Where ever you have to go next for this book, I’d like to pay. Hurry up and take the money before I die.”
So offered a very kind and arrestingly macabre family member a month ago, one who wished not to trifle with any crowdfunding business. What am I, too good for my goddamn family? I accepted and booked passage to Japan. An eye-opening and fruitful excursion followed, one that enriched not only my forthcoming book but also my friggin’ soul. Please enjoy some captioned snapshots from my journey below.
Thirteen million people live in Tokyo, so it’s a little congested (as you may gather from this morsel of skyline). Many of the city’s streets are unnamed as well, but if you’re good with landmarks you’ll have no problem getting around. And the subway isn’t that difficult to figure out. Even when it is, the staff down there are more than happy to assist the hopelessly confused. The first time I bought an incorrect ticket they knew before I did!
The four hundred fifty yen breakfast deal at Matsuya, one of Tokyo’s most beloved fast food establishments. Perfect for the language impaired tourist—punch your order in on the computer, take the ticket it prints out, sit down, give the server your ticket, BOOM, food. And tasty as all get out.
The Shibuya district at night. I don’t know if you can tell from this image but many of the crosswalks in Tokyo are at odd angles, curving and stretching diagonally as if to anticipate jaywalking patterns. Pretty clever.
Poorly translated bootleg apparel is a cottage industry in Japan and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Not even the Bortles are safe.
Physical media isn’t dead in every corner of the globe. To wit: the eight story Tower Records in Shibuya, an unreal monument to music and consumerism. Yes, they have the new BabyMetal. They have an entire floor for J-Pop (and one for K-Pop, and one with a book store / restaurant).
A tribute to fallen Megadeth drummer Nick Menza on the Western Rock floor of the eight story Tower Records. I tried to have a moment of quiet reflection but there were approximately five stereos within two feet of this display and they were all playing different things. There’s some noise pollution in Tokyo.
A fresh burger from Freshness Burger. That’s egg and chili on that bad boy (at least that’s what I think it was). No fries, or “potato” as they like to call it. Gotta cut back somewhere. Freshness Burger is reasonably priced but many an item or service in Tokyo is not. New Yorkers will feel at home.
Here’s what happens when you attempt to photograph an exclusive event occurring in / around the Harajuku area’s Tamagotchi store—an employee of the store will give you the big “no” while a cop tries to decide whether or not to yell at you. They were firm but polite. Those folks crowded around the window, they showed up so early—don’t cheapen their experience!
This is the interior of a Disk Union, a record store chain that has twenty or so locations around Tokyo. Every one I visited was crammed with stock just like this. Found lotsa rare greatness here but the favorite record shop I visited is Recofan (which is just one outlet in a mall) only because it has the largest, most varied (and cheapest) used section.
Some concepts are universal, like fishing programs on Saturday morning television. This woman was very excited to have caught her little buddy here. Later that day I watched a dubbed version of The Rocketeer. That film may have been a bigger hit Stateside had they sold it as a Japanese property.
I cannot lie: I ate at KFC in Japan. The chicken is prepared for an Eastern palette. It’s lighter, thinner, less “down home” (in the parlance of U.S. comfort food). Still plenty of grease, though. Yes, this particular location has an actual bar. You need a craft beer with your biscuits and gravy?
I don’t know what this is all about. I guess you can live out all your Nintendo fantasies in Tokyo, even as Captain America and Cookie Monster.
All the excitement of Doritos without the excitement! This is good place to mention if you’re out in Tokyo and you need help or directions, the average Japanese citizen would love to assist you but conversational English skills are rare. Learn to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, do you understand English?” in Japanese and conclude interactions with a bow (luckily some words, like “coffee” and “Barack Obama,” transcend cultural barriers).
The kitchen / office of my sublet in the Shinjuku neighborhood. Figuring out the microwave wasn’t easy but I eventually sorted out how to properly heat a dumpling soup from 7-Eleven (surprisingly high quality). Did I mention the jet lag from the U.S. to Tokyo? It’s Herculean. If there’s a secret to conquering it I still don’t know. Spent many hours standing around this room in a daze.
Recently I visited the cozy urban confines of Oslo, Norway to chew through research for my coming book on punk rock’s development outside the U.K. & U.S. (thanks, crowd funding). I found the people friendly, the food exquisite, and the water pressure in most bathrooms adequate. Here are a few images from my journey with the requisite commentary.
The bucolic Norwegian countryside as seen from your plane as it soars into Oslo. Unless my geography is total excrement, that body of water is the Vorma (Warm) River.
The days are long during Scandinavian Summer. Some argue they never really end. This photo was taken at three in the morning in downtown Oslo. My internal clock was definitely thrown by the lack of dark. I ended up sleeping in shifts of three or four hours throughout my stay.
Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where they award the Nobel Peace Prize. You would be surprised how close this esteemed building is to a T.G.I.Friday’s. I looked at the menu; they have the same Jack Daniels-battered crap as the T.G.I.F.s here. It all probably tastes better in Norway though since they have such strict regulations against preservatives and chemicals.
A group of teenage-looking guards at Norway's Royal Palace. There’s a whole protocol to be sure but it seems less intense than guard situations in England or the U.S. Getting a decent picture of the palace and its impressive surrounding vegetation is a little difficult—at least it is if you're me, a real not professional photo-taking guy.
Concrete proof they have more than one car in Norway. Let me also take this opportunity to dispel the myth that Norwegian money is wooden. It is not. It is paper and coins just like everywhere else.
My go-to breakfast spot on this trip was Kaffe Brenneriet, where you can get many a delectable item (like this ham sammy). They have a few locations around Oslo and their staff is quite pleasant enough I must say!
Indeed, we all demand den beste pølsa (the best icing) for our hot dogs. Your guess is as good as mine regarding the contents of this grocery store item. Not pictured: the Heinz brand American Hamburger Sauce.
Vibrant trees in Grønlandspark Botsparken, a recreation area just behind Oslo Prison. It’s the country’s largest prison but they only house three hundred fifty inmates. Might as well be an elementary school. America’s largest prison, Louisiana State Penn, is home to five thousand.
Everybody speaks English in Norway, as evidenced by this hilarious graffiti.
The fountain that anchors Sørli plass, a nice little area for reflection that rests near the intersection of several traffic arteries. Only the adrenalin junkies on mopeds gave me any kind of pause.
There’s a great three story record shop in Oslo called Råkk og Rålls and it’s the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful piece of crap on vinyl. Didn’t buy it because I needed a concrete reason to return.
1. Let It Be (1984)
It’s all here: stirring romance (“Androgynous,” “Answering Machine”), exhilarating throttle (“We’re Coming Out,” “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”), utter tomfoolery (“Gary’s Got A Boner”), tremendous production. And that Kiss cover? How dare they move us via the songwriting of Paul Stanley?
2. Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981)
You can feel the wood splintering as this album busts through. A triumph of zip gun punk melting into rock n’ roll branded by the nascent Westerberg’s candor and wit. It’ll make you believe again and again and again.
3. Hootenanny (1983)
Chaotic and chicken fried the same way their live act could be (“Lovelines” is just Paul reading the newspaper over the band’s noodling), is this the truest representation of the ‘Mats? A rambling rush glued together by smudges of incredible melody that club soda sure as hell ain’t gonna get out.
4. Pleased To Meet Me (1987)
Stripped to a three piece with mounting pressure to quote-unquote make it and these dude still deliver massive kick. Every song’s a potential FM hit. We can recognize why this didn’t happen. Society at large basically doesn’t give a rip about Big Star or covered bridges.
5. Tim (1985)
Overcomes the handicaps of an enormously ugly album cover and flat soda production with truly monolithic songwriting. “Bastards of Young,” “Left of The Dial,” “Here Comes a Regular”—legends unto themselves.
6. Stink (1982)
A dip into hardcore punk. According to these dizzy Midwesterners, the genre needs harmonica (“White & Lazy”) and power ballads (“Go”). Plenty savage and fun. Bob Stinson’s leads go off like tracer missiles.
7. The Shit Hits The Fans (1985)
Most artists would bury a recording of a bad gig. The Replacements released this one as quickly as possible. Such is their charm. After a few listens you grow accustom to only hearing sixty seconds of every song that strikes the band’s fancy (including hits by Zeppelin, U2, and R.E.M.).
8. Don’t Tell A Soul (1989)
Their most naked stab for chart glory. Desperation doesn’t taste too bad coming from these guys. That said, they should have gone whole hog and asked Paula Abdul to do something.
9. All Shook Down (1990)
This one gets an asterisk since Paul recorded it as his solo debut and the label railroaded him into filing it under Replacements. Lots of acoustic pop not very removed from the ‘Mats DNA…but definitely not the trouble boys.
What a fine time to remind you I am the author of This Music Leaves Stains: The Complete Story of The Misfits (not so complete any more), available for purchase here. The Austin Chronicle likes it, saying I “pull no punches” as I “accurately and respectfully” barrel through the group’s saga. Psychobabble claims this volume is “informative” and “thorough” and “pretty much anyone will get a kick out of it.” You know what? I don’t think it’s too bad either.
Here’s something you can do for free: take a look at the online photographic supplement for This Music Leaves Stains and see a wealth of Misfits imagery I couldn’t afford to license for print publication. Imagery like the photograph above. Look at that goddamn punk rocker. He’s sick of everybody’s shit.
If you’re curious how a dope like me wound up writing a book like that in the first place, this interview might help explain a thing or three.
Thank you for your interest and consideration. We remain one thirty eight.
“Yeah, well, you’re either on drugs or fuckin’ crazy if you think Hate Your Friends is the best Lemonheads album.”
“You gotta hear this cover of ‘Strutter’ by the Donnas. It’s really respectful to Kiss’s original vision and the guitarist, she just nails Ace’s solo!”
“That’s so disrespectful, man. Helloween’s not hair metal. Hair metal is, like, Vince Neil, Mötley Crüe.”
“Before Wheels of Fire came out I dreamt that Cream would release a double album with a silver cover. And then they did! Can you believe that?”
“Hey, I know you’re into all that Touch & Go shit. You know, whatever, I just wanna know where to start with all that fucking shit.”
“Mudnohey, huh? How do you think they feel about you buying their record?”
“Bricks Are Heavy? Pfft, you can have my copy. Let me go home and get it.”
“I know you’re only like ten or eleven but you have to learn what the real world is like. I can’t sell you this Van Halen cassette because you have most of the money. I need all of the money.”
“Oh great, that dog snuck in here and shit near the register again.”
“I’m gonna open this Nashville Pussy CD and put it on the shelf uncensored and I’m gonna blame you so I don’t get fired. Because I don’t like you.”
“This kid just stole a Master P CD and it’s like, I don’t mind except that Master P sucks. If you’re gonna steal something, steal something good.”
The “Yaxzon Jackson” dissection of Off The Wall concludes! Enjoy these final entries, one of which boasts a heated debate about long deceased Federalist and potential time traveler John Quincy Adams.
As always, deep thanks for listening. Coming soon: the televised afterparty.
1. Danzig III: How The Gods Kill (1992)
Power is not always a gateway to corruption. This album is nimble in its conquering, turning volume and balance on a dime. Unbelievable we’re 20 years out from HTGK and neither the sweaty sex of “Dirty Black Summer” nor the grease-stained knuckle crack of “Left Hand Black” have become radio staples. Even greater tragedy: the dust that’s settled on “Sistinas,” Danzig’s enormously stirring and best ballad.
2. 4p (1994)
Are they parodying the concept of rock as Satanist propaganda or is this a vote of confidence? Either way, baritone bravado barrels through squalls of cyberpunk effects that brilliantly serve incredibly realized compositions. 4p is the final stand of the original Danzig lineup; they go out guns blazing.
3. Danzig (1988)
Stripped down biker rock just as foreboding as the bleached skull on the cover. And yet this record is fun, fun in ways you can’t experience when you make a concerted effort to have it—it’s a byproduct of anger, weirdness, and nerves. To wit: the band had only been together six months before they cranked this out. All the more reason to stand back slack-jawed.
4. The Lost Tracks Of… (2007)
Double album of b-sides/rarities that has no right to boast such excellence. Deserves to be recognized as Danzig canon. The only misstep: the absence of “You & Me,” that explosive blue-eyed soul throwback the band gave to the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987 (under the moniker Glenn Danzig & The Power & Fury Orchestra).
5. Danzig II: Lucifuge (1990)
The frenzy is a little unfocused and the production slightly tepid but this is still world class hard rock when such a concept was quickly falling out of vogue. Add the loose twang of “I’m The One” to the “hits that should have been” pile.
6. Deth Red Sabaoth (2010)
The comeback album to which no one paid any attention, proving humans take more pleasure in complaint that solution. Relaxed and in the pocket, Danzig unfolds anthems that fit comfortably between the band’s ballyhooed early ’90s construction and the modern crunching they have favored since “Biker Mice From Mars” went off the air.
7. Danzig 6:66: Satan’s Child (1999)
Not corny but Korny. The denser textures test our mercurial vocal hero; he sounds shockingly hoarse throughout. That said, the sonic broth behind him has gratifying solvency, and it draws to a close with dusty legend “Thirteen” (the merit of which was cemented by its inclusion in The Hangover).
8. Skeletons (2015)
A fierce round of thunder paying tribute to the Troggs, Aerosmith, Elvis, and numerous proto-punks who first inspired Danzig. Rollicking good times even though the world didn’t need extra renditions of Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” and ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy” (Christ, of all the Top songs!).
9. Thrall: Demonsweatlive (1993)
The EP that catapulted Danzig into the popular consciousness like never before is an uneven mix of studio and live cuts culminating in the undeniable hot sneer of “Mother.” Satisfying enough to make you buy the other albums (which everybody did) and/or wish they’d release the entirety of this concert.
10. Circle Of Snakes (2004)
They accused Glenn of going too nu metal so he doubled down; Circle of Snakes is wall-to-wall chugging, scraping, and squealing, all compressed so heavily the first emotion you feel is constipation. Solid songwriting saves the day, even when Glenn’s voice is buried alive.
11. Danzig 777: I Luciferi (2002)
One would assume the addition of Murphy’s Law guitarist Todd Youth and D Generation bassist Howie Pyro was an attempt to put Danzig back in touch with his punk rock roots. Alas, no spirit of ’77 blood rush arrives; this one meanders through stale turn of the century feculence.
12. Danzig 5: Blackacidevil (1996)
There is a sinewy charm to the industrial mechanizations that comprise Glenn Danzig’s wholesale stab at being Trent Reznor, but Blackacidevil is uniformly maligned for a reason. The sounds don’t come close to matching their techno-terror inspirations and the songwriting is largely by-the-numbers. And yet, there are a few (“Serpentia,” “Power of Darkness”) which may stick.
13. Black Aria II (2006)
Part of Danzig’s two album foray into classical music. Yes, our boy has emotions that cannot be conveyed by the conventional means of his wolfy voice and rock n’ roll accompaniment. This chapter is more rounded and complete than its predecessor. It’s also moodier (read: more Danzig). If a blacker aria exists we have not heard it.
14. Black Aria (1992)
Orchestral music that sounds almost entirely composed on a keyboard with orchestral instrument settings. Could be mistaken for the soundtrack to a 16 bit video game, incidental noise from Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, or the dulcet tones one hears in a mall or shopping plaza moments before a Spirit Halloween store suddenly materializes. Goth at any rate.
15. Live On The Black Hand Side (2001)
This double live album could have been an incredible testament to the Danzig group’s musicianship over the years. Unfortunately, in keeping with the concert releases of Glenn’s previous bands, Black Hand suffers from laughably poor quality in large stretches. Even the cover looks bootlegged. Defeat, snatched from the jaws of victory.