It is often said that music is the universal language. And certainly, it can prove to be a valuable tool in an ESL classroom. I’ve heard of many ALT’s who bring their guitars to class and serenade the students with a nice ballad. I would love to do something like this – however I’m about as musically inclined as a can of tuna, so I’m forced to rely on the professionals.
At all three of my schools, we occasionally have a music lesson. The most common one is to play a song in class, and give the students a lyric sheet with certain words blanked out. The students have to listen to the song and try to pick out the blanked-out words. Some adventerous teachers will attempt to get the students to sing something. This usually leads in Hindenburg-esque disaster, as the students innate hatred of English as well as natural shyness kick in, and we end up with 30 Japanese kids mumbling their way through Celine Dion (which, actually, I prefer better than the real thing*). Given that karaoke is almost the natural pastime here, you’d think the kids would be more receptive to the singing lessons, but eh. Another small annotation in the “Japan’s Weird, Did You Know That?” file.
*Celine Dion fans, please direct your hatemail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One teacher at the School of Peace though decided that she was going to forge ahead with the singing lesson anyway. She would pick one song, and as a warm-up the students would sing it before class everyday. They would sing it at least three times together with the song, and then once without. However, if the teacher felt they weren’t singing their little hearts out (and most of the time, they weren’t), she’d push them to sing it a fourth, even a fifth time.
And while this was a nice idea, in theory, the song that the teacher picked was “Top of the World” by The Carpenters. Given that we had three classes together, that was “Top of the World”, 10-15 times a day, for an entire week.
There have been very few times in my life where I’ve faced a situation so bleak, so desperate, that I wanted to take my own life. Criss Cross and the backwards clothes fad of the 90’s. Watching the Spawn movie in theaters. Promising a girl I’d go on a date with her to a Yanni concert. But let me tell you, going to work that week, there were a few times where I thought about jumping in front of the oncoming train instead of boarding it.
Just tonight is OK, I want to feel the hot life inside of me
Miraculously, I somehow survived the week. At the end of the week, the teacher told me that the students would continue to practice “Top of the World” for the next two weeks as I made the rounds at Watson’s School and the Ghetto School. However, by the time I came back to the School of Peace, it would be time to change the song. And at that exact moment, I felt like Rocky Balboa, having taken a severe beating at the hands of Apollo Creed, only to climb back up the ropes just as the referee hit 9 on the 10 count. I’m a survivor (what)!
Two weeks later, I returned to the School of Peace. The kids had endured Carpenter Hell, but I’d dodged that fucking bullet like Neo in the Matrix. As the teacher came by my desk to talk about the lesson plan, I wondered what she was going to change the song to. Hey, you can’t go wrong with the Beatles. Or maybe she’d go soulful with a little Stevie Wonder? Maybe she’d go modern, and play some John Mayer, or even some Smash Mouth.
Turns out, I was being WAY too optimistic.
Teacher: So, we’ve been practicing “Top of the World” for the past three weeks. I think it’s time to change the song.
Me: Great! So, what’s up next?
Teacher: “Yesterday Once More”, by The Carpenters.
I’m fading away…I’m sick of this life…I just wanna scream…how could this happen to me?
Amazingly enough, The Carpenters are not hated in Japan. I have been told that their songs are especially easy to understand for non-native English speakers. Having been away from America for so long, I kind of wondered if there hadn’t been some Carpenters Revival I was in the dark about. However, talking to one of my friends, he confirmed that Carpenter hatred was still as American as apple pie and baseball. As he so eloquently put it, “Americans can’t agree on anything, but we can all band together in our undying hatred for The Carpenters. It doesn’t matter who you are – the KKK and the Black Panthers, Catholics and atheists, gays and Republicans, Cola-Cola drinkers and Pepsi drinkers…all will band together and hold hands, unified by our beautiful contempt for The Carpenters.”
I decided to take the matter up with the one Japanese person who might possibly understand – Ms. Americanized. I told her about my Carpenters Ordeal at the School of Peace, to which she laughed and said, “yeah, The Carpenters are shit, huh?” I knew she would understand. I pointed out once again how radically different Ms. Americanized was from your normal Japanese girl. She responded with, “yeah, I’m not that Japanese. Don’t let the slanty eyes and small tits fool you.”
Speaking of Ms. A, I think I mentioned in an earlier editorial that we once had the kids singing Tupac in class. The reason this happened was because Ms. A happened to have a majority of the bastard boys in one of her English classes. She wanted to do a music lesson, and seeing an opportunity to maybe actually involve the little shitheads in an English class, she asked them if there were any songs they wanted to do. So one of the bastards gave her a CD of songs he liked, filled with MTV-approved rap. Ms. A, realizing the source material, came to me and asked if there were any songs on the CD that she could actually explain to a class of 14-year olds and not be arrested for. She’d tried to screen the CD herself, but after printing out the lyrics to the first song, R.Kelly’s “Ignition”, even with her advanced level of English she found herself completely confused.
Ms. A: I don’t understand, is he talking to a girl, or is he talking to a car he refers to as a girl, or what?
Me: What do you mean?
Ms. A: Well, he says right here that he wants to stick his key in her ignition.
Ms. A: I thought maybe he was talking about the car. But then right here, he asks her if she’s ever driven stick, so he can’t be talking to the car. And if there’s a girl in the car with him, who’s driving? If he’s driving, why would she need to drive stick?
Me: Um, wrong stick sweetheart.
Ms. A: …?
Me: There’s a girl all right, but I don’t even think there’s an actual car involved.
Ms. A: …???
Me: …Think about it.
Ms. A: …………….!!!! (wave of realization spreads across her face) Ohhhhhhh, OK, now I get it. (crumples up the lyric sheet) Well, we certainly can’t do THIS song.
Speaking of explicit lyrics, for a little while, J-pop star Koda Kumi was the number one sensation in music. While I suppose her music is all right, Koda’s rise to the top was powered by her sexxed-up image, which she called “Ero-Kakkoii”, or “Erotic-Cool”. Sure, I guess that’s another valid name for $2 Whore. Koda Kumi is, supposedly, hot, but when I look at her all I see is a barely clothed piece of meat*. And not even like the $15 piece of succulent prime rib just waiting for you to tear into it. No, she’s like the beaten and worn flank steak on the corner of the shelf, already half-price but still nobody wants to touch it. And to all you overseas Koda Kumi fans fapping to pictures of her, realize that these pictures have been Photoshopped more than every image that emerged out of the “All Your Base” phenomenon, combined.
*Koda Kumi fans, please see the Celine Dion annotation regarding where to send your hate mail.
The primary age-group that was eating up Koda’s stuff were adolescent girls. Luckily, Japanese people are all talk when it comes to this kind of thing, so while the little girls thought that “Ero-Kakkoii” was the height of awesome, mercifully they didn’t have the guts to do it themselves, and I was spared from having to see 14-year old skirt steak parading around the streets of Japan. Unfortunately though, Koda Kumi’s oversexxed image wasn’t just limited to her appearance – it manifested itself in her songs as well, and much like everything else in my life, I found this out the hard way.
Back at the School of Peace, the English teacher (yes, the one who inflicted Carpenter Hell on me) And I were walking back to the teachers room after class one day. As we walked, three sannensei girls passed by us, holding hands and singing the chorus to one of Koda’s songs, dubiously titled “Ima Sugu Hoshii”, or “I Want It Now”. The chorus, roughly translated, goes a little something like this…
I want it now
Your surging tongue and intense love
Turn on the lights, I want my shining body to feel just right
Until the sun comes up
Become free, throw away everything
I want your hot spray
The English teacher and I literally stopped dead in our tracks as the three girls skipped past us singing this verse. It was just one of those WTF?! moments, where no words in any language will ever do it justice. The teacher then turned to me, and in all seriousness, says, “I’m really worried about the kids of this generation.” I don’t blame her. She’s got two elementary-grade school girls as well (one of whom wrote the letter to Santa with the instructions on how to disable the security system). I could only try to imagine her fears, to one day come home and find your pre-pubscent daughter looking like an Amsterdam whore and singing about wanting some dude’s hot spray.
Suddenly, The Carpenters didn’t seem so bad anymore. I mean, yeah, Unifying Carpenter Hatred or whatever. But given the alternatives… I think I’d much rather have my 15-year old girls standing on top of the world looking down on creation, than have them openly requesting hot creamy facials (or I guess, since this is Japan, hot creamy bukkake blasts).
…Great, and now I have this blasted song stuck in my head. By the way, check my “Argh.” post for the full lyrics.
Just tonight is OK, I want to feel the hot life inside of me