Fear of death

If you ever panic about the impermanence of life, if you ever get worried about your job, your relationships, your future, if you fear death, the best way to put all that turmoil to rest is to reassure yourself that death will come _ surely, whether you worry or not, whether you try to stop it or not.
All of it will end _ surely.
Since you know this, you could conceivably go berserk and kill everyone you ever hated before you kill yourself.
This is one obvious scenario. And daily headlines tell us some people really do this, thinking they are justified.
OK and so why doesn’t everybody go out and do this, since death comes oh so surely.
We want to leave this world a better place for those who are still alive, and this means that we don’t really deep inside believe that death ends everything, though it comes, surely, as we know it.
There is something else that goes on forever.
Like our love for our children, including other people’s children.
Simple things like the light of the stars, the taste of food in our mouths, a blade of grass, the scentless smell of the wind.
Simple things that are so forever complex.

money for art

This is what I heard from a dancer.
But the biggest stars of Tokyo Butoh troupe Dairakudakan, not just the student dancers, don’t ever get paid to perform.
Instead, they must bring in money from outside jobs to a pool of funds that has been set up to support the group’s performances and other artistic activities.
So they are paying to dance _ never mind worrying about getting paid to perform.
The question has already been answered.
You dance to dance. That’s it.
The dance is separate from livelihood _ which must be dealt with outside of dance.
That’s why I think Dairakudan performers exude that absolute confidence.
They look at us with disdain because they know they are pure and we are not.

Toshinori Kondo

“Oh, my Buddha!” was what Toshinori Kondo kept saying.
That was back in the 1980s, when he was in his IMA band stage, fresh from his return from New York, where he had built his fame, and now out to forge his own Japanese jazz sound.
Instead of looking to the West (as in “Oh, my God!”), a musician must look to his/her Asian roots (and start saying, “Oh, my Buddha!” instead).
He was one of the most fascinating people I have ever interviewed.
Maybe he felt sorry for me that our interview was about to end, and I could have been in his presence forever.
He began to clown around and disappeared into the narrow crevice between the wall and a soda vending machine.
“Oh, my Buddha!”
I don’t know why, but this was terribly and perfectly charming.
In his recent book “Inochi wa Sokkyo da (Life Is Improvisation),” Kondo says he studied the lives of Buddhist monks and spiritual leaders when he was younger to find out for himself what made Japanese and Japanese thinking great.
Otherwise, he couldn’t feel confident that, as a Japanese artist, he would have something unique or competitive to say in the world of jazz, dominated by Americans.
The Buddhists all led pretty wild and crazy lives, it turns out, fasting, becoming hermits, wandering penniless, chanting in a frenzy.
Best of all, they had a unique view on the meaning of life and spirituality, which remains key to Kondo’s approach to music today.
Kondo wasn’t satisfied with the Japanese music scene, despite his great success, because it was so insular and it wasn’t trying to say anything universal.
He was hectically busy.
But artistically, he felt he was going nowhere fast.
This is when he started living in Amsterdam, partly to get away and collect his thoughts.
In recent years, he began his “Blow the Earth” project, in which he goes to forsaken but gorgeous places like Machu Picchu and Bali and basically plays his heart out.
No one is there to listen.
He feels at one with the Nature around him as though the pulse in the mountain air is beating in time with his blowing, down to the tiniest pulses in every cell of his body.
It is a true high.
This is about getting to the music that is the origin of life.
It is totally divorced from the usual assumptions about music _ how its success is calculated by how many CDs you sell _ about trying to commercially reach hordes.
One time, Kondo travels to Kenya with a Japanese camera crew and wades into a lake filled with flamingos and pelicans.
Be sure to roll the cameras when I start playing, he says. Thousands of birds are going to take flight. And it will be beautiful.
He starts to blow.
But the birds don’t take off.
They just start to dance.
Why are young Japanese so worried? Kondo wonders in his book.
And they aren’t even worried about what might happen decades from now.
They worry about what might happen next year, tomorrow.
They are so privileged yet they are so afraid.
He was never so afraid.
He kept going for half a century and has never turned back and is still going.
My son plays with this very important Japanese musician WED May 13 at a temple near Mount Fuji.

Revising haiku

I’ve decided to change the haiku from before to this:

八重桜
ここにいます!と
どぶに散る

Yaezakura
I am here! Scattering
petals in the ditch

The way I had it before with 影のなか (In the shadows) was too regular/predictable haiku-like.
Today, on my way to work, I saw cherry trees bending over a muddy ditch.
I realized that image sent a stronger message about what I was feeling _ that the flowers bloom wherever they are, even if no one is watching or aware of its existence.
That to me is utter beauty and presence and life.
And a ditch still can be a good dark backdrop for cascading pink petals.

Poetry and Dance

I had the pleasure of collaborating with American/Brazilian dancer Abel Coelho July 6, at What the Dickens.
This blog was how we met.
I wrote about a Dairakudakan Butoh workshop, which Abel took part in.
He left a nice comment about the entry.
And our correspondence began.
He is in Japan again this summer.
We met at Ebisu station near the statute of the god.
We walked over to What the Dickens, then did this together.
Pretty good for two people who just met.
The MC who introduces us at the beginning of the video is poet Tomas.

Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor’s fingers are genius crazed mice, appearing and disappearing, light speed flashes of moments. Cecil himself, his shirted back, trickling sweat, then soaked wet, is a giant uncaged animal, arching, crouching, sometimes lovingly, but most of the time viciously, from the right side of the grand piano, where crystal clear sparkles of notes are triangularly cornered stars falling upon keyboards, all the way to the left hand side, groaning heavily with the growls emanating from the dark piano, now breathing so deeply with life. His unpredictable colors unbelievable originate from a hidden almost perverse yet ultimate, space of soul, outside any
reality. That penetrate, fill your wholeness, that has already forgotten to resist. Concentrated muscle tense that is relaxing, freeing in the numbed hypnosis of his drugging power. Drinks lie untouched on the night club tables. Ears become one. And all other music, all other sound, all other thought can suicidally stop in shame before Cecil. When he rests, and he doesn’t rest, he releases you to sigh in lyrics of relief, the beauty of jazz rhythms, only to thrust you back into the irregularly regulated chords he hears. Till you hear his hands, parting seas, red and black, back and forth. The mad jerkings of perpetual tears choked confusion in your chest are muted in an overwhelmed one-ness of peace. You are tiny, fantasy-filled, merely deformity caught in the immatured evolutionnary stages, but you are ecstatic to have stayed alive long enough to experience what you just experienced. So that the world is no longer a void. But an eternal feeling blanketing cities, skies, machines and
men.

From Yuri Kageyama, “Peeling,” Berkeley, Calif: I. Reed Press, 1988.
First published in Oro Madre.

People Who Know Pain

The World is divided bet-
Ween two kinds of People
The Winners and the Losers
The Takers and the Givers
The Famous and the Forgotten
The Loved and the Unloved _
Those who don’t care and

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

when your tongue rolls, the
tips of my nipples, piercing
knife of betrayal

Vincent Van Gogh
John Coltrane
Garcia Marquez
Toulouse Lautrec
Billie Holliday
Richard Wright
Kenji Miyazawa

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

baby foxes dance,
leaving paw marks in the snow,
fairy tale of joy

Hermit, victim,
Outcast, untouched,
Untouchable
They travel faceless
Shadows on the subway
Mute, unconnected,
Unknowing of their own Pain

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

bitter memories grow
a cancer pomegranate
bleeding and rotting

I’d rather shelter that Pain alone
A powerless nobody,
Ashamed, shunned,
Stench of insignificance,
Laughing the idiot’s laugh,
Running forgotten errands,
Dying before living like other

People who know Pain
People who know Pain

a zillion light years
the planet pulsates timeless
soundless universe

I’d never be that superior someone who
Conquers, fornicates, lynches,
Deposits paychecks, plans careers, gives advice,
Forms opinions, writes reviews,
Weighs pros and cons, wins awards,
Attends receptions, discriminates,
Never knowing, shrugging off, how painful

People’s Pain can be
People’s Pain can be