In this alternate universe, rock and roll never died, because it was never born. Instead, the music that had captured the attention of America was Oriental, an amalgam of Chinese opera (imagine "My Favorite Concubine") and Japanese kabuki theater, yet with heavy Western influences as well. White-faced boys in pastel robes, white, peach or pink, heavily made up, sang Motown tunes a cappella in high-pitched voices.
I was living in a large house with five other guys, one of whom was trying to break into this Earth's version of rock stardom. The rest of my housemates encouraged him, as a matter of course—who doesn't want to be popular?—but I wanted no part of the corrupt system of organized crime that had grown up around the performers. How did these boys' voices get and stay so high? Were they castrati? No one would admit to it, but it was common knowledge that some of the biggest names in the business would never go through puberty. As in pure kabuki, there were no female performers; kabuki boys became onnagata, taking on the mannerisms as well as the voices of women for their performances.
Also, although all the faces were white, even under the makeup, the songs they sang in such pure tones were a blend of Motown soul and plantation spiritual, which their precisely-mouthed accents turned into bitter racist parody.
I watched my housemate's life being taken over by the shady yakuza type who was his corporate master. He visited our house, once, and told us to buy socks for this guy; it would help his career to be seen wearing the right socks. Girls' socks—they were supposed to be the in thing for kabuki boys this year. Of course, the socks he wanted us to buy had the big F logo of his corporate sponsor.
I wanted no part of it, but I was drawn in anyway. By accident, I'd created a sensation, while waiting for an elevator in a big indoor mall -a huge, echoing space done in glass and graphite-gray steel. A cluster of kabuki boys was lounging around near the elevator in their pink and white robes. I'd started singing, a song that had something in common with "Dock of the Bay" and something of "Old Man River" in it... tailor made for the kabuki boys. But I'd accompanied myself with finger snaps. They joined in, adding their own variations, and suddenly they saw the potential in such self-accompaniment. I don't think it was so much an invention of mine—I was no Okuni—as I'd simply pointed out a mode they'd overlooked, or resurrected a fad. Nevertheless the innovation became a sensation; they called them "fingersnap songs."
The yakuza manager and some of his buddies chased me through the mall, some of them angry but others just wanting to hear more fingersnap music. They wanted to make me sign some kind of contract, but I got away from them.
I wanted no part of it.
Originally posted June 16, 1997.
©1997, 2011 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.