Friday, November 30, 2007

pants man!

the only thing that concerns me about this training video is that none of the adults are warning the kid about this. and p.s. is the dad tony the tiger?

you got that lamb stink on ya!

after the show tonight, back at the hotel, a young couple got in the elevator who stunk like smoke and meat. "sapporo brewery," we all said.

we recognized that smell. last night we joined some of the d.o.c. orchestra and crew for dinner in the sapporo brewery biergarten -- a "genghis kahn style" barbecue of all the fresh lamb you could cook, and all the sapporo beer you could drink.

you're given plastic bags for coats and sweaters, and encouraged to wear clothes you are not fond of, as the smell of smokey, barbecued lamb stays with you for days (and in more ways than one.)

as dinner ended our japanese friends looked out the window and said "yuki! yuki!" it was snowing. we ran outside, and some of us tried to eat the snowflakes, but i never eat december snowflakes. i always wait until january.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

fanny pack of lies

his name is tomoki takahashi.

he's been the heart of our experience in japan for the last two months. company manager, stage manager, travel agent, tour guide, translator, bellman, and i'm proud to say, friend. we thought he'd be with us until the tour ended and we had to head back home. but noooooo. this was just another one of the lies he pulled out of his infamous fanny pack ("the bus ride will only be three hours.") he's left us to go and take care of the count basie orchestra, and now we have to survive a week and a half without him.

no, tom! you shut up!!

UPDATE / 11.30.2007 -- by popular demand...the video:

Monday, November 26, 2007

all is not right

sometimes your friends don’t take the path you want them to take. no matter what you want for them, they have to go their own way.

take, for example, my friend rob gonzalez.

by now he should be a huge star in the music business. a couple of years back, he worked his ass off and got financial backing like you wouldn’t believe to record an album of his tunes with musical greats: producer dave way (sheryl crow, fiona apple), guitarist brian ray (paul mccartney), arranger paul buckmaster (strings for elton john) drummer kenny aronoff (john mellencamp). the result -- all is right with the world -- is an incredible album. every friend i’ve played it for wants it burned, and becomes obsessed with it.

i assumed it would be only a few months before some huge record label picked up rob, released the cd, and he was enjoying huge commercial success. grammys would follow, no doubt. and in no time, i’d be visiting my friend rob on some island in the pacific while he records his next multi-platinum selling cd.

well. my plans weren’t what rob had in mind. or…my path to get there was not what he had in mind. he had an idea about a website to distribute new music. something that would benefit the artist, and – get this – poverty. (see:

on october 13, rob’s album went on sale at macy’s stores in la crosse, wisconsin. it’s available there until dec. 31. in case you don't live near la crosse, you can always get it by joining the melvincares thing too.

it’s a really great collection of pop music. ("southside serenade" is like the elton john song i've been waiting years for.) i just want the whole world to hear it. and maybe someday…rob’s way…they will.


anyone who travels as part of their job must feel the same way i do today.

every so often, you need to have a normal day. a day when you do laundry, or stay in your hotel room most of the day. a day when you just can't feel guilty for not having an adventure. a day when, even though you're in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, you have to stop being a tourist and just do nothing.

besides the fact that i feel a little cruddy.

Friday, November 23, 2007


last night was the annual disney on classic yamachan party.

the entire company -- crew, musicians, staff, singers (70 or so people) -- meet to enjoy lots of drinks, each other's company, and, of course, yamachan (chicken wings cooked with a spicy dry rub and a drizzle of sweet seasoning -- we've eaten yamachan dinners four times now.)

the evening started with a single toast. i imagined i would clink glasses with the few people seated around me, or at most with the people at my long table. nope. everyone got up from the floor, walked around the room yelling "kanpai!" and clinked glasses with every person present. every person.

we singers did a silly little skit (singing "it's a small world" using the only japanese phrases we know) the chicken wings kept coming and coming, and we ate and laughed and spent the evening like a big, crazy family.

the official end of the party was marked by the entire room standing and waving both index fingers in the air. then, quietly tapping a simple rhythm on only those fingers. the same rhythm is repeated with two fingers from each hand. then three fingers. four. and finally clapping the rhythm full out. i'm not sure if it was the culmination of the whole evening, or just the clapping ritual, but it was a truly magical moment that i'll never forget.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

giving thanks

i had one of the most joyous experiences of my life tonight. it involved chicken wings called yamachan, and a room full of amazing japanese men and women clapping with one finger, then two, then three...

more when i've gotten some sleep. i wish you all could have been there.

happy thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

konbanwa eel

hamamatsu is known as the home of yamaha and kawai musical instruments. i know a little something about yamaha musical instruments, having sold them for quite a few years at billings pianos and organs in another lifetime.

hamamatsu is also known for japan's best unagi (freshwater eel) caught daily from lake hamana. our visit to hamamatsu would not have been complete without a dinner of unagi, or "kabayaki" - eel dipped in a sweet soy sauce and then cooked on a grill. i looooved the sichuan pepper seasoning. blake seemed to think it tasted like mr. clean disinfectant.

ohayo gozaimasu fuji

a stunning sight from the train as we traveled from tokyo to hamamatsu on tuesday. a beautiful, clear day offered a great view of mt. fuji.

the japanese saying goes, "a wise man climbs fuji-san once; only a fool does it twice." that makes me feel somewhat better about not climbing fuji during our stay in japan.

this, from, also makes the decision easier: "from october to around mid june, climbing to the summit is highly perilous due to extreme wind and weather conditions, snow, ice and a high risk of avalanches."

maybe next time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

lost in translation, pt. 3

well, they are the magical fruit.

i doubt the tomoguchi company is referring to that kind of talking, however.

Monday, November 19, 2007

detroit vs. troy

a few years back, when i was touring with "mamma mia", i wrote this about our stay in detroit:

"i wish i could say something to detroit.
i don't know what it would be.
in almost four years of traveling, i have learned
that there are truly great parts of any town.
every time you think "ugh...columbus",
you show up and columbus is great.
(p.s. columbus is great).

i didn't find those parts of detroit.
maybe i didn't take the time, or make the effort.

maybe i spent too much time looking at the burned out buildings,
busted out windows and sad, depressed areas of town i drove past every day on my way back to a nice, quiet hotel in the suburbs,
only a few miles from the country club.

the audiences were great. but they always are.
a little different here and there.

but the city.

i'm sorry detroit. i didn't get to know you.
or maybe i did."

after that appeared on a tuesdays post, i got a kinda snippy email from a ticked-off michigonian saying i hadn't given detroit a chance. whoops, i thought! didn't mean to offend!

see, my initial experience with detroit was the word from our stage manager that after the shows, we shouldn't walk to the parking lot alone -- only in groups. that would be the parking lot directly behind the theater. the fenced in parking lot.

interestingly enough, that angry email was from a i emailed back (apologizing for not giving detroit a chance) and asked if the writer actually lived in troy, mi (an affluent, mostly white suburb of detroit.) yup, they said. and you should see troy, it's beautiful!!

last sunday, detroit overtook st. louis as the most dangerous city in america according to "city crime rankings", an annual reference book of crime statistics and rankings. now, i'm not sure where they rank this year, but last year troy, michigan was at number five of the safest cities ranking.

maybe some of the folks living in dangerous detroit should check out troy! from what i hear, it's lovely!

lost in translation, pt. 2

'nuff said.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

nikko pt. 3: backwoods onigiri

where better to eat some mushroom onigiri than in the middle of the woods?

nikko pt. 2: monkey wa doko desu ka?

he was on my hike to ryuzu falls. he and his whole monkey family, actually. to answer your question: yes, their butts are as bright red as their faces. he's a macaque, by the way.

UPDATE / 11.18.07 --
i wonder if former senator george allen has been to nikko?

Friday, November 16, 2007

just say no

just a thought.

if you're attending a political campaign event, and some geek comes up and tries to convince you to ask the candidate a specific question?

just say no.

instead of asking the question, pretending it was your question, and then telling the media you were told to ask it.

how about that, people?

nikko pt. 1: long shadows

maybe you can hear the hint of worry in my voice.

i know for many people, this might not seem terribly adventurous. but we were in nikko -- two hours outside of tokyo -- and i was an hour bus ride from the nikko train station where i'd left rob and kimberly, and two hours by foot after that. they went to see shrines, i went on a hike to a waterfall.

it was a great hike, but there's that moment when you don't know for certain you're going to make it back from the hike before dark. once you do, you have to get on the right bus, to make it to the right train, to take you "home" to tokyo. i'd already gotten on the wrong bus to get to the trail. (at one stop, the driver turned and looked at me, sitting all the way in back, and said four of the six english words he knew -- "where are you going?" when i told him, "lake chuzenji", he shook his head and said the other two -- "wrong bus".)

all in all, it was a fantastic day. but moments of small desperation tend make it all the more real.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

my ueno has flea

who can beat a good japanese flea market by the light of kerosene lanterns?

i'd heard (or read) there was a flea market near tokyo's ueno park, but i wasn't quite sure how to find it. considering how big ueno park actually is, and how late a start i got today, i was surprised to round a corner and find these sellers still in their booths after dark.
lots and lots of great stuff. i refrained, however, from spending too much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

bringing home kon

found this basically by accident at a flea market in kobe. it's kon omura pitching oronamin c drink, circa mid-1960's. you can still buy the drink today at convenience stores.

we're bringing him home with us. there's a spot in the kitchen, just below the pot rack...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

take back your minka

after our sushi breakfast this morning, we crashed a buddhist ceremony honoring shinran shonin, the founder of jodo shinshu buddhism, at the tsukiji hongwanji temple. the ceremony is an important occasion to "reaffirm gratitude to buddha, and to hear and receive the tembutsu teachings."

having gotten a little less sleep than normal, the chanting of the monks eventually lulled us into a peaceful meditative state (otherwise known as sleep.) we gave an offering and excused ourselves after 30 minutes or so.

we then headed to the city of kawasaki, and to the nihon minka-en, an open air museum of minka: japanese folk houses, farm houses, and merchant houses. it's like going back in time to an 18th century japanese village. tucked away in one of the houses, we found a group of women and one man seated around a fire pit. it was a beautiful scene -- warm and welcoming. we joined them for a chat and laughed mostly at our struggle to have a normal conversation.

early fish

the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. this morning. our friend kimberly irion has come to japan to visit us, so we decided to take her to the tsukiji fish market. it's one of the world's largest, handling over 2,000 tons of fish a day.

after being nearly run over by every possible vehicle just outside the market (it's kinda busy) we found our way inside and wandered the aisles checking out the fish, some if it so fresh it was still swimming. we did our best to stay out of the way of buyers and sellers, but often caught an abrupt "sumi masen!" from someone on a scooter. sushi breakfast at a nearby shop capped the morning. our day had just begun.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"i think americans are ready for substance."

"i think they want to get beyond a president who...never had a sense of complexity..."
to be honest, i don't know if i will vote for hillary clinton for president. i also don't know that i won't.

my dad won't. rob's mom more than likely won't.

what's amazing to me is the 24-hour news cycle in the u.s. and how people are talking about the tip the clinton campaign did or did not leave at the maid-rite diner near boone, iowa. not about a war, or about the cost of prescription drugs, or health care, or torture. a tip. to a waitress. in fact, andrew sullivan says that tip (or lack thereof) is "telling".

i can tell you that from tokyo, or from our apartment in new york, i don't feel the "thrill" of barack obama. i want to. but at this point i like the idea of barack obama better than i like the candidate.

i remember seeing hillary clinton on "meet the press" a few years back. around the time when she was running for senate. i called rob after watching it, and said "if this woman runs for president, i will vote for her." she was everything i wanted a leader to be. she answered questions with a yes or a no, and then went on to explain her answer. she was refreshing and warm and funny and, i thought, honest. i'm not sure i see that openness from her anymore.

eight years ago, the country thought george w. bush was someone they wanted to sit down and have a beer with, and that was a reason to put him in the white house. (many americans may get that chance soon, since bush's aspirations after he leaves office are anything but lofty.)

hopefully, we're past that silly idea. i'd like to think that we want a president who is intelligent, and prepared. i'm not sure that someone who knows "the game" is a bad idea, either. and honestly, i think i might like to have dinner with the woman pictured above.

and i just might want this woman sitting across the table
from someone like mahmoud ahmadinejad.

UPDATE / 11.15.07 --
from rob's mom:

correct, i will not be voting for hillary. quite frankly, I am not impressed with anyone running in either party. I want us to get back to the archane idea of the "citizen farmer" who takes his /her turn and then goes home. I see service to country as a responsibility of citizenship, not a career.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

my bruce and annie phase

there are two new albums (records, lps, whatever the kids call them today) i've been listening to a lot lately.

jeff ircink and brian grabowski will appreciate my somewhat limited return to writing about music, by the way. they were around for the glory days of "off the record" (or was it "on the record"?) back at the high school newspaper. they were also around for the layout parties in my parents basement.

i'll eventually get back to the whole "favorite albums of all time" thing that i started back on but for now, i just wanna say that i think the new springsteen (magic) and the new annie lennox (songs of mass destruction) are pretty darn great.

i'm big on phases. i've been thru repeated elton phases. mccartney phases. i'm deeply entrenched in a springsteen phase now, thanks to this new music. it means i pull out all the old stuff, and gain a new appreciation for it. i heard the lyric "i wanna die with you wendy on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss" this last week, and -- i think it's an age thing -- i had to stop my ipod and just sit and think about how amazing that line is.


we were up bright and early this morning, but the bus ride to yamanishi prefecture was not quite as long as expected, so we stopped for lunch.

we walked through a sweet little market where the locals were selling pickled bamboo, pickled plums, yuzu-cha, homemade noodles, and something yamanshi is known for: grapes. they're expensive in japan (a small bunch can cost 1000 yen or more -- roughly $9.) we found them here for 700 yen. they're huge, and juicy, and NOT seedless.

we headed out the back of the market to an open air restaurant under the vines of a vinyard. there, at tables with a small grills underneath and foil covered cooking areas in the center, we barbecued our own pork and beef and onions and sprouts. it was incredibly charming, and delicious.

Friday, November 9, 2007

disney classics 2007

the translation is actually: disney on classic. we travel and work with some amazing people. crew, musicians, technical people, even the producer himself is there, at every show. tonight was another show at the tokyo internatioal forum. 5000 in the audience. pretty thrilling.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


i'm working on a list of things in japan that are different from the u.s.

for instance: there is no litter on the ground in japan, despite there being very few trash cans...well...anywhere. the japanese will carry their empty coffee cup or small bag of trash, for blocks and blocks, just to throw it away. instead of just tossing it on the ground, as it seems everyone in new york does.

here's another thing that's very different in japan, that i was not warned about.

blinking red

out my window i see hundreds of blinking red lights. on the tops of tall skyscrapers. the tokyo skyline.

we've been here for a little over a month now. we stay for another month. i thought, seeing as though they are really the reason we're here, that it might be nice for you to meet blake and tobi. if you haven't already. rob and i toured with blake in "mamma mia". then he was our broker when we were looking for an apartment in new york.

several months ago, blake called and said "what are you and rob doing in november and december? wanna go to japan?"
i thought he was kidding.

he wasn't, and we're here. and we love it. i'm seriously having pangs of "i don't wanna go home". reverse homesickness. except that i miss reggie the dog. and friends. not missing new york so much right now.

tokyo again

this photo has already appeared on, but i think it's beautiful. it's what rob and i found at the end of our hike of mount otake.

a beautiful summit, and someone's bright, clean blankets waving in the light breeze.

and serenity.