In the film “The Wind Rises,” there was a concept presented that an artist, craftsman, or innovator only has about 10 years in which to really create something unique before others eclipse the quality of their creation. Really, it was a statement more about innovation, but it struck me as relating to quality also. When I first contemplated this idea, I certainly did not like it. Surely authors, painters, and filmmakers are often, if not usually, at a creative peak for longer than 10 years. But, when I started thinking of this idea as applied to music artist, it was hard for me to find any musician who really had much more than 10 years in which they were at their peak of the production of brilliant creations. As much as I love the films of Miyazaki, I hated that he and his people put this “10 year” idea in my head. It began to worm its way into my perceptions, and I did not like it.
What is brilliant in musical art? Really, music is one of the most individual, and dare I say, subjective art forms. Everyone has a different ear that is influenced by biology, cultural background, and experience. That said, some opinions are shared among a certain amount of people.
One could say David Bowie maybe had about 12 years, from 1971 to 1983, but many would argue that he continued to produce good work after that. I would say that even though he still had some good material, such “good” material was never close to quantity as in the above mentioned time frame. Though, at this time I feel like “Black Star” is just as good as much of his material from the 70s. Genesis maybe had more than 10 years, from “Nursery Cryme” to “Invisible Touch,” but this could be disputed, and it is not much more than 10 years. And some musical acts like Duran Duran, I would argue, only had about 5 years, from 1981 to 1986, though “All you Need is Now” from 2011 is an outlier or comeback of sorts.
That said, there is an artist who I believe breaks down this ridged concept of “10 years,” at worst putting cracks in it, and at best blowing it into small rocky bits. This musical artist is from Japan; Her name is Taeko Onuki.
I have to admit that when I first heard her material, about 8 years ago, I did not care for it much. I thought maybe she sounded like a little boy, and the songs did not stand out to me. But, like much of the greatest music, it takes several listens to “get.” Eventually, she became one of my favorite artist, making her way, at least, into my top 10.
I do not know much about her other than what she has produced, but I believe she got started as a member of the “New Music” rock group Sugarbabe in 1975. They had one album that is good, and was popular in Japan at the time. She would part with Sugarbabe and start a solo career in 76. Her first 3 albums continue with the smooth, high fidelity, 70s pop, funk-fusion New Music sound that was ubiquitous in Japan in the late 70s. The 3rd album, “Mignonne” would start a run of amazing records with incredible melodic pop songwriting, but it was by no means similar in style to what she would do in the 80s. That said, she was a good songwriter before, but by 1978 she had become one of the best I have ever heard. I would say she is up there with Burt Bacharach (Like him or not, you have to respect his genius, and admit he had a run far longer than 10 years).
By 1980, Onuki San seems to have shifted her style. Everyone, or many, in Japan was adopting a Yellow Magic Orchestra influenced “Technopop” style, and while Onuki San incorporated some of this into her music, melodically she seems to have pulled influence from European Romantic composers like Schubert. During this period, her heart seems to have been attached to a romanticized version of France, and out of this came intricate melodies that were also catchy. She would continue on this run of greatness from “Romantique” in 1980 through “Copine” in 1985. Her 1984 record, “Kaie,” while being in the vein I have described, also plays much like a movie soundtrack not unlike those from Studio Ghibli.
Although Onuki San would start to experiment with children’s music in the mid 80s, along with African inspired compositions (more romanticized than literal), her styles in the late 80s would start to fan out into many different genres from Sophisti-Pop to Bossa Nova to straight JPop. Her quality of songwriting would not diminish, save for maybe one album in 1992. But in 1993 she made “Shooting Star in the Blue Sky” in which she continued at the highest of quality despite a perceived lull in quality of pop music at that time. On that record, she wrote mostly in a general pop style, but did successfully experiment with latin and folk styles also. In 1995 she would release “TCHAU,” which was partially recorded in Rio Brazil, and successfully combined traditional Brazilian sounds with traditional Japanese sounds. This is no small feat considering she also continued to pin great songs.
The quality of Taeko Onuki’s music would not diminish through 2002. Really, I would say that she had 20 to 25 years of brilliance as a musical artist. So, there was no 10 year limit for her, and we should all drop the idea of only 10 years for anyone. Who are we to put up such a strict and ungenerous wall for artists? Who are we to judge their creativity, which even at its worst is much better than most of us could hope to achieve? Pish-Posh to you "10 year rule."