Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sunday Series: Sunday June 28, 2015

The Sunday Series:

Sunday June 28, 2015

Till very recently I lived in Los Angeles, to be more specific, in the Silver Lake area, and I decided to move.   I feel I have been good for the city, but in return Los Angeles has been total shit to me.  I held a job for 25 years, and then suddenly, without any prior warning, was let go.  Damned for doing the right things and damned for the wrong.  I have always tried to do the right thing, but alas, like George Raft flipping one of his gold coins, I have to take the bad with the good.  Being human, I couldn't take the bitterness that started from my mouth to the stomach area, I just had to move and start a new life in a new location.  Also living in Los Angeles I felt like I wasn't in America, due to Japan and the rest of Asia was across from the large pond and my occasional visits to New York City, felt like I was visiting Europe.   It was then that I decided to move to Detroit, Michigan.

I got a job as a receptionist in a little recording studio on Grand Boulevard called Hitsville U.S.A. My job there, is to take care of their treasure trove of signed dated contracts, photographs, posters, and correspondence.   The thing is I want to make music and I found myself drawn to the recording studio on the first floor. It is a very small studio, but I have seen the space crammed full of musicians as well as the singer.  In the neighborhood, I found a girl group called "The Primettes.   They were singing in front of the Fisher Building on Grand Bouvelard.  As they were passing the bucket for donations, instead of money, I put in my business card inside the bucket - it read: Tosh Berman, Hitsville U.S.A.

Me and the three girls that make up the Primettes had coffee at Stella International Cafe, located on the ground floor inside the Fisher Building.  Since I was the record label guy (of sorts), I paid for their coffee.   For some odd reason, I can still remember how they liked their coffee.  Florence and Mary like it black, but Diana insisted on fresh cream and one little pack of sugar.  Diana stirred her coffee in a very slow and thoughtful manner.  I started to hum a melody in my head, and Florence sort of did a counter-melody to it, and Diane started to make up lyrics right there at the coffee shop.   I thought up of the title "Tears of Sorrow" which strikes me as a good dynamic and dramatic title.  Diane agreed and she started to play with the lyrics against the melody.

"A fresh cream in the tea
In a building of gold,
Can never take you away from me
Tears of Sorrow, Tears of grief
I do follow my heart"

From the coffee shop/Fisher Building, we walked to the Hitsville U.S.A. office & recording studio to see if we could record the song.  I found Earl in the studio and asked him to round up the musicians.  He got Joe, James (an incredible bass player), Papa Zita &Pistol on drums and Joe on guitar.  The beauty of America, is even though I was practically chased out of Los Angeles, but still, I was able to get a job as a receptionist here in Detroit, and there is even possibility of making a hit record.  My gut instinct tells me on I'm on a roll here.

After the successful session (my very first as a producer as well as a songwriter) I rushed the tapes to Archer Record Pressing on Davison Street.  I had to walk there, because I don't drive nor do I own a car.  This I feel is information I should keep secret from other Detroitians.   Within hours, we had our seven-inch single, backed by another song I wrote "Pretty Baby" on the flip side.   I went to the big boss Barry's office to show and play him the single.  Since I was not only an employee at his company, I was also a non-musician composer - in fact, I'm just the receptionist and I don't even have pretty legs if you get my drift.

There is something about Detroit that inspires one's soul - is it their water or air?  No, I think it is due that there is so much manufacturing in this city.  Cars, and of course music.  It is like Cupid took his bow out and the arrow hit bulls eye on the entire landscape of Detroit.  I could never tell if I arrived at paradise as it is opening up their arms to me, or is it the end, and I'm just seeing the rays of love leave the town.  Nevertheless, I'm here with a seven-inch single in my hand and I'm in Barry's office.

First thing he said to me when I entered into his office was "Who are you?"  Which comes to mind, that is a very good question.  Who are we all?  I told him that I'm the new receptionist, but I made a record with a new girl group and used the Funk Brothers as a back-up band, and that I co-wrote the song as well as produced it - all of course at Hitsville U.S.A.   He's impressed of course, so he OK's the release.    Barry as he sat behind his big oak desk, looked a lot like Che Guevara.  Since I worked here, I have seen him drive a diesel van, and I know he kept his gun in quiet seclusion - in many ways a humble man.  He has caused a panic in the air, or at the very least in Detroit.  I greatly admire him.  I wanted to tell him this, but he's not the type of guy to hear compliments from guys like yours truly.  He went downstairs to the studio with me, to meet the gals.

When he saw Diana, he froze.   I got the feeling something happened between them, but as I mentioned, Cupid for sure has his arrows pointed towards Detroit.  If you got that notion, I second that emotion.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Interview with Lun*na Menoh

Interview with my wife Lun*na Menoh.   On her artwork when she was living in Japan.  I'm here as well.

The Sunday Series: Sunday June 21, 2015

The Sunday Series:
Sunday June 21, 2015

Today is one of my favorite holidays of the year: Father's Day.   We would not have father's day if it not was for the work of Sonora Smart Dodd, who in 1910, told her pastors that there should be a day for fathers, just like Mother's Day.    They did celebrate Father's Day in her hometown of Spokane Washington, but after a while, due to the fact that she studied art at the Art Institue of Chicago, the events eventually died down without her participation.  In 1930, she returned to her home town to promote Father's Day, but this time with the backing manufactures of ties, tobacco pipes, and any customary present to the male figure.  With the assistance of the Father's Day Council which was an organization put together by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers.  Citizens at the time resisted the so-called holiday owing to the commercial overtones.    It was in 1966 that President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers.  Making the third Sunday in June as "Father's Day."  By the 1980s, the Father's Council wrote that the holiday "has become a Second Christmas for all the men's gift-oriented industries."

Although I do love Father's Day, my pop is dead.  If you look on the bright side, this means that I don't have to spend any money for a present for my father.  On the other side of the coin: well, he's dead.  He's dead because he was murdered by a drunk driver.  The driver got a six month jail sentence, but was eventually turned loose within two months of his jail sentence to go to his own world of pain and pleasure.  Since I had no father anymore, except the memory of a father, I decided to purchase a bunch of Father's Days Cards at my local Trifity drug store.   What I have done for the past 38 years is sending the drunk driver a Father's Day card once a year.  I would write a personal note in it, letting him know what my life is like that year.  Mostly personal stuff liked romances I had that went south or some that stayed longer.  I also wrote a series of narratives I have in my head - like being with him, and joining his family on father's day.   I wrote to him that I have kept track of his family, including his dad, who seemed to disappear some time ago.  In one of my Father's Day cards to him, I wrote that "I'm very sad about the disappearance of your father. He must have loved you well, by the example of your current life."

I never heard back from him. Nor was I expecting to hear from him.  To be honest, I wrote those notes to him more for myself than him.  Don't tell anyone that.  I don't want anyone to think I'm an eccentric guy.   I know he gets them year - after - year, because I sent them all through certified mail, and he has to sign for them.  The funny thing is that he does sign for all of them.  One thinks that he would refuse this piece of mail, but it seems he has accepted all of them, which I have to admit, makes me warm all over.   I wonder at times if it not was for the death of my dad under his misdirection of using the steering wheel, if we would be this close?

Today, being father's day, I decided instead of sending a father's day card which I have done without fail for so many years now, if I shouldn't just pay him a visit and personally hand him over his card.  That may be a shocking surprise for him!   He lives in a large family home in Woodland Hills, and like me, he's getting up there in the age category - but I have heard that he is still physically healthy -he did have a cancer scare, and of course, I mentioned in one of my father's day cards, I wish him the best of health, and that surely he can beat the mighty "C."  Hell, he beat a jail term for manslaughter, surely he can beat the C.

I never talk about him to anyone else.   Sometimes it is too painful of a memory, but I never felt any bad will towards him.   His dad was a rancher in those parts -living more on the hills than the flat land.  When he disappeared about twenty years ago, I was of course, very concerned, and wrote to him in that year's card. "If there is anything I can do, please don't hesitate to contact me."  He never got back to me.  That's OK. We both have something in common is that we don't have Dad's that are around us anymore.  And to be honest, I'm more thankful that I know what happened to my dad, but he....  He will never know, except his dad is not here or more likely nowhere else.

Today I plan to go to his home and if he's up to it, take him out to lunch.  Maybe share a few bottles of brew in remembrance of dads in general.  I have tried calling him, but someone else either answers the phone and refuse to bring him to the telephone, or once or maybe twice, I did get him on the phone.  But he claimed it wasn't him, where in fact, I know it was him at the other end of the line.  I never take offense, because his reaction is totally understandable.  So yeah, I'm going to get into my little GTO and head out to his pad, and take him out to lunch. It is best to do these things now, because who knows what will happen in the future.  Something can happen to me or more likely to him, so it's good to take advantage of the day - this being Father's Day.    Happy father's day everyone.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Sunday Series: Sunday June 14, 2015

The Sunday Series
Sunday June 14, 2015

For the past 25 years, I go to Japan every year.  Usually I spend up to a month to two months at a time in Tokyo. The funny thing is I have no visual memory of that country.  What I do remember are the sounds of Japan.  Mostly due to the fact that I own "Sounds of Japan."   It is 34 authentic sound effects recorded in their actual locale. The album was put together by Katsumasa Takasago, who I know very little about.  

The beauty of such recordings is that one doesn't have to leave their home to appreciate another country's culture.   In 1965, I don't think that many American tourists went to Japan, yet here we have everyday sounds of a city that looks back to its past, but alas, very much part of the present life as well.  1965 can be 1975 as well as 2015.  I try to imagine what it must be like to listen to this album in 1965.  You never were in Japan, yet, you're thrown into a soundtrack to a movie that you imagine you have seen, but never actually saw it.

For whatever reason I think of Alain Resnais' film "Hiroshima mon amour," starring Emmanuelle Riva and the Japanese actor Ejii Okada.   The film script was written by Marguerite Duras.  It deals with memory, but like the powers of recall, it is always one's point-of-view, and therefore there is no truth.  So when a tourist approach a 'foreign' country or city, it is from the point-of-the-view of the visitor, who may or may not know nothing about the culture, but at least heard of it.

Listening to this album on a Sunday morning is like traveling through a Japanese city with your eyes closed.   One can easily feel or taste the country just by listening to the album.  The Snake Charmer in Asakusa who is on this album is more likely dead, but surely his son has taken over his spot in that beautiful part of Tokyo.  The snake charmer demonstrates the love making of snakes, which greatly amuse the children that walk by him.   There is something sinister about such a profession, especially when late daylight turns into evening.  In the darkness, there is another world.  Asakusa is the old downtown of Tokyo, and there is quite a difference between day and night there.  In fact, all of Tokyo changes of identity - it is not that dissimilar to Bruce Wayne when he puts the bat-mask on.  Another personality takes over the city as soon as the neon lighting is turned on.

"Last Year at Marienbad" can easily turn into "Last Year at Tokyo."  I want to wonder through the streets of the Ginza to locate the lost love I had there.  Once I find her, will she remember me?    Perhaps not.  The faint texture of being forgotten, left, or abandoned is all part of the Japanese feeling.  When I go by a bar and I can hear the hostess sing float beyond the entrance door, I think of her.  It is never a city of now, but a city of memories.   This album represents memories.  Even when the record came out in 1965, it was already a memory.

"Elevator girls at Takashimaya Department Store" would announce each floor in a high -pitched accent with an ultra feminine voice.  Announcing the goods on each floor, one is in a sense getting a floor show at a supper club, but alas, it is in an elevator.   The perfect choreographed gestures of using their white gloved hands to express what is on each floor and also to announce the upcoming floor number.   One is not encouraged to talk to them. It would be like talking to an actor on stage as he or she is performing.

It's odd for me to sit here this Sunday morning in Silver Lake, and listen to this album.  Whenever I leave Japan I feel great sadness.  I have almost a fear that I won't stay alive till the next visit.  I never want to think that this will be my last visit to Tokyo.  "Sounds of Japan," is my safety-net.   As long as I have this album, Japan will never leave me.  It is very strange to listen to this album. Even though it was recorded in 1965 in various parts of Tokyo and Kyoto, I still feel that it could have been recorded today.  Nothing has changed. Yet everything has changed.  The story of my life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Secret Agent Meets The Saint" Music Composed and Conducted by Edwin Astley

Perhaps the greatest theme song for a TV show I have ever heard is Edwin Astley's "High Wire" (the theme for "Danger Man/Secret Agent").  Even though I watched 'Secret Agent" (starring Patrick McGoohan) as a child I was only familiar with Johnny River's "Secret Agent Man" - later a hit for DEVO.  It was years later, I heard "Hire Wire" I think when I watched the original BritIsh version of "Secret Agent," which is called "Danger Man" in the UK.  It's confusing. I know.  The British/American TV world had their separate standards, but as a connoisseur of everything wonderful, I normally go to the British for the state-of-the-art version.   Today in my six mile walk, I purchased "Secret Agent Meets The Saint."  Issued in 1965, this rare piece of vinyl is ground zero for my interest in British Spy TV soundtrack music.  Ashley was a talented composer/arranger/conductor and his unique way of using the harpsichord as not as a baroque instrument, but something modern sounding was / is excellent. Side one is the "Secret Agent" side and the other is "The Saint."  Both are superb examples of music of that period.  "The Saint" has a fantastic piece of flute/voice with piano scales going up and down.  It sort of reminds me of a British version of a horror Morricone soundtrack.   The thing is Astley likes to swing hard - and basically the whole album is a toe-tapper.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Franz Ferdinand Sparks Album

Franz Ferdinand Sparks (FFS)

Thank god, I don't have to wait longer for the new FFS album. For one, those who love pop music, must love this album. I'm a Sparks' fanatic, and this sounds like an excellent Sparks' album with something extra - Franz Ferdinand. Russell Mael and Alex Kapranos trade off vocals as well as do the blend-in effect effortlessly. The song writing is a text-book example of how to do a song right. Oddly enough, if I have to go to the past, I think "Propaganda" as the closest reference point - but this is Sparks working 'now. ' Franz Ferdinand, I think are the one's that had to change their approach to work with Sparks. Alex got his inner-Scott Walker (Walker Brothers era) vocal work-out going, and he is great as Russell frames his vocals by backing him, and confronting him like Ali fighting Frazer in the ring. The beauty of this album is that it doesn't sound forced - but organically put together. FFS is adventuresome pop in an era that is quite boring. For my ears, this album is 16 (I have the I-Tunes deluxe edition) manifestos for strong melodic overtures in a world that is turning gray. Technicolor never sounded so swell!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Sunday Series: Sunday June 7, 2015

The Sunday Series:

Sunday June 7, 2015

The strangest thing happened this Sunday, and it wasn't the small-sized woman who I have never seen before, come upon my back yard to sunbathe nude.   No, I have to say that was a bit odd, but nothing like what happened in this early Sunday morning.  I woke up hearing a strange noise outside the window.  Dawn was breaking, so I had a clear view of what was outside my bedroom window.  First of all, my window faces a busy rural street - we get a lot of people hiking back and forth in front of that window.   I have heavy shades to cover the brightness that comes in the morning, and as usual, when I hear a noise, I sort of peek out, instead of opening the window fully.  What I glanced at was a well-dressed male with a dog on a leash holding a bush open so that another well-dressed individual can depart with their dog on a leash.  

That small area has always been troubling to me. I often wake up in the morning and see either discarded food, and empty bottles.  Also I have come upon used condoms as well.  Yet, I never heard a noise during the night.  It is just something that I come across when I wake up to look outside my window.   The oddness of seeing someone holding a shrubbery apart so one can exit from it -like the vegetation was a residence of some sort.  I closed the curtain, and tried to go back to bed.  But I kept hearing sounds from the same direction, and again, I got up to give another look.  What I saw were more well-dressed individuals - now females as well, with dogs on leashes - and now three or more are keeping the undergrowth open so more of these people can come out with their dogs.

The dogs were all the same species.  Perhaps a pit-bull.  The only thing I could make out is that their eyes were bright red, and I didn't see a pupil - but solid red eyes.  It was a disturbing sight, so again, I went back to my bed.   Occasionally I could hear what sounded like a dog leaping up to my window which was street level.  I tried to fall asleep but the sound of the dog hitting the window pane unexpectedly, was disconcerting for me.   I was feeling cautious and I didn't want to make any waves, especially living in this neighborhood.  I remember I had to call the police regarding noise-making in the middle-of-the-night, and after that someone painted on my garage wall "snitches get stitches."  After that I hesitate to call the police. It was much later I found out that it was actually the police that painted that phrase on my home.

I pulled the curtain a bit, and when I did so, a dog came right up to the window snarling and barking something horribly towards me.  I quickly pulled back and covered the curtain across the window.  I called the police, and once I got a live person, I had a hard time describing what was happening.  Should I just mention that there is a pack of wild dogs outside my window, or should I add that these dogs are on a leash with a pack of mad well-dressed people?  It obviously sounded crazy, so I told them to forget about it, and I hung up the phone.

To get some air, I went to my backyard, where it is pretty secured from the outside world due to a high fence surrounding the property.  As I sat on my patio chair, I got the feeling that there was another presence near me.  I looked across from the yard and saw a pretty young girl sunbathing in the nude.   She was on one of the lounge chairs and didn't wear a thing on her, except sunglasses.  The first thing that struck me was how short she was.  At first I thought she was a child with a perfect female figure, but alas I suspected that she may have been in her twenties.   I didn't know her. Nor have I ever saw her in the neighborhood.   I didn't know what to do, because one I didn't know her and two She is in the nude.  Also she was aware of me sitting there, because she was looking towards me, but turned her head when she saw me looking at her.  Finally I walked up to her and asked her if everything is OK.  She took her sunglasses off and looked straight at me, but didn't say a word.  I walked back to my chair and I felt totally helpless.  On one end, I found this strange meeting alluring to me.  She had a lovely body, and I wanted to stare at her, but felt for obvious reasons, that it would be impolite to do so.   I couldn't read the narrative here, if she was expecting me to propose a sexual gesture towards her.  I suddenly heard loud knocking on the front door as well as the door-bell ringing off and on.  I walked to the door, but didn't want to open it of course.   I looked at the keyhole and there were two well-dressed men smiling at me through the keyhole.  I felt awkward that they caught me looking through the door keyhole, so I opened it slowly.  A foot came in to block it being closed.  "May we come in, please?"

Behind them were others with their dogs, so I told them 'Please come in quickly."  Once they came in, one of them started to look around the house, and he was slowly going towards the backyard but of course, I didn't want him to go back there to see the girl.  I asked them both what do they want?  "We're doing a survey of the neighborhood, and you're the only one who didn't fill out a form that was left in your mailbox."  I thought about it, and I sort of have a vague memory of seeing such a form, but like all forms I get in the mail, I threw it out.  I didn't tell them that of course.  I said something of the effect, that I didn't see it.  They both looked at me, and then each other with a smile on their faces.  One had a small carrying case with him, and he opened up and took a form out.  He handed me the form with a pen and asked me to fill it out there in front of them.  I asked if I could do this in another time because I have another engagement I must go to.  They both looked at me again, and just said, "it will only take a minute.  We just need your name, address, phone number and that's it.  Please fill out the form sir."

I have to admit that I felt totally intimated by these two men.  I thought to myself, "what is the harm in filling out my name, address and number - they have it already."   I took their pen and filled out the form.   I then handed their pen and form back to them.  While I was doing all of this, they basically both just smiled at me.   When I hand him over the pen, he immediately dropped it on the ground.  He didn't do anything just stood there and smiled at me.  By instinct, I got the pen from the floor and again gave it to him.  He then dropped the form to the ground.  Again, I went on the ground, to pick up the form and I hand it over to him.  He then dropped both pen and form on the ground.

He then told me "that is all, Mr. Berman, thank you for your cooperation."  They both left the house, but they also helped themselves out.  The odd thing is that they kept the door open, and I was scared to death that one of the dogs would come in.  I ran by the door to shut and lock it.   The form and the pen as it lay on the carpeted floor were like an ugly stain on the floor.   I took the pen and form up from the floor, and went out to the front yard.  To my surprise, the young girl was gone.   I went back in, and found an old empty frame.  I attached the form to the frame, and went up to an empty space on the wall in the front room and hung the frame with the form attached to it.   This I feel, will be the closest thing as a self-portrait.