If there’s a song with a life of its own, it’s Chris’s old faithful Behind the Mask. Recorded for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, it was left off at the last moment due to copyright restrictions, but now it’s back with a vengeance on the new Michael release.
Over the years there has been a continual debate over how the song originated, how it came to Michael Jackson’s attention, and that mysterious saga has given this song its great longevity.
Chris originally wrote the lyrics based on the imagery of a Noh mask and on a poem by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats entitled The Mask. Having recently seen Yeats’ Noh play At Hawk’s Well in Tokyo, Chris sat down and wrote lyrics based on a premise that was similar to that of the poem. But he gave the wearer of the mask an inert nature, in keeping with his image of a depersonalized society in a technological time.
The completed lyrics were then given to Yukihiro Takahashi of Yellow Magic Orchestra, who, together with Ryuichi Sakamoto, composed a melody line from them. Initially there was but one verse, but later, after the melody was set, Chris was asked to write a second verse. The resulting song was one of the three tracks that Chris wrote for the album Solid State Survivor that launched YMO into the international arena.
Soon after the song was released, Quincy Jones, on a trip to Japan, was introduced to the song by Kuni Murai, the president of Alfa Records. He thought it was a perfect vehicle for the new album of Michael Jackson that he was producing, so he took it back to Los Angeles and presented it to Michael. Michael then added an extra musical and lyrical section to the song, and transformed it from a techno-classic into a dance/funk composition.
This is where the line between myth, memory, and factual details becomes hazy. Chris’s recollection is that he was informed that Michael was in the process of recording Behind the Mask for his upcoming album. Chris immediately sat down and wrote a longer version of the song––taking into account Michael’s musical predilections––and had it delivered to him. Whether any of these new lyrics were used or their thematic content referred to is a matter of conjecture, but the song, in its hybrid state, was hammered out and, by all accounts, placed on the track list of Thriller!
Naturally, the song was copyrighted long before Michael made his additions, and this was where contentions as to the credit (and royalty percentages) arose. Chris was subsequently asked to divide this credit/royalty share equally (as too was Sakamoto on the musical side) with Michael, which, with reservations, they both agreed to. However, it seems that this did not sit well with the management side of YMO, and after further discussion and disagreement, the song was taken off Thriller.
This proved to be but the beginning of the long journey of this song. Recorded by Greg Phillinganes, Eric Clapton, and Human League, amongst others, it has rolled on for thirty years with Michael’s gem, sequestered in the vaults, awaiting a time when it could shine in the light of day.
Now, at last, it sparkles!
A thirty-six poem saga, numerically based on the anthology of the Thirty-Six Immortal Women Poets collected during the Kamakura Period of Japan (1185-1333).
A hundred haiku — each poem exemplifying an image of a culture that defines the initial song and observes the people and the social settings that have influenced his lyrical output.
At the inauguration of the Ace Hotel, Kyoto, the lyricist wrote the “poetic scenario” to accompany the composition by French conductor Yannick Paget.
A rare event at Kyoto’s Koshoji Temple – poetry, gagaku, environmental soundscape and the recitation of Buddhist sutra.
A multimedia remix of the Tanabata legend set in contemporary Tokyo with a stellar cast of artists and musicians.
Recently Chris has forged a close partnership with the inimitable “cosmic pink” avant-garde musician Coppe.
A busy and energizing year on the performance circuit.
A bilingual reading from “The City that Silk Built” at Beams Gallery Shinjuku, and a momentary photo op.
A poem to accompany the “Peace Flame of Hiroshima” at a series of events throughout Japan.
Collaborating with the young guitarist Ris (The Sonic Squirrel) Chris has written lyrics for a series of new ventures.
Chris’s poetic scenario informs seasonal symphonies in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Stravinky’s RITE OF SPRING.
The hazy line between myth, memory and Michael Jackson’s recording of Chris’ lyric “Behind the Mask”.
An exhibition of the contemporary “47 Ronins,” opened at the Spiral Garden Gallery, and all of Chris’s hands were on display.
Chris’s poem Aorta Avenue, based on the great Tokyo 246 highway, wins the Colorado Festival of Literature Grand Prize for Poetry.
On display at the 20th Anniversary of Harakuku’s Laforet Museum – a time capsule containing a collection the lyricist’s notebooks and pens.
A set of cards, based on the Japanese New Year’s game: “Karuta” with images, shot in Shibuya, by photographer Yuriko Takagi.
The Oblivion Brotherhood performed SPLATTERHEAD on tour across the US.
Chris was commissioned to write the scenario/script for the masked dance drama AMATERASU (THE SUN GODESS).
A “rhythm blizzard” of theme song lyrics written for Japanese anime, together with the legendary composer Yoko Kanno.
EQUASIAN, Chris’s classic “VISIC” (visual music) opus is re-released in all its soft-cased, limited edition glory through Sony Music.
Collaborating with French photographer/film director Marc Rigaudis, Chris composed the musical score for Etrange Cuisine.
Sarah Brightman recorded the song When Firebirds Sing—an operatic opus set in the arena of ancient Japan, with lyrics by Chris.
The lyricist continues his partnership with the composer Yoko Kanno with a song for the finale of the anime WOLF’S RAIN.
The Incendiary Orchestra showcases Chris’s latest book: “City of Song,” with a fiery performance at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe.
On April 25, 2005, a commuter train at Amagasaki, near Osaka derailed. Chris wrote healing lyrics to a song sent to the families.
Chris writes the theme song for the mega-hit thirteen part anime TV series Spice and Wolf (Okame to Koshinryo).
Chris’s seal: “mo-zu” translated literally reads: “one hundred tongues” — ideograms representing the bird “the shrike” found in his lyrics.
Chris was invited by the Institute of Tagore Studies and Research at Santiniketan, West Bengal, for a stay as “visiting fellow”.
Suddenly resurrected lyrics were picked up by virtuoso violinist Chieko Kinbara for album Velvet Night, sung by Ingrid Schroeder.
Six “medicinal” songs for VITAMIN Q – a group with roots in Japan and strong ties to England.
While promoting his Yellow Fever album (an ingenious Latin interpretation of YMO songs) “Senor Coconut” met our lyricist in Tokyo.
In a parallel universe, Chris wrote and illustrated “Silly Billy Trilogy: A Collection of Utter Mozzsense” under his pen name Mozz.
A documentary focusing of the Chris’s evolution as a lyricist has debuted.