I’ve written quite a few songs and thought I’d get them out into the public ear. The recording is terrible and my guitar playing really needs a lot of work, but if any of you are interested, please take a moment to listen.
Absolutely In Love
When I came across Andy’s reference to the new Swiss instrument called the “Hang” (pronounced like “hung”, meaning “hand” from the Bernese Swiss dailect) or “Hang Drum”, I was immediately enthralled. So much so that I think I might even save up to buy one. Now I have three instruments (besides the guitar that I’ve been playing for about 33 years and have a reach a plateau that I want to grow beyond, perhaps next learning classical guitar or flamenco) that I really want to learn: the hang, the duduk, and the quena. I am not the most coordinated finger artist around, though, so I don’t know how well I can learn to play the hang, but I would really love to learn. The only problem with acquiring one, though, is that until this year you had to contact the only builders of the hang in the world, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, directly by snailmail and then go to Bern, Switzerland, to handpick one. It seems this year they may be starting up shipping them again, with the third generation of the design, the integral hang, which doesn’t require each individual instrument to be picked for its unique tuning. From the things I’ve read on the internet so far the popularity of the instrument is going through the roof! There really still is magic in the world.
Thanks so much Andy.
More information here, here, and here.
Some of my favorite YouTube recordings:
And this site (in Japanese), by Hayato, has an impressive list of YouTube recordings.
I wonder if it’s possible to hear the instrument live here in Japan somewhere?
Lately I’ve been listening to Jack Johnson’s new album In Between Dreams and finding the simplicity of the instrumentation and focus on lyrics bringing back my old love for singing along with the music that I love. The album reminds me of a statement made to travel writer Brian Schwartz in his book World of Villages by an Efe friend (incorrectly known as a Pygmy) who asked why Schwartz didn’t know how to play an instrument and, after Schwartz replied that back home he had professional musicians who did the playing for him, stared at him in surprise. “Where’s the fun in that?” the Efe asked. “Music ought to be sung and played and danced to by everyone involved.”
I used to spend hours every day strumming my guitar and singing and writing songs. It came naturally to me, especially the lyrics; somehow the melodies bloomed in my head and the words, unlike with poetry, popped out seemingly as if by the touch of God. I could lose myself in the creation of the songs and emerge at the end of the day, surprised that darkness had fallen and that I had forgotten to eat. Sometimes some of my college friends and I would sit on the roof of my apartment in Eugene, Oregon. U.S.A., improvising as we laid down chords and combinations, playing and laughing, and making up words till well into the evenings. I even played in an Irish pub here in Tokyo for a while, crooning about life and the laughter and joy I saw around me.
The music has died since then, in great part because so much of life in Japan revolves around ready-made packages, including music. No one my age plays their instruments any more. When I even suggest to those who admit to still fiddling with their guitars and pianos that we try playing a gig on a street corner somewhere they look at me in horror. “What if the police come?” they ask. That, of course, kills the joy in singing for the love of singing. And that is what Japan is like, the regulation like some metallic killjoy terrified of spontaneity and unbridled elation.
Jack Johnson even dresses the way I do, the way I love most: t-shirt, shorts, sandals, hair buzz cut. Sitting with friends in the backyard enjoying one anothers’ company, the words in the songs about living simply and focusing on the little things in life and appreciating them. When a friend handed me the album to borrow and I popped it into my computer at home, it was like rediscovering my old Oregon friends. I especially like his song “Breakdown” about wishing the train he was on would break down so he could take the time to look around him. So poignant the truth of slowing down, at times painfully reminding me of how far I’ve ventured from my own determination to live without rushing.
One song caught me by surprise, “Good People”. I had just returned from a particularly rough passage on the evening train, packed to the gills with late night commuters. Perhaps it was the electricity in the air from the storm outside, but a nasty mood seemed to infiltrate the crowd. I had been standing near the door. At my station I was about to step out of the train when behind me some sweating businessman who couldn’t wait for those ahead of him to negotiate the human bodies attempted to muscle me out of the way. When I resisted he placed his hand on my face and shoved me to the side, making me trip and fall onto the platform. I was so incensed that I raised my fist to punch him, but caught myself just in time. Fuming I shuffled home, mumbling obscenities about Japanese men (who have an obnoxious tendency to flaunt bravado and what they call male “puraido”… “pride”) and feeling my emotions suffocate me. I clicked the “play” button in iTunes on my Mac and let Jack Johnson’s music wipe the slate clean.
When “Good People” came on, I got to wondering. Just why is it that so much of the popular culture around the world seems to focus on being “bad” and sullen and miserly and fast and rebellious, with brows beetled and shouting and bad-mouthing everything and everyone? You watch television, as Jack Johnson alludes to, and there is nothing nice there. So much of it is selfish and hysterical and indifferent. This week there was “Ally McBeal”, “Outer Limits”, “Angel”, “Andromeda”, “The Simpsons”, CNN News, and even an Animal Planet documentary in which the announcer described a male lion as “sexist” and a cow elephant as “the fairer sex”, and, though I like some of the shows, all of them full of facetious and self-absorbed people whom I would never want to get to know in real life. The only recent program I’ve seen lately that I enjoy has been “Oz”, with its honest language and willingness to look at uncomfortable and unconventional views of men.
Music seems to be much the same. If you switch on MTV so much there is of young men and women emulating the wealthy lifestyle, with little deeper thought on anything. Some of it is pure fun, of course, but the focus is still on going it fast and often advocating anger as the solution to injustice and pain. A lot of this grows naturally out of the rebellion of the 60’s, but surely there ought to be a counterbalance with going slow and taking the road of quiet, reflection, and placation?
I love the quiet and gentle view of songs such as Jack Johnson’s. With such a view each day can roll on in and the peculiarities and hold ups absorbed in stride. I just like nice, laughing people. I like a merry soul and people who are generous with their time and belongings. I like singing for singing’s sake. Songs that celebrate the value of moments.
Pardon me now as I tune out, close my eyes, bob my head, and sing along to “Never Know”…
Music To Your Ears
For the past three days I have been bopping down memory lane, picking up songs here and there through a new personal online radio station service called Last:FM. Once you register what you do is add albums and songs from an online library of music (or from the songs you play on your computer or mp3 player) to your personal profile, which, once you’ve acquired more than a hundred tracks will be available to you as an personal online radio station that you can play and listen to. In addition, the more songs you play the more you attract â€œneighborsâ€ who have music similar to yours, so that your choices continue to grow and new music possibilities open up to you. You can also add a link to your website for readers to listen to your radio station.
I’ve already automatically catalogued thousands of songs and the list keeps getting refined the longer I play the songs I favor. So many songs from my younger days. And songs I had never thought to listen to before.
Check out my personal radio station homepage.
The window is open and through the screen drifts the music of various crickets all rehearsing for the Autumn Gala. The repetitious strokes of the Common Cricket, the melodious. liquid-like warble of Teleogryllus yemma, the slow-sawing buzz of Loxeblemmus doenitzi, the high-pitched, metallic twitter of Ornebius kanetataki, and, later this evening, the non-stop, ringing vibrato of the non-native tree cricket Calyptotrypus hibinonis, which fill the trees like the chorus from the Aida, a musical rhapsody just above your head.
The summer has just about spent itself. The light that bathed the rooftops, pavement, tree canopies, and exposed soil now filters through increasingly gathered ceilings of clouds, and shadows fail. The other night, while sitting in my classroom waiting for my students, a frightening thunderstorm hit central Tokyo, the rain lashing down in torrential sheets, and the thunder and lightning whiplashing across the night sky in a mad fury, the likes of which I had never experienced in all my life. It was so violent that it caused a blackout in part of the city and stopped the central Yamanote commuter line, the lifeline of the entire city, to stop dead for two and a half hours (I will not get into the implications of blackouts occurring in three major cities around the world within the space of one week, though I suspect that the American government is going to announce, in the near future, the imminent attack of aliens).
Perhaps the rain arrived to wash away the detritus of accumulated desires, and to make way for clear decisions. Certainly I’ve been debating with myself the purpose and merit of online journal writing and even the legitimacy of including computers in so much of my daily life. None of this is real. The connections are tentative. The rewards illusory. All of the hours that the computer screen demands of my attention and intelligence seeps away the undeniability of a real touch, where fingers bridge the space between souls. Once again it is on this side of the window that I sit, while the vitality that I love gives birth, eats, sleeps, and dies beyond the screen. Like a vacuum cleaner’s receptacle the material goods accumulate in the corners of my room, but it is never really satisfying. I yearn for authentic experiences of being alive.
Being in touch with a lot of wonderful and interesting people through this journal provides a connection with people that otherwise I would never have come to know gives some legitimacy to using the internet, and yet sometimes it seems I spend more time with these wraiths of distance than I do with real, live people. E-mail has supplanted hand-written letters and the synapse is instant, and yet during my letter-writing days I stayed in touch with more of my friends than I do now. My mailbox now sits empty and hollow day after day, with no one, including myself, making the effort and slow contemplation of writing a letter. I still much prefer a letter over an e-mail. There is something reassuring and warm about holding an evelope in your hand, ripping open the flap, and sitting down somewhere to rove your eyes over the ink scribbles. E-mail is perhaps so easy to dash out and the numbers of contacts in the address book so numerous that there just aren’t enough hours in a day to keep in touch with everyone, not to mention the build up of received messages too frequent to allow much time to deliberate the information and slacken the pace to the slow, amorphous revolutions of the heart.
Last week, in response to my last post, a good friend suggested that I need a child in my life. He is the third person to qualify this about the next step I should take. His words stopped me dead in my tracks. He had a point. In spite of recoiling from the dent such a step would make in my present circumstances, when I thought back on how I thought about children over the years, I realized that much of my time I spent “planning” for creating an environment for a growing child. When I ponder tossing out old books I stop myself, thinking that I need to have a library that would surround a child and open up the world that books gave me, as my mother and father provided for me as I grew up. When I think of nature or taking time in the mountains I often contemplate walking with a child and showing what I love so much about being out there. When I meet a young student at my school whose family has united in weekly outings and activities and who seems so uplifted by the companionship of her family members, I again think of the rewards of fatherhood.
But I resist. It seems my life is directed inward at a elusive destination where one of the dominant sensations is an indefineable hunger. I rove the internet seeking connection, but end up securing nothing but endless links. The computer screen swallows time and humanity like Fenris gobbling up the moon, always disguised by its never-fading illumination and dazzle of colors. I am a moth battering against a light bulb and if I continue much longer my wings will shred to tatters and the night will weaken before I can remember what moths flew at before artificial lights tricked them out of their freedom.
So what am I doing here? Can I use this medium to make a worthwhile difference, truly, non-selfishly, with honest intentions, non-self-congradulating, non-self-evading, meat-on-the-bones authenticity? Or is it just lather, a cover up of the stories that matter? At the end of my life will the time and energy that I spent here make any sort of difference? If not, why waste what little time I have on Earth playing with illusions?
The whole evening air is filled with the music of crickets. It will only last a snatch of the Autumn passage, but it is all in earnest, all directed toward the serious business of living to the fullest.
Fujiko Suda goes into this subject, too. Please refer to her post: How It Changed Our Lives So Far