both to strangers and people I care about.

Before reacting with anger, I now try to show compassion. I try to understand that not everybody is bad, or mean, or selfish. Humans basically want one thing--to be happy. That includes too the people with whom we disagree. Rather than judge, it's better to listen and try to understand the other side.
Plus, it's a helluva lot more interesting than TV.

On the turntable: Steve Reich, Tehillim"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!

I'd love to hear a version of "Louie Louie" sung as a duet by Louie Armstrong and Louie Prima.

On the turntable: "A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd"
On the nighttable: Dave Lowry, "The Best of..."

Friday, November 10, 2006

No moss

This past weekend was a microcosm of my life and interests.

Thursday saw me in Tokyo at the 30th anniversary party of Printed Matter Press. Over wine and a nice buffet, I ran into a few old friends and made some new ones. Entertainment was a mixed bag of poetry and music. Some really great characters in the house, forming the cornerstone of a lively and vibrant expat subculture.

Friday morning I spent watching the koryu demos at Meiji Shrine. I go every year, more as a chance to see friends than anything else. Yet I am beginning to appreciate the demos more and more, starting to develop an awareness to the subtle differences in style between the schools. Does this reflect a maturity in my own training, or simply that things become familiar with repeated viewings?

That afternoon I spent in Ginza for my Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training which will wind up later this month. Enjoy the group but won't miss the commute.

Saturday, early, I headed down to Okayama to take part in the Takeuchi demos. This year is the 20th anniversary of this event, so rather than being held in the usual dusty concrete thunderdome, we got to "fight" on the grass at Korakuen garden. A gorgeous day under blue skies, beauty static in the form of flowers and stone, and beauty in action in the form of swirling bodies and spinning oak.

Sunday, up to Ishikawa for the 20th anniversary concert of Honno Daiko. Just getting there took most of the day, riding a series of trains which grew smaller and smaller. A nice change from the frantic Bullet Time of the previous few days. Honno Daiko was smoking, both musically and aesthetically. (They have the taiko world's most exciting costume changes since Leonard Eto.) Incredible, effortless power coming from three women. I personally feel that aside from Kodo, this is the best Taiko group in the world. As it was a special gig, there were a few special guests, including Kodo's own Yoshikazu. Watching him and Honno Daiko's Jige Akemi play Odaiko together was magic. That ten minutes alone was worth the trip. Marcin's Nov. 9th "Lost in Translation" entry has more detailed text, plus photos, and video. So click away.

On the turntable: Joe Strummer bootleg
On the nighttable: Ryu Murakami, "69"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can I go home yet?

Well. the news coming out of the States shows that voters have changed the channel. But when will they be enlightnened enough to turn the TV off completely?

On the turntable: {Don't know. Can't hear it due to my weeping with joy.}

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bullet Time

Does the lack of benches on the Shinkansen platforms
Indicate a victory for the forces of speed?


On the turntable: Tim Ries, "The Rolling Stones Project"
On the nighttable: Hillel Wright, "Border Town"

Sunday, November 05, 2006

How do you define "Postmodern?"

riding the Bullet Train
wearing Hippie clothes
reading about Coltrane
and listening to Joy Division

On the turntable: Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra, "Boulevard de l"Independance"
On the nighttable: Eric Schlosser, "Fast Food Nation"

Friday, November 03, 2006

What Koizumi's doing with his retirement

Heading a old-timey ryu-ha is hard. It's hard work...

On the turntable: "Fine Time 2: A Tribute to New Wave"

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Far Too Many Shopping Days Left Until...

Only November 2nd,
But the Halls of Kyoto Station
Are already decked

On the turntable: Ochi Brothers, "Beating the Earth"
On the nighttable: Edward Seidensticker, "The Snake That Bowed"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Suddenly Last Summer 2

Late September. Moving to a bigger city has given rise to many opportunities that I've long been waiting for. It was in this spirit that I finally saw my favorite Japanese band, Soul Flower Union in their hometown of Osaka.

Seeing them in the intimacy of Shinsaibashi's Club Quattro was the perfect choice. This place is well known as the Kansai stop for more alternative acts. But the faces in tonight's crowd looked like a good cross section of this working class city's working class. You know, the flared Aladdin-trouser and split-toed rubber boot set, raised on a strict diet of canned coffee, cigarettes, and combini box lunches. Some of these dudes were downright scary, all tats and towering baldness. But when the band came on, these guys boogied harder than the rest. There was no shortage of real characters in the room, like the girl whose frenzied pogo-ing never stopped, not even between songs, or two incredibly obese guys whose dance style consisted of a manic jiggling in perfect unison. During the faster numbers, the whole crowd began to jump up and down, causing all the lighting to sway. If there had been a strong quake that night, I never knew it.

What most struck me was that all these dancing thugs seemed to know all the words to every song. I don't blame them for mimicking frontman Nakagawa Takashi. I think if I were given the chance to have anybody's singing voice, it would be his, a strong blend of rough blues and sweet sentiment. The man himself seemed amused by all this. He'd strut and grimace in the ultimate rock star way, then suddenly burst into a huge ironic grin to show he wasn't caught up in all this posturing, that it's only the music and the message that matter. He constantly poked fun at himself and the band, telling self-degrading stories and acting the fool. My favorite part was when he asked the crowd if the local Tigers baseball team was winning, and somebody checked the score on their cell phone.

The band itself was a revolving door of musicians, coming on and off the stage, blazing away in their unique mix of trad-Japanese, Irish, Okinawan, Jewish, Chindon, rock, blues champloo. A weird, scary looking butoh dancer came on stage from time to time contorting his body and face to a rhythm that only he heard. This agony seems a personally expression of the cancer within his body, yet the spirit and energy he enthused will always exist.

The band and audience shared that spirit, the energy sustained for well over three hours. This had been great fun, my long overdue return to the rock and roll audience. It's been over 12 years since I saw a big rock show, the last being a series of Dead shows in Eugene, mid-94. But it made me feel a bit old when I noticed that most of tonite's crowd were now the same age as I was back then.

Sigh. Better to burn out than to fade away.

My my hey hey.

On the turntable: 登川誠仁 With ソウル・フラワー・ユニオン, "緑の沖縄"
On the nighttable: Eric Nisenson, "Ascension: John Coltrane and his Quest"