Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Richard Archer [Hard-Fi]

I interviewed Richard Archer the singer/songwriter of HARD-FI by telephone from Japan on 30 June, 2006. He was in a café at London's Heathrow airport, having breakfast.

CBL: Hello...

Archer: Colin?

CBL: Yeh, hi Rich.

Archer: Hi mate. How ya doing?

CBL: Good. I hear you're at the airport.
Archer: Yeh, we're sat in a cafe trying to get some breakfast down before they call the flight on us in about 5 minutes. It’s a little bit tight.

CBL: Where you headed?

Archer [aside]: You've got to eat, haven't you. We're going to Berlin actually for the Argentina Germany game.

CBL: That's on in a few hours.

Archer: Yeh, so that should be quite exciting. We're in Belgium for the England game. So, there you go. You can't complain.

CBL: Well, wish them luck. Anyway, I'd like to say I was really impressed by the album and I consider myself a fan now.

Archer: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CBL: Right, so, it stood out a lot from a lot of the other records I've been listening to and it sounded quite different at first.

Archer: There are some great British bands out at the moment but there isn't much of a sound. It's like a guitar band. Sometimes you can hear a real comparison to Libertines to Arctic Monkeys, there is a common thing. Whereas we were always more dance music, reggae, so we would never try to be part of a scene or anything like that. So we sort of stuck out because of the music and that's been the continuing of the result.

CBL: I get the impression that a lot of the other bands are very historically aware of the music, like Franz Ferdinand, there seem very. clear references to 1980s bands like Magazine and so on. You're music when I heard it - at first - it was very hard to pin down, then, of course, I started to figure out the reggae, dub, ska thing, but its not so obvious.

Archer: We sort of sat there - thanks very much - we sort of sat there and didn't want to kind of like this, "Let's do a ska number." It was more like the spirit that influenced it rather than... Why try to recreate something like that because you're never going to be able to better it. It's kind of like a moment in we kind of listened to a track and said, “Woah, that'll work...but just because we might use a reggae-type bass line, it doesn't mean that we have to have a reggae drumbeat. Why can't we play it over a drum and bass feel or something like this. At the time our plan was to release a record on our own very small label - Necessary Records and we weren't really thinking…

[untranscribed segment]

We weren't sat there thinking “What's hot at the moment there in London, and what's going on?” Rather we were doing what we liked, trying things out. We try out a lot of things. A lot of them are rubbish. A lot of things don't work. But occasionally you come up with something that sounds really cool.

CBL: I also got the impression that a lot of the quality of the music comes from the lyrics I mean…you alright there?

Archer: I think we were just then writing songs about what our own lives, and what we saw around us, what we saw in our friends lives. What we saw on the TV. “Middle Eastern Holiday” was written back in the day when the Iraqi war had officially finished and six military policemen were murdered by a mob in Basra. People say, “You know that could be me. That could be my mate.” And it starts making you think in a different way. You stop seeing it in black and white, and start thinking, “What if I was out there? I would be scared shitless.” Both sides should be at home doing what you are doing going out, washing your car.

CBL: Especially the circumstances in that particular case. I remember reading about that. It was a real cock up by the British army as usual.

Archer: Yeh, yeh. That was where we were at. We were trying to take it from thinking about people just like us. We've never seen ourselves like… You do get certain people, especially in the music industry thinking like they've got a superiority thing, where they think they're better than other people, to say “You don't read the right books, you don't wear the right clothes, you don't hang out at the right places, you don't know the right people, you ain't got the right haircut.” We've never been like that. My thing is you're cool because you follow your own path and you do what you want to do and you don't let other people influence you in doing what they think you should do. We've always tried to reach out for the ordinary people, the people who are just like us. Most people are just ignored. They are just sort of force fed what people want them to have, and they have to take it, and that's wrong. If people are not like the front page of the latest style mag or whatever, they're still the same to us....We've sold a million records and we've done five nights at the Brixton Academy, which no other band has done except for The Clash, Bob Dylan, Massive Attack and the Prodigy, and we've done all those things and yet we've never had an NME front cover, and like the NME's always cool with us but we were never one of those charming [around] with the press, so it always surprised people that we have been as successful as we are. We've bypassed those people and reached the real people out there.

CBL: I think the way it works is because you don't follow the crowd…and so you’re different. If you're different, you stand out and people notice you more. That seems to be working in your favour. Most bands are a bit arty farty aren't they?

Archer: Yeh, yeh. Always amazes me. What's so arty, what's so cutting edge? All these sort of art school bands that ever appear, they're so cutting edge: “Check this out - we've got drums, guitar, a bass, and a singer and we're going to play music that sounds like it was written 25 years ago.” Why is that so much more new and groundbreaking and cool, because you know it isn't. It's just like rehashing something.

CBL: I kind of see that in class terms, because that kind of attitude that you're describing there is a kind of a middle class thing and your music's much more of a working class thing. It's gritty and natural and saying what it means.

Archer: Yeh, I think so. It's always a kind of weird one when you start talking about class. We want to appeal to everyone. We don't want to appeal to just the working class. But a lot of people can identify us with that. But at the end of the day that's where we come from. We've never sat there ... That's the way it is. [to waitress] OK, thank you.

CBL: So, anyway, have you been to Japan before?

Archer: Yes, we have actually. We were there in November for a flying visit. We were there for a week. Had a great time, actually. One of those things where - we did a show in Tokyo and we did a show in Osaka, and. amazing, it was like another world, but similar in many ways. But a lot of people were saying that the crowds would be very polite, y’know, and they'll clap between the songs, and be aware of that. When we played Tokyo, the moment we hit the first chord the place erupted, it went crazy - quite like [gatrbled]

CBL: Yeh, it's quite different from the UK, anyway. For one thing there's not so many CCTVs hanging around spying on people.

Archer: Yeh, that's one of the things we've kind of found as we've been around lately is that people don't actually know what we're talking about in that respect. It has become a massive part of their lives. I'm sure it will at some stage. [garbled] That's our guitarist jamming in my ear.

CBL: In the wider social content. what do you think the advent of the CCTV camera symbolizes? ...Did you get that?

Archer: I think for me, it's always been about saving money. It's cheaper to get someone to look at 20 screens in a room than it is to actually say, “We're going to get enough policemen. We're going get them out of their fast car, and we're going to get them to actually reintegrate with the community to be…to go out there are talk to people and have a relationship with them. Rather than be like this kind of distant authoritarian force. Maybe you can stop things before they happen, rather than look at things on tape afterwards. But that costs money and takes time and it’s easier to put up new cameras and then deal with it later. The UKs always been about saving money, kind of a cheap fix.

CBL: Yeh, cutting corners. Yeh, one of the reasons they don't need to do that in Japan… Japan has much less crime and a lot less violence for sure. One reason they don't have to do that is because a lot of people share the same values. It's all soft power. In the UK, everybody's a bit different, right, and that creates a lot of aggro, and everybody's got their own agenda, and so society can't use that kind of soft power to keep everybody gently in line like what they do in Japan... did you hear that?

Archer: Sorry, I lost you on that last bit.

CBL: Yeh, I'm just saying that the main difference that I've detected is that in Japan they use a kind of soft social power. People usually share more or less the same values and so on, and in the UK it's much more diverse, and so that creates all these… Nobody really knows what's right and what's wrong anymore. You know what I mean?

Archer: I can see that. We kind of noticed that when we were there. Everyone has a lot more respect for each other, and so a lot of the situations don't arise. It's funny how one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet doesn't need to rely on technology for keeping the streets safe or whatever.

CBL: So far you've been writing your songs very directly from your experience from where you've lived, and now with the success, you're lifestyle's changed a lot...

Archer: I'm still living in the house I've been living in for a lot of my life actually through various circumstances.

CBL: Yeh?

Archer: The thing is to try and remain in touch with the people who are your audience, your fans. A lot of what we done has always been out and about [garbled] People are so made up. It sort of gives them hope. It shows that it can be done. A lot of the songs were written while we were still trying to get this record out. It took so long to come out We did it ourselves but it was a lot of hard work.

CBL: Yeh.

Archer: I was writing all that time.

CBL: So, you're going to stay in Staines? You're not going to do a Billy Bragg and move out to some mansion in the country, are you?

Archer: Well right now, I'm still Staines. It's handy for the airport.

CBL: Yeh – aha!

Archer: It just takes 10 minutes. You're home in 10 minutes. No plans to move yet.

CBL: It fits in quite well, then.

Archer: Yeh - all my life I'm trying to get out of it. Now, when I'm away, I miss it and realize that it's quite convenient.

CBL: I was reading a piece in the Guardian about you opening pubs with the mayor and giving beer to a horse. Is this a kind of anti-rock star kind of thing?

Archer: Pub near the producer [garbled]… I had to jump on a plane and go and do a TV show in France, but all my mates could get drunk. There you go. Those are the breaks.

CBL: OK right, It's been very nice speaking to you Richard, thank you very much. That should be plenty to work with. Thanks.

Archer: yes thanks mate, I'm sorry it’s been a little bit noisy cafe.

CBL: Yeh, hopefully I'll remember most of it if the tapes a bit dodgy. OK cheers.

Archer: I'll hopefully see you. I think we're in Japan in September.

CBL: I'll be here. I'll be back from my Summer holidays. It's so bloody hot here.

Archer: Wow, I bet.

CBL: It's the wrong kind of hot. It's humid. You're coming at a good season. September , it's a good time to come here.

Archer: [garbled] Yeh, I'll see you then.

CBL: OK. Nice speaking to you. Right, take care. Goodbye.

Archer: Thanks Colin. OK.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Tomotaka Yasui, sculptor

I interviewed the artist Tomotaka Yasui on the 6th of November, 2008. The interview took place at the tiny Megumi Ogita Gallery and lasted about an hour. The interview is transcribed from handwritten notes and may include some slight inaccuracies.

CBL: About how many of your works are women, children, and animals?

TY: About 80% have been women. Recently I’ve started making children and objects like shoes.

CBL: Is this an attempt to diversify and offer more options to collectors?

TY: Well, maybe, but even with the smaller items, I’m still using the same processes and materials and that takes much time.

CBL: Can you tell me about the materials and methods you use?

TY: The first stage is I use clay to make an initial figure. I then make a mould round this using plaster. After I peel off the plaster moulds, the important stage for me begins. I make an urushi [lacquer] mixture and put this inside the two halves of the mould and reinforce this with linen. I do this 5 or 6 times. Then, I put the two halves together and take off the plaster. The material is a bit rough so I sandpaper it. I think it’s like making a car body. Next I put urushi painting on the surface and sometimes mother-of-pearl. I put white urushi paint on the surface as a background to the other colours. To get the texture of the hair, I mix sand into the paint. The eye is marble and obsidian.

CBL: Is this figure modelled on a specific person?

TY: No. At first I used models, but now I don’t directly use a model. But sometimes I check the parts I want to use and combine them.

CBL: What about the shiny boots?

TY: I use metallic powder in the paint. In this case I think it was bronze. This is a maki-e technique.

CBL: You use traditional Japanese techniques. Why?

TY: Before I used plastic paint, but I feel this stops things too much. Once painted, it doesn’t change. Urushi is breathing.

CBL: You mean artificial or chemical paints are dead?

TY: Well, dead is a little bit strong, but everything is too fixed. It’s too much for me. With urushi we can enjoy change.

CBL: Yes, “change” is very important. So, urushi is kind of fuzzy or flexible?

TY: Yes, that’s it. It’s flexible.

CBL: I’d like to ask you why you chose to work in sculptures of women?

TY: I was born in Belgium and I also lived in Israel. I was always looking at foreign people. It wasn’t easy to find Japanese people. For me foreign people were very interesting, their atmosphere…

CBL: But your figures are Japanese people.

TY: I like the shape of foreign people, but it’s very far for me. I like Western fashion but now I’m very interested in the Asian shape. I don’t put them in kimonos. The fashion is foreign style.

CBL: In this case the fashion looks very 1960s, what with the short skirt, boots, etc.

TY: I like the old things, old designs, old fashions…

CBL: So the 1960s is ancient! When you lived overseas and there weren’t many other Japanese people, did you feel a kind of loneliness?

TY: At first. If I had Japanese people, I think I would always talk with Japanese friends, but there weren’t. But I learned a lot from meeting and talking to foreign people.

CBL: Did you feel something was missing? I mean it’s interesting that you mainly do figures of women. Why don’t you do figures of men?

TY: I like balance. I like the women’s balance.

CBL: Is it because the male figure is top heavy compared to women where the centre of gravity is lower down?

TY: Yes, that’s a big reason. In the future I want to challenge male figures, but first I need to do lots of sketching. I don’t have the experience of sketching men.

CBL: So, before you start working in 3-D, you explore the form in 2-D. Is there a difference of feeling when you make figures of women and figures of animals?

TY: Animals don’t talk, so it’s not easy to communicate with words. It’s not so far. Women have more character.

CBL: Do you sometimes feel that she might wake up, like Pygmalion, the story from Greek legend about a sculptor who fell in love with his statue and prayed to Zeus to make her real?

TY: I don’t know that story, but I don’t think so. I don’t imagine any narrative. My image is more about silence, no meaning…

CBL: But when we see these life-sized, semi-realistic figures we can’t stop psychologically reacting to them like other people – at least in part. They spark off certain natural responses. For example this figure of the child here, you feel like patting it on the head or, if you’re Italian, maybe pinching her cheeks.

TY: I live in the city. Tokyo is very special. Everything is moving fast. The action is positive, but I don’t think every movement is positive. Sometimes stopping, not thinking is also important.

CBL: So these works are saying that stillness and silence are important.

TY: Yes, but when I made these I had to move around them a lot.

CBL: You had to dance around it! Because of the poker-faced expressions, the lacquer coating, the hidden hands, the figures seem to be avoiding contact, avoiding communication.

TY: But this is my style of communicating. If I didn’t want to communicate, I wouldn’t put on this show.

CBL: So, it’s communicating by not communicating. You’re trying to communicate. What are you trying to communicate?

TY: Everyday is very fast, let’s slow down. Let’s cool it. Change of pace is very important. In Tokyo I always see things accelerating like this [makes upward slashes with his hand]. I want to get away from always moving, and express silence and stillness.

CBL: Human relationships are complex and often noisy with arguments, misunderstandings, awkward emotions, etc. Your figures almost seem to represent a desire, a wish for that kind of relationship to be simplified and made into a kind of icon. Your figures may remind some people of the otaku culture, in which people who have difficulty dealing with real relationships are attracted to virtual relationships or relationships with objects that they can control. How does your art fit into the otaku culture?

TY: I’m not interested in the otaku culture.

CBL: Are you negative about otaku culture?

TY: Otaku was a discriminatory term in Japan. At first I didn’t like it, but now the meaning of otaku is changing. But, anyway, I don’t express otaku culture. I express ancient Egyptian or Buddhist artistic ideas through my sculpture. This is nearer for me.

CBL: Egypt is nearer for you! Interesting! I notice you don’t mention ancient Greek sculpture. I guess that’s because it has this feeling of motion which you don’t like.

TY: I think Greek sculpture is very far. Egypt is nearer because the form is not so realistic.

CBL: Well, realism means less freedom because your art becomes tied to the reality of the work. You have to serve the reality. Stylization gives you more freedom to do things as an artist your own way. Is that how it is for you?

TY: I suppose so.

CBL: How about other Japanese artists who have worked in human figures, like Simon Yotsuya and Katusra Funakoshi? Are there any affinities there?

TY: Funakoshi and Yotsuya are very different from me. I think one expresses otaku and the other the more traditional and European style of sculpture. He’s a Catholic, isn’t he?

CBL: The interesting point is that you were born overseas and have lived there for some years, but you don’t express this more traditional, European style.

TY: I don’t express my experience of living overseas in the European shape, but it was very important for me because it enabled me to see Japanese culture from outside. I could compare European and Japanese. Also I was influenced by Western fashions. Japanese fashion is difficult for me.

CBL: Did living overseas make you feel more Japanese?

TY: For me it’s difficult. I live in Jaoan and I now feel very Japanese. In Europe it was sometimes very difficult to speak, but I didn’t feel so different. Sometimes I wonder where my country is. I feel because my wife is Japanese… When she was small, she played Japanese children’s games, which I missed. Sometimes she says, “Why don’t you about this game?”

CBL: With your art, which uses traditional Japanese techniques, expresses Japanese artistic concepts, and which is focused on the physical type of Japanese women, I get the feeling that your art is a kind of coming back to Japan, a kind of homecoming.

TY: Now in foreign countries, all people hear about is otaku culture. I want to introduce other aspects of Japanese culture to other countries, Japanese style, Japanese atmosphere. Atmosphere is an easy word to say, but I guess I mean silence.

CBL: In a way, although your art may superficially look otaku, it’s actually quite the opposite, quite old fashioned and traditional.

TY: I think otaku people are the same age as me and I also sometimes play video games, but only for a few years. When I was growing up, while my friends were playing their computer games, I was going to Kyoto.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Tadao Ando, architect

In December 2006, I contacted the office of the renowned architect Tadao Ando in connection with an article I was writing on the new Tokyo Midtown project – a mixed-use high-rise building set in parkland, in which Ando had designed a small, free-standing exhibition facility, called 21_21 Design Site. After a few calls and emails, I got the following answers from the architect.

CBL: Tell me about your architectural brief for this project?

TA: This is a building providing exhibition spaces for “design” that will be built in the open space of the large redevelopment district in midtown Tokyo. The concept is that we should have an insight into the power of “design” that enriches our daily life and I thus aimed to create a new place of culture for the new century in Japan. Here “design” means the activities that discover new sights and thoughts and express surprise and emotion, in an effort to convey them to the general people. This building is required to house an impressive space for these activities as well as for new encounters and dialogue.

CBL: Where did you get the inspiration for the building’s design?

TA: The design of this building is based on Issei Miyake's idea of 'a piece of cloth': it is 'a sheet of steel'. One single sheet of steel measuring over 50 meters in length was used for the roof. This required a high level of technical skill and the spirit of the people working on the project and the strength of their desire for making things was the secret to our success.

CBL: What is the concept of the opening exhibition?

TA: For the special opening program, I wish not only express my own ideas, but also to show the high level of technical expertise and spirit of the Japanese people. I aim this building to become a place where visitors can find their own potential.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Mitch Ikeda, photographer

In January 2003, I interviewed the Japanese photographer Mitch Ikeda, famous for taking pictures of the Manic Street Preachers and Oasis. The interview consists of questions emailed, translated into Japanese, then with answers returned in Japanese. Despite 'hanging out' with British rock bands, it seems that Mitch's English is pretty non-existent, while his Japanese answers suggested some of the surly insouciance of the rock stars he snaps had rubbed off on him.

CBL: I saw your exhibition at Proud, Camden, in London. Are you going to have a similar exhibition in Japan?

MI: Thank you for coming. In Japan they won't have the same exhibition. It'll be one third the size and only for one night.

CBL: I saw the book, Forever Delayed in the U.K. Has this book been released in Japan? Will it?

MI: They are not going to sell it in Japan, so people will have to get it as an import.

CBL: Do you have any activities planned to coincide with the Manics' tour of Japan this month?

MI: I haven't thought of it yet?

CBL: How did you get to become the Manics' official photographer?

MI: It was destiny.

CBL: What is your approach to photographing the Manics? What do you look for or focus on?
MI: I've never thought of it. Always natural.

CBL: What are the problems photographing a rock band?

MI: None.

CBL: You have been photographing them for a long time. How has the band changed in that time?

MI: They've got older.

CBL: How aware were you of Richey cracking up? How did his disappearance affect the other three?

MI: Laugh. Please ask the 'other three' about Richey.

CBL: There are a lot of Japanese touches in the pictures, e.g.: James Dean Bradfield's Mishima crucifixion pose; Nicky with a kanji ring, wearing 'Super Lovers' clothes, and posing with a noren; Sean wearing 'Final Home' clothes, etc. How much of this is due to you?

MI: There's no influence from myself.

CBL: Do you think Sony tried to make the band appeal to Japanese audiences by appointing a Japanese as the official photographer?

MI: I've never thought of that. This is very stupid question.

CBL: The Manics often come to Japan. How do they react to Japanese culture and society?

MI: Laugh. I don't think they come that frequently. I think it might be the opposite. Incidentally, doesn't Paul Weller come many times? Maybe both don't come enough. Are they reacting to Japanese culture and society? I don't really know.

CBL: Which is your favourite picture?

MI: I love them all because they are mine.

CBL: I particularly liked number 165, the picture of Richey jumping with a guitar. It's a truly iconic image of him, suggesting crucifixion and suicide. How did this shot happen?

MI: I took this photo at a photo shoot.

CBL: What did you think of this picture later? Did you feel there was a kind of prophecy of his self-destruction in this image?

MI: No!

CBL: Do you think the camera is capable of sometimes catching mysterious aspects of a person, things that we can't normally see, like their ghost, spirit, or a prophecy of their future?

MI: No!

CBL: Which photographers have influenced you the most?

MI: Ken Domon, Eiko Hosoe, Kishin Shinoyama, Daido Moriyama, Penny Smith.

CBL: How much time do you normally spend with the Manics every year? What do you do when you are not with them?

MI: Every year it's decreasing. Though I used to live in London, now I've got children. It's decreasing more and more because of children.

CBL: How was the trip to Cuba? What was your impression of Fidel Castro?

MI: It was the best. He's a totally wonderful person.

CBL: What did Nicky and Castro talk about?

MI: After the concert, they met Castro. Nicky asked Castro, was it loud? Castro replied, the sound of battle is louder.

CBL: When my brother interviewed James Dean Bradfield earlier this year, he told him that he was hoping to cut back on his smoking and climb Mt. Fuji with you. Did he?

MI: Laugh. No, he hasn't said that yet. I would definitely do it. Perhaps he's the kind of guy who can see the god.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

David Sutton, editor

I interviewed David Sutton, the editor of "The Fortean Times," by email in March and April, 2008, for an article I was working on about Japan's paranormal. Mr. Sutton was extremely helpful and informative, but, unfortunately, because the interview wasn't 'live,' much of the psychological data that is normally revealed by people's speaking patterns is missing. On the plus side I was spared the burdensome task of transcribing, which, let me tell you, is a very long tunnel.

CBL: Many people won't understand the concept of Forteana and will mix it up with folklore, urban myths, crank journalism, pseudo-science, and, indeed, even real science. What is your working definition of Fortean phenomena and how do you differentiate Forteana from the other categories I've just mentioned?

DS: Well, strictly speaking, forteana would only refer to the kinds of anomalies and strange phenomena recorded by Charles Fort in his four published books – most notably falls of objects from the sky, mysterious lights, appearances and disappearances of people and objects, poltergeist phenomena, weird weather and so on. Obviously, Fort died some three-quarters of a century ago, so the categories of what we would now consider as ‘fortean phenomena’ have broadened quite a bit: creatures unknown to science, like Bigfoot and the many other ‘man-beasts’ reported from around the world; UFOs and alien abductions; millennial beliefs and cults; out-of-place animals, like the big cats sighted on an almost daily basis here in the UK, and many others that Fort might not have recognised or viewed in quite the same way.
I’d be loath, though, to say that there’s necessarily an absolute difference between what we’d regard as forteana and the other categories you mention. After all, the phenomena we study shade in and out of folklore and urban legend with some regularity. Many people, for instance, would argue that most of the strange creatures encountered around the world are precisely folkloric – or born out of folklore’s modern equivalent, the urban legend. And, indeed, they often are – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also out there in the woods, where people run into them in flesh and blood. Which is where the conflicts between ‘real science’ and so-called ‘pseudo-science’ begin. Is cryptozoology – the search for unknown creatures such as lake monsters and manimals – a ‘real’ science or something practised solely by misguided amateurs and cranks? The answer will depend on your position vis a vis the scientific establishment and method.
In the end, I think forteana has more to do with an attitude that distinguishes it both from mainstream science and from the other kinds of belief that surround, say, UFOs or Atlantis: we simply remain curious – and encourage others to do so – bringing open minds to such evidence as there is, looking for more, and avoiding the exclusionism and rejection of the anomalous that often, unfortunately, characterizes mainstream science.

CBL: How important is culture and social history in influencing perceptions of Fortean phenomena? For example, people in a country, say, with certain folkloric archetypes or political traditions might be susceptible to having their perceptions shaped by that. One Japanese example I can think of is the Aum Shinrikyo cult that recycled some of the anti-freemasonry/ anti-Semitic theories popular in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s.

DS: Our experience would suggest that they are vital. I’d go so far as to say that no phenomena lie wholly outside of the fabric of cultural and social practice and belief – which is not to say that they’re not real, only conditioned by our inability to step outside our cultures and histories. In the past, most anomalies were either interpreted in explicitly religious terms – as signs and portents of God’s pleasure or displeasure – or in those of folkloric belief systems. Since the modern era, of course, the tendency is rather to attempt to explain them – or explain them away – in terms of scientific knowledge; which is itself, as we know, subject to change over time. And with specific types of phenomena, we can see how interpretation takes place in the light of contemporary social and cultural beliefs. Encounters with the ‘little people’ in Europe were traditionally interpreted as meetings with fairies; in the industrialised culture of the post-war world, with its fears around invasion and nuclear weapons, and its emergent pop-culture of flying saucers and little green men, the same types of stories mutated into close encounters and later alien abductions.

CBL: Different countries produce different types of Fortean phenomenon. I would imagine that the USA is big on UFOs. The UK seems to have a lot of big cat sightings and crop circles, etc. From the material you encounter in your job as editor, what sort of Fortean profile does Japan have? What sort of phenomenon tend to be reported a lot in Japan?

DS: Ha – not enough! In fact, I wonder whether the kinds of stories that do get reported in the West actually tell us more about certain preconceptions held here concerning Japanese culture. I’m thinking of the amount of coverage (including much by us) given in particular to cults – like Aum Shinrikyo or Panawave – the Internet suicide pacts of recent years, or the Pokemon panic in which kids supposedly had epileptic seizures as a result of watching a cartoon on TV. These are all, in a way, stories about a highly pressurised, highly technological society in which individualism is felt to be somehow under threat from corporate cultures, militant belief systems or technology itself. This strikes me as something of a Western image of modern Japan and I wonder if this is why such stories We hear much less about, say, Japanese ghosts, mystery creatures or UFO sightings, although we do cover them when we get wind of such things. If any of your readers would like to help, by alerting us to local stories that we may be unaware of, we’d encourage them to do so, either by sending us newspaper clippings (preferably with translations!) or emailing us stories. They can get details from our website:

CBL: Is there a characteristic Japanese Fortean phenomenon?

DS: The particular Fortean phenomenon reported in a place may reveal (a) an actual real thing or (b) something about the culture, mindset, preoccupations, etc. of the people living in that area. I've always thought that the UK's crop circles were tied in, in some way, with British people apparent love of circular forms - ranging from stone circles to modern day roundabouts. Assuming that Japan's reported Fortean phenomena are not actual, what do you think they reveal about the country? I would say they reveal, on one level, the same thing that reports of strange phenomena reveal the world over: that despite everything that science, and indeed common sense, tells us about the nature of our existence, extraordinary things are constantly happening to ordinary people and forcing them to re-examine their basic assumptions. Whether we’re talking about seeing a UFO, encountering a mysterious entity or witnessing fish falling from the sky, these encounters with the unknown can change peoples’ relationship with the world – both positively and negatively.
In the case of Japan – as with many other countries – they probably also reveal tensions between traditional belief systems and customs and the rapid industrial and technological expansion of the post-war years, as well as perhaps the country’s relationship with the West, particularly America. Kitsune and UFOs are both found in Japan, but the latter are to some extent an American global export, while the latter are an indigenous form of a possibly universal set of mythic archetypes. I do wonder whether one generation of Japanese would favour one over the other… these are the sorts of questions that would be interesting to explore from a Japanese perspective.

CBL: Regarding Japanese cryptids, how would you rank the following in terms of probability of existing: The Lake Ikeda Monster - "Issie," the Hibagon, the Tsuchinoko, Kappa, fox-women, giant squid?

DS: Taking them in order: Issie, like most lake monsters, seems to be problematic in terms of thinking of it as a real creature. My understanding of Lake Ikeda is that it has no rivers flowing into it, so the question of how a sizeable beast got there in the first place is a little tough to answer. The natural ‘explanations’ – such as eels in the lake – are as debateable as in any other lake monster case, but shouldn’t be dismissed. In its way, Issie has probably become as clouded by rumour, commerce and peoples’ fondness for such stories as has Nessie here in the UK, with tourist boards offering rewards and such like. I guess we’ll wait for a truly convincing photo that can’t be explained away. The Hibagon – have there been further reports since the original 70s sightings? Although the region around Mt Hiba was described back then as remote, I don’t know how far man has since encroached on any potential habitat. It’s hard to believe that a large unknown man-beast in a country as heavily populated as Japan – although they have been reported from all over the world, not just areas of large wilderness in, say, North America or the Himalayas. The sheer ubiquity of such tales suggests that we are either dealing with genuine creatures or a mythic idea so powerful that it is really a form of archetype that cuts across quite disparate cultures and has a good deal of meaning for people with very different backgrounds and belief systems. The Tsuchinoko – although rather odd-sounding, could indeed be a real creature, perhaps as our own Dr Karl Shuker once suggested, some kind of mutant pit viper. It’s also possible, of course, that the Tsuchinoko is merely the product of a persistent body of stories coupled with misidentifications of other creatures, whether snakes after a meal or larger lizards. Kappa – I’d love to see one! They are like some unholy hybrid of what we in the West would recognise as fairy lore – whether aiding or hindering humans they have a lot in common with the little people – and the terrifying water-folk of HP Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth! They are scary as hell, so I’m quite glad that I feel I can safely banish them to the realm of the folkloric – despite the occasional sightings that have been reported over the years. Fox Women – Again, the kitsune are a venerable element of Japanese folklore and art rather than ‘real’ creatures. But they are also an example of the power of myth – the reality of the mythic, if you like – in the sense that stories of ‘possession’ by fox spirits have also been the basis for genuine experiences, although these would of course be described as instances of mental illness. The question is, though, does the illness simply make use of available cultural materials to express itself – in this case the idea of fox spirits – or does the kitsune myth express something that has been known about ‘human nature’ for a long, long time. Is it an archetype, with a life of its own? And can it, then – as Jung would have argued – indeed ‘possess’ us? Giant Squid – Well, the giant squid – despite having its own legends and sailors’ tales attached to it – is undeniably real. It’s nice for us to see a creature that was often dismissed as a myth finally being accepted as a genuine creature – and largely due to the efforts of Japanese scientists and researchers who have brought us the incredible pictures and video of the living squid in its natural environment. We still have an awful lot to learn about these amazing creatures, and that is something we greatly look forward to; as well as seeing what other mysteries the oceans will yield up to us in the future. So, in descending order of probable flesh-and-blood reality (although some forteans would claim that such a term can’t do justice to the kinds of weird critters reported from around the world…): Giant Squid, The Tsuchinoko, The Hibagon, Issie, Fox-women, Kappa.

CBL: One of the most interesting Fortean phenomenon that Japan may be connected to is the connection between the WWII 'Fugu' balloon bombs and early UFO sightings in the Pacific NW. Is it possible to say that Japan kicked off the UFO mania of the 40s and 50s?

DS: Well, we’ve seen phantom airship panics dating back to the late 19th century, the Swedish ghost rockets of 1946 and the whole Flying Saucer mythos growing out of Cold War fears of Communist invasion, so it shouldn’t surprise if there was a connection between wartime US fears of Japanese invasion and weird things being seen in the sky. And, of course, we’ve seen plenty of supposed UFOs explained as weather balloons and so on. Having said that, the Fugo balloon bombs do predate what we’d normally identify as the dawn of the ‘UFO age’ with Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 sighting, so their influence on subsequent developments of UFO lore might be marginal. What seems most likely to me is that the secrecy the US military attached to the bombs may have meant that some people who encountered them at the time – with no knowledge of what they were dealing with – may then have remembered them at a later date and interpreted them as Ufos in the light of the emergence of that particular mythos as it emerged in the late-40s and through the 1950s.

CBL: One of the problems that Fortean world faces is that legitimate areas of investigation are closed off because those institutions capable of financing and supporting research are afraid of gaining a reputation for pseudo-science that might harm their other activities. A good example is the Sony ESP lab. Although the research was interesting, it nevertheless created an image that could have damaged Sony's share price. Does this kind of perception create a false barrier between things that big companies and universities are prepared to research and those they aren't, simply because it's bad for their image.

DS: Yes, it’s increasingly a problem. The golden age of psychical research – when eminent scientists and philosophers took an active interest in what we’d now call the paranormal seem a long way off, and institutions – even, for instance, the Koestler Unit in Edinburgh, set up specifically to study parapsychological phenomena – seem increasingly under pressure to reach sceptical conclusions and avoid making claims that might rock the funding boat or attract derision from the scientific community. There would be some truth in the argument that, often, the results obtained don’t justify sustained funding, but many so-called ‘mavericks’ – Dr Rupert Sheldrake or Dr Michael Persinger – would strongly disagree and produce strong evidence to back their research claims. But these are just the kinds of researchers who struggle to find funding and end up on the receiving end of sometimes quite vindictive attacks from the scientific establishment or evangelical sceptics like the ghastly Richard Dawkins.

CBL: How can this be overcome?

DS: I wish I knew. I suspect the only way that it would happen is for someone to come up with some truly repeatable and incontrovertible experimental evidence for psi or whatever. Trouble is, with the lack of current finding and hostility to such research, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. It’s a rather vicious circle, isn’t it?

CBL: Lastly, what is the most interesting Fortean phenomena from Japan that you have encountered? Why?

DS: I’m particularly fond of the story that the village of Shingo, in Aomori Prefecture, was where Jesus decided to spend the remainder of his days after pulling a last-minute crucifixion-swap and escaping to Japan. Apparently, he lived to 103, enjoying a quiet life, and is buried in the village.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer

I attended a press conference at the Mori Arts Center Gallery, Tokyo, on the 22nd of November, 2005, to introduce an exhibition celebrating the career of Vivienne Westwood. While she was taking questions from the Japanese press through interpreters, I was able to ‘buttonhole’ the famous fashion designer and ask her a few questions. Immediately before I spoke to her, she had been talking about ‘propaganda’ and the way people’s minds are overloaded and distracted.

CBL: Isn’t fashion part of that distraction, though?

VW: Um, well, you might say that, y’know, going to the theater is part of that distraction. You might say that eating a meal is part of that distraction. I’m just saying don’t only eat McDonalds, y’know, and don’t just have all this, y’know, this, um, y’know... Be discriminating and don’t consume just for the sake of consuming, y’know, I mean... So, no, it’s not non-stop distraction necessarily at all. It’s… But anyway I don’t wish to defend fashion. I mean, if people don’t wish to buy fashion and, y’know, they just cant be bothered, that’s up to them, y’know. I mean, they, they must make the choice. Just asking them to make the choice, not, not to just consume because somebody’s telling them thats what they ought to do and they’re just programmed to consume.

CBL: It’s like having a TV set like when you’ve lost the remote control and you can’t switch it off.

VW: I think the greatest of those evils is the non-stop distraction because if you’re constantly bombarded with music, whatever it is – people suffer from a lack of solitude: you have to be alone... And I just made this speech earlier on, and this is my message, .but the thing is I can’t read the book for you You have to do it. I mean I can only say please have courage, y’know, pursue anything intellectual, em, because… I would really like to say switch off. And by the way just to answer your question a bit more fully, my favourite answer that I gave last season at a fashion show… Somebody said to me I’ve just done a menswear collection, and they said what would you like young men to buy next season. I said nothing.

CBL: Yeh.

VW: So, I’m not saying you have to buy it, I’m just saying…

CBL: So, people should sort of dip in and out of fashion if they’re behaving naturally, probably?

VW: I just think you’ve got one life and you have to just choose if you want a real experience in your life or if you want to be, y’know, have this virtual experience and just be this cipher, and, as I said, I would like the World to be a better place, and there’s no chance if people don’t think and just consume the latest propaganda and buy the latest, y’know, whatever it is that fills this gap, y’know.

CBL: Maybe that’s connected to how, how…

VW: Thinking. You don’t have a gap if you’re thinking. You can’t get in there, y’know.

CBL: Yeh. I saying, maybe that’s connected to how passive people are or how, y’know, assertive they are.

VW: Well I think that’s this is what this pill is about. It’s about y’know... People say to me, y’know, ‘Oh you’re too pessimistic,’ y’know, ‘The World will get better.’ Why? And they say, they say ‘I believe in young people.’ And really I don’t believe in young people. They’re the last thing you should believe in because, no, no, because, y’know, right now… When I was a baby I was not bombarded quite so much as the children today. I mean Kofi Annan he just said the aim of the United Nations is to give every child in the World a laptop. Now then, I don’t know. Presumably that means that somehow they can get educated, but to me its taking away education. It’s more distraction, honestly. And, so, that to me is propaganda. Let’s have everybody thinking the same or not able to think at all.

CBL: Is that part of the reason…

VW: Your filling their head. You take away imagination. Every time you press buttons, it’s as… You’re not thinking. You’re looking at a page and you’ve read something, you’re thinking. Every time you play one of those games, a child has no imagination. Imagination is the most important part of intelligence.

Interpreter: Sorry, I’m sorry, could I just interrupt for the benefit of the other people.

VW: Sorry. No, but I mean, nevertheless that was part of this answer wasn’t it.

[Interpreter goes into translation mode]

CBL: Well, everybody else has to catch up with that.

VW: Sorry.

CBL: She's trying to fill in everybody else.

VW: It’s amazing how she remembers.

Loren Coleman, cryptozoologist

Loren Coleman is a well-known 'cryptozoologist' and expert on suicide behaviour. He is the author of several books, including "The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates" and "The Copycat Effect." I interviewed him by telephone in his office in Portland, Maine, on the 26th of February, 2008, and spoke to him for 34 minutes. Following his request, I also 'cleaned up' the interview.

CBL: Regarding cryptozoology, most people's first idea is that Japan is such a crowded island that it would be unlikely to find new and undiscovered forms of life. What do you think about that?

LC: Well, I think that your assumption that you're repeating from the general public is true, but I'm well aware that there are different cryptozoological reports from Japan, and there has been down through the years.

CBL: But what about the perception that Japan is this very overcrowded island, so that everything that is there should be known by now? Do you think that holds up?

LC: Well, I think that even most Americans now understand that there's different parts of Japan. There's urban centers in Japan and then there's more wild areas that cryptids like the Honshu Wolf, the Hibagon, and the Tsuchinoko could still exist in. It may be a misperception among people who aren't well educated that Japan is overly crowded, but most North Americans understand that Japan is very diverse.

CBL: Living here, that's my perception, that there are places that are, as people expect, very, very crowded, but there are also other areas that are almost completely left alone, and then there's also the aspect of ocean life with the very deep waters around Japan, so there is a lot of room for the unexpected to occur.

LC: All of the legends from the Devil's Triangle and sea serpents to ships missing and different things like that are pretty well known too.

CBL: I'm also interested in the factors that determine which creatures are not fully known, not just physical factors like environment, like having a large unexplored area in which to live and hide, but cultural factors. Often, you might get cryptids living in areas next to communities that are maybe not so developed scientifically, or which have a certain kind of culture or mythology, which, in a way, helps that animal to remain partly known but not completely known.

LC: Well. I think that's very true. I mean you have the Ainu, a dying native people of Japan, and I think, even among Japanese, the folklore of the Ainu is relatively unknown, but you come across some parts of their folklore. American culture, European culture, and Japanese culture can make their own assumptions about what’s there, even though to the Ainu, it may have a completely different meaning.

CBL: Western scientific based culture has this urge to classify and specify things, and some other cultures don’t have that. They're maybe more happy to allow something to have a peripheral existence and not to be brought into focus, to sort of exist in the corner of our eye.

LC: Well, that's very true. What you state about Western culture may look scientific from the outside, but from my fifty years of being involved, there are just as many Americans that will say silly things like the reason we don't know about Big Foot is because they can become invisible or that they're practicing telepathy. So I think even within the strict, more scientific American culture, you'll often get these very borderline kind of theories that have nothing to do with bio-science. When we go to Japan and try to study something like the kappa, imp-like creatures who live in lakes and rivers, the question is are they part of folklore or are they real animals that haven't been discovered? And I think the unfortunate thing that most ethnocentric cultures do is that they try to put their own values on another culture.

CBL: That's also a problem with cryptozoology in Japan. Comparatively recently Japan adopted our Western scientific approach to things. Less than two hundred years ago they had a completely different culture, which was much more based upon traditional ideas of animism and mythology, so a lot of times in Japan, you're dealing with folklore or mythology, rather than cryptozoology, aren't you?

LC: Oh definitely. I studied the whole period from 1945 to about 1950 in Japan, where a lot of their science fiction and a lot of their cryptozoology overlapped, so that most of the explanations had to do with the atomic bomb and radiation and mutation. So that very harsh period of the post war in many ways transferred from that calmer, mythological, spiritual sense of these creatures into where we have today. The whole tradition of Godzilla really comes out of that, that these aren't creatures that were cryptic. They're more creatures that were produced by atomic and hydrogen bombs.

CBL: So that gets in the way of finding and identifying new species and creates that cultural space for them to hide.

LC: Right. I've actually had two groups of Japanese cryptozoological researchers come over and visit me, and what I notice is that they came out of a UFO-based/ mutation kind of framework before they were really cryptozoologists. The extra-terrestrial, 1947-kind-of flying saucer culture seems to have taken hold in Japan before the cryptozoological framework.

CBL: Generally, there's a lot of fascination with that aspect, for example, the very large pictograms at Nazca is something they're very interested in. They're always looking for a greater significance to the universe, so there's a great hunger for those kinds of theories, no matter how outlandish.

LC: From my understanding of Japan those kind of outlandish theories, including the existence of the island of Mu and the ancient astronaut theory, are very interesting for them, so, to try to talk to them about abominable snowmen or sea serpents or lake monsters has really been an uphill battle. But on the other hand the Japanese were one of the first people to go over to over to Loch Ness with submarines. So, that's the other side of Japanese culture. They tend to really use technology. They were, in some ways, in the forefront of using technology to try to understand cryptids in a way that only Americans and British and Scottish people caught up to later.

CBL: Getting away from folklore and myth and focusing on the evidence that there is something that hasn't really been fully discovered, what do you think are the most realistic candidates for something to actually be discovered later in Japan?

LC: I think that the Japanese universe of cryptids is a really interesting thing. It goes all the way from the Hibagon, which is this ape-like creature that's supposed to haunt the mountains, as being very unlikely, all the way to the Tsuchinoko, which are the small, normal-sized snakes that seem to be vipers and venomous. Some of those stories seem to be much more realistic with good eye-witness accounts and officials interested in them, and hunts being organized. There are even some old drawings and the possibility that in the 17th century there may actually have been some captured and mentioned in scientific journals in Japan. Then there are populations of wolves on certain islands, that may actually be 'extinct' wolf species that are still surviving. So I feel there is a real continuum in the accounts that I hear about from Japan, all the way from the fantastic and creatures like kappa that really don’t have any tangible evidence, all the way to the wolves and snakes which may actually exist.

CBL: The ones that are more likely to exist are usually the less interesting ones, aren't they?

LC: Right. The lesser cryptids don't get all of the publicity, but they're actually the ones that are probably much more realistic.

CBL: With the Hibagon, that sounds like a local version of the Yeti. It's like they heard about the Big Foot and the Yeti and they've transposed that to Japan in some way. Then there's a lake monster down in Kagoshima, in Lake Ikeda, which sounds very similar to Nessie.

LC: Right. Very much so. I think that there's a lot of copycat syndrome that goes on, where people really see there's a lot of excitement about Big Foot or the Yeti. They hear different things and they kind of localize it. Actually there was a very famous movie "Half Human" made in 1957 that was supposedly about the Yeti in Japan. It was by Ishiro Honda, who went on to do Godzilla later. But his first film that he did, his first science fiction film, was about a Yeti in Japan.

CBL: Certainly since the Meiji revolution, Japan has wholesale imported technologies and mythologies, things like Christmas and Halloween, so I wouldn't be surprised by that. It's just interesting how they sometimes give it a local twist. Changing the subject, you're also very well known for your work on copycat suicides and cults, both areas that have relevance to Japan, which, as you no doubt know, is the leading country in the world for internet suicide groups.

LC: Right, in my book I did include some cults, where people would go to certain beaches and kill themselves. Some of those cultic kind of suicides have certainly occurred in Japan.

CBL: Yes, it's interesting that they do have certain areas where suicides actually go to kill themselves, and one of them is in the vicinity of Mt. Fuji. Those remote, isolated, romantic-sounding places often attract this kind of behaviour.

LC: In my book, I do a whole section on Japanese places that are very special, like Saipan, where there were lots of suicides right after the war, and I do talk about the forests around Mt. Fuji, which increasingly have suicides occur there, so much so that according to some research I did, the police have to go in there and remove bodies once in while.

CBL: You mention suicides in Saipan after the war? Can you tell me a bit more about that?

LC: Americans may over-dramatize the suicides that occurred when the war was ending, the whole business about shame and losing face, but what I bring up to date in the book is that many relatives, after the war, would take boat tours to Saipan, they would take the boats over there and kill themselves by jumping off the cliffs. So it continued after the war. That's the special-ness of the places that I was reffering to around Mt. Fuji and around Saipan. It's still seen as a place to go and kill yourself.

CBL: So, why do you think they would do that? What would be their motivation to actually go to the location?

LC: There were special places around the World, like Golden Gate Bridge. Fifty per cent of the people who die on the Golden Gate Bridge have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. They don’t jump off the Bay Bridge. They go across, because it's the magnetism of certain areas and sites that for no rational reason they just become fixated on. There's places in England like that. There's a bridge in Quebec. In other words, there are just these locations, usually like cliffs and bridges and mountains, that become special in this way. There's a definite connection to height of the places.

CBL: I guess with the Golden Gate Bridge, it has a connotation of the kind of golden gates of heaven, as well, for a lot of people.

LC: It's a very beautiful place to die, according to the way people who have survived to talk about it. You're standing on the bridge. You look out over the ocean. It's just extremely beautiful, and when you're in so much pain that you want to die, you want to die beautifully I guess.

CBL: But with the suicides in Saipan after the war, there it sounds like they wanted to be with the people who were dead already.

LC: Right. That was more the connection to ancestors. That's very much a cultural thing that I deal with in the book. I think harakiri has been overblown in American culture and we don't really understand it, but deep down underneath it, there is a sense of shame and honor and a connection to ancestors that certainly is very prevalent in Japanese culture. For Japanese, it's very much connected.

CBL: It's also due to differing religious views as well, because the traditional view in Western society is that if you die you go somewhere. Maybe in Japan it's a bit different because of the animism. Maybe there's a lingering belief that you don't actually go anywhere. You just hang around, usually at the place where you left your body. I mean, that's very apparent at funerals. When people go to funerals here, after they come back, people throw salt at them to scare off the spirits of the dead who might have followed them home.

LC: I see. Well, I think the other extreme American view is that suicide is sinful, and I think it's certainly my understanding of the Japanese culture that it's not put in those harsh religious tones.

CBL: Now, in your work on the copycat effect, did you come across things like the otaku culture and the hikikomori phenomenon?

LC: I'm not sure. I might have written about them in a different way.

CBL: Well the hikikomori, they're basically people who disconnect themselves from society in Japan, and they do that in the most obvious sort of way, which is to stay in their rooms and to exist in a virtual world of computer games or whatever, so as to just not deal with other people. There are variations of that. For example, there's also something called sotokomori, which are Japanese people who actually go overseas because living overseas disconnects them from society also. It's all connected to the otaku culture which is people who become obsessive about something, something like computer games or comics. Also, another aspect of the otaku culture is the internet and communicating in a virtual way and then that kind of feeds into things like internet suicide clubs as well.

LC: No, I did not specifically get into that. In many ways, while the book came out in 2004 and though it was really written in 2003, I noticed that there had been this whole explosion of the internet suicide phenomenon after the book came out. But the otaku culture sounds like most writers that I know. In my book, I talked about the 1986 wave of suicides connected to a Japanese singing idol, Yukiko Okada, where she climbed to the 7th floor of her recording studio building and jumped off, and that led to a wave of suicides of teenagers jumping off buildings. That was an example of the more or less traditional suicidal cult caused by a lot of media fanning the flames of what was going on. Then I also wrote about the kamikaze, a form of suicide that was really in many ways classic brainwashing, where they were taken to certain islands to be indoctrinated.

CBL: Do you think there's something in Japanese culture or society that makes them susceptible to that kind of group nihilism?

LC: No. I think that that's cultural bias, I really do. I think there's just as much in Western countries. I mean Heaven's Gate and the Solar Order of the Solar Temple, and so on. There was even Jonestown, the phenomenon of African Americans in the San Francisco area moving to South America committing mass suicide. So I think that in almost any culture you can find a portion of the population that certainly will go in the direction of giving the control of their lives to someone else. I write about that in my cultic copycat chapter, where it really is those people who are often vulnerable and may have committed suicide on their own, who decide to do it as a group.

CBL: So the factors that determine it - apart from something like the kamikaze thing, which was tied to exigencies of the war - are that certain people are predisposed to suicide and that when they get into a group, that just triggers it off, and that is something that could happen anywhere.

LC: Right, it can happen anywhere. It can be very self-reinforcing, once you’re in that cult.

CBL: Right now, the example I'm aware of is in Wales, the town of Bridgend, there seem to be a lot of teenagers who seem to be behaving in this way, copying each other and committing suicide.

LC: Yes, exactly. I was actually interviewed by "The Independent" and "The Times" about that, and I've been in the papers quite a bit because they are now blaming the media for everything that's going on. The parents are erupting and yelling at the media people as they're coming round, so in Wales, the situation has really got out of hand.

CBL: But of course there are certain factors in cultures and societies that can actually reinforce this sort of inherent tendency among certain groups. Like in Japan, for example, the fact that they do have this otaku culture which encourages people to associate through the internet or not at all must be a reinforcing factor.

LC: Certainly in any culture you'll find certain mean behaviors, I mean average behaviors, and outside of those you'll tend to find individuals being reinforced in their tendency to suicide. One of the major morbid factors is isolation. If you have a culture or part of a culture that is reinforcing isolation that can strengthen this tendency. Also, as I said before, one of the things you've got going in Japan is that they are very culturally aware and technologically tuned in, so, if you have a culture that is wiring itself to the internet and reinforcing isolation, you may slowly get a higher rate of suicides that are quote unquote, "caused by internet communication." The copycat factor there can be quite high. I've seen waves of it going through England and certainly even some of the classic examples from America, where, after Marilyn Monroe died, a hundred-and-ninety-seven women killed themselves. We've also seen that with Kurt Cobain. And now you can see that in the internet age when certain methods, for example the use of charcoal grills inside automobiles, has been reinforced and spread by people talking about it on the internet. In Asia there are also texts being produced on how to do it. The instantaneous communication of the Internet certainly lends itself to the speed up in the copy-cat effect.

CBL: The Internet is famous for its ability to spread things in a viral way, but this suicide copycat phenomenon is like a mental virus, isn't it?

LC: Yes, the whole meme idea, the whole notion that it's like dropping a rock in a pond with the ripple effect.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Tadanori Yokoo, artist

I had been hoping to interview the artist Tadanori Yokoo face-to-face with the help of an interpreter, but that didn't work out, so, instead I submitted questions in Japanese by email. Unfortunately, Mr. Yokoo's answers reached me too late to be translated into English and used in my article. One day I'll post the interview in English, but, for now, here it is in Japanese. I wonder if this will be a case of 'lost in translation'...

CBL: 最近の作品の多く(少年達が何かを見つめている姿が描かれている作品)は無邪気さと冒険心のテーマをもっているように思います。なぜこのようなテーマが今、貴方にとって重要ですか。貴方の歳と関りがありますか。

TY: ぼくの絵画に登場する少年達は十代に読んだ冒険小説や探偵小説に登場する少年達である。ぼくの人格を形成した十代の様々の出来事に彼等も大きい影響を与えました。 そしてぼくの創造のインスピレーションの源泉の大半は十代の経験や思索や記憶が忠心になっています。それは年齢を加えるに従って大きくなっています。十代に対する想いは郷里に対する想いでもあります。十代に経験した恐れ、不安、希望、夢、または他の不透明なもの(前近代的、土着的なもの)が無意識の中に沈澱していますが、それらを創造行為によってひとつづつ吐き出すことがぼく自身の近代の超克でもあったのです。だから何度も何度も反復するのです。

CBL: 冒険とはどのような事を意味するのですか。「愛の回想」のように多くの作品から、私は冒険とは無邪気さや性的知識を失う事と同じだと感じます。

TY: 冒険は肉体を通して異界と接触する行為です。そのことによってこの現実と分離したもうひとつの現実を認識するためでもあります。つまり現実の拡張です。また自分自身の領域の拡張でもあります。「私」という存在は謎に満ちています。「私は一体誰なのか?」というぼく自身への疑問でもあります。それを生の側から見るだけではなく死の側から見ることも必要です。冒険は常に危険と隣り合わせです。安全な場所からではなく危険な場所に足を踏み入れることによって本来の「私自身」(それを魂と呼んでもいいかも知れません。)と遭遇するためです。あなたは冒険によって無邪気さや性的知識を失うとおっしゃっていますが、それは逆です。冒険の中には子供の持つインファンテリズムがあります。この少年性(幼児性)はひとつのテレビであると同時に一方では残酷性も所有しています。このインファンテリズムこそ芸術家の創造の核になっています。ぼくは少年の無邪気さの中に解放された、または閉鎖された性的な感情を感じます。

CBL: 私は貴方の絵画を拝見しながらフロイドを思わずにいられません。例えば、水、危険、そして性的欲望の結合です。また、ターザンとワニの闘いは性的欲求の抑制の試みを表現しているように見えます。そのようなフロイド派の解釈はどの程度、正当でしょうか。

TY: ターザンのワニの闘いは性的欲求の抑制というより解放を意味します。または自分の中に存在する自我との闘いかも知れません。自我が人間を解放し、自由を獲得するかも知れませんが、ぼくはその自我をもっと解き放って、最終的に自我を解消させることを望んでいます。ぼくにとって創造は自我が入口かも知れませんが、また自我が出口でもあります。

CBL: なぜ、しばしば同じ素材を繰り返し引用するのか教えてください。例えば、「よだれ」は「香港1997」や「エルザの叫び」などで後に使われています。また、三島由紀夫も多く使われています。それはどのような目的がありますか。

TY: ぼくの反復は時間を表わしています。かつて時間は静止していると考えていました。しかし近代になって時間は流れ始めました。ぼくの反復は、昨日の時間は今日の時間に反復し、それがまた明日に反復するという時間論でもあります。

CBL: なぜ今回の展覧会に於いて、ルソーをパロディー化する事になったのですか。

TY: ルソーはぼくにとって無意識の表象でもありました。しかし一般的にはルソーの作品は素朴であるとか、夢であるとか、楽しいという風にとらえています。ぼくは決してそのように見えません。ぼくはルソーの絵画に隠蔽された(ルソーが描かなかった)無意識のさらに奥にひそむ怒り、恐怖、残酷、不安、笑いを引き出したかったのです。実はルソーのあの素朴な夢のような絵の背後に隠されている謎を引きずり出してみたかったのです。こうすることによってルソー芸術を批評したかったのです。絵画による絵画批評の試みです。

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Jamie Reynolds [Klaxons]

I interviewed Jamie Reynolds out of the Klaxons on a very bad line on the 11th of September. 2007. I spoke to him for around half an hour, but I have only transcribed about 20 minutes of the interview. In a typically confident, literate, eloquent, and well-rehearsed interview performance, he only saw the need to namecheck this blog once - a record low for a native English speaker.

Sugar [Bob Mould, David Barbe, Malcolm Travis]

In 1992, while visiting the offices of the rock magazine "Riff Raff," I was suddenly asked to do an interview with the band Sugar, regarding their forthcoming album "Copper Blue." I agreed to help out, even though I knew zilch about the band. (I later found out that they were quite critically acclaimed.) This is how Riff Raff used to operate and perhaps is one reason it is no longer in business.

The interview was at a hotel near Madame Tussaud's in London. I spoke to Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis for around 50 minutes in an astounding interview performance that generated a veritable tsunami of 'y'knows' and other verbal tics.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Takeshi Yoro, intellectual

Dr. Takeshi Yoro is a Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University, a famous Japanese philosopher, and the author of the best-selling book, “Baka no Kabe” (The Wall of Fools). What follows is not an interview, but has some of the characteristics of one. In late 2006, I contacted Dr. Yoro and asked him to write an article explaining his philosophy for publication in the spring edition of a magazine I was editing at the time. Although we corresponded in English, the final piece was written in Japanese and then translated into English.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Kisho Kurokawa, architect

I met the architect Kisho Kurokawa on the 12th of December, 2006 at his office in Akasaka to talk about his new building the National Art Centre Tokyo. We spoke for around 90 minutes. I remember that he was lively, spoke good English, wore braces, and was looking at a collection of medals and awards laid out on a large table. Before I could finish transcribing the entire audioscript, however, the disc mysteriously malfunctioned and I lost the recording. This is why there are gaps in this interview and the end is missing. When Mr. Kurokawa died less than a year later, I retrospectively interpreted the loss of the recording as an omen of his death - spooky!.

CBL: How did you approach this project? How did you get the inspiration for this project?

KK: It started 10 years ago at the time when Murayama was Prime Minister. Since then, a lot evolved from various constraints like budget problems. The preliminary name of this project was the National Gallery, but finally they changed the name to the National Art Centre.

CBL: That sounds like quite a different thing, as well.

KK: Yes, because of it has no collection. That is the most advanced type of museum. Such an age we are now living in. With the IT technology we can see a real image – more real than the real one, than someone who has a collection… We can see a more real image through the Internet.

CBL: It’s not the same as seeing the real painting. But you can get more access through the Internet.

KK: But because we already have digital, high vision high definition type of the television, with Internet technology it is really more than the real things. Sometimes the real one is behind the class case…

CBL: …or there are heads in the way.

KK: So, so, so. We cannot see the real texture. I have, of course, such an experience. But from the image through the Internet – oh such a detail! So, in that sense, we must think what is the real role of the future museum? Is it necessary to collect the whole the original paintings and sculpture, and is it possible for us to collect the Impressionist painting now? Almost impossible! Sometimes one painting is the same value as the construction cost of the museum.

CBL: And it’s so difficult to get the art to Japan with high costs.

KK: So this kind of museum – the first museum with no collection – is a more positive way to break through the situation of the new era of the museum. ‘What is the museum?’

CBL: So, it’s almost like the museum has become a kind of airport.

KK: Airport or just space, or the environment.

CBL: People passing through – art passing through.

KK: Yes, to meet together and to see any kind of images from all over the world, and then we need a huge space and the IT linking, the optical fiber and Internet linkage and also the more advanced type of the handling space of the works. So, I did really the kind of automatic storage type - compact mechanism of the delivery…sending out…

CBL: I went down there and saw how it was organized.

KK: It’s the storage industry or something.

CBL: I thought it was like a giant artistic filter system.

KK: OK, yes, that is a good… yes…

CBL: You have these lines and you have the art coming in and some of it is selected…

KK: Filter means the jury people just sitting around – hee hee – and, by the second, the picture is passing through.

CBL: The structure was like a filter as well. Was that a conscious thing?

KK: Yes, of course, because the intention is such a thing….

[gap in the transcription]

KK: It is the representation of my philosophy of symbiosis. My most important books.

CBL: Symbiosis means two things living together….nature & mankind?

KK: Reason and feeling…

CBL: Darkness & light?

KK: Man and nature, humankind and other animals, interior and exterior, spirit and body…

CBL: Hardware and software?

KK: This year I published my 100th book. It is Kurokawa year in Japan.

[gap in the transcription]

CBL: I think philosophy is a problem because I think, compared to architecture… because with philosophy you can’t see it and feel it, but with architecture you can see it and feel it. With philosophy, the form it normally takes are words, and every word is questionable, y’know. Who knows what one word means? For different people it means different things, then when you have a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter, then a book the amount of variation in understanding increases, so language is very fuzzy and confusing for most people.

KK: I think the art, architecture – or the masterpiece of architecture – is fuzzy. It should be fuzzy. If this is the real value of the painting of Picasso, of the architecture by Le Corbusier – it is fuzzy. We don’t know the real intention by Le Corbusier. Of course, I can read his book and I can check his message, then I can feel the feeling of the space, but of course this is my feeling. I’m not sure Le Corbusier’s intention is my feeling or not. So, this kind of creation is the masterpiece. If this is easy to understand… This is the factory. This is functional. This is easy to understand. This is the entrance way. This is the exit, but this is not art. This is not fuzzy, but not architecture. This is my understanding.

CBL: So, you want architecture that creates ambiguity?

KK: So, so, so, so, so!

CBL: ….and a little bit of confusion?

KK: Ahaa! Yes, hopefully. That makes the people thinking or makes the people go into the maze.

CBL: My problem with philosophy is that it becomes too abstract, and what you always need to do is have very clear examples and then it’s a lot easier to understand. So now the best example that we have before us now is the National Art Center. What sort of elements did you introduce to create this kind of ambiguity?

KK: The first one is the ambiguity of interior and exterior. My feeling is that it’s quite successful. I’m not sure if people can feel the same way. The second way is this, is the hi-tech and primitive; hi-tech because it is transparency. I’m using very hi-tech details in a clip on the façade and a cleaning robot, and laminated the louvers for controlling ultraviolet and sunshine energy. So for these details is very environmental thinking.

CBL: I remember walking down the corridor and the lights go on when you’re there and off when you’re not.

KK: And the façade itself – complete 100% transparency but also 100% cut off sun energy and ultraviolet rays.

CBL: All the ultraviolet is filtered out? A bit like the bad art! Another filter system?

KK: But in a sense this is the saving energy technology, but the people can feel the tender lighting is coming in. This is not just technology. This is something like a good feeling of sunshine. This is another ambiguity or multi-variety.

CBL: What sort of primitive elements? You said hi-tech and primitive.

KK: Can you understand the floor? That is ironwood from Borneo.

CBL: I noticed the holes drilled in the ventilation panels [in the floor].
KK: That is air conditioning, but all floor are wood, natural wood imported from Borneo, because this is hard enough. I can keep this floor a hundred years. Durable! That’s why I can use this floor of interior space. It’s continuing outside of the facade – the same material. That makes the people very ambiguous feeling ‘I’m interior? Or I’m standing on the exterior?’

CBL: They don’t even notice, maybe, when they enter the building.

KK: And the touch is soft because of the wood.

CBL: It absorbs the footsteps more.

KK: And we can feel the nature, walking on the nature. One side is very hi-tech architectures and one side is very primitive, natural…

CBL: I also noticed some wicker chairs. Instead of plastic, which you expect, there’s wicker chairs. Then of course, the other thing I noticed was the bamboo gardens.

KK: So, so, so! It makes the whole feeling of the nature. Even the storage is hi-tech, the facade is high tech but still very natural.

CBL: But very stylized nature, because, for example, the bamboo garden the bamboo was very straight and geometrically arranged.

KK: Yes, intentionally.

[gap in the transcription, but I remember that he talked about the mathematician Benoit Mandlebrot and the way in which fractal geometry had made designs more flexible]

CBL: Why the cones?

KK: This is simply because of cost. They wanted a restaurant and a café in the front part of the building. I placed both of them above the atrium and to maximize floor space below I reduced the base of each structure, creating the inverted cone shapes. The facade then undulates around them.

CBL: It’s hard to believe that such an aesthetically pleasing design was dictated by purely practical rather than aesthetic reasons.

KK: Yes, but this is the essence of my theory of symbiosis – I was seeking a symbiosis between form and function.

CBL Two birds with one stone

[the transcription ends here]

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Dr. Lakra, artist

I interviewed the Mexican artist Dr. Lakra on the 11th of January, 2008, during a visit to the Yokohama Museum of Art. He was participating in a group exhibiton "Goth: Reality of the Departed World," which also included Ricky Swallow, Pyuupiru, Tabaimo, and some others. I had gone there to interview the curator, Eriko Kimura, but got to speak to Dr. Lakra as an added bonus. I didn’t record the interview which is given here from my shorthand notes.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Adam Levine [Maroon 5]

I interviewed Adam Levine on the 12th of January, 2008, by telephone. He was in Los Angeles where he had been working on the video for "Goodnight Goodnight." I was in Urawa. The interview lasted around 20 minutes, during which he namechecked this blog a commendable 19 times.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Bruce Dickinson [Iron Maiden]

I interviewed Bruce Dickinson by phone on the 26th of January, 2008. It was 3:00 am (25th of Jan.) in the UK and he had just finished a day of rehearsing for the "Somewhere Back In Time" world tour at the Pig Iron Studios. The interview lasted around 30 minutes, during which he namechecked this blog a record-breaking 68 times (see bold type) - Well done, Bruce!

BD: Hello.

CBL: Hello. Can I speak to Bruce Dickinson?

BD: Ah, yes, speaking.

CBL: Oh hi, this is Colin Liddell phoning from Japan.

BD: Oh, hi there. How are you?

CBL: Yeh, hi, I’m fine. I was supposed to speak to you yesterday, I think, and that didn’t work out, so I’ve got a few questions about your coming trip to Japan. Is that OK?

BD: Absolutely. Go ahead.

CBL: Right. So, first of all, you’re in the studio right now. What are you doing in there?

BD: Well, I mean at the moment, all we’re doing at the moment is rehearsing for the tour, and, in fact, we’ve been going all week, and we’ve pretty much just knocked off for the weekend, having a couple of days break, and then we just do one rehearsal Monday, and then that’s us all ready to go, y'know, we’re um… It’s all sounding pretty good actually, so we’re very pleased. Some of the songs we haven’t played for 23 years.

CBL: Yeh. So you’re having to relearn a lot of things?

BD: Well, we were, well, we were really surprised, um, the first day back into rehearsals, uh, we went through.. Well, actually, we went through… We managed to get through all the songs.

CBL: Yeh?

BD: So, I think everybody is so excited about this tour. We’ve… I think everybody’s been putting in a bit of work on the side. Eh, so everybody came pretty well prepared for stuff really. There was only the odd moment where we went ‘Oh hang on, how does that bit go?’ y’know, but it was really, really great, and it was very exciting. I mean some of the songs we hadn’t played together for a long time and, uh, y’know we’d really… y’know just… It’s one thing to think about it, um, uh, from a distance but actually to go and play those songs is so exciting.

CBL: How hard is it to kind of dredge up the old memories of the songs, the lyrics and everything and how they go?

BD: Ummm, well, I mean I, I got a couple of… I got a couple of CDs made up of the set that we were going do, and I just carried it around with me and played it, and sort of played it in the bath, played it in the shower, and then when everybody was out of the house, uh, I used to walk round the kitchen island and sing the set to myself. And just, y’know, remind myself of what the words were, because we don’t do any stuff like, er, these guys who use auto-cues or anything else like that, y’know. We actually remember the words – huh huh.

CBL: Yeh. So, your way of kind of bringing back the songs into your memory, it’s very similar to the way a lot of the fans would behave. I mean that’s the sort of thing they’d do. They’d listen to it in the bath. They’d sing it in the kitchen, whatever, as they’re going around their daily life.

BD: Well, yeh, and that’s exactly what you have to do, I mean, y’know, when you look down at the audience and everybody’s singing the words, erm, y’know you better make sure that you’re on the same page.

CBL: Hu hu, yeh. That would look back, yeh. Now I want to ask you why have you… Why has the band decided to, eh, focus on the 80s material again?

BD: Well, eh, one reason… About two or three years ago, uhm, we said we would, um… We had a very successful tour last year in which we played exclusively new material, start to finish, on one set. We played the whole of the new album, um, and, uh… What always worries us, certainly, is being lumped in with some of these other kind of nostalgia acts that go out there.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And that’s, y’know, that would be absolute death for us. Em, y’know, we go out and we do these tours as, y’know, celebrations of stuff we’ve done, um, but in between times we do full-on album tours in which we play, by and large, almost exclusively new material, um, and what we find by doing that, by sandwiching the tours in that way, we actually increase our fan base and increase the excitement value of what we do.

CBL: Uhu.

BD: Constantly. We’re in a stage now where, ah… We have, well, in actual fact, we have never played to as many people as we have done, as we will be doing on this tour, um, in as few shows. And it’s just extraordinary what’s going on. I mean in terms of like, y’know, South America, we’re playing to 50,000-seats sold out stadiums. In Scandinavia we’ve got, we’ve sold quarter of a million tickets across six shows.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: Yeh. It’s amazing. We were never ever this big at any point in our careers at all.

CBL: Yeh, and so this, this vast new audience that you’re accessing with this tour, they’re going to be getting all the 80s stuff, like, full frontal, so they might get the impression that Maiden are quintessentially an 80s band.

BD: Uh, well, no. Eheh, quite the opposite, because, in actual fact, none of these kids were born in the 80s.

CBL: Mhuh.

BD: Um, most of these kids have become Maiden fans, um, with “Brave New World” and “Dance of Death,” and the last two or there studio albums that we’ve done, so they’ve grown up with the material, but they’ve also bought the back catalogue but they’ve never ever heard the band perform it.

CBL: Uhuh.

BD: So for them this is legendary.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: Yeh. They haven’t… Y’know, they weren’t even born in the 80s most of these kids that are buying the tickets to see the band, so, for them to have the opportunity to come out and see us playing this stuff, for them is absolutely extraordinary. Um, and they know that this is probably a one time opportunity for that to occur, I mean, because we won’t be going out and playing a lot of these songs again ever.

CBL: Yeh. It is a one off thing? That’s for sure, yeh?

BD: Well, no. This is… Bringing back the Powerslave tour to all these various territories, yeh, this is a one off thing. We won’t go back to a lot of these places again with this show. I mean one or two places we are gonna have to go back. We’re already making plans to go back to South America because there have been riots in several countries because we’re not playing there.

CBL: [sniggers]

BD: Um, in Venezuela they found out… The audience discovered the address of the local promoter and police, the riot police had to be called because they besieged his house…

CBL: What were they actually demanding? Demanding more shows or…?

BD: We didn’t do a show. We’re not doing a show in Venezuela.

CBL: Aha, alright. That’s why.

BD: They’re demanding to know why, why he doesn’t book a show in Venezuela.

CBL: Aha, so they have to go across the border or…

BD: I don’t know why he didn’t book a show in Venezuela but I’ve got a feeling we’re going to have to do one.

CBL: Uhm.

BD: In Mexico City we’ve booked a stadium, a 20,000-seat stadium, um, and, uh, two weeks ago they had to move it to a 48,000-seat stadium.

CBL: Uhum.

BD: We’ve sold that out now.

CBL: Yeh, it’s certainl,eh… This tour’s taking on gigantic proportions and the other thing…

BD: Yeh, this is not, y’know, this is not, y’know, like old men coming out of the woodwork to go and see the band.These are young kids, um, who have been brought up with the band, who’s experience of the band, y’know, is either anecdotal or it’s new material, by and large, and, um, this stuff is just taken hold. I mean, we we’ve hardly advertised this tour. I mean…

CBL: It’s sort of just … It’s done it by itself virally, or…

BD: Yeh. This is word of mouth. This is a million and a half people… This is like an uprising of a million and a half people round the World going to go and see Iron Maiden.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: A band that you can’t see on MTV or VH1 or TV Network or the X-Factor or hear on the radio or anything else like that.

CBL: Can I also ask you about… You’re taking your own airplane this time as well.

BD: Yeh.

CBL: Um, it’s kind of interesting because you you’re actually flying it, right? But…

BD: Yeh, I’m flying some of it. When I’m not working with the band, I work for the airline, who we’re leasing the aircraft off. I work for the airline as an airline captain, yeh.

CBL: Uhuh. Yeh, I heard you took Rangers down to Israel for a football match. What was… Why did you, why did you… I heard you volunteered for that.

BD: No, I didn’t actually. I mean, I, it just happened to appear on my roster.

CBL: Uha.

BD: I didn’t know it was Rangers. It was just… It was a three-day trip to Israel, so I thought ‘that sounds like fun.’

CBL: You’re not a fan of Rangers or anything like that, are you?

BD: Sorry?

CBL: You’re not a fan of Rangers, are you?

BD: I’m not a fan of any football team. I’m a rugby fan.

CBL: The other, the other lads in the band are West Ham fans, aren’t they?

BD: Not all of them. Steve’s a big West Ham fan, um, but, uh, yeh, I don’t think anybody else is particularly. He just has his his, his thing, em, because he used to be a junior for West Ham, so it’s kind of… West Ham is kind of his religion, but I was never, I was never particularly into football when I was a kid, so I’m, eh, pretty neutral. I’m fairly immune to football. I thought the Rangers guys were great. They were, y’know, fun guys to have on board the aircraft, and we went to see the match and I discovered that I was wearing the wrong coloured hat [line interference] Hapoel Tel Aviv, yeh, Hapoel Tel Aviv, we were seated in their stands [line interference] with this bright blue hat on. [line interference] It was kind of amusing because all these people sat there in their red hats turning around sort of going ‘Are you a Rangers supporter?’ I went ‘Uhhh, no, not really, I’m just a supporter of humanity in general’

CBL: Yeh, football fans are really…yeh…

BD: [line interference] they couldn’t quite figure out that somebody at a football match that was just, uh, curiosity, but hey there you are, y’know.

CBL: I think it’s interesting you, em, you’re into different sports from Steve because, y’know, people often think there’s a bit of a tension there, or you have different philosophies about the music. I mean, one thing I saw on the DVD with “A Matter of Life and Death,” you’re talking about, eh, different approaches about writing the music. I mean, you’re obviously, because you’re a lyricist, you think the words should come first, and you were also talking about Steve’s view that the music is the most important thing because, y’know, a lot of the fans haven’t actually… A lot of the fans around the World don’t actually understand English well enough to get all the nuances.

BD: Yeh, I mean, and, and that’s just stuff you have to work through really. [line interference] I think you come to a series of compromises to make the stuff sound great, y’know, um, but if you’re writing songs in English, y’know, and things like that, it’s like, y’know, if you’re a playwright, you don’t worry about the fact that people who don’t understand English might not get what you’re writing about. You just go ahead and write and do what you do, um, so, yeh, I mean I think… Basically I think all the ingredients and all the various personalities that comprise Maiden over the years have come up with some very successful stuff, so, y’know, I just think like y’know, yeh, we all have differences, but all the differences combine to make us successful.

CBL: Yeh. I’m interested in, y’know, em, where you’re coming from as a songwriter, because you, you do start with the words and um… Words do suggest certain emotions and emotions lead into music and so that’s one way to write music. I think it’s a more organic and honest way to write music in a way, coz if you just start with an abstract piece of music…

BD: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily go that way. I think it just depends, y’know… Some of it depends to an extent how you, y’know, how your brain’s wired up as well, and different people have different strengths and different weaknesses, y’know, um, and I think the good thing to do is always to respect other people’s strengths and to know your own weaknesses.

CBL: Yeh. So it’s a case of you and Steve kind of complementing each other in a way by having different strengths.

BD: He’s good at a whole bunch of things that I really have no interest in.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: Yeh, um eh, I’m interested in the end result and I’m interested in, y’know, the emotional input and things like that, y’know, and Steve is absolutely fascinated by twiddling knobs and, y’know, the minutiae of everything. Y’know, I see that as being ‘Well, hey, y’know, OK, fine, I guess somebody has to do that job.’ I get really very bored with all that. He absolutely adores it, and so, y’know, between the two or three or four of us, y’know, whoever’s writing all the songs it all gets done, and that’s great, um, y’know. It is, it, it is complementary. We do work together as a team. We’ve been together now for God knows how many years. We all know our little foibles and, y’know, we all know when to, y’know, when to push and when to back off, y’know, in terms of getting our ideas across.

CBL: Umh. Yeh I’d like to ask you about the kind of inspirations behind your lyrics because just like, y’know, heavy metal lyrics, eh, of its very nature, it tends to go for the extremes and the kind of hyperbolic thing, the big impressive sounding imagery. It’s like a constant attempt to invoke the spirit of the sublime, y’know, in the original sense that Edmund Burke used it. Em, so you, you, y’know tend to write about the great themes and metaphysical things, rather than kind of mundane day-to-day kind of kitchen sink stuff. How does your sort of song-writing inspiration eh fit within that context?

BD: Um, yeh, I mean, I…ehhh… I mean, metal’s a pretty, y’know… Metal’s fairly melodramatic kind of stuff. Um, y’know, Metal is in many respects, if you were to take it and compare it to, uh, other forms of, y’know, other forms of performing, it would be at the very least musical theatre and it could be like really absurd opera, y’know. And all of those things tend to take a fairly broad brush approach to things. They want to make a bit impression.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And metal is a bit like that, y’know. Um, although, y’know, and there are shades within it as well, y’know. Add all the Hollywood bands. And I don’t think they do necessarily do go and deal in, uh, timeless classic themes. They do deal in the minutiae. The trouble is it tends to be the minutiae of used condoms, um, so it’s a bit raggedy and y’know, it’s all about the sleazy sordid side of life in graphic detail. Maiden have never gone for that, y’know. We’ve figured that people want to go and explore that kind of stuff they can just… There’s plenty of places you can just go and do it on a Saturday night down the pub, y’know. We’ve always decided that we wanna tell stories…

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And they don’t necessa…y’know. And stories may just be kind of open ended. They might just be, uh, fairly non-judgmental retellings of adventure stories that you can set to music, or sometimes, y’know, yeh, they might a little… They might be something we’re trying to put across in the song, but by and large we tend to tell stories. They are, they are stories. They’re either stories and we either pinch them from legends or we pinch them from history, or we glue two bits of legends together, or we plunder a bit of Shakespeare and we turn it into something else. So, that’s what we do.

CBL: Is that very different from what you do as a solo songwriter with your solo albums, coz I, I believe they’re a lot more introspective, aren’t they?

BD: Yeh, they are, um, I, yeh. I suppose I, I still indulge in, y’know, the desire to go and tell stories, but I don’t necessarily have to tell stories with a plot.

CBL: mm-hu.

BD: Y’know. You can tell stories of a journey.

CBL: It’s more stream of consciousness sort of thing?

BD: Yes. But you can tell the story of a soul’s journey, or something else like that, I mean, there, there’s… The album that I’m the most proud of, I suppose, is the one I did that was based on, partially based on, but mainly inspired by, um, the works of the poet William Blake.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: And that was called “The Chemical Wedding,” which was also an illusion to alchemy and the way the soul changes through the years, uh, and of course because Blake was himself was certainly an alchemist, was almost certainly an occultist, who would have had esoteric knowledge and it’s infused in his poetry, and, so, it was an attempt to just try and tap into bits of that imagery and bits… I mean I’m not claiming in any way, shape, or form that it’s fit to wipe Blake’s arse, most of it. It’s just my attempt at some kind of homage to Blake, because he’s an inspirational poet who I think embodies the soul of much of what is termed rock and roll now.

CBL: Yeh. Um, so it sounds like you got a lot more, kind of, artistic freedom when you’re working solo. And when you’re with Maiden, there’s other expectations that come into the equation. Is that how you see it? Is it a bit more of a tighter place artistically?

BD: But having the ability to just do what you want all the time with nobody else, with no checks and balances, isn’t always a way to make the most, um, y'know, successful pieces.

CBL: Yeh, it’s good to have something to push against sometimes.

BD: Yeh, absolutely. Y’know, some of the best things… I mean, I’m always reminded of, y’know, probably the most memorable bit that the composer Rossini ever wrote was the William Tell Overture. Um, but by the time he wrote that, he’d pissed up all the money, that he’d been paid. He’d been commissioned to write several pieces. He was an alcoholic and he spent it all on drink, so, em, his sponsor finally sent the heavy mob round, kidnapped him and locked him in a room and said you’re not getting out until you write something that’s any good, and miraculously the following morning, out popped the William Tell Overture.

CBL: Yeh, yeh, it’s just the pressure of… A lot of good things are written in prison, as they say.

BD: Yeh, absolutely. I always say, y’know, if you gave somebody… If you said, ‘Oh folks, listen, here’s, um, a limitless amount of money and we’re going to pay you loads and loads of money and all you have to do is just sit down and come up with something really, really brilliant, but we’ll just keep paying you money until you do. It’ll never happen.

CBL: Yeh.

BD: But if you say ‘Here’s a prize and the person who comes up with the most brilliant thing gets the prize,’ I’m sorry there’d be geniuses coming out of the woodwork.

CBL: Yeh, this kind of leads into an obvious line of questioning. Like, you’ve obviously with, sololy and with Maiden, you’ve already achieved a lot. You’ve got enough money, all your needs are taken care of. What keeps driving you, driving you back, to, y’know, keep on going, to keep producing stuff?

BD: I get bored.

CBL: So, it’s boredom mainly, yeh. That figures because you’re a bit of a Renaissance man. You seem to be going in a great many directions with, y’know, the various things like writing novels, sword fencing, em presenting the, eh, show on the BBC, etcetra.

BD: Yeh, I mean, life is, y’know, to me… I can’t understand why we’re put on the planet unless it’s to push against boundaries. Y’know. Otherwise what’s the point of being here?

CBL: Yeh, so it’s like…

BD: And, y’know, um, um, um, money and all the rest of it, y’know… As long as, y’know, as long as you’re not, y’know, panic-stricken about starvation or shelter and things like that, y’know. And I have a sort of pleasant enough life in the ‘burbs, y’know, em and, y’know, I can… It’s not like I spend vast amounts of money on stupid crap, y’know, but I do, y’know… I’ve got plenty of money to be comfortable, but money doesn’t make me comfortable. What makes me comfortable is ideas and having things to do, and creating things. That’s what makes me feel comfortable and fulfilled, um, and, y’know, that’s what excites me. When I get a new project or, y’know, a set of ideas or something to create, that’s what excites me.

CBL: So, it’s not the love of the crowd, like a lot of people suspect with performers?

[warning bleep that my phonecard’s credit is about to expire]

BD: No, it’s actually… No. It’s not, um, it’s not the love of attention from lots and lots of people. But it is a love of attention. It’s a love of attention from your peers, and it’s a love of attention from people who respect your ideas.

CBL: Right. I’ve got just one last question. Eh. Do you remember RIFF RAFF magazine from the 80s?

BD: Oh God, yeh, a long, long time ago. Great magazine!

CBL: You must have met our editor Mark Crampton…

BD: Oh, Mark, yeh sure. We did some great interviews. How is he?

CBL: Still rockin'. I'll tell him you were asking...Anyway, I've kept you too long. It's been nice talking to you and good luck with the tour and I hope to see you when you get here.