Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Seki Rocks Dylan: interview with an enigmatic music lover

Over a year ago a new principal came to Washimiya Junior High. He looks like any other Japanese administrator I've ever met: short sleeved button-up shirt with tie, glasses, greying hair. Given his appearance, I was completely caught off guard when he introduced himself to me in English like this: Good morning, nice to meet you, I'm Yasuhiko Seki and love your American folk music.

I soon found myself in the Principal's office and having a blast discussing American folk music, especially Bob Dylan, and learning about 60's and 70's America, that confusing and changing time that gave birth to so many great poets, rockers, and social critics. Because of our conversations, and sometimes guitar playing together, I asked Mr. Seki (54) if I could interview him for Inside Outsider. Fortunately he agreed, giving the blog its first interview report about someone who's interests and ideals don't really click with the society around him. He too is an inside-outsider.

IO: When you told me about your interest in American folk music I was a little surprised. How did you start listening to folk music here in Japan?

YS: I was 16 or 17 when I first heard the music. I started liking Bob Dylan when I was in a record shop. I asked the clerk to play "Times they're a Changing" by Simon and Garfunkel. It was very pretty. After that he played Bob Dylan's version and I was moved. Bob Dylan's rusty voice reflected the pain of people's minds. That's when I started listening to Dylan a lot.

IO: Were a lot of Japanese people listening to Dylan at the same time you were?

YS: Not many because he sang all in English so people couldn't understand. Not many people could touch his deep insight. He digs the problems with U.S. society.

IO: Dylan emerged at a very difficult time in U.S. history. Was there a similar atmosphere here in Japan at the same time?

YS: Oh yes. Americans were totally confused during the 60's and 70's because of the war [Vietnam] and the civil rights movement. Then there was unemployment. In Japan, during late 60's early 70's we had the huge student movements at Tokyo University. The students were tired of the old style of politics and wanted something modern. All over the world people were revolting, in London, and Paris, it was a time of change.

IO: With all that happening around you, how did Dylan's music effect your way of thinking about the world?

YS: Dylan's music changed my mind from a child to an adult; early Dylan especially with songs like "Only a Pawn in the Game," "Blowin in the Wind," and "North Country Blues." His songs are truth and always reflect the culture. He helped me think seriously about politics and social struggles. Also, I started learning English by listening to his music; that's why my pronounciation is a little rough I suppose.

IO: What other musicians do you like?

YS: I like Simon and Garfunkel, Brothers 4, The Band, and Credence Clearwater Revival. Also Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, and The Who.

IO: My dad really likes Simon and Garfunkel so I grew up listening to their music. It's so different from what you hear today. They focused so much on harmony and quality.

YS: That's right. I'd like to talk with your father someday. But you should remember that Paul Simon is a musician, not a poet like Dylan. Simon and Garfunkel's music is beautiful but it goes in one ear and out the other. It's all feeling and doesn't make you think. Compare Paul Simon's song "Boxer" to Dylan's "Who Killed Davey Moore" and you'll understand the difference. Dylan's lyrics accuse and question society, Paul Simon's don't. Dylan is a poet, not a musician.

IO: Thank you so much for your time. Can you play a tune for the Inside Outsider audience?

YS: Sure, how about Mr. Tambourine Man.


Thank you Mr. Seki, you are, by far, the coolest principal in Japan. If you're ever in Lubbock Texas, be sure to stop by so I can take you to the Buddy Holly Museum. Peace friend.

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