Ken Stringfellow’s Amazing Tour Diary – 1994
By Ken Stringfellow, 1994
On June 4th, 1994 Big Star played the Fillmore in San Francisco. I was there. It rocked.
Before the gig I met Jody Stephens in the flesh, we had previously spoken with over the phone about the forthcoming debut issue of BOAC. Jody is a sweetheart; putting together BOAC would have been a much harder task without his assistance and good nature.
That night I also bumped into Ken Stringfellow and was quick-witted enough to ask for his phone number to set up an interview for BOAC. When I called Ken I suggested he write a “tour diary” of Big Star’s US mini tour of Chicago and SF and the gigs they played in Japan. Ken is a heckuva good sport and willingly agreed: I was in no way prepared to receive 4 hilarious, poignant, well written pages describing touring with Big Star. Truly, Ken’s Amazing Tour Diary was the hit of the first issue. Here’s a three day excerpt from his 13 day excapade.
– Judith Beeman
We meet in the morning to ride to the train station and ride the Shinkansen bullet train to Nagoya. I love the Shinkansen. While dining on unagi (eel), coasting along like an air hockey puck at 130+ miles an hour, taking pictures of Mt. Fuji on Fuji film, drinking a Kirin beer and feeling the sun stream in through the windows, I decide Japan has done it right. They have made the ideal country. Now, Japan has some serious problems – sexism, racism, pollution, dolphin slaughter, et al; but it can’t be worse than America and at the moment I decided to be a good guest and enjoy what the country has to offer. By the time we pull into Nagoya, I’m sad to be getting off the beautiful & sexy train.
Nagoya, the Cleveland of Japan. There’s not much to do, there’s no time to do it, just wait for the soundcheck. There’s always people in the hotel lobby to talk to – fans, 90% of the, familiar faces from the Posies’ tour back in February, are omnipresent. There were a few waiting for us as we got off the train, there’s a constant group in the hotel lobby, and of course waiting for us at the club long before set time. There’s people who do this for every foreign band, no matter how famous or obscure. It’s part of the incredible Japanese hospitality to make people feel wanted – it would be inconsiderate to not give every band the star treatment, and so they do. If you ever wonder why American bands get snobby after touring outside their country-well, this is a Canadian magazine, so I guess what I’m saying won’t make much sense.
Tonight’s gig was pretty shaky – we all made lots of mistakes, no one could really remember the songs. After all, it’s been 8 months since we last played music together. But the kids loved it, god bless’em. After the show, I got an in-room massage from a very nice and extremely strong 50-ish Japanese woman.
We hop on the Shinkansen for a brief ride to Osaka. We’re back at the familiar Osaka Grand Hotel, where the Posies stayed. Earlier that day, I took in a showing of Stuart Suttcliffe’s art and Astrid Kirchner’s (I’m using the powers of estimation to spell these names correctly, feel free to spell them correctly in your mind) photographs. The depiction’s of both in Backbeat were true enough to the originals, that for the paintings at least, they may have even used the originals. Nice work.
The clubs that both the Posies and Big Star played in Japan are all part of a chain, and they are all called Club Quattro (even though there are only three of them), and since they are owned by a department store chain called Parco, they’re all in department stores or vertical malls, as it were. For example, in Nagoya, the club, the hotel, the restaurant I ate dinner in, the record store I bought a Beaver’s CD in, and the Astrid/Stuart art exhibit were all in the same building. Contributing to my theory that Japan is gearing up its populace for life in space stations once the land is exhausted there.
The Osaka show was a huge improvement over Nagoya. We started playing “big Black Car” & “Jesus Christ” at this show after learning them at soundcheck. We also worked up an excellent version of “The Girl From Impanema” but we never played it. Instead, Alex surprised us with “Brazil” for our encore, the only song we played. Even that was enough to get us 2 or 2 1/2 minutes of solid, loud applause & cheering for a second encore. The lights went on, a prerecorded message told everyone to leave, and they still persisted. We turned to Alex and indicated the magnitude of the response, without actually prodding him into going back out onstage. Before we could ask, Alex lit a cigarette and casually said, “Fuck ‘em. Elvis never did encores. Never.” How can you argue with such irrefutable logic?
To his credit, Alex spent a lot of time talking to fans, signing autographs, having his picture taken, and being a general sweetie. We all know he’s just a big softy.
Jon, Jody, Junko, Kyokyo & I explored the lovely city of Kyoto, went to several amazing Temples, each with a different theme. At one I was surrounded by about 50 junior high school students from Tokyo, who “interviewed” me for their English class, took pictures, got autographs, etc. Ah, Japan. One of the places we visited is the subject of a novel by Yukio Mishima, called “The Temple of the golden Pavilion.” Gotta love Mishima. After a full day of cultural enrichment, we somehow found ourselves in a basement bar, not unlike the Cavern Club of old. We were unprepared for the raw hotness of Honey Pie, a quartet of handsome Japanese men who deliver note for note (if not word for word) renditions of Beatles songs. They stand like them. Their heads move like the Beatles’ heads moved. Did you notice I changed tenses from present to past somewhere along the line?
Anyhow, it was one of those beautiful, circular moments; we three Americans had spent the day gawking at Japanese culture, intimidatingly beautiful & meaningful; and now we observed four Japanese feverishly trying to transform themselves into icons of Western culture, undeniably cute and whimsical. We were speechless.