When the Japanese realized their geese were well and truly cooked in the war in the Pacific half a century ago, they came up with the highly popular idea of the kamikaze pilot. However, within that cadre of certifiable fliers was an even smaller group: the men who chose to ride the baka.
The baka was not a suicide airplane with bombs strapped under its wings. It was a bomb: a big metal cylinder with a cap on one end, a feeble rocket engine on the other, and a ton or so of gelignite and the “pilot” on a wire seat in between. The baka and its rider would be slung under the wing of a bomber, flown out to the scene of the battle, and released in the general direction of a U.S. ship. Theoretically, the rider was supposed to “fly” the baka into an American ship, making a big, smoking hole in the ocean. In practice, the baka did not fly. Instead, it dropped like a stone. Baka riders hardly ever hit anything, unlike their more successful brethren who flew actual kamikaze airplanes. But the explosions could be mighty impressive. You might even think of the baka as an unsmart smart bomb.
I am told baka means “fool.” Anyway, long before Slim Pickens rode “Dear John” down to the Soviet countryside and into film history hollerin’ all the way in Dr. Strangelove, young Japanese men had been there, done that, for real. On Collection, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant strike me as the living heirs to the baka riders. They dress relentlessly in black, appear to be patent nutbags, and miss the target a substantial part of the time. But when they don’t, there’s one hell of an explosion.
Collection, a bit over half of which is near unlistenable bombastic r&b greasechain, cries out to be strapped, after the fashion of the baka, under the wing of a massive distribution company in search of competition to smite—or at least to irritate mightily. But “Boogie,” which is not a boogie, sports a fine melody, as does “World’s End (primitive version),” coupled to Wilko Johnson guitar. You see, I liked “Sukiyaki” as a tyke, and have been looking for replacements ever since. Don’t laugh!
The intrigued might also seek out “Hotel Bronco” from last year’s Gear Blues, which is reminiscent of Alfred E. Neuman’s sublime “It’s a Gas!”—published as an acetate-coated cardboard single in Mad mag eons ago—except with guitar exchanged for Farfisa and “Sonova beetch!” as blurted lyric.
If TMGE had been alive in 1967, Mike Vernon would have worked overtime to sign them to Deram, they’d have had an instant residence at Klooks Kleek, and someone would be working on an omnibus CD complete with liner notes as we speak. Inspirational to children and many geezers too, Collection gives heart to all who have recorded or ever will record their Marshall dreams in an incomprehensible hybrid of fractured English and some other language.
John Toland’s The Rising Sun tells of the leader of a kamikaze force, presumably including some baka riders, who radioed a message to his superiors saying, “I will crash into and destroy the conceited enemy in the true spirit of Bushido . . . ” Then he went to his doom off Okinawa.
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant bring that spirit to rock and roll. “I want my motorcycle . . . ah ha . . . oh yeah . . . ah ha!” some crazy man sings jubilantly —as the Collection rocket bomb, now not totally unnoticed, goes plunging into the sea.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 30, 2001