Monday, July 11, 2005


To describe veteran street-performer Arthur Nakane simply as a one-man-band hardly does him justice. But it will have to do, until someone can a come up with a better name for a performer who sits behind a wagon constructed of PVC pipes holding keyboards, percussion, amplifier, foot-operated drum machine and bass pedals (also made of PVC pipes), while wearing a harmonica holder around his neck and playing a guitar with sticks bolted and clamped to the guitar's neck. While playing guitar in the conventional style, he jabs at the keyboard with these sticks, playing simple keyboard melodies, and hits cymbals. With his right hand, he'll grab, say, a tambourine and shake it as he strums the guitar. All while singing in a thick Japanese accent. Using electronics skills I can't begin to comprehend (he teaches electronics by day), Nakane records his own voice while singing and, again using foot controls, plays it back, harmonizing with himself - a live overdubbing method.

I first discovered Nakane years ago in Santa Monica's outdoor mall, the Third Street Promenade, and, quite unexpectedly, I ran into him last week performing on the Santa Monica Pier, still playing for tips. A hand-made cardboard sign announced he had performed on Jimmie Kimmels's NBC-TV show in February. He's also opened for punk bands, appeared on radio and TV, and was the subject of a short documentary that played the Sundance Film Festival called "Secret Asian Man."

That film got it's name from Nakane's remake of the oldie "Secret Agent Man." When he sings it, not only does he change it to "Secret Asian Man," complete with verses sung in Japanese, but he pulls back his eyes, like when kids make those slanty-eyed Asian stereotype faces!

"Secret Agent Man" - from his CD, featuring treatments of "Band On The Run," "La Bamba" (in severely shaky Spanish), and the definitive "Achy Breaky Heart" - a feast of grungy guitar and English/Japanese lyrics (Hmm, I don't remember Billy Ray Mullett rhyming "sake" with "Nagasaki"...) Order it from, the most minimalistic website ever. Or, as I did, buy a copy from the man himself, should you run into him on Santa Monica Beach. Recorded live, no overdubs, no edits. As Arthur told me, pointing to his equipment, "I am master of this..."


The Bobo said...

Hmm..I wonder if there is a new genre in music afloat. This is the second song I heard that parodied a song through mondegreen(the misheard lyric in songs). The first was "The police took my car" sung to the tune of Feliz Nativad(yeah I mangled that didn't I).
"Secret Asian Man" has been misheard by probaly everyone. Even when most folks know the lyric is 'agent' they can't help but hear 'asian'.
This can be interesting. I look forward to hearing such parodies as:
Bathroom Arising
Wrapped up like a Douche
Excuse Me While I Kiss this Guy

Mr Fab said...

Yeah, last year I wrote some "Secret Asian Man" parody lyrics. Fortunately, I didn't record it.

For almost 2 decades I thought Pere Ubu were singing "What do you do with a pumpkin's head on?" in their song "Calagari's Mirror." Only a couple of years a go I read the actual lyrics on Ubu's website - "what do you do with a drunken sailor?" I was stunned.

Alexi said...

We are honoring Art Nakane at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach this Saturday (November 4, 2006) as part of our Autumn Festival. I came across this blog entry as part of my research on him. I notice the links to his site are dead, by the way. Anyway, maybe we will see you at the award ceremony taking place at 1:45 p.m. If you do come, allow time for parking and such!

Susy said...

Art has got to be the nicest most talented one man band ever!! I met him this past weekend at the Cherry Blossom Festival. He is truly amazing, I will never forget it. He even dedicated a song for my grandmother who is 87 years old.

The only sad thing about this story is that Art had put off a birthday party gig where he was going to get paid, just to be at the cherry Blossom Festival, but when he got there, they barely let him play! His booth was set up right next to the stage where there where other shows going on, and the people in charge of the event kept telling him to wait for hours so that he could play for 5 minutes in between performances.

To me it seemed like they were taking advantage of him, did they not know how amazing he is? They would even stop him in the middle of his performance, just so that the other show could keep going. Why would they treat him like that.

And instead of being mad... Art would do everything they told him too, he just wanted to entertain, and instead he seemed to be the back up just in case they needed more time to get ready. I mean... i was so mad.. Art should've been ON THE STAGE! he should've had his own time up there.

He was doing this for free, so there were very few dollars on his tip jar. I'm still sad, but I got his card and next time I have an event, he will be the first one in my list for performers.

Here is his info: ARTHUR NAKANE 626-441-9787

Mike Li said...

I've watched Arthur Nakane on several occasions, and he's always very entertaining. He's a spirited performer, and he's a really nice person. I haven't seen him in a while, and I hope he's doing well.