Category Archives: music

The Scandal of the Evangelical Taste

I recently stumbled across a blog post asking the question, “Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?”  I had to read that, because I’d asked myself the question before about Christian (Evangelical) arts in general, and wondered if the author, Mr. Ambrosino, had an answer.

He does, and I think he’s right, and recommend reading the entire post – but for my time-starved friends I’ll boil it down to this: We Evangelicals care about the factual content above everything else.  Tell (don’t show) me the old, old story, and then follow it up with a group discussion guide.

Mr. Ambrosino’s contention: Evangelicals love the Word over any “packaging”, and thus art takes a back seat to the message.  Wooden dialogue, endless exposition, predictable chord changes / modulations / rhymes: it’s okay for art to suffer as long as God is glorified and the gospel preached.  Except that only the choir is listening.  To quote Mr. Ambrosino:

Old Fashioned, like many Christian films of late (see: God’s Not Dead, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real), doesn’t understand this marriage of content and form. As a result, the lessons at the heart of the story — i.e., the whole reason the film exists in the eyes of its core audience — are easily dismissed by the secular masses the film is ostensibly meant to reach. This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance.

This approach to art also explains the reactive nature of Christian art and writing, why it sometimes feels like there’s so little originality in the Christian bookstores.  Da Vinci Code?  Write rebuttals.  Fifty Shades of Grey?  Shoot a not-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey movie.  Harry Potter?  Promote Narnia.  I love Narnia, but it should be promoted in its own right and not with the nervous intent on keeping up with the Joneses.  The children of a creator God, who calls us to excellence (Php 4:8), should be leading the way with fresh, creative art – but as long as the obvious presence of a gospel message trumps quality artwork, we’re creating a self-sustaining market for lazy art, and if the world mocks us for our bad taste (if it even notices), well, Jesus promised us persecution, right?

But “how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  True, they can’t, but can they hear any better with someone preaching to them poorly?  We ignore at their peril the basic principle that communication is more than just the factual content of phrases, and depends significantly on its packaging.  Articles like Mr. Ambrosino’s give me hope that some people may be catching on and taking more care to marry content and form, which I contend will not only give us art we can take pride in, but better and more effective preaching as well.

Funk the Peanuts!

I bought these CDs for their covers, so posting the covers should let me get rid of the CDs just like I got rid of the Bojenmi tea slip.  Here they are – they are 8cm singles in a 16×8 case, scanned side by side.  The Funk the Peanuts member on the right is a well-known singer in her own right, the voice of Dreams Come True; the other seems to have made a career as a background singer for J-Pop bands.  Speed is, according to Wikipedia, the best-selling Asian girl group to date.  Success doesn’t always look pretty.

If you want to know what it sounds like to funk a peanut or go go heaven, let me know.  Soon, before the trash gets taken out.

It’s like monkey!

I don’t get to visit Japan anymore, and that’s a shame, because I miss all the fun Engrish.  But friends bringing back Engrish and the byproducts of decluttering occasionally still provide me with some entertainment.  Here, thematically well-aligned with my new book and CD giveaway page, are three nice images.

First, Pocari Sweat for babies (with lots of sugar):
Pocari Sweat for Babies

Then, an intriguing CD cover by Roboshop Mania:
This is a real CD cover.

And finally, the only English-language song from that album.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you believe the one-star ranking and my recollection), I have turned the CD into a wall clock, which has fallen off the wall, breaking the CD.
It's like monkey!  Now, understand!

Oh yeah.

Trust me, I know what I’m selling

It wasn’t a bad day as such.  We had a bit of a business discussion in the morning and went for lunch at a Chinese restaurant across the street.  On the way there we passed a liquor and tobacco shop with glass doors and an English translation underneath the Chinese warning: Mend the Glass.  The Chinese are far less trigger-happy than the Japanese about using English, so cute signs like that are few and far between.  Most of their English use goes toward “Bank of Beijing” and such signs. 

The food at the restaurant ranged from cold and vinegary to hot and spicy.  The spicy chicken bits with peanuts and hot peppers contained a flowery-sweet note which came from small pepper corns.  When toward the end of the meal we asked for rice, the informed us they were out of rice and would we like noodles?  I’d just explained to Joe my rule of not having noodles in Asia before dinnertime, so we opted for dumplings instead. 

Despite boasting upscale furnishings the toilets only boasted squat pots, and it didn’t impress me much more than rocket scientists apparently impress Shania that up the same staircase that led down to the toilet came a guy with a platter of hot dishes.  Oh well, I’ve got King Creosote to back me up. 

After lunch Paul and I hailed a cab and took a ride through Beijing’s sto-pan-d’go traffic back to the hotel to pick up my demonstration microscope for some training.  I enjoyed that, even though it took us all afternoon just to cover basics and get everyone to change a tip.  (I’d link to the wikipedia page for atomic force microscopes here, but the Chinese government has apparently decided that wikipedia is a dangerous site that needs to be blocked.)  I’m still not sure they can carry out a good measurement…

The day ended with yesterday’s customer demanding that we demonstrate another measurement mode before they sign the acceptance form and pay the remainder.  I feel like the car dealer whose customer pays 80% cash for his SUV and then says: “Now you demonstrate to me that my car can do what the ad promised and I’ll pay the rest.”  What is it that makes Europeans and Americans alike purchase and accept our instruments without such testing?  Apparently, Chinese researchers will purchase ovens they intend to use for temperatures around 100 °C but insist on seeing the oven reach the specified maximum of 240 °C before accepting it. 

So, in honor of this day, here’s an ABBA sing-along:

My my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my infamy in quite a similar way
The Sears catalogue on the shelf
Is singing this ditty itself

Squatterloo – I am defeated, you won the war
Squatterloo – promise to use you (can’t wait no more)
Squatterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Squatterloo – no other place for a man to poo
Squatterloo – finally straddling my squatterloo

My my, I tried another tack but that took longer
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like my bowels are loose

Squatterloo – I am defeated, you won the war
Squatterloo – promise to use you (can’t wait no more)
Squatterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Squatterloo – no other place for a man to poo

And how could I ever refuse
I feel like my bowels are loose

Squatterloo – I am defeated, you won the war
Squatterloo – promise to use you (can’t wait no more)
Squatterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to
Squatterloo – no other place for a man to poo
Squatterloo – finally straddling my squatterloo


February 24 

I awoke and checked e-mails.  A friend had written about what she was giving up for Lent and why.  After a week of at least two alcoholic beverages every night I spontaneously decided to give up alcohol until Easter. 

I took off for Tokyo after saying goodbye to Ola.  I didn’t envy him his flight from Tokyo to L.A. and then on to Chicago.  There are better ways of doing a round-the-world trip. 

Actually, I detoured through Shinonome to drop off the booth key I’d inadvertently taken with me on Friday.  The surprise on the employee’s face when he saw this gaijin in his seventh-floor office in an industrial zone was well worth the time spent. 

In Tokyo I bought things useful (socks), useless (Anpanman DVD), and overdue (electronic dictionary), leafed through Tomohiro Sekiguchi’s new book on his train trip through Switzerland (meaning the Alps), then set out on my actual mission: to find my friend’s friend Maria Kunii.  She had left Catharine with an address in Komae-shi, west of Shinjuku on the Odakyu line. 

Before I set out, I ate a snack from the combini while watching a young drummer perform in front of the new South entrance.  I read the sign in front of him, which said “Happy drumming!” and a lot of Japanese stuff, and asked him why he was drumming here.  He said because he’d felt like it.  The car behind him blocking the taxi lane was his, and he’d come all the way from Nagoya with his drum set to play for about a week in Tokyo.  Yesterday he’d been across the street, but there the police had shooed him away after five minutes. 

I took the train out to Komae, past the incongruous mosque at Yoyogi-Uehara (if the Japanese can allow a minaret, why do we in Switzerland have such problems?), and walked in the direction I remembered from  Of course I got blown off track, so I turned around and asked at the nearest combini (convenience store).  I remembered the number of the block (addresses in Japan work via numbering increasingly smaller partitions of land) and soon found a humongous apartment complex, probably the largest building in all Komae.  I looked at all the mailboxes and then the entire directory by the elevators, but no Kunii lived there any longer.  Asking the combini lady wouldn’t have helped, so I gave up and strolled back to the station, stopping on the way at the Moriuta record store and bought a few CDs from the “Wagon Sale” (a.k.a. we-can’t-get-rid-of-it-let’s-wait-till-Stephan-comes sale).  With the Dodekachordon CD, these new records, and the free downloads from Katy Wehr‘s and Marc Andre‘s sites, I have enough to keep me going for a while. 

Anyway, if for some reason you know Maria Kunii and where she lives, or if you are Maria Kunii, Catharine wants to get in touch with you, and you can get in touch with her through me. 

What I thought would be an early bedtime turned into a late night packing session.  I needed to get everything ready to make it on an early train and breakfast before that so I stayed up past midnight and when at ten my hunger became ravenous I bought a double cheeseburger menu in the McDonald’s (Makudonarudo) below. 



After the final day of the exhibition we took down our instruments in just over an hour and headed for the hotel.  We intended to eat at the Chinese restaurant, but the queue there dissuaded us and we went again to the Japanese restaurant on the 21st floor.  Even that was on the full side – poor Björn had to accept eating at a non-smoking table.  Both Björn and Ola had a set menu, Ola heating his soba noodles and adding soy sauce to most everything, which made Björn and me cringe at his flagrant breaking of Japanese “rules.”  He liked it his way, though.  I had raw shrimp (ama-ebi), something else I don’t remember just now, and what I thought the waitress said was a grilled fish head, but turned out to be the bit behind the head.  It was the only shioyaki (salted and grilled) item on the menu, so I went for it and rather enjoyed it not being the head. 

I left early, because I intended to attend the second set of the group Dodekachordon, playing at the Rakuya club in Naka-Meguro.  I knew of the concert because way back when I stayed in Futtsu, I attended the Chiba Bay Side Jazz festival and heard the saxophonist Kazuhiro Takeda in another formation, QUADRA, and still get concert announcements from him.  Two years ago I got to hear QUADRA again and still marvel at the precision and rich sound of four saxophones playing together. 

The Rakuya wasn’t hard to find: a short walk from the Naka-Meguro metro station along a narrow boutique-lined street and there it was, on the right.  Inside a waiter informed me I could choose between a seat at a table where someone was already sitting or one at the bar.  I picked the table and got lucky: the other person was Tomy Tsuzzy, who had illustrated the Dodekachordon CD.  Takeda-san was talking to him and introduced me; I gave him a Patent Ochnser Wildbolz & Süsstrunk CD in exchange for a Dodekachordon disc.  I wonder if he’ll like the Bärndütsch? 

Soon the lights dimmed and the musicians got ready for the second set, all four of them sporting some variation on a goatee.  They sat on the stage in front of a wall-to-wall window opening onto a courtyard with bushes and some fluorescent light illuminating a back exit.  Small spots dotted the ceiling that made me wonder why ceilings in clubs are always ugly, even when the rest of the decor is tasteful.  Here candles on the tables and washi paper covered cubes standing on end along the wall allowed the patrons to read menus and find their drinks.  The curtain of Christmas lights bordering the top of the bar rounded off the lighting scheme. 

I had expected jazz; the sign outside said world music; the genre when I loaded the CD into iTunes said “Holiday.”  The latter does the music the most justice, because the only common thread through all songs is the relaxed enjoyment the musicians obviously take from playing songs that take cues from Klezmer, Dixieland, Flamenco, Funk, Calypso, Blues, Mariachi, and other genres.  They had already established a rapport with the full house in the first set and kept up the light-hearted joking and lengthy facetious introductions between songs to laughter and claps from the crowd of about 40.  In one of the announcement Takeda-san even mentioned the traveling microscope salesman from Switzerland, but nobody mentioned it to me afterwards.  I guess nobody knew they needed an atomic force microscope.  The music exuded excitement and unforced playful energy, and with the whimsical humor of their compositions I half expected to hear a song combining riffs on the jingles the train stations play when the train is about to leave.  While the bass and guitar mostly supplied rhythm and the saxophone and trombone smooth harmonic melodies, all players got chances at soloing and usually drew laughs from the band members sitting out.  The songs swung from sparse, dry bass-guitar interplay to full-on horns and a driving rhythm, making for fun listening. 

Last time I’d attended a QUADRA concert, they played happy birthday for a member of the audience.  This time, when they introduced the band members, instead of introducing the bassist they played Wagner’s wedding march and announced his recent marriage.  The crowd got most excited when the bride was pointed out.  It fit the general atmosphere that the bassist himself initiated the rhythmical clapping for an encore.  I returned to the hotel tired but content.