photo & text by nacrowe
the standalone graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS (ABRAMS COMICARTS, 2015) authored and illustrated by FUMIO OBATA is an interesting examination of how one's sense of identity and rootedness is transformed when navigating two cultures. in this case the main protagonist is a young JAPANESE woman named YUMIKO who works for a LONDON design firm and is engage to a ENGLISHMAN when she returns to JAPAN for the funerary rights of her recently deceased father. being the daughter of divorced parents and a stridently independent mother who left to pursue her educational goals and a career as an literary intellectual, YUMIKO is caught between traditional JAPANESE cultural prescriptions of passive femininity and the empowered WESTERN model of the self-sufficient woman.
in a sense she sees the benefits of both. this appreciation is seen through the visual metaphor of classical NOH THEATER, which finds a masked actor following her in her dreams. this deeply traditional style of drama, much like other JAPANESE pursuits, is intensely formal to the point that all GESTURES, POSTURES and MOVEMENTS have been passed down for generations upon generations. in fact, the formal elements of these performances are so entrenched that they subsume any sense of ego or expression on behalf of the actor.
going through the motions of participating in the traditional JAPANESE BUDDHIST funerary rites regarding her father, there is an implied connection to this sense of extinguishing the ego. these rituals are not about satiating the needs of the living. they are about continuing a pattern, fulfilling an expectation. FUMIKO seems to learn that there is comfort in the formal procedures and rituals not only associated with death, but with life as well.
having worked in YOKOHAMA myself for a year teaching LITERATURE at a private secondary school, i think it is quite impressive how OBATA is able to identify and explore this point of tension between EASTERN and WESTERN culture. i remember how seemingly difficult it was to navigate a culture where everyone was so impeccably polite. they werent being INAUTHENTIC, but there always seemed to be this distance. that is until there wasnt. i got the sense that once my JAPANESE peers realized that i was respectful of their culture and embraced the formal elements of their behavior (which is an adjustment for a WESTERNER), it was only then that i found myself joking with people. it was an interesting experience and something i often think about.
growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, you are perennially stuck between multiple worlds, multiple modes of being and understanding life. i'm still navigating it even when on "home" soil. its still an adjustment much like it is for YUMIKO when bridging ENGLISH and JAPANESE culture.
i thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and recommend it immensely.
photo & text by nacrowe
long before i taught in YOKOHAMA, i read THOUSAND CRANES (VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL, 1952) by YASUNARI KAWABATA sophomore year of high school. this was a post WORLD WAR II novel that deals with a culturally-sanctioned form of masculinity that is based on oppression and how one comes o terms within a new context with shifting power dynamics.
central to this book is the significance surrounding the rituals and choreography of the traditional JAPANESE tea ceremony. the delicate, controlled movements assigned to these performative proceedings and are a meditation unto themselves, elevating the presentation of what are consumables into a transcendent art form. this performance informs the viewer about the transient nature of experience and the transcendent sensual pleasures that are to be gained by focusing our attentions to the ever passing moment.
when i moved to JAPAN, it was KAWABATA's description of these tea ceremonies that provoked my interest in investigating other traditional pastimes like gardening and kabuki. the through-line with all of these activities is this BUDDHIST concept of SUNYATA, the nothingness of identity (anatman) and the basic concept that "all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature" (svabhava). MAHAYANA BUDDHISM asserts that our experience of ourselves and that of our surroundings are devoid of meaning, but that we should engage with such fully nonetheless. it is a very ineriguinging topic and something that comes up time and time again in my travels in ASIA when objects of seemingly insurmountable detail are produced as means of meditation. it is this concept that drives TIBETAN BUDDHIST monks to create impossibly ornate MANDALAS, only to be destroyed upon completion. life is impermanent and ever evolving and we are merely a transient moment in that evolution. the atoms in our body will eventually disperse and reorganize into other combinations, just as they did before our conception. our consciousness likewise is an emerging phenomena which will eventually dissipate and recede.
THOUSAND CRANES utilizes the tea ceremony as a means of describing the breakdown of JAPANESE masculinity and the social order underlaying it in a postwar period that was highly transformational. the degradation of this ceremony over time mirrors that of its subjects in the narrative. it is interesting metaphor, especially since the transient nature of experience is baked into it. will this sense of toxic masculinity pervade?
hard to tell. i wonder what KAWABATA would have made of modern KAWAII culture in JAPAN and the extent to which the following generations held firmly and passionately to quixotic notions of a youth culture that promised freedom from responsibility and control. seems the polar opposite of the tea ceremony which embodies and transmogrifies all the embedded cultural weight of generations into a ritual movement, a slight turn of the wrist as one delicately pours tea into a vessel.
one of my regrets from my time living in JAPAN a few years ago was never getting to see the experimental SLUDGE METAL band BORIS in concert. i think they may have played at some point right when i arrived and i was still adjusting to my new living situation. oh well. my plan was always to stick around for a few years but that didn't happen.
BORIS is a sonically adventurous three piece outfit from TOKYO that doesn't conform to any common sense of song structure or keep to any regular tempo. their songs are more likened to an extended walk in the woods where you eventually come back to some semblance of civilization but in the meantime you are hopelessly and blissfully lost and at the mercy of your surroundings. to my ears their music is always unfamiliar in a good way, like listening to ORNETTE COLEMAN or FREE JAZZ. you are definitely taken along for an unexpected ride, but you are in good hands.
they are most definitely worth checking out.
photos by nacrowe
been a fan of JANE'S ADDICTION since my teens and are my all-time favorite rock band. only THE SMITHS and DEVO, two very different bands, come close in admiration.
luckily i've gotten to see the band play in various iterations over the years, but none more bizarre than a 2015 gig in TOKYO at OZZFEST 2015. first off, the show itself was all kinds of strange as you had two main stages, one with american bands of various genres like A DAY TO REMEMBER, HATEBREED, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and OZZY & FRIENDS and the other japanese bands, namely BABY METAL. japanese metal is weird, its all mixed with J-POP music so there is lots of hand-clapping and choreographed dance moves. BABY METAL has a legit rhythm section so they absolutely crushed, if you ever get the chance definitely hit up their live gigs. BLACK SABBATH had to back out due to health concerns surrounding TONY IOMMI's battle with lymphoma, so essentially OZZY & FRIENDS was the legendary singer with his band plus guest guitarists DAVE NAVARRO, TOM MORELLO and his first performance with ZAKK WYLDE in over 10 years. too bad OZZY sounded awful. he just sounded old and tired. i left early.
but my reason for going was strictly JANE'S ADDICTION. living in the greater LOS ANGELES area in my formative years, i have memories of riding around with my dad heading off to soccer games in at-risk MEXICAN soccer leagues listening to K-ROQ blasting songs off RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL (WARNER BROS, 1990). to me, JANE'S ADDICTION is LOS ANGELES, the land of my youth.
the show was great with the requisite dancers and swinging models fearlessly suspended above the fray with hooks in their backs (a then-recent hobby of guitarist DAVE NAVARRO). it was everything you'd expect from them, something a bit raunchy, dangerous and obscure to go with a setlist made up primarily of their transcendent genre-defining efforts NOTHING'S SHOCKING (WARNER BROS, 1988) and RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL. if they never do anything of merit again, those two records are canonical in my opinion.
so in summation, having attended several OZZFESTS in the early 00s, this version had little of the feeling of those events which was as much due to the lineup as it was about the location. it was more like a LOLLAPALOOZA/OZZFEST hybrid which was fine by me, although historically a bit absurd given that OZZFEST was created by SHARON OSBOURNE after not being able to secure her husband/client OZZY a gig on one of the initial LOLLAPALOOZA. regardless, i had a great time soaking in the absurdity of it all and JANE'S ADDICTION sounded killer. too bad OZZY had an off night. he really should retire. he more than deserves his time off. ALL HAIL!
photos by nacrowe
i'm not gonna lie, SOUTH KOREA is a strange place.
and that is from the perspective of someone who practically seeks out unfamiliar cultures and actively attempts to understand them on their terms. for most visiting westerners, especially americans, it is easy to get caught up in the neon lights and dizzying hustle and bustle of SEOUL and its labyrinth of cavernous subways and seemingly infinite shopping destinations. the place basically has no central district with multiple competing neighborhoods basically competing for influence. at the time i was living in JAPAN outside YOKOHAMA and for me SEOUL seemed to me a more bloated version of TOKYO for reasons already described.
but what got me about this country wasn't its massive cities but the insular nature of its people. living in JAPAN i often felt quite isolated, which to me was funny because at that point i had lived for years in politically and economically depressed countries like ALBANIA and VENEZUELA that were a step removed from mainstream "world culture." yet i never felt alone there. i always felt welcome and not a curiosity. JAPAN was very much a situation where you never felt welcome. people were impeccably polite but it was a politeness that acted as a barrier. its hard to verbalize what i mean. there was a definite insularity and rigidity of thought, a lack of curiosity. i found JAPAN jarring but SOUTH KOREA was another level indeed.
i worked at an international school in JAPAN and there were several CANADIAN counterparts of mine that had JAPANESE spouses. i learned that in SOUTH KOREA dating was carried out with the forethought and determined specificity of two merging corporations as families would want to the income and occupation of not just you, but up to three generations before you. the two participants were just an afterthought in this intense negotiation that had as much to do with standing and honor as it did about commitment and love.
and i get why. the JAPANESE were absolutely brutal to the KOREANS during their occupation and post-KOREAN WAR this country had to basically pull itself up by its bootstraps and make something from basically nothing. literally nothing. most of their ancestral architecture was defiled and destroyed by the JAPANESE. most or all you see today of past royal palaces are works-in-progress recreations. its funny now because SOUTH KOREA has basically followed JAPAN into consumer electronics and beaten them at their own game. revenge indeed.
but much like JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA has a problem with teen suicide and depressions. families have few children and put a lot of resources into their education, putting excessive pressure on them to succeed and procure employment that pays off this investment. what results is that you have a country that sees value only in your ability to produce. i have teacher friends out there that i stayed with and it felt claustrophobic being around that educational culture. all students played violin or cello or piano not out of interest but out of needing something to fill out your college application out with. everything seemed backwards like the kids were supposed to fit into a pre-conceived mold. it was conformity of the most intense variety. even pop culture (K-POP specifically) was about meeting a predetermined standard of demeanor, purity and naïveté.
i found the place claustrophobic and is one of the few countries i've visited that i don't have any real urge to revisit. people there are treated as a commodity by their families and it makes perfect sense to me why so me seek a way out, suicide itself being a normative means of maintaining family honor in a warped moral landscape.
and i haven't even gotten to talking about NORTH KOREA yet. stay tuned.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
been a closet CHARLI XCX fan for some time now.
and not just because she's hot. by now i think i've established my appreciation for artists that flip the script on gender expectations. most of the artists i've written about recently have all been within the PUNK and INDIE genres, where to some extent this is to be expected. CHARLI XCX is firmly in the POP world, having written songs for countless artists from RIHANNA to CAMILLA CABELLO to GWEN STEFANI, SELENA GOMEZ and even BLONDIE.
in an industry where young women are pitted against one another and often find themselves "competing" with the next young bright thing, which is beyond sexist and just sad, i really appreciate her ability to control her image and have fun with it. case in point is her "Boys" video in which she basically directs a video objectifying men. its genius. its absolutely cheeky and over-the-top but proves the glaring double-standard that men are practically NEVER portrayed as passive sex objects. its a pretty jarring upon first view.
the other video i gravitate to is "Superlove" which takes place in the notoriously seedy KABUKICHO district of TOKYO at the completely bonkers ROBOT RESTAURANT. just a little background: KABUKICHO is where kabuki theater originated and if you know anything about Japanese culture, then you know that historically actors at these plays often doubled as prostitutes, giving the arts and specifically this district a sordid reputation. aside from that, it is also one of the most garishly brightly lit places and ROBOT RESTAURANT is at the heart of it all. i went with a friend to this restaurant which had japanese women in bikinis fighting dinosaurs on tanks. i still don't get it, but i love the fact that somebody did a music video there.
i think i'll just end by saying that CHARLI XCX to me is the modern embodiment of the spirit of MADONNA, minus the culture appropriation. MADONNA is definitely a female artist that followed her guns and let society and gender/sexual politics follow her. i'm looking forward to the new soon-to-be-released CHARLI XCX album and it goes without saying that her work is well worth checking out.
photo by karl burhop
ok i admit that its more than a little strange to write a profile on yourself. but here i go.
as creative director of DEER GOD i basically have a hand in everything we do that is non-audio. that basically boils down controlling/editing all things visual and written. of course we work as a team and frequently collaborate and take cues from one another, but i more or less take these efforts and produce the final product.
out of the whole team i am probably the last to the party in that i was not involved with audio or video production until a few years ago when i returned from overseas. for the better part of the last decade i was involved with education having taught secondary english abroad at international schools in MYANMAR, JAPAN, VENEZUELA as well as a stint as a peace corps volunteer in ALBANIA. my start as an educator was in NYC where i got my masters at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY and had brief stints teaching at both BROOKLYN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL (student teacher) and STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL (long-term substitute). my bad timing entering the field in the wake of the great recession meant that no new positions were available as older teachers delayed retirement and an effective freeze was put on new hires. thus i had an IVY LEAGUE degree and recommendations from two of the top public high schools in the nation, but no prospects.
so i went and taught overseas.
due to my parents work i spent time overseas growing up in NIGERIA (middle school) and KUWAIT (junior year of high school) and attended high school in both MASSACHUSETTS (NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON) and CALIFORNIA (ROCKLIN HIGH SCHOOL). oh yeah, and i was born in SPAIN.
my passion as long as i can remember photography as i would take photos of my travels (somehere around 60+ countries). i think my passion for other cultures and worldviews informed my (brief) teaching career and most definitely is a part of what i bring to my current visual work here at DEER GOD. if interested, check out my photos above.
the rest are linked HERE.