Ryomei Shirai Faces the Music

Multi-talented musician Ryomei Shirai is best-known as a member of The Moonriders, a genre-busting band formed ay back in 1975. Over the last few years, the members have released a number of solo albums and projects, and this is Ryomei’s. “Face to Guitars” is an album that ranges from straight-ahead rock to jazz/funk, progressive rock, and even Celtic reels in an eclectic fifty minutes worth. Ryomei held a special promotional event at Ebisu Livegate on Sunday March 22nd – and I was very happy to be a part of it.

“Face to Guitars” is out now on Vivid Records.

Youtube preview link here.

3/11: Four Years On

3/11 was four years ago, and the publication of the charity anthology “Tomo” was three years ago. I was honored to be a part of it; here’s the email I received today from Holly Thompson, editor of the anthology and Co-ordinator of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Japan branch.

Hello Tomo Contributors,

I hope you are all well and in good health on this fourth anniversary of 3/11. As you all know there is still much struggle and hardship in Tohoku, and Tomo has continued to support teens in a small but important way through the NPO Hope for Tomorrow Japan.

Peter Goodman, Stone Bridge Press publisher of Tomo, has informed me that the print run of the trade paperback edition of Tomo has nearly sold out, and that when the final remaining copies are sold, no new print copies will be available. The ebook/Kindle version will continue to be available, however.

Perhaps you will consider taking this occasion on this fourth anniversary to speak up about the Tomo anthology, about the extensive readers’ guide on the blog, and about the store of incredible interviews (http://tomoanthology.blogspot.com)–thank you all!

It is my hope that Tomo will continue to enable people to keep in mind all those who have suffered hardship and unspeakable losses in Tohoku during and following 3/11. It is also my sincere hope that Tomo may also continue to serve as a reminder of the the many ways, small and large, that we, as writers, illustrators and translators, can, through words and story, help support communities in times of disaster.

Wishing you all the best,

Holly Thompson
Editor, Tomo Anthology


Here’s a link to the Tomo page …

Here’s a link to an excerpt from “Staring at the Haiku”, my contribution to the anthology!

Blue Bottle Coffee, Tokyo

One of America’s hottest coffee shops, Blue Bottle Coffee, now has branches in Tokyo! Its flagship roastery and cafe, in the residential shitamachi area of Kiyosumi,opened last month. Their cafe in Aoyama opened March 7th and they’ll have a kiosk soon in the Aoyama Tartine Bakery building, currently under construction. That’s the good news! The bad news is … everyone else knows this too. Be prepared for a wait. Lines of customers go winding down the street and on average, it takes an hour to get inside.

Directions to the stores will follow soon.

A Beat Generation Guide to San Francisco

The following photoblog shows some locations associated with the American Beat Movement of the Fifties and Sixties … the locations consist of:

City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway
North Beach SF

The Beat Museum
540 Broadway SF

The Naked Lunch cafe and diner
504 Broadway SF

(These three locations are all within two minutes walk of each other. Also, taking photos is permitted inside the Museum – hence the pictures below!)

Golden Gate park

Big Sur, about 3 hours drive from SF.

City Lights bookshop front

The mural in the alleyway around the corner from City Lights

A quotation from Jack Kerouac’s work carved into the alley sidewalk

Beat Museum Mural (next to entrance)

Shirt worn by Neal Cassady when driving the ‘Furthur’ bus for Ken Kesey

An Underwood typewriter of the same model used by the Beat writers

The 1949 Hudson used in the 2012 film version of “On The Road”

Howl Text

Howl Joke

Signboard outside The Naked Lunch Diner

Spicy Chicken Burger and Roast Lamb Cheesesteak Sandwich with Chili Fries at The Naked Lunch Diner

If you look carefully at the lady in the background, you can see she’s reading “The Maltese Falcon” by another San Francisco literary landmark, Dashiel Hammet. How postmodern is that?!

The Naked Lunch Interior

Golden Gate Park

The Janis Joplin Tree

The first Human Be-In

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge

The tiny beach under Bixby Bridge where Jack Kerouac – possibly – wrote the poem “Sea” in 1960

A glass of Big Sur ale to round off the day!

A Science Fiction Lover’s Guide to San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay area … the setting of such science fiction classics as “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, Morgan’s Takashi Kovacs series, Gibson’s Bridge trilogy … and the lesser-known gems such as “Our Lady of Darkness” by Fritz Leiber, and “The Fire Rose” by Mercedes Lackey.
It’s also the setting for films such as the 2014 “Godzilla”, the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Leonard Nimoy, “Rollerball”, “The Core” and the rebooted “Star Trek”. It can also boast the the longest and silliest car chase in film history, from “Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” (1965).
With such a rich heritage for the futuristic and fantastic, surely book lovers can expect to find some rare and unusual literary finds? On a recent trip to the USA, I was lucky enough to sample some of the city’s genre bookshops, and I thought I would share my findings here!

Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street, near Mission
415-824-8203 (see photo above)

Borderlands is the flagship store for fantasy, science fiction and horror, which means that most of its stock is new. It does, however, have an impressive section of second hand books at the back, on the first floor. There are four floor-to-ceiing cases and one free-standing mini-case containing used paperbacks, and covering most of the authors in the field. The price is mainly two dollars, which is a bargain considering some of the book sare vintage out-of-print editions. I found the first volume of E E Doc Smith’s Lensman series here … and even more of a surprise, an autographed copy of Poul Anderson’s “The High Crusade”.

Dog Eared Books
900 Valencia Street, near Mission
Tel: 415-282-1901
This is just down the road from Borderlands, and it focuses entirely on second hand books of all genres, fiction and non-fiction. The Science Fiction section is of couse considerably smaller than Borderlands, but it is possible to find some gems here if you’re lucky, such as some of the obscurer titles by Michael Moorcock.

And then there’s the motherlode ….

Kayo Books (above)
814 Post Street
Tel: 415-749-0554

Kayo Books, in the Tenderloin area. The first floor is pulp fiction, which covers private eye, hard-boiled, true crime, and every variation thereof. The science fiction used books section is upstairs, and is twice as large and eclectic as the afore-mentioned Borderlands. You can expect to find most titles by the greatest names in the genre, as well as hard-to-find works by writers such as John Brunner, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, Roger Zelazny … the range is just mind-boggling. Not only that, the first floor has a comics section at the back, where you can find second-hand graphic novels and loose issues of Bronze Age comics such as “Tomb of Dracula”, “Werewolf By Night”, and Jack Kirby’s “Forever People”, “Demon”, “Kamandi”, “Omac: One Man Army” … just thinking about it makes me feel light-headed.

Sadly, we didn’t get time to check out …

317 Castro St

Mountain View

(650) 968-7323
which is apparently the biggest second-hand bookstore in San Francisco, or …

Isotope Comics
326 Fell Street (near Haight Ashbury)
Tel: 415-621-6543
which is apparently the best comic shop in the area. An honorable mention should go, however, to …

Jeffrey’s Toys
685 Market Street
which sells all the latest comic titles as well as having a bargain bin of back issues for a dollar (and I found some issues of Camelot 3000 in there).

And .. last but not least! This curiosity is being sold at the store “Boccalone: Tasty Salted Pig Parts” in the Ferry Building, at the Bay end of Market Street. It seems that Chris Cosentino, celebrity chef and TV star, is also a comics fan, and got the idea and the opportunity to write a one-shot special “Wolverine: In The Flesh”. The plot tells of Wolverine tracking a serial killer in the Bay area who professionally butchers his victims, and the clawed Canadian hero brings in a friend of his to help, a local master chef who looks suspiciously like … Chris Cosentino.

This autographed rarity is on sale at the Boccalone store for the extremely reasonable price of five dollars.
San Francisco! We’ll be coming back to riffle through your racks and boxes again … we can’t wait!

Jack Bauer on the Yamanote Line!

On Tuesday night, I was mildly surprised to get on a carriage of the Yamanote line, Tokyo’s equivalent of the Circle line, and find that the entire train (inside and out) had been decorated with promotional advertising for the miniseries “24: Live Another Day”. This included video screens above the seats and overhead banner posters going all the way down the carriage (and presumably the entire train). I tried to get a shot of the inside but unfortunately the crowds of passengers prevented me from doing so.
“24: Live Another Day” airs on Japan’s Fox Channel early next March.

Philip K Dick in Kanda

What’s the story behind the cafe in Kanda (central Tokyo) that has set up a display dedicated to the works of Philip K Dick, especially Blade Runner?

The secret is that the cafe (The Christie Cafe) is right next door to (and is owned by) the Hayakawa publishing company, which specializes in mystery, suspense, fantasy, and science fiction. Until Dec 26th, they’re running an exhibition that features a special menu (Do Androids Dream of Mutton Mixed Grill, amongst other dishes), a Voight-Kampff Empathy questionnaire form (in Japanese) to find out if you’re a replicant or not, an origami sheet of instructions on how to fold the trademark chicken and unicorn, and nightly screenings of PKD film adaptations. Soundtracks (such as the seminal Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack) are piped through the PA from 5pm to closing time.

Go and see it …because otherwise those two months of the display will be lost … like tears in the rain.

Tim Burton in Roppongi

Continuing until the 4th of January 2015 in the Roppongi Hills Arts Centre Gallery, is “The World of Tim Burton”, an exhibition dedicated to the King of all Weird-looking Misfits with a Heart of Gold. It’s divided into fourteen sections, and contains hundreds of mixed-media exhibits, some of them instantly recognizable from his hit movies, some of them never seen before.

The sections are divided up along the lines of media and themes. There are sketches of characters such as Edward Scissorhands and Jack Skellington, accompanied by pages from Burton’s scrapbooks, showing how they proceeded from idea to screen reality. There are also models and maquettes of characters such as the Oompa Lumpas, and original sculptures and a series of outsized Polaroids by Burton himself. Video screens show a few adventures from “The World of Stainboy”, a series of flash animation shorts that Burton created with Flinch Studio in 2000 – as well as the Disney “Hansel and Gretel” TV special shown once in 1982 (and never repeated on mainstream TV – wonder why?)

Of particular note are three sections. One is Unrealized Projects, with 90 works of art hinting at what darkly glorious works could have reached the screen … if only the conditions had been right.
The others are Influences and The Carnivalesque, containing a total of eighty artworks in various media. It’s common knowledge now that Burton’s trademark is the misunderstood freak, the shunned outsider who hides a heart of gold beneath a bizarre appearance. His signature designs are based on German Expressionism and old-time sideshow carnivals (that get a whole section to themselves), as can be seen in his movies right from “Edward Scissorhands” to “Frankenweenie”. What impressed me personally, however, were the influences that I wasn’t expecting, but seem only logical considering Burton’s work as a whole. One of these is the influence of H. P. Lovecraft. The painting “Surrounding” is a clear nod to Lovecraft’s universe of Cosmic Horror, where our world is bordered by fathomless voids of time and space filled with intelligences beyond the scope of human comprehension.

Another nod goes to Ralph Steadman – curiously enough, when I was looking at one of Burton’s scrapbooks I had the sudden feeling I was reading the paperback of Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”.
The World of Tim Burton, then. Go and lose yourself in it. You might not find your way back to your previous reality … and you might not care.

All images copyright Tim Burton, natch.