Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sukiyaki ("Ue wo Muite Arukō" (上を向いて歩こう?, "I Look Up As I Walk")

The other night I was listening to KCRW and a relatively groovy new Japanese song came on. At this ever advancing age, it doesn't take much, so I was transported back in time... to my 9th birthday, on the ranch in Yreka. 

It was a time, when the adults would gladly let us roam freely, and we spend hours making dams in the creek, only coming back when my grandmother rang a big old bell retrieved from an old school house somewhere.


I know someone had made a cake, and there were presents. But 9 year old boys don't remember much of that, but I do remember one thing... I got a small transistor radio. It was made with – plastic – and was bright blue. Anybody who knows me, and has suffered my visits know that I listen to the radio... its a sickness, especially wit the invention of the internet, headphones and my IPad. And so there I was listening to KCRW, listening to a Japanese song and I remembered my first musical obsession – you know the kind, you listen to a song a million and 1/2 times and still need to hear it more.


The song was a hit being played everywhere: Sukiyaki- sung by Kyu Sakamoto. This was a hit, in a way few others had been, as it was sung in Japanese. It was also in the era when Japanese food was just becoming in”, tho not sushi yet. But you always went out and “had”sukiyaki, I wasn't ever a picky eater – only rejecting out right liver and onions and the worst of all, and still to this day... lima beans. 
Grandma was kind and never ever made them when I was there, tho my parents did for some unreasonable reason... I am sure it was passive aggression. As a new grandparent, who survived raising an amazing son, I know there were moments when you thought “this is good for you”. Even when it wasn't for either of us. It wasn't until marrying a Brazilian that I learned that beans were not from a can and sweet, and were actually ok.


But I digress...


In those days – Grandma had a party line, you could listen to the county station all day. My uncle, a ham radio operator, showed me early on that as soon as the sun went down you could listen to the whole world. It was AM only... but amazing... so there was Sukiyaki played on KGO, or KGW, and the best... XERB, the huge powerful station, so powerful and so full of itself it broadcast just across the border from México, thousands of miles away, by a cool guy named Wolfman Jack....


Later on, after my next radio, I began to keep a log – and would write down the call letters and names of the stations I got, and where they from from... with notes, like "it must be in Canada, its French". Little did I know that my budding research career began with a small little radio.


It was my first love with technology – like I said it was blue plastic, plastic being something new and exotic. No one thought about the consequences at the time, in those days you went to the beach and all you found were sea shells. And of course it was “Made in Japan”. I can still smell the plastic, as I slept with it under my pillow, tuned low... and I listened to music and news, and conversations in different accents...


After my birthday, we went back home to San Jose, and I was enrolled in swimming lessons.” liked water, and being a chubby kid, I really had little to know concern as a 9 year old kid about what I looked like, but there was one thing... that scared the shit out of me... the deep end.


Tho the water was clear, and so chlorinated it made your teeth white, that feeling of eternity you get when you look under water towards the far end and see no end was terrifying. Of course the swim instructor had to get us to the deep end, I know now that that was the point, so we wouldn't drown if you were on the Andre Doria, so you could paddle around and save people, but I being a sissy boy, would have none of it.


All I could do was survive, thru shear panic. And so I did. I can swim, and I don't mind clear water no mater how deep as long as I can see the bottom, but looking out into infinity when snorkeling still gives me the heebie-jeebies.


But I digress.


The radio, which went with me everywhere. Was sitting on the back seat, when we went to swim lessons. When we came back it wasn't. In those days you parked the car – in this case a light blue and white Chevy four door, with the windows rolled down. No AC, so things got really hot, and besides it was the summer of 1963... crime hadn't been invented yet, along with seat belts, or signs in parking lots reminding people to keep your valuables locked. I know the parents locked the doors of the house when we left, but I also remember them being unlocked most of the time. Like I said, crime hadn't been invented yet, even in suburban California.


So when we came back from traumatic swim lessons, it was gone.


I was devastated, and being a card carrying sissy boy cried for days. Not sure what happened, I don't remember a new radio, I remember next starting 3rd grade, and being madly in love with Miss Riggs. I remember t the day JFK was shot, as I was at the water fountain, I was a hyper active kid and always sharpening my pencil and getting a drink, when the principal came over the loudspeaker and told us that the president was dead, and that school was out... I remember Miss Riggs bursting into tears and we all were silent, and how we all walked down Foxworthy Avenue a couple of hundred kids in silence...


Yet still there was Sukiyaki... even tho the rest of week was devoted to JFK's funeral and all the mess around Lee Harvey Oswald. There was that song...


So, during this goofy time here in Brasil, I guess it was soothing to find it online and load it into my ITunes thingy.


I leave you here with it, in hopes it too takes you back, to that time before crime...