Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mutual of Omaha

I saw one of these in the middle of the day by Kamogawa the other day. Odd bird. Also, I think that the rat in our house is this. Somehow this makes it less scary. The Wikipedia entry says that rat isn't in Japan, but my Japanese "Living Things of Japan" guide, says it is.

Friday, May 29, 2009

More Zevoness

Another funny tidbit about the biz in the Zevon biography:

At one of his early NY concerts, when he was the critics favorite, Billy Joel was wandering around hassling people trying to find out how to get a tour booked. Success is so random.

Grand Torino

One of the high points of my ill-fated Florida trip was flying ANA to America. War ANA. In addition to good food and service they have the new 777s with the personal TV system that allows you to watch a ton of movies and TV shows and your own speed. You can pause and jump between programs. They also don't censor the movies. It had the entire first season of 24, all of the Ocean's Eleven movies, including the original Sinatra version and a Clint Eastwood marathon. If I haven't said it before, Clint Eastwood is one of my very favorite directors of all time. From The Eiger Sanction on through Unforgiven, I love it all (with the exception of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which sucked.) So I was excited to get to see Grand Torino. I haven't liked a movie so much since......when......This is England maybe. The Dark Knight? It struck me as one of the rare movies that reflects an America that looks familiar to me. An odd scary America with a lot of heart and uncomfortableness. I liked it more than I can say. That being said, I had no interest in the dramatic arc or ending. I could have done without it. I think the movie would have been better if it had just been guys hardware shopping. But that is me. I loved John from Cincinnati.

They also pass out Haagen Dazs on ANA. United just passed out resentment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Watch this all the way through. I am not sure what is going on but it is very strange and I actually laughed through my despair.

This Motherfucking Life

I just got the mail saying I have been turned down for the scholarship that I blew a few thousand dollars applying for and was sure I would get. Why was I turned down? Who knows. While trying to avoid self pity it is the same wonder I feel at being turned down for everything I get turned down for. I think in some ways I am easy to reject. Not initially, but I picture in the final stages they look and think, "Well, he'll be okay without this." But I'm not. I am at a complete loss for what to do. I have been highly motivated basing everything around this, including a substantial chunk of my self respect. Fancy yourself the academic you say. I was so confident I had it, but I felt the same way about film school and the high school teaching job and the...... I suppose I should get used to the idea of being a junior high teacher. What was that I was saying about Warren down there earlier? I take it back Warren here I come.

The consulate actually mailed back and said there were two reasons:

1. There were a lot of applicants.
2. My research seemed unfocused.

2. Is odd because I came out of the interview telling everyone, "They were very friendly but didn't seem very interested in my research." They really didn't seem to grasp what "Environmental Economics" might be and kept bringing it back to "Can you understand doctors in Japan?" As I was trying to explain quantifying "Quality of Life."

Very frustrating.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Actually I am sleeping until 3pm every afternoon as the school won't let me come back to work until Saturday as I might have Gaikoku Flu. Yesterday I finished reading I'll Sleep When I'm Dead , the biography of Warren Zevon by his ex-wife Crystal Zevon.

Somewhere between him trying to make his wife have sex with his girlfriend while their newborn daughter cries in the next room and him forcing a groupie to have an abortion I began to question my love for him as an artist. Insert Ezra Pound equation. In the end, he probably does enough to make his excesses somewhat palatable. I think I am most empathetic and understanding with artists not being able to fit into the conventional world. There is that. Then there is being a narcissist and a drain on society. The life of an addict. It made me go back and rethink whether his talent actually justified the people around him's tolerance. I started to compare him to other artists. Is he a better songwriter than Blake Schwarzenbach, Ben Folds, Lance Hahn, Joe Strummer or Bob Mould? (that is a very random sampling) No. I think he isn't. But....then again, the age and time and place are a little different. I went back and watched some clips and he definately was quite a talent.

(A note on the Excitable Boy clip: I started out laughing at what everyone looked like and then realized how great they were playing and felt kind of bad.)

I base my thoughts around punk rock the way scientists base their worldview on evolution so it is no surprise that I will fall back on it here and say that part of Zevon's issues was the scene he was in. His friends were Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley, so he saw himself as rejected by the industry even though he was on the cover of Rolling Stone and constantly on Letterman. I think J. Robbins or Bobby Sullivan are every bit the songwriters Zevon was, but who knows what bank account they are digging into now. But, what does a corrupt industry really owe you anyway? And that is another place where the book makes me slightly ill. Rock and roll is just another power structure where sucking up to money helps your path to success. Fuck it. The way music is depicted as being made and the odd ways that money are thrown at it and the politics invovled makes you see music legends for what they really are; non-threatening chums.

Nevertheless, it is a book worth the read and you will feel for Warren and those around him and you will reconsider his music, which is the most important part anyway.


Instant fight of the year. Abel Cullum vs. Tokoro Hideo


Miami Pt II


Architecturally, I find it admirable that Miami is instantly recognizable as where it is. Even if the style isn't executed exceptionally, it is still an exception to the usual.


Even this contraption is staying on theme.


Scarface is running from the chainsaw.


On the beach: a harbinger.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Miami pt. 1


It wasn't the first time I had to wander around Osaka until the trains started. It was the first time I had been that sober. Took a strange turn just East of Umeda and things got weird. One of my favorite things about Japan is how going one block over can make everything change. Everything changed for the depressing. I found the street lined with Chinese prostitutes, taxis and garbage. Sometimes, most of the time, in Japan, even the hookers ignore you. I am glad. My flight to Tokyo had two people on it. The lady at the airport was very sweet laughing about it. We saw Fuji-san a little after sunrise. It didn't photograph as well as it loomed.


Miami looked like Miami and photographed surprisingly well. Jet lag came in handy as it got me up around 5am and kept me out of trouble by around 8pm. I had no idea I was walking into ground zero of Urban Beach Weekend. Which looked just like this but worse. Much worse.

I hope that isn't construed as me trying to be racist. It would be like being trapped in this little neighborhood with 250,000 drunk Hank Williams Jr. fans. It was just that it was 250,000 young African Americans who love every current in hip-hop that I despise in it. It was insane. I wanted to take pictures but I didn't want to get in the way. I almost got jumped for my wallet but I turned and gave the two guys my best junior high school teacher "what are you about to do" look which bought me the few seconds to get out of the situation. I told a cop whose response was, "Well, what are you gonna do?"


But I am jumping ahead. Miami Beach at 6am on a weekday morning is about as lovely as any urban environment I have ever been in. It is freakishly clean and surprisingly working class; which seems to make for nice morning neighborhoods almost everywhere.


A small squall blew over and the briefness of my time made me realize how much I miss the sky in Florida. It is the best sky anywhere. I like the East Tennessee sky at about 8pm on a summer night. Or Kagoshima late at night. But nothing beats Florida sun between clouds.


It's a strange thing to fly across the Pacific to dip your toes in the Atlantic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Air Miami

I haven't mentioned it because I don't want to curse myself, but I am flying to Miami for a two days to test and interview for a scholarship that will pay for me to get my masters at Kyoto University. I didn't realize the flight was so early. I can't find a train that will make it, so in typical Wes style I am headed to wander around Osaka tonight until I can get the morning train. Woohoo.

Oh, and since I always assume that every second I am on a plane is my last, remember to play the Pogues if I eat it and go to that great scholarship interview in the sky.

Air Miami....Not the Pogues.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Been thinking about Chavez lately...musically. They have kind of been forgotten it seems like. Good stuff.

Why I Barely Post Anymore

Sorry. In April I got transferred (against my will) to a new school in Higashi Osaka. My last school was about 45 minutes from Kyoto. My school now is, at least, an hour and thirty minutes away. I leave my house at 6:30am. I get home, if I am lucky, a little after 6pm. That being said, this school, while having 1,053 students, is not nearly as stressful as Tomo-chu. However, it has one 8 year-old laptop which is connected to the internet and this site is blocked. I still think of the same amount of stuff I want to comment on, but by the time I get home I usually just want to lay on the floor.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

My friend Ueta Yu getting beat up by Boku Kotetsu (a famous dude)

Tea Baggery

Via a website called The Seminal. This pretty much sums it up for me. It could be extended further, like to the fact that they don't have E-coli, but this will do.

Fat and Poor?

This is very important to understanding the poverty trap.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Some Random Stuff

This is Golden Week in Japan. The archipelago of holidays that everyone waits for the off year when they line up as a peninsula. They didn't this year so I had last Wednesday off and then Monday through today. In that span I will estimate that I have seen about 30 live bands and one crazy-ass dance performance in an giant old shrine. It isn't the week I planned, partly because it has rained constantly and partly because I managed to rip a good chunk of skin off of my right foot last week, but its randomness has been interesting nonetheless.

A few stories:

Does this happen in other countries? I own a Trek bicycle. It is aging, but still nice. There is a specialty Trek shop in Kyoto. My gears broke so I took it to the Trek shop. I only here bad things about them, but they have always been OK to me. Here is my conversation:

Me: I think my gears are broken. Can you fix them?
Staff: No.
Me: No, you don't know, or no it is impossible to fix?
Staff: Hmmmm.
Me: ?
Staff: Can't fix it.
Me: You mean I need to order a part?
Staff: Hmmmm
Me ?
Staff: No.
Me: Why? What's the problem.
Staff: Yes
Me: Are you saying it can't be fixed and I have to buy a new bicycle?
Staff: Hmmmmmmmm. I guess so.

I leave the shop and get on my bike and everything worked fine. What the F? Which brings up the question: Why are there some stores in Japan that seem to have no desire whatsoever to have customers? I don't get it. Most of the service in Japan is outstanding. Just sometimes......It is so strange.

Random thing two:

I moved from the second floor of the garbage heap I live in, to the first. Monday night I kept waking up thinking the bed was uncomfortable. After waking up for the fifth time, I realized I had a pocket full of thumbtacks. Nice.

Random thing 3:

I went to Going Kobe in....Kobe last Wednesday because my friend's band was playing. It was a huge concert on Kobe Port Island that featured tons of bands playing at various locations. It was also free. The event is a pretty good idea, because the island has a convention center an arena and a college all within walking distance of each other. Bands were not only playing in the main rooms, but in lots of small rooms around the facilities. Needless to say, most of the best music was on the smaller stages. Walking towards the college to hand out flyers form my friends I noticed a T-shirt for the event listing bands who were playing. Surprisingly one of my favorite bands of all time, Sambomaster, were playing. Lucky for me. I got to see them for free!! I couldn't, however, get anyone else excited enough to watch. Most of the other headlining bands, weren't particularly good.

Okinawa Music

Next week my students, they are still too new to be my kids yet, are going on their school trip to Okinawa so in music class they are singing a lot of Okinawan songs. I had forgotten how much I like a lot of stuff that comes from Okinawa. It largely proves that Japanese pop music can have a depth to it that isn't reflected in the majority of TV backed hits. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Okinawa, as a prefecture, has a lot of street cred, if you will. It was an independent kingdom concurred by the Japanese, tortured by the Japanese, destroyed by the American, occupied by the Americans and exploited by both countries. It has the highest poverty rates in Japan. Here the band Begin sings the song "Shimanchu no Takara" "Shimanchu" is the Okinawan reading of "島人” meaning "island person." "Takara" means treasure. No, it is not about pirates. In this song he talks about the things that were important to him growing up on the island. I particularly like the line where he choses to say "They don't let us have TV or radio." Not "We don't have TVs or radios." Strangely, I went to see a Japanese folk rock show last night and this guy played this song. I was really stoked. I think a lot of younger people get the message about Okinawa.

This next song, "Shimauta, "Island Song", by The Boom is more in your face. Not in its sound or approach, its lyrics are a bit vague, but in its theme and deeper substance. On the surface this song can be read as a sweet love song about a young boy saying goodbye to his romantic interests in the forest on the island. It is really about the forced mass suicides preceeding the U.S. invasion, and about a young student, as many of the suicides were, saying goodbye to the world. It is a terribly wrenching song, but an enduring pop hit. But, here is the weird part. The Boom isn't from Okinawa. They are from Yamanashi, but the singer became very touched by Okinawa and its music. Still, a good song on the topic.

I will put two versions here. One with the English translation, and the next live from Tokyo because it seems so in your face aggresive in a way to me. Notice in both of these songs the use of the Sanshin.

I should also point out that the first guitar riff in "Shimauta" is probably one of the most famous and recognizable in Japanese music.

Moving back to Okinawan music from Okinawa. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Mongol 800, whose songs are not particularly political but whose radness is overwhelmingly. If you lived in Japan in 2001-2002 this song was unavoidable, and there was nothing wrong with that. "Chisanakoinouta" is still one of my favorite songs in any language ever. You don;t have to know anything about Japanese. Here.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.