By MARC McDONALD
With the ongoing horrific crisis in Japan, that nation has been on my mind quite a bit lately. And as I've tried to steer my thoughts toward a less-depressing topic, I got to thinking about Japan's amazing popular music scene, which has long been virtually (and unfairly) ignored in the West.
As we Americans never tire of reminding ourselves, the U.S. has the world's dominant culture, in everything from cinema to music to literature. We export "culture" to every corner of the earth.
It's a shame, though, that it's not a two-way exchange with the rest of the world. By and large, Americans remain completely ignorant about the cultures of other nations. In fact, when it comes to popular music, Americans these days are completely clueless about music outside of the U.S. (Indeed, the only other country that we've ever paid any attention to, pop music-wise, is Britain).
This is a shame. Not only does this state of affairs leave Americans hopelessly ignorant about the rest of the world, we're also missing out on some incredible music.
Japan's popular music scene is, for my money, one of the most interesting and dynamic on earth. Maybe not necessarily the J-Pop teenybopper music, which clogs up the charts there. In Japan, as is the case with other nations, the really interesting stuff is what's going on underground.
The brilliant British musician and author, Julian Cope has been one of the very few Westerners to document this music scene and bring it to the attention of the West. His 2009 book, Japrocksampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock 'n' Roll conclusively demonstrated (at least for me) that Japan is easily the equal of the U.S. and Britain when it comes to popular music creativity.
The artists Cope writes about may be unfamiliar to many in the West, but they are well worth checking out. They include the heavy early 70s rockers, Flower Travellin' Band, the trippy and mystical Far East Family Band and the legendary Taj Mahal Travellers. For my money, the greatest of them all is the mysterious and radical Les Rallizes Denudes, whose scorching and defiantly anti-commercial sound makes the Velvet Underground seem tame by comparison.
But since I'm bummed out these days by Japan's terrible tragedy, I thought I'd serve up a uplifting tune by The Mops, one of Japan's best 1960s psychedelic bands. These guys are definitely one of the great garage bands---they equal the likes of Stateside groups like the 13th Floor Elevators. Their song, "I Am Just a Mops" (sic) was, as a YouTube commenter noted, "the reason the fuzz pedals were invented."