Hey yo hey,
It's Summer again and I'm fucked, yesiree. Screwed. Fouled. Besmirched.
Summer by the Japan Sea is unusual and tricksy, it is. A fair wind may blow and the sun may shy away like some tarty wallflower but stand around idling and you'll end up broiled like a capon on a spit.
A well meaning arsehole once informed me that the Japanese artists I have for years idolized would be "nowhere if Janis hadn't choked on her coke".
Whatever, daddy. Janis Ian is alive and well.
I've heard flack a-plenty for what I listen to, even from the Japanese. I can't be annoyed or anything. It's just taste.
Though it may be argued that artists worldwide may never have plucked their first life-changing chords or written their first smack-induced tribute to sex/love/peace without the example of Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin, the Japanese music industry was thriving long before Janis even scored her first roach clip.
Akiko Wada's classic, あの鐘を鳴らすのはあなた (The One Who'll Ring the Bell is You) has got some soul. Complete with bubble afro, bell bottoms and polyester. She belts it hard like Aretha and croons low like Turner. She sounds more like she's singing from the steps of a brownstone in the Bronx than Western Japan. Nicknamed "The Empress" for her impressive stature, she has been covered, adored and ridiculed with the best. She's ethnically Korean, by the way. Not Japanese. Bravo, my dear. Bravo.
The Peanuts are a campy twin sister duo from Nagoya who communicate telepathically with Mothra. Koi no Balance or "Love Balance" is the track that got away from KILL BILL. It's so 60's you can fairly smell the Kitty Galore. I like to strut down the street to this and eye walls where I can hide from the man in the gabardine suit (he's a spy).
The 1969 award-winning いいじゃないの幸せならば (If Only We Were Happy) by Sagara Naomi 佐良直美 is a slow mournful melody that belongs in a small shady tobacco-stained cafe in Havana surrounded by toucans and unshaven revolutionaries. May this song soften their souls and make their mojitos go down colder.
I know I've mentioned Koi no Kisetsu Season of Love by Pinky and the Killers here before but because it fits, I'm going to do it again. Listen to this song! It's groovy, baby. Another hit from 1969, this one sends the grannies into a frenzy. It makes everyone wanna do the hand jive or a quirky little hip wiggle in a tiny skirt/white patent leater go go boots combo whenever it plays.
Go to Misora Hibari's sexy sexy official website. Proof she was the Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland AND Shirley Temple of her hemisphere. Dig that intro, oooh!
Here is a YouTube clip of her as a twelve year old scamp performing one of my favorite songs "Tokyo Kid". How loveable. Come on.
Another classic song by Misora called "Omatsuri Mambo". Summer in Japan means "festivals" or "matsuri". In this rump-shakin number you'll hear the traditional boisterious cry of "WASHHOI!" The meaning is somewhat unclear but it's used by the men who carry the shrine on their backs to promote teamwork and happiness.
Going to end on a song that calls for a scene.
Japanese traditional inns (ryokan) are hella creepy. Everything from the creaky floors to the inevitable ancient proprietress taking your credit info wants to give you the impression that you are a guest of a family. You will not see a front desk or a bellhop lingering around for a tip. You are entering an intimate environment, one that has been very lived in.
Most ryokan boast a collection of treasured family heirlooms in their rooms, some so decrepit that they might have made out with a Shogun or two. The Japanese have a great respect for the essences of old things and where there are old things, there is also mold.
Ok, all the ryokans I've stayed in were dirt cheap, scary and wonderful. Cracked walls, dusty tatami mats, the reek of years clinging to used and threadbare futons. A veritable playground for allergens and ghosts, both of whom could choke me. The last one I stayed in had a faintly smiling Japanese doll behind a dusty cracked glass case. A little girl wearing a faded kimono with bleeding hems. Her black eyes were painted wide open and her tiny scar of a mouth was so worn you could barely see it.
She and not Yukie Saori should have sung Yoake no Scat. One of those addictive haunting melodies that makes me want to keep the lights on. The song is meant for lovers and where they go when they first meet. "A world without time." It's got that echoey doom of The End Of The World by Skeeter Davis and all the allure of Sound of Silence by you know who. Wouldn't it have been something if ol' Art covered this one? I never liked The Yellow Monkey until they did.
And yeah, O-Ran should have kicked it to this one.
If you'd like to hear these tracks, I've uploaded them to a zip file. Because I do not know how things work, I can only hope I did it right.