Saturday, May 30, 2009

GREAT SONGS: Hoover's Ooover's "Rival Wa Rickenbacker"

A domestic quarrel involving a kitchen knife might not seem very promising material for a great love song.

But that's what “Rival Wa Rickenbacker” is, and it's one of those Hoover's Ooover tunes that astonishes with its newness and lack of cliche.

The song opens with a girl's spat with her boyfriend.

I broke a plate
Cut guitar strings
Threw a frying pan
And brought out a kitchen knife

So far, everything's fine. But then,

I still wasn't satisfied, so
I threw the Ricken
And finally you became mad
Saying “that's it”
You left the room

And so you find out that boyfriend is a guitarist, whose proudest possession is a Rickenbacker (abbreviated 'Ricken'). And the girl knows that, which is why she leaves it until the finale of the fight. But when she tosses the guitar, the boyfriend, who earlier appeared to tolerate dodging kitchen utensils and risking a stabbing incident, finally loses it. The opening lines have no subject ('I' and 'you'), which can be left out in Japanese, making them even more terse and masculine-sounding.

Even though the words are about violence, you get the sense that while the girl is angry (the song nevers says about what) she isn't seriously trying to harm the guy, and is instead making a point, at some bodily risk to him to be sure. Indeed, the phrase saying the girl “brought out” the knife—'mochidashitemita'—sounds quite tentative.

So the guy storms out after his Rickenbacker is made into a flying projectile, and then the chord changes, as well as the scene:

In the sky, shooting up and popping are fireworks
The summer night, seen from the veranda
Would I have been watching it now with you?

The girl is left alone in her room, with fireworks, the symbol of summer, visible from her window.

A couple of lines down, time has passed. She's gotten a haircut, trimmed her nails, changed her look in general, and along the way she's totaled a new car. And then, suddenly, she remembers her room used to be his too.

Chord change again, and she wonders whether he ever got that letter she dropped into the mail box, tripping twice on the way there. The night is ending, the morning is freezing, and she can feel herself becoming used to the loneliness.

So, the Rickenbacker is the 'rival' that took her boyfriend away from her, though she doesn't really mean that.

This isn't a perfect song—the first 20 seconds or so of the intro with drums could probably be lopped off, for example, because it doesn't do much—but it IS a vivid and living tune. Only 2 minute and 57 seconds long, the song contains a life that seems real, including the change of seasons—from the hot summer when the fight takes place to the lonely cold of the winter, when she's remembering him. As with most Hoover's Ooover songs, the music is catchy, and the singing heart-felt, but it's those out of a dozen of so Hoover songs I listen to has words that electrify, and this is one of them.


I just happened to realize the excellence of this song as I was listening to my iPod on the way to a Hoover's Ooover show at the Shimokitazawa Basement Bar. I repeated it. And again. And again. Pretty soon I was wandering the residential streets around the Basement Bar just so I could listen to the tune a few extra times before I entered the club. (And, happily, this song was on their set list that night.)


“Rival Wa Rickenbacker” is on Hoover Ooover's Tansansui mini-album. I've never seen a video of this song on YouTube, but there used to be one for “Tansansui” (which means 'carbonated water'), though it looks like it's been taken down. Here's a more recent video of the song “Timer”.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Goodbye, Kiyoshiro Imawano 2

By coincidence...or maybe not, maybe something drew me there...I was taking a walk along Aoyama Cemetery on Saturday, when I noticed a line of people. When I got closer, I saw that the line extended for blocks, and then I knew what it was. The queuing multitudes mostly looked to be people in their twenties to forties, though there were some teen punks with dyed hair. Some wore proper black suits and ties, while others were in T-shirts, some saying 'Kiyoshiro' on them. Many carried flowers, and I saw one girl clutching an old RC Succession LP in her arms. By chance I'd come to Kiyoshiro Imawano's public farewell service.

The lines moved slowly forward. I looked at people's faces, and most were smiling, as if this was some place like Bali where a funeral is a celebration. The queues twisted around for blocks around the cemetery—it crossed the Aoyama Bridge in one direction on one side, and the other direction on the other. News reports said that over 42,000 people showed up, and the service went on until late at night. Looking at the masses, it hit me—so, this is RC Succession, and this is Kiyoshiro... Although the crowd wasn't gloomy, seeing so many people there to say goodbye overwhelmed me, and at times I had to look away.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Goodbye, Kiyoshiro Imawano

So Kiyoshiro Imawano has left us, only 58, to jam on a stage somewhere with Elvis, Lennon, Kyu Sakamoto...

Kiyoshiro's band, RC Succession, introduced me to Japanese rock 'n' roll 20 years ago. My teen heart was thrilled by the most thinly-veiled sexual innuendo imaginable in their hit “Ameagari No Yozorani (To The Night Sky After The Rain)—along the lines of, the car batteries are charged, so why don't you want to go for a ride? I also listened to their live cover of “Ue Wo Muite Arukou” (or, Sukiyaki), before I discovered Kyu Sakamoto's original. Having been exposed to lame Japanese top-10 songs all my life, RC Succession's Japanese rock sounded so fresh and ground-breaking, during those young days of first beers and mischievous cigarettes...

When I moved to Japan, quite by coincidence my first apartment was near Tamaranzaka, the slope in western Tokyo that is the name of one of their famous songs. Around me were young guys who grew up listening to RC Succession—they were proud Kiyoshiro was a native son, and his music was real to them, including that bittersweet love ballad “Tamaranzaka”—it was everyone's secret song.

We always laughed at the lines in “Transistor Radio”: “I yawned so much in class, my mouth became big/ I napped so much, my eyes turned small”. When he's not bored in class, he listens to music from the Bay Area and Liverpool on the roof of his school.

And now he's gone. Truly, as a line in “Transistor Radio” says, I've never been able to explain this feeling well...So I think I'll leave you with a few of his videos instead. Goodbye, and thank you, Kiyoshiro.

Transistor Radio

Ameagari No Yozorani

Ue Wo Muite Arukou