My Robot Band hr657

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Year of 1984 was one of the bitterest years of my life and also a major turning point. After I was able to join the band of a locally acclaimed young man, the band had been striving to become professional in Osaka, which is the biggest city in the western Japan. While I had unwavering confidence in the songs we wrote, we constantly had difficulty in finding desirable members. Except for him and me, other members had come and gone, and we couldn’t materialize our ideal sound with any of them. Even a gig was almost impossible with just two of us being permanent members.

My partner and I couldn’t waste any more time searching for apt band members who shared similar passion as ours and played exactly how we wanted. As the solution, we came up with the idea to use a rhythm machine and a sequencer in place of human members. Those gadgets were the cutting edge of music instruments at the time and had just appeared on the market. We thought they would be perfect band members who realized our sound as we requested because we were the ones that put data into them. We weren’t sure about the passion side of machines, but at least they would commit and wouldn’t quit like humans did. Because personal computers were still in the floppy disk era and not strong enough for music, we connected a rhythm machine, a sequencer and synthesizers with cables to play a gig. Added to the machines, I was on the keyboard and vocals, and my partner was on the guitar and vocals. There formed my robot band.

Although it had seemed perfect, we faced quite a few obstacles to play in the band with machines. Let alone it cost heftily and carrying them around by two of us without a car was a daunting physical challenge each time, it took enormous time to enter the whole data of our songs into them. As thumb drives or hard disk drives were yet to come, we needed to record special signals sounding like ‘beeeeep, bip, beep, bip, beep’ into a cassette tape to save the data. The data consumed one cassette tape per song, not at one go although the signals were long. I once inadvertently tripped on one of the cables which erased the whole data that I had spent all night inputting. The worse troubles awaited us at the gig. The innumerable necessary cables and cords made setting and preparation for my band far more complicated and time-consuming than other bands. One single wrong connection would break synchronization. On one occasion, the machines didn’t start and we couldn’t play but stood still on stage because one of the stage staff pulled out one cable by mistake. On another occasion, one of the machines suddenly uttered “Pi!” and went silent in the middle of playing. Furthermore, I needed to put a specific setting for each song on the several keyboards during every interval between our songs. Because the stage usually went dark between songs, it wasn’t easy to see the correct buttons and switches on my keyboards. A stage staff person once came up on the stage to help me with the setting by lighting over my keyboards with his lighter. The venue strictly banned any use of fire and he was harshly reprimanded for that afterwards because of me. Through those unpredictable chilling experiences, I basically feared every time if songs would start without hitches instead of enjoying gigs whenever I was on stage.

Still, harder trials existed. Other bands mostly consisted of college students who played as a hobby not for a career. Their attitude toward music was incredibly easygoing and they were just having fun on stage. Their songs were frivolous likewise. Yet, they were able to draw a large audience since they had friends on the campus so that their gig was usually a big hit with a livened up crowd. On the other hand, my band was just two people standing surrounded by numerous instruments and machines, and singing serious lyrical songs. Because we didn’t have friends to gather, the audience were strangers who had no interest in our playing and just waited for our gig to end.

That was also the case when we took part in a live contest. To make matters worse, a contest was sometimes fixed where the winner had already been decided. As I didn’t know that the contest was only held to give that winner the credential before the label signed a contract with the prearranged winner, I was appalled when we lost to a really bad but pretty singer.

I had gotten to loathe live performance by those experiences. Not just loathe it, but I had gotten to break out in a cold sweat on gigs. Since then, we have performed live less and less and have done none these days. I guess that shows how much I learned the hard way. To this day, the nightmares I have most are that I am playing on stage. However, my robot band has been transformed since it got off stage. The machines turned into a personal computer with software who has been my important partner to create my music. Thanks to it, I have been able to embody exactly what sounded in my head. A long period of time later, my robot band eventually made my dream come true. 

Passion hr656

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What I had been doing before I decided to become a musician was studying to enter one of Japanese first-rate universities, which was ostensibly believed so. That was when I was a high school student in the early 80’s.

To tell you the truth, I had in fact, not been studying in those days, which I had never told anyone. I just had been pretending to study every day. While I had acted in front of my family and friends as if I had been preparing for fiercely competitive entrance examinations and studying desperately to succeed in them, I hadn’t been able to find any sort of motivation to study once I sat at my desk in my room. To stimulate myself, I would listen to the records of my favorite band, but then gaze blankly at empty space or take a nap instead of being stimulated. I had tried to study in the middle of the night, which was supposed to be quieter and easier to concentrate, but I would listen to late night radio shows at which I would laugh until dawn.

After I had spent months in those routines while arrogantly declaring to people around me that I would get in the leading university, I came to my senses and began to wonder how I could succeed without studying. Now I had trembled every day with a fear that I would have failed the entrance examination of all first-rate universities. Even though I was grasped with the fear, I still couldn’t feel like studying. And in the end, that fear did materialize.

Am I a born sluggard? Am I a loser? In the depths of despair, I made up my mind to be a musician. Then in an instant my attitude changed completely. I earnestly searched for and joined a professional-oriented band, spent all the savings I had on a synthesizer, and practiced every day at the far-off rental studio to which I took a train and brought the synthesizer weighing fifty pounds and carried by me who is merely five feet. I would sweat all over even in winter just carrying it from and to the platform at the train station.

On one occasion at the station, as though he couldn’t stand to watch me struggling with the synthesizer any more, a man approached me silently and lifted it on his shoulder. He went down the stairs from the platform carrying it for me. While he staggered along the way and slowed down  probably because it was heavier than he had thought, he brought it to the bottom of the stairs and disappeared without a word. I felt like a hero came to rescue me.

But a villain also appeared as well. On another occasion, I was walking over the bridge carrying it in addition to other instruments. Because it was impossible for me to walk continuously with all that heavy stuff, I posed and put down all the instruments every few yards. And a vulgar man yelled at me from behind, “Get out of my way, you slow-walking ugly!” I snapped at the word ‘ugly’, put down the instruments, and stopped him by saying, “What did you say?” Then I seized him by the neck, squeezed it and pushed him to the bridge-rail. I was wringing his neck seriously and intended to push him down to the river. The man gasped for air and screamed “Call the police! Please, someone!” By that time, passersby had gathered, and a woman untangled my hands on his neck and broke us up. It seemed I turned into a villain there.

When I wasn’t in the studio, I had practiced playing the keyboard at home and worked at a part-time job to pay for the rental studio. Although my new routine had totally exhausted me, I was willing to take the ordeal. I never lost my passion as if I were possessed by something. And I haven’t lost it to this day after decades have passed.

To keep going can lead to many setbacks. Sometimes there are those nights when I want to give up and throw everything away. Still, when it dawns, I get motivated again gradually. Not vanity nor prosperity but passion keeps me alive. I don’t want to quit staying alive just yet.

The Turning Point hr648

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I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape.
It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late.
The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came.
After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist.
As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting.
I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead.
I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.

Podcast: the homecoming event

 
Audiobook 1 : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Audiobook 2 : My Social Distancing and Naked Spa in Japan by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. 
Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks,  43 available distributors in total. 
 
Back in my schooldays, there were required curricula specifically for  the homecoming event. Students must participate in either an exhibition,  retail, or a play. I chose a play every homecoming when I was a junior  high school student. When the homecoming’s preparation began in my ninth  grade, my passion for the theater was at its peak since I had been  regularly cast for a major role in the drama club at school. Other  students knew that and I was appointed as the ninth-grade play team  leader almost automatically. Everyone had no interest in a required  curriculum and I had to put together a play by leading fifty unwilling,  reluctant team members. From the first meeting, I encountered  foreseeable difficulties. No one brought up any suggestion of what play  we would show at the homecoming. When I uttered a Japanese classic  novel, they unanimously shouted, “That’s it! That’ll be our play!” in  order to finish the meeting quickly. Our play was decided like this and I  dramatized the novel for the first time in my life. I had thought it  would be difficult, but it was unexpectedly so much fun. I finished the  script quite fast. And then, the casting. I had decided not to be cast  in the play myself because I had been already cast in a play of the  drama club for the homecoming. I didn’t want to appear in every play at  school like an attention freak. I thought it was cool that I produced,  dramatized and directed for this curriculum play. But in the team,  everyone had neither experience nor skill in acting and they didn’t want  to be cast. It was again left to my sole decision. While I was choosing  some students who seemed to like appearing on the stage, a girl timidly  raised her hand. She said she wanted to act. Although I finally got a  volunteer, I hesitated to cast her for a moment. She was not pretty.  Other students started giggling at her brave attempt. Instantly I came  to myself and remembered the fact that I was also regarded as an ugly  girl at school. My bad looks contributed to continuous typecasting as an  old, wicked woman in drama club’s plays. As I had been weary of  disadvantage of appearance, I cast her as a leading role. My decision  made other students gape. Thus, I had trying three months for the play  with totally amateur actors and backstage staff…

Early 80s – The Beginning of My Music Career hr641

I started to think about becoming a singer-songwriter in the beginning of 1980’s when I still lived in my hometown of Japan where I was born and grew up. By the end of the first month as a college student, I had lost interest in a college life since I didn’t care about getting a degree or being hired by a renowned company after graduation. A college had turned into an unnecessary place for me because of music. Only I tried to follow the footsteps of a Japanese band that I had admired most. Before they became professional, they started their careers by forming bands at universities and colleges where they were enrolled. I tried to do the same. As I had easily known, I found nobody in my college all of which students were women and most of which students attended as preparations for homemaking and marrying a doctor. I searched other universities for band members, for which I used my otherwise wasteful college life.
At that time, PCs or smartphones were yet to come. Even CDs didn’t exist. To listen to music, you needed to buy a record, put it on a turn table of a stereo carefully and gingerly not to scar the record surface, put down a record needle softly onto the start groove, and wait for music to begin while watching the record turning fast. The moment music started, the space shifted in a flash from where you had been. That was the essence I used to feel with a record. The sound of an analog record is different from the digitalized CD’s one. I feel the former round and deep that vibrates and seeps into the heart. Both Western and Japanese rock music I had listened to back then conveyed something to inspire like a struggle for life or for freedom. I’ve seen quite a few people whose life was actually changed by music.
A record has been given way to a CD, and then to download and streaming. On the making side, recording on a tape by physical instruments has turned more and more into entering data on a computer by software. The sound has become mechanical with copying and pasting. Having an impact is valued more than being dramatic. I hadn’t the slightest idea this kind of music scene would arrive in the future when I lived the beginning of 80’s. I simply had believed that music could change the world and save someone by healing a sore heart just as it did to me. While the music scene did change, my belief remains unchanged. I’ve been striving to make music by taking advantage of the digital side into inspiring songs.
Back in the eighties, I was trying to form a band to have my songs heard as soon as I started a college. I came across a bulletin board of a band circle at one university that was recruiting new members. I went to the meeting where many freshmen gathered. The circle leaders were matching a new member to an existent band according to which part the new comer played and which part the band needed. Because I intended to join a professional-aiming, high-grade band, I pitched earnestly my skills of writing songs, singing, playing the keyboard and the guitar, and most especially, my passion for music. The person who interviewed me said outright that there was no available band for me to join. While I was preparing to leave, I noticed that other freshmen got assigned to a band one after another. They all said they had no skills or had never played an instrument, except that they all were cute and had a flirty smile. Again, my passionate, serious attitude backfired there too, as if it foretold my subsequent music career. I learned that bands at Japanese universities and colleges in 80’s were for those who just wanted to enjoy a campus life not for those who sought a music career.
I was excluded from campus musicians and couldn’t use my college life for member hunting. As a college has become useless to me more than ever, I was sent outside the campus to look for a member in the real world.