After the show was over, the wig off, my tiny pink Bowie-tee exchanged for my usual attire…after the gear was hauled up the narrow staircase, re-packed carefully in the Taj-bound vehicles, after the congratulations were traded, hands shook, the nomi-kai* began. Back downstairs in D3, we piled in and I was beset on all sides, quite without warning, by the eagerly salivating diehards. My Taicho** explained some of these ladies had traveled great distances just to see our little Zeppelin tribute band, some as far as Fukuoka, in the southernmost corners of Japan-proper. He pointed out a scraggly looking woman in the corner wearing a green Zeppelin bandana and told me she runs the biggest Zep fansite in the country. She nodded at me sagely, her heavily-wrinkled visage looking very much like Yoda’s. I nodded back, respectfully. Across from us sat a rather heavy-set older lady who wore a yellow Zeppelin tour shirt, who’s grotesquely distorted, stretched and faded front attested to its authenticity, as well as the body that once wore it more gracefully. I was informed that she makes custom replicas of Jimmy Page’s infamous embroidered stage outfits, with their flowers, dragons and patterns, down to the finest detail. She smiled, revealing a disturbing lack of proper teeth. Here they were: our very own groupies. Like everything else about Larz Gallows, they were very authentic. See, it’s not just the wigs and outfits that seek to re-create the Zeppelin experience…in fact, My Taicho’s amp is an original, near-mint Marshal stack that is the EXACT model and make of Mr. Page’s, straight from the 70’s…the original…not a replica or remake, but the genuine article itself. The print on his telecaster he hand-painted exactly to the specification of Jimmy’s own custom model. The ZoSo on the cabinet…it’s all there. It’s amazing to watch too, how thoroughly and totally this man becomes another…how completely he carries the spirit. His gestures, the fluid, graceful, seemingly effortless movements, the easy smile that exudes the kind of enviable, quiet confidence that so few posses… My Taicho has mastered them all. Like a quiet, unsung superhero, my Taicho poses as a harmless, sweatsuit wearing, chain-smoking architect and family man by day – perfectly at home in his quiet, small-town life in rural Japan – then suddenly, one night, when duty calls, you’d swear this man was actually channeling the spirit of 70’s hard rock…not to mention it’s most famous guitarist. It only makes sense that even the groupies came straight outta the 70’s…I should have expected nothing less…Zeppelin is such a forgotten foreign pop-culture relic in Japan that they were few, but a more passionate group of obachans*** could not have been asked for.
…Then one plopped down next to me…or rather, by “next to me,” I mean shoved me aside and shared my seat, practically sitting on top of me. She hooked her arm around mine and called me cute. She must have been pushing fifty, and was obviously drunk. Apparently, she too was channeling the spirit of the 70’s…because without further ado, and without so much as a preface, she asked to take me home for the night…as if I were a movie she were interested in renting. My Taicho raised his eyebrows at me and said “Edo wa ninki aru mon ne…”****. I blushed uncontrollably and everyone laughed when I exclaimed “hazukashii!”***** I got the distinct sense she wasn’t messing around though…and could see in her face a kind of far-off hope…the idea of a long shot that just *might* work if you play your cards right. The fact that she was old enough to be my mother didn’t seem to present her much of a problem. It almost broke my heart right then and there, to see this drunk ex-groupie cross her fingers for a hot night with the exotic new foreign member of the band. I say “almost” because she then continued to embarrass herself and me for the next hour and a half or so…and while it makes a great story, I didn’t feel nearly so sympathetic after she snatched a recently acquired carrot from my fingers, dipped it in a gratuitous amount of mayonnaise (this is a typical veggie dip in Japan) and attempted to force-feed it to my uncomprehending face. Red with self-consciousness, knowing no viable, socially smooth alternative on the top of my head, I took the proffered bite… and the rest of it promptly fell straight into my lap. Letting loose a screech, the aged groupie dove for the wayward carrot stick – straight to the crotch – with all the zealous attention of a grenade-juggler who has “let one get away.” In panic, I attempted to beat her to the carrot, but because of the angle of her dive, and her “total-body” commitment to it (like a goalie going for a big save), my hand only succeeded in smacking the back of her head… thereby propelling her face straight toward the carrot stick… that is, straight into my crotch. Whereas had this happened in an American bar, with American friends, uproar would have ensued – que riotous laughter, and move on – but here, there was dead silence, a disquieting awareness of an awkward social situation in which no one is sure what to say or do. In another second’s time, she emerged, triumphantly holding the carrot, and looking flushed with victory, pheromones, and alcohol, scolding me for my clumsiness…
A while later, while we said our goodbyes out front, I saw a bit more soberness in her expression. Here we were, outside the bar, on the chilly, rain-wetted street corner in Nishinakajima, formally thanking each other for a pleasant evening, and all that expectation had drained from her face, as she watched me climb in the cab to go meet my friends at another place across town, I saw nothing but the kind of familiar blankness that you see on so many middle-aged Japanese women’s faces. She and the others waved me goodbye, Gorugo told me not to forget to come back to Tajima, and off I went into the still-young Osaka night.
In the cab, I put myself in her body. With great effort, I moved my consciousness into hers, and felt all that quiet yearning and disappointment, the inevitability of age, envy, quietly contained rage, lust. I felt it all, and then returned back to myself in the cab, watching my face in the rearview… my blue, blue eyes… my smooth, young features. I often admire myself vainly, usually in the morning, just after the toilet. Sometimes I run my hands over my body, in pure rapture of the fact, awe and trembling in the face of it’s transitory perfection… but in the cab it felt embarrassing, like a gaudy outfit that one wears only to make others aware of your superior wealth. In the end, I was lost in Umeda, my already drunken friends unable to direct me to their location, and then, after finally located, were irritated at the time it took me to get to them, and jealous of the time I’d spent with my band and the groupies, a resentment soon forgotten as we gleefully hopped place to place carelessly and gleefully ignorant of our burdensome beauty.
Glossary of Terms and Expressions:
*A drinking party, usually for buisness or congratulatory purposes, held as a ritual after the successful completion of group labor
***lit. Aunt, colloquially “M’am” or middle aged woman.
****”Edo so hot right now…”
*****lit. “SHY!” exclaimed at times of embarrassment, or when one doesn’t know what to say/do.
Appendix A. – Video Documentation
Full coverage HERE