Chapter 8--The Spirit Trail
The flashing red neon sign overpowered every other one like it on the strip. “Tanaka’s” proclaimed its presence amidst the bars, restaurants and other businesses in this section of the Shibuya District. Beneath the sign, a line had formed behind the black velvet theater ropes that led to its entrance.
The line was diverse, Aimi noted as she stood alongside her parents and waited to get in. Businessmen, both Japanese and foreign were in the queue, mostly for the “Hostess Bar” section, she gathered. There were however a mix of people, young and old, and there were a few teens in the crowd with their parents or guardians.
Goro and Madoka were as excited as she; it was a night out, and one treated by Kaldera at a nightspot they’d never been to. Her father often joked that his partying days were long over, and Goro had told some interesting and funny stories from his earlier life. He looked happy, and Aimi was pleased for him. He’d trimmed his beard, and in his old gray sport coat and jeans looked like any other man out for some fun on the town.
The family did not own a lot of what they called “good clothes,” and Madoka’s blue dress, while a little out of fashion looked just fine. Aimi was also happy to be out of the school uniform for a change: she’d chosen a short black pinstriped miniskirt and a black top, plus her school windbreaker. The outfit was a bargain, and as it was too warm for Aimi’s winter coat, this one would do.
Right behind them in line were Mei, along with Midori (both still in their cosplay outfits) and the latter’s family. Mei’s adoptive parents were both in their early thirties, and quite fashionably dressed. All discussed the club among themselves, and what might transpire inside.
Midori had said her folks had been to Tanaka’s before, and they gave some insight on the place: the Hostess Bar was on the second level above the restaurant, dance floor and stage. This was the spot where men could drink in a relaxed atmosphere and congregate with the geisha.
These women were not of the kind from years past. Geisha was still an extant culture in Japan, though it was going by the way. While traditional geisha still wore the garments and makeup expected of them (as well as sang and performed music), modern-day women, such as those who worked here merely had to look nice and provide company. Sex was not involved, another misconception many had of geisha, especially foreigners.
As the line made its way through the door, Aimi saw two large men in black jeans and t-shirts that bore the establishment’s name. Standing between the bouncers was a small young woman: she wore a very short black dress and spiked heels, and her long hair was a mix of black and brown. She held the guest list on a clipboard, and at times would personally usher certain individuals inside.
Asuka then stepped out, wearing a dress similar to that of the other woman. She saw Aimi immediately, and came down the line to say hello. After introductions to Aimi’s father and Midori’s parents, she said, “Mom sent me out to make sure you got in okay. You’re sitting with us tonight.”
“Your father is far too kind, Asuka,” Madoka told her, “but we appreciate the hospitality, Kaldera’s as well.”
She smiled and nodded. “Thank you,” she replied, “but it’s Mom that made it so. She likes to see our friends have a good time, wherever they are.” Next in line, Asuka spoke with one of the men, who nodded and stamped each person’s left hand with a red marker, so patrons could return should they wish to step outside.
Asuka then turned to the woman who had returned. “This is Saki,” she introduced, “she is the manager here.”
“Ah, your friends. Wonderful to meet you all,” Saki replied, and she bowed politely once she’d learned everyone’s names. “Let’s go.”
Saki was quite vivacious, and Aimi liked her right away. She could also see why this woman was the manager--though young, Saki walked with great confidence, and her smile could disarm even the most cantankerous of people. Stopping in the well-lit foyer, Saki motioned to the coat-check area, for those who wished to deposit their outerwear. Once this was accomplished, Saki then led them to a set of stairs. “Here we are,” she announced, with a sweep of her hand.
Aimi looked over the expanse of the huge room. She was awed; down the short flight of steps, patrons entered a large restaurant area with tables of varied sizes, all of dark mahogany, the chairs and armrests well padded. The walls were of a dark wood, whether paneling or some other type Aimi could not tell, due to the soft, intimate lighting. A small dance floor ringed all but the back of the stage, which was only about two feet high, but very wide.
The band was setting up, and Aimi noted a silver drum kit, plus a set of kodo drums to the side. There was also a dual rack of keyboards on the other side of the kit. Before an array of amplifiers, she could see Kaldera as he set up a Korg synthesizer on a portable stand near the front of the stage. He had three guitars in a rack before the drums, two acoustics, plus an electric.
As Saki led the party down and to a large table at the front, Aimi saw Kaz and Minoru; roadies for the night, the two boys ran lines and assisted the band members. Kaz waved to the group as he saw them, and Aimi waved back.
“This is one hell of a place,” Mei commented as they approached the table.
“It is,” Midori concurred, both impressed like the others.
At the end of the long table, Keru and Nanae sat, along with Daisuke. All rose and politely greeted the guests. Aimi watched for the reactions of the men: Keru was a bit stiff, Daisuke quiet, but both men were correct and polite. Nanae, her hair up and in a brilliant red silk gown was gracious to all, and very happy to meet Madoka. “Your work is beautiful,” she said, “and it occupies an honored place in my home.”
Madoka was flattered, and said so. Nanae placed Madoka beside her at the long table, and Keru motioned for Goro to across from her. “You’re Kaldera’s guests,” he said with what looked to be a forced smile, “and it is an honor to have all of you here.”
Other pleasantries passed as Saki seated everyone, and two uniformed waitresses came over to pass out menus and point out the house specialties. “Order whatever you wish,” Nanae announced, “Kaldera is picking up the tab; ours as well, I think.”
There was laughter as all scanned the menu. The prices were actually reasonable, or at least they appeared to be, Aimi thought, though she didn’t recognize some of the dishes.
The drink orders were made, and Kaz and Minoru stopped by. “We’ve been conscripted,” Kaz informed his friends, “Kaldera needs us tonight.”
“What’s he got in mind?” Mei asked.
“Oh, maybe something,” Kaz replied; he was keeping it vague. “We’ve heard these guys practice, it’s like they’ve been together for years.”
The first part of the evening was nothing like Aimi had experienced. The food was delicious, the waitresses saw to everyone’s needs, and the place had quickly filled to near capacity. Everyone seemed to be having a good time; she saw that Madoka and Nanae had especially hit it off well. Daisuke, who had moved down so that Goro could sit beside Keru, remained quiet. Goro was engaged in a good-natured talk with Keru, who seemed to have lightened up a little as the drinks flowed.
Kaldera passed through the crowd and came up to speak to the table. He was dressed in black leather pants and a matching vest that was interlaced across the front. There was also what looked like a bear-claw necklace over that. His hair remained tied back, but he looked different; it was almost a second personality. “I’m glad you made it,” he told Aimi and her friends. “This is going to be a good night.”
“So, Kaldera, what exactly are you going to do for music?” Midori asked.
“Well, it’s going to be some songs you might recognize,” he replied. “A lot of them are by friends of mine, and I’ll do a few of my own as well. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, but I always treat each night as a special occasion. Oh, and I’d like to talk to you all afterwards, about what I had in mind.” Everyone nodded in agreement, and after speaking with the adults, Kaldera headed for the backstage area.
Excusing themselves to use the restroom, Aimi and the girls were joined by Asuka. While waiting for Mei to fix her makeup, Asuka said to the others, “Minoru told me earlier, something about a sailing excursion? It sounds exciting.”
“I hope he invited you,” Aimi replied.
“Oh, yes! Father was a little iffy about it, but Mom took care of that,” Asuka explained with a laugh. “I think it will be a great adventure.”
“I’m still not getting on that boat,” Mei interjected, “but I wouldn’t mind seeing it.”
“If it’s next weekend,” Midori added, “I won’t be able to go. We’re going to Yokohama to visit the relatives.”
The look on Midori’s face was an odd one, and Aimi and Asuka both noticed it. Midori saw they were inquisitive, and Mei was as well, once she was done at the mirror. “We’re going to see my uncle and aunt, on Dad’s side,” she explained. “They have kids, and I get along great with my cousins, but the adults aren’t too nice.”
“To you?” Mei asked.
Midori nodded slowly. “Yes. They are polite to me of course,” she said, “but my uncle especially, he thinks Mom and Dad made a mistake in adopting me.”
There was a silence in the bathroom, apart from the toilets flushing and other guests using the facilities. “I’m sorry,” Asuka finally said. “I can’t imagine such a thing.”
“It’s real,” Mei said. “I’m half-Korean; I know what Midori’s talking about.”
“It isn’t as bad as it sounds,” Midori continued as they returned to the dining room, “but my uncle is pretty conservative; he thinks they should have adopted a Japanese child, instead of a Korean one. He doesn’t understand.”
Mei put her arm around Midori as they walked back. “He’s an asshole,” she declared, “but it’s so clear your folks love you for who you are, not what you are. We all do, too.”
Midori smiled and hugged Mei to her. “I know,” she said, “but I appreciate hearing it.”
Aimi was walking behind the two alongside Asuka, and she noticed the latter was shaking her head, as if she‘d just heard something that had left her stunned. Before they reached the table, she stopped Aimi. “I feel sad,” she said, “Midori is so sweet. How could anyone be that way toward her?”
“People are like that sometimes,” Aimi replied. “I don’t get it, either. Mom and Dad have always said it’s not where you’re from, or what your circumstances are--it’s who you are, and people should accept that. Old habits, they often say, die hard.”
Asuka nodded slowly, and looked over at the table. “Aimi,” she said, just loud enough for her to be heard over the noise in the restaurant, “I’ve learned a lot from you and your friends. I want to spend more time with all of you. I think there’s things I need to learn that I haven’t.”
She took Aimi’s hands in hers. “I really like you,” Asuka went on, as she looked into Aimi’s eyes. “I respect you, your family, everyone in your group. I don’t have friends like you; you feel like real ones to me.”
Aimi smiled as she looked up to Asuka, and embraced her. “You do have friends,” she said, “you have Minoru, you have us. Don’t ever feel you’re not wanted or accepted, because you are.”
“Thank you.” Asuka shared in the hug, and her smile was very real as the two walked back to the table. As they took their seats, the lights dimmed, and a cheer went up as the spots over the stage brightened. There was one trained at center stage, where Kaldera’s keyboard and mic stood, and there were additional spots for the other musicians.
Taking the stage were an all-ages band, each dressed in casual wear. Their ages appeared to be anywhere from their twenties to their fifties. The second keyboardist was a woman who looked to be a bit older; the drummers were both young men, and the bassist and lead guitarist both looked to be in their forties.
Then Kaldera walked out, and cheers and applause rose up from the crowd. He walked slowly and deliberately; Aimi noticed how Kaldera took each step so carefully, and mindfully. He then stood behind the keyboard, and adjusted his microphone. “Good evening,” he said, “my name is Kaldera.”
With that, it was into the first song. The night rushed by, as did the music; it felt to Aimi like all the tracks of a CD had been edited together. The band, despite being members of other groups showed they were professionals--they were tight on each song, and followed Kaldera in whatever direction he chose to take.
Some of the songs were familiar, covers by American artists, which Kaldera pointed out by name and occasionally added anecdotes of his time with those individuals. “Sister Lost Soul,” the song he had played the other night at the Okuda’s home was performed again, to strong applause. Kaldera also played several of his own tunes, one of which caught the audience’s attention. Kaz and Minoru were not idle during the set; they moved onstage to help adjust mics or deal with minor technical matters.
Kaldera had strapped on an acoustic guitar and Kaz had come out to move his mic alongside the keyboard once again. Once it was ready, Kaldera addressed the crowd. “This is a very personal song, written several years ago. It’s been recorded a few times, and as I’ve done tonight, I want to share with you a little more of myself.”
The band filled in behind a simple strumming technique, and Kaldera’s voice, generally mid-ranged through the night, went low.
“The other night I went to visit a good friend of mine
We hung around her place and we talked about our lives
Then she let me in, on her secondhand side
Hidden from the world by her smile and her eyes…”
From the beginning, Aimi was entranced. Kaldera had changed again, from a seasoned rock performer, to a folksinger of sorts. Watching him, she saw his face, in fact his whole body change as he told his story.
“It was me and the best friend I ever had
We were two against the world and we were going to win
But sometimes life doesn’t go the way you want it to
It’s a crowded place, the street of the broken dreams…”
Aimi could feel the club, at least this part of the establishment go quiet as all listened and watched. How could they not? Kaldera had just put himself out there, for all to see and hear. The song was a long one, a sad story, yet one that seemed to have some kind of quality that didn’t make it that way. The backing singers filled in on the choruses, and the whole piece came to a sudden end, on a low minor chord.
The applause was huge, many people standing up. Visibly moved, Kaldera stepped back and allowed it to wash over him, and his hand went to his face.
Did he just start crying? Aimi wondered. I would too perhaps, if I had to sing that. That shows just how much he’s a part of the song. It has to be about him.
The comments by Aimi’s friends showed they had come to the same conclusion, and all agreed there was more to that particular song. Before they could discuss it further, Kaldera returned to the mic. “There’s only one way I can follow that,” he said, “and that’s bring you back up. Please welcome to the stage, Kaz Ogawa!”
Everyone’s jaws dropped as Kaz walked onstage, his guitar over his shoulder. He plugged in and Minoru moved the second guitarist’s mic next to Kaldera’s. A quick count-off (perhaps in case Kaz chickened out), and the band moved into an upbeat, almost country-sounding tune. Kaz and Kaldera played dual rhythm guitar, and the former leaned into his mic.
“I’m back on board that ‘49 Ford, in 1956
Along before the sun came up way out in the sticks
The headlights showed a two-rut roadway back up in the pines
First time I heard Johnny Cash sing ‘I Walk the Line…’”
Aimi was delighted. Looking around her, she saw everyone’s surprise. No one knew this would happen, and even Keru looked astonished. Kaz looked nervous, but he had found his voice, and sounded really good. All his life he had been so quiet, Aimi thought, but now behind a mic and a guitar, he grew.
“I got my thrill behind the wheel upon my daddy’s lap
Grandpa rode copilot with a flashlight and a map
Cane pole out the window, it was in the summertime
First time I heard Johnny Cash sing ‘I Walk the Line…’”
Kaldera then sang the verses of that song, in a baritone that actually sounded like the Man in Black. There was a solo from the lead guitarist, another verse and the up-tempo number ended with a flourish.
The dance floor was crowded, taken over by dancers and others wanting to get close, and Aimi and her friends went down to join them. It was like being at a rock concert, as everyone pushed toward the stage to offer congratulations. Kaz had a huge grin, relieved that he’d made it through the song. He thanked the crowd and stepped off.
Kaldera then switched to his electric, a bright red Stratocaster, and the band kicked into a fast number with heavy percussion. Aimi found herself dancing alongside Asuka, while Mei had paired off with Midori. People of all ages were on the floor, but as they danced nearly all watched the stage, and Kaldera.
He took a wide stance as he played a distorted rhythm, but again his face had changed. Kaldera then grabbed the mic and began to belt out lyrics that sounded like a verbal attack.
“The line is long, the sun is low
I’m riding fast across this dusty road
But I don’t want to be
No, I don’t want to be…”
His guitar now slung down like weapon, Kaldera took up what looked like a rattle or shaker and began to play that as he dragged the mic across the stage and looked hard at the audience.
“But I can hear a different song
The drum within my heart is beating strong
I want to follow it
I’ve got to walk the spirit trail
Let every creature I see
Be a brother and a friend to me
Let every step that I take
Leave the footprints of a warrior, along the spirit trail…”
The lights were glowing red, on the dance floor and the stage. Aimi found herself looking up at Kaldera, and he was bathed in a white light. It didn’t appear to be a spot--it was almost as if Kaldera was generating that light, himself. She looked around and could see that while many were still dancing, her friends had noticed it, too.
Then Aimi saw something else: before her eyes, Kaldera’s outfit, and body transformed. The black outfit morphed into a pair of fringed, buckskin pants; the vest was replaced by a breastplate made of what looked the rib bones of some animal, and hung about his shoulders by leather thongs. His hair was now black, longer, and the dreamcatcher tattoo Kaldera wore now glowed red.
“Hey-a--Hey-a hey-a hiyo…” Kaldera led the group in what sounded like a Native American chant, then dropped the shaker, swung his guitar around and delivered a blistering solo that lasted for nearly a minute. Sliding his guitar down, Kaldera again grabbed the shaker and the mic to sing another verse as the band rocked hard behind him.
“They took the land, they took control
They robbed my father of his very soul
To be one of them
To be like one of them
But I was born a native son
And I will never be another one
To give it all away
I’ve got to walk the spirit trail…”
The song broke down into a chorus, the chant from all the singers, and Kaldera stood at center stage, still in the white light. He stood with his feet together, arms outstretched, and he looked Heavenward. The song ended abruptly, and the lights went out.
There was a long pause; then the lights returned. Aimi gasped, and others did as well: Kaldera, the Kaldera of before had returned, in the leather outfit; sweat poured from each pore of his body, and it shone in the spotlights.
This was lost in the deafening cheers that followed; several people again pushed toward the stage and the sweaty band members, but the bouncers were there to provide the needed space.
Kaldera looked about to collapse; Aimi wondered if there was any water left in his body. Yet Kaldera gave no indication in his face that he was exhausted. Switching to his acoustic, he returned to the mic.
“Thank you so much,” he said, “now thank the band.” He motioned to each member and called them by name, and the crowd cheered for each.
“Now,” Kaldera continued, “let’s bring them out: Minoru Higa and again, Kaz Ogawa.”
Both Minoru and Kaz stepped onstage, the former with his shamisen around his shoulder, and there was more applause. Minoru adjusted a mic to the level of his shamisen, while Kaz took the one Kaldera had just used. Once all found their spots and were ready, Kaldera said, “Tonight has been a wonderful night. We have shared of ourselves, and I have shared much with you. I hope you take this night with you, and take a feeling that we were one tonight, if just for this moment in time.”
The crowd cheered their approval. “Our last song,” Kaldera continued, “is one written by a dear friend of mine. He wrote it years ago, and I interpret it to mean that in each person’s life there comes a time, when we must go off the path we believe has been chosen for us, to solve the mystery within ourselves.”
Guitars began to strum at mid-tempo, and Minoru picked a lead on his shamisen that seemed to fit. Aimi found herself grooving, alongside Asuka, Mei and Midori, as well as everyone else. The entire experience had them, and they didn’t want to leave it as Kaldera sang once more.
“Seen the false horizon fade away like bison
Headed for the jungle, cowboy can’t endure
Never look back, that’s what he swore
Take my pony to the shore, somewhere…somewhere
Take another road to a hiding place
Disappear without a trace
Take another road to another time
On another road in another time
Like a novel from the five-and-dime
Take another road, another time…”
Aimi looked around. The entire club was on their feet; this wasn’t really a song fast enough to dance to, so several people swayed in time to it. Some clapped hands, and one or two sang along.
“Leave my fears behind
Take my own sweet time
Oceans on my mind
Take another road to a hiding place…”
The song ended the night well. Kaldera hugged both Kaz and Minoru, and brought them to the front of the stage with the rest of the band. As they took their bows, Aimi felt pride for her friends, in a place she’d never thought possible.
She turned and put her arms around Asuka, who did the same. I feel more welcomed than I ever have, even among my friends and family. Kaldera has done it, and now I understand what he’s talking about. I’ve loved the music and being here. I also feel something I’ve missed for so long….hope.
"Street of the Broken Dreams" is written by me, and was recorded by Ahltyrra; it has not been officially released.
"I Walk the Line" was written and recorded by Rodney Crowell & Johnny Cash, and includes elements of the original song by that name, written by Cash; appears on The Houston Kid CD, 2001.
"The Spirit Trail" was written and recorded by Dan Fogelberg, and appears on The Wild Places CD, 1990.
"Take Another Road" was written by Jimmy Buffett, Roger Guth and Jay Oliver, and appears on Buffett's Off to See the Lizard CD, 1989.