You Say It's Your Birthday: David Sylvian of Japan

Today is the 40th birthday of David Sylvian, the singer, guitarist and

keyboardist for Japan. Japan are often considered the founders of the

short-lived New Romantic movement, mixing glam-rock outfits (and later,

sharply tailored suits) with keyboard-heavy blue-eyed soul to produce a

sound that gave birth to such bands as Adam and the Ants, Depeche Mode and

ABC, among others. Born in London in 1958, Sylvian formed Japan at age

16 with his brother, Steve Jansen, on drums, Mick Karn on

sax and Richard Barbieri on keyboards. Japan remained a casual endeavor

until the addition of guitarist Rob Dean in 1977, a year in which the rest

of the London music scene first began to embrace the emerging punk-rock

scene. The group was signed to a German record label in 1977 after winning

a battle of the bands contest and released Adolecent Sex in 1978 to

much indifference from audiences and critics. Later that year, Obscure

Alternatives was released and garnered the same reaction. In 1979, the

group toured the country it was named after and was greeted, to bandmembers'

surprise, with much enthusiasm. 1979's Quiet Life found Japan

dressing up in suits and refining their sound to include softer, smoother

vocals over keyboard-driven pop. The album was a modest chart success in the U.K.

and cemented Japan's sound, gaining them more popularity as an alternative

to punk and causing the group to bolt to Virgin Records for wider exposure.

Their major-label debut, Gentlemen Take Polaroids was released in

1980 and was also a minor hit on the U.K. charts. By this time, the New

Romantic movement was well under way and the group began to reap the

rewards of having the right sound at the right time and place. Dean left

the group by the time 1981's Tin Drum was released; by

this time, though, the members of the group had all started working on solo

projects, mostly because they were upset with Sylvian for acting like a dictator. Sylvian then embarked on a solo career

that included work with guitarist Robert Fripp and Can's Holger Czukay, with

much of his work foreshadowing the ambient movement by a good five years or so. In

1991, Japan reunited as Rain Tree Crow, released a self-titled album and

then broke up for many of the same reasons as the first time around.

Other birthdays: Johnny Winter, 54; Rusty Young (Buffalo

Springfield/Poco), 52; Tex Comer (Ace), 49; Steve Priest (Sweet), 48; Brad

Whitford (Aerosmith), 46; and Michael Wilton (Queensryche), 36.