Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

No Other Choice hr647

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I chose music as my lifelong carrier when I was a college student. The first thing I got down to was to form a band. After I realized I couldn’t find band members at nearby universities because students played music just for fun, I expanded my search to the general public. Until then, the whole world I had been familiar with was the small hamlet where I was born and grew up and the schools I went to. I was about to tread on to the unknown, new world.
It was early 80’s when neither the Internet nor SNS had existed yet. The common way to find band members back then was recruitment columns on dozens of pages in a monthly music magazine. When you found someone appealing to you, you would contact him or her by a double postcard to receive a reply. I narrowed down to two postings for a candidate band. As I couldn’t figure out which one was better, I asked my mother out of curiosity. She glanced at each posting and without much attention picked one which address indicated a good residential district. Neither she nor I ever imagined that casual pick would have changed the course of life of mine, my parents’ and of the one who posted the recruitment message. From that point, inexplicable passion moved me in fast forward mode. I jumped on my bike, rushed to the post office to get a double postcard on which I scribbled enthusiastic self promotion on the spot, and mailed it.
A few days later I received the reply card with the phone number on it. We talked over the phone and set up the meeting in Osaka where he lived. Osaka is the big city located next to Kyoto where I lived. It took me about a 15-minute bike ride to the train station plus s 45-minute ride on the express train, which was quite a travel for me who was a farmer’s daughter in the small village of Kyoto. Adding to that going to the big city alone was so nervous in itself, the one whom I was going to meet was a boy. I had hardly talked to boys of my generation since I went to girls’ school from junior high to college. That all felt like a start of my adult life.
Before I set out for Osaka though, there was a problem. I needed to make s demo tape of my songs for the meeting where we were to exchange demos. When he talked over the phone about the exchange of demo tapes, I said “Exchanging demos? Sure, it’s a matter of course!,” which I found myself in a cold sweat to be honest. I had only one song on a tape that I had made for an audition. All other songs of mine were on paper as it was before the era of hard disc recording by a computer. The gadgets for a demo I had were a radio cassette tape recorder, the piano and the guitar. I didn’t have a microphone or a mixer, which meant I had to record by singing to my own accompaniment in front of the tape recorder. Although I had done that before and even done a few gigs too, the demo I finished this time sounded so lame that I thought he would turn me down as his band member at the meeting.
To me, my demo tape sounded as if it made me a laughingstock since I had confidently declared myself to become a professional musician over the phone. He would either laugh at me or get angry for wasting his time when he listened to it. Rather, I may have had excessive self-esteem to think about becoming a musician with those poor songs in the first place. It seemed more and more like the recurrence of my mistake in which I failed the entrance examination of most universities after I had declared to everyone around me that I would go to the most prestigious university in Japan.
I felt hesitant to go to Osaka for the meeting. On the other hand, my sudden loss of confidence showed how much I committed this time. At that point of my life, joining a band was so important. An audition or a gig as a high school student was nothing compared to that. I didn’t have my purpose for living anywhere else. It was the only way left for me to go on. I had no other choice but to be heading for the meeting with my demo tape held in my hand.

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Regret and Decision hr639

If I could go back in time by a time machine, I would most certainly choose one summer day in my senior year of high school and redo that day.
In the summer of my senior year, I had been in the final stage of study for the entrance exam to the leading university in Japan. My love for music was the biggest obstacle for study and I tended to lapse into listening to rock and pop records on the stereo easily. Since I spent too much time in music instead of study, I determined to stop listening music until the entrance exam was over. I pulled the plug of my stereo off the outlet, paste it on the wall of my room along with a handmade poster that said ‘Patience!’ in capital letters. I tried to devote everything for a life at the best university in Japan.
I was an avid fan of a Japanese band called Tulip. Most albums and tapes I had were theirs. I frequently went to their concert that would give me a heavenly time. I had had to stop going there as well in that summer. So ironically, or almost fatefully I should say, Tulip was having the 1000th concert that coincided that particular summer of that particular year, of all summers and years in the calendar. It was a milestone big enough for them and their fans to be held at an amusement park that was reserved specifically for the event for the whole day. The amusement park was operated as ‘Tulip Land’ for the day, where paper cups and plates donned Tulip Land’s special logos and designs that were available on that day only, commemorative goods were sold, games and events connected with Tulip were held during the daytime, and the 1000th special open-air concert was held in the evening. As you can imagine, it was a dream event in which fans would drool all over. For me, it would be the day with Woodstock, Comic-Con and Disneyland combined all together at one place. It would be actually a dream. There was no way to miss it.
Back then in Japan, it was an era of so-called ‘Entrance Exam War’. Students with four-hour sleep pass, and with five-hour fail, that was a general rule for the war. Not individual ability but a name of the school one was graduated from decided later income and social rank in Japan. It still does. I think a social structure like that has brought this long economic decline to today’s Japan. In a whirlpool of the relentless era, I was an immature, foolish high school senior who was willingly sucked into the war to get a name of the university. In the depth of it, I had looked for any possible way to spare time for the dream event. It would be held in Tokyo that was over 300 miles away from Kyoto where I lived. It couldn’t be a matter of a couple of hours but a two-day trip. It would be crazy to waste two days in the middle of fierce competition like ‘Entrance Exam War’. I reached a heartbroken decision. I chose to study in my room instead of going to Tulip Land.

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I had had gloomy days for a few months until the day of the event came. My dismal feeling culminated on the day. For the entire day, all I thought of was what was going on in Tulip Land. I glanced at the clock every hour and imagined what game was held by now. Is it a trivia quiz about Tulip? Or a lottery game for Tulip goods? Are fans sipping soda out of a paper cup that has ‘Tulip Land’ printed on the side? Has the concert started? By which song is it kicked off? Which song are they playing now? Are the fireworks showing? Is it done? Is it over now? I couldn’t focus on anything all day long. I spent the whole day in my room without studying at all.
At the end of the day, I realized I could have been there. I just might as well have gone to Tulip Land as wasted the whole day. I intensely regretted it and literally gnashed my teeth. I blamed myself for my stupidity. The size of regret appalled me so that I sincerely hoped never to feel this way.
I hopefully expected time would heal the regret. On the contrary, it had tortured me at length for months. The regret hadn’t been eased but deepened. It continued to ask me what I was doing, and the question had evolved gradually into why I was studying for the entrance exam, what going to the best university meant, whether it would bring happiness, and eventually, it began to ask me what I lived for. As I had grappled with those questions, I studied less and less. By the time of the entrance exam, I had lost interest in the university. Instead, I got a grip on what I really wanted to do.
I failed the exam not only to the leading university but to all the other famed ones I had chosen as a safety measure. Only one college of my worst-case scenario accepted me but I didn’t feel like going there. I decided to do what I want however society works or whatever people say because I simply didn’t want to experience that kind of regret again. All what I went through in that six-month period after one regret of Tulip Land set the course to take. I chose to live as a singer-songwriter.
Decades have passed, and yet Tulip’s 1000th concert pops up in my mind every time I think about regret. Tulip Land had never been held again. Since the band broke up and the guitarist passed away, it never will. I passed up the once in a lifetime event for sure. Time neither solved the problem nor eased the pain. I still agonize over how foolish I was not to go. In me, a word ‘regret’ stands for Tulip Land.

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The Positive Generated by the Negative hr625

When I was in kindergarten, I was always pushed away and ignored by my fellow kindergartners.
I played the bells wearing a headpiece of a dove on stage alongside other kindergartners at an annual presentation before the parents. I was told to stand at the edge of the stage close to the wings. As we were playing, the kids next to me continued to thrust me into the wings. I tried to fight the way back onto the stage as it had looked more and more that I didn’t participate the performance. No matter how hard I tried, they kept pushing me aside and the best I could do was to poke half of my face out of the wings.
It was the time of an Apollo-frenzy and the kindergarten held an exhibit of miniature rockets made by the children for the parents. The rockets were to be made out of empty soft drink bottles. Since the plan of the exhibit was introduced, I had diligently collected empty bottles. By the time the miniature rocket began to be built, I collected and brought the highest number of bottles to the class. But once we started making, the kids wouldn’t use my bottles. Although all of us brought similar bottles in the same shape and size, they were carefully excluding the ones I brought as their materials. Every time I glued one of mine to the rocket, some kid removed it. I glued, they removed. The rocket had gotten bigger only with other kids’ bottles as we repeated the glue-remove maneuver persistently. Finally other kids’ patience to keep removing my bottle ran out and they started throwing it away out of the window. I went outside to pick it up and as soon as I came back, another bottle of mine was thrown out. Now a new routine had been established. They threw out, I picked in. The rocket completed without one single bottle of mine. I brought home all the bottles intact and told my parents that those were surplus. My mother came to the exhibit and saw the rocket that I didn’t participate to make, but with my name among the builder’s list.

person singing on stage

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Come to think of it, those kindergarten days precisely represent my whole life. As a singer-songwriter, I have been pushed away and ignored in music circles. Nobody has noticed nor recognized me as if I were an invisible person. I had dreamed that my songs would be in the charts and I would become a celebrity. I would be on ‘Tonight Show’ as a guest and talk with the host. I would be loved by people and be on the top of the world. I had prepared for that day for a long time. I had been dieting and exercising. I had been nice to people and talking to them to improve social skills. I had fervently craved fame. Meanwhile though, the songs that I completed with all my effort and strength by sacrificing everything else had never been appreciated. I think it’s time to accept the reality. It’s about time to abandon confidence and expectation for this world and to admit that I had overestimated the world.
Since the end of the last year, strange things have happened to me as if some messages had been being sent. I had vaguely received and interpreted them. Then I came across one movie that defined the message and made me wide awake. I hadn’t been able to shake off the idea that I had been locked up in a prison or an institution since I was little. And I was right. I realized this world’s true self. Now I have, at long last, found the way to get out of it.
I can’t wake up in the morning. I can’t get along with others. I can’t do what I don’t like. I can’t notice transparent glass so that I bang into it. I can’t get a driver’s license. I can’t perceive people’s feelings. But everything is all right from now on. I am happy to be pushed away from the world because I am no longer part of it. By willingly stopping being part of it, I got out of this world and attained freedom. It’s so funny I had desperately tried all my life to belong to this society that I had known is crazy since my childhood. I will live as myself without conforming to the craziness. I will not care about this society’s value now that I’m out of it. Instead, I evaluate solely by my own value. I judge what is good. I decide what is successful. I’ve never felt free this much in my entire life. All of a sudden, everything reversed and people look locked up while I was released. Outside, my life itself is art because it exists to create music. My songs are supreme pieces and that means I’m totally successful. I’ve become a true artist standing center stage in a spotlight.

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A Guest Appearance in The Tonight Show hr614

I am a singer-songwriter but don’t do any gigs before audience any more as I used to do.
I’m too self-conscious and have an almost morbid complex about my looks. Whenever I give a live performance, I worry too much about the way I look instead of the way I play. Since I duly know my looks are bad, I can’t focus on my play. All the while I’m singing, I keep chanting in my head, “I’m ugly, I’m ugly, I’m ugly.” Acute lack of self-confidence for looks makes me extra-nervous. As a result, I get tense excessively, sweat all over, forget the words of my song, and play terribly. I’ve lost every single live contest or audition. It’s easy to assume one of the reasons why I haven’t been successful to date.
Countless numbers of failure later, I’ve become a recording artist who don’t perform before audience. As such, I regularly practice singing to record my songs. During the practice, I sing alone in my room. It usually goes smoothly. But the minute I imagine I were singing in public, my technique disappears and deteriorates to rock bottom. I have a sense that I need to cure this public-phobia in order to be successful. Therefore, I started practicing by turning my room into an imaginary studio as if I were on The Tonight Show.
Since then, when I practice in my room, I’ve sung in The Tonight Show in my head almost every day for years. It has been therapy rather than practice. In that way, my singing is awful because I lose focus on a song. My focus easily turns towards looks. The words of a song in my head are replaced by the thoughts about how I look on TV. Do I look like an old woman? Does my nose get shiny? Are my ugly teeth showing? Am I too fat? Is my hair too thin? Endless concerns hinder my singing. Although I understand it’s desperately shallow, I can’t help it.

people at theater

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But as I’ve practiced that way for a long time, there is a day when I sing well on the imaginary show occasionally. In a case like that, I feel like I’m ready for the actual show. That leads me another difficult phantom aspect – a talk with the host. I imagine myself sitting in the sofa beside the host. Instantly I’m worried about if I don’t talk like a stupid woman, if I cross my legs properly, if I put in clever jokes, if they don’t fall flat, if I leave the stage in style with a big punch line at which the audience laughs and goes crazy, and if people think Hidemi Woods is cute and smart with a superb sense of humor. Because of those worries, an imaginary self on the imaginary show is extremely nervous, fumble the talk all the way with cracked voice, speak broken English, tell a sick joke, sweat like a pig, and the audience goes silent. Seeing an unsightly, nightmarish myself in my head, I again realize that it’s impossible for me to act in public let alone The Tonight Show.
I am clumsy all my life. And I had been very fat since eight years old until all through teenage time. That is probably why I long for good looks too much. As a clumsy person, I definitely believe that I’ve already gone through more embarrassment than ordinary people usually experience in lifetime…

 

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The New Song Completed, Again hr598

After a one-year-long struggle with mastering, I completed my new song and got to open Moet Chandon. I took a long summer vacation for the first time since I became a musician. Then I got down to post production, starting with mastering the instrumental track of the new song. The instrumental track isn’t important, it’s a kind of an incidental that is prepared just in case. I was going to take it easy and get it over quickly. That approach of mine led casual settings for the effects and their readings. I tried an experimental setting that I had never applied on the master track since I knew it would go overboard. While it was easy to imagine that the resultant track would be bad, I just did it for some sort of fun. The most difficult part of mastering is to boost volume. To get the song to its adequate volume, I spent an unbelievable amount of time sending the master track into the effects repeatedly by which the volume got bigger little by little. But as for this instrumental track, the volume got magically big on the first try of my experimental setting. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the track’s fat audio wave. In a case like this, I knew too well that its sound would be crushed and terrible. I listened to the track and I couldn’t believe my ears either. The new instrumental track sounded better than the finished master track. I tried to grasp what was going on. The only explanation I could find was that this was the instrumental track without main vocals. The track with main vocals can be another matter altogether because vocals tend to complicate effects’ settings. The settings that work for the instrumental track don’t necessarily work for the one with vocals. The problem here was though, that I was assaulted by an urge to try these settings on the master track. I battled with the urge by asking to myself: Haven’t I declared the song’s completion? Am I redoing all over again? What if I bog down into that notorious endless mastering loop again? Am I really willing to repeat that struggle? Do I prolong this project even more? Although I did my best and tried the limits of my abilities for the new song, I couldn’t deny that there were some aspects I had to give in. It sounded slightly different from what I really wanted, but I couldn’t find the way no matter how many times I tried. What if these new settings were the solution? If I wanted the song to be perfect, wouldn’t it be worth a try? The urge prevailed. I redid the mastering with the settings that happened to be found for the instrumental track. It worked. On one try, the song turned into exactly what I had been searching for. I had no other way than replacing the version I had completed with a one-year-long struggle with this new version completed in a few minutes. I felt rather chilled than happy. I experienced the inexplicable. The very thing I had struggled to get over one year was found totally accidentally, ridiculously easily. It was as if the date for the song’s completion had been fixed long since. The song has been completed surely this time, but I had already finished Moet and had nothing to celebrate with. I was too embarrassed to tell my partner who works as the producer this course of events. I didn’t have the nerve to tell someone who had waited for the song with enormous patience during the one-year-long mastering that I changed the master track to the one I just finished in a matter of minutes. I hesitated but eventually confessed. Sometimes, taking time doesn’t mean the best result. I still feel that someone else was mastering the song in place of me while I was taking a summer vacation as a reward for having done my best for one year. Music can be after all what is given, not what one makes…

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