On the drive back from yesterday's Loserfes '10 festival (watch it here), my good friend Ken Nishikawa and I were listening to the radio in my car. What a load of rubbish! I was zapping the channels and getting fed up with the same old crap when I hit NHK and tuned into a show that was playing a lot of music from the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Ah! A change of pace for once! While the other stations were playing Fleetwood Mac or having two old geezers laughing with some stupid 20-year-old girl about some banal subject, NHK was playing something different that I had never heard before.
Radio is supposed to play new things... So, since japanese radio won't play new music, I'll have to settle for very old music that I had never heard before... Anything is better than 1970's rock! In fact, I really do like that old time music and really get into the atmosphere and the glimpse of better days gone by whenever I hear that kind of thing. So NHK it was.
Burton Crane, "The Collection" came out in 2006
(I used to write a column, in fact, about that sort of music and I called it, "Cool and Strange Music." You can read a column here. )
Anyway, as we were riding along, Ken told me about a guy who I think might have been Japan's very first modern-day "Tarento" (TV or radio talent). The man's name was Burton Crane. Burton Crane worked as a business and economics writer for the New York Times in Japan from 1925 - 1936; and then again after the war.
Here's what Wikipedia says:
Following stints with several newspapers in the United States, Crane went to Tokyo in 1925, to become financial editor of the Japan Advertiser. He remained until 1936, and gained a reputation as an authority on the Japanese economy.
In 1945 he began service in the Far East with the Office of Strategic Services. At the conclusion of World War II Crane joined the Tokyo Bureau of the New York Times. He was wounded while covering the Korean War.
He directed six plays for the Tokyo International Players, five of which he wrote. He wrote additional plays and four books about financial subjects. Crane taught at New York University from 1952 to 1953. He completed Smart Money, which was published by Random House in 1964.
While working for the Japan Advertiser, he became well-known as an unusual singer for Columbia Records, singing Japanese-language versions of popular Westerns songs of the day.
His wife was Esther and transcripts exist of his recollections on the Occupation Period of Japan in the Columbia University Oral History Research Office.
Even though Wiki mentions it only in passing, it is an interesting story.
It seems that while Burton Crane was here it is well-known that he was well respected and got along quite well with his Japanese friends (who doesn't?) I can tell you from experience that he must have seemed like a man from the moon in the 20's and 30's in Japan. I came here in 1979 for the first time and there were no foreigners here and people were staring at me when I walked around a big city like Shibuya!
As most people are wont to do when they hang around with Japanese business men they will drink... Oh yes, they will drink. They will drink to extreme excess. This must have happened to Burton Crane as he somehow landed himself a contract with Columbia Records and put out several songs.
Here is my favorite and, even though he sings in Japanese at the start of the song, he sings in English in the middle so enjoy!
Burton Crane. Wonderful! Was he Japan's first Tarento? I think so. If anyone knows of any others, please let me know!
Thanks to my good friend Ken Nishikawa for introducing me to Burton Crane
Keywords: Tarento, talent, Burton Crane, Marketing Japan, Mike Rogers, Columbia, Columbia Records, Mike in Tokyo Rogers