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A “Punk” Christmas With Shonen Knife

Here’s Japanese pop-punk band Shonen Knife playing their song “Sweet Christmas.” It’s one of their two big holiday songs, the other being the more-famous “Space Christmas.” Are you in the holiday mood yet?

Shonen Knife celebrate their 40th anniversary this month. They’re new to me, and I’ve been trying to parse the band ever since reading that terrific interview. The short version is: Rockin’ trio of women from Osaka who set out to play punk, or something like it, and succeeded in their own way.

Three sweaty Japanese women smile as they hold up their hands in horns with their second and fifth fingers

Members of Shonen Knife throw the devil horns after a 30th-anniversary concert in 2011.

Their own way has all the nods you could want to punk. They opened for Nirvana in 1991! They throw the devil horns with gusto. Their front woman, Naoko Yamano, “still plays with all the excitability of a teenager who’s just learned three chords and realised she’s got the mastering of most of the Ramones catalogue.”

But three-chord tunes and power drumming aside, you can’t really call them a “punk” band at all. The music is simple and upbeat. They sing about things like jelly beans (“I’m gonna eat jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly”), and Barbie:

Blue eyes, blond hair,
tight body, long legs.
She’s very smart.
She can dance well.

Bang, bang, bang, Twist Barbie.
Oh! Sexy girl!
Blue eyes, blond hair,
Tight body, long legs.

They imagine some kind of feline cosplay in their song “I Am a Cat“:

Sometimes I step into timeless zone,
And I lose my way.
I don’t know where I am.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the Milky Way,
And I lose myself.
I don’t know who I am.

I discover whiskers of a cat in a timeless zone
And I put them on my face.
In a moment I become a sweet little cat
And I dance on a flying saucer.

These lyrics are so clear and strange that even has no notes for them.

And that, it seems, is their appeal: They are guileless. Do people really dig their music? Is it enjoyed more like kitsch or camp? I don’t know, and they don’t care. “If people will look back and say, ‘There used to be this really fun band from Osaka,’ that’s enough for me,” says Yamano, now age 60. She says she hopes to play for another 40 years and be “the world’s oldest rock musician.” May it happen just as she says.

Guardian interview: 40 Years of Japanese Rockers Shonen Knife »

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