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Was I in for a big surprise

Date Posted: 2001-06-08

Hello, my name is Mike Milton. Wow, was I surprised to see your request for Okinawa Rock Memories in the May 31 Japan Update! Some of my best memories of Okinawa and it's people are centered around a rock band.

My father had been here in the Army in 1967 when I was born, and I knew that some of his Okinawan friends had given me a blanket as a baby gift. Other than that, we didn't really talk a lot about the island. So, when the Marine Corps gave me my first trip to Okinawa in 1986, I was excited. Of course, then I was 18 years old, and everything was exciting. Like most people, I wondered what the "Japanese" would be like. What could we possibly have in common? Certainly not our language. Food? Nah. Music? No way. Boy, was I in for a big surprise!

I started my "career" in Okinawa mostly on base. The E-Clubs used to invite a lot of local bands to play, mostly on weekends. Some were very good, others were very bad; but all were fun to have around. That is how I met the members of the band "Wild Heart". Jimmy, Limi, Tom-Tom, Yoko, and Akita are their names. At first, we all just hung out together because Tom-Tom and I, even though we could not speak the same language, would crack everyone up by acting like major-league idiots when we were, well... let's say sipping sake.

The band invited us to come and watch them play at some concerts off base, and that's when I discovered the real Okinawa. After one concert somewhere in Chatan, they asked if we wanted to go to Ma-Ku-Do-Na-Ru-Do. "Sure," I thought "I'll try anything once." When we pulled up under the golden arches and tried to order a Big-Mac, I realized that I really needed to learn katakana. So, with some help from my nit-wit sensei Tom-Tom, I got a book and began to study basic spoken Japanese and the katakana and hiragana. Kanji is just too muzukashi for a lunkhead like me.

All this time, we continued to hit concerts with Wild Heart. At the Cannon Club, on Chuo Park Avenue (BC Street, back then) we were like little roadies, helping set up and tear down after each show. And then came "Peaceful Love 1986". Wow, that was more than just a two-day concert, it was an experience. Too bad I can't remember much about it; but hey, it's not my fault that they let Orion Beer sponsor the thing. Anyway, we met and hung out with people like George Murasaki, Chibi-san, the guys from "Island", and "John" (I think). "John" was the best blind musician that the world has probably ever seen. He had to be lead to his seat for each show, and then he would play and sing his heart out. He saw more music with his blind eyes than most of us could hope to see with our good eyes in ten lifetimes.

The things I remember most are all the things that we had in common. We all had a sense of humor. We all liked new experiences, some cool new way to get an adrenaline rush. We were all just a bunch of Rock-n-Roll fanatics, "kids" who just happened to be from different sides of the planet. It was cool to be American or Okinawan, and it was O.K. to be proud of whichever you were. But we all ended up with a little of both in us, I think, because we respected and learned from each other.

I stayed in Okinawa, the first time, for four-and-a-half years. I met and married my wife, Elsa, while I was here that time. Akita went back to Tokyo to pursue his musical future (this guy could really wail on the frets). Jimmy and Limi got married and had a kid, I think. I have no idea what happened to Tom-Tom. He's probably being shot out of a cannon or beaten by wild baboons on some Japanese game show. So I would just like to say, "Thank you, Wild Heart." Thank you for sharing your music, your island, and a small part of your life with me. You are my friends in a land where I wasn't sure I could find any. If any of you are still here, please contact me @ gator1

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