There's a long story as to how Mr. Children, apparently a very popular and somewhat U2-ish Japanese rock band who happen to have the best band name of all time, better even than Paraffin Jack Flash Ltd., came to my attention and ultimately to being selected by The Machine for me to cover today. It starts with myself and several friends having rented a private karaoke booth for lulz, only to be confronted by book after book of song lists in Japanese and Korean, and me leafing through the Asian books picking out fragments of English to see if I could recognize anything. I managed to find the title of a song I not only recognized but also loved: "Tomorrow Never Knows", which turned out not the be the Beatles song but a totally different tune by, yes, Mr. Children, which was instant love for me. The kicker was that, as the "Tomorrow Never Knows" on Revolver is basically a two chord vamp, I was even able to sing John Lennon's melody over the karaoke track to the Mr. Children song (a sizeable hit in Japan).
I must've found this story amusing enough to relate it to my bandmates, and some months later our bass player Cliff gave me this Mr. Children album (深海) as a Christmas gift. I love my band.
I didn't feel like I could just phonetically reproduce the lyrics on this like I did with the Bjork piece last week; the Icelandic on that one seemed part and parcel with the otherworldly a capella sound (and yes, there is surely a special place in hell for me for such cultural reductionism), whereas this song was a sort of folk-songy lyric-driven thing. And there's no translation available.
So I hit on the sort of novelty approach of not so much transliterating it as pretending that it's English to begin with and that I had to figure out what the words are, as if it were a My Bloody Valentine or early R.E.M. tune. And by the time I got to the lines "The humans beat up the showboat / The gecko TV blues" I noticed that I seemed to be producing a completely normal Beck song. Weird. I really like how it turned out. It's funny, but in a cool way... I hope Mr. Children might approve.
Rex Broome ~ Everything, including his recorded debut on harmonica, which is poor
Transliteration (or whatever; there must be a name for this process) assistance ~ Eden Hain
I still really like this one, and it may be the point at which I realized that 39-40 could become something special beyond its original insane parameters. I don't think it ever did, because to have truly done so I think it would've needed to accrue a larger audience than it ever did. In my mind, the enterprise of this track was interesting enough, and the results sufficiently competent and entertaining, to be one of those things that friends might forward around to each other or share on Facebook or whatever, and that might've led-- or so I narcissistically imagined-- to an actual following of people who hadn't previously known me following the nuttiness of the attempt. Didn't happen: the average 39-40 page was viewed by about 12 people, and anecdotal evidence suggests the vast majority of them knew me for some other reason. But there was, briefly, The Dream.
The reason I thought that it might fly with this particular track was The Novelty Factor. It seems to me that most online music (by which I mean basically stuff you hear about by online word-of-mouth as opposed to regular media or "professional" reviews and critics) depends more consistently on humor and satire or at least unbelievable weirdness to gain social traction, and does even better if there's a "story" to how the song got that way. I've tended to shy away from even the appearance of "novelty" in my musical work, particularly in my own songwriting and especially in the "official" stuff like the Skates & Rays LP, even though I know I can do it fairly well... it just feels like cheating for some reason. But in the context of 39-40, where each song is by nature somewhat disposible, it seemed a little bit inevitable if I was going to keep the approach fresh and varied from day to day, and this seemed to be a pretty easy gimmick to accept since there was at least a chance that the end result could be interesting out of context-- and I think it is. To me, at least, it radiates a joy in language and avoids any kind of Engrishy cultural condescension. My conscience is pretty clean on that last point because Eden and I did the transliteration very scrupulously... we could've stuck jokes in there or chosen to go with funnier substitute words when we couldn't quite land on an English equivalent, but we didn't.
Beyond which, the track as I played it and sang it came out way better than I expected. The harmonica is not as bad as I judged it at the time, and listening to it now, my singing is way better than I'd thought it was (as opposed to much later in 39-40, where my singing is far worse than it has any right to be). Overall, I guess I just hope-- and this is kind of one of my overriding ambitions for many of these tunes, as perverse as it may be-- that this would be a thought-provoking recording to discover out of context in the distant future, and not one that you'd mind hearing again whilst trying to figure out just W, precisely, TF.