The blood-red Shimbashi dress: a photopoem

In Tokyo, the mama-san is smarter than you…

Part of my S&R Tokyo Series

I am the gorgeous dress

of your beauty,

and I have loved you for a very long time.

You are nothing to me

if not

the reflection in which I see myself

and the glitter of my age

that has sparkled in

all the ice cubes

in all the drinks I ever poured in Tokyo’s slush-fund winters.

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Random thoughts about the record album – part 5: they want their MTV

Video killed more than just the radio star.

“It made the record industry a one-trick pony. It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image, and if you didn’t have the three minutes you were over. The corner was turned at that point, I think, away from believing in the power of the music, and [to] believing in the power of the market. Once that corner was turned, we started on the path that has led us to this moment here, where kids are treating music as disposable.” – Michael Guido, entertainment lawyer“I think that there’s always been two different kinds – at least two different kinds of music fans. There are people that just are into songs, and there are people that are into artists.” – Danny Goldberg, record executive

The Buggles:

The Buggles: “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video aired on MTV

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4)

During the era of the record album’s dominance, from 1967-1981, audiences listened to music. For young listeners it was more often a solitary rather than social experience, often taking place in a teenager’s room, sometimes made even more solitary by the use of headphones. It was easy to lose oneself in the experience of interrelated songs telling a story, as the concept album sought to present, or share in the intimate experience of the singer/songwriter’s soul baring compositions. If a fan went to college, the experience might become more social, though still in a fairly intimate way, sharing favorite albums with a roommate or a couple of suite mates, sometimes the experience enhanced by a few beers or a joint. And such listening became part of the mating rituals of countless romantic relationships formed during one’s college years.

If a music fan watched television during this period at all, it was perhaps a concert show like ABC’s excellent, short-lived In Concert or NBC’s long-lived, less excellent faux concert show Midnight Special. One listened to music; one watched TV.

That changed August 1, 1981. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

A few words about The Sorrows of Young Werther

What is most fascinating about The Sorrows of Young Werther is how much its love triangle structure permeates our culture in one form or another.

Ich habe das Herz gefühlt, die große Seele, in deren Gegenwart ich mir schien mehr zu sein, als ich war, weil ich alles war, was ich sein konnte. (I have possessed that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be.) – Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther (image courtesy Goodreads)

I ran across an article the other day (link popped up in the old social media feed) that suggested that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, known most commonly in English as The Sorrows of Young Werther, was a contender for the title “deadliest book in history.” While that assertion is rather preposterous on the face of it, and while as I write this I can think of example after example of books that have been deadlier (Mein Kampf, Mao’s Little Red Book for starters), if I grant that perhaps by book the author, Sean Braswell, means novel, then, that would be… different? Maybe. I can also readily think of novels that have been or are being deadlier (The Turner Diaries or anything by Ayn Rand, for example).

So initially I found myself agreeing with a number of commenters and dismissing the article’s author as being provocative for the sake of grabbing eyeballs. It’s a useful article, though, because it gets Goethe’s breakthrough work into the public consciousness, and that’s a good thing.

And there is something about Werther that makes it a book we should be thinking about. Continue reading

Golden Guys

“Where streams of whiskey are flowing…” –The Pogues

Part six of my S&R Tokyo Series

One November day in Tokyo my wife and I were walking through the normally quiet and deserted midday streets of Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Suddenly I heard voices singing loudly to a very mainstream-sounding J-pop song. I followed the raucous sounds to a little dive which, unlike the other dives around it, had its front door wide open. Inside a bartender and three customers were joyously boozing it up and singing like contestants trying out for a television talent show.

And so, after calling my wife over to have a look we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting in a teeny Golden Gai bar ordering drinks at 12:30 in the afternoon.

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Old birds

Water flows around the rocks it cannot move…

Part five of my S&R Tokyo Series

They moved and talked the way old Japanese ladies often do, a bit hunched over but with animation and purpose. The sidewalk was crowded with people, most of them heading to a nearby Asakusa shrine for a ‘rooster’ day street market fair.

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Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long…a myth maker’s myth…

Richard Fariña was the Baby Boom generation’s chief myth maker.

“The conscience of my elusive race gives not a fig for me, baby. But I endure, if you know what I mean.” – Richard Fariña

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me – author Richard Farina pictured (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading David Hajdu’s excellent Positively 4th Street which chronicles the early careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi (Baez) Fariña, I decided to re-read Fariña’s first (and only) novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I hadn’t read (or thought much about) this book since I read in during my undergraduate days in the early 1970’s. My memory of that reading is a little hazy (the early 70’s, after all, were an extension of the 60’s with all the attendant excesses), but I remember being impressed with Fariña’s novel. It seemed to me to capture – well, anticipate, I guess would be a more accurate term for what I felt then and think now – the zeitgeist of that time.

There are other works that spoke to that zeitgeist, of course: Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; Carlos Castenada’s The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge; Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf; Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; Fariña’s college roommate Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49  – all of these are works that  many Boomers remember as the stuff of conversations around the beer keg – or bong. But of all these counter culture touchstones of reading, Been Down So Long… holds a special place because it is a near perfect depiction of the ambivalence that plagues Boomers.  Continue reading

Rode hard and put up wet: #ArtSunday

Form vs function at the Denver Art Museum

I encountered this slightly worse-for-wear old scooter down at the Denver Art Museum yesterday. The DAM’s wonderful North Building, designed by Gio Ponti and James Sudler Associates, rises in the background.

There are two versions of this shot here – a high-structure black and white that’s processed for maximum drama and color take that’s a bit more “realistic.”

Scooter on the Denver Arts Museum Plaza - black & white

Scooter on the Denver Arts Museum Plaza – black & white

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I am dynamic kung-fu dancing!

Greetings from Tokyo’s skid row…

Part four of my S&R Tokyo Series

Just a guy, a bit too much in his cups perhaps, that I photographed in Nihonzutsumi in Tokyo. He was next to a vacant lot where a Nodaya liquor shop used to stand. I liked him. He was a nice, chemically happy man…

(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, November, 2015. See my other work here and here.)

Random thoughts about the record album – part 4: singers and songwriters, concepts and collections

The album was king, thanks to male singer-songwriters (Crosby, Stills, Nash, James Taylor), female singer-songwriters (King, Simon, Mitchell) and bands like Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) andThe Eagles (Hotel California).

“You take the risk of being rejected. If you have pretensions to be an artist of any kind, you have to take the risk of people rejecting you and thinking you’re an arsehole.” – Roger Waters

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3)

Pink Floyd suggested that Newton’s theory of light composition has validity (image courtesy Wikimedia)

After the artistic (and influence) success of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the stupendous artistic and commercial success of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, the appetite of record buying audiences for “full length works” was well whetted. Musical artists of the next decade or so found themselves faced, however, with a choice. Did they, as many bands did, follow the “concept” approach introduced to rock audiences by Brian Wilson? Was there another path?

Under normal circumstances that “other path” might have been to follow the example of Bob Dylan, choosing to record albums of original songs without any overt conceptual framework. Certainly Dylan was pointing out that “other way” with his albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.

Dylan had retreated from the world after his motorcycle accident in mid 1966, but his work still cast a long shadow. Continue reading

Yakuza leisure dōjō

Let’s alcohol with happy gangster human…

Third in my ongoing S&R Tokyo Series. Here’s part one and part two.

In Asakusa at Kamiya Bar (神谷バー) you never know who you might meet. My wife and I were drinking there one night in November, 2015 with an Australian friend and her Japanese husband. The tables in Kamiya Bar are packed closely together, so we couldn’t help notice that the people at the next table were having a hell of a good time.

I took a chance and asked if I could photograph them. They happily agreed.

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Chronicles Part 1: Bob Dylan being Bob Dylan

Dylan gonna be Dylan. But in his memoir he reminds us why he’s Dylan.

“I’d come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.” – Bob Dylan

Early Bob Dylan (image courtesy CBS News)

Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Part 1 is a book I came to with a good bit of skepticism. One reason for my skepticism that comes from having read Dylan’s novel Tarantula, a book I found self-indulgent and (perhaps) purposely off-putting.

Another reason for skepticism comes from having read David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street, a well researched book whose view of Dylan is less than sanguine, portraying Dylan as opportunistic, self-centered, and callous.

My last reason for skepticism comes from having seen a number of interviews with Dylan where he is evasive, defensive, and at times downright hostile to reporters and interviewers asking him questions about his life and work.  Continue reading

Yasukuni rain

Second in my S&R Tokyo series…

Yasukuni Shrine is an interesting place, but I won’t make more of visiting it than doing so deserves. Suffice it to say the Japanese struggle spiritually with militarism far more than we Americans do. Hirohito himself refused to visit Yasukuni in the last 21 years of his imperial reign.

My wife and I went there on a rainy Sunday primarily to browse a weekly flea market on the shrine grounds. We arrived around 9:45 a.m. There wasn’t much right-wing nationalist activity, just five or six men in olive-drab uniforms sitting out the rain in two black propaganda vans. They drove away 20 minutes later.

Everything at Yasukuni that day was wet, the sky was uniformly dour and grey, and the immense Daiichi Torii gate looked as if it was indifferent to who walked under it that day and would maintain its indifference for the next 1,000 years…

(Yasukuni Jinja, Tokyo, November 2015. See my other work here and here.)

Random thoughts about the record album – part 2: the Beatles up the ante…

“Full grown men, full of emotion and on top of the world. Meet the Beatles.” – Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone 

Bob Dylan and the Beatles, dedicated followers of fashion (image courtesy Jewish Currents)

(Part 1 here)

When Bob Dylan met the Beatles in late August of 1964, the exchange was significant for both artistic and cultural reasons. The artistic reasons should be obvious: the two most significant artistic forces of the sixties cross pollinated in significant ways. For Dylan, the seed was planted that led him to shock the folk music world by going electric, and making his decision to do so public, at the Newport Folk Festival, folk music’s most prestigious event. Dylan’s act freed him from the traditions and restraints of the folk genre and allowed him to embrace rock stardom (whether that was in his best interest is open to debate).

What did Dylan give the Beatles?

Well, he gave them marijuana (whether that was in their best interest is debatable). And he also fascinated them as they fascinated him.

The result of that mutual fascination changed the record buying habits of their target audiences.

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Darkness/lightness

First in an upcoming series on Tokyo, Japan, and life generally…

This is brief recounting of two men from very different walks of Japanese life, whom I encountered in Tokyo near Ueno Station within 45 minutes of each other. The first, an older and somewhat rugged-looking salaryman, stopped for a smoke on the south end of Ueno Station by a ramp which descends down to the Tokyo Metro

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Random thoughts about record albums – part 1: Dylan’s LP idea…

…and how the invention of vinyl changed music forever.

“I agonized about making a record, but I wouldn’t have wanted to make singles, 45’s – the kind of songs they played on the radio. Folksingers, jazz artists, and classical musicians made LP’s, long-playing records with heaps of songs in the grooves – they forged identities and tipped the scales, gave more of the big picture. LP’s were like the force of gravity.” – Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Vol. One

Bob Dylan (image courtesy Mojo Magazine)

I’m about 50 pages into Dylan’s memoir Chronicles, Vol. 1. The quote above leapt out at me last night as I was reading. It seems a prescient comment from our latest literature Nobelist, given that he was one of those about to usher in the record album as art form.

Dylan’s preoccupation with making LP’s rather than singles (we still use the term album, though the operative word for a single is “track” these days) seems, on the face of it, in line with his preoccupations: he didn’t see himself as, nor did he want to be, a “hit maker.” That would have been selling out to commercial forces (stop me if you’ve heard that one before) that, as a budding artist (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), Dylan disdained. It might cost him that “force of gravity” he desired.

Serious music fans know that “force of gravity” as authenticity. According to Dylan, authenticity lay in the album format.  Continue reading