A(xl) Rose By Any Other Name

"Man, that Led Zeppelin sure plays some kickass guitar!" I suppose one has to be of a certain era to appreciate the humor inherent in that line; there was a time when American kids really did confuse British band's names with their members. Hence, Ian Anderson, the eccentric creative force behind Jethro Tull, actually was Jethro Tull in the eyes of many fans across the pond, and Led Zeppelin was a guitar hero who sang like a banshee. This was milked for full comic effect in the classic line, "Oh, by the way, which one's Pink?" from Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar". John Entwistle, bemoaning how his band wallowed in relative obscurity in the U.S. before their breakthrough rock opera, observed that many newly hip fans came to think of Tommy as a golden haired hunk who cut a double album titled "The Who". 

   This isn't all that hard to understand, what with so many hard rock acts of the period giving themselves names that sounded like personal names, while at the same time British singers such as Elton John and Mick Jagger going by names that, at least to North American ears, sounded unusual enough to actually be band names. Whether name-resembling or not, during the late sixties to mid seventies a band name consisting of two words generally connoted a hard, riff laden, kickass sound. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc. If you liked your hard rock with a Dixie twist, you had Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet to wreck your eardrums with.

   Some of the band names were actual names, from history, literature or elsewhere. Jethro Tull was a British agriculturalist from the 17th century. Uriah Heep was a character in "David Copperfield". Alice Cooper, which was the band's name before singer Vincent Furnier adopted it as his own, was supposedly the name of a 17th century witch (what IS it about the 17th century?) . Actual member names have been used as well. The Van Halen brothers, Eddie, Allen and Wolfgang (yes, Wolfgang) would have been crazy not to adopt their family name as their band's name; it was just too perfect.  Similarly, John Bongiovi had only to do a little tweaking to create a name similar to his hair metal forefathers, and Voila! Bon Jovi was born.

   Over all these acts, Led Zeppelin reigned supreme, so their influence was unquestionably the greatest, not only with respect to their sound, but with naming as well. Their own reason for dropping the "a" from "lead" (the name was suggested to Jimmy Page by Entwistle) was logical enough: it was so fans wouldn't mistake them for "Leed Zeppelin". The trend caught on. In deference, the quirky misspelling of words (which had already been done by The Beatles) became de rigueur.  Soon we had Motley Crue, Axl Rose (lead singer of Guns&Roses), culminating in surely the most shameless name ripoff in rock history (after The Monkees), Def Leppard. Like a hawker in Hong Kong barking out, "Get your authentic imitation Rolexes!", these British glam metalists, with their missing "a" and double "pp"s, could hardly have been more brazen.

   Hard rock is not the only genre characterized by similarities in band names. During the latter part of the same era, a lot of crap bands emerged, "perfecting" a soulless brand of music known as power pop. Many of those acts had names related to locations or traveling, i.e. Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, Journey and Asia. Taking us a bit further afield were Starship (whose original name, Jefferson Airplane, was strikingly similar to that of their California hippie brethren Buffalo Springfield, right down to the syllable structure and double "ff"s) and Styx. Styx is a location, being the mythical river to hell. And if "Mr. Roboto" isn't the music playing on the ferry that takes you across it, then some demon isn't doing his job well enough!

    A certain power trio from Canada who, although they managed in the space of their first two albums to rip off nearly every Led Zeppelin cliche in the songbook, were a little more original in the name department, opting for a single word, Rush. Perhaps the timing was off. Perhaps if Geddy Lee and his bandmates had formed their group today, they would have selected a name every bit as sinister sounding as Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden or Molly Hatchet. Naturally, they would have had to misspell one portion of the name for form's sake. Imagine twenty thousand lighters being hoisted skyward by stoned teens, as our axe wielding heroes emerge from backstage; "Cleveland!!!! Are You Ready??? Let's welcome...... Rush Limbah!!!!"


"Copying" Vermeer?

Yesterday I taught an art class titled, "Drawing from the Old Masters" in the middle of Tokyo. Six people came to study by doing highly detailed pencil drawings that were taken from the paintings of master painters such as Vermeer, Da Vinci, Ingres and Caravaggio.  I have taught this course several times, and the results are always stunning. However, I often find resistance from students (and, I would presume this to also be one of the reasons why the class is not always packed with students) to the idea of simply "copying" the works of artists of the past. They feel that art should be original, that it should come directly from the person doing the drawing. I understand why my students, and art students in general, have come to feel this way.

Probably some time around the time of Picasso's and Kandinsky's rise to fame a truism arose that art should be free, personal, expressive and emotional. What failed to figure into this truism was just how well trained, classically, Picasso was. His father was a classically trained artist who became an administrator of a great art institution. He made sure that his son learned the fundamentals at an early age. And one of the best ways to learn the fundamentals was to follow the ancient tradition of learning from, by copying, the work of masters, either contemporary or ancient.

When a pianist plays a magnificent piece by Tchaikovsky or Chopin, do we say they are "copying"? When Ella Fitzgerald cranks out a "standard" from the jazz repertoire, is it only imitation? Of course not! Somehow, with regard to music, the idea of learning, practicing, paying homage to and ultimately finding one's own expression through great works of the past has never fallen out of favor. What a good thing this is for music, and musicians! And how sad that visual art in most modern, Western societies has erected an unnecessary architecture of shame around the very same activity, that of copying from and learning from great masters.

The two images above are pencil drawings of mine. The lower one was done as a demonstration in one of my classes. It is, as all will probably recognize, a copy of a famous painting by Vermeer, "Girl with a Pearl Earring". The upper one was done later, as I decided to re-create the image in a different way, influenced by the great painter Modigliani and my own tendency to stylize faces in a similar manner. People might say that the one on the right is more original, certainly, but the point is that I wouldn't have been able to do it, at least not to the same degree of subtlety, if I hadn't first done the left image, when I was "just copying".  The time I spent copying, and learning from,  a great, master painter was time very well spent! The Old Masters have provided us with such a rich legacy, just as the great composers have. It seems like a waste to merely look at their works and admire them,  when we could learn so much more by studying their sensitivity, the beauty of their shapes, and probing the mystery of their genius with our own hands and eyes!




考えてみてください。ピアニストが、チャイコフスキーやショパンの有名な曲を弾く時、私達は「彼らは、真似ている!」などと言いますか? エラ・フィッツジェラルドが、ジャズのスタンダードを歌う時、「単に真似ているだけ!」と言いますか?もちろん、言いませんよね! なぜか、音楽に関しては、過去の有名な曲を学び、練習し、敬意を捧げることによって究極的にその人自身の表現を見出すのだという考えは、好意的に受け入れられていたのです。これは、音楽や音楽家にとって、なんていいことなのでしょう! そして、同時になんと悲しむべきことなのでしょうか。 非常に似た行為であるにもかかわらず、最も近代的な西洋の社会において、偉大なる巨匠を模写して学ぶことは恥であると考えるような、不必要な風潮が築かれたのは。

上の二つのイメージは、私が描いたペンシル画です。下の絵は、私が教えるあるクラスのデモンストレーションで使ったものです。たぶん皆さんお気づきのことと思いますが、これは、フェルメールの有名な真珠の耳飾りの少女の絵の模写です。上の絵は、後に描いたものです。モディリアーニの影響を受け、そして彼と同じようなやり方で顔をデフォルメするという私自身のやり方を取り入れ、前の絵と異なる描き方にしました。人は、右側の絵がよりオリジナルなものだと必ず言うでしょう。しかし、大切なことは、私がただ単に模写する時、もし最初に左側の絵を描いたならば、私は少なくとも同様に繊細なレベルまでにはできなかっただろう、ということなのです。このように私が、偉大なる画家から学ぶために模写をしている時間は、非常に意味のある時間なのです。昔の巨匠達は、偉大なる作曲家とまったく同様に、私達にとても豊かな宝物を残してくれています。彼らの作品をただ単に鑑賞したり、賞賛したりするだけではもったいないのです。 私達は自分自身の手や眼を使って、巨匠達の偉大さの謎を探りつつ彼らの形の繊細さや美しさを学ぶことによって、非常に多くのことを学ぶことができるのです。



How did you get here?

 Tokyo is an enormous city; it’s almost impossible to adequately describe how expansive it and its surrounding cities are. Densely populated, but at the same time relatively well run and organized, it features one of the most extensive and intricate mass transportation systems in the world. So a common question when meeting friends, say at a party,  is, “how did you get here?” There are commonly a variety of public and private train and subway routes to access a given destination. There are several websites whose only purpose is to provide access information, including all available options, in terms of price, number of transfers, and arrival time down to the minute!

   It’s an interesting bit of small talk, revealing as it does just what an important aspect of life in Tokyo is the gargantuan system of vehicles and tracks that take people where they want or need to go. One of the reasons people ask is that they are always curious to find out if an even more convenient route is available to them that they hadn’t considered before. The one thing that you DON’T see are the trains themselves; in other words, people come together after disembarking, and don’t show up dragging their trains behind them! Yes, that is a signal that I am getting metaphorical here! I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the human tendency to drag our past around with us. It’s not all that unlike hauling the train that got us to where we are around with us everywhere we go. For someone like me who is living my fifth decade on the planet, that’s quite a lot of load to haul!

   Our past is essentially a vehicle. It is the “train” we rode to get to the exact point where we are now. We honor our past best by experiencing the present moment as fully as we can. If we always carry the heavy weight of our former experiences, particularly the regrets and recriminations, the disappointments and hurts, we really ARE like someone hauling an enormous, heavy train on his back, unable to move as fluidly through the present moment as we could if we were able to just put it down. I wrote a song a few years ago called “Recovery”  that included the lines; 

I didn’t know where I was going, I just knew that where I was, was no place that I wanted to stay;

carrying my past around, ’cause I didn’t know how to put it down, is how I wound up where I am today

    Like a train, our past carries a huge amount of momentum with it. It can be hard to step off it as it chugs along, adding to its “weight” with each chunk of scenery it devours as it moves along. For example, if a moment of disappointment, a setback of some kind, gets fed back into a history of similar moments we have experienced in the past, we can “lose track” of a.) the experience itself, b.)our place in it in this current moment, and c.) our power to do anything about the problem with a clear head and the eyes of newness. That’s when we really need to “step off the train”. It carried us here, to this place. Maybe, like the commuters of Tokyo, we could have taken a quicker route, one with less transfers, one less costly. But we didn’t!Regardless, whatever train we took to the place we find ourselves now, we don’t have to carry its weight around with us, nor do we serve ourselves by doing so.  As with the people sitting around at a party in Tokyo, there will always be another train, maybe even one we never realized we could take before. So while we’rehere, we should enjoy the party!

The Troll Slayer

Here's an image I did for a friend who runs a website, Free Range Talk. It will probably end up on T shirts.
I think he makes a good Free Ranger, keeping the trolls (unwanted posters) at bay.


Terribly Sorry!

Here is an illustration I did recently which will appear next week in the Daily Yomiuri, along with a column about negotiating, and obviously focusing on apologies. I hope you like it, and am terribly sorry if you don't!


Browny and Friends 2

Here is another of the latest Shosen series. The little white ferret on the right is my actual pet, Rosie. Ferrets are great pets! They are friendly and insatiably curious! They never saw a bag, or any kind of hole or opening, that they don't want to crawl into! Gotta be careful about dem critters!

These are three images
from an earlier series of bookmarks for Shosen. As you can see, I love circus imagery!


Bacchanalian Honky-tonk Blues

Well, the Great Whore of Babylon was on my tail,

I tried to evade her, but to no avail;

I searched low and high for a Holy Grail,

but all I could find was a rusty nail,

I wound up with the whore, bedding down by the Nile,

in a seedy motel called The Crocodile;

and she said to me, “boy, your lot ain’t cast;

you can go when you please, but don’t come too fast!”

Here's a series of illustrations I did for a song, roughly based on Bob Dylan's "Highway 61" and other songs of that era of his where he put lots of literary, Biblical and historical illusions into puns and wordplay. I wrote the song first, but it was so full of images that I felt that I had to do it justice by painting them. They have been published in reverse order so they appear first to last. Enjoy!

Circus Maximus Scene

then the Circus Maximus rolled into town,

with a whole lot of lions and a couple of clowns;

Nero and Cicero had front row seats,

they were reciting Ovid, but it sounded like Keats;

and the master of ceremonies was Bobby D.

who called our attention to rings one, two and three

and said, “it doesn’t matter what stage you’re on,

cuz it’s all just a show, but it must go on!”

Sheriff of Nottingham Scene

I was going quietly into the night,

when the Sheriff of Nottingham came to fight;

he called to his officers, one by one.

and they showed me the business end of their guns;

I said, “Sheriff, what's this?  I’ve done nothing wrong,

I’m just finding the rhymes to the lines of my song!.”

And he said, “that don’t matter none; you’ll do time

you’ll be breaking rocks before the church bells chime!”

Sherwood Forest Scene

into Sherwood Forest I made my escape,

after Sherlock Holmes kindly loaned me his cape;

I lived there for a while with the elves and gnomes,

who were all good friends of Mr. Holmes;

but I knew it was finally time to leave,

when the Queen of the Faeries pulled on my sleeve

and said, “You best get while the getting’s good,

‘cause this all belongs to Robin Hood!”

The Festival Scene

then the Archduke of Canterbury took seven Cornish hens

and tried to turn the Hound of Baskerville into man’s best friend;

while the Caliph on camelback flashed his scimitar,

and the Naiads gave Perseus a hand-rolled cigar;

we all went down to the festival wearing jewels and beads,

where Jesus was talkin’ bout them mustard seeds,

and He said as He threw the seeds into the air,

“If you know where you’re going, you ain’t going nowhere!”


Browny and Friends

This is one of a series of bookmark illustrations I did for the bookstore Shosen, in Jimbocho. The funny-eared bear is named Browny, and he is a licensed character that I have developed along with Shosen. They have used his image for bags in addition to bookmarks.

Artwork, songs and musings by Andy Boerger

This is a personal space to show my works, which includes artwork and song writing, and probably various musings about things going on in my life and in the world. Thank you for visiting, and I hope you will enjoy yourself here.