Monday 5th June 2006 -- 9:00 am
Spent most of today at Fairview studios with John Spence. We mastered my two newest albums in preparation for their manufacture. I'm hoping to release 'Neptune's Galaxy' in July, although this has yet to be confirmed. 'Return To Jazz Of Lights' will be held over until autumn.
It's a relief to know that the musical and technical aspects of these two projects are finally complete. All that remains for me to do is work with David Graham on the tidying up of each album's packaging art.
John was kind enough to comment on the quality of the recordings as he mastered each album. He's always positive and supportive and understands that, recording alone as I do, encouragement and appreciation of my work is very much needed. Sometimes I feel as if I'm working in a vacuum and that only a small number of people grasp the implications of the music I make. But that's partly a result of ploughing an individual furrow, or because I willfully ignore pressures to either conform to my own past or to someone else's present. Occasionally it's tough but it's absolutely the correct way forward.
Ultimately, I have no regrets or qualms about any of the difficulties that this approach throws up. I follow where the muse leads and damn the consequences. Is this why the character of Orpheus has always fascinated me? Or Don Quixote?
My trip to Japan soon...very soon. In fact just over a week away. I have to start packing clothes. I'll probably take too much, as usual. (I find it impossible to travel light.) Like Don Quixote, I need my armour.
I'm not looking forward to the flight. It's not a direct to Tokyo one as there's a long wait at an airport in Holland for our connection to Narita.
I don't enjoy flying at all, hate it actually, so I'm now wondering whether I should have stuck to my original plan of staying at home. But, if I'd done that, I'd have been terribly lonely without Emiko and not taken care of myself properly. I'm hopeless at self-sufficiency, at least in real world terms. In creative terms, I'm the captain of my own ship, but that seaworthiness limits itself to the world of art and music. Elsewhere, I'm a fish out of water. Emiko has become my life support system as well as my wife, lover and friend. So...off to Tokyo I go!
Actually, it will be good to see my mother-in-law and my two brother's-in-law. Plus my old friend Nick and his wife Yoko. And there's bound to be a guitar adventure or two.
We're staying in a inexpensive business hotel in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. When I say 'inexpensive' I mean inexpensive by Tokyo standards. It's still a largish chunk of cash for Emi and I, even though it will be a room the size of a broom cupboard. At least I know the surrounding area like the back of my hand and will be able to find my way around. Shibuya is quite lively and we'll only need the cupboard for sleeping. We're planning a trip out to Kamakura and the Gretsch guitar company have invited me to visit their factory which is about two hours out of Tokyo by train. (In Nagoya, I think.)
When I return, a long list of work projects awaits my attention:The EMI box set's live recordings need mixing. I also have a long list of Nelsonica 06 tasks to work my way through. (The annual conventions get more and more elaborate, partly my own fault for trying to raise the bar each year.)
Then I have to seriously get down to business with the film I must make for next Spring's contemporary music festival at Leeds University....such a lot of work needed for that. I made a sort of start last week when I paid a visit to Wakefield Museum to talk about the possibility of accessing their archives for info and still photographs.The film is intended to be a poetic, autobiographical exploration of memory. It's working title is 'Ghosts Etched On Glass.'
I've also discovered two film archives, one in London, one in York, that may be able to supply me with some historical footage that I'd like to weave into the film. At a price though, from what I can tell. When I get back from Japan, I have to make an appointment to see the curators of Wakefield Museum and also of the two film archives. Just researching this project will take time, before I even begin to deal with its creative practicalities. Nevertheless, I have an outline vision of how this thing should develop and I'm prepared for it to be a long and ongoing process. It's initial showings will be as 'a work in progress' rather than a completed film.
I've been speaking with Dean Campbell about my Transitone signature guitar. I gave him a list of my thoughts after working with the prototype model. The prototype plays extremely well but Dean tells me that the finished model will be even better. He seems to think that he can accomodate the majority of things I've suggested. Looking forward to seeing the finished item!
Emi and I went to Whitby yesterday. It took ages to get there as a section of the road over the North Yorkshire Moors had been closed by the police due to an accident that apparently killed a biker. A large, yellow, air-sea rescue helicopter was brought in. It landed, just ahead of us, on the road at the site of the crash. After an extensive wait, the police directed us towards an alternative route, a long way 'round but picturesque. We eventually got to Whitby, only just in time for lunch last orders at 'The White Horse And Griffin.' But I couldn't stop thinking about the biker and how his family's life had been changed in the instant of that accident.
After lunch, we walked out on the harbour walls to the very end, where the two small stone, lighthouses stand.The sea and sky blurred into one another, a smear of pastel pink and hazy blue, small white-sailed yachts floating in the early summer sunday luminescence, big blue sky arcing overhead. It was blissfull, transcendant. And I hadn't brought my camera.
Then, on our way home, we stopped off at Robin Hood's Bay and marvelled at the view from the top of the hill that leads down to the old village. Again, absolutely sublime, so magnificently beautiful, the cliffs of the far coastline framing the bay, sea stretching out to horizon. I turned to Emi and said, " This is what makes life worth living. A place like this and someone to share it with..." Emi said, "That's the important thing, someone to share it with.." We both treasure the times we can get out into the Yorkshire countryside together.
No surprise to us that North Yorkshire has just been voted the most beautiful county in the whole of England. I'm intimately connected to this particular landscape. My heart beats in it.
Visited my brother's grave last week with my Mother and Emi. We laid flowers. I need to speak with Diane about our plan to raise a headstone for Ian. I must call her before I leave for Japan.
For now, that's all I can write. Tired. I'll try to write another diary entry before my trip to Japan.
Oh, still reading Lindsay Anderson's diaries and have four new books to take to Tokyo with me. (Or one if I can make up my mind which one to read first.) They are: 'The Necropolis Railway' by Andrew Martin, (author of 'The Blackpool Highflyer'). 'The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana' by Umberto Eco. 'Attention All Shipping' by Charlie Connelly and 'Strange Angel' by George Pendle.
But right now, I'm going to sit downstairs with my wife and eat strawberries and ice cream.
The images attached to this diary entry are as follows:
1. The latest cover art for 'Return To Jazz Of Lights' (The model is Emiko, photographed in the 1960's.)
2. A view of Robin Hood's Bay. Photo by Bill Nelson.
3. An early Campbell Transitone Bill Nelson signature model sketch
Monday 12th June 2006 -- 12:00 pm
Only two and a half days until the start of my trip to Japan and I'm feeling unwell. Last Thursday, I awoke in the middle of the night with an excruciatingly sore throat, really painful.This continued for three days before easing off a little but has been replaced by a flu-like lethargy and clamminess. My chest is a bit tight too, irritated but not a fully blown cough. It feels virus-like but is sort of veiled, fogged over. Maybe my system is trying to fight it off or maybe it hasn't yet fully developed. Whatever it is, it's come at a bad time as I have had so much to prepare before we leave for Tokyo. I've been taking my usual daily multi-vitamins and have supplemented these with echinacea which is reputed to boost one's immune system. I just hope that I can shake this thing off before Thursday. All those hours cooped up in an aeroplane won't help matters at all.
I've put a few things in place before we leave. Album artwork for 'Neptune's Galaxy' and 'Return To Jazz Of Lights' has now been fully completed and signed off. I need to speak to Paul (Gilby) before leaving to let him know that 'Neptune' is all ready to go to the pressing plant. 'Jazz' can go a little later, once 'Neptune' has been available for a while.
I've also made an image for the central 'logo' of Nelsonica 06. It's a fairly free-handed drawing of a satyr-like creature with ram's horns and goatee. I've framed the original. Not sure if I should keep it for myself or offer it for auction at Nelsonica.
Further refinements to my Campbell Transitone signature model guitar and another drawing sent off to Dean. Maybe there will be something solid for me to look at when I get back from Tokyo.
I've packed everything, suitcase-wise, now. Just a few final toiletries to cram in on the morning of our departure. I had second thoughts about some of the clothes I'd packed and did a bit of a swop around. A token attempt to cut back on the bulk. I think I've got fractionally less in there now but it still feels damn heavy. Emi's case is smaller. (But then she's a lot smaller than me anyway. Her clothes take up less room, even when the quantity is the same as mine.) Have also packed my carry on bag. I need to charge my camcorder batteries before packing that though. All that boring waiting around at Amsterdam airport will give me plenty of time to wander about the concourse with video and still cameras. See if I can come up with images that could be used in future creative projects.
I have two pairs of trousers to collect from the alterations shop this afternoon. Damn! Does this mean I'll have to find space in my case for them? Probably.
Have been trying to catch up with emails again but with only partial success. People must think that I don't care to respond but I'm actually full of good intentions to do so. It's just that my life is so full of distractions. One has only to look at my creative output to understand that.
Went over to Wakefield to visit my sister-in-law Diane last week. Life has hit her hard again...her mother has just passed away, only six weeks after she lost her husband, (my brother Ian). I couldn't believe it or come up with anything to say that would have been of any solace. I just felt absolutely inadequate. It's mind-numbingly sad.
Her mother was buried at the weekend in a plot directly behind Ian's. Diane's mum and he were actually very fond of each other, not at all the cliched comedy relationship of 'mothers-in-law' perpetuated by the likes of Les Dawson. I'd last seen Diane's mum two days after Ian's funeral. I'd gone with my mother to visit Ian's grave and, by coincidence, Diane and her mum and dad had also chosen to visit the cemetary at the same time. Diane's mum was in a wheelchair and she'd shed a tear at Ian's graveside. She spoke warmly of him.
My generation has reached an age when the harshness of mortality is brought home to us on a fairly regular basis. Knowing that doesn't make it any easier to accept though. Diane told me that she missed Ian even more at this sad time. He would have been a pillar of strength for her in such a situation. After years of marriage, he understood her emotional responses more than anyone and knew exactly how to steer Diane away from too much despair.
Other, less depressing news:
Emi and I took my son Elliot out for a meal last week. A local Tapas place. We sat on the roof terrace surrounded by sun-tanned girls in skimpy vests. A bit of a cleavage exhibition. Of course, I'm far too old and decrepit to notice such things, (but Emi sometimes points them out to me... She knows I'm an art lover).
Got an email from my daughter Elle in London. She's picking up some work designing websites at the moment.
The plan to licence my 'Getting The Holy Ghost Across'/'On A Blue Wing' album from Sony is going ahead. It's ironic that I have to pay them an advance and a royalty share as part of the deal for them to give me permission to re-issue the album on my own label. But that's what happens when you dance with the galloping majors. I just hope that enough people want to buy it to warrant me paying out so much to Sony. Still...it will be the first time its officially beenavailable on CD.
I really want to start work on 'Romance Of Sustain' volume two. I have several unreleased guitar compositions that I've been performing live over these last two or three years. They should be put onto an album. I still need to dub the lead guitar parts onto the backing tracks, though, and mix them carefully. It shouldn't be too difficult a process as most of the 'writing' is done and the basic recording too. (Nevertheless, I'd like to write at least a couple of brand new pieces for the project.) I'm thinking of calling this album, 'The Last Of The Gentleman Rocketeers.' (Or perhaps have one of the instrumentals called that.)
But...before I can even contemplate starting on the project, I have to mix the ancient Be Bop Deluxe live recordings for EMI RECORD'S forthcoming box set. And begin work on my 'Ghosts Etched On Glass' film. Plenty to do.
Now I have to attempt to weigh our suitcases. Emi called from work just now to say that she'd heard that new airline regulations restrict the weight of individual cases, rather than the collective weight of the total. If this is so, there may be a last minute frennzy of re-packing to distribute the tonnage between both our cases. As if the trip to Japan wasn't difficult enough already. I do get so stressed out by travel these days.
I'll try to take a notebook to Tokyo to jot down some day to day happenings so that I can write them up in this diary when I return. Hopefully, I'll have some photos to attach too.
The images attached to this diary entry are:
1. Bill Nelson's drawing for Nelsonica 06 'Arcadian Salon.'
2. Another of Bill's sketches for his Campbell signature guitar.
3. Another photo of Emiko from the 1960's.
Thursday 29th June 2006 -- 7:00 pm
THE TOKYO CAPER: PART ONE.
Returned from our trip to Tokyo last night. A long journey and a busy, exhausting time in Japan. Far too frought and intense to be called a holiday, but we were not really expecting it to be anything other.
I'm feeling jet-lagged and sleepy but Emiko went to work at the flower shop this morning so she's had a much tougher day than me. I spent the day unpacking suitcases and gifts for friends and family and then headed off to town and later to the supermarket to stock up on food and other essentials.
It now feels as if we've not been away at all but while we were in Tokyo it felt like we'd been there for at least a month, so much activity did we cram in to our stay. There's too much to tell in a single diary entry and I'm too tired to tell it all in one attempt anyway, so I'll spread it out via two or three entries over the next few days. I also have several photo's to add to the forthcoming diary entries so will select three images for each.
I returned to find dozens of emails and Dreamsville Forum private messages awaiting my attention. And a pile of posted mail in the letterbox. (Various bills, unfortunately.)
I will only be able to deal with the most pressing correspondence as there is a long list of work-related projects to catch up with. My list of 'things to do' seems to have doubled since I've been away.
The most recent of these is the task of photographing my musical instrument collection for a Japanese magazine called 'Player.' This magazine, one of the largest musician's magazines in Japan, interviewed me whilst I was in Tokyo for a six page feature which will appear in an Autumn issue. They arranged a two hour photo session along with the actual interview. Emi acted as translator. It was the first time I'd been in a proper photographer's studio for several years and I wasn't really looking forward to it, (nor was I 'sartorially prepared'), but, as it turned out, it was reasonably painless. I've attached two rough polaroids from the sessions to this diary entry along with a self-portrait that I snapped whilst visiting Zen Master Dogen's memorial monument in Kamakura.
The most difficult part of the Player magazine feature is the photographing of my musical instrument collection. The editor wants me to take individual photos of every guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukelele, keyboard, amplifier etc, etc, that I own. The magazine also wants a list of all the serial numbers of the instruments, (a typically Japanese thing, detail being everything) and also would like photos of my recording room from various angles.
The individual items must each be photographed against a plain background, keeping the proportions identical. As there are no plain backgrounds in our house, (due to shelves of books, ceramics, paintings, prints, etc), I'll need to go out and buy a roll of plain coloured cloth to pin and drape from the house's ceiling beams to provide a suitable backdrop to photograph the instruments against.
Once the photographs are taken, I have to get them burned to a CD to post to Japan...and they must have them by July 10th if the feature is to meet their Autumn schedule/deadline. It looks as if I'll have to make a start very soon as it will take at least a couple of days to photograph everything, if not longer.
On the positive side, it will provide an opportunity for me to catalogue my collection and will also double up as source material for the Dreamsville site's 'Guitar Arcade.'
As my computer doesn't have a disc burner, I'll have to enlist the help of a more technically articulate friend to get the pics stored to disc for posting to Japan. I desperately need a more up-to-date Mac but can't afford it at the moment as there are so many other, more pressing, domestic problems around the house. Both Emi's car and mine are in need of repair too and I've just booked them in for servicing, repairs and MOT examinations. They have to go in to the garage next week, one at a time so that we're not without transport.
Of course, the Tokyo trip has been mind-numbingly expensive. Despite talk of the Japanese economy being less strong these days, we were horrified by how much things still cost. A small glass of fresh orange juice, an iced-tea and an iced- coffee at the hotel cafe came to just over 15 pounds. A two-hour trip from Tokyo to Nagoya to visit the Terada guitar factory cost us one hundred pounds each. A similar length trip from here to London and back can be had for around thirty pounds each, so we were shocked by the quite dramatic difference.
Nevertheless, the Japanese Shinkansen is a superb way to travel and makes our British rail system seem antiquated and slow. The trains in Japan are marvels of engineering, clean, fast, smooth and silent...I was seriously impressed.
I was also tremendously impressed by my visit to the Terada guitar factory, a family business begun back in 1915. I was expecting something very high tech and modern but it's a very old-fashioned set up and labour intensive. This factory is number one in Japan for building artchtop guitars. They build for Gretsch, D'Angelico, D'Aquisto, Sadowsky and some other makes. the quality and attention to detail is remarkable. I took some camcorder footage of the craftsmen at work which I'll try to assemble into a little video documentary- souvenir of my Japan trip to show at this year's Nelsonica convention in October, (another addition to the day's events. It's going to be a jam-packed convention this year).
Tomorrow I have to hunt for plain fabric for those 'Player' magazine guitar photograph backgrounds so I'll keep this diary entry brief. But much more to follow over the next few days. Stay tuned.
The images attached to this diary entry are:-
1. Bill Nelson 'Player' magazine Polaroid number one.
2. Bill Nelson 'Player' magazine Polaroid number two.
3. Bill Nelson 'Self Portrait at Zen Master Dogen's memorial, Kamakura, Japan. All photos taken in Japan during Bill and Emi's visit in June 2006.
Friday 30th June 2006 -- 6:00 pm
THE TOKYO CAPER: PART TWO.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning of my recent trip to Japan, see if I can recall all the relevant details. It seems to have already become a distant blur but this may partly be due to my jet-lag and low energy level.
As noted in my diary entry of 12th June, I wasn't feeling well two days prior to leaving. This was due to a virus I'd picked up and, in fact, I was feeling even worse the night before we were due to leave...(so much so that I seriously considered not going at one point). I couldn't imagine how I could endure the long journey. I'd been dosing myself with all the usual remedies but to little avail. I felt weak and decidely virus-stricken. Nevertheless, I decided to pack as much 'medicine' as I could, 'Night Nurse' tablets, vitamins, sore throat tablets, pain killers, etc, etc...(my carry on bag resembled a mobile pharmacist's shop), and made the effort to get myself half-way around the world to Japan, for Emi's sake, if nothing else.
I hardly slept the night before the flight, a combination of anxiety and sickness. Our friends Steve and Julia had generously offered to drive us to the airport but we still needed to be up early to get there two hours ahead of our scheduled take-off time. When we got up at the crack of dawn, I was in grumpy old man mood from lack of sleep. My mood didn't improve when we arrived at the airport to find that the airline had seated Emi and I in totally separate parts of the aeroplane, on both legs of the journey. (We were flying first to Amsterdam's Schipol airport, then transferring to another flight to travel to Tokyo.) On top of this, due to new cabin baggage restrictions, one of our carry-on bags was deemed too heavy so some items had to be taken out. During this messing about, my electric razor fell on to the floor and broke. Time for a beard development fortnight, I thought.
Eventually we made it through to the departure lounge and grabbed a light breakfast from the cafe before boarding the plane to Amsterdam. Luckily, we were able to wangle two seats together which cheered me up a little.
The trip to Amsterdam was short, around 55 minutes actual flight time, but we then had a long wait in the transit zone of Schipol Airport before boarding our Boeing 777 for the connecting flight to Tokyo. We passed some of the time sitting in one of airport's many cafe bars. I nursed a glass of red wine which, in turn, nursed me. By the time we boarded the aeroplane, I was feeling pleasantly, er...shall we just say 'vague?' Once again, we negotiated to obtain seats sitting next to each other and finally succeeded, 'though it was in a row of three. As it happened, our third party companion spoke nary a word throughout the 12 hour flight.
After taking off, I had my cutomary Bloody Mary cocktail, something that I only ever seem to drink whilst on long-haul flights. (It's a habit going back to the days of Be Bop Deluxe touring America in the 1970's.) Anyway, it did the trick and my virus-stricken discomfort was slowly buried under a rapidly increasing alcoholic haze.
I looked through the list of movies available on the in-flight entertainment centre, a surprisingly large selection covering several tastes. Of course, each seat has its own integral video screen nowadays and each occupant their own individual selection of films and entertainment, but I can recall when things were somewhat different. On those long-ago Be Bop Deluxe U.S. tours of the mid 1970's there was just one solitary screen at the head of each section of cabin and an equally solitary RGB projector suspended from the cabin's roof. As far as having a choice of films goes, there simply was no choice at all, passengers just watched whatever was selected by the airline. Usually, there was a main feature plus a supporting one. (A bit like the old, early '60's days of British cinema minus the ice-cream lady, the cinema organist and the agonisingly slow attempt to slide your hand beneath your new girlfriend's angora sweater, then under her bra...Oh, what sweet joy when the target of one's lust was reached...) But even those 1970's Be Bop American tour long-haul single screen flights seemed high-tech to us back then.
I can recall an incident when Charlie Tumahai, a little 'worse for wear', decided to start up a running commentary on the film being shown. He did this in a loud, pantomime 'aussie' style accent, shouting out perceptive phrases such as 'He's behind ya, yer dim-brained bastard!!' and 'I'd shag the arse off that Sheila, mate!" He was always ready with a sophisticated turn of phrase.
When the cabin staff asked him to stop spoiling the film for the other passengers, he sulked for a couple of minutes before coming up with the idea of using his hands to cast shadow puppet images onto the screen.These hand shadows, representing birds, elephants, foxes, etc, interacted amusingly with the various characters in the film, although the other passengers seemed to think otherwise for some reason. Eventually, cabin staff and the rest of Be Bop Deluxe had to pursuade Charlie to cease and desist. It wasn't easy to get him to stop but eventually, with the aid of a trip to the toilet for him to smoke a clandestine 'jazz woodbine', he'd settle down and eventually drift off to sleep for the remainder of the trip. A right card was our Charlie...I still miss him.
Back to the 21st century and our KLM flight to Tokyo: I decided to watch the recent re-make of King Kong which was listed on the in-flight movie menu. I hadn't gone to the cinema to see it when it was released, (last year?) as I'd always been fond of the black and white original with Fay Wray and didn't feel that a new version would add anything to that. However, after watching the first 15 minutes or so, I was sufficently impressed to decide to rent it out on video when I returned to the U.K. and view it on a larger screen, rather than watch it on the tiny one built into the seat on the aeroplane. So I stopped the playback of 'King Kong' and selected 'Wallace And Gromit And The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit' instead. Well, in the absence of 'Meshes Of The Afternoon' or 'The Testament Of Orpheus', what did you expect?
After an amusing chuckle at the wayward adventures of the much celebrated animated plasticine man and his dog, I settled down to read 'The Necroplis Railway' by Andrew Martin which turned out to be not too bad at all. (Now there's a riveting, perceptive review-cum-advertising quote for you:- "Not too bad at all"... Bill Nelson, KLM Airlines.) The author skillfully evokes a vivid picture of the sooty, grim, steam-driven London of the early 20th Century. The fact that the central character hails from Robin Hood's Bay, just outside Whitby, is an extra bonus for me.
At this point in time, I'm just over half-way through the book, having found little time to read whilst in Tokyo, but I've been gently entertained by the story so far. Perhaps Mr. Martin and myself have some interests in common.
The flight to Japan seemed endless. I slept fitfully, sporadically. Actually, it wasn't sleeping at all, just a semi-unconcious state, the Boeing's engines droning like a million bees in a metal hive, a constantly humming background to the half-stupor I found myself in. The in-flight meals were slight and inconsequential but the little bottles of wine that came with them found whatever edge I had left and hammered, then smoothed it into a rusty bluntness.
After what felt like an eternity, we landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport. Emiko, because she is still a Japanese passport holder, was able to go through passport control/immigration like a knife through butter. Myself, being a foreigner, (or 'Gaijin'), went through it like a feather through stone. I joined the back of a long, long line of non-Japanese and awaited my turn to be given entry to the country. After such a long flight, this long wait proved difficult. I felt dizzy and exhausted but eventually I reached the head of the line and presented my passport to the immigration officer. After a few moments of checking on his computer screen to make sure that I wasn't on any list of known terrorists, football hooligans, drug smugglers or people who cross the road whilst the little walking-man signal is still on red, I was waved through to the baggage reclaim area where Emi was waiting patiently for me.
But our journey was not yet over. We now had to haul our luggage onto the Airport Limousine. This vehicle is actually not nearly as glamourous as it sounds. The 'limousine' is nothing more than a plain old bus that ferries passengers from Narita airport into Tokyo. We bought our tickets and climbed on board and found two seats at the back, settling down for the two-hour drive into Tokyo itself. Not exactly Tokyo airport at all, really, as Tokyo is a two-hour ride away. But that's Japan.
I dozed as the bus swept along the motorway but woke as we hit the first traffic snarl-ups that signalled that we were entering the city at last. We finally, gratefully, got off at the Hotel Excel, (one of the buses several scheduled stops) and wearily hauled our luggage to a taxi to drive to another, much less expensive 'business hotel' that we'd pre-booked from England.The taxi driver, much to my annoyance, stood by and watched me struggle to load our heavy and bulky cases into the boot and the back seat of his cab. Not once did he offer to help me. I was, by this time, beyond verbal complaint and felt like a mere robot switched to automatic...A suitably appropriate condition for Tokyo life.
Our cheap business hotel was in Shibuya, up a little hill on a small side road, not too far from Shibuya station. The hotel was due to close down, three days after our check-in, but for now, it was to be our home.
The room was tiny, the bathroom even more so, almost microscopic but we were too exhausted to care and simply unlocked our cases, took a bath and wandered out into the neon Shibuya night. It was as if I'd never been away from the place.
Tokyo is a kind of glittering hell, a consumer orgy lit by advertising signs, giant video screens and scored by dozens of discordant broadcasts from loudspeakers situated on every building.The message is simple, "Buy me! Buy Me! Buy Me!" It is, as so many first-time vistors say, 'just like Blade Runner'...but the more often you visit, this romantic, futurist impression is diluted and then replaced by something far more mundane. In fact, Tokyo is neither 'Blade Runner' nor 'Lost In Translation' but instead is a city of millions of lives banged up together in a desperate fight for either survival or aquisition. In many ways, it embodies everything that has gone awry with human society, even though, as the tour salesmen say, there is much less crime than in the West. But in Tokyo, to one degree or another, nothing is as it seems and almost everything is fake, simulated or appropriated from somewhere else. I've known this from the beginning of course but, with each subsequent visit, it becomes more and more apparent, less interesting, less humourously ironic, less 'post-modern'. Eventually, it simply becomes something to be endured. A candy-coloured purgatory that can only be safely navigated by a wallet full of cash and a credit card willingly sacrificed to the max.
Outside of Tokyo though, Japan has its compensations, its unique solaces. Emi and I spent a day with two of her Tokyo friends visiting Kamakura, a not too long train ride out of Tokyo, near the coast. Kamakura has become a kind of spiritual theme park. It has what seems like an endless collection of old temples which one can visit. A tourist thing, not just for westerners but for the Japanese too. We crammed several of these into one day and it became something of a blur. I can't recall the various names of them, 'though I paid attention to each one that we visited. Each temple seemed to involve the climbing of a hill. In the June heat and high humidity, this was even more strenuous than normal for me. But there were one or two brief moments of grace and beauty. And some very good, locally brewed Kamakura beer. No wonder those Zen monks were looking so blissed out.
At one point on our tour of the temples, I got Emi to take a snapshot of me standing in one of the Zendo rooms, where the monks would sit in meditation. I wanted to climb up onto the sitting area mats and pose in Buddha fashion but Emi said I'd better not. Perhaps I would have profaned the space with my lazy Buddha posture...
But this opportunity to behave like tourists was an anomaly as the rest of our time in Japan was taken up with a punishing schedule involving meetings with Emi's relatives and friends, plus the Player Magazine interview and photo session and my visit to the Terada guitar factory in Nagoya. (Actually, this last was the highlight of the entire trip for me.)
Now I'm tired again so I'll continue with the story in a day or two's time. Meanwhile, don't touch that dial.
The photographs attached to this diary entry are as follows:-
1. A Kamakura Temple.
2. Kamakura Beer.
3. Bill Nelson in a Kamakura Zendo.