Getting ready for the trips is always the same thing, a major crunch to get all unfinished business done before I leave, even if it’s only for a week. Every song unmixed, phone call unreturned, or even some box of unsorted tape labels has to get completed before I can leave with a clear conscience. Who knows, right? I could drop dead in SFO, or suffer amnesia while I’m in a bookstore in DeKalb, then who would know where I left off in the middle of my latest record?
So I got all my really important things taken care of. I put that box in storage that had been sitting out for weeks, then got a battery replaced on a machine I hadn’t used in years. After that, I started to consider what clothes to wear to Japan. I’ve been under-packing for the past couple of years, always leaving behind the one thing that might make me comfortable away from home. This time I brought a computer, my lucky scarf, and my feather boa. I feel fabulous while I type this! However, I didn’t come with shampoo, underwear, or a credit card that functions here.
This trip to Tokyo is the beginning of being away from San Francisco for a while. I told my friends I was "leaving for awhile" which led some to believe I was never coming back. Departing parties were being planned, endless meet-ups for beers ensued. I’m not leaving forever, just temporarily indefinitely. I’m checking in on S.F. every few weeks, just to make sure the bums and crack dealers outside my studio building aren’t short on support. I need a break…
I keep listening to the new CvS disc, The Wild Horse, and I like it. I’m not sure if it’s missing something, or if it has too many things. That’s the problem with making a record for me. I have a compulsion to make the latest album the one that says it all, covers all the musical ground I’d meant to on the last album, and have only "good" songs. The Wild Horse is done. If I were to change anything, it would be only for the sake of change, and if I want change, I can make another record. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. But listen to Wild Horse!
So I woke up a little late, called my friend who said the previous night at the bar would maybe give me a ride to the airport, which of course didn’t happen. I called the shuttle, had it come to the studio where my bags and guitar were. Then I had to race to beat them to the studio, where I arrived at exactly the same time. Like in any hurry-up-and-wait situation, I was stressed and sweating, worried and it was way too early to be bothered with worrying, since now I was in the van, three hours early for my plane. An older Russian couple murmured loudly behind me, the driver was steady and fast, and, he had Altoids on hand in case I needed a freshen-up.
Anyone who’s been through an airport the past six months knows the drill: Take off your coat, your shoes, put the portable computer in a separate tray, search the shaving bag and inspect the toe clipper. Those people must touch thousands of toe clippers every day, and I don’t even like to handle my own toe clipper. I noticed the body scanners have a new sound effect to them, the inoffensive beep is now more like a car alarm, the alert rising and falling as it comes near…nothing in my pocket. I get through security with three mechanical pencils that could kill a man. And that’s why I am here this morning at SFO, guys.
I take my seat, and make some last minute cellphone calls before we take off. This way those people will call me back right away and leave a voicemail, which I won’t get for another week or so. Then I write some offline emails, which will be old news by the time they get near a server again. I realize that right now it’s 5 a.m. the next day in Japan, and I should have gone to bed hours ago. So I put on my eyeshades, plug up my ears, and take the blue benadryls that might help me sleep. Some wine would help too, and it does.
I wake up not much later, but apparently I’ve missed the first meal. Damn, well, I’ll have more red wine, please. Moulin Rouge is playing on the screen in the next seat. My personal TV has the map of the Pacific, with our line not even past Hawaii yet. It’s cold on this plane! I sleep more.
My computer goes dead after listening to the same 40 mp3s I have been hearing for ages. I switch jacks, and tune in on United Airlines Entertainment channel. A guy with a slightly annoying voice hosts it, but I don’t think it’s Pat DiNizio, who did the 80s indie show last time I flew, and besides, that was on Delta.
Then it happens. For some reason, when I’m traveling, especially on planes, good songs make me cry. So here I sit, tears soaking into my eyeshades, listening to "The Look Of Love," and I’m feeling full of uncontrollable tragic sentiment and it seems OK. Perhaps it’s the closest thing to PMS I can experience.
After passing out, waking up to the crinkling of cellophane. Everyone is opening their lunch, it’s some beef and cheese bomb on focaccia, but it looks like a sweaty sausage McMuffin. No, I’m not eating it, I said. Instead, I ate the fruit salad, you know, the one with only grapes and watermelon. Undoubtedly invented by the same person who makes trail mix consisting mostly of peanuts and raisins.
I looked out the window, and there was Japan, the whole thing, I think. As we got closer to the ground, a guy in the seat behind me said, "It looks like New Zealand," whatever that means.
Customs was a breeze. Can I get away with saying I make music as a hobby? I mean, I’m not being paid, and I’m playing at a DJ event. I said I wasn’t professional, and hoped no one believed it, they just let me in quickly to be friendly.
My friend Misako met me at the airport. I can’t even imagine trying to get the right train to Shinjuku. Last time I tried that, Khoi-San and I got lost within 15 seconds. We ended up in some suburb not occupied by a westerner since 1945. The other thing about Tokyo (Japan in general, I remember) is that anytime you take the trains, it involves a lot of walking. Up stairs, through halls, change train lines, exchange ticket, etc. You ride five miles and walk one. I’m carrying a guitar, two bags, and a case with 90 CDs in it. Did I really need that extra laptop battery, the thing that weighs 3 lbs.? I was in such a hurry to leave that I ended up bringing things I had intended to throw in the trash. They’re still in my bag.
No less than 90 minutes of walking, carrying, riding, walking, I get to my hotel. It’s the Lutheran Ichigaya Center. Some kind of church subsidized hotel. Good on the Christians, my rate is about 33 bucks a night, and the room is as good as anything I’m used to. You can’t have lunch for that much here. "Tokyo very expensive."
The best bit is that I don’t have a bathroom in my room. The bath down the hall is the traditional Japanese big tub. A sign told me not to let the water out of it. I wasn’t going for the recycled bath water, no way. I didn’t see any naked families, but I imagined them there. I am now used to the shower. I had my choice of six, lining the walls. Every morning between 6-9 a.m., I can enjoy squatting on a stool, pouring water over my head from a bucket. Good for the back, try it sometime!
Daisuke, the guy who helped organize the shows for me here, came to meet me. He has already become quite a pal. He looks a little like Ron Sexsmith, in his style! He’s not 6"3", but he’s got the cheeks and hair shape right, and that coat Ron wears on the record cover. You know what I’m talking about. And hey, it’s better than resembling Ryan Adams or Gene Simmons. People say I look like the Beatles: All four of them?
We went to his office in Shinjuku. Daisuke is Wizzard-In-Vinyl, and distributes pop records of all kinds. He smokes a lot, but he assures me it's nothing to worry about, cigarettes are cheap in Japan. His office was a big ashtray, but he opened a window. We joked about what the T-shirts he sells must smell like when they arrive to some unsuspecting non-smoker somewhere. His office is near all the record shops and bootleg video stores, plus a Starbucks, a Tully’s, and several McDonald’s. I was introduced toJapalian, apparently what Daisuke calls a Japanese restaurant that makes Italian food. I’ve been there every day; it’s cheap and close to his office. He has his own table there. The food wasn’t so great, but the waiter appears magically, within seconds after pressing a button next to the salt shaker. I ate spaghetti with chopsticks, and was deemed an idiot.
Saturday night I played at a club called "Pop It," which was really a DJ event. I played at 1 a.m. Last time in Tokyo I would typically go on at 6 p.m. or some crazy early time. Those were nightclubs, live show venues with grand pianos, soundmen in teams. This was a shitty basement with cement floors and rafters on the walls, and it was awesome. On the wall, a girl had painted a couple of pictures of me. One actually looked more like her than me.
At home last year, I was leafing through a picture book of Tokyo teens and their wild dress-up outfits. Everyone’s 16-19 years old and dressed in crazy combinations of lace, colors, make up, hats, pretty much costumes rather than a fashion statement, to me. So here I am, drinking a beer, listening to the Sneetches cranked on the stereo, looking at a room full of these kids! I was on Mars, on acid, giggling to myself while I walked into this book. I played my songs to a semi-circle of them, then they bought CDs and I signed autographs. The trains stop running at midnight here, so at a late night event like this one, everyone pretty much plans on staying until the morning, unless they catch an expensive taxi, which we did.
I can’t sleep more than four hours at night. Jet lag doesn’t necessarily mean you fall asleep during the day. In my case, this trip, I am up all day, up late at night, then wake up very early, and do it again. So I’m trying the magic blue pills, they help somewhat.
I slept at Daisuke’s apartment, a traditional modern apartment. Rice paper screens, take off the shoes, tiny microwave oven, the wall surfaces made of sand, beautiful woodwork, yet one has to sleep on the floor, I just don’t get it! The futons here are two inches thick, and they are more comfortable than the six-inch thick ones I know of in the USA. Daisuke likes his toys, and comics. CDs were everywhere.
In the morning, the weather was great, and we got a train to the office. Lunch was Unagi-don, BBQ eel, some of their cousins on display in the very clean aquarium, over rice. Then I did interviews with two magazines, Strange Days, and my friend Izumi’s fanzine, Kheer. Strange Days brought an interpreter, which was helpful. All they wanted to talk about was the Beatles! I refused to pick a fave fab. I did say my money was on Paul, whatever that meant. The cover story apparently will be the Beatles, and they wanted to tie it all in. Just what I need, another Beatles comparison. I mean, even Julia Child sounds like the Beatles if you really think about it.
I philosophized a while, then we left for the next interview. That one also went well, even though we got sidetracked with discussions about bin Laden, and that somehow lead us to the subject of Pearl Harbor. Before we got onto the Holocaust, we paid the bill and went outside for some pictures. The gadgets are always newer and better here; the digital camera my interviewer Satomi used was very cute and I wanted to own it right away. I posed with the mass and mess of lite-brite night-lit Shinjuku behind me.
I went back to the Lutheran hotel, but I was given a different room this time. I’d become attached to that spacious double room, and now I have a cramped single with a broken heater, and the pillow is literally a bag of beans. The heater is working during the daytime, however.
Tuesday I finally went to one of those restaurants where you take your shoes off. I put my Sperry top-siders in a little compartment, removed the block of wood that serves as a key (as if anyone is going to steal my shoes), and sat down with my stocking feet in the pit. After the Indian meal at the last place, all we wanted was some sake. The waiter insisted we order more food with the sake. At all the tables around us, loud drunken Japanese businessmen were having an after-work party. It’s just like some work-related social event of sales guys at a T.G.I.Friday’s in Walnut Creek, CA. There’s the newly promoted "yes man" raising toasts every five minutes; the gossipy high-pitched voiced guy telling the accounting clerk about the CEO’s new house. Also, the slightly too drunk sales rep who deep down knows he’ll never make VP of his sales district, and he might pass out in the pit.
Last day in Tokyo, had my last three dollar coffee, rode the train to Shinjuku, had Japalian again, visited some record shops and suddenly it was nearly time to go. The trains here leave exactly on time, so even though I arrived at the station four minutes before my train was scheduled to leave for Narita, I knew I would not miss it. Try cutting it that close anywhere else, and something will always mess you up. For that alone, I love Japan. This train is moving fast, by the way.
So it was a great trip, all considered. Thank you to all the fans old and new, who came out to the shows with song requests. Also to Kheer and Strange Days magazines for the interviews.
Special thank-yous to
Daisuke and Misako
for making time to take me around everywhere.
PS If you have photos from the shows, please email me!