A few months ago, I published an interview with my friend Shane Rhyne about his myriad experiences with Knoxville music. One of the sticking points was his appearance on a Japanese documentary on the diffusion of Irish music in 2002. The full interview is available here, but here is that excerpt:
Actually, you’ve mentioned to me before that you made an appearance on some public television program in Japan about American Country Music? Do tell.
That was a fun and bizarre experience. In 2001, a Japanese television producer asked if I would agree to be a part of a documentary being filmed about the history of rock’n’roll. The documentary would be hosted by a Japanese rock star who was traveling across the world to explore the various influences. He was coming to Knoxville to look at the Appalachian influence and they had heard/read another interview with me talking about Knoxville’s melting pot influence downtown of Irish music, Jewish culture, African-American music and rural music traditions.
I agreed to do the interview but had little idea what to expect. I arrived at the Airport Hilton on the afternoon of the interview to learn that that rock star was named Daemon Kogure, who performed in a Kabuki-style makeup. He would be interviewing me while in his makeup and we would be driving around downtown Knoxville in a rented RV talking about country music. It was the one of the more surreal experiences in my life as we walked around the Old City and discussed Irish music on camera.
Well, far be it from Shane to disappoint, he rummaged for his old VHS, which I’ve converted for your viewing pleasure. Here, on my brand new Vimeo site, is that long-awaited clip of Shane meeting and speaking with Daemon Kogure.
One of the purest forms of discourse analysis is to consider that quintessential “outsider perspective” on a place. There could be fewer better case studies in that perspective than Japanese rock star turned media personality Kogure. Eastern Tennessee’s longtime residents have a wide variety of opinions on their local/regional cultural heritage, but seeing this is a loud wake-up call in understanding how Southern Appalachia is perceived by international music fans, especially non-Western ones. I really wish I spoke Japanese, but I’ve had some assistance thus far, and I can post more details on what Kogure is saying sometime soon hopefully.
It’s a lot of fun seeing what the Old City looked like in 2002, which is surprisingly not a whole lot different than it does today. According to Rhyne, Market Square (the current lynchpin of downtown Knox) was near-silent at the time, so Old City carried a much heavier load of the city’s nightlife. I feel like people in the Old City would react similarly to seeing somebody dressed like Daemon today, though. I imagine these interactions were staged, but still an interesting slice of local culture through foreign eyes.
This documentary’s treatment of race within the context of American history is also fascinating. The Japanese are one of the most homogenous nationalities on Earth, and the Americans are possibly the least, so that dichotomy right there explains why such a pragmatic, less-nuanced view on race relations is not as much of a surprise here. Where the “blues” as a concept has come to be almost completely co-opted by old white men (see King 2006 for further reading on this), here Daemon presents it as a mere curiosity for an audience with few African-origin members, widely disconnected from the ideas of modern slavery. That being said, 我が心のアイルランド [Ireland, deep in my heart] does present a fair share of blackface footage from the pre-War era, most of which has been scrubbed clean from mainstream American media. When certain subjects become taboo in one culture, sometimes that culture must rely on another for any type of understanding.
King, S. A. (2006). Memory, mythmaking, and museums: Constructive authenticity and the primitive blues subject. Southern Communication Journal,71(3), 235-250.