Friday, August 10, 2012

Shane MacGowan meets Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

One of the bounciest, most cheerful songs I've heard recently also makes the Detectives Beyond Borders list of great noir and crime songs (click the link, then scroll down for some good reading and listening.)

The song is "Rain Street," from the Pogues' 1990 album Hell's Ditch, and it includes lines such as:
"Down the alley the ice wagon flew
Picked up a stiff that was turning blue
The local kids were sniffin' glue
Not much else for a kid to do
Down rain street."
Lyrically, the song is a bit like Lou Reed and, in its stream of images, something like Bob Dylan's long, near-surrealistic songs from the mid-1960s. But Shane MacGowan had a livelier sense of fun than both those guys, and the Pogues were better and tighter musically, so the song is just plain fun to listen to even if you ignore the words.

But those words ... they're a little like David Goodis or maybe, I don't know, Nelson Algren. Click on the song's title above to hear Shane and the boys perform it.
***
Rashomon is one of the greatest and most celebrated of all movies, and probably the best-known Japanese movie in the Western world. (How many movies have lent their titles to a psychological effect?)

But thirty-six years before Akira Kurosawa's film, "Rashomon" was a story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, one of two by the author that formed the basis of the movie. (The story "Rashomon" is the source of the ramshackle gate and the unforgettable rain in the movie; the "Rashomon effect" is depicted in a story called "In a Grove.")

Late on a rainless night in a deserted office is no time or place to start a consideration of twentieth-century Japanese literature, so I'll begin and end by saying that "In a Grove" is one of the wittiest and most carefully and deliberately constructed stories this writer has had the pleasure to read. As of now, I am, albeit tentatively, a Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and you should be, too. Read him to have your eyes opened to new, little-explored possibilities for crime stories.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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18 Comments:

Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Rashomon is also one of my favorite films, and I got so intrigued by it that I started researching it.

Akutagawa got the ideas for the two short stories from two old medieval tales and very likely a short story by Ambrose Bierce. I did several posts on it on my blog a year or so ago, tracing the lineage from the medieval tales to the Americanized version.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Could you post those links here?

August 10, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I had never heard "Rain Street" before, but listened to it here.

Loved it. Sometimes a song really gets to the essence of an experience, a mood, a life -- or the lives of many in a town.

This does it.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's beautiful, isn't it, sad and joyous at the same time. Here's another song by the Pogues that has a somewhat similar mood. It's a lament for and a celebration of a greyhound track, believe it or not.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I'm sorry but I don't know how to make this a hotlink. This link will bring up the posts in which I discuss Rashomon and the various sources for the film and Akutagawa's stories. There's also one post regarding the US version of Rashomon.


http://tinyurl.com/cmrorcd

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. And here’s how you get a hot link:

(a href="http://tinyurl.com/cmrorcd")Here are your posts(/a)

will get you

Here are your posts

If you substitute < for ( and > for )

August 10, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The tales come from the Uji and Konjaku Monogatari, collections of short tales dating to some time between 800 and 1350. See JAPANESE TALES ed. and transl. Royall Tyler.
I have used the reference to Rashomon Gate myself in the novel RASHOMON GATE. And I have used another famous tale that Akutagawa also used (this one the story of Kesa and Morito from HEIKE MONOGATARI) in a short story called "The Kamo Horse" (available on Kindle). Akutagawa has a fantastic eye for meaning and insight into human psychology in the old tales.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

The collection I mentioned in my post, Tales of Times Now Past, is take from the same collection, according to the flyleaf: Konjaku monogatari shu.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J.: Thanks for the comment and the references. It would be interesting to compare some of the old takes with what Akutagawa made of them -- how he used the old material. Interesting that you should highlight his insight while I highlighted his careful and deliberate structure. Conclusion: The man was a pretty fine writer of stories.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Fred. I figured one ought to be wary when shopping for collections, just as one should be wary when shopping for jazz collections. It pays to know what one is getting, how comprehensive it is, who the translators are, and so on.

August 10, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Great to hear hear those Pogues songs again, Peter. No doubt, you're familiar with rainy night in soho, which I think is their most evocative piece. The instrumentation gives it a jazzy feel, and the song is all the better for it, even though I normally can't stand jazz.

I've always wondered whether Rashomon, the movie, was faithful to its source, or whether Kurosawa and his screenwriter mostly made it up themselves. It wouldn't be the first time the movies messed about with a piece of literature.

August 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Kurosawa builds his movie out of two stories that are not linked. It's been a while since I saw the movie, but I think it was pretty faithful to the stories. The detail of the woman's veil being lifted and momentarily revealing her face, for instance, is straight from Akutagawa, but from the story called "In a Grove," not from the one called "Rashomon."

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I made my acqaintance with the song only this week. I only started listening to Irish music after I went to Ireland a few years ago and heard local musicians playing classic songs in pubs. Then I stumbled upon an Irish band in Philadelphia whose sets included "Sally MacLennane" and "A Pair of Brown Eyes," and that was my introduction to the Pogues.

August 11, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Rum Sodomy And The Lash is a great album.

Having just read about John Banville's latest mercenary stunt I wish we could bring back flogging. I'd recommend fifty lashes, just for starters.

August 11, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Akutagawa's "Kesa and Morito" consists of two monologues. Structure isn't something that comes to mind. I was very much bothered by his interpretation of Kesa's character. Both speakers reveal rather nasty character traits. For Kesa, that is completely out of sync with the originals.
(And yes, there is a second edition of the tales as mentioned.)

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, someone posted a notice about Banville/Black's resuscitating Philip Marlowe. He doesn't need resuscitating, I replied; he's not dead.

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'll read that tale today. But monologues, while simple, are a highly artificial mode for a literary story, and duelling monologues even more so. That's what caught my eye in "In a Grove."

August 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you might like this. And, what the heck, this, too.

August 12, 2012  

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