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February 27, 2006

A Life Of Music pt. 1

Let's lay verbosity aside for a moment and set it down straight - I fucking love music.

I dipped my toe into Bros. and Rick Astley many years ago and, in them, found an effeminate pairing that sent me on the path of musical righteousness. From there, it was easy. Whatever I liked, I listened to. Roads taken were paved, initially, with Icehouse's "Electric Blue", which used to caress me to slumber on a nightly basis, before I first heard the pained wails of Axl Rose careening through the air. Christmas circa-1991 saw the arrival of my first two CD's - namely, the odd coupling of the Gunners' "Use Your Illusion 1" and Prince's "Diamonds and Pearls". Renowned homophobe Rose penned the emotional, and wildly successful, ballads "Don't Cry" and "November Rain", while Slash, further solidifying his indelible image of snakes, cigarettes and gritty blues, continued in his enamel-removing rock fashion. Clearly the members were at odds with each other, though, and relatively soon after the release of the album the band split (Rose has drifted between isolation and haphazard reformations of the band since). So, with a heavy heart, I laid the Gunners to rest and packed my bags for a trip into the world of brief flirtations with artists that offer little more than momentary spots of light before retreating to obscurity (think Snow, Babylon Zoo, Kriss Kross). I was in limbo, and needed saving.

Enter The Pixies. Discovered a little late, I'll admit, but discovered nonetheless. At about 15 (1995) I got hold of a tape-copied version of "Doolittle" and didn't look back. From there my world opened and this sometimes angry, oft-soothing blend of surf-rock, sci-fi laced lyrics and irresistible melodies lead me to a greater gift - the guitar. I learnt to play via the teachings of the self-coined 'guitar guru' Cliff Lynton, first in Subiaco before it was hip, and then in Mt.Lawley as it was developing the ultra-sharp semblance it now proffers. So enamoured with The Pixies, I took the lyrics, and music, of "Monkey Gone to Heaven" to my tenth-grade English class for dissection. Looking back now, I realise why, since that day, my teacher took every opportunity to lambaste me for any innocuous, milk-and-water offence...taking music into a religious school that states humans are closer in nature to the devil than God would earmark any blond-haired, green-eyed kid as a vessel spreading heathen poetry. Yet the class loved it, and I adored them for that.

Though never besotted by the consistently good music of Nirvana (oddly, I have never bought one of their records), around the time I was perambulating the school grounds with a walkman and my tired Pixies recording, I fell deeply in love with two rocks set firmly in the alternative soil - Weezer and Dinosaur Jr. One of my fondest live memories is seeing Weezer play an unplugged show upstairs at 78 Records around 1996 and, though memorable in part for its brevity, was one of those moments when you knew, at that point in time, you couldn't possibly be anywhere else. I gleefully gorged each word, each perfect note of "No One Else" as a packed room of youngsters feasted on the magic moment being presented. Ole! "Where You Been" was the starting point of my fascination with Dinosaur Jr. A fine record that started with the booming guitar intro of "Out There" before hitting its straps with the moderately funk-infused classic "Start Choppin". From there, the twists and turns took in the peculiar "Not The Same" that showed J. Mascis is as good as anyone at delivering a version of Neil Young and the fast and heavy "On The Way", which possesses a trademark Mascis solo that tears open the middle of the track like all great axe-work should. In the middle of last year I was lucky to catch Weezer again, this time fully plugged in and charming the pants off everyone in the monstrous crowd at the Summersonic festival in Japan. Rivers Cuomo is, quite obviously, a writer with a firm grasp of both humour and misery, but also has the rare ability to consistently produce what nearly everybody loves but rarely admits - a hook.

February 9, 2006

will vs be going to

It's taken a long time to get here. A long time to remove my subjective shades and view Japan as a country in its own right, and not merely as an environment that isn't home.
Initially, buoyed by the fact I was living in a place that is the total antithesis of Perth, I sugar-coated the shortcomings and found comfort in supermarket peculiarities, buying beer in convenience stores and revelling in the anachronistic nature of Kyoto. Now, as I lug around my gaijin (literally translated to alien) registration card, vividly recollect being turned away from a bar because the menu wasn't in English and continually astonish natives with my ability to use chopsticks, I've realised that Japan, like Australia, is a country knee-deep in racism. Yet, as Australia's bubbled furiously to the surface last year (incidents that made me embarrassed as I read about continual developments), Japan's general unease with foreigners seeps out in ways that, at first, could be seen as quirks, but in reality are flaws that, for some, are enough to make them leave.
Approximately 1% of the population in Japan is composed of foreigners, of which 51% are Korean. Indeed, many Koreans are 3rd or 4th generation, yet as Japanese citizenship is based on lineage they are not automatically awarded citizenship. Many Koreans migrated when Japan colonised Korea in 1910 and continued to control it until the end of World War II, and, as it has been widely-documented, thousands were forcibly brought to Japan to assist the war-effort. Despite establishing such strong roots and rights in Japan, Koreans, and indeed all foreigners with permanent residency, still encounter gross discrimination in areas such as government (they are still ineligible to vote), social security (working in Japan for less than 25 years means you can't collect a pension here, nor is it reciprocated when you return home - two exceptions being Germany and the UK) and employment (though it is lessening, Koreans still battle their ancestry when attempting to find jobs).
What is most striking is the different routes taken by Australia and Japan with reference to immigration policies. Virtually homogenous, Japan has done little to embrace foreigners and places great importance on 'pure' family lineage, marriage into financially secure families and traditional family values. Australia, meanwhile, blossomed during the 'Populate or Perish' era, though this came some 30 years after the 'White Australia' policy, and now boasts one of the most multinational populations in the world. Yet, as was evidenced by the Cronulla race riots of last year, many Australians still subscribe to the antiquated notion of a country being identifiable by the colour, not quality, of its people.
There are, however, signs of change. A recent survey at the prestigious Tokyo University showed a whopping 90% in favour of giving voting rights in local government elections to foreigners. Later this year, South Korea will afford voting rights to its foreigners; it's believed such a development will encourage the Japanese government to do the same. So, in this country at least, the hope rests with the young, but as a portion of Australia's youth made clear last December, the push to populate has left some in an arm-wrestle for control of a country still finding its feet.