Friday, February 9, 2007

The Blue Era: 1992-1993

The summer of 1992 saw several significant changes in my life. My base school introduced a new curriculum starting from April of that year that all but wiped out my work there. Meanwhile, the international program I was helping create at another school was really starting to take off. That led the district to decide to base me at that other school instead. It made sense, and I welcomed it for the most part, but it wasn't an easy transfer.

The fact was that, though my original base school had never seemed to take my work all that seriously, the teachers there had always been very kind and supportive. On the other hand, the faculty at the new base school gave me much more professional respect, but the atmosphere there was troubled to say the least. It was far less cordial, and many if not most of the teachers had a "can't be bothered" attitude toward everything. There were also some serious issues with excessive corporal punishment and sexual harassment of both students and female members of the staff. I saw and heard a lot of shocking things, and I wasn't always willing just to shut up and ignore it all. I took some action, and while some were grateful, it didn't earn me many friends.

The biggest shock, however, was what was happening with the students. The new Freshmen who had entered my schools in April of that year ('92) were turning out to be colder, more spoiled, and far less interested in English (or me as a foreigner) than their predecessors had been. The ones that came in April of the following year ('93) were even worse, being hostile to the point that I was asked to stop participating in school events from May of '93 because many of the Freshmen would refuse to enter the area if I was there (and would stand outside the door moaning, "I hate foreigners!"). Meanwhile, the first group of students in my international program finally graduated in March of '93, ending an era. Their progress in English had far exceeded expectations. However, they had also become such insufferable snobs that the last Australian exchange student to join their class was completely ostracized...and suffered from depression as a result. The overwhelming majority of them took their impressive English skill, threw it in the trash along with their dreams, and became very ordinary, orange-haired, trash-talking, conformist members of working-class society. In other words, the program had turned out to be a smashing success on paper...but from a practical standpoint it had been worse than useless.

Needless to say, my attitude toward the whole JET Program(me) thing became very bitter, and it was probably a very good thing that my contract hit its limit in the summer of '93. About the only really good thing was my relationship with my girlfriend (now my wife). I admit I hadn't expected it to last very long, but as it entered its second year it was stronger than ever.

Where Did We Go Wrong? (1993)

1. Society in Motion
2. If You Learned Your Lessons Well
3. Sensei
4. Cell
5. Left Alone
6. Losing Battle
7. The Split
8. Reevaluation
9. April Showers
10. Meeting of the Board
11. Spirit of Yesterday
12. The Trouble Is...
13. Beneath It All

The title and cover pretty much sum it up. This album started out as a rock opera based on what I saw happening to my students in the international program as they grew up, graduated, entered society...and got sucked into the swamp. My original idea was actually a sort of gothic sci-fi (i.e. it turned out that the government...or somebody, at least...was hypnotizing the public into submission), but it was never finished. I got to the point where the "hero" of the story learns to stop thinking and just forget everything he has learned so he can become a model corporate citizen, and then it just stopped. In fact, wonder of wonders, some good things had suddenly happened with the second international class, and that had cured my bitterness enough to abandon the opera. I just kept what I had already finished and then recorded some other songs. The underlying theme remains the same, but the second half is far less black than the first.

Sensei - This song is based on true events. Teachers at my second base school did not always practice what they preached. Nothing more need be said.

Losing Battle - This song is the dramatic climax of what would have been Part One of the original opera. Our "hero" (based on one of the more promising members of the first international class) enters the corporate world and tries to put his education and smarts to good use...only to become the proverbial protruding nail that gets hammered down.

Meeting of the Board - In 1993 a certain, famous Japanese megacorporation (which shall remain nameless) had an emergency board meeting to discuss problems they were having with their new recruits. It seemed that young people were becoming much too lacking in initiative and resolve, and the executive management was concerned about what that meant for the company's future. What was the result of the meeting? They decided that it was all the fault of the Japanese education system, which systematically stifled any hint of initiative or resolve. No, actually I'm kidding. They blamed "an incursion of Western values". Yep. It's all America's fault that Japanese kids are spineless, spoiled, and dependent.

Beneath It All - I didn't think so much about this song when I made it, but it seems to be popular (despite the vocal flub at the end). The bottom line: if the islands that make up Japan could talk, what would they say?

Beleaguered from Within (1993)

1. Your Own Worst Judge
2. Followed By Decadence
3. Cursed with a Conscience
4. Be One
5. But At The Wrong Time
6. How Does Your Mother Feel Now?
7. Beleaguered from Within
8. Still At It
9. No Regrets
10. Until The End
11. Right or Wrong
12. End of an Era

This album started as a sort of tongue-in-cheek look at the different facets of the human character and the various forces that influence it. As I went along, however, the darkening situation at work led to its becoming more sarcastic and cynical, but not yet really bitter. Personally, I think some of my best songwriting happened during this period, and I'm tempted to remake much if not most of this album.

Your Own Worst Judge - The album kicks off with a soliloquoy from your superego.

How Does Your Mother Feel Now? - In Japan of the early '90s James Dean was considered hip, and all the "macho" boys (more often than not pencil-neck geek wanna-be's) wore waxy, duck-butt hairstyles and swaggered around with "I'm so bad" looks on their faces. A lot of them also became either bikers or hot rodders (unlicensed, of course) whether they stayed in school or not. Quite often they were into snorting glue or paint thinner, which probably explained a few things. It was so laughably cliche, but it was far from amusing. It was bad enough that they made a game out of annoying everybody. The fact was that the girls in my international class went ape over those morons...and the competition for their "affection" and the "prestige" that went with it had a lot to do with the souring of the girls' attitude. Incidentally, during the '92-'93 school year fully three such boys, all students at my schools, managed to crash their cars or bikes and kill both themselves and their female companions. I admit I found it hard to feel sorry for them. To me it seemed more like poetic justice...both to them and to the doting idiot parents that had bought their vehicles for them in the first place. This song was a very entertaining experiment with layered guitar sounds.

Beleaguered from Within - The title track of the album explores the premise that it's virtually impossible to be truly "good". No matter what you do, when you think about it, you're causing harm to someone or something else. It can make it very hard to live with your conscience...if you even have one. I recorded this track before I had either MIDI programming ability or a good sequencer, so all those moving synth parts were played by hand on keyboards or wind synth...something I admit I find a bit intimidating now.

Cursed with a Conscience - Speaking of which... This is a light-hearted look at what it means to have a conscience...and the burdens it can place on you.

Hirokawa Gakuen (1992)

1. Who Am I?
2. Hirokawa Gakuen
3. Nothing to Fear At All
4. Spring Rut
5. Rough Edge
6. Condemned
7. Degradation
8. Turnabout
9. Ego Trip
10. Another Day, Another Ichiman-En
11. Song of Fall
12. Thoughts of Oregon
13. What Do the People Know?
14. Onset of Autumn

The school at which I was helping create an international course had two sister schools in Adelaide, Australia. They in turn had a second sister school in Japan. It was a prestigious, private academy (NO, NOT THE ONE WHERE I WORK!!!! THIS ONE WAS IN TOKYO!!!!!) with a reputation for being very harsh. That was something of an understatement. I met a teacher from our sister school in Adelaide, and he told me all about the scary things he'd seen during his visit to that other school. One of the stories in particular struck me. It was about a promising boy student who'd had his head shaven by his teachers and had been subjected to cruel humiliation, the normal form of punishment at that nazi boot camp school. His offense? His friend, a biker, had been seen drinking alcohol. The boy himself had done nothing wrong; he was punished only for his choice of friends. I was inspired by that story, so I wrote the rock opera "Hirokawa Gakuen" (a fictitious name...I hope...) loosely based on it. The rest of the album was just a few songs inspired by things going on around me at that the time. It was a nice mix of sentiment and (at that time) playful sarcasm.

Hirokawa Gakuen - The title track is about the "hero's" first entering his new school...and finding out that it isn't the rosy place he'd thought it would be.

Rough Edge - And heeeeeere's the "hero's" crazy biker friend! He is a rebel, a square peg, a green sheep, and he's determined to be himself at any cost. Unfortunately, our "hero's" teachers don't like that. This seems to be everyone's favorite song on this album.

Condemned - Our "hero" faces the (warped) judgment of the school faculty.

Another Day, Another Ichiman-En - "Ichi-Man En" (一万円), or 10,000 yen (about $80 at the exchange rate back then) was what I calculated to be my approximate daily salary at the time. This instrumental is not part of the "Hirokawa Gakuen" rock opera. Instead, it depicts a typical day at my new base school starting with the bicycle ride to work, the morning meeting, Freshmen girls coming to flirt with the teachers, hanging out in the staff room, two classes, having lunch in the staff room, the International Club after school, the daily biker gang drive-by, going home at the end of the day, and getting plastered.