[an error occurred while processing this directive]
I was just a little girl when I first saw My Melody - I instantly fell in love with her. I was attracted to her softness and apparent gentleness. I begged my mommy for a My Melody eraser. She relented. And since I never used that eraser, to this day I still have that eraser in its original plastic wrapper.
Stuff with My Melody's picture on it mysteriously disappeared from the Sanrio lineup a few years after it appeared - I was disappointed because she was my favorite Sanrio character. So imagine my surprise to learn many years later, when I was in my teens and playing bass in cover bands all over town, that my girlhood idol's modeling contract had been terminated when her parent company began having problems with controlling her image as a soft and gentle cartoon character for children. By the time My Melody had reached her mid-teens, she had begun playing the Tokyo-based punk circuit with her band, Bakabead, and her increasingly public statements on Japanese patriarchy and the representation of girls had begun to make the executives at Sanrio very nervous. By the time My Melody was 20, she had stopped modeling altogether and set out to make a name for herself as a bass player and vocalist. I sat down with My Melody, now residing part-time in Honolulu, to chat about bass playing, feminism, and her thoughts on the current and simultaneous reemergence of her dual careers - modeling and music.
Mimi: Hi Melody, it's been a pretty long time hasn't it?
My Melody: Yeah, I think it's been at least a year - it was at the 311 concert that I saw you last.
Mimi: Yup. I didn't see you afterwards - what did you think of P-nut?
Melody: I thought he was great. I like the way he's able to keep great time and create a strong sense of swing at the same time, you know?
Mimi: Yup. I like the percussionist too. He's got a mean snare sound.
Melody: Yes, yes.
Mimi: So what've you been up to since then? Weren't you set to record a new album this past year?
Melody: No, no - I've been too busy with the Sanrio stuff lately. We just finished all the shooting and illustration work for the second wave of My Melody products. Apparently the first group of products did really well.
Mimi: Are you outselling Hello Kitty now?
Melody: That's mean. Of course not - I don't even outsell that Penguin. But I've overtaken the dog...
Melody: ..no...that Pochacco guy...
Mimi: I dun like him.
Melody: I met him one time. He's pretty nice.
Mimi: What do you think accounts for the resurgence of interest in you after all these years? I couldn't find a My Melody lunchbox or mechanical pencil for like, I dunno, about 10 years?
Melody: I'm actually not sure. I think it's got something to do with how things go in circles, you know? I mean look at punk. In the 70's I never thought that punk would still be around in the 90's. There wasn't much going on during the 80's. But here it is again. Or should I say, here it still is.
Mimi: Do you think of the stuff that's called punk nowadays - for example, Green Day, is the same as what we used to listen to in the 70's?
Melody: No, no...it's really different. I can see how Green Day has something in common with Sex Pistols, but there's also big enough differences that I feel weird calling Green Day a punk band.
Mimi: Like what?
Melody: Well, like the whole cultural and political context isn't the same. I feel like a lot of punk bands before had a really strong anti establishment way of thinking. I mean, the whole do-it-yourself aesthetic was grounded an a politics of resistance and disdain for capitalist logic in general that I don't see Green Day standing for. I'm sure it also had something to do with the fact that they were from England - I don't know if anyone's written about the connections between punk as a movement and socialism. Seems to me that what's driving so much of these bands nowadays are a kind of desire to have a different style from the mainstream, but the politics or vision doesn't seem radically different from what you'd find in, say, Time magazine or something.
Mimi: Actually, you might even see Green Day in Time magazine.
Melody: Exactly, it's not inconceivable. Not that I think this makes Green Day or other bands like them bad. I like Mike Dirnt...is that his name? He's a good bass player. But I wish we'd be more particular about understanding the guiding principles of culture, how it all works.
Mimi: When you say 'we', who are you referring to?
Melody: The public, us consumers of culture. Like Archie Shepp says, 'We must move towards a critique of American culture'. I really believe this.
Mimi: I just thought of this - it's not real important or anything, but...how come your bonnet used to be pink, and you used to have one ear kinda floppy, but now your bonnet is red, and your ears are totally erect? What's up with that? I thought the older look was cuter.
Melody: Yah, that's what everybody thought. That's why the 'harder' color and the harder silhouette - since we're trying to appeal to more than just kids now... but I tell you, keeping my ears standing straight up...it's really tiring.
Mimi: How about fingers - how do you play the bass when you have no fingers?
Melody: (laughs) Of course I have fingers. These are just gloves. Sanrio requested that I wear them all the time (removes gloves and expose fingers) ...they're just to make me appear rounder and cuter.
Mimi: aah...but that's only four fingers. And you play fairly busy and active bass lines. lots of driving 16th note lines ala Rocco Prestia. Do you ever find having only 4 fingers to be a disadvantage?
Melody: I dunno - I never had five fingers so I never really thought about it. Doesn't Toni Iommi only have, like, 2 fingers on his fretting hand or something like that?
Mimi: I think he uses rubber thimbles or something. He cut the tips off in an accident...?
Melody: Oh, Django Reinhardt. Look - he only had a few working fingers - what was that, two working fingers? You don't need so many fingers!
Mimi: Okay, okay. You're right.(laughs) That was a stupid question, sorry. Changing the subject a bit, I loved that tone you were getting on that last album. What kinda bass was that you were using on the song She Left?
Melody: That whole album was one bass. It's an 80's B.C. Rick Mockingbird with DiMarzio P's in it. But I used about 6 or 8 different amps to get different sounds. I like having lots of amps around but rather play only one bass.
Mimi: Wait - the two P models? The ones with all them switches and stuffzez on em?
(laughs)Melody: Yes, yes. I've had that bass a while now. I actually have two that are almost identical, but on this one I just had the fingerboard replaced. It's some kind of hybrid wood/resin composite now, and it sounds different from before. It's brighter than before.
Mimi: It's got a real bright top end to it. I think it sounds awesome. It also sounds like you also hit the strings pretty hard.
Melody: No, not really. I have the action set real low, and I kinda push down on the string at the same time when I 'pull' it - I like the clanking the string does against the frets. I've always liked string noise too. I always thought people obsessing over having zero fretbuzz over the entire fingerboard was a little neurotic.
Mimi: Really? I'm like that.
Melody: Oops. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to lotsa traditional Japanese instruments where you get all kinda weird noises, buzzes included, interspersed within the music all over the place. And look, even with perfectly adjusted bass guitars, every time you move the fretted hand you get that sound of your fingers moving over the strings - that zzzt!! zztt!! noise. How come no one hates that?
Melody: See? Lower your strings girl! Or buy lighter strings or something!
Mimi: It must have been weird for you to come out playing really loud, heavy sounding music after already being known as a Sanrio model. I mean, there were soft fuzzy toys of you in the stores...
Melody: Oh, tell me about it. I mean, it's hard enough when you're a girl.
Mimi: Plus you're very cute.
Melody: Thank you, but, yeah, that's true. I look like a bunny, I am a bunny. And people have these essentialist ideas about things having to match - 'Oh you're a bunny so you have to play smooth jazz' or 'Why can't you play stuff children will like?' - stuff like that. As if the way my body and face appears to others must dictate what I'm capable of or what I desire. In fact, the effect of my 'cuteness' on others was so powerful that when I'd get up there and we'd start playing something loud, maybe something abrasive, people would be so shocked that they'd usually have a really violent response to it - more often than not they'd be disappointed. Well, actually, they hated us. (laugh)
Mimi: Maybe you were violating their sense of reality. Messing up their world.
Melody: Yah I think so. It was hard. It still is. Things are changing a bit though. You have people like Juliana Hatfield who's got a really cute, girly voice and yet she has some songs that really rock. I like that. The Breeders just kill me, I love them.
Mimi: Courtney Love is real glamorous now.
Melody: Yah. Another woman that I really admire a lot is Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. And she seems smart enough to always make her own sexuality, which she definitely uses, the subject of her own ironic commentary. You can see that in the way she presents herself. Lots of the other girls out there who are supposedly changing the scene are still banking pretty heavily on their prettiness and I don't know how much that's ultimately gonna change the way we're seen. I think to a large extent I, or even you, are still looked at as a 'girl bass player' rather than just a 'bass player'. It's as if the term 'bass player' still has that implied 'masculine' thing to it.
Mimi: The implied 'masculine' isn't just about bass playing - it's all pervasive throughout the English language isn't it?
Melody: It's in Japanese as well. It's just like 'man' has become synonymous with 'human'. I'd like to see a blurring of those lines of distinction.
Mimi: When you say this, I can't help but think that it's a bit weird - I mean for lots of little girls, me included... *cough* ...you and the other cute Sanrio folks symbolize the very essence of acceptable ways of being a girl.
Melody: That's true. Sanrio isn't about to put feminist slogans on a My Melody backpack or whatevers. I'm very much the good girl icon. But I also think it's more complicated than that.
Mimi: So why do you think Sanrio's been willing to re-sign you after all these years? Did you have to agree to not say certain things in public? Not appear in Playboy?
Melody: (laughs) No, no...again, I think things are changing. For example, back in the 70's who was buying My Melody stickers? It was little girls, or the mothers of little girls. So there was this incredible pressure for me to be a great role model. Nowadays it's a more complex market that Sanrio must deal with - you get hip high school girls buying my stickers, or 20-something year olds, or even some boys and men that for whatever reason identify with 'cute' imagery. I guess you could say that people nowadays are very willing to allow themselves to be very fluid in identifying with many kinds of cultural icons, some of which may reflect different parts of their personality, or perhaps even be mutually contradictory. In certain ways, I don't think that my 'cuteness' is automatically given a very specific and exclusive meaning.
Mimi: Do you see this as being related to the current trend of a band allowing themselves to fuse many different musical styles, sometimes within one song?
Melody: Well blending musical styles isn't anything new I guess. I mean, rock music or jazz or whatevers.
Mimi: But there seems to be a certain kind of first world logic at work going on now that's almost completely uncritiqued. I'm talking about musicians in the first world taking this and that from 'other' cultures, very freely incorporating it, using it, for 'their own' music. Can it ever be about free muscial expression when there's a broad economic superstructure marketing these products to hungry consumers?
Melody: That sounds very cynical. You're talking about the current trend in pop music to use samples or grooves or whatever from traditional music and stuff?
Mimi: Cultural raiding, yah. Whether it's traditional music from historically marginalized peoples or even using, say, gangsta rap to market soda pop, I think it's problematic.
Melody: Hm....well I dunno how you can stop that.
Mimi: Right, me neither. But I'd like to hear people talking about it cuz it matters, right?
Melody: I don't get the impression that musicians or consumers want to think about that kind of stuff. I mean, if you did, and you didn't know what to do about it, it's just be a real drag you know? As a society, we're not ready to face what's gonna make us unhappy. That's why I wanted to go out an start making music that raises questions and challenges the status quo. I had to make some kind of attempt to contradict what I was doing as a Sanrio model, just hopping around looking cute for little girls to get into. I wanted to be as conflicted publicly as I was...am ...internally.
Mimi: Thank you My Melody. You're still my favorite bunny.
Melody: Thank you Mimi. I hope we can do this again soon. Next time bring your bass, ok?