The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, August 6, 2011
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Being an old guy who grew up in the 60’s, I still like The Ventures and the surf guitar instrumentals that they were famous for. It’s well known amidst Ventures fans that this group had a special relationship with the people of Japan. They started touring there in the early 60’s, well before the other pop music stars of the west started noticing Japan. Actually, almost no one in the west noticed Japan back then. It was only 17 or 18 years since the big Pacific war (that they started) had ended with a nuclear ‘bang’, and no one much took ‘the Japs’ seriously anymore. Japan was starting to export stuff for sale in the US by then, but it was mostly considered ‘cheap garbage’. A few Zen-masters from the Japanese temples were starting to arrive on our western shores, as to take advantage of the nascent ‘beat generation’ and the search for meaning amidst affluent American bohemians. But for the most part, Japan was not on anyone’s radar anymore (an ironic choice of words, given what had happened at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941).

In just a few years, the sun would begin to rise once again over Japan. But in the misty pre-dawn of the Japanese cultural and economic resurgence, the Ventures found a niche, a place that became special to them. After the Beatles hit the music scene and the British pop invasion swept the surf craze aside, the Ventures became an “also ran” band, still useful on occasion for things such as the theme for the TV show “Hawaii 5-0”. However, they could still pack ’em in at the concert halls of Japan, and made annual tours to the Land of the Rising Sun. Believe it or not, despite all the changes in the music world, the group continued doing that thru the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s.

By now, the surviving Ventures are in their 70s (Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards; Bob Bogle and Mel Taylor both passed, but Mel’s son Leon still tours with the band on drums). You would think that in the wake of that terrible tsunami disaster back in March, the Japanese wouldn’t have time any more for some old guys with guitars from America. But guess what? The Ventures pressed on with a Summer tour. Interestingly, right after the big wave hit, Don Wilson, founder of the band, recorded a message of sympathy and encouragement that was broadcast in Japan. Behind him at the time was a wall of Ventures memorabilia, including a medal of honor given to the Ventures by Emperor Akihito (and hey, you know that the Japanese take honor very seriously). Soon after, the Ventures held a benefit concert in America.

Last week, my friend Carole from the local zendo (good old Clear Mountain) told me that she was leaving for a three week vacation in Japan. How Zen of her! Anyway, that put me in a Ventures mood, so I pulled out my “Ventures Live in Japan ’65” CD. I couldn’t help but note the irony of the title of their opening number — “Cruel Sea”. And about half way thru there’s the classic “Wipe Out”.

I wonder if the Ventures are playing those songs on their current tour, given the new and terrible meaning that nature gave to those innocent surfer phrases some 46 years later. I bet that they are — as a celebration of the Japanese nation’s inner strength in the face of such adversity.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:56 am      

  1. Jim, Sorry but I have never heard of the Ventures so cannot comment on theri music–shows exactly how old I am with that remark, I guess. During the 60s and especially in 1965 I was completely preoccupied with life changing situations. With such kinds of things going on, I just didn’t have time for music then. Don’t mean this to say anything but those simple facts.

    But you are right by your description: Their music certainly seemed a presage of what was to come about half a century later.

    As to your friend visiting Japan: I have a cousin who regularly visits friends in Japan. I find myself tending to think that there must be some connection from a previous life in such instances. I tend to think connections with individuals and places stay with us over lifetimes. Once again, I’m off on my own tangent. What can you do with somebody like me? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — August 6, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

  2. Mary,

    I realize that you were out trying to save the world at the time, to your ultimate honor. In gashho, most definitely. I don’t imagine that surf guitar is your cup of tea, but it’s never too late for a quick taste —

    Or maybe

    You might remember Telstar, the tribute to the techno-hope of the Space Race back in the early 1960s. Better days, they were.

    Comment by Jim G — August 8, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

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