Friday, March 21, 2008

Namie Amuro - Please Smile Again / Come

I'm a smoker and I'm trying to quit. I have been cutting back a fair bit over the last few months due to an increasingly bad sore throat situation. Now I have taken that final plunge and am hoping it will stick. I quit smoking once before for about six months. I think if I am to avoid smoking altogether, I will also have to stay away from alcohol. Both times I started smoking were due to the drink and to pretty girls. Good reasons to smoke I'll admit. When I was first in Japan, my initial encounter with foreigners (later to become my family away from home) was at an Okonomiyaki restaurant. One of the girls asked me if I smoked and I truthfully answered, a little bit. That little bit would grow to become a pretty regular habit for the next seven plus years. Today's post is about my days as a smoker sitting at that Okonomiyaki place enjoying convesation with my new sexy friends and listening to my first dose of that infection that is J-pop.

It was a late Japanese autumn in 1999, I would consider the last days of true J-pop. It was a time when Japanese popular music wasn't merely a reflection of the West's music scene. Popular Japanese music was just a little stranger to the ears back in that day - more alien. In that drunken smokey haze of mine I noticed how Japanese pop songs that sounded more like commercial jingles than songs as I knew them. Almost as if the songs were designed by some ad agency to be absorbed by the masses with their insipid yet totally memorable little hooks and choruses. They were pretty awful, and yet I couldn't get them out of my head. Some people get piercings and tattoos and consider it a good pain. Others go to the gym or run a marathon and call that a good pain. And when I first heard Namie Amuro's "Please Smile Again" at that restaurant with my new friends, I realized that Japan is also riddled with all kinds of good pain too. I still remember thinking, "what the fuck is this shit!?" when I first heard this song playing of the radio. The chorus is full of blissfully broken English, "Please smile again! Oh, no no no! Please close to me!". It makes me chuckle every time I hear it and I can't but turn a little red and sing along.

While I didn't know that name of that pop song at the time but I knew if I went to our local video/CD rental place I would be able to track it down. It was a popular single and it was only a matter of time until I found it at one of their listening stations. And so began my quest to find the GOOD Japanese music. It would lead me to find much better stock like UA, Chara and the Fishmans and it still leads me to this day. It's a little embarrassing to admit but my current obsession with music and this blog can be traced directly to that awful little song. I hate it, and I love it. I share it with you and extend my condolences. Cigarettes, beer and Namie Amuro define my first good memories of Japan.

As a bonus let's fast forward six years to Amuro's song, "Come", which despite her latter efforts to become a Missy Elliott, manages to retain the unique innocence of 90's J-Pop.

Monday, March 03, 2008

King Khan & His Shrines - Animal Troupe (?)

Do you know how much it would take to fill my iPod legitimately? I've seen estimates and they all hover around the $40,000 mark. Forty fucking thousand down-payment on a mansion dollars... you know what I'm not going to do - fill my iPod legitimately. Back in the day when CDs were king, I showed my music collection to my uncle. He asked me (justifiably in retrospect) how much I had spent in music. I thought about it a bit and answered, "$10,000". He looked at me with a hint of disbelief in his eyes and said, "Man, you could of bought a car". He's right. As a guy who owns a $30 Ford Escort, I have put a significant amount of cash into the record industry. What's worse, I don't even listen to any of my $10,000 investment anymore. I've moved on, my tastes have changed, but this baby always needs a new pair of ('83 Nike Air Force 1) shoes.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I received a cease and desist letter from my internet provider telling me to stop downloading "illegal" torrents. Seeing as I share my internet connection with the rest of the household, I couldn't possibly put our connection in jeopardy over my music addiction, so I switched to iTunes. I have since bought around $250 worth of music in the past few months through this service. I have some complaints with iTunes, such as their very incomplete collections and constant pimping of Canadian content (thanks, CRTC). But the real problem for me is still the expectation that I PAY for the music I consume. That may sound petty, but allow me to explain why this is my chief complaint. iTunes "generously" provides you with 30 second samples of the artists' music and while it's alright to get a general idea of an album, it doesn't eliminate the risk of purchasing an album. When, I used to go to a listening station (Tower/Into the Music) I was allowed to sample each song as in depth as I wanted to. The sample was as big as I chose, because songs don't necessarily shine in the 30 second sound bite formula. Intros, outros, songs that span ten minutes are all lost in the 30 second sample. Purchasing content without proper context is a risky proposition indeed. Even if I think I am happy with the iTunes endorsed portion of the tracks I hear, the songs may lose their shine after one or two plays. These risks make me a very cautious customer. In fact, these risks have made me a non-customer. The cost of making me pay for music is ultimately that I don't pay for music. I will go without rather than to have regrets. A gambling man, I am not.

So I begin my journey to find liberated music that doesn't explicitly violate any current laws and blessed be, the marketplace provides. I was recently turned on to music blogs, much like my own but with links to albums on file storage sites like MediaFire, MegaUpload and zSHARE. It's not perfect, many of the sites have hourly d/l limits (Not MediaFire, it rocks!) but with some patience and the right blogs to search from music will be yours once again. My music downloading has hit new highs, as I downloaded no fewer than 12 albums last night from artists I never heard of before. If I find I don't like something, it's no skin off my back, it was free! As a result I have made more great discoveries in one day than I had in my three months with iTunes. No bureaucracy, just music for the masses.

Here's a clip from, King Khan & His Shrines which has been on heavy iPod rotation all weekend. The song is called, Animal Troupe or maybe Had it with you... I honestly don't know what he says when he intros the song, but let it be known whatever it is called, it kicks ass. I didn't even know these guys existed before I visited OngakuBaka, a site dedicated to the most avant music you've never heard but must certainly should. I genuinely want to pay to see King Khan live and I'll pressure all my friends to do the same. Check this video out, the guy is one half garage band legend, one half James Brown. Honestly, I'm a sucker for any band that has a live brass section. King Khan & His Shrines is the reason why it is sometimes more important for music to be heard even if not always bought. And honestly, at $40,000, how could I possibly pay?