Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No-Show Report: Zunou Keisatsu

Brain Police, also known as “the radical protest band” Zunou Keisatsu, is near the zenith of the celestial list of legendary Japanese rock groups, so when I heard they had reunited and were doing a national tour, I was intrigued. But, for a variety of reasons I ended up not making it to the Tokyo shows, a major one being that the tickets were pricey, about three times the cost of regular live house gigs. Did anyone go?

Zunou Keisatsu's legend and notoriety stem mainly from their involvement with radical leftist politics in the 70's, and the banning of their first two records because of the controversial lyrical content. As Julian Cope writes:

They were formed in the late ‘60s by vocalist and guitarist Panta, who had formerly played with festival obscurities Peanut Butter, Mojo and Spartacus Bunt, and Brain Police songs were all built around the guitarist’s fist-in-the-air people-at-the-barricades lyrics. Taking their name from the early Mothers of Invention song ‘Who Are The Brain Police?’ the band survived long enough to make six LPs and continued until the end of 1975. However, there are two obvious peaks in their career, the first being their rousing duo performance at the GENYA anti-airport protest festival, when Panta and conga player Toshi shared a bill with Blues Creation, Masauki Takayanagi’s free rock New Direction For The Arts, and Keiji Haino’s Lost Aaraaff. Performances of the songs ‘Pick Up Your Gun’ and the seven-minute chant ‘World Revolutionary War Declaration’ received such a positive response from the crowd that the nihilism of closing act Lost Aaraaff was greeted with large rocks hurled from the Sanrizuka fields.

One thing I wonder about this band is the extent of its interaction with the Japanese Red Army. There's the matter of their first album containing a song called "Red Army Soldier's Poem", though, in an interview with the great site, Panta says the song comes from a Bertolt Brecht poem about the Red Army in Germany, “but politics in Japan were so sensitive that nobody bothered to pay close enough attention to find that out.”

OK...but then Zunou Keisatsu's website also says that in 1972 the guys performed at a memorial event for the three Japanese Red Army members who were killed at the Lod Airport massacre (is this a mistake? I thought that two of the three perpetrators died, while the other was arrested). A few questions come up for me: did they sympathize with the purpose of the event? If not, was this just an instance of musicians playing at a show because it was happening? What did they think of the 26 people killed by the Red Army trio?

And, moving on to the 21st century, what's this about Panta and ex-Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu exchanging letters and writing songs together?

I'm assuming that this all reflects how Revolution was in the air in early-70's Japan, that Panta liked the idea of a worldwide communist uprising, but that he was first and foremost a musician rather than an activist. Was it all radical chic? But I am curious about what he thinks about the legacy of the Red Army and his verdict on people like Shigenobu. I haven't dived deeply into the literature on all this; I just read some stuff online. So maybe the answers are out there...

Anyway, the show. It was two weekend nights at a place called The Doors, but the tickets were 6,000 yen (about $60), way more than the usual price of around 2,000. And I thought that leftist bands were supposed to ask for donations—kanpa (short for the Russian word 'kampaniya'), so that the workers attending their shows pay as they are able? However, as a friend said, 'you need money to fund the revolution,' I guess. Plus, the shows were sold out or nearly so, and, with exceptions for those by favorite bands I generally try to avoid sold-out gigs because they really pack you in Japan at those events and you start having flashbacks of rush-hour Keio Line trains... If anyone caught them, I'd love to hear if they lived up to the hype.

(A final pedantic note: the Japanese for 'brain' of Brain Police has been spelled both zuno, and zunou. The problem is that the last O in zuno is a long vowel—you stretch it out when you say it. The formal, academic way to write it would be to put a macron, a horizontal line, above the O. Most rock 'n' roll types can't be bothered, so they spell it Zuno, macron-less. I like the way it's rendered in kana, with a U, after the No character—that seems to give a good feel for the pronunciation.)

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