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.


When They Ruled the Lawson Station I Patron….
August 27, 2008, 4:34 pm
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I was going to file a eye-opening expose regarding the Sunday night bicycle police checkpoints here in Ako, but less than an hour ago something shook my foundation so greatly that I am forced to delay that report for another time. Don’t worry though, for those interested in bicycle regulation, as soon as I manage to remember to take a suitable picture of my bike (The Chairman) in broad daylight the aforementioned dispatch will be filed.

As for the earth shattering event:


On my way home from work, I walked into Lawson Station, my local convenience store. It’s not much different than a 7-11. I go this one because it’s across the street from my apartment. Convenient, I know. I go there every night. If I could have managed to conjure up a little basic Japanese on any given night within last month, the counter staff would know be my name and I’m sure we’d be best friends, trading emails, and planning vacations together. That has happened yet, and perhaps there are a number of reasons it’s for the best that we keep our exchanges limited to friendly head nods.

Tonight, I walked in to procure my standard nightly snack item and “Liter Water”. I chose the Volvic brand because when i think of France, I think clean water. As I entered the establishment, I was met with the haunting Banshee, cacophony of the latest Coldplay single playing over the store’s stereo system; you know, the one from the Apple Itunes commercial. From that commercial alone, I heard this song so many times before I left Japan that I was sure that I had built an immunity to it. Honestly, when I initially heard it tonight, it didn’t bother me that much rather I was surprised, realizing that I hadn’t noticed they played music in Lawson’s.

And then it happened. Abruptly, the lead singer’s lyrics switched from English to Japanese. It’s clear, Coldplay is invading Earth and there is nothing we can do about it.

Actually, when I think about it, the language transition just transformed junk into junk that I could now only understand half of. Perhaps this is an improvement, however the language transition reminded me I have yet to convey to you one of the dark secrets of the music industry I have learned from living in Japan.

The “shopping center” my school is located in, broadcasts and constant stream of shopper friendly songs over the loudspeakers. Apparently people require some sort of Pop symphony in order to get in the right state of mind to shop at a dollar store or walk to a movie theater. (This is not the secret, retail shops acorss the planet have this exact same strategy but it’s absurd concept and a major part of the pretext for the secret I am about to reveal.)

The troubling thing about this particular soundtrack is that the majority of the songs on it are popular English songs from a few years ago refurbished with Japanese lyrics and new Japanese singers. It’s the same beat and melody, and I can only I assume the general sentiment of the song is the same, because sometimes they don’t bother to change chorus–often that remains in English, because why ruin the catchy part? I find this strange though, it’s an open confession that the music industry is either that short of ideas, are more likely fears that one cannot form an emotional connection with a song if you can’t understand the lyrics some hack ghost-writer has put together for Mariah. This practice seems to at least partially reject that music is a sufficient language on it’s own. Apparently the masterminds behind this are not big fans of Bach. I don’t mean to sound snooty (I’m saving that for later) but I feel something is fundamentally wrong with that belief.

Furthermore, it messes with my head. As I mentioned before,  they replace the original signer and regenerate the track through a Japanese Pop star. This is not Enrique Iglesias or Beyonce singing in Japanese–he doesn’t have the mental capacity, and she doesn’t have the time. It’s someone else, someone who the Japanese public has forged a relationship with, and thus see this as a modern song, with a modern look and sentiment to it. So while it may be crap, at least it’s new crap to them.  Meanwhile, I’m stuck pedaling around town with some Shakira stuck in my head. And yeah, sometimes I find myself humming it. It’s utterly embarrassing.

Returning to Coldplay– I’m not sure what to think of this blending tactic; in light of the Shakira disaster I’m not sure if it will save me from something worse later. I do know that there’s clearly some grand metaphor to be constructed here, perhaps painting Coldplay as an agent of Globalization and then connecting this language transition with general progress of civilization, but I don’t want build that bridge, nor do I want give Coldplay any sort of credit for anything other than stealing from Radiohead and producing thoughtless trite compositions that degrade the achievements of their predecessors and anyone, man or ape, who has picked up an instrument.

I know this is a tired train of thought but I’m pretty sure that behind their bohemian rags, smarmy British accents, and ultra-proper manners, Coldplay is the devil. Seriously, I heard they hit dogs.

was it worth it?

was it worth it?