Teaching In Socks

It’s never what you think it is

The weekend as I was getting my haircut, my hairstylist brought up the death of Michael Jackson. I was a little surprised at first and thought to myself the token Generation whatever I am thought, “wasn’t that three weeks ago?” but in retrospect, this news, within this time frame, is perfectly reasonable barber shop small talk. Furthermore, as I am his only American client, I am sure he felt that this was the topic where we could find some common ground. Michael Jackson was his mother’s favorite musician, Michael Jackson was American, I am American and thus must have some sort of anecdote that would segue into a solid, entirely not uncomfortable, conversation.

While I would have loved to tel him about the Michale Jackson 3-D Epcot experience I vaguely remember seeing when I was five. My Japanese is not quite there yet. I mumbled out a few sentences then got stuck on how to say “surprising”  in Japanese (odorokasu, maybe?). Odokorokasu. I then went on about how In Tokyo they played Michael Jackson everywhere I went all weekend. He was not surprised, Japan loved Michael Jackson. Also, I imagine that there was enough distance that they stayed away from the media grilling many of the US networks gave him in the 90’s and beyond (perhaps deservedly).

Just as we we were hitting he end of this line of conversation a really slow and terribly 80’s sounding soft-rock ballad came on. I was about to try and reignite the conversation by pointing out that I don’t enjoy this type of music very much, luckily, I was taking a while to formulate my sentences. As I was about to give it a go, he asked me if I like Mr. Big, and specifically lead singer, Eric Martin. I said that I liked the song, “To Be With You“. He then proceed to tell me how the song we were listening to was Eric Martin, and that he was very popular in Japan, and a very talented singer.

This Guy

Now, I had some peripheral knowledge that Eric Martin, was big in Japan. But I guess I assumed it was with the same type of people who were into Jimmy Buffet or Tesla in the U.S. not people who are also into cool stuff.   But here he was,  a guy much better dressed and more popular with the ladies than I am, he watches some of the same TV shows, and it certainly more tapped into what is cool in Japan than I am, and he’s raving about Eric bloody Martin. Maybe the most one-hit wonder of the one-hit wonder power ballad bands.

Within minutes, we had gone from talking about a an American artist that is globally accepted as cool, to another American artist, who is overlooked in his home country, but widely and transcendently  accepted in a country that doesn’t even speak the same language as his lyrics.

I remember reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point a few years ago and at first being riveted with insight and then later dismissively it all as formulated and selectively contrived anecdotes. But I think one thing I recall from the book, that maybe is evident in this situation is that grabbing the right audience/ consumer is more essential to success than having Quality or craftsmanship. Say what you will about the concept of a the collective unconscious but the conundrum presented at least is somewhat contrary to the idea that a universal artistic value is a dominate force in determining what is popular–if said force even exists (I hope it does and that Dan Brown feels its scorn). What’s popular is relative and often surprising.

Having avoided insulting the musical taste of man who holds the appearance of my hair over the next eight weeks in his hands, I counted my blessings and praised my poor Japanese.  As Calvin says, “never criticize a guy with a razor”.

We continued talking about Eric Martin, and his incredible vocal range. I made the comment that it was similar to Freddy Mercury (it’s not even close, but whatever). My Hairstylist gave me a strange look. I repeated, Freddy Mercury…you know, Queen? He continued to stare, so I did the “We Will Rock” you drum beat. He nodded, “Ah, yes, Queen, very good!”.  At least some things translate.