Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

HIPPOPOTAMUS - the new album by SPARKS


I heard the album and it's brilliant.  Buy it. 

HIPPOPOTAMUS - the new album by SPARKS

Pre-order the album and get the title track instantly! 

➫ https://sparks.lnk.to/HippoStore

Full tracklist:

1. Probably Nothing
2. Missionary Position
3. Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
4. Scandinavian Design
5. Giddy Giddy
6. What The Hell Is It This Time?
7. Unaware
8. Hippopotamus
9. Bummer
10. I Wish You Were Fun
11. So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?
12. When You're A French Director
13. The Amazing Mr. Repeat
14. A Little Bit Like Fun
15. Life With The Macbeths

More options at https://sparks.lnk.to/hippopotamus

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Sanshirō by Natsume Sōseki (Translated by Jay Rubin) Penguin Random House UK

ISBN: 978-0-241-28446-9 Penguin Random House UK
So far, "Sanshirō" is my favorite Natsume Sōseki novel. Written over 100 years ago during the presence of the Meiji era in Japan, it's a book that is very much of its time. Japan at the time was feeling the influence of the West - in particular with the arts from that period. English and European literature were being translated into Japanese, and Sōseki is a writer who was very much under the influence of Western writers as well as its various philosophies - yet, the beauty of this book deals with the tension or difference between the West and Japan. 

The main character, Sanshirō is a countryside fellow who comes to the big city, Tokyo, to study and live. Here he encounters fellow students and professors who are exposed to other things in life besides what Sanshirō knows from his rural life. Including sexual feelings, or the first entrance to romantic overtures from a female. The great thing about the book for me is Sōseki's journalistic talents in writing about Tokyo and wandering throughout the city. "Sanshirō" through the main character, is very much going on a pre-Situationist adventure in finding new delights that Tokyo has to offer its new citizen. 

Nothing dramatic happens, but there is a strong narrative, with characters interacting with others. The female figures seem to be much more aware of what's going on than Sanshirō who is somewhat a 'sheep' or perhaps even a coward. I think he's not in tuned to his surroundings or even to himself. So, the book is about a discovery and how one processes a change in one's life. In that sense, it's a young man's or person's novel. The ripe fruit is life as it happens, and this novel is about the moments as it happens.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Los Angeles


March 16, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Los Angeles

Night to night and from day-to-day I try to stay alerted to my surroundings.  We arrived from Tokyo a few days ago, and since then it has been a struggle for me to accept my brain is in my physical body.  We arrived at 1:00 PM, and due to the organization of Super Shuttle, we arrived at our home at 3:30 PM.  So overall, it takes one and a half hours on a bus to Tokyo to Narita airport, then three hours hanging out at the airport.  Then nine and a half hours on a plane.  Customs take around 30 minutes with the weirdest questions such as 'how much cash do you have,' with right after that, 'I spent time in Japan to see my cousin who's in the military.'   While there is a line of people waiting to be processed so they can get on with their lives to pick up their luggage.    A very long day that March 14. 



I get home to face a month full of mail.  Bills as well as invitations that are way past their acceptance.  The first thing I noticed when we walked into our house is the smell of someone not being there, except the odor of dust and no air, due that the windows were locked up.   I had to make a few phone calls, and then I looked at the ceiling for a few hours from our couch in the living room.   



The weather is warm, and we just came from a climate that's wet and cold.  Our clothing still expressed that part of the world, where in fact we should be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  The heat made me feel not good, but out-of-existence.   I couldn't relate to the sweat that was building up on my chest and forehead.  I still have the traces of a cold that I caught in Tokyo, I think due to the cold rooms that I came upon from the cold outside to slightly warmer places.   Also, I kept on moving consistently for a month without rest or reflection.  There were so many things to see and do.  I didn't use the word 'no,' while I was in Japan.  




I can't sleep.  My body is fully active.  My brain is dead.  I maybe dead.  Just feel like the body is operating without a thought in my head.   Today's date or day is just a theory, and I'm aware of the deadlines that are in place in front of me.  I'm feeling sad, and I don't have the foggiest idea why.  My emotions are up front, and logic is somewhere buried deeply into a locked room.   I walked around the house in pitch darkness.  I go to bed, but my brain is in the daylight.   I look up the ceiling, and I can't make out the cracks which I think of the Nile River.  I used to follow it from one end to the other  - and by the time I reached there, I'm asleep.  This is not the case tonight.



I read the newspaper websites in the middle of the night, and I know life is going on, but I feel so not part of it.  Dick Clark, one-time America's oldest teenager, commented that "Jet lag is for amateurs."   I only wanted to be in that category, because I loathe professionalism that puts me down into a particular class or position.   I try to remind myself that I'm on a higher plane, but the truth is, I'm always crashing in the same car.   What do I know about knowing?  I'm going round and round in my house, and I only have these walls to keep me grounded.   When I do sleep, it's at 6 in the morning.  It's not sleeping; it's more like being in a coma. 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 13, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan



March 13, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

I have been receiving a lot of messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google blogger asking what my daily life is like in Tokyo Japan.   Well, for one, it is not that different from your everyday life in your town, home, or country.  I usually wake up around Noon, because more likely I was out drinking in either in Shinjuku or the nearby bar near my place called Homesic, open from 5 PM to 5 AM.  The bar also serves drip coffee and tea.  There is room here for only a small table and two seats.  Anyone coming in would have to stand at the bar counter which is not a counter, but just a stand to separate the worker there from the rest of the customer's space.  Alcohol is a good pal of the Japanese lifestyle.  



The central shopping area around where I live here is on Heiwa Dori (Avenue).  There are at least two liquor shops that specialize in wines from Chile as well as various local brews of Sake.  You can get a cup of sake here for 150¥ or a bottle between 900¥ and 1,110¥.  Of course, there are more expensive bottles, but I tend to shy away from them.  



After a drink of wine or sake, I go to my local used bookstore, which like all the stores here, is tiny.  They stock a lot of books on art, as well as a focus on Suji Terayama.   He's a combination of Antonin Artaud, Jean Cocteau, with a touch of Fellini.   A writer, playwright, essayist, filmmaker - a jack of all trades and a master of all.   The shop owner often displays his sizable inventory of art and other issues in book form outside the store.



There's a superb music store near the station that has a strong focus on the culture of The Beach Boys.   If Budha is a God, so is Brian Wilson.  In the past, I was able to find hard-to-find Van Dyke Parks recordings as well as the entire catalog of the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra on CD.  On this particular visit, I purchased four 7" EP Kinks releases, as well as a Dave Davies solo EP, and the Honeycombs second album on CD, "All Systems Go."   Which includes 12 extra or bonus songs.  I haven't the foggiest idea what the bonus songs are, due that the titles are written in the Japanese language.



After my purchase, I go back to Heiwa Dori to go to my favorite Vegan cafe, which again, is tiny.   What are the chances of having a vegan restaurant within walking distance from my home?  Veganism is not exactly a huge fad here in Japan.   Usually when you mention you are a vegetarian to a fellow citizen of this country that means you don't eat a cow.  But of course, you can't be stating chicken, fish, or any other meat under the vegetarian bandwagon.   My favorite meal at this place is the coconut curry set lunch, which is superb.    The cafe looks like someone's personal kitchen.  It doesn't feel like a public space at all.  My reaction at first is to knock on the door then just walk in, like a regular restaurant.   There is probably a handful of vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo.   I pity the poor soul who has a strict diet.



I'm reminded that I need to mark my presence here in Tokyo.  The best thing to do is go to a photographer's studio and have an official portrait of myself.   I'm thinking of using the white background for my picture.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

March 10, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan



March 10, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

I'm ill.  Something is decaying in my body, and I tried every measure to piss or poop it out.   David Bowie went from station to station, but I'm going from toilet to toilet.   Every station has a bathroom as well as every public building.  In Los Angeles, I'm consistently reminded that there are very few public toilets in the city.   Tokyo and other cities in Japan seem to take the route that public bathrooms are a human's right to pee.   In the United States, you need to buy a cup of coffee before being allowed to the bathroom.  So in other words, one must have the currency of some sort to pee in a proper manner.



The Japanese toilet has other problems.  Well, the toilet itself doesn't have a problem, but the foreigner who can't read Kanji may have an issue with the object that's the toilet.   There are two types of toilets in Japan.   The western style, but has the added features to spray water on your behind, both hard and soft, as well as a bidet for the female.  Some come with a dryer, but all have a heated seat.  Even when I don't want to use the toilet, I like to sit on the warm seat and read.



One has to be careful in which button they're pushing.  Some years ago, I was in a public toilet in an expensive restaurant, and after I had peed, I played the game eenie meenie moe to select the right button.   "Meenie" led me to push a button where all of sudden a pipe came out of the toilet bowl and sprayed warm water all over my crotch.  I was wearing white levis, and it seems the entire restaurant knew what happened to me in that particular toilet.



The other is the 'squat' toilet.  This is the standard toilet you find in small Japanese towns or the countryside.  Some old department stores as well have them.  One can usually make a choice.  The Western toilet is very common now.  Still, I have never used this type of toilet because I could never figure how to use it.   I presume one had to sit or hover over it, but at what part of the toilet do you release your obscene insides?

Japan has an understanding of the need for the bathroom.  In fact, it is almost an art piece.  The structure of the 'squat' toilet is something that a fan of Marcel Duchamp can appreciate.  The other thing one must remember, especially if you are in someone's home - never bring the outside slippers into the toilet area.   There are toilet slippers, and they are to be used only in the toilet room.   This is an important rule to follow.   There is nothing more disgusting when someone uses the same pair of slippers for inside the house as well as in the toilet area.  That alone is making me ill at the moment.



But back to my illness.  It's impossible for one not to get sick when facing thousands of people on a daily level in the streets of Tokyo or any other major Japanese city.  If you travel on the train during the rush hour, you will be more likely to be kissing distance to either female or male.   Often I have opened my mouth, and someone would cough right into my open port.  So as I write, I'm feeling sick and of course, not in the greatest mood.

- Tosh Berman

Images of Japan Part Two: Photos by Tosh Berman




















Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Le Lion Cafe in Shibuya Tokyo



I was going to walk to a bookstore but decided to visit Le Lion Cafe which is in the Shibuya area of Tokyo.  I go here often over the years. It is one of my favorite places and by far my favorite cafe.  Their specialty and only specialty is that they play classical albums - mostly vinyl.  The coffee there cost 550¥, and it’s not that good.  What you’re paying for is someone to play records for you.  A vintage DJ set where one plays music for another.   They have these two massive wooden cabinet speakers facing the coffee drinkers.  One is not allowed to converse at the cafe.  There are small wooden chairs and covered seats.  All were facing the direction of the three turntables, various amps, and a CD machine or two.



When I walked in, they were playing Schubert’s “The Four Seasons” on vinyl.  Before and after each record, the waiter/waitress gives an introduction to the music being played.  Usually, they give the composer and the piece, but they also read from what looks like an old hardcover book on classical music, to provide detail about either the recording or the orchestra/musician/composer.  Last night after each playing, the waitress cleaned the vinyl before and after playing the record.   The next record was, I think, a piece of music by Tchaikovsky.  All introductions are done in Japanese, and they do exhibit the album cover on a stand in front of the speakers, but the lighting is so dark it’s hard to make out what the print says on the record cover.  She then played a recording of Handel’s harpsichord music.



I casually looked around the small room, and there are three people there drinking coffee and listening to the music.  There is an upstairs as well, that is the balcony, and the seating arrangement is the same as the bottom floor.  When you see the speakers, one would think that it will be loud.  The volume is somewhere in the middle.  What's interesting is that the music doesn't drown out the noise outside the cafe.  You can hear people laughing and walking pass the Lion Cafe, and one is aware that there is life outside the listening room.  The other thing one notices is that the architecture inside and outside represents a baroque era.  It is almost if you were walking down a street in the 17th century Vienna and you come upon this coffee house.  It's European but with the oversight of a Japanese aesthetic.

There are many things here that I find impressive, but one is sitting by yourself and being confronted with Western culture in an Eastern country.   The cafe is located in the Red Light District in Shibuya.  There are nothing here but bars and love hotels.   One would think that the perfect location for Le Lion Cafe would be the Ginza or West Shinjuku.  Here in Playland is the ultimate escape from the 21st century into the world that is both real and imagined.  The best 550¥ ever spent.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

DAVID BOWIE IS.... In Tokyo



DAVID BOWIE IS ... An Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan

As most of my friends and enemies know, I love David Bowie.   I have been thinking of David Bowie for every day since 1972 when I purchased "Honky Dory."   My whole life is mapped out by Bowie's releases of album and singles.   To say he's important to me is like asking if humans need to drink water.    I actually don't understand people who don't like Bowie's music.  I have met them, but for me, they're truly alien from another hostile planet.  So, one would think I would be bananas over the David Bowie Is" exhibition.   The truth is I like it, as a spectacle, but I think they could have done much more of a better show.


I now imagine myself as the curator.  First of all, Bowie didn't curate this show.  I suspect he looked at it with a very critical eye and his opinion mattered much in the choices and the way the show is exhibited.   According to the Victoria & Albert Museum (who put the show together), he had no say in the exhibition.   I find this hard to believe.  What the show consists of are his stage costumes for both concert tours and videos, as well as his drawings, paintings, and notes.   In many ways, the exhibition reminds me of two other museum shows - and both were in Las Vegas.  Liberace's museum (no longer exists) and Debbie Reynolds exhibition of her Hollywood costume collection (that too, does not exist).   Of the three, the Liberace collection is more impressive because it expresses his aesthetic and attitude toward showbiz world.   Like Bowie's costumes, Liberace's clothing for the stage is superbly made and designed.   And the Liberace message comes through its narrative that runs through his collection with respect how it was displayed in that Vegas strip-mall.   The problem with Bowie's exhibition is not the content, but how the work is presented as well as lacking a narrative sense or place in history.

The chronicle order of showing the costumes is messed-up, and I would think it would confuse the new Bowie lurker.   I don't know the difference between the London and Tokyo show, but here in Japan, the exhibit starts off with John Cage and Gilbert & George.   My first reaction is why Cage and Gilbert & George?   I can understand Bowie's appreciation of these two artists, but to put them at the beginning of the show lacks a narrative, and this exhibition needs a definite beginning, middle, and end.   The opening of the exhibit does deal with literature and place and time in London during Bowie's teenage years, but then loses that sense of placement as one wonders on to the other rooms.

As a Bowie fanatic I see the exhibition going in another direction.  If I were the curator, I would make this show larger by bringing the outside world into the Bowie cosmos.   The beauty of Bowie is that he had always commented on the world around him.  That context is important throughout his career.   The exhibition needs not only his costumes, and personal papers - but also a film retrospective, panel discussions, and the whole subject of glam rock via T. Rex, Jobrieth, N.Y. Dolls and so forth.    A nice touch of adding Anthony Newley into the exhibit, but it would have been fantastic to show performances by Newley as well as Scott Walker,  Jacques Brel and others who influenced Bowie.

This, of course, is my fantasy of the Bowie exhibition, and I understand what the show is, and what it is not - but I feel that this is a lost opportunity to show the importance of this great artist.  The auction of Bowie's art collection that was recently sold has a stronger presence than what is shown here in the exhibition.   Still, I'm a starving man in the wilderness, and seeing the Bowie exhibition was a great pleasure.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

FREAK OUT RECORDS in Kobe


As we wander through Kobe without a thought in our heads, Lun*na and I came upon the greatest record store in the world.  It's called FREAK OUT RECORDS, and it's a tiny store that is packed full of used vinyl albums and CDs.   Right away it reminds me of the Paris bookstore Un Regard Moderne which is a store that is impossible to walk through due to the stacks of books from floor to the ceiling.  There is a very good chance that one may have a stack of books fall on you as you walk in the store.   In fact, only one person at a time can walk in that store.  FREAK OUT RECORDS must have been either inspired by the Paris bookstore or great minds think a like. 

When you enter, basically only one person can walk down the aisle due to the gigantic stack of albums from floor to (almost) ceiling.  There are record and CD bins and they are in order, but then there are boxes and boxes of vinyl placed throughout the store.  They have every category of music - Glam, rock, classical, Japanese rock, Enka, Japanese pops, soundtracks, French pop and so forth.  


There are areas in the store that is impossible to get to, due that stacks of albums are blocking other stacks or boxes.  There is insanity here but in a vinyl lovers imagination.  One can't possibly imagine that such a store exists.  I went though some of the stacks, and even that is difficult.  If you pull one album out of the stack, it will cause the entire pile to fall over.  So, clearly one has to have a certain skill in obtaining that album that is three feet away from you. 


The photos here really don't capture the essense of the space.  It's non-existent.  I was also intrigued with the various 45 rpm singles in various shoeboxes throughout the store.  I saw a great box of singels dealing with British invasion stuff  - mostly Japanese editions.  All picture sleeves.  


Even pulling a record out of the bin is great difficultly.  All records are in there very tight.  Not easy to use your fingertips to look at each album.  The best thing one can do is grab a handful and look them over on the top of the bin.   Outside there are boxes of vinyl and cds stacked upon other boxes as well.  FREAK OUT RECORDS is clearly an adventure in itself.  

FREAK OUT RECORDS:  Kobe Motokoh 1 Bangai  Phone 078-393-0240