Friday, 5 March 2010

The Japanese like their public environments to be clean, well-produced and safe. Does the same trite observation hold true for their taste in popular music? And, if so, could that explain why, in 2010, the bland, pleasantly anonymous roadside chain cafĂ© which I am visiting this afternoon for the second time is again playing Foreigner, Chicago, and Peter Cetera?

Here, there is no rotation and repetition. (Take note, Daiso / Japanese breakfast TV.) ‘Denny’s’ collection of mid-80s yuppie balladry may well be vast. They play albums and I am yet to hear the same song twice. Now it’s Chris Rea (“Julia, which way will you go?”). I don’t even know most of the songs but the time, the place, is unmistakeable. It’s a time warp. Pleasant, just like John Major’s peas on Spitting Image, but insipid.

It takes little excuse for me to wallow in 80s nostalgia at the best of times, but, here, in Proustian terms, the BGM is a barrage of Madeleines.

It distracts me from my kanji homework and takes me back to the time when Foreigner reached Number One, and stayed there for what seemed like weeks, with ‘I’ve been waiting (for a Girl like You)’. Every week, the video was shown on Top of the Pops, with one sequence showing a troubled construction worker high up on scaffolding above a skyscraper. (At least this is how I remember it – I just looked up the video and that’s broadly accurate:

However ridiculous it may sound, this ‘Man with the Plank’ became a cult figure in our household for the next month or so. We would watch the video and, just before his appearance, be counting down to his arrival. We even pretended to be him, goofing / tiptoeing around the lounge with our hands raised. Today it would take no more than the intro from that song for my sister to invoke his, ahem, spectral presence. This was all meaningless fun (acknowledgement, perhaps, that his was a meaningless image in the context of an uneventful video for a polished but bland ballad, which we were watching for the umpteenth time), these souvenirs of which will no doubt cause all but long-term friends to sever all connections.

Anyway, to those that are still reading, I am committed to coming back here, for as long as it takes, until I finally hear that equally ludicrous, unforgettable do-do-de-do-do intro to Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘Stuck With You’. Surely it’s only a matter of time. And then, maybe, I’ll do something murderous and sinister, like crush a beetle under my feet on the way back home.

Incidentally, in case you weren’t wondering, I have never heard Alphaville’s ‘Big in Japan’, a song that can be interpreted on many levels, played in Japan. I therefore conclude that this may be the one MOR classic - not counting 'He's my Japanese Boy' as MOR - that the locals can just about make out the words to.

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