Tag Archives: Ryuichi Sakamoto

Further Reflections on Sound, Image, and Time as Imprisoned and Then Released by Memory


We were getting close to Leesburg, Virginia on a Monday when the Rahsaan Roland Kirk song that was playing on the car stereo ended. Right away, my son Julien (who was almost six years old then) asked me to play it again. Now, there are some musical requests of his that I’ll turn down, like when he asks me to play The Smith’s “Sheila Take a Bow” over and over. It’s a song I love, but I don’t usually want to hear it more than once a day. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, though, is another matter, and when Julien asked me to play “Say a Little Prayer” again, I reached right over to press the button that would put it on again.

The night before, we were on Rixeyville Road on the way to Culpeper, Virginia to drop my daughter Maggie’s friend Lillie back at her house when the Gus van Sant/William Burroughs tune “Millions of Images” came on. In the year or so it’s been in the mix of songs I have on the car stereo, my wife Heather and I have come to the realization that there’s something comforting about the sound of William Burroughs’s voice. Whether we were lost on some country road in Virginia or central Pennsylvania, or making our way through the streets of Philadelphia to get to an Iggy Pop concert on time, the voice of William Burroughs helped to calm us down. I realize not everyone finds his voice soothing—and (as I’ve noted previously) that not every family listens to him together the way we do, but I guess we’re not like everybody else.

That week, like Julien, Maggie was back in school. For fun, Maggie had been taking Nirvana songs and figuring out how to play them on piano. She also worked on learning Ryuichi Sakamoto’s theme song for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. As for what she was working on with the guitar, I couldn’t keep up, but I recall hearing licks from The Kinks at the time, and during dinner one evening she said she had a Kendrick Lamar tune stuck in her head, so I imagine that that was appearing in the mix, too.

That week, I went to my primary care physician to get a referral for a neurologist. I kept having these brief episodes of transient global amnesia where my short term memory goes kaput for a few hours. It was nothing like six years ago when, shortly after my Dad died, I went an entire day without being able to remember anything for more than a few minutes. At any rate, after the initial shock, I wasn’t really worried about it. I think when you’ve got a million images bouncing through your head all the time, it’s not unusual for them to get stuck once in a while. It’s like when there’s a speck of dirt or a scratch on an LP and that sharp diamond stylus, tracing the groove on the vinyl surface, gets jammed and plays the same phrase over and over. You just have to give it a little nudge, or else gently lift the tonearm and plop it back down past the dirt or the scratch. Soon, the music is playing again, and the images, along with the soundtrack that accompanies them, are flowing smoothly again.

On the way back from Leesburg, the car stereo was playing Jackie McLean and Ornette Coleman doing “Old Gospel.” It’s one of those tunes where Ornette is playing the trumpet, an instrument he wasn’t at all proficient on. I know some people may disagree, but I think he gets it done anyway. Because in art there ain’t no single way to get shit done, and no single place you need to get to. Art is where you create your own destiny. Art is what, late at night when no one is looking, makes the goons in charge shit in their pants.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Further Notes and Observations on the Spirit That Moves Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
It’s been a long time since the word Catholic, much less Christian, could be used to describe my approach toward spirituality. Yet, at this time of year, I do get this feeling that I must admit comes from that time in the past when I was a follower of such things. It is, certainly, a manifestation of a side of me that is unapologetically sentimental. And, perhaps, a concession that for my children, a lot of the old Christmas traditions are actually quite enjoyable. Or even, dare I say, magical. All of which is to say that even though I myself am not now a believer in any traditional sense, I am happy to have come from a state of believing. I am also happy that when I was a believer I was not involved in the manner of believing as practiced by the Skyline Baptist Church.

This morning I took a photograph of that church, which is down the road from us here in Front Royal, as they prepared for their annual Born to Die festival. Well, I suppose that they officially refer to it as their annual live nativity presentation, which is how they describe it on the sandwich board they place down by John Marshall Highway every year at this time. But, when you look to the church itself, what you see is that Born to Die banner—and an approach to spirituality that I find troublesome at best.

Although the Catholic church certainly has its own macabre elements. My favorite example of this is the hymn about Jesus on the crucifix that went, “Oh sacred head surrounded, by crown of piercing thorns”—with the musical accent being on that crown of piercing thorns. Still, I don’t think this compares with the Facebook posting I once saw of a Baptist minister in the Midwest who to illustrate his observation that it was a “glorious day in God’s creation” chose a photograph of himself holding a muskrat impaled on a stick. This same minister then went on to speak of God’s “violent acts of love.”

It’s precisely this sort of so-called spirituality that seems push me from my usual agnostic stance toward one of pure disbelief. Yet I find atheism, and its utter certainty that there’s no such thing as God or deity of any sort to be just as depressingly lacking in imagination as the fundamentalist Christian vision of god as an all-powerful spoiled brat who demands that you worship him or else face the horror of eternal damnation.

Of course, if I had to choose one over the other, I’d opt for atheism over the spoiled brat vision of god any time. Still, there are those moments about which atheism has nothing to say. As with the other day, after I’d picked up Maggie from school with Julien and we went home and sat in the living room as Julien watched an episode of Dora The Explorer. Maggie and I came up with the idea for a show in which Dora is a bad guy, called Dora The Corporate Executive. This Dora would ask her viewers things like, “Can you say hostile takeover?” and “Strikers, stop striking.”

After watching Dora, Julien started playing with his trains, and Maggie went to the hall to practice on the piano. I took the opportunity to check my work email on the laptop I have setup at the dining room table, and it was there that I heard a song that sounded familiar coming from the piano in the hallway. It took me a few moments to recognize it, because somehow it wasn’t the sort of song I expected I’d ever hear being played on our piano at home. And what I was hearing were the opening bars of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”

The song was part of the soundtrack Ryuichi Sakamoto did for director Nagisa Oshima’s eponymously titled film, and I’d always been surprised that this peaceful bit of melancholy is what stays with me from that prisoner of war drama. That out of war, violence, and death, what I always came back to was this. And on hearing Maggie playing these notes, I somehow felt this connection to decades long gone—my mother, living through the Japanese occupation of the Philippines; my father, working at a hotel, after the end of war and their separate journeys, over the ocean, to meet here in the states; and all of the separate journeys—mine, Heather’s, Maggie’s, Julien’s—that brought us to where we are now.

And so, this season, it was the music—and certainly not any “violent acts of love” or the notion that Jesus was “born to die”—that put me in the spirit of things. And although this spirit may still have something to do with “Christmas,” it’s not, for me, a Christian thing. Or any rate, not the sort of Christianity that focuses on death and violence and the annihilation of its enemies.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking about those who oppose me and my kind this season. That, for the sake of celebration, I will banish all consideration of the crimes of torturers, racially profiling killers, oligarchs with their obscene wealth and power, the heinous demagogue with twitter compulsive disorder who will soon be the president of my country, and all the other murderers of both life and spirit. It’s just that I’ve accepted that for any person of conscience, struggle is a way of life; and that those true moments of peace and connection can’t be manufactured—they have to be found, over and over again. Which is why the best among us are always looking for something.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua