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A Genuine Enslavement of the Attention

David F. Hoenigman explains PAINT YOUR TEETH — an interview by Jason Kushnir.

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It takes some big balls to mount an (ostensibly) English-language literary event deep in the bowels of Tokyo’s (ostensibly) insulated underground. Or at any rate it seems a bit, shall we say, hard-headed that one might aspire to making lasting inroads therein. But with PAINT YOUR TEETH cruising to its fourth installment in eight months, organizer David F. Hoenigman appears hell-bent on…something.

3:AM: Mr. Hoenigman, pardon me for being blunt, but what the hell were you thinking?

DH: I guess PAINT YOUR TEETH  is the culmination of a pressing need for artistic community that has grown within me over the last few years. When I was writing Burn Your Belongings, I spent a lot of time behind closed doors as a self-precious tortured soul wadding up sheets of paper and banging my head on the desk. The book took forever to write and forever to finally come out.  Once it did, I don’t know – I wanted some human contact.

3:AM: What sort of contact were you seeking?

DH: I wanted to interact with other artists, but I wasn’t interested in simply seeking out an existing group of expat writers and assuming my position within their hierarchy. I wanted something multicultural, something not cut off from the thriving Japanese underground, a connection deeper or more obscure than just a common language. I’ve always had a great time at noise shows in Tokyo and I wanted to tap into some of that energy.  I once watched a performer eat four Big Macs in rapid succession onstage during his own short noise set and I thought he was onto something.  I like the idea of a performance being interesting for two completely separate reasons.

3:AM: I found a PYT clip on YouTube. The dapper chap doing the reading struggles heroically to be heard above what sounds like John Zorn’s donkey getting sawn in half.

DH: The obvious problem with trying to attract a healthy mix of Japanese and expat attendees to a literary event is the language barrier. I’ve read with an interpretive dancer, with a sax/drums combo and while getting my hair cut onstage. I figure if someone can’t fully understand the meaning of the words they can at least appreciate the visual or musical aspects of the performance. Ashim Shanker (the dapper chap) has gone for all-out visual, audio mayhem when he reads. At the first PAINT YOUR TEETH, he invited a who’s who of the Tokyo noise scene to back him up: Cracksteel, Government Alpha, MO*TE (in his first performance in ten years!), Facialmess, TADM and Ezra Woolnough on sax -all joined Shanker in an acoustic noise performance involving chains, tin buckets, pipes, Styrofoam scraping across mirrors, etc. while he read from his novel Don’t Forget to Breathe. At PYT3, he read as performers re-enacted a scene from the novel with Kenji Siratori on laptop harshness, and Lulu Deluxe whipping and stepping on two diapered men as they squirmed across the floor of the club. Ted Richardson of the band Origami & Tea has a segment of their set where he tells a dramatic story of being lost in a dense forest for days, complete with corresponding sound effects (keyboards, toys, whistles, etc.) from the other two band members. What’s really great about this is that he makes the story bilingual—he reads the line in English and then again in Japanese throughout the entire song. I love all this and hope it continues, but I don’t want to discourage writers who’d like to simply come and read. Sarah MacLeod gave a stunning solo reading at PYT2 and Joe Zanghi had the audience mesmerized with his drunken hard luck story at PYT3 by simply reading over a blues CD.

What I really hope to happen is to draw out the Tokyo literary underground. With Japan’s proud tradition of amazing literature I can’t help but think that there’s a corner of Tokyo where the disciples of Yumeno, Dazai, Abe, Mishima, and Yumiko Kurahashi read for each other in some dank bar down a long corridor tucked within the red light district of an area of the city I’ve never even heard of. I want to find these people, or I want them to find me. Please come to PAINT YOUR TEETH and read your work in Japanese. We could stagger the performances – an English reader, a Japanese reader…etc.  It’d be especially cool if we could translate some of their stuff into English and have an expat read it, and vice versa. I really hope that happens.  I welcome anyone to contact me (in English or Japanese) if they can help in my plight to connect with these artists.

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3:AM: Japanese underground musicians have long enjoyed the envy and admiration of their peers the world over, particularly for their commitment to crazy fucked up shit, tempered by an undeniable craftsmanship.  Will we see some of this at PYT?

DH: The fliers proudly state, “a night of pushing the envelope of music, literature and dance.” So music is a big focus. Especially experimental music. I like the term “experimental” because it has such a broad meaning. I like bands and musicians who push themselves beyond what is classifiable into areas of chaos and of-thyself type honesty. Any genre is fine as long as the artists convey a willingness to drive the school bus off a cliff. Dangerously tottering solo sets are good, massive swarms of clang are good, visual gimmickry is good, sexy is good, freak folk is good, death metal, candypop noise, costume changes, avant-garde stylings, makeshift instruments, a certain aura, uncertainty, bravery, fear, etc. All this exists in abundance within the Tokyo scene, and I extend an invitation to you all. Please come. Please get involved. At PYT 3, Kenji Siratori made specially pressed CDs of a collaboration we’d done together to give to the first few dozen people through the door.  That same night Herman Bartelen (owner of Gamuso in Asagaya, where PYT is held) closed the bar for 15 minutes and crawled behind the drum kit to join fire-breathing saxophonist Anthony Magor and myself for a short set of reading post-Coleman octopus din. Things like this add to the sense of community and all hands on deck mentality that I hope will define PAINT YOUR TEETH.

3:AM: PYT 2 boasted Origami & Tea’s memorable debut performance. Are you only looking for fresh faces just embarking on their quest for world dominance?

DH: No, not necessarily. If you remember, just after O&T’s set that night we had Kito-Mizukumi Rouber featuring members of legendary art-garage sludge band Aburadako.  Those guys have been playing in the Tokyo scene for more than 25 years. They exude a sleek sophisticated showmanship underpinned by something very primal and unpredictable. They brought tons of fans, blew the roof off, they were awesome.

3:AM: Can any of these people dance?

DH: Hiroko Maejima is an absolutely amazing dancer who has graced us with performances at PYT 1 (above clip) and PYT 2. She can dance to a voice reading and make it seem like a war or a joyous festival, she commands the stage and the room like no other performer I’ve ever seen. In her case dance is high artistic achievement through years of study and discipline. I also encourage dance in the animal instinctive sense – a bout of spontaneity, allowing the body to become a lightning rod. Norwegian extreme noise experimentalist Lasse Marhaug happened to be in town to perform with Merzbow and Jim O’Rourke; he was so wrapped up in the moment at PYT 1 that he grabbed cinder blocks from the back room and smashed them in front of the stage. It sounded like a car crashing into a wall. Though I applaud the enthusiasm, it almost got us banned from the club (thanks again for your understanding Herman). So everyone please, if consumed by a need to set things right, please don’t take it out on Gamuso property. At PYT 3 a female audience member grabbed the whip from Lulu’s hand and administered a savage beating and kicking on the diapered men.  She gave them exactly what they deserved. I could barely bring myself to watch.  So yes, if consumed by a violent urge, please take it out on Soddy and/or Ezra.

Also, not exactly along the lines of dance, but still employing the visual and somatic creativity that we adore, was Taniori of Origami & Tea at PYT3. She wore eight or nine different pairs of waist-high tights under her skirt, one on top of the other, every color of the rainbow. Throughout the performance, one by one, she’d peel them off and tie them to the mic stand. The audience loved it. Apparently she got the idea shortly before they were due to take the stage and went out on a stocking run – dead cool.

3:AM: ¥1,000 (including 1 drink) seems a poor man’s pittance in the Tokyo market.

DH: Overpriced live entertainment is my enemy.

3:AM: So what’s on the ever-expanding PAINT YOUR TEETH horizon?

DH: I’m considering starting a small press called PAINT YOUR TEETH Books. My second novel Squeal For Joy would be the debut release. I need to finish writing the novel first, I hope to be done by the end of this year.  I’d love to release PYT CDs, compilations of reading and music. I’d love to make a PYT movie, ask performers to send me four or five minute short films that I’d edit into a compilation DVD.  Rather than live footage I’d want performers to make their own MTV style video clips, I think we’d get some interesting results. Other than that: coffee mugs, bumper stickers, baby clothes…etc.

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3:AM: OK, so give us the scoop on PYT 4.

DH: PAINT YOUR TEETH 4 will be Sunday, August 23rd at Gamuso in Asagaya, Tokyo. Lulu Deluxe of the Defektretts is on the flyer (above). Doors open at 6:30PM, show starts at 7:00PM.  ¥1,000 (including 1 drink). We have a killer line-up, for details please check out: www.myspace.com/paintyourteeth and click the links below. See you there!

PAINT YOUR TEETH 4 line-up:
IN MINOTAUR!!! – Ayler meets Sabbath’s rhythm section in this power trio. word is these guys live in the woods.
Yuri Kageyama – has collaborated with musicians, dancers and visual artists in performances of her poetry.  she has read with Ishmael Reed and Shuntaro Tanikawa among many others.
Kei Kunihiro – death metal crooner and Internet sensation.  424,826 views and counting!
David F. Hoenigman – will read from his antinovel Burn Your Belongings
DEFEKTRETTS – no boys allowed incarnation of junk machine sound pioneers DEFEKTRO.  one dj and two noise makers.
LIVING ASTRO – the Joe Meek adoring rock/sample/synth mutant pop duo.
SHIT – slapdash assembly of area experimental musicians on a burning ferris wheel:  OWKMJ, Taishin Inoue, Ezra Woolnough + many others.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, July 8th, 2009.