Girl of the Pachinko Garden

In Tokyo, particularly in Roppongi and Sinjuku, there are Pachinko parlors everywhere.  They are kind of like the American equivalent of slot machines; a pinball-like game where one wins tokens that can later be exchanged for prizes, or, if you know where to go and who to talk to, cash.  They remind me of Vegas casinos with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Pachinko machines lined up one right after the other.  They make the same metal-machine, twinkling music that the slots do and are wildly popular in Tokyo.  Gambling is not legal per se, but there is plenty of gambling involved with Pachinko, and the same gambler’s etiquette applies here–do not touch another player’s steel balls.  It is best to sometimes “wait out” a machine that is due for a pay-off,  just like the slots.

What I love about Pachinko parlors is the atmosphere; lots of low-hanging, hazy smoke and orange-y light, like an old American pool hall or an Edward Hopper painting.  The lifers play two or three machines at once, the only noise being the clinking tinkly music of the machines themselves; sometimes hundreds at a time and the cacophony of sound oddly beautiful; the loose-change music of chance.

A lot of these joints are owned by the Yakuza, and those guys are always present.   You can pick them out of a crowd.  Black, tailored suits, black ties, white shirts and and hair-cuts that run the gamut from Elvis-type pompadours to the ‘fade’ cuts favores by Rappers in the late 80’s and shades– always shades, noon or midnight.  Often they will be playing the machines as well.  There is an unmistakable gangster-chic aura about these places.  Some of them have American dance music piped in softly, or  muzak-style rap that has none of the curbside urgency of the American variety.  Everybody smokes.  Women play this game with as much ferocity as men do.   Invariably a door or two down from the parlor is a shop where the tokens can be redeemed for prizes and then the prizes for cash in the black market.  Everything from motor-scooters to knock-off Rolexes can be won playing Pachinko.

I found the places I visited to be mesmerizing in their activity.  Watching a good Pachinko player is as much a treat as watching a good poker player or chef.  Virtuosity in anything is rewarding to observe.

These places are especially gorgeous at night when the night people come out to play.  There are dramas and narratives criss-crossing in every parlor; an unspoken language of nods, winks, gestures and half-smiles, and it all means something.  What?  I can’t guess, but it makes my wheels turn and then I want to make pictures.

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 8:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Girl of the Winter Stars

Every once in a while I think I make a signature piece ñ one of those that kind of sums up what I’ve learned lately.  In Japan I began to like how they just slap graphics and type over images, I loved the chaos of it all.  My critics have long slammed me for putting too much information in my work–fuck ’em.  They’ve never much had any idea how I think of how I see the world, which is everything happening at once.  History is not something that happened a hundred years ago; it is something that is happening now, in a million different places, to a million different people, for a million different reasons ñ for better or worse, this is how I think of the world.  I just try to hang on to the end of the kite-string and find a salient lesson or two in all of it.  In Japan, the chaotic visual is not frowned upon; beauty is where you find it.

I love drawing female figures . . . nothing better.  If I could draw birds and naked women the rest of my life, I’d be just fine with it.  In Japan the natural world and sensuality are part of the same poetic construction.  The Japanese are completely unafraid of color and in Japan I decided to let my palette off of the leash and just have at it.  I’m glad I did.  A year ago I was making love poem pieces with small silhouettes of this figure; I love this shape.  The playful carnality of it keeps my attention while I’m drawing.

I scored a bunch of gorgeous Japanese paper while I was in Tokyo and then, when I got back, a lovely designer named Kazumi brought me a bunch more; all of it rhythmic and suggestive of nature and natural forms, which repeats itself in Japanese design and poetry and music.

I went to Japan to let something new into my work.  My whole artistic output has been wholly American and now it is time to get a whiff of the big world.

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pink Lady

1-1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz applejack
1/4 oz lemon juice
1-2 dashes of grenadine
1 egg white
maraschino cherry for garnish

Voila! The Pink Lady!

A perfectly wretched cocktail first made in the 1930s, designed with the idea of separating young women from their virtue.

I new a prim and pert girl in high school named Elizabeth who would leave heel-marks on the ceiling after two of these abominations . . . followed by twenty or so, minutes of ruinous projectile vomiting.  Two Pink Ladies would induce nymphomania and nausea with equal ferocity.

In Japan. these girly drinks are very big, as is Karaoke, some bars locking you in from midnight ’til five in the morning to try out your pipes on classics like the Divynyl’s “I Touch Myself” and Meatloaf’s, “I Would Do Anything For Love.”  Lots of cocktails are added for intestinal fortitude, as well as to clear one’s throat.

There are many oddball names for things in Japan for products aimed at the American trade.  There are also stores that sell unusual things that can best be described as niche tastes.  We found a store that sold nothing but John Lennon glasses; another that only sold pink lingerie, bras, panties, merry widows and thongs, all in varying hues of pink, from baby powder pink to screaming-hooker fuchsia.  In Harajuku there are all manner of stores selling the baby-doll pink tights to teenage girls, as well as the ubiquitous “Juicy” sweatpants that only women going at least two bills seem to shoehorn their ample asses into over here.  Sorry baby, if you tip the scales at 200 pounds, you’re not exactly the “Juicy,” tight-clothing wearing demographic.  Yesterday, a plus-sized gal was power-walking down Damen Avenue sporting a cameltoe you could lose your keys in.

In Japan eroticized images have been around for centuries, as well as brutal and aberrant varieties of porn and comics.  The female figure is at once revered and fetishized, not so differently than it is in religious art and American skin magazines.  Who can blame us?  There is nothing as beautiful as the female body.

As a kid, I made the nuns crazy because I loved drawing naked women.  They would go bat-shit and send me to the shrink, call my mother and make me go talk to the priest.  I started drawing naked nuns and then they really went out of their minds; one of the brides of Christ beating my ass with a knotted rope, telling me I was going to hell.  I remembered saying I was feeling that it would be okay to go to hell, as long as there were naked women.

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Girl of the Falling Planets,

Girl Of The Falling Planets

I’ve written a lot of love poems.  This one is kind of a love poem for Japan or, more specifically, Tokyo.  It is seductive and full of secrets . . . like a woman.  It is probably a metaphor that would perplex most Japanese ñ a very male-dominated society.  The women I spoke to in Japan seemed sadly resigned to, at some point in their lives, becoming part of a man’s life as almost chattel.  Some of the young women, who worked at the hotel I stayed at, told me that their mothers and their fathers encouraged them to find a man, rather than pursue an education or a business of their own.  The encouraging thing in these conversations was that the women bristled at these thoughts.  One young woman, Sayaka, made it clear that her parents were going to have to realize that it was a new Japan; that the cultural revolution, acted out between young and old, had already happened, albeit quietly.  The young men did not desire to be salary-men and the young women wanted lives, careers and businesses of their own.  It is ironic to view this very old culture and think it has taken this long for young women to liberate themselves from old patriarchal customs and expectations.  Of course, many young women in Japan looked to American women as symbolic of the empowerment one can achieve in the new Japan.  The image of the passive and quiet Asian woman is a quickly disappearing stereotype.

In Japanese art there is no small amount of erotic content; the woodcuts and paintings of artists like Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi are full of geishas and courtesans.  Manga is full of some of the most brutal porn you’ll ever see, replete with rape-fantasy storylines that are degrading and sadly very common.  For centuries, women have very often been sex objects in Japanese art.  There are young women artists in Japan who are turning these paradigms on their head.  Mariko Mori, who seamlessly cobbles together Eastern myths and Western cultural motifs, often makes videos and photographs using herself, more often than not, as a goddess.  Work like hers points to a newly realized “Girl Power” that emboldens other young women artists.  She is a big deal–a real role model to young Japanese women . . . a woman in control of her own art and her own image . . . a woman who owns herself.

I also found out that the cherry blossom season of spring in Japan is a time when many young men propose marriage.  It is a beautiful time of year when the blossoms are in full roar and the parks are full of bright, gauzy whites and pinks, plum wine and music.  It is a lovely thing in a lovely city.  This one is for Tokyo.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 3:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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The White Lodge

The White Lodge As a kid, I remember seeing cars and trucks with dead deer lashed to them in autumn.  Deer Season.  The men in our neighborhood would go up to Wisconsin or Northern Illinois and hunt whitetail deer.   The argument was always that without a certain amount of thinning the herd, the deer would starve during the winter, which seems a logical premise.  People ate the venison they harvested throughout the winter.  It was healthy, low-fat meat that was plentiful.

Still, it bugged me. The killing of deer seemed ugly.  Or shooting birds.  I never liked the idea  of it.  I’ve eaten plenty of venison and have liked it, but I don’t think I could ever look through a scope and pull the trigger on a deer.  It seems like a sin, like something that should be a crime.  I see them once in a while, walking placidly across a field out by the airport or on a ride up to Wisconsin, and they seem more mythic as I get older; more poetic. . .more like something to protect rather than bust a cap in.

I am not squeamish about guns.  I’m a firm believer in the right to bear and keep arms.  I am very pro Second Amendment . Hunting does not even bother me so much, though I choose not to do it.

Crazy Horse hunted buffalo with a bow and arrow.  Now, piss off a fully grown buffalo and watch how fast he stomps a mud-hole in your ass.  He also hunted antelope, deer and elk, all of them formidable creatures when wounded.

Often, roving groups of shit-heads hunt wolves from helicopters, with high-powered rifles, or hunt quail (which are about the size of a feather-duster and about as ferocious) with shot-guns on game farms, like Dick Cheney.

These tools are not without their comic value though.  At least once a year, a story surfaces that one of these Bwana-types gets snot-flying drunk and, despite the orange vest, blows the brains out of one of the other he-men in his hunting party.  Oops.  I often wonder if it is a cock-size thing that makes grown men go out and blast ducks out of the sky.  Really. . .what for?  Though I agree with Ted Nugent on the Second Amendment, I despair at the endless photos of him with some magnificent animal he has just killed.  To take this much joy in killing is psychotic.

At one time hunting to eat made sense.  Now hunting just seems to be an exercise in cruelty.

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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