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Remembering Kenichi

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 Remembering Kenichi  

 

 I had the good fortune to get to know Kurosawa Kenichi in the early 1990s. I had been writing and recording songs for NHK and a few other companies in Tokyo, which brought me into contact with Okai Daiji, who became a much-respected friend of mine. One afternoon, soon after he produced their first CD, Daiji brought the L⇔R trio to my home studio. We spent the afternoon together companionably, sharing thoughts and ideas.   

 

 I had been extremely impressed by the musical fluency of their CD. Their songs seemed to be based on a musical vocabulary that transcended language and culture divisions of that time. But I was equally impressed by their charm and good nature. I remember thinking how refreshing it was to meet unpretentious people who were making remarkable music.

 

  That was my first impression, and it never changed - even after the many years of success Kenichi had with his music. Kenichi’s unpretentiousness was so easy that, after meeting L⇔R.I had no idea who the main creative force in the trio was.

 

 Sometime after our first meeting, Kenichi asked me to write English lyrics for one of his songs. That song became “Motion Picture.” I had written lyrics for Japanese musicians before, but this was completely different. Usually, artists would send me a song with Japanese lyrics and ask me to find the best English words and phrases to fit the meaning and melody. But Kenichi sent me a demo that he had sung in a mysterious mix of sounds, some of them were familiar and some were like a language that I had never heard before.   

 

  Kenichi often created his music in something that I will call “pop-lish “(or maybe  “rock’n’ ese “). It is beyond both English and Japanese. Listen to his singing on the album “Hear Me Now” – that’s it! It’s like the native language of international rock and pop music. 

 

 Later, I heard some other Japanese artists sing in similar ways in their demos, but I have never heard anyone who was as “fluent” as Kenichi was in that mysterious language. Kenichi’s “rock’n ese” seemed to explode with English word possibilities – and it was a very generous world of choices to explore. The only difficulty was in choosing which possibilities to let go of.  

 

 An example of that difficulty is the “Hear Me Now” song title. In that song I believe Kenichi actually sings “Here we now” (listen to it), but that was too oblique for English. I thought of using “Here we’re now”  (like a short version of “Here we are now”) or “Here, we know” – both sound closer to what he sang, and both were interesting - but “Hear Me Now” was closer to the spirit of the album concept, and close enough to what he sang (in a 空耳way). This was the kind of difficult choice Kenichi’s music often gave me – which good choices should I say goodbye to?  

 

 In Kenichi’s songs I tried to keep as much of his original tones and sounds as possible. In songwriting, the sound is sometimes more valuable than the meaning, and in Kenichi’s songwriting the sound was especially precious. He had a very expressive singing tone, so I always tried to preserve it.

 

 I only watched Kenichi writing song ideas once. We were in Los Angeles, producing the “Land of Riches”album. L⇔R, Okai Daiji, their manager and I were staying in a condo-hotel not far from the studio. One night, after a few beers, we passed a guitar around and played songs for each other. When it was his turn, Kenichi started playing and singing in that “pop-lish”of his. He played a steady flow of ideas that morphed into different keys and tempos. Each idea could have been the A, B or C part of a hit song, but there was no repetition. The motifs disappeared after he sang and played them. I realized that he was “free-styiling” with a long, unbroken stream of brilliant ideas.  

 

  Many songwriters have experienced creative moments when a song comes flowing out, from beginning to end. It has happened to me several times in my life, but those moments are rare. Watching Kenichi that night in L.A. I felt like he had music in him at all times, like water in a pipe. He only had to open up and music would come out in a steady stream – one brilliant idea after another. I guess the challenge for Kenichi was to choose which ideas to develop and which ones to say goodbye to. Choosing words for him was the same kind of challenge for me - but what a wonderful challenge it was.

 

 

*The Hear Me Again Challenge *  

 

So, here is my challenge to you. Listen to any of the songs Kenichi sings in “pop-lish “or “rock ‘n’ ese”on the album “Hear Me Now”. Choose a song or part of a song, and write your own idea for what he might have been singing (of course it should be different from what I wrote). It can be a long idea or a short idea. The staff and I will check your ideas out and post the best ones on this website. So, listen to Kenichi, and send in your ideas!   

 

by Brian Peck 

 

 

 

| - | 2019.10.08 Tuesday |
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