Thursday, July 23, 2015

Miki Curtis - 1972 - The First Ear

Miki Curtis 
The First Ear

01. Duel Under The Setting Sun   
02. The Sun Goes Down Again   
03. The Love Of Duke R's Wife   
04. Ruined Kingdom   
05. World Of Mojo   
06. Golgita The Pirate   
07. Children On A Hilltop   
08. The Wounded Swan   
09. This Measure Of Happiness   
10. Forty Days On A Stoned-Out Camel

Born Michael Brian Kachisu on July 23, 1938, to a mother and father who were both of mixed British and Japanese ancestry, Curtis (a name he adapted from his similar-sounding birth name) spent the war years mainly in Shanghai with his parents. His musician father, however, performed a disappearing act with a Russian woman. After the war, his mother — together with a British man who was to become his stepfather — brought him and his sister back to Japan, where Curtis struggled to adapt to an unfamiliar country and culture.

Even as a young boy, Curtis was exposed to American pop by his music-loving parents, and in his teens he studied at the Nihon Jazz Gakko (Nihon Jazz School) founded by a Japanese-American musician named Tib Kamayatsu. At the age of 15, he began performing country music for U.S. servicemen at camps and clubs.

In 1958, not long after Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry had begun enthralling teenagers and enraging moral guardians in the United States and elsewhere, Curtis joined Masaaki Hirao and Keijiro Yamashita in “Western Carnival” rockabilly shows at a theater in Tokyo’s central Yurakucho district. The three became an immediate sensation with local teens, though their elders typically regarded the music as irritating noise and the shows as akin to scandalous riots.

Unlike fellow Japanese rockers who learned (or approximated) the lyrics of their cover songs phonetically or simply sang them in Japanese, Curtis was fluent in English. He also had a real rebel-rocker attitude nurtured on the tough streets of postwar Japan, where his non-Japanese looks had made him not only a standout but also a target.

In the 1960s, after the rockabilly fad faded, Curtis made a smooth transition to acting for films and singing and emceeing for television. In 1967, he formed a progressive-rock band called Mickey Curtis & His Samurais, which embarked on a long tour of Europe. Returning to Japan in 1970, he became a record producer, working with many top rock and folk-rock acts.

Then, in 1985, after a hiatus of nearly two decades, Curtis resumed his film acting career. Since then his roles have spanned a wide range from doctors to gangsters, and he has worked for such leading directors as Shunji Iwai (“Suwaroteiru [Swallowtail Butterfly]“; 1996), Shohei Imamura (“Akai Hashi no Shita no Nurui Mizu [Warm Water Under a Red Bridge]“; 2001) and Takashi Miike (“Izo”; 2004). In fact, his filmography now comprises more than 100 entries — a total that would soar far higher if his TV drama appearances were added. Abroad, however, Curtis is perhaps best known for his role as a starving soldier in Kon Ichikawa’s “Nobi (Fires on the Plain),” his stark 1959 portrayal of defeated Japanese soldiers in the Philippines in the closing days of the war.

Though he may not have the widest range as an actor, Curtis consistently delivers as the coolest old guy in the room — one who’s always been lean and wiry, is usually pony-tailed and stylishly turned out and is often inwardly amused at the goings-on around him.

First released on Vertigo in April 1972, this is the first LP by Miki Curtis (Samurai front man) following the break-up of the band. It’s a fantastically otherworldly psychedelic LP and a totally different sound than Samurai. The First Ear finds eastern-tinged psych of the highest echelon! Strange harmony vocals, a spacey guitar solo, queerly sawing synths, everything’s efficient and even compelling! Forty days on a stoned-out camel moans Miki (yes, he knows some English too) and that is just how this sounds. The track ends with half a minute noisy slurping on what we presume to be a waterpipe. Mind-blowing!

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