Tales of debauched saké-fuelled revelry, Yakuza baiting, sexually perverted roadies and scantily-clad schoolgirls kicking giraffes - yup, it's Pulp, of course, on tour in Japan as seen through the hi-tech shades of guitarist/violinist extraordinaire Russell Senior. Russ takes us on a trip through the neon-lit cartoon ultraworld where Shampoo are huge and the 'fans' come bearing gifts...
Arriving at Osaka airport, the overwhelming impression is of having arrived on another planet sometime in the future. Everyone waits in silent order for a silver machine to take them to an antiseptically clean lounge where perfect chrome dustbins with colour-coded liners are each filled with perfect rubbish. A vending machine dispenses a bilious looking green fluid which is probably the most refreshing drink on earth. Our host arrives bowing, and instinctively we bow back. Our bags disappear without our noticing, only to reappear later in our rooms.
It's a very cold day, but huge heaters warm the air outside the hotel. I order a green tea and put sugar in it. Our host gasps and sits back in amazement. "What's wrong?" I say. "Is it rude to do this?" "Oh no," he says, laughing, "just... unusual." Diplomatic incident over - respect shown. I think it's like putting milk and sugar in beer.
Awaking very early in the morning, I take a walk outside and realise that I'm being followed at a distance by a group of girls. After politely asking for autographs. They then pump me for information on our movements. There's obviously some kind of network here because during the course of our stay, the groups become crowds, very polite and apologetic but nonetheless, there, the whole time.
I despise the hard style of English malls, but here they seem more relaxing, 'soft' even. And although you look different, nobody seems to hate you for it. In the video games arcade, a disgruntled teenager spends a small fortune trying to get a very realistic image of a nubile schoolgirl to shed her clothes. Rover, one of the more hairy arsed roadies, regards touring Japan as something akin to a well-paid prison sentence, presumably, because he's heard that you can't get Watney's Red Barrel and chips here.
"This channel is pay TV. If you wish to continue viewing this programme, please press the button marked 'pay'," says the telly. I don't think I'll bother, the free clip involved a scantily-clad schoolgirl in a bar, kicking a giraffe. On the cartoon channel all the heroes have wide eyes. Perhaps we'll do well here. I think everything here is intensely symbolic in a way that will remain forever mysterious. However, by accident, it may be possible to do things which key in with this symbolism and have some resonance. I don't think you should try too hard at this - it has to be something you are. Shampoo are huge here - apparently the colour pink is associated with Lolitas and, what with their gumchewing punkiness, they look like Manga cartoon heroines. It works... by accident.
As we arrive at the venue the entire street is lined with girls waving, screaming and pointing cameras into the van. I've always had a problem with the word 'fan', but here it seems apt; they really won't let us bow lower than them. An elevator takes us to the dressing room. Westerners have been here before, so every inch of wall space is covered in graffiti - something almost entirely absent from the rest of Japan. There is, uniquely, no obscene graffiti, that will have been removed. They have, however, respected the Western custom of no-hoper bands to forge a spurious immortality in this enclave - I wish they hadn't.
Due to technical problems we keep the fans waiting one-and-a-half hours in sub-zero temperatures. During the concert Jarvis apologises for this - no response. He apologises later, saying, "We meant no disrespect" - huge applause, by accident. I try on some new sunglasses which have beams of light at the sides to help me see the violin - very hi-tech, very popular. Candida, with her love of plastic jewellery and ballet, seems to make more sense here than Courtney Love. Jarvis receives a huge electric-shock during the concert. I've seen him throw a fit for much less than-that, but tonight he shows... endurance. The one thing I really regret about getting big in England is that you don't really get to meet as many people.
They're either too in awe or too shy or too pushy. Here, despite the mayhem, it seems more comfortable. Apparently you get Americans, working with bands, coming here giving lots of attitude and generally laying down the law. This is counter-productive. If, by contradicting the Japanese, you cause loss of face on their part, this will not be to your advantage. So we play it their way and they seem to appreciate it. Not, I think, because they have won, but because we haven't embarrassed them. I can see why the Yanks might get bolshy. The Japanese are even more efficient and give even better service and it all functions perfectly in a totally non-Western way. So what can we possibly have that they might want? I have a theory and it is based on very little knowledge: innovation is not something they excel at. Individualism is not a big deal here... Ergo they would perfect the best way of dragging things around but would not invent the wheel.
Musically this is evident, crap copyist bands abound. If a Western band could accidentally do something that made sense to them, it would probably seem intensely original - and exciting. With our wide-eyed love of the future and junk and style and toys and teendom and funfairs and pop and just-so-ness and colour and space and modernity in general, perhaps we can set a few little patterns off in their strange minds.
8am. Moved by the spirit to embrace all things Japanese, I decided to go for a traditional breakfast. I do not regret this, nor do I wish to repeat it. It entailed a formal ceremony conducted in silence. The most yummy thing by quite a long chalk was raw eel. I will draw a veil over the contents of the rest of the meal, other than to say that I dare not eat anything else the rest of the day lest the things I had eaten at breakfast gorge themselves and burst, Alien-like, out of my stomach. Nonetheless, I felt I had passed the kind of initiation ceremony which would entitle one to join a particularly sadistic religious cult. The Japanese will eat almost anything for breakfast, it seems, as long as it isn't food.
The scene at Osaka train station resembled the evacuation of Hanoi. Huge crowds bearing gifts, which we ended up carrying in our teeth, accompanied us to the bullet train which we entered as the whistle blew. We have our own carriage but are hemmed in at either end. One intrepid girl gets on at the next station to give us a gift, only to be ejected, without her bag. I think everyone feels a little shaky, it's rolling like a snowball now.
In Nagoya the venue is actually in the hotel, so it's pretty clear where we're going to be staying. Fans have to be ejected from the lifts so we can get to our rooms. I can't remember much about the concert, I think we gave a good show. I don't know what they made of the music, they seem to be equally enthusiastic about everything we do. What they make of the lyrics is anybody's guess. You sometimes see comical re-translations of the lyrics from the Japanese. I don't think it's so much that the words don't translate, it's the concepts.
After the concert we go to the hotel bar to have a drink with Rover and our host. The hotel has been cleared of fans. About ten girls, however, have taken the precaution of booking rooms in the hotel so they can't very well be cobbed out. Personally, I think any fan has the right to pester a pop star to a small extent. As long as they are being pleasant, it seems part of the deal that you sign autographs, have pictures taken and answer the odd question. Cumulatively, this can be very wearing, but then if you don't like it you can always go and work in a bank.
Some of the girls in the foyer gradually pluck up the courage to come into the bar and sit across the way, not making any nuisance of themselves at all. The women who work with us here instinctively seem to sit back from the tables to let the men get on with business. Earlier in the day someone had seen women asked to leave a table so men could talk business and - shock horror - it had been implied to Candida that she might be bored or offended at a meeting (You'll be glad to know she told them where to get off). Meanwhile, the table next to us has become vacant and some of the fans come and sit at it. They aren't taking photos, they aren't giggling, they aren't being a nuisance. This seems to make our host very uncomfortable. They get shouted at to go away. This is very difficult. It appears to me that if they were male they wouldn't be treated this way. It seems rude and, well, disrespectful. However, our host is treating us very well and it's not our country, we don't want to get into a row with him, and, worst of all, confront him and cause loss of face. We try to politely explain that we don't understand why this is necessary, that we don't need protecting and that, ultimately, it's the fans that pay all our wages. The worst thing is that the fans accept it meekly with a slight tear.
One of the hotel staff is now hovering around and looking concerned. It transpires that he is concerned that they may be underage drinkers. Those without ID are asked to leave. I must confess to being quite relieved by this; that they were being harassed because they were underage in a bar, not because they were women - fair enough.
So now, there are three or four left, over-age hotel residents. Our host, however, still seems very uncomfortable and the hotel employee even more so. It's all very odd. We're fair game at stations, hotel foyers, venues, where we get pestered to death, but here, where fans have been no trouble at all, they're made to feel like dirt... And it's just faintly possible, is it not, that they aren't even fans or that maybe they were staying here anyway and happen to know who we are - should they get sent to their rooms just because we arrived?
Well, obviously, they can't be, so we still have some kind of diplomatic incident here. Although it's almost midnight, our host suddenly decides that he's very hungry and wants to take us out for a meal. The hotel employee also thinks this is an excellent idea and will personally escort us to a place that we will like very much. We, who have not previously expressed any desire to eat a second evening meal, are encouraged to find ourselves hungry too! With many smiles and gestures we are shepherded out of the bar into the bitter cold and through a labyrinth of winding streets. Our host is much happier now; little does he know that we know that he knows there's some kind of subtext going on.
The tawdry entrance to the eating place is billowing steam into the cold night air. Inside it is about the size of a barn with 12 kitchen/bars each having bar stewards round them where people eat and drink. It's busy and people are milling about in the aisles between the kitchen/bars. It's rough and ready with the prices and names of each kitchen's specialities hanging from the ceiling on coloured strips of cloth and paper. Unlike everything else in Japan, it's very cheap, it's a cross between Bladerunner, a pirate's den, a bookies and a cockfighting pit. No over-bowing, women are laughing, being brassy and not taking tiny steps. We're the only westerners but we're here with our host who is Japanese and Rover who has tattoos and stuff, so in this wild Eastern bar we kind of fit in.
Rover has fallen in love, he hasn't decided who it's with yet, but is winking and smiling at several contenders just to be on the safe side. A woman in silver hot-pants swaggers over to him, blowing smoke in his face. Strangely, our host has no problem with this at all and now seems to positively want US to talk to women... and it all becomes a bit clearer.
Our guide book says, "The industrious men of 17th-Century Japan liked to relax at the end of the day with hard liquor in the company of actresses and prostitutes". The Japanese guide to English etiquette no doubt says, 'The hard-working musicians of 20th Century England love nothing better at the end of the day than to snort cocaine from the pockmarked thighs of groupies" Soooo... we weren't being protected from the fans in the bar - they (nice girls from good families) were being protected from the foreign devils. They needn't have bothered, but I'm glad they did because this place is ace. After midnight all the deference and daintiness goes out of the window and the drunken bonhomie so familiar to us arrives on a bullet train. Bang!
People are being chummy with us, offering us saké and amusing themselves at our gaucherie, like we'd laugh at one of them putting brown sauce on their cornflakes. Rover keeps asking for 'Tom Cat soup', which transpires to be tasty things on skewers not unlike our British shish kebabs. A woman comes over and it transpires she's offering to have sex with all of us. We make our excuses and leave, having convinced her that Rover has three penises. We leave him extending the hairy hand of international friendship. In the morning, Rover appears at breakfast devoid of his black leather, wearing an all-white pyjama suit, his head completely shaven, muttering something about the seventh law of enlightenment. He later claims to have ended up in a bar with a scantily-clad schoolgirl kicking a giraffe.
The fans at the hotel in Tokyo think we're super cool but they think they are too - this is better. Don't be like us, oh no, be even more Japanese please. "You must be feeling tired," sympathises a fan who's been waiting up all night to see us. Well actually no, we always look dog rough, but you don't want to hear that, do you? You want us to be plastic fantastic, you've put your money in a vending machine and you get Pulp just how you want it. Rover has just come in disappointed. Apparently there are vending machines in Tokyo where you can buy schoolgirls' underpants... used. Anyway, turns out he's bought some sixth-form boy's ones, which aren't quite what he had in mind.
Shopping! The toy shop is slightly disappointing. The real toy shop is called Electric Street, where you can buy a gadget for everything. I buy a Jacuzzi for sunglasses; it works, they come out clean and relaxed.
Early evening. We're taken out for a traditional Japanese meal. Shoes must be removed before sitting cross-legged at a low table. We choose a fish from a tank called a 'blow fish'. The sexual organs of this fish are deadly poisonous. Every year 40 people die from eating this fish, along with 40 chefs who must take the honourable way out. The fish is brought to the table with the organs removed and the edible strips of raw flesh arranged in a pattern at the side. The fish, however, is far from dead, it leans its head upwards looking at us. "This fish has died for you and you must respect it," says our host's girlfriend, who is administering the food ceremony. I don't think anyone's very happy about this and Rover blurts out, "But it isn't dead and if you don't take it away and kill it, I'm going to get my knife out and kill it!"
The fish is taken away to be killed. It tastes like raw fish. The English are drinking saké while the Japanese drink lager. The English have also bought cool cameras in Electric Street and snap away furiously. 'Bloody tourists!' think the Japanese. You probably think it's really weak not to speak out more forcefully about some of the things we see, but we're guests here and must respect their customs. However distasteful it seems, it's probably less hypocritical than our own attitudes to eating animals. Vegetarians be warned: the concept is not understood here and saying, "I don't eat dead animals" often results in a live one being brought.
After the meal we go through a ritual humiliation, Japanese style. 'Karaoke Is Joysound!' says the sign. Hmmmm... Unlike in England, you get a private room with your mates, who choose a song for you to sing and you have to get up and do it. I get 'Trouble' by Shampoo, not something I would ordinarily be inclined to sing in company. Jarvis gets a very badly translated version of MC Hammer's 'Can't Touch This' in which "legit" comes out as "Leggit", etc, etc.
And for Rover, we choose 'Gimmie A Man After Midnight', which he isn't very happy about. On the way out, we see a bloke squatting in the middle of the road staring at traffic which stops in front of him. We are taking the piss a bit, which turns out to be a very bad idea because this is not a drunk, but a Yakuza hard man staking out his territory. Our host is concerned and runs on ahead to make sure there are no more. I recollect the fearsome knives and weaponry for sale in Electric Street and stop taking the piss. The Yakuza chop off their little finger as an initiation - you do not want them as your enemies.
The first concert in Tokyo goes very well. All the concerts sold out very quickly and there is anticipation amongst the stylish and supposedly reserved crowd. I've never seen so much energy without aggression. Everything's running like clockwork. Back in the hotel foyer, which is the size of a football pitch, we are greeted by gift-bearing fans. In the middle of the foyer is a bar area, demarcated by a complete ring of chrome about 2ft-high. None of the fans dare enter this magic circle. We are joined by some of Steve's supermodel friends called Ginger, Manx, Feline, Persian and Pussy. They are impossibly thin and drape themselves around the bar, nibbling nuts. Rover approaches, his eyes roll around in their sockets like a fruit machine. "How long is it since you tasted some 100 per cent British beef?' he asks. Bingo!
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, we're being lampooned by Spitting Image along the lines of "I want to live like famous people"; fair enough, but what would you do, all my friends and brothers? The second concert in Tokyo we go on to Beethoven's Ninth. It's a flip chill winter bastard outside but inside all is horror show, there are even quite a number of mates in the audience. We fight through a few minor technical problems to cobble together an exciting show. Jarvis has to go off to replace a lost contact lens. To the Japanese, work equals style, times content. I guess you have to live some distance from Camden to appreciate this.
Battling through adversity in a cold climate is something our cultures share, it gives a certain edginess to the evening, which is a positive thing 'cos, as I'm sure you know, there's quite a lot of darkness under all this Pulp froth. Jarvis introduces all the songs in Japanese and this goes down very well. The Japanese seem to get this, they like a good present to be in a good box. The idea that style could possibly subtract from content would not make any sense to them. Pulp had to get popular with the public before the feral scum-sucking tabloid British music press (Love you too - NME) took any real notice, and then it was in a cartoonised and, to my mind, rather humiliating way.
We awake with the rising sun like the people in the cornflakes advert you always aspire to. I've started rooting through my paltry belongings for presents to give back to fans. The best I can do is sunglasses, which are much appreciated. However, next time in the foyer, I see that half a dozen pairs of my former sunglasses are being worn and it's embarrassing, mainly because it's impersonal and a cheap con, like giving beads for land. Many of the presents we receive are very thoughtful indeed, very personal and apt. We give the fans so little attention, don't even bother to learn their names and they give us so much. Why these kind, intelligent people do something, on the face of it, so uncool is beyond me, but I'm not complaining.
One of the many preconceptions was that we would be yammered away at about other bands, much as in the rest of the world, only more so and in a comical Japanese accent... "Ah Erastica, you know Bobby Girrespie? You know Brur?" This is definitely not the case; it almost seems impolite to mention another band when they're so focused on you. So that's another preconception, that they're impersonal. Also going is a well-reasoned belief in the supremacy of European culture, see ya. Actually there is one exception. They do keep giving us pictures of Menswear and assuring us that they are, well, as if they are our long lost children. We've seen so many cheesy pictures of them grinning red-eyed, in Hawaiian shirts that severe loss of ace-faceness has occurred.
The last show in Tokyo is less frenetic, but very good; we play well and do a rare-for-us second encore. Jarvis has sustained a finger injury and is taken to the hospital where an already painful finger is subjected to squeezing, pricking, burning and electrocution.
The tour manager had only come into t'doctor's office to bring t'singer but they gave him t'stick and all! It was noticed that he had a cold and he had a man kneel on his back attaching crocodile clips to his nose, electrocuting him so he thrashed about like a pinhead, his neck pulsing alarmingly. Needless to say they both confessed. God knows what they'd do if you're really ill. No wonder everyone looks so healthy, they're scared shitless to be ill.
Our last meal in Japan, at our request, involves no live animals. We give a present to our host, who then proceeds to blub uncontrollably for the rest of the meal. Any preconceptions that these are cold people went way back. As the orders are being placed, one of the record company men pipes up, "I like Beetles!" Well almost. He stands up and starts to reel off his repertory of the Fab Four's songs which is quite extensive. We're used to this kind of excellently barking mad behaviour, so it's alright. Go buddy go!
We assemble early in the lobby for departure, Jarvis has gone on ahead dressed as a Hasidic Jew to avoid the crowds. Like many well-known celebrities, Jarvis employs a double. Jarvis' double (You may have seen him in the 'Mis-Shapes' video) has been up all night drinking in a dangerous club and staggers into the foyer not only refusing to sign autographs but swearing at anyone who comes near him before failing over a sofa and collapsing on the floor.
Safely checked in at the airport, we ascend an escalator waving gaily to the tearful fans. "Please come back to Japan soon," they plead. "We will, we will," we promise. It's a promise we are to keep because it is the wrong escalator and leads nowhere. After waiting round the corner for some time, the crowd at the bottom is still there so we have to descend the escalator, waving to the now laughing fans. "Welcome back to Japan," they say. Ah ha! Enough, enough, no more gratitude. Let's go somewhere where it's rude.
The record company, who must be ill, offer to pay our room service bill. Oh gullible company did ye ken, ye'd be picking up the tab for half a million yen?
Nietzsche would have aphorised the Pulp philosophy as: 'I have my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds, thus I grow taller.' There is, of course, a combustibility to this. We draw our inspiration from elevating ordinary life, therefore ordinary people relate to it, therefore we become famous, therefore we are no longer common people, therefore we lose the sap that pushes us to the clouds and it goes snap! This is exactly how it should be.
By example, Japan has injected a certain amount of crackle back into this fragile alliance. Perhaps we can last until the stroke of midnight New Year's Eve 1999. Pop!
Based on a true story.