Being For the Benefit of Mr. K

archive7

Sometime in the recent past, Gus van Sant made a poorly-received film with an actor pretending to be Kur(d)t Cobain in his Last Days on Earth. I forget the name of this film — Heart Shaped Coffin? All Apol-Eulogies? Suicide Solution? — but apparently the movie crescendos with the mopey guy in the blond wig singing a song of his own creation “inspired” by Cobain’s work. Perhaps Pavement’s “Flux = Rad” was unavailable for licensing.

Now, Japan’s most sincere and upright music label Avex has released a compilation album “inspired by” the van Sant film, entitled LAST DAYS~tribute to Kurt~. I’m glad they used “Mr. K” because I honestly cannot think of a more appropriate nickname for the Cobainster.

When I was fifteen and on Spring Break, I remember watching a local newscast announcing the suicide of Mr. K, and I told my friend, “Hey Tim, Mr. K killed himself.” If Grunge and Alternative were my generation’s My Generation, Mr. K was John and Paul and Jimmy and Janis all rolled into one. Upon learning of Mr. K’s death, we knew that Eddie Vedder had to quickly step up to the plate and become a semi-underground/semi-corporate symbol or otherwise the jocks would retake their place at top of the high-school social hierarchy. Remember: Mr. K suddenly made weirdos and bad guitar playing tolerable in the teenage world and pushed semi-artsy/semi-hot girls teetering on the edge of respectability into wearing sexy Doc Martens with black-and-white stripe tights.

Avex’s collection no doubt sums up all this American adolescent social turmoil by bringing together a cavalcade of domestic Japanese musical talent. Kicking things off is MCU from Japan’s hip-pop powerhouse Kick the Can Crew, who kicks K’s ass into gear with some smooth rhymes and un-Can-like beats (I have not heard any of the songs on this album.) Shonen Knife also appear, making me think that Mr. K would have actually given this album a listen, if you could somehow play CCCD’s in heaven.

But the fundamental problem with “Music Inspired by A Film Inspired by Kurt Cobain” is that Mr. K had exactly one musical idea. Admittedly, that idea was a very powerful idea at the time of its launch, but I’m not sure anyone is still mystified by the “bass verse,” the “lead melody line guitar solo,” guitar “distortion,” incomprehensible “lyrics,” etc. Nirvana was one of those bands who boiled rock down to its bare essentials, so copying Nirvana is like cracking Duplo blocks in half. Throw in some major seventh chords and you’re violating the Mr. K inspiration. Do everything the Nirvana way and you sound like Puddle of Mudd.

But as Avex surely understands, the greatest way to honor a man who bit off his own head rather than let himself become a rock demigod is to honor him in Stalinesque glory. Tribute Michael Jackson all you want, but you’ll never be able to outdo the cover of HIStory. I don’t think Mr. K ever wanted statues, let alone gimmicky CDs from the Jpop Factory. I would hope that the royalties go to the Francis Bean Scholarship Fund, but seeing that there isn’t an actual Cobain song on the CD — what royalties??

W. David MARX (Marxy)
April 20, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

24 Responses

  1. DB Says:

    I watched Beverly Hills Cop recently, and the big car chase scene is set to ‘The Neutron Dance’ by the Pointer Sisters, who must have been well into their 50s at that point – try picturing that in a post-Nevermindian world.

    Also, did you know there is a life-size bronze statue of Elvis on a side street right off of Takeshita dori?

  2. Erik Says:

    Mr. K had exactly one musical idea.
    … and he admitted himself it was stolen from the Pixies.

    I’m only a few years older than you, but Nirvana was definitly not my generation. The beginning of grunge marks the end of my interest in American guitar music.

  3. marxy Says:

    I’m only a few years older than you, but Nirvana was definitly not my generation.

    To be honest, I can’t really pindown the “Grunge Generation.” Maybe birthdays from ’76 to ’80 or so?

    But you can’t imagine the thrill of being 12 or 13, interested in “college rock” but already fully understanding that there is no way in hell a band like the Pixies could be a “Top Ten” act – and then – BOOM – Nirvana comes in out of “nowhere” and dregs all of that up to the surface. Maybe if you were younger, the shock was more subdued, and if you were older, you were more cynical about the whole thing. But as much as I not a huge Nirvana fan, I can’t deny the significance to my very narrow cohort.

  4. dzima Says:

    Marxy, isn’t it about time you grew out of this particular teenage obsession? These days, I find Nirvana pretty much unlistenable; they have now entered the territory of bad kitsch for me. And Dave Grohl is the Phil Collins of grunge.

    Pretty much all of that generation is just about as hopeless as you can get (though I admit I find that Badmotorfinger is still [ultramega] OK). Even Sonic Youth’s pseudo grunge phase is their weakest.

    The “legacy” of grunge is basically Puddle of Mud, Creed, Nickelback, Audioslave, Velvet Revolver and now a bad J-pop tribute compilation.

  5. marxy Says:

    Marxy, isn’t it about time you grew out of this particular teenage obsession? These days, I find Nirvana pretty much unlistenable

    Damn you, Dzima! Always two steps ahead!

  6. Mitsuko Says:

    This blog is not as good as it used to be before you were subsumed into the corporate world.

  7. marxy Says:

    You noticed?

    Although I independently decided to stop whining about Japan around the same time as I entered the workforce. I’m only hiding behind the “shakaijin” excuse. Don’t blame my employer.

    I am, however, planning out a bigger and better version of the old-style Neomarxisme content for the future. At the moment, I would rather finish my album and work on new things instead of doing a “Here’s the latest gossip and my loose application of Confucianism to Host Clubs.” I appreciate any and all sympathy towards my sloth.

  8. dzima Says:

    Mitsuko,

    I’m sorry to inform but Neomarxisme is now a blog in terminal decline.

    My sincere apologies,

    Dzima

  9. marxy Says:

    Dzima: Zing! You are my personal Schadenfreude Daily! If you were more cunning, you’d be trying to steal my readers in revolt.

  10. Chris_B Says:

    I’m too old for Nirvana to have meant anything. All I can hope for is this jpop CCCD is the final nail in a coffin thats been out in the sun too long.

  11. marxy Says:

    Next you’re going to tell me that Stone Temple Pilots weren’t Our Generation’s Bob Marley!

  12. dzima Says:

    And Mudhoney were our Burning Spear…

  13. marxy Says:

    Out-referenced again! When will I ever learn!

  14. Yaten Says:

    First, let me say that I’m not a fan of Nirvana at all.

    The Japanese rock musician Miyavi (Of whom I’m not sure if you are aware, though I’d love to hear your take on him and his music) is supposedly currently making a Curt Cobain tribute album. I don’t know how popular Cobain is in Japan, but it seems odd that Avex and Miyavi would both be making a tribute album around the same time, based on the same person (more or less.)

    Also, isn’t one of your biggest beefs with Japan’s contemporary culture that it’s becoming too nationalistic, and not international enough? Avex is a huge label, and if the Japanese public aren’t open to other cultures, why would they put their time and money into a(n American?) film based on an American musician?

  15. SB Says:

    Have you ever read this book by Soseki Natsume (Mr.Senen-satsu), “Kokoro?”

    In that book, there is a character named K, (and he kills himself too!!) It was written in Meiji period, and since then, K is something that fascinates Japanese bungaku-shonens with this question, “Who is K?”

    One Japanese critic says with lots of Lacanician psychoanalytic faver,
    K is,
    ‘K’innosuke Natsume (Natsume’s yungster name)
    Shusui ‘K’otoku (One high treason in Meiji)
    ‘K’iten Nogi (Hero of Russo-Japanese War, follows Meiji Tennoh’ dead)
    ‘K’inme Tennoh (Another way to say Tennoh of this era)

    Ask thie book “すが秀美氏「漱石と天皇ー国民作家はどのようにして「大逆」事件を体験したか」(「文学界」2000年9月).”

    SB

  16. marxy Says:

    I should have known that Avex would throw out the Soseki references. I read Kokoro a long time ago, but I never had time to finish it, as I was preparing to kill myself when the emperor died.

    Also, isn’t one of your biggest beefs with Japan’s contemporary culture that it’s becoming too nationalistic, and not international enough?

    For simplicity’s sake, let’s say there are three possible cultural directions:

    1) Internal Obsession with Domestic Japanese Culture
    2) Old-Style Submissive Obsession with Hegenomic American Culture
    3) Unique Bricolage of New/Innovative/Obscure International Culture.

    Japan was good at #3. This Mr. K thing is a combination of #2 and #1. I’m not sure that the Japanese being really into hamburgers counts as Internationalism.

  17. Chris_B Says:

    dzima: dont blaspheme!

    marxy: did you really use the word “hegenomic” with out irony? If so you could always find a job as a staff writer for the PRC or DPRK.

  18. r. Says:

    would say get a life, but you two already have lives.

  19. Michael McCarthy Says:

    Marxy, I thought Nivana was like— your thing. On a related note— where is there a Marxy bio— when did you ~start studying Japanese, go to school, land the job… I’m honestly curious what leads one to get a legitimate job in Japan, where in most cases I’ve seen, you would have had to mary your way in.

    AFAIK they weren’t handing out jobs that nihonjin could do to upper-middle class guys from the south eastern / north eastern United States— but maybe that’s wrong, on more than one level.

  20. marxy Says:

    Marxy, I thought Nivana was like— your thing.

    I think you are confusing me with Lance. People are always doing that.

    I’m honestly curious what leads one to get a legitimate job in Japan, where in most cases I’ve seen, you would have had to mary your way in.

    Way to Get a Job in Japan without Marrying
    1. Teach English

    THE END

    For those who don’t want to teach English, there is a harder route:

    1. Speak Fluent Japanese – And this does not mean being able to chat with fellow employees and say “nanka” a lot. You should be able to say (and read) every word applicable to your field of expertise. They are only going to give you real credit for your Japanese ability if you are able to say something like “I don’t think applying this conceptual framework to this particular case will result in adequate product differentiation.” Another point: fluent Japanese only gets you to the starting line: you should consider it a prerequisite for work, not a bragging point. Obviously, there are jobs that don’t require fluency, but knowing high-level Japanese greatly expands your options.

    2. Have an Actual Skill Besides Speaking English and Japanese – I recommend IT or computers, although that’s not my particular field. If you aren’t fluent in Japanese, you should be highly competent in a desirable skill.

    3. Don’t Try to Work at a Japanese Company – There are an exploding number of “gaishi-kei” foreign-backed firms in Japan. They will know what to do with you much better than a Japanese firm will. That being said, most of these firms are not hiring foreign staff “from the streets” of Tokyo.

    4. Give yourself 3-6 Months to Find a Job

    5. Know People in Your Industry

    The End

    Main point: it’s not easy, although perhaps it is getting easier. Also realize that the Japanese are much cheaper for lower level positions than you will probably be.

    Anyone else have any advice? Should I open this up as a new post?

  21. nate Says:

    I’d imagine spending 3 years at a top tier graduate school doesn’t hurt…. anything from people who didn’t take such a long and arduous road in?

  22. marxy Says:

    Despite my long years of training, finding a job was not the easiest thing in the world. Admittedly, I was looking at a very narrow set of firms, but I was mostly ignored.

    #5 – Knowing People – is always the real key to getting a foot in the door. I’m not sure I’m really the one to be giving advice on all of this, but you can never go wrong with mining your contacts for leads.

    I think it is fair to say that there is no secret method, and in general, the visa system is not set up to help you stay here. Definitely an uphill battle for almost everyone.

  23. Chris_B Says:

    If #2 follow #3 to the letter.

    Doing IT for a Japanese company is a dead end. You wont sharpen your skills and you will forever be compared to SI vendors who are regarded more highly than you even though most of em couldnt find their elbow with a flashlight and an anatomy chart. If you hear that Fuji Xerox is involved in an IT project, run dont walk to the nearest exit.

    N.B. however that working for a big japanese company can get you some social juice. If you need the juice it may be worth the suffering for a while.

    For all those of you who imagine Japan as a high tech paradise, get over it. IT is years behind the west in implementation, skills and governance.

    #5 above can help you exit to something better

  24. Michael McCarthy Says:

    Even nihonjin I know would prefer to work for a non-Japanese company. I mean, who needs the endless hours, no vacations, the unfair treatment/payment if you’re a woman doing the exact same (if not better) job, ad infinitum all the things that go with working for a Japanese company.

    I should have gotten married after all, surely all mariages end up at the same joyless routine sooner or later… it all converges into one.