Flashback: 1987 (part 3): Summer 1987 (part 1)

This was to be my last post about the trials and tribulations of the summer of 1987, as things took several turns for the worse…

If I thought that the first half of 1987 had been difficult, well, nothing quite prepared me for that summer in Tokyo. When I came back to Seattle in October to formally apply for a work visa, one of the ways in which I tried to make some sense of things was through a series of mixtapes…

Summer of ’87
(heaven & hell, love & lust, shopping, money, beer, cigarettes & all those secrets…)

A: July/August
Janet Jackson – “Control (video mix)” (A&M)
Pseudoecho – “Funkytown” (RCA)
Melon – “Somewhere Faraway” (CBS/Sony)
Prince – “U Got the Look” (with Sheena Easton) (Paisley Park)
George Michael – “I Want Your Sex (monogamy mix – rhythms 1, 2, and 3)” (Epic)
Herb Alpert – “Diamonds (dance mix)” (with Janet Jackson & Lisa Keith) (A&M)
Go West – “Masque of Love” (Chrysalis)
Thomas Dolby – “Don’t Turn Away (version one)” (MCA)

B: August/September
George Michael – “A Different Corner” (US version – intro only) (Columbia)
Go West – “I Want to Hear it from You” (Chrysalis)
George Michael – “Hard Day” (Columbia)
Crowded House – “Don’t Dream it’s Over” (Capitol)
The Style Council – “Walking the Night” (Polydor)
Level 42 – “Lessons in Love” (Polydor)
Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls” (EMI America)
Madonna – “Crazy for You” (Warner-Pioneer)
ABC – “Avenue A/When Smokey Sings” (Mercury)
The Style Council – “Angel” (Polydor)
Pet Shop Boys – “It’s A Sin” (EMI)

(Made October 6, 1987)

This particular volume covers all sorts of ground, incomplete though it may be. The first three songs on Side A clearly relate to my move to Tokyo to start my new job. It would be the first time in my life that I was truly independent, and that was an exciting prospect—as if living in a huge city like Tokyo weren’t excitement enough, that is.

Unfortunately, this excitement would soon be tempered by the collapse of my relationship with my girlfriend (which is where the rest of the songs come in). She remained in Seattle, living in my apartment, while I was in Tokyo for the summer.

The day I left, my dad came to pick me up to take me to the airport. My girlfriend and I said our goodbyes, and off I went. Except I forgot something, so we had to go around the block so I could stop back and get whatever it was.

We said our goodbyes again. Though I don’t remember what I said, she said something like, “Come back and stay forever!” Little did I know that I would never see her again.

Here’s where real life enters the picture. As I mentioned in a previous post, my girlfriend had decamped for Bellevue for a while because of her job (combined with my lack of reliable transportation at the time). She came back to my place in either February or March, I think it was—but something had changed. There was a distance between us that hadn’t been there before, and our sex life (which had been quite healthy before) became non-existent. So, her smiling, happy “come back and stay forever!” comment was actually hard for me to hear.

This distance between us, which was now both physical and emotional, continued after I’d arrived in Tokyo. I couldn’t call very often, since international long-distance was expensive, but I wrote letters regularly. For some reason, though, she wasn’t writing back. It got to the point where I would mention this in letters to mutual friends—not in an angry way, though; I tried to keep a sense of humor about it.

In the meantime, I was adjusting to my new job. It was mostly going well, though I did still have a lot to learn about some of the nuances of the Japanese language if I were to improve as a translator. I was gradually becoming accustomed to hearing Japanese spoken every day, and started to feel comfortable enough to actually say things once in a while. (My American co-worker later told me that everyone was shocked the first time I actually said something in Japanese. I imagine some of my co-workers were surprised to even hear me speak, as I was initially pretty shy in my new environment.)

While I wouldn’t discover the wonders of Shibuya record shops until a bit later, I was also enjoying being able to shop at local record stores, where I was able to buy CDs that I wouldn’t have had access to at home. Among my first purchases in Tokyo were Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Neo Geo, released through CBS/Sony on a new label started by Bill Laswell; Janet Jackson’s More Control, a disc of remixes of songs from her breakthrough Controlalbum; the then-current Epo album, Go-Go Epo (I’d bought her Harmony album the previous year at Tower, since one of the songs used the backing track from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Tibetan Dance”); Melon’s Deep Cut, their recently released new album, which I hadn’t previously been aware of; Chaka Khan’s Perfect Fit, a Japan-only CD EP that featured the extended mix of “Love of a Lifetime” (her collaboration with Scritti Politti) and her hit cover of Prince’s “I Feel for You”; and a Herb Alpert CD containing remixes of his then current hit, “Diamonds”, which had been produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and prominently featured Janet Jackson.

In the meantime, I was a 24-year-old young man, hormones a-raging, living in a big city, thousands of miles away from my girlfriend. Needless to say, George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” and Prince’s “U Got the Look” made frequent appearances in my portable cassette player, along with Phil Collins’ “Inside Out”, The Style Council’s “Walking the Night”, and a few other songs that I can’t think of at the moment.

I did lots of walking during this time. A lot of it was just to have time to myself to think, but I also needed to explore the neighborhood, to get a sense of where things were. It also gave me something to do when I was feeling restless—and I was feeling a lot of restlessness over the state of my relationship.

It was on one of these walks that I happened upon a CD shop I hadn’t been in before. This was where I found Go West’s then-new album, Dancing on the Couch. This album, which I may give its own entry later, was probably the album I ended up listening to the most that summer, particularly for the songs “I Want to Hear it from You” and “Masque of Love”, which seemed to perfectly describe what was happening between my girlfriend and me. Unfortunately, it would not be long before I found out just how true that was.

A precursor of sorts came when she actually called me (usually we arranged a day and time, and I would call her), and was worried that I was angry with her because I’d said something in one of those letters to a mutual friend. I assured her that I wasn’t being serious—but her concern still struck me as kind of odd.

But I tried to reassure myself that the things I thought I was noticing were all in my head, since I was in Japan in part to enable us to get married. (She had told me at one point that her parents were worried that she’d leave Japan for good if she married a gaijin, so, for me, having a job in Japan seemed like a good way to allay those fears.)

Another of my discoveries that summer was, thanks to my American co-worker, Japanese bars. We would go to one once every week or two, depending on how our money was holding up. (Most Japanese companies have one payday a month, so making it last could be something of a stretch for us.) The one we typically went to could be quite fun. We’d have a bar hostess making conversation and keeping the drinks coming, and there’d be lots of laughter. The only drawback was that it could get rather expensive. (I went just one time by myself—and discovered that my natural shyness worked against me. Rather than being fun, it ended up being kind of sad, and not worth the money I spent.)

(Okay, there was another drawback: The hangover. Not being used to drinking much, I had a few huge hangovers that summer. And I quickly learned to limit any bar visits to weekends, since going to work with a hangover was far from pleasant.)

Then there was the weekend things pretty much fell apart. My girlfriend and I had planned to talk on the phone one Sunday, but that Friday I was invited to go on a weekend trip with a few of my co-workers. So, I called her that night, since I wouldn’t be able to call at our originally scheduled time.

The first sign of trouble was her surprise at hearing from me. It didn’t sound like a good surprise, and that had me worried. She seemed kind of subdued, so, being the considerate boyfriend, I cajoled her into talking about it.

Mistake.

(To be continued.)

(June 18, 2012)