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If it wasn’t for video games and Youtube, I’d never hear new music…

Radio is dead. I mean when is the last time you heard something “new” that wasn’t a) a ‘new’ version of an old type of music you’ve heard from artists you know or b) so ridiculously new it sounds like it should be in a experimental “gender theory of expressionist music” class at university?

Thank god for FIFA 16.

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How watching cartoons helped me realize I’m an uncultured slob.

I’d like to say that I “discovered” Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki this week, but the truth is a bit more nuanced. I’ve known of some of the later films for some time now, from Howl’s Moving Castle to Spirited Away which even won an Oscar a few years back. But like the first drops of rain that has you questioning “is it raining” my experience with their films has been on the periphery, rather than a torrential soaking.

But now that I have kids the excuses have come to an end.

About a month ago I made the kids sit through “Arrietty” or The Secret World of Arrietty as it was called in the US. We followed that up this week with My Neighbor Totoro which has been on basically daily rotation with the boys. Watching the giant forest spirit Totoro bounce and pounce and smile has the kids humming along the theme song, even though the lyrics are in Japanese. We followed up with Kiki’s Delivery Service and I watched “Spirited Away” the other night while nursing them through some colds (thank god for the iPhone). The kids watched a bit of Ponyo but it was in Japanese so they tired quickly from the subtitles.

Ghibli is called the “Disney of Japan” but that’s really a misnomer. The cartoons are far more complex than your standard good vs. evil with an odd speaking sidekick that passes for Disney animation today. Often told from the perspective of a young female lead (as compared to the more male-dominated cartoons of Hollywood)

Since 1984, under the auspices of its founder and chief auteur, Hayao Miyazaki, the studio has rolled out a succession of dense, ambitious fantasy adventures, almost all of them led by strong, intelligent, independent-minded girls. Miyazaki’s movies are exciting and fantastical, often involving flying machines, ecological disasters, clashing civilisations and precarious spiritual values – all rendered in clean, colourful, hand-drawn animation. His heroines also tend towards a certain type. They are adventurous and active, but also compassionate, communicative, pacifist and virtuous. Their “female” qualities and childish innocence are often what resolve the crisis at hand and bridge conflicting worlds….

“He thought heroism was much more complicated than that black hat/white hat stuff,” explains Helen McCarthy, a British author who has written extensively on Miyazaki and Japanese animation. “By making the hero a girl, he took all that macho stuff out of the equation and that gave him the freedom to examine heroism. His career has been a very beautiful building of an idea that the feminine doesn’t preclude the heroic.”

There is also quite a bit about a casual, rural lifestyle that comes out in several of these films. The sounds of the crickets and grasshoppers and the rainbow of fresh flowers and plants are common elements in many of these films, harkening to perhaps a more simple way of living through the more complex reality that we now face. I think one regret about Hong Kong is that my boys have not played in the mud frequently enough, worried as we are about the polluted air or dengue-fever dripping mosquitoes.

You’d think PIXAR and Ghibli would be almost opposed to each other, but apparently there is a great deal of mutual respect between the two.  Miyazaki has visited the PIXAR offices where he found all sorts of stuffed animals and other hints of Ghibli merchandise strewn about, and Pixar employees would often get together to watch these films, even giving Totoro a small cameo appearance in Toy Story 3 (I guess I should mention that Disney has the rights to distribute Studio Ghibli movies in the USA).

But as I sat googling more information about the films and whatnot, I found myself frequently pulled back to Youtube for musical clips from the different films. The soundtracks of some of these films has been all I’ve listened to this week, and got me to realize that I’ve been away from classical (even the neoclassical music) a bit too long. Such is the life of an uncultured slob.

Most of the works are done by a Japanese composer named Joe Hisaishi, sort of a neo-classical star in the world of music and one that I think has been far too overlooked in the USA. While he produces some catchy songs like the Totoro theme, sung by all kids in Japan and even a few adults, and even some John Williams-esque marching songs like the Castle in the Sky, he also has some deeper music, dripping with emotion at times. The Path of the Wind, which is sort of an ambient track throughout much of Totoro, is a hauntingly beautiful piece.  I actually discovered a full concert from the Budokan celebrating 25-years worth of music, and am already working on getting the DVD from Japan.

I think a hidden secret in the world of classical music is that many of today’s musicians actually got their first introduction to classical music from Bugs Bunny. The Rabbit of Seville is actually ranked as one of the top cartoons of all time and many kids learned classical music from Saturday morning fare.

So now I’m playing these songs to my kids, hoping that some of the hooks and rhythms stand out in their mind as they grow older.  My oldest, who has a good understanding of music, is already recognizing certain songs and saying “Dad, stop humming Totoro” before he starts humming it himself.

Anyway, here is a bit of a playlist for you to peruse.  Close your eyes and try to visualize your own cartoon as you hear some of these songs.  It’s not hard to do.

Path through the Wind

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Laputa Castle of the Sky (time to storm the castle)

Tonari No Totoro Theme

And if you have the time, a full concert at the Budokan by Joe Hisaishi. I’m still trying to find the DVD of this.

Original MTV VJ J.J. Jackson passed away


It happened quite awhile ago, actually.

J.J. Jackson, one of the original three VJ’s on MTV, passed away about seven years ago from a heart attack.  I didn’t know but it is still very sad.

MTV for me, like many of my age, was an eye-opening and world expanding experience.  Now it just sucks, as most anyone will tell you.

But in case you want a bit of a flashback, here are the first ten minutes of MTV captured on Youtube. Watch it quickly before the dickless pinheads that run MTV today have their lawyers take it down.

Rest in peace Triple J, and thanks for showing me there was more to music than that which I heard of my radio in a tiny corner of the world.

Queen & Freddy Mercury play Live Aid, for all you young ones who don’t know your music history

Freddy Mercury would have turned 65 today had he not been tragically taken away too early.  I have no doubt he’d still be playing, or at least having fun trying.

For those too younger to remember Queen, let me just add this clip from their performance at the Live Aid festival in the 1980s.

And for those who just watched that and don’t get the meaning of that event, here is a documentary specifically about Queen at Live Aid.

Mr. Taxi video. My Korean-pop education continues

Girl groups here in Asia are pretty popular, but unlike a smallish group of 1-2 decent singers, they have groups of 3-5-7 etc. I joked with a friend that what we really needed was a group that could double as a soccer team.

Lo and behold, they are already nearly there. Girls Generation, a K-Pop group is composed of nine members. They sing in Korean and in Japanese, and their current album is on heavy rotation on MTV over here.

It’s not like we get FM radio over here after all. Gotta make do with what you can…(here’s the lyrics)

Martin Solveig – Initial She

You don’t hear it until about minute 8:40 of this rather long video, but the instrumental track “Initial She” which was the precursor of the song ‘Ready to Go’ is prominent in this video from French DJ Martin Solveig.

I also really like the song around 5:07, another instrumental, and the Sidney Samson remix of Hello that you hear around minute 6:00 or so.

I’ve been listening to these tracks basically all day this week.

The Politics of Dancing by Re-flex

Was at Fat Angelo’s this weekend having some pizza and listening to a pretty good mix of 80’s new romantics bands on the speakers. Kind of a throwback to sitting in Garcia’s Pizza back at the University of Illinois in the 80s and listening to the same music. It’s kind of funny but there are times when you are focusing on just what is front of you, like your kids or a pizza on the table and music in the air and you really start to lose track of where you are. Yes, I’m in Hong Kong, 6,000 miles from home, but at that moment, I didn’t even notice.

Anyway, now this song is stuck in my head.

The Road to Shamballa — Three Dog Night

I think the oldest song I can remember singing was Three Dog Night “Joy to the World” mainly because it talked about Jerimiah being a bullfrog and frogs were cool. But this homemade video for another Three Dog Night classic is actually pretty appropriate. Hippies dancing, traveling through India or someplace like that.

Japanese hologram concert and music videos

Was poking through the LA Times when I came across this interesting story about hologram-based pop stars. So I followed the links over to Youtube and was floored. Some pretty amazing technology involved in presenting a “live” concert with real musicians, singing fans, and a totally computer generated singer named Hatsune Miku.

Actually like this next song a bit better–> Just be Friends by Megurine Luka (I say it is by her but she basically exists only in a computer).  I may need a shrink soon.

Download Youtube videos via Safari Extension

Safari has added a new feature in the Version 5.0 release called “Extensions”. If you have Safari running version 5 (relatively smoothly, as there have been more than a few problems) you might want to take a look at some of the new extensions you can add:

By far one of the most exciting is the Youtube downloader extension that lets you save a local copy of the content you are watching on Youtube. Quite a bit of fun. It’s on that list at the bottom of the page.

note: many people have reported problems with Safari 5 so you may want to wait until version 5.1 is available and sorts out some of the issues.