The bloggings of an Upstate NY-born Tokyoite. Now with 20% more verbosity!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do you see

a blog layout littered with advertisements, banners and "give me money for this crap already" written all over it? Nope. And my blog(s) will always be that way. If I made a dime off of any of this, I'd be cheating you. I can post for free, so I will write for free. That's my philosophy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cats and Dogs, LIVING TOGETHER.

In reflection, the last few posts have all been a bit on the serious side. While I am a pretty serious guy, I also have a sense of humor, so here is an amalgamation of recent life events, ancient history, future goals, show write-ups and a look into my eccentric psyche. Without further ado:

The dreaded JLPT2 test being behind me for now (results to come mid-February, what a wait!) I have been enjoying a slightly more relaxing lifestyle than in previous months to say the least. Since I've gotten back home I've caught up on a few movies (Paranormal Activity and Up in the Air both surpassed my expectations), a lot of Bukowski as previously noted (you're right Nick, he does get repetitive but man he's good) and even some gaming time. Gaming is something I did so much between the ages of 3-12, and 19-23, that is hard to believe I've abandoned it so. Blame it on childhood and then later on smoking too much weed (respectively in THAT order) if you like, but I love games. I still do, I merely don't have time for them!

What did I do from ages 13-18? Learned guitar, bands, girlfriends, attempted to make friends and fit in. And was still an angsty teen, oh yes I was. Angsty and out there, I used to never talk to anybody in Junior High School! I just walked around school wearing my headphones constantly and listening to Nothingface, Section 8, Candiria and Skinless. Those were some times, and of course High School I made some great friends - some not so great - and even had a bit too much fun sometimes.

I skipped High School English 12 times in my senior year due to my teacher being quite monotone and my being somewhat rebellious. Pretty ironic when you think about the fact that I became an English teacher 5 years later! Yes I know what you're thinking: "that's great Alanis, get on with something more interesting!" Well how about the fact that he let me by on an extra credit reading of Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis?" My life will never be the same.

All tangents aside the main point being what I meant to say was in all honesty i don't think i could put it any clearer than that is to say........ I now don't incorporate much time for games, unless I'm really tired or feeling unable to be productive in any way. So playing Half Life 2 for the first time on my 360 is a nice break from reality. Bang bang, pow pow, none of that lame "Gears of War" duck-and-cover crud everybody rants and raves about. Just a good ol' run-around-shoot-solve-puzzles-enjoy-the-ride-style game. And Portal is quite excellent as well.

My New Years Resolutions? To pass the JLPT1 in December (ain't that a lark!), to lose this wretched gut of mine and turn it into pure muscle once and for all (making progress!) and finally to play guitar more. I've been slacking a bit these days, only playing at practices or at shows and that's not going to cut any sort of mustard whatsover- brown, yellow, spicy dijon, etc. If I want to write the best tunes possible with F.I.D., I have got to push myself harder and work more as a guitarist. This is a bit hard with work, Japanese and making sure I squeeze in fun time and travel, but I will manage it. I'm going to the country on Sunday this weekend, Okutama to be exact, google it if you want to know what it looks like. Mountains and rivers and all that fun stuff this concrete block-city doesn't offer me.

Shows!! Played two last weekend. I wasn't on my best game but oh man, they were fun! Highlights include CxPxSx singer diving headfirst into a garbage can! They are easily my current favorite band to see in Tokyo, next to Kurupino - she didn't even have the electronics setup when I saw her play! Only one tom, a cymbal, a frog-puppet, plastic implements *ahem*, a drumstick, a mic and an S&M whip. Quality! Anyhow that was about the highlight of Tuesday night, besides some 80s-new wave, a thrash metal band and Visual K (Japanese slang basically meaning new-school hair metal) band named Sex-Virgin Killers, who were all good at what they did. It was pretty sweet.

Flash/rewind to Sunday. Biggest show I'd played in a long time, maybe 200+ heads, big stage, big backstage, lots of drunkenness, crusties (dirty punkers), mohawks, leather-studded jackets, old-time punkers noisecore bands and then F.I.D. somewhere in the middle of it all. The bassist of the Wanky's, a punker band of drunken debauchery from the U.K. graciously invited us on the bill, and although we stuck out - being "grind" and not noise or old-school punk like the rest of the bill - it wasn't a bad thing. DSB (Drunken Shit Bastards) and Struggle For Pride were band that stuck out as really good.

Anyway, I was quite nervous about playing at first. The girls insisted I give some kind of introduction speech, and I obliged - certainly no one ever wanted me near the mic during any of my previous band stints. By the way I've been laying down a few vocals live here or there, at the risk of further tarnishing a once all-female grindcore band no less.

(In case you're a new reader or just need a reminder, Flagitious Idiosyncracy in the Dilapitation is what I'm talking about.)

Sunday:

「このバンドはぜんぶ女の人でも俺は女の人らしいじゃないけど。。。ファクユウアアアル!」
"This band is all women but it appears that I am not a woman... *obscenity* YOU ALL!!!"

My intro speech from Tuesday is also worth mentioning. In an overly cutesy-voice (except for the last bit I said:

「あのね。。。はじめまして、べんです、よろしくな!GO TO HELL!!!」
Umm, I'm Ben, nice to meet you all. GO TO HELL!!!!

The need to break the tension a bit was obvious, I seemed to have their respect but I looked scary enough normally, let alone shredding and losing it with a large blunt instrument in my hands. As we initially set up I definitely heard choruses of マジっすか? (seriously??) at both shows, most likely referring to the giant white guy with the three Japanese bandmates. There were however a lot of people who seemed to dig us at this bigger show, and a line of 6 or 7 faithful metalheads in the front, holding their beercans like majestic chalices, headbanging and continually offering me and Makiko drinks. I swiped one, chugged it and tossed it back out in an attempt to be all crazy and whatnot. I sweat and shredded my hardest - could have been tighter but the energy was there. People complimented us on it and we moved a few units, and when all was said and done I (we) had an awesome time.

Perhaps the strangest bit of all this was that the original guitarist showed up to the Sunday gig. (!!!) This is the woman who wrote most of the stuff I'm now playing, and as it so happened it was the first time I'd ever met her. It was kind of like being on a date and meeting your girl's ex-boyfriend, like: "oh hey you used to be all up in this but now she's mine. Sorry?" Without going overtly into detail perhaps it was awkward at best. We'll be changing over our set to quite a few newer tunes in the future anyhow, although she did write some good tunes!

I'll leave you with that. Work in the morning. You stay classy San Diego!

"He's a Buddhist, Christian, paramedic, vegan, straight edge pimp but most of all... Big. He's big" - Horse the Band

"There's not much chance for survival if the neon bible is right" - Arcade Fire

"I've got it all.......most." - Modest Mouse

P.S. Started yet another blog on account of I've been inspired to start writing again. I mean writing stuff besides this journal: "Benjamin L. Belcher's Poetry and Prose." Riveting name, I know. Check it if you like.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why I play

It's not a matter of making money or getting famous and it never was. It was always about creating something that expressed your feelings in a way that society and the powers that be wouldn't allow. It was and still is about opening the jar of pent-up rage and frustration inside and unleashing it in a positive manner. Instead of beating your wife or doing heroin or banging your head against a wall, you throw all of your emotions out into the music with a burst of power and a sense of release. We play for fun, we play to create, we play because it's something we have more control over than almost anything else in our lives. Everywhere else there's always someone waiting to come down on you, watching you to make sure you stay inside the trail everyone else has blazed. In music, we can transcend the mundanity of everyday life and do something that is ours and ours alone. Nobody else can touch it.


Save Yourself (old band) 2004

Most Precious Blood (with Save Yourself) 2004. "Every scar has a story, no guts no glory."

F.I.D. first show, 2009

Homecoming show Christmas 2009, singing along with good ol' JT, singer of my last band in the states, Damnation Alley.


These are just a couple of small examples. Maybe I've been to 800 shows in my life, maybe 1,000, maybe more. I've been doing bands for the last 10 years. I don't think I was ever happy until the first time I was writing songs and jamming with my friends. Without music, I don't know where I'd be today, but it certainly wouldn't be here. I play and I scream because it's all I can do to make the most of the life I have, and dammit, it makes me happy.

"[don't] Forget that... there are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. That there's something inside... that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours... Hope." - Shawshank Redemption.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

There and back again

Time for an overdue presentation to the faithful blog-followers. Please open your books to page 2010, index 179.0081, class is in session.

New York was quite a trip. Going home was such a mindfuck, I could actually feel pieces of my memories of Tokyo-life and NY-life overlapping and fighting for dominance in my mind, like someone suffering from split personality disorder. Allow me to digress into a bit about the "counter culture shock" I mentioned a few posts back.

When I walked off of that plane, it was like stepping into a different world. I had been in Japan for about 18 months remember, the only break being a trip to Korea. So I was accustomed to many things which were turned on their heads promptly upon my arrival. To be frank, the sheer mass of people - yes I'm talking about obesity but also average height and girth - and ethnic diversity stunned me. Hearing everyone speaking English, not to mention speaking loudly in line, seeing the attendants looking bored, tired, and wearing blatant expressions of "I don't want to be here" on their faces was nothing less than shocking to me. You've got to understand what service is like in Japan: everyone always wears a smile, they say the veritable equivalent of "Someone honorable is present" (often less literally translated as: "Welcome to our store) every time you enter their place of business, and give you extended thanks and courtesy to the point of overkill. Flipping from that back to the American standard of courtesy on the job (which is pretty pathetic by all of my accounts) really made my head spin.

While I was standing in line for customs (it took well over an hour) I was at first talking to this professional fisherman from Guam on his way to Kentucky for some sort of business-related thing, and I was having a really interesting discussion about America's claim of eminent domain concerning Guam and the history and everything for as long as we were waiting. That distracted me well enough until I got into a separate line and had to take in my surroundings. Everyone was chattering so loudly, and in English mind you, that it flipped some WTF switch in my mind and I had to leave on my headphones for the sake of keeping it together. Granted I hadn't slept at all for about 24 hours but still, it was such overload. The plane ride from Newark to Albany consisted (as per usual) of taxing for nearly an hour followed by a 30 minute flight. I was cranky and just wanted to get home.

When I did, well that was very nice. To see my family, and my best friend Jessica, it was a relief but I was almost too exhausted to appreciate it. On the way home riding in my Mom's minivan and sitting on the passenger side was also really disorienting, it being a dark and frigid December night didn't help one bit (bear in mind that cars in Japan drive on the left side of the road and the passenger seats are also on the left side)

When I got back, I had the pleasure of a bowl of my Mom's homemade turkey soup and with a side-order of my Mom's two-month old kittens. They really helped me relax, although they kept walking on my face in the middle of the night. The one was named Bonnie, the other Butterscotch, though it turned out that contrary to my Mom's impressions the former was actually a boy, making him/her "Bonnie, the sexually confused kitty cat." He/she also has a serious mother complex and is always trying to nurse on peoples ears. WEIRD.

I was only jetlagged for a day or two, but I was wound so incredibly tight, and this feeling outlasted my jetlag. I will never forget the next morning, that lovely, crisp Monday morning roasting at a seasonable 34 degrees, walking into Price Chopper, our local super market, and being awed by the sheer size of it and the offerings of so-long forbidden delights: giant succulent red and yellow peppers, hummus, feta cheese, bagged salads, a plethora of canned goods, whole grain oat and wheat breads, tortilla chips, salsas and even an entire aisle dedicated to cereal!!!!!! My heart never sang with such joy as it did that day. It was almost magical.

Thanks to the kindness of my Father I was able to drive the old 97 Jeep Cherokee delivery-mobile of many a pizza around during my stay. And boy did I drive. A lot. And the majority of drivers in my area - and I'll be damned if it isn't true for most other areas as well - are terrible drivers. Especially in the winter-time. No blinkers, no flashers, sudden stops, running lights, erratic driving, sliding on fresh snow, overly aggressive and unwarranted driving, granny driving, I could go on and on. Long story short is I enjoyed traveling by car around the beautiful capital region of Albany New York and soaking in the never-ending waves of nostalgia, but my god give me trains for the rest of my days and I'll be content. I didn't realize how much stress driving can really add to one's day until I had the opportunity to compare it to living in an urban environment like Tokyo.

Which gives me a nice segue into the urban versus the "suburban," or downright redneck hick-town U.S.A. Upstate NY is full of the latter and I lived in it for like 95% of my life. Suffice it to say I saw my surroundings with new eyes, a greater appreciation for the beauty and historical character of the American city versus the clunky, overly modern and concrete-blockishness of the Japanese city. Albany and it's surrounding areas are also full of nature, and lots of it. So many trees, I'd never really taken the time to look at them before. It was as if I had seen them, but never had any breadth of appreciation save a fleeting one. Even in the wintertime they stood like glorious landmarks of NY's natural beauty in my mind, and I was to spend a good chunk of time just observing and appreciating my environment over the course of my stay.

I mentioned being wound up? I was wound tighter than a rattle snake on speed spun down a hill in a tractor tire. If it wasn't for the courtesy of my friend Dave (writer of this fine music blog plug plug) letting me rage in his apartment for a bit and vent out all the crazy thoughts that were swarming in my head, I don't know how I would have survived the whole ordeal. I did spend valuable time with (in no particular order) Dave, Rich, Phil, Danielle, Kevin, Josh, John T., Kerri, Kyle, Gabe, Jessica, Dana, Fran, Margaret, Kaitlin, Mike L., Mike C., Rick, John B., Alaric and probably many others who are escaping my mind at the moment. That doesn't even include my family, or the slew of people I saw for like 5 seconds and didn't have nearly enough time to catch up with. There are others I'd like to have seen but wasn't able to, and of course the few I was hoping not to run into and (luckily) didn't.

I tipped everyone in a reckless fashion - there being no tipping whatsoever in Japan and also on account of my feeling great about having money and free time at home for the first time in what felt like an eternity. I even dropped 10 bucks in the tip-jar at the pizza shop I used to work at. Some had left but a few loyal employees looked the spitting image of themselves from 2 years ago. Very peculiar, or maybe not so peculiar.

It's amazing how some things and people change so drastically in a short period of time and some stay completely the same. Constancy is a good thing mind you, routine is something we humans crave, but change is also good. Very good, and very necessary even if we don't always want it to be. I am in short glad I've made the choices that I have. My hometown is a truly beautiful place, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life confined there doomed to wondering if there wasn't something more that could've been. That's my take on things, and you can quote me.

I bought/received many amazing books, not limited to Salman Rushdie's latest, Howard Zinn's "A People's History...," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," a Charles Bukowski anthology called "Run with the Hunted," "Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India dominate the West?" An index of classical to modern philosophers and their main theories, and several other tomes which weighed down my suitcase by no small amount. I'm currently digging eagerly through the Bukowski and audiobooking Moby Dick, both of which have so far greatly exceeded my expectations.

I ate so much delicious food when I was home. New York pizza at least 10 times, Indian lunch buffet at least 3 times, hummus uncountable times, my Aunt's homemade lasagna and my Mom's amazing taco dip, divine pork cops, ziti, tuna noodle casserole, exquisite salads, chilis, wraps, sauces, flavors, and all kinds of wonderful things. My tastebuds rejoiced like it was the second coming. Sometimes I just had to stop doing anything else, close my eyes and just bask in the glory of the things hadn't touched my tongue in so very long. I consumed them and it was good.

I even went to church for the first time in what must be nigh on 10 years, with my father and my sister. My feelings on the matter? It was very nostalgic for me, being the church that was also a private school I attended in the 4th and 5th grade (and I refuse to discuss these years in any more detail whatsoever for now) Was I converted back to a healthy life of God-fearing Christianity? Sorry to disappoint you but no, I was not. I did however recognize the beauty in the community that a church embodies in a way I couldn't when I was younger. I saw people supporting each other and reaching out in a very healthy and healing manner, and I thought: "That's great for them. It's just not for me."

I'm a staunch atheist by the way, if I haven't made that clear in the past. We'll leave religious musings for another post but let me preface anything you might think questionable about my stance on religion with the fact that I was raised a Christian, and that I believe in the righteousness of the ethics laid out by Jesus Christ, and even that the bible is full of morally rich teachings. I simply don't believe in any of the supernatural elements of it. Jesus was a man, and a great one, but just a man. That's all. Sorry Mom and Dad and the rest of my family which is uniformly Christian.

However, you don't have to be Christian to do good deeds, like charity of one form or another. It wasn't much but, thanks to Rian and JT and some other really cool people who supported the event or came out, we held a benefit show as was mentioned some posts back. This was a benefit for NBIA, the disease which afflicted my brother and continues to plague my two older sisters. The highlights for me were:

-seeing lots of friends all together in the same place
-Kerri preparing tons of delicious baked goods for us to sell. Thanks Kerri!!
-Damnation Alley's set. It was so tight. They even opened with River Runs Red by Life of Agony which is an awesome song. Thanks guys. I went up to Dave (guitarist) at the end of the set and told him: "I'm glad I quit the band. You guys got way better without me."
-Me raffling off a bunch of Japanese candy (mostly purposefully "gross" stuff like fried squid strips and fish-flavored shrimpy corn puffs) along with a few rare goodies (100 yen-store chopsticks and an F.I.D. CD). I never knew people got so into raffles, made like $60 selling tickets, crazy.

In the end we only raised around $300, but it's that much more to a good cause. You can donate, learn more and spread awareness of this particular cause if you so desire by checking out the official website: http://www.nbiadisorders.org/

This is also a video of my Mother, whose strength of heart I hope to achieve some day myself, being interviewed for the local news about the disease:



Heavy stuff isn't it? Welcome to my family life. I remember when that perfect model of an 80s-bloomed le femme news anchor turned to me with a look of longing to understand and asked me: "How do you process all this?" I could have answered in various ways but chose something along the lines of: "In my eyes, this has been the reality for more than 10 years. I've had time to process it, I accept things for what they are." I could have said a lot more... About the cruelness of the genetic lottery, the random coldness of the world itself, the unfair burdens shifted upon some and not others, how it effected and shaped my personality (which it played a heavy hand in), how my brother's death indirectly lead to my leaving the country. I could have said a lot of things, but I don't bother to say them to those who don't really want to listen. Or at least don't have the time. I bet some of you internet-readers out there care to know it a hell of a lot more than some local celebrity T.V. journalist does.

I can't properly detail and describe everything I felt and experienced throughout my Return to New York (although I do distinctly remember an elderly couple almost backing into my car while I was on my way to the aforementioned church that fateful Sunday). Some details I have left out are too personal, although they would undoubtedly make for great writing. Let me leave it to mystery and say that I love and appreciate the western woman and her independently feminine identity and attitude much more than I did before I left. It was refreshing to see a bit of that while I was home, cultural gender identity was, among other things flipped on its head, as Japan is stuck somewhere in the 1950s as far as Women's lib. is concerned.

At any rate, I made it back to Japan in one piece. And being here, now, I hold a greater appreciation for Tokyo and feel some of the awe and inspiration this city once instilled in me born anew. I won't be here forever. If things go according to plans, some time in 2011 should be an exit date. But while I'm here I'll make the most of it because baby, you only live once.

I'll leave you with a stunning reading by the man who has been reinvigorating my love of poetry from beyond the grave, one Charles Bukowski:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I could say a lot of things

My head has been full for weeks, I could say a lot of things right now. I'm not ready to say most of them yet though, and certain things I have no intention of writing the majority of them in a public blog. Let's just say that coming back home has put me face to face with some of the more difficult life-related decisions I've been reluctantly avoiding for the last year or two. Being an adult? Not easy. But I'm blessed with loved ones who support me, and a will to keep on pushing on. I'm not exactly sure where to push however. I've had to cut ties, turn my back to people and aspects of life I once held dear to be on the "adventure" I am now. And now that I'm back over here, in Tokyo, I'm glad to be here, but it comes with very real price tag. I'm only now beginning to realize some of the weight that has come with my separation with the old world, my old environment where I spent 23 years and some change. Reinventing one's life takes a lot.

I'll be 25 in April. Where will I be at 30 if I'm still kicking? My guess is probably just as philosophical and even more confused about which way to turn. I just wouldn't have it any other way. That's life, and I'm cool with that.

On the plus side of everything, I've written more poetry in the last 2 days than I have in the past 6 months. I'm not happy if I'm not creating something. So here's to you 2010, may you be as revealing and lucky of a year as 2009 was for me, lord knows I've seen much much worse in the past.

"You're not in this all alone just look around and you'll see, the answer's right before your eyes I'm here for you and you for me. It's hard to open up, just try and you'll see, that true friends will always be there." - Sick of it All

Sunday, January 3, 2010

...creep into place...

I couldn't help looking into the bathroom mirror and laughing hysterically. What a ride. As I walked out of the airport facilities I thought to myself: either I need some tums or I should just keep away from sausage biscuits, not sure as of January 3rd 8pm Tokyo time, 6am at my current location of Albany New York. Albany airport to be exact (about time they provided free wifi here!). Newark, New Jersey doesn't do the same though, so this will be my last communication until I'm back in the Japanland.

This is a red-eye flight of sorts, even though I woke up at 2:30am this morning. Fairly ridiculous when you think about it.

I'm not in disbelief I'm going back to Tokyo, I merely find myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. And possibly the unbearable light of being as well. Huge thanks and much love to all my friends and family who made my vacation so enjoyable. Also, list of awesome bands I saw in the States over vacation, that I'd recommend to you all:


After the Fall
Born Low
Damnation Alley
Make do and Mend
Down to Nothing
Forfeit
Oak and Bone
Trapped Under Ice
Sun God

I could through myspace links in there... or you could just google ANY of those names and the word myspace. C'mon, you won't.

If anyone really wants to know what's in my head, or perhaps why I'm going back to foreign lands and am content to do so, you need look no further:



"Go to work, go to school
Get an education, so you won't be a fool
Be a doctor, PHD, all that shit, that's not for me

All my life people tell what to say
This is my life live it my own way

Was so blind could not see
figures of authority, always standing behind me,
ready to come down on me

All my life people tell what to say
This is my life live it my own way" - Sick of it All, "My Life"

I now leave you as a "quote" in typical E.F.N.Y. fashion, the first track off of After the Fall's latest CD "Fort Orange." It's the best work yet from an amazing local band that has been together almost 10 years... and who I should see in Tokyo this year. Go dudes!! Fort Orange is the original name of my beautiful hometown of Albany, NY, by the way. I don't have the lyric sheet with me so here's most of it from memory.

"December 31st marks the day when Albany police opened fire on Lark street and killed an innocent man. Tell me what the fuck were you thinking, were you following standard procedure, to protect and serve?.... David Scraringe was only 24, he had a family not just another name.... those cops never saw any punishment to this day" After the Fall - "Fort Orange"