Monday, August 02, 2004

Who is Art-School?

Art-School is one of Japan's more fascinating rock bands. They're interesting in large part because of their singer, Riki Kinoshita.

Kinoshita, who writes all the band's songs, is artsy-fartsiness personified. He's got an artiste look: starving-musician skinny, with a bowl hair cut. (He's the guy on the very left on their home page.) In the lyrics sheets that come with Art-School's early CDs, in the space that other bands would devote to thanking their managers and friends and friends' bands, Kinoshita gives a shout-out to: Kurt Cobain. The French poet Rimbaud. The Japanese poet Chuya Nakahara. Martin Scorsese. Et cetera.

Kinoshita also keeps an irregular Internet diary, as do other Japanese rock musicians. But his diary is utterly, undeniably and clearly different from the others' diaries.

July 16th's diary entry, for example, is titled 'On Mozart's life, and addiction'. Kinoshita talks about how he bought a used book about Mozart and how he felt that Mozart's hopeless life situation led to his creation of beautiful music. This discussion then somehow changes direction, and Kinoshita writes about substance abuse and concludes that everyone has some sort of addiction or another.

July 20th's entry says that he wrote several short stories on his Mac during the day and now was writing his diary as he drank his 20th bottle of beer.

Indeed, in other parts of his diaries we learn that Kinoshita often drinks until he gets sick, in the grand tradition of alcoholic Japanese artists. Also that between the ages of 18 and 23, he lived alone in Tokyo without working or going to school, surviving on money his mother sent him, and avoiding boredom by watching one video movie a day.

Of course, this being a rock musician I'm talking about, maybe it's not that unusual that he's a drunk and was a slacker who lived off his parent's money. But you don't usually read about that in the diary section of a band's home page. (And if truth be known, the Japanese musicians I've come to know are generally serious people who don't drink to an excess and make a living by doing part-time jobs.)

Kinoshita in his diaries is also very open about revealing what sort of musicians he listens to. The list of his current favorite musicians was impressive -- I hadn't been paying attention to contemporary American and European music for a while when I saw it, so the names on his list were at best vaguely familiar, and many I hadn't heard of at all. I made a copy of the list and put it in my wallet to look for the CDs later at record stores. (The list mentions Death Cab for Cutie, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Cat Power, the Fire Theft, Fountains of Wayne, among other names)

All of this wouldn't matter if Art-School's music was no good. But in fact, their music soars. The heavy rock melodies are always catchy, and Kinoshita sings with a gasping, naked passion that is pure and gripping. They share something with Nirvana, one of Kinoshita's idols. I just hope that Kinoshita, playing the part of the suffering artist to its conclusion, doesn't pull a Cobain on us.

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