Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Uptown Pi...

ザ・タイガース--花の首飾り by jrapaka5

Yesterday evening on the Metro, I started reading Hitomi Minoru's memoir. Hitomi, better known as "Pi", was the drummer for the 1960s Japanese rock band, the Tigers.

The Tigers weren't the most technically gifted musicians or the most innovative artists of their era but they had something else, an intrinsic, an emotional appeal that just can't be artificially manufactured. Pi quit the band at the height of their fame because he was frustrated with the rock lifestyle. He wanted a normal life and he got one. He became a teacher and had nothing to do with show business or rock music for nearly 40 years. But the Tigers experience will always be a part of him.

In the prologue, Pi talks about going to see a performance at a club for the first time in a long time, a performance from his former bandmate Toppo. Pi is overcome with emotion hearing Toppo sing the song I embedded above--”花の首飾り” [Hana no Kubikazari; lit. flower necklace]--in person for the first time since TOPPO had quit the band, which was before Pi did. And reading Pi's emotional response, and hearing the song playing in my own head, my eyes filled with tears. On the Metro.

Pi explains how he himself had heard the song in his own head so many times over the years. He could close his eyes and bring it up. The song has become embedded in the Japanese collective unconscious as representative of a certain era. And maybe understanding that, understanding that the Tigers belong to everybody, Pi returns back for some reunion shows.

What I love about "Hana No Kubikazari," beyond the fact that it's just such a beautiful song, is that it demonstrates the wonder and magic of pop music. This is something that ties to my feelings on Kaththi and other "mass" films, too. I get so frustrated with the conversation surrounding the arts in the West, and in Western-influenced circles. Discussions that bottom out on "originality" and "authenticity" and "technically." What about beauty, what about emotional connection, what about experience, what about love, what about magic? The story behind "Hana No Kubikazari" is magical and so is the song.

"Hana No Kubikazari" was oiginally intended to be a B-side to the theme song for the Tiger's first movie, a song sung, of course, by the Tigers' lead singer Julie (Sawada Kenji). This B-side was so unimportant that not only did they agree to let surly Tigers guitarist Toppo sing but the company used the lyrics as a promotional tool, asking for fans to submit their best lyrics, promising the best ones would get used. The winner was a 19-year old girl from Hokkaido, way up in the north, north, north of Japan, about as far from Tokyo as you can get. Music from an old industry hand, lyrics from a 19-year old girl, sung by an untrained kid from Kyoto… untechnical, unoriginal, unauthentic, originating in the profit motive, but with an emotional pull so powerful that it became a much-beloved emblem of an era. The combination of the heartbreakingly earnest and innocent lyrics with Toppo's desire to prove himself is irresistible.

If that's not the magic of pop music, I don't know what is.

That emotional pull, the wonder and enjoyment and delight in watching people who want to entertain… I get it from Vijay, from my boys in A.B.C-Z (check out their latest!)… but less and less from America. Maybe I'm missing something but the Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk" really leaves me cold. It makes my spine stiffen, actually. It's missing something. It doesn't have the buoyancy of "Happy" or "Get Lucky" or even a "Fuck You" or a "Hey Ya". It's too… time corrected? Manufactured? Whatever it is, "Uptown Funk" is missing some magic.

ETA: I was in the shower thinking it over some more and I realized… I think "Uptown Funk" is like Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om, keeping the joy firmly in quotation marks. It's got an ironic detachment almost… as if, we can't genuinely enjoy the sound it's pastiching, we can only "enjoy" it.

Yes, I think about these things in the shower. LOL! Now, I need to finish getting ready for work and head out into the snowy, snowy day… ears full of A.B.C-Z's "Space Travelers"!

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