Monday, May 25, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in the 'Nog...

Days that are multi-segmented tend to go on and on. Today, I've already played drums for a set of Indian devotional music, had lunch with a handful of yoginis, and met with Roger to discuss the next film that we hope to make. Now I'm moving along the Yonago Expressway toward my former home. It has been raining all day, but there's a different quality to the rain up here. The mountains across whose tops we touch wear heavier shrouds than do those in Kansai. These clouds, along with the fallibility of memory, blur somewhat the landmarks recognizable from a dozen years of following this route.

It's past dark when I arrive. Tim meets me at the station and we drive out to a bar out under the trees of Yumigahama. There's an open mike thing going on, where musicians can revolve on and off the stage. Entering, it looks like a Denny's that has a stage at one end of the room. Most of the regulars have guitar cases, and have a distinctive working class look. Rather than Denny's, it now feels more like a roadhouse, this big open room in a concrete building that sits alone on a quiet highway. There are many posters for the Air Self Defense Force, which isn't too shocking since the base is just up the road. I get a beer and start to talk with a couple of middle-aged men in baseball caps. I quickly find that they, like most of the other men in here, are all in the Air Force. As they're all in their 40s and 50s, I'd guess they're career military. I'm talking to a guy they call "Cherry" who spent much of last year in Iraq. We chat for awhile, then go sit by the stage. Tim's brother-in-law is up, looking very John Doe-like in his slicked hair, demin shirt, and jeans. He's really hammering out some hard blues, on an acoustic guitar that's as thick as Texas Toast. I'm surprised that his fingers aren't shredded, with the force that he's striking the strings. After a few songs, he's done, and this cycle repeats again and again, as each musician goes through a short set of 15 minutes or so. Tim and I go up last, well past 11. I'm on drums, he alternates between guitar and bass, and it soon becomes understood that we've become the house band. Other musicians come up and join us for a song or two. We tend to stick to 60s rock and blues -- Jimi, CCR, Clapton, and lots of Beatles. Tim wants me to sing, but I'm happy on drums tonight, though I take a phrase or two of lyrics when he gets stuck, then making it up when I'm stuck. Finally at the end I take the mike for "Don't Let Me Down," which I belt out 'til I'm hoarse. We stretch it out for about 20 minutes, and basically everyone in the bar comes onstage to solo, including the owner, screaming away on his sax. Then, after three hours, we're done. I haven't gotten behind a drum kit for a few years and my arms ache. Yet sessions like this are the greatest fun, much better than the monotonous drone work with a band that regularly gigs. The quality of musicianship here is very high, and with no rock 'n' roll pretense whatsoever. As we walk out the door it is close to 2 am, and it suddenly dawns on me that back in the States, it is Armed Forces Day.

Sunday starts late with breakfast at (Dis)Gusto. And what follows is a typical day in the 'Nog, of just hanging around and seeing who comes by. We have a three hour lunch at a small cafe that overlooks a small canal called Kamogawa, ironically. I used to look out at herons in this canal when I lived beside it back in the mid-90s. As always happens when I go back there, I run into people I know. It's a small city, and I during my 12 years there, I was one of only about 20 western expats. Stephen comes over from Matsue, and we gossip awhile about old friends, including one who died last year in India. Which gets me thinking about ghosts. Tim and I drive around. For him, we are running errands, but for me, every square kilometer holds a memory. The majority revolve around my late son. We eventually go see my ex-wife and see her new baby. She's moving to Vietnam next month and this may be the last time we meet for a long time. We visit her mother as well and it is a warm visit, the three of us like old war buddies, sharing memories of our dead and what we've been doing to keep on going. Later too, at my old fave Kashmir for a curry, I feel a dark feeling, of people who once belonged to this place but are no longer around.

The next morning I'm taking a train back toward Kansai. I follow the sea toward Tottori City, passing places that still have an air of familiarity but have now aged to become strangers. Along the way stand many of the schools where friends once worked. And it hits me. Last night I was talking how there is a certain heaviness in Kyoto, which I attribute to the ghosts of that city's long and violent history. Yet my own ghosts still reside up here in San-in, ghosts of people now removed from the context in which I've ever placed them. They exist only memory now, where I still hear their footfalls and the rattle of their chains.

On the turntable: "We're A Happy Family"

On the nighttable: Lesley Downer, "On the Narrow Road"

On the reel table: "Calcutta" (Malle, 1969)

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