Friday, April 14, 2006


So the Rolling Stones played their first-ever concert in China. Big deal. Chinese audience members were reportedly less impressed by the Stones' electric showmanship than by the fact that they could, like, walk unassisted. More indie-minded music fans were tuning into another set of remarkably well-preserved rockers: The incredible, incomparable sisters Yamano, who've formed the creative core of the band known as Shonen Knife for the past 25 years. This week's column is all about the Knife:


It's hard to believe that a quarter-century has passed since the Yamano sisters formed the pioneering Japanese alt-rock trio Shonen Knife. But the band that made believers out of Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore turns 25 this year -- riding a wave of early-album reissues, and with their all-new indie disc GENKI SHOCK hitting boutiques this week.

Yep, that's right--this week, Knife released GENKI SHOCK, its first U.S. album since 2003's brilliant but overlooked HEAVY SONGS. It's pure, classic Knife--13 eclectic, whimsical, addictive tracks about things like email spam, cats, broccoli, and getting rid of pesky spiders. There's also a must-listen cut, "The Queen of Darkness," in which Naoko channels her inner goth-metal chick, to hilarious effect (don't worry, she's not taking it seriously either).

The Knife will be touring to support GENKI SHOCK later this year. Until then, this CD's a must-buy--get it for a loved one for Shonen Knife Day, which the initiated will know is July 12. (Why 7/12? Because 7-1-2, in Japanese, is nana-ichi-futatsu -- e.g., na-i-fu, or "knife.") More about the Knife at the Shonen Knife Nexus.

Shonen Knife's been around for a long time, but though they flirted with mainstream success back in the Nineties, they never quite broke through. That prompted me to think about a very different Japanese music act, which disbanded in 1981--the very year that Knife first formed. I'm talking about the Pink, kids--Pink Lady, the first Japanese pop group to try to break into the U.S. mainstream since Kyu Sakamoto (of "Sukiyaki" fame) back in the early Sixties.

Pretty, charming, and not entirely untalented, the pair of girls who made up Pink Lady--Mie and Kei--were colossal star in Japan before their abortive attempt to cross over. Their lone Billboard hit, a disco number called "Kiss in the Dark," is mostly forgotten; what Americans usually remember, sadly, is the duo'incredibly misguided TV variety show, PINK LADY AND JEFF. The show was so stupid, racist, and embarassing that it lasted just six episodes--taking down NBC chief Fred Silverman, who'd envisioned the midseason replacement as a kind of cross-cultural DONNY AND MARIE, with it. It also led to the dissolution of Pink Lady, who lost traction in Japan while they were trying to crack the U.S. market.

2006 is Pink Lady's 30th Anniversary, and there's a huge, nostalgic Pink Revival going on over in Japan--they're even releasing a massive Platinum Box set featuring 22 DVDs and CDs of Pink Lady's performances and music. For an awesome overview of Pink Lady's short but magnificent career, check out Jeffrey Branch's shrine to the duo, Pink Lady America. You'll be amazed.

Now some quick announcements:

--Artist Scott Tsuchitani--you may know him from his scathingly funny guerrilla parodies of the billboard ads for Asian Art Museum's summer exhibition, "Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile," me a line about a new exhibit he's in, called THE MAN BOX AND BEYOND: AN EXHIBIT ABOUT MASCULINITY AND MALE IDENTITY, at Mission District gallery The LAB (; 2948 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, 415.864.8855). Curated by Allegra Fortunati, it features Scott and 14 other artists exploring the nature of manhood, "oftentimes through humor and pathos...[revealing] memories of their experiences of pain, humiliation, abuse, lack of love, acceptance, and powerlessness." Sounds fascinating, and it runs through May 6.

--Girls think out of the box at the 8th Annual FUNNY GIRLZ showcase, Saturday, May 20, 2006 at 8pm (the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco; box office 415-392-4400; info 415-522-3737; Lisa Geduldig's celebration of women's comedy features a "hysterical and diverse line-up of internationally, nationally and locally known funny female comedians"--including this year's headliner, British Pakistani Muslim comic SHAZIA MIRZA ( She's sharp, hilarious, and pisses off all the right people--worth the $22.50 ticket all by herself. But you get so much more, and besides, part of the proceeds goes to fund a comedy class for inner city girls.

--Finally, a tip of the hat to Chicago Trib reporter Monica Eng, who with Delroy Alexander and David Jackson wrote a mesmerizing investigative report about how the Reverend Sun Myung Moon effectively controls a vast and growing segment of the U.S. seafood industry--including one of the biggest distributors of sushi-fresh fish, True World Group, whose "fleets of boats...[and] dozens of distribution most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants." sushi, support the Unification Church, pretty much. Moon saw fish as an opportunity early on, apparently. In 1980, he gave a speech called "The Way of Tuna," in which he was quoted as saying: "I have the entire system worked out, starting with boat building....After we build the boats, we catch the fish and process them for the market, and then have a distribution network. This is not just on the drawing board; I have already done it...[I will be] King of the Ocean!" Check out the piece here.

Note that Moon's business empire also includes a complimentary asset, the creepy conservative fishwrap known as THE WASHINGTON TIMES.

For a while, Rev. Moon was overshadowed by other scary religious figures like Pat Robertson and Tom Cruise; he's seemingly reemerged bigger than ever. So has his family: This past March, the WB's ghastly reality prog SURVIVAL OF THE RICHEST featured one of the Rev's daughters, “Kat” Moon. The estimated net worth of her family, according to the show? $989 million.

Guess a little fish goes a long way.


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