Friday, March 28, 2008

Roger Kaputnik

Rob Jones
1959 - 2008

One of the most memorable musical performances I ever saw was given by avant punksters Roger Kaputnik at the Boy Scout’s Hut in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in summer 1976.

That’s because it was where I first met my dear friend, the teacher, artist, traveler, bon vivant and spiritual seeker Rob Jones.

How appropriate that our first encounter should have been a musical one, since in all the adventures Rob and I had together - in the UK, Italy, USA and Japan - music in its many forms was always part of the equation.

That evening at the Scout Hut couldn’t strictly be called a performance. As I look back I recall it as a wonderfully ramshackle affair.

The Kaputniks were scattered in various positions around the hut, with the “audience” - there were about ten of us - wandering about and chatting with members between songs. But I remember being mightily impressed that my schoolmates had a band, and they inspired me to form my own group in those heady days of the DIY punk revolution.

Of all the Kaputniks I was most drawn to Rob, whom I recognized from my history class. He had shoulder-length hair, wore a blue shirt, jeans and desert boots, a combination which soon became known as ‘the Rob Jones look’. This eventually gave way to the 'late-period' Jones anti-image of short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts - during even the coldest winter!

As time went on, Rob and I became great mates. We attended the same university, and when I graduated and moved to Italy, it wasn’t long before Rob visited me. I went to meet him at the train station and was a tad bemused when he didn’t show up. When I got home, there he was sitting with my roommate polishing off his first glass of vino rosso, smiling and saying, “Hey, where ya been?”

That night we ended up getting sloshed and playing guitar in a bar in Siracusa's ancient quarter. Rob soon moved to Italy himself, developing a lasting fondness for its people and culture. We drank wine in Sicilian bodegas, admired the beauty of Verona, and crawled around on the floor in Novara with our friend Neil - worse the wear for honey grappa - looking for dogs in the linoleum. 'I pazzi Inglese.

When I moved to
California it didn’t take long for Rob to track me down. We had some wild times in Hollywood and Santa Barbara, listening to gangsta rap and catching a lot of great shows - including Lou Reed and the famous Echo & the Bunnymen gig where the singer fell off the stage and broke his ankle.


On Rob's visits, we would lock ourselves away in my home recording studio and jam on our weird free form creations. We concocted bizzarre washes of sound, gentle pop odes, or mad ditties that could mean nothing to anyone but us and a small circle of friends.
As a guitarist, Rob had his own style - a minimalist slash which could cut straight to the heart of the matter. And he had a unique way with a keyboard too. Though he didn’t ‘play’ in the strict sense, he would devise hilarious off-kilter sounds and rhythms which usually had us collapsing in gales of laughter.
But the real artist in Rob was to be found in his paintings, which went through numerous stages reflecting his state of mind and how he saw his place in the universe. They ranged from wild expressionistic portraits to charming Italian landscapes or swirling droplets of abstract color. The paintings which Rob gave me are very precious belongings, including a small portrait of myself which he composed.
I think Rob’s later abstract works somehow reflect his philosophical pursuits. In the quietest, least-assuming way he was one of the most spiritual people I’ve known. He was devoted to Zen meditation, which he practiced and studied for many years.

Rob introduced me to Zen, and though I eventually abandoned my practice, its teachings changed my life profoundly, particularly as they related to the notion of non-attachment. Rob helped me to see that for Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic, since this inevitably leads to transformative feelings of compassion.

Rob had incredible empathy for others, including - no, especially - for those who caused him pain. His spiritual practice informed his life in every regard, including the fun side. As a committed 'party animal' - one of his most endearing character traits - Robbo fully appreciated the detox benefits of meditation! He understood, perhaps more than anyone I’ve known, that life is a journey, and it’s the trip rather than the destination which is most important and most revelatory.

Rob lived in many countries - Italy, Sweden, Hungary and Japan among them - and traveled in many more. As he continued on his seemingly never-ending world tour he had friends on every continent, all of them invariably delighted to have him as a house guest.

This was due to the fact that Rob was one of the mellowest, kindest, most genuine people you could ever wish to know. Frankly, I was incredibly honored and proud to have him as my friend, and in thirty years I don’t think I ever heard him speak an ill or unkind word of anyone. This lovely man delighted in his friends and treated them with gentleness and respect.

Im writing through selfish tears now, because I don’t want to say goodbye to my friend and I don’t want to believe I won’t experience those moments of fun and enlightenment again.

When I catch up with him I hope he has the guitars tuned and ready for action, because we haven't finished our album yet. I'll also have the pleasure of watching Rob stride down the road with the distinctive swagger familiar to all his friends - the left arm pointed to the ground at a 30 degree angle as the right swings madly in the air from side to side.

Till then, I know that if Rob were here, he would tell me - with that smile in his eyes, with that lilt in his voice - to carry on, and always to appreciate what I am doing. My thoughts right now are of course with his sister, his family and the countless friends who survive him and miss him.

You left us too soon, Robbo. But for all the love and all the laughs, we’re truly grateful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If I Were a Carpenter

Bobby Darin (Pop)
Track: If I were a Carpenter (1966)

The final result: Japanese craftsmanship at its best

Westerners have long been charmed by Japan's legendary beauty: the subtle eroticism of the geisha, the iconic majesty of ukiyo-e, and the delicate balance of the Zen garden, where one hardly knows where nature ends and art begins.

Japanese design has deeply affected famous artists like Van Gogh, Gaugin and Frank Lloyd Wright, inspiring radical concepts of organic and modular design. It would be no exaggeration to say Japanese style is the defining influence on modern day minimalism. In addition, Japanese cooking has had a huge impact on nouvelle and fusion cuisine.

The apotheosis of Japanese aesthetic achievement is to be found in my kitchen, where my landlord recently installed a splendid new faucet and wall panel. With the assistance of two hardy workmen, he was able to achieve wonders in seven hours of concentrated application.

After viewing the photo above, I'm sure you can imagine how humbling it was to witness such dedicated craftsmanship. Words failed me and I could only gasp in awestruck admiration.

It was then that the words of American crooner Bobby Darin came to mind.
Ah! If only I were a carpenter.

Listen: Bobby Darin, "If I Were a Carpenter" SEE PLAYLIST