Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

My Robot Band hr657

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Year of 1984 was one of the bitterest years of my life and also a major turning point. After I was able to join the band of a locally acclaimed young man, the band had been striving to become professional in Osaka, which is the biggest city in the western Japan. While I had unwavering confidence in the songs we wrote, we constantly had difficulty in finding desirable members. Except for him and me, other members had come and gone, and we couldn’t materialize our ideal sound with any of them. Even a gig was almost impossible with just two of us being permanent members.

My partner and I couldn’t waste any more time searching for apt band members who shared similar passion as ours and played exactly how we wanted. As the solution, we came up with the idea to use a rhythm machine and a sequencer in place of human members. Those gadgets were the cutting edge of music instruments at the time and had just appeared on the market. We thought they would be perfect band members who realized our sound as we requested because we were the ones that put data into them. We weren’t sure about the passion side of machines, but at least they would commit and wouldn’t quit like humans did. Because personal computers were still in the floppy disk era and not strong enough for music, we connected a rhythm machine, a sequencer and synthesizers with cables to play a gig. Added to the machines, I was on the keyboard and vocals, and my partner was on the guitar and vocals. There formed my robot band.

Although it had seemed perfect, we faced quite a few obstacles to play in the band with machines. Let alone it cost heftily and carrying them around by two of us without a car was a daunting physical challenge each time, it took enormous time to enter the whole data of our songs into them. As thumb drives or hard disk drives were yet to come, we needed to record special signals sounding like ‘beeeeep, bip, beep, bip, beep’ into a cassette tape to save the data. The data consumed one cassette tape per song, not at one go although the signals were long. I once inadvertently tripped on one of the cables which erased the whole data that I had spent all night inputting. The worse troubles awaited us at the gig. The innumerable necessary cables and cords made setting and preparation for my band far more complicated and time-consuming than other bands. One single wrong connection would break synchronization. On one occasion, the machines didn’t start and we couldn’t play but stood still on stage because one of the stage staff pulled out one cable by mistake. On another occasion, one of the machines suddenly uttered “Pi!” and went silent in the middle of playing. Furthermore, I needed to put a specific setting for each song on the several keyboards during every interval between our songs. Because the stage usually went dark between songs, it wasn’t easy to see the correct buttons and switches on my keyboards. A stage staff person once came up on the stage to help me with the setting by lighting over my keyboards with his lighter. The venue strictly banned any use of fire and he was harshly reprimanded for that afterwards because of me. Through those unpredictable chilling experiences, I basically feared every time if songs would start without hitches instead of enjoying gigs whenever I was on stage.

Still, harder trials existed. Other bands mostly consisted of college students who played as a hobby not for a career. Their attitude toward music was incredibly easygoing and they were just having fun on stage. Their songs were frivolous likewise. Yet, they were able to draw a large audience since they had friends on the campus so that their gig was usually a big hit with a livened up crowd. On the other hand, my band was just two people standing surrounded by numerous instruments and machines, and singing serious lyrical songs. Because we didn’t have friends to gather, the audience were strangers who had no interest in our playing and just waited for our gig to end.

That was also the case when we took part in a live contest. To make matters worse, a contest was sometimes fixed where the winner had already been decided. As I didn’t know that the contest was only held to give that winner the credential before the label signed a contract with the prearranged winner, I was appalled when we lost to a really bad but pretty singer.

I had gotten to loathe live performance by those experiences. Not just loathe it, but I had gotten to break out in a cold sweat on gigs. Since then, we have performed live less and less and have done none these days. I guess that shows how much I learned the hard way. To this day, the nightmares I have most are that I am playing on stage. However, my robot band has been transformed since it got off stage. The machines turned into a personal computer with software who has been my important partner to create my music. Thanks to it, I have been able to embody exactly what sounded in my head. A long period of time later, my robot band eventually made my dream come true.

 

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Passion hr656

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What I had been doing before I decided to become a musician was studying to enter one of Japanese first-rate universities, which was ostensibly believed so. That was when I was a high school student in the early 80’s.

To tell you the truth, I had in fact, not been studying in those days, which I had never told anyone. I just had been pretending to study every day. While I had acted in front of my family and friends as if I had been preparing for fiercely competitive entrance examinations and studying desperately to succeed in them, I hadn’t been able to find any sort of motivation to study once I sat at my desk in my room. To stimulate myself, I would listen to the records of my favorite band, but then gaze blankly at empty space or take a nap instead of being stimulated. I had tried to study in the middle of the night, which was supposed to be quieter and easier to concentrate, but I would listen to late night radio shows at which I would laugh until dawn.

After I had spent months in those routines while arrogantly declaring to people around me that I would get in the leading university, I came to my senses and began to wonder how I could succeed without studying. Now I had trembled every day with a fear that I would have failed the entrance examination of all first-rate universities. Even though I was grasped with the fear, I still couldn’t feel like studying. And in the end, that fear did materialize.

Am I a born sluggard? Am I a loser? In the depths of despair, I made up my mind to be a musician. Then in an instant my attitude changed completely. I earnestly searched for and joined a professional-oriented band, spent all the savings I had on a synthesizer, and practiced every day at the far-off rental studio to which I took a train and brought the synthesizer weighing fifty pounds and carried by me who is merely five feet. I would sweat all over even in winter just carrying it from and to the platform at the train station.

On one occasion at the station, as though he couldn’t stand to watch me struggling with the synthesizer any more, a man approached me silently and lifted it on his shoulder. He went down the stairs from the platform carrying it for me. While he staggered along the way and slowed down probably because it was heavier than he had thought, he brought it to the bottom of the stairs and disappeared without a word. I felt like a hero came to rescue me.

But a villain also appeared as well. On another occasion, I was walking over the bridge carrying it in addition to other instruments. Because it was impossible for me to walk continuously with all that heavy stuff, I posed and put down all the instruments every few yards. And a vulgar man yelled at me from behind, “Get out of my way, you slow-walking ugly!” I snapped at the word ‘ugly’, put down the instruments, and stopped him by saying, “What did you say?” Then I seized him by the neck, squeezed it and pushed him to the bridge-rail. I was wringing his neck seriously and intended to push him down to the river. The man gasped for air and screamed “Call the police! Please, someone!” By that time, passersby had gathered, and a woman untangled my hands on his neck and broke us up. It seemed I turned into a villain there.

When I wasn’t in the studio, I had practiced playing the keyboard at home and worked at a part-time job to pay for the rental studio. Although my new routine had totally exhausted me, I was willing to take the ordeal. I never lost my passion as if I were possessed by something. And I haven’t lost it to this day after decades have passed.

To keep going can lead to many setbacks. Sometimes there are those nights when I want to give up and throw everything away. Still, when it dawns, I get motivated again gradually. Not vanity nor prosperity but passion keeps me alive. I don’t want to quit staying alive just yet.

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The Turning Point hr648

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I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape.
It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late.
The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came.
After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist.
As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting.
I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead.
I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.

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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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Nothing But Leaves My Carrot Gives hr643

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When I was nine years old, I suffered from a kidney disease called nephritis. I skipped school and stayed in bed at home for a week as I felt sick and had a fever every day. It had gotten so worse that I vomited blood one night and passed out. My mother found it next morning and called in a neighbor who worked as a nurse. She urged my mother to take me to the local clinic which doctor in turn urged her to get me examined at the hospital. As a result, I was hospitalized for nephritis.
As it was when I lived in a small village of Kyoto, Japan, no one in my family knew what nephritis was. My mother rummaged out a supplement of a homemaking magazine that featured medical issues. It had charts of disease that showed a result according to symptoms by following the arrows to correspond applicable symptoms. I chose the arrows of my symptoms and ended up the result of ‘death’. No matter how many times and how many different patterns I tried, the bottom of the chart concluded with a word ‘death’. “Does it mean I’ll die of this disease in any case?” My mother and I asked the same question to each other and closed the booklet.
My hospitalized days in a shared room of six patients at the children’s ward began. As a nephritis patient, I didn’t have freedom of flushing the toilet. Urine had to be kept in a glass jar each time to be examined. Its amount and color told a condition of a patient. Other patients’ jars were put on the shelves along with mine. Compared to others’, mine was less and darker. I was afraid if my condition was so bad. Because I didn’t want to admit it and didn’t want doctors and nurses to find it either, I tried to cheat. Into a one-time jar, I urinated twice so that at least my amount seemed normal. It had escalated gradually and I urinated the whole day into one jar. Ironically, the abnormally large amount of urine drew an alarming attention of a nurse who thought my illness had taken an inexplicable turn for the worse. It worked directly opposite to what I had intended and I confessed my cheating helter-skelter.
My six-patient room wasn’t usually lonesome as we were kids and some of their parents were allowed to stay with them on the couches next to their beds. But some got permission to go home for the night provisionally, some got well and left the hospital, some got worse and moved to a single room, all of which coincided at the same time and the room was almost empty one night. A girl whose bed was on the opposite side of mine and I were only patients in the room. After the lights-out time, she asked in the darkness if I was still awake. As I answered yes, she started telling me a story that she made. I thought she felt lonely and couldn’t sleep because the room was too quiet that night with just two of us. Her story was about two rabbits. They seeded, watered and grew carrots at each section in the field. The night before the harvest, one of the two rabbits sneaked in the field and pulled out all the carrots from the other rabbit’s section. He ate them all and put leaves back on each hole to cover it. Next morning, two rabbits came up to the field and started to harvest their carrots on their each section. The other rabbit, who knew nothing about the night before, was excited to reap his carrots since he had been looking forward to this day for long. But every time he pulled out his carrot, there was nothing beyond the leaves. He was puzzled and sang, “Nothing but leaves my carrot gives!” While his friend rabbit was pulling out a ripe carrot one after another next to his section, he pulled out only leaves out of a hole repeatedly and sang each time, “Nothing but leaves my carrot gives!” I dozed off and woke up by the girl’s voice of “Hidemi, are you listening?” a few times during the story. Unfortunately, my patience didn’t last until the end. I had been completely asleep at that part of the story and didn’t get the ending. With hindsight, her story may not be her original but something she read or heard since it ‘s too good for a story that a small child makes. Either way, I still remember the story for some reason. When my song didn’t sell at all although I had spent many years to complete it, I heard “Nothing but leaves my carrot gives!” from somewhere.
One day, we had a new comer in the six-patient room. Although she was a junior high school student and wasn’t supposed to be in the children’s ward, she was sent here because the women’s ward was full. She was unhappy to be confined with kids and complained to her mother and the nurses. She looked a grown-up to me and I liked her instantly. I went to her bed to talk to her and tried to console her. I had been stuck to her bedside every day since. She often told me not to make her laugh because her wound from an appendix operation hurt. She laughed at my talks anyway. When she left the hospital, she gave me a gift. It was a small porcelain doll who was wearing a white bouffant skirt beneath which was a bell. On the skirt, there was a printed inscription saying, “I wish for your happiness.” I had put her on the shelves in my room long after I left the hospital, until I grew up and left home.
I think those hospital days have influenced me immensely. I had been constantly aware of death in those days. I got well after all but I had never felt death so close to me in my life. As it’s said that people don’t live life unless they understand death, that experience has driven me to think things based on the idea that I eventually die, and therefore to do what I want for my life. Even if my carrot gives nothing but leaves.

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