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Archive for July, 2009

Old Things, Corny Things, Good Things, Part 4: Sukiyaki, a few ways

Posted by crowbiz on July 20, 2009

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I have no musical abilities.  I have never received any training whatsoever and cannot read music nor play an instrument, but I can pick out a simple tune by figuring out the notes.  Sheer persistence will not spirit me to Carnegie Hall any time soon.  My biggest claim to fame is that I figured out the famous segments from Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” – for my son’s sake – and an assortment of other clunky note-after-note arrangements of songs no one would want to hear anyway.  For a short time in my adult life I had a flea market accordian, and as far as a lot of people are concerned, the less said about it the better.  My two songs were “Beer Barrel Polka,” naturally, and a hard-to-detect version of “Wipe Out.”  I’ve been threatening a midlife  drum lesson crisis; the family is rightfully worried yet ambivalent; they know drumming would serve as a general stress/rage outlet which they’d be forced to endure, but it would also mean I’d be less likely to take out my frustrations directly on them.  Life is all about trade-offs.

Singing, however, seems like something I could tackle.  Everyone can sing.  Not well, but everyone technically can do it.  And so I do.  Since the boys were babies, I’ve been singing out loud without embarrassment, as infants and toddlers are very receptive to Nat King Cole standards and other gems.  Now that they’re old enough to be embarrassed by and for me, I’ve upped the mortifaction potential by trying a few songs in foreign languages.  My version of “Sur Les Quais du Vieux Paris” is decent, what with my passing toddler-level French and a lot of gusto.

Next is one I’ve been wishing to master for years:  “Sukiyaki.”  The most famous version was done by Kyu Sakamoto, who saw it become a hit in 1963.  It’s a charmingly mournful song with its xylophone melody (? I told you I have no musical knowledge) and whistling interlude.  Here’s some sort of pre-video version of it that is equal parts dreary, cute, and puzzling.  Though I hardly have to point it out, notice the requisite Godzilla-like lip-asynching.  For a love song, it’s also creepy how Sakamoto dreamily runs his hands along a bunch of filthy 55-gallon industrial drums and walks through what may be chemical run-off puddles.

Unfortunately, this song has been covered many times, and every cover I’ve uncovered is dreck.  Worst are the versions that use the “Sukiyaki” melody with invented English lyrics.  The disco group A Taste Of Honey did a 70s version.  Yep, there’s a rap version.  Most pitiful was a country version I unearthed by a Hank Billy Wayne Bobby Pickens, Jr. or some such.  Why bother?  Aren’t there more important things to do – find a cure for cancer, mow a lawn somewhere?

Even sadder than the misguided covers is Kyu Sakamoto’s untimely death in the deadliest single airplane disaster in history in 1985, in which over 500 people perished.  Adding to this sadness is that as a 21-year-old college swingle, I knew about Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki,” and the crash at the time.  I knew the death count and that there had been a few survivors, including a couple of children.  This blog category isn’t called “corny” for nothing.

So far, I’ve covered a bit of the good, the bad and the ugly.  Now get ready for some awesome.  In my search for lyrics, I found one cover of “Sukiyaki” that, if you have human blood in your veins, should knock your socks off.  Forget the honky-tonk burlesque instrumentation.  Overlook his Nordic-patterned sweater and shocking resemblance to Buddy Hackett.  If this guy isn’t one of the most honest and spirited things you’ve seen online in a long while, then you’re a fool and you should just go back to watching farting dogs, snap dancing and William Hung for your unexamined kicks.  When he stops “la la la”-ing and sits quietly looking dead at you, then adjusts his glasses, you’ll know.

As for my own never-to-be-recorded “Sukiyaki,” progress is going nicely.  Phonetically, I find it very easy to handle and it’s mostly a matter of memory, but in a couple days I ought to have it nailed.  Karaoke night is waiting.

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Seven Girls a-Gagging

Posted by crowbiz on July 16, 2009

Special thanks to my mother, who brought up this episode a few weeks ago, and recalled her role with perfect clarity – which simply means it jibed with my version – after more than 30 years.

The third grade lunch table at St. John Vianney school was a segregated affair:  boys on one side, girls on the other.  We did have the freedom to choose who we sat next to, but not who appeared across from us.  Thus it was that one day, while sitting with my pal Wendy, we found ourselves across the table from Jerry and Danny, good buddies and too-good-to-be-true opposites.  Jerry was small, impishly handsome and bright.  Danny was large for his age, with prematurely developing acne and body odor, and consistently at the bottom of the class standings (Much to my horror, he later developed a crush on me in our middle school years when his acne and BO reached clinical levels.  This still produces jaw clenching and DT-like shudders in me.) 


Have you tried it with Fluffernutter?

Have you tried it with Fluffernutter?

As boys are wont to do, J & D thought it would be funny to surprise their table face-mates with a little gross humor during our peanut butter session.  Jerry hauled from his nose the largest, wettest booger I have, to this day, ever seen, and began to wag his finger slowly, sensuously, scarily back and forth in front of us.  Like a chubby green flame, the booger did an unpredictable dance on his fingertip, catching glints of light from the fluorescent overheads.  Wendy and I were the intended targets of this monstrous display and the only ones to see it, save for Danny, who showed gummy stuck bread in his teeth as he convulsed with laughter.


Well, you all know what’s it like with an accident.  You can’t not look.  The crumpled metal, the roadkill, the broken dinnerware, the overturned wheelchair, you name it, it’s irresistible.  Jerry’s amorphic booger transfixed us like a hypnotic atrocity, the color, shine, and movement rendering Wendy and me powerless to disengage.  We clutched each other’s forearms for support and then it began….

Perhaps simultaneously, Wendy and I started in on a gag jag, punctuated by the occasional cough or airy near-puke belch.  Our eyes filled will retch-produced tears, yet still we could not look away from the offending, undulating finger.  Once our visceral reaction kicked in, Jerry continued the snot show with renewed vigor, darting the booger nearer to us as if to wipe or fling it.  Just as suddenly, he’d draw back the hand and pretend he might eat the booger, aiming it near his open mouth.  Danny was nearly on the floor by this time.

Sensing danger among their own kind, other girls quickly took notice of us.  Wendy and I articulated the trouble as best we could between gags and throat-bound burps.  Before anyone else could see, Jerry abruptly ceased all mucoid shenanigans, offloaded the booger somewhere (?), and sat up neatly and quietly like the altar boy he was.  Evidently, our choked descriptions were adequate, as a few girls’ faces started to twist into disgust and…what was that?…gag a little?  Two of us rapidly became four, then six, and finally seven girls sympathetically coughing and gagging in a hellish chorus.  Eyes teared.  Girls doubled over.  And almost immediately, a lunch lady was summoned to the scene.  Panicking and wondering if we’d been afflicted with a mysterious swift-acting malady (bad Jiffy?  spoiled milk?  why only the girls?), the lunch lady whisked us in single file up out of the basement cafeteria and straight to the nurse’s office.  

St. John’s was a tiny school where the same 25 children progressed from K through Grade 8 together with a rare loss or addition of a kid here and there.  Charitably, I could say the school and church were not well off.  Turquoise painted cinderblock, a basement cafeteria/stageless auditorium/gym (with low ceilings), no lunch program, forced child labor.  Gym classes, when we had them, usually consisted of milling around in the blacktop church parking lot.  We dreaded Mass days, because the church was unheated.  In fourth grade, I remember a substitute nun ordering us to pick the crumpled paper out of the class wastebasket, smooth it as best we could, and use any unwritten-on sides or areas for our work.  You could tell who came from a big family, as the girls would be wearing a hand-me-down uniform in a long ago style – different pleats, maybe even a whole different tone of plaid that been discontinued many years earlier;  boys from these families always had the wrong width tie for the times.  Even the name was cut-rate; who ever heard of Vianney?

And so, the nurse’s office was predictably underequipped.  In reality, we had no nurse; instead, one of the non-teaching nuns filled in when needed, materializing from the convent to wipe a brow, call a parent, dab mercurochrome, or throw absorbent sawdust on a vomit pool before the janitor arrived.  The office even housed the mimeograph machine.  Our unexpected gag-a-thon produced a makeshift response.  Seven girls.  Two cots.  Three World War II issue scratchy wool blankets.  The authorities piled us like cordwood onto the two cots, three on one, four on another, threw blankets haphazardly over us, and clicked on a space heater (yes, just what you want when feeling nauseous).  Lucky me, I was on the lower count cot with Wendy and Kathy G.  Despite the teachers’ attempts to understand the source of our retchfest, they remained puzzled, as none of the girls was able to adequately explain it; most girls didn’t even understand their own gagging as a sympathetic response to the sight and sound of others.

Moments passed.  The room was hushed and warm with the tick of the space heater lulling our gags away.  Soon, all physio systems returned to normal and the Band of Seven lay quietly enjoying the time out of class.  We risked some whispered conversation while the principal, Sister Patricia, called our mothers to come collect us.  As it happened, my mother was the first one called and the first to show up at school, no doubt unhappy that this intrusion had spoiled her own lunch with mid-day “stories.”  By now, all girls were feeling fine and getting chatty.   My mother appeared at the office door and was met with a barrage of amazingly recovered girly exclamations.

“It was so gross!”  “He was going to wipe it on me!”  “Jerry and Danny…” “Ewww!”  “It was so big!”   “Did he eat it?” 

My mother waved us silent and got the straight story from me.  A good little girl, I was careful to give an accurate account of the event, especially since I could see my mother’s face morphing into the “are you kidding me?” look.  

“WHAT?!  You mean to tell me that you’re all in here because a boy picked his nose?  At lunch?!”  My mother’s response dripped of the regret felt by a typical 70s housewife whose few hours of solitude – the tuna sandwich, “Days Of Our Lives,” the mid-day cigarette – had been shattered by the stupidest of interruptions.  (Sorry I couldn’t appreciate that until recently, Mom.  Really, I didn’t ask them to call you.)  “Get up, all of you!” she commanded.  The directives were flying now.  “Were all the mothers called?”  (She was hoping perhaps to prevent another mother’s scuttled day.)  “I’m going right upstairs to talk to Sister Patricia!”  “Get these girls back to class,” she ordered some other adult within earshot.

Cheerfully, we filed out of the nurse’s office and back upstairs to our second-floor classroom.  Some of the girls might have felt sheepish about the whole incident, but not me – I was an original, honest-to-goodness Witness To the Booger.  As we passed the principal’s office, I could hear my mother’s voice intermixed with stop-and-start apologetic exclamations from Sister Patricia, who, auditorially, at least, was up against the wall.  We girls were not disappointed to miss a chance to go home early;  it hadn’t been anyone’s intent in the first place.  The gagging just took on a life of its own and we were swept up in the circumstances directed by adults, as always.  I knew my mother would see this as the school’s mistake, not mine, so I found it in me to enjoy her opening a can of controlled suburban whoop-ass on the authorities.

Once we were all back in our seats and attending to the blackboard, the whole class turned to the door when we heard a voice.  The sound was a groan like the pissed-off voices of a hundred dead souls coming from the hallway beyond:

 “Jerry, Danny, please come out here.”

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