April 6, 2011
If I had to stumble across someone on the airwaves late at night talking quietly and playing amazing music then Dr Rob would be him. And he’s actually doing it. Our good doctor is on the radio and I thought a few of you might be interested. He’s been working with the local radio station, FM.Karuizawa 77.5MHz, with the first show going out this Saturday (the 9th) and every Saturday thereafter at 20:00-21:00 (Japanese time).
As you know he’s got fantastic taste in music (especially of a soul, balearic, electronic and disco nature) and will be playing a mixture of old and new music, over a range of genres and tempos. Anything that tickles his fancy. As well as conventional radio, the show will be also be streamed at here and there will be a blog running side-by-side with information on artists, labels and scans of the more interesting record covers. If you get a chance tune in and get involved.
Dr Rob lives in Japan. This is his response to recent happenings. Help where you can people. Ed.
Be Not Defeated By The Rain by Kenji Miyazawa
Translation by David Sulz
Be not defeated by the rain, Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.
Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.
A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade.
A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.
If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.
In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.
Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man”.
This is my goal, the person I strive to become.
March 4, 2011
I wake in cold blue before the sun. Unraveling the dreams I have come to treasure. One or five AM. I have no idea. My head so cold it aches. I check the kids are covered and brave downstairs. Three degrees in the kitchen. But the fish are still swimming. I light the stove with stones thrown from Asamayama soaked in kerosene. Set the coffee on it. A shower, the quickest way to warm up. But it`s hard to get in. Ice on the inside of the window. Frosted glass. Move the frozen laundry. On tip-toes against cold tiles. Harder to get out.
Minus eight during the day. Minus twenty at night. All effort spent on keeping the family alive. No time for anything other than the business of surviving the weather. Chopping wood while the sun shines. Sleeping once it sets. A complicated city boy with a simple country life. It can be good to have your priorities straightened once in a while.
Snow makes roads impassable, so I carry my youngest son to school. My own personal trainer. These weeks we are working mainly on calves and shoulders. Dressed in cheap Wellingtons, three layers of thermals and a goose-down jacket that was too warm to ever wear comfortably in England. Now I never leave the house without it.
We take a short-cut. Across jidoukan. The snow has cleaned everything. Made everywhere new. It shines with countless jewels. Our footprints the first. It seems a shame to leave them. Ever more elaborate chandeliers of ice, dragon`s teeth, hang from drainpipes and branches.
Down empty streets early morning in Nakakaruizawa. Not the Old Town, with the summer houses, the bessou, the money, the famous and the expensive French restaurants, but the community of people who work to serve the holiday makers. Jimoto no hito. Those that suffer the seasonal cold. Lack of activity and lack of work. Together. Don`t worry. Shinpaishinai de kudasai. There`ll be skiing come February. The roads will soon be busy again.
We stand at a crossroads. Waiting for lights. Watching the sun reflect off everything in long broken sunglasses. A bright red hat bought from Slam City before the kids with “Destructo” stitched on it. I draw air through my nose and it hurts. I think about a balaclava. Then memories of meeting Millwall. I guess I might be a bit scary in a ski-mask. Most likely get arrested as I enter Lawson. Get shot as I go for my point card.
As we pass, a village wakes and shutters rise on a parade of shops where, customer-less, life goes on. Slowly. The bakery are playing my CD. With optimism, we talk of sledging and snowmen. My youngest son and I. We wonder at our freezing breath. We play at who can make the bigger cloud.
Weekends we go ice-skating. The open-air arena at Kazakoshi Kouen. My kids struggle with their laces, and I selfishly lose a Karuizawa minute in thoughts of Streatham on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes a Wednesday night. Nicola Sagar, Tony Chattaway, Dave Miller. Steven Wilbury, Robert Storer, Mark Perry. Karen Szulkai. Tony and Steven Robinson. DaSilva. Jackie and Janice. The Human League versus Frankie Smith. George Benson. Give me the night. Bauer hockey boots. The barrel roll. Galaxian and Centipede. Leaving my diary around so others might reveal my loves. To shy or lame to do so myself. Innocent days. Moments before drink. And discos. Twenty-nine years off the ice and fifteen minutes back on and I think of buying my own boots again. Smiling with the past for once. I watch a pretty girl skate backwards. Nostalgia. Love. Promise. To the south, mountains are all I see.
The skating has had another plus besides reminding me of being next to teenage girls in tight jeans and tie-blouses. It has put me back in touch with my second son. Six years old now, but only three when we arrived in Japan. In England I would carry him everywhere, and he would not sleep unless I was next to him. Then came his younger brother, putting some distance between us. And then came the language. More fluent now in Japanese, he often needs his older brother to translate my questions and requests. But by taking his hand on the ice a trust was renewed. I tell him to go faster. As fast as he can. I tell him I will not let him fall. To catch my sons. The only reason I remain strong. Now he reads me books in Japanese. Explaining words I might not understand. Carefully re-pronouncing them until I have managed to get them right. And every night he lets me read him The Mr Men.
Evenings, I keep the sake outside. No need for a fridge. My intake limited to that which has refused to freeze. Sake in moonlight. Tastes better this way. One long night late December our carpenters taught me that.
Come summer our new home will be complete. Underfloor-heating, four-wheel drive, a dishwasher. I won`t know what to do with myself. But I am happy now. I want for nothing. And now is what`s important.
Japan: The Experience Of Swimming
8 Up: Before Dawn
Sybarite: Without Nothing I`m You
Cocteau Twins: My Truth
Santana: Song Of The Wind
Gutter Snypes: Trails Of Life (Inst.)
Sergio Mendes: Iemanja
Seawind: Morning Star
Talk talk: It`s Getting Late In The Evening
Fluke: Cool Hand Flute
Dead Can Dance: The Arrival & Reunion
Kaine: Welcoming Idaho
Brian Eno: Mist/Rhythm
Santana: Tales Of Kilimanjaro
John Williams: Woodstock
November 29, 2010
Sitting in a cold school playground. Neath a clear Autumn sky. Koyo in reds and browns. Pale yellows. Jealously watching my kids hot-foot it after girls. A game of “Taka Oni”. Up the slide. Round the Jungle Jim. Old tires rolled for hula hoops. I fold my arms and pull my shoulders up around my ears. I try to remember the first time I fell in love.
Was it kiss-chase at primary school? Being dragged into the red-brick Girls’ Toilets on Birchanger Road. The girl in the house opposite. Net curtains for wedding gowns. Or was it when Laura Johnson smiled?
Was it the girl I was too shy to kiss? Long weekends sat on my Chopper outside her house, waiting for her to appear. One long Saturday matinee spent frozen with fear.
Or was it the force of nature with the tattooed ankle in Corfu?
Was it a copy of Clara Bow’s bob and Kohled eyes? All dressed in black with drawn on pout. The hardest body. Dark taffeta.
Was it the tom-boy who wouldn’t take no for an answer til it was too late? A glimpse of hung-over white lingerie in a four poster bed. A glimpse of jade at the foot of her stairs.
Was it a bright red mouth. Or an overnight bag hidden under a restaurant table. My mock acquittals accompanied by a dramatic removal of glasses and flick of the fringe. So much passion there.
Was it the electricity when our lips touched on a Sunday morning after the Saturday night before. Heaven’s promise. Then Sunday nights lonely crying. Red Stripe and The Wonder Years for company. What ever happened to Winnie? Whatever happened to Croydon’s Kylie?
Was it a scrapbook? A faded beauty in 50s gear. Someone longing to be held but too used to rejection. Pressed so close to me in sleep that handprints accompany me to the shower.
Was it the green contacts and the flattery I felt? Or the impossibility of it?
Was it a shot at redemption? Or a means of escape? Something unbroken I felt compelled to break.
Or was I just too high?
Was it when my wife blushed? A goofy grin. Caught off guard as Badlands lit the ICA.
Or was it when I held my first son?
Was it with the act? Or just the idea?
Every night I dream of friends and lovers my life has left behind. These are happy dreams. Conversations, jokes and warmth. Not spectres and farewells. Love doesn’t fade. It grows. I wish I could reach out and tell these people who shaped my life that their memory makes me smile the biggest smile. I wish I could hold them. Last night I kissed my grandmother. “Good night my love” she said and I opened my eyes lonely. Lonely for a moment, then my sons awake and the day once more is given purpose.
No-man: Days In The Trees (Reich)
Scott Cossu: Purple Mountain
Haroumi Hosono: Honeymoon
Yusef Lateef: Plum Blossom
Elmore Judd: Otherly Love
Azimuth: Lina Da Horizonte
Last Night: Cool Water
Steven Halpern: Play Of Light
Chapterhouse: Epsilon Phase
Shinozaki Matasugu: From A Distance
Michael Lorrimer: Remembranza
Shakti: Bridge Of Sighs
Les Negrettes Vertes – Face A La Mer (Massive Attack)
Transglobal Underground: International Times (Haunted Dancehall)
Arvo Part: Spiegel Im Spiegel
November 4, 2010
I’m back in Tokyo for the weekend. DJing on the Friday at Right Right Right. About to enter its 5th year. Goodness knows how we’ve made it this far. Sleep is scarce but done in a small hotel in Hibiya, called R.E.M. The more I stay here the more I love it. The rooms are tiny but it’s far from a capsule. There are no real amenities but it’s cheap, clean and modern. I got tired of staying in flea pits on the wrong side of Shibuya quite quickly. Don’t let fancy foyers fool you.
A big plus is the Muji restaurant on the second floor of the hotel. This means I can eat alone cheaply and healthily and not have to resort to the typical gaijin (foreigner) thing of living off McDonalds and 7-11 sandwiches all weekend. I’d never dream of going to McDonalds back home. As The Dead Kennedy’s once prophesised “Give me convenience or give me death.”
Another big plus are the hotel’s other customers. R.E.M. is opposite a theatre called Takarazuka. A theatre where all roles are played by women. It does look strange. Posters with middle-aged women in tuxedos and pencil moustaches. But it’s far more serious than panto and prinicipal boys. The street outside the theatre is always jammed with women of all ages.
Likewise the hotel is packed with well dressed women. Those in town to catch the show. and actresses so stunning that I have often had to laugh out loud at the impossibility of it. Koyuki Katou is a graduate of the theatre’s school. I eat my breakfast like a pig in shit. Surrounded by beauty. A Hugh Hefner Playboy Mansion moment to start the day. I never see another man, which is probably why they always give me a room on the top floor. Up and out of harms way.
When I’m in Tokyo for the weekend I try to set myself a mission. Set my sights on somewhere I haven’t been before. To be honest, the DJing and associated bad habits can get in the way of the stuff I`m finding more enjoyable these days. Will power where art thou. I’m cool about fluffing asking for directions in Japanese, but not so cool abut doing it when I still stink of booze.
This month I checked out an exhibition at the Mori Tower. I never had the time to go to the Mori when I lived in Tokyo. Distance and school pick-ups were against me. The entrance to the gallery is on the 3rd floor, but the exhibitions are up on the 53rd floor. If I had realised I had to go all the way to the top I might have thought twice about entering. It didn’t click until I was carefully ushered into a lift. My ears popping three times between the 30th and top floors. I ain’t never been very good with rollercoasters and the like. Except in times when all seemed lost. While now maybe I’m found.
The current exhibition is called Sensing Nature. Snow storms made of feathers. Tables cast from light. Pure white oblivion oozing blood on an operating table. PET bottles mapping the Milky Way. One of the exhibits consists of a series of short films taken in the artist’s neighbourhood shown on huge screens in cavernous darkened halls. A tapir in a local zoo. A lake. An underground car park. Each film 10 minutes in length. People standing transfixed for the entire duration. I was wondering how many people would take as much time to watch a real landscape.
My favourite piece is Kuribayashi Takashi’s “Wald aus Wald”. A forest made from white paper mache, which you are invited to explore both above and below. Below, everyone scurries about, bent double, on all fours, looking for a way to find the light. The light, provided by head-sized holes through to the forest above. Poking your head above into the forest you are greeted by four or five other human “bunnies” doing the same. I couldn’t stop laughing. Trying to snap people as they popped up. A bit like that arcade game where you have to club the moles with a mallet.
When I was taking photos, I noticed that the pictures only really looked interesting when they caught both the model of nature and part of the modern world of the gallery housing it. And I think this is what the exhibition sets out to illustrate, something the Japanese call Shizen or Jinen. The co-existence of man and Earth. That everything is nature be it a snow-capped mountain or 53-storey skyscraper.
That night, before another evening of DJing, R.E.M. and dreams of beauty, I take dinner in a tree-house in the heart of Harajuku.
With Shizen, Tokyo makes a lot more sense.
June 22, 2010
Joe Hisaishi – Play On The Sands
I got up to work on a radio show, but “Sonatine” (ソナチネ) is on Channel Neco. It`s one of my favourite Kitano films. There’s no need for language or sub-titles since its practically a silent movie. Simple in its violent beauty. A small group of hoods in hiding in Okinawa attempt to entertain themselves while they wait to die. An allegory for life. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me when I first saw it. “Beat” looks so young. His eyes these days are cold and animal.
Joe Hisaishi’s Reich-ian score plays while gentle humour endeavours to mask the inevitable. It takes some courage to play and laugh at practical jokes, relive childhood games while you pass what’s left of your time. Too easy to sit and worry your nails to the quick.
As it was with all the books and films, the sentimentality, I took my code from, revenge is swift and with no quarter. But like the final scenes of “The Wild Bunch”, ultimately in vain. Pointless bar honour.
The last shinkansen rattles the house.
Sunflowers dance on a beach.
Kitano’s new film “Outrage” opened in Japan on June 12. Not seen it yet but it doesn`t look like an easy ride.
March 10, 2010
I watch Tokyo go by from the window of a Metro train. Mejiro, Takadanababa, Shinjuku. I wonder if I will miss any of these places. I am leaving.
I have grown tired of Tokyo. Or rather, she has worn me out. This beautiful lady has a bounty to offer but only if you have an abundance of money and free time. Currently I have neither. Great place to visit. Hard place to live.
I am guilty of only really appreciating things when looking back. In the moment, I am always questioning. Often my mind is on what’s next. I should learn to live in ‘The Now’. Neal Cassady without the crank. Instead I try to keep moving, afraid that if I stop, nostalgia will hit me like a wave.
Las Vegas tango. Last tango in Paris. One last joyless fuck in an apartment in Bayswater. Angry and hurt, she grabs the headboard and forces her hair in my face. Some things are best forgotten, but I guess the old mental scrapbook doesn’t work that way. Sketches Of Spain bring the myth of my conception. Supposedly in Stiges. On the honeymoon. But since I was a couple of months premature, I reckon that’s the kind of truth people felt forced to tell in the early 60s. Sting sings a song about man’s crimes against man. I try to remember being in another place, but I am lost in Tokyo. No one bothers to translate. I hear a lover on the phone. Just out of the bath. Wrapped in a towel. Propped up on pillows. Flirting. I’m trying to be clever. Funny even. Before long, she’ll end up disappointed. There’s a soft focus TV promise of what love should be. Slow. Gentle. Understanding. “Hey, we have all the time in the world. Relax.” Instead, stolen moments and lies.
I watch days go by on lost roads. Clouds scream across a blue sky shot in time-lapse. I’ll get my deck-chair out. Eagles rise on a warm swell in Nepal. Gangs of small children crowd a mountain path. Following me for the sweets I brought as gifts. Dahl for breakfast, Dahl for lunch. Dahl for tea. I ain’t never been to New Orleans. The only voodoo I know is in the thunder of the London Underground and the sodium orange on deserted streets going east. The only healing chant, silence.
“Come with me”, she sings. I`m in Ronnie Scott’s. Two couples before the children, drinking champagne. (Another) one of those transient bubbles I questioned. I’ll never question anything again. I promise. Pat dreams of Mexico but I’m in Reckless in Islington. Tara’s letting me trade my boxes of Trance for a grounding in Funk and Rare Groove. I cut my hair, take the medication, and stop going out. For eight years.
Sing me to sleep. Weatherall soundtracks a film in a chapel off Oxford Street. Days of Shoreditch, Small Fish, and Silas. Nights watching Sav collect glasses. Walking between Borough and Brick Lane when the snow stopped everything.
Hendrix plays and I’m acting. Living out a role in ‘Withnail & I’. Pulling on a tattered overcoat as I pull myself off a mattress on the floor. Pulling on a joint, for effect, and to keep out the cold. A room on (H) Ash Grove where the rent was a tenner a month. Working out Pence:Brain Damage ratios. Drinking Thunderbird all day. Pints of cider with ice. Playing at it. I thought I’d never miss that place either.
I am leaving Tokyo, but I am not leaving Japan. I am heading for the hills. Half-way up an active volcano to build a mountain retreat. Friends worry that I might become isolated, but I am isolated now and I fear that to feel isolated in one of the busiest cities in the world may be harder than feeling isolated in the middle of nowhere with only the bears for company. I’m taking the easy way out.
I worry that if I stay in Tokyo I will become a bigot. My patience and enthusiasm exhausted. Cursing the endless armies of school children as I pass on my bike. I have already retreated from Tokyo. Minimizing my trips out of the house. Metro journeys filling me with despair. One more carriage full of blank faces. Any conversation limited to pleasantries or apologies. Any hope of depth, any bond, seems impossible. It would be easy to give up, yet the small successes I have with language light my days. I will never give up. But I am not winning. Retreat. Regroup.
There was a time when I could flick my toes and greet it all like one big adventure. I’d get my kids to sing “row row row your boat” in a round. Life is but a dream that so quickly passes. I think of my first friend here. The chain-smoking delivery guy who brings my records. Shin-Otsuka, and the woman with the thick scar that marks her hair-line who jokes with me in 7-11. Otawa-Dori, and the old man we used to greet everyday to and from school. Dragging his tiny dog along on stiff legs in the heat and the cold. The dog died and the man disappeared. Kohinata, and the woman with the magenta bob, ever-present shades and tight leather skirts, who lives round the corner with a Ryuichi Sakamoto lookalike. Probably in her late 60s, but you still might.
My children play under Mejiro-Dori’s highway, where we feed the stray cats, and the cats piss on the parked cars.
It’s not places that are important, but people. And I’ll take them with me.
David Sylvian: Nostalgia
Michael Shrieve: Las Vegas Tango
Miles Davis: Sketches Of Spain
Vangelis: Good To See You
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Before Long
Jean-Luc Ponty: Ethereal Mood
Bill Laswell: Lost Roads
Neville Brothers: Healing Chant
Finis Africae: Armadilha
Tania Maria: Come With Me
Pat Metheny: Sueno Con Mexico
Bowery Electric: Sleep
Jimi Hendrix: Little Wing (Live)