A Golden Renaissance
By Miyuki Yamaguchi, Lifestyle Editor, The Yomiuri Press (Japan)
I first learned about Taro Gold reading his bestselling book “Open Your Mind, Open Your Life.” Everyone in my office seemed to have it on their desk. I soon learned Taro had written several internationally acclaimed books, one becoming a Book of the Year award-winner, another was a TIME magazine recommended read, and other perennial favorites. Soon after I discovered Taro Gold is a prolific songwriter and entertainer as well. I wanted to know more about the international Renaissance man behind these various incarnations of inspiration.
YP: Hi Taro, thank you for talking to me today, are you still in Paris?
TG: I was in Paris yesterday for the French publication of one of my books, but this morning I’m in Montreux, Switzerland. It’s a rejuvenating environment in the Alps, by the lake, surrounded by snowcapped peaks, and has the best French food… not to mention Swiss chocolate! I could live on vegan chocolate and Evian.
YP: I read that thanks to your family’s international background, you have visited more than 30 countries. What is the most exotic place you’ve experienced?
TG: Exploring the Amazon is otherworldly. I get the adventurous side of my personality from my mom. When I was in college my mom and stepdad were briefly kidnapped while exploring in Africa. I was in Tokyo and didn’t know until after my mom escaped. She called me from some tiny jungle town. It was scary and surreal, but in retrospect totally outrageous and somewhat comical. As they say: tragedy + time = comedy. Someday I’m gonna make a movie about my mom called “The female Indiana Jones!”
YP: In addition to adventurer’s DNA, you have entrepreneurial streaks in your genes.
TG: Yes, I co-founded some communications companies in Silicon Valley, which deepened my confidence in the power of communication to bring people together, educate, and inspire. One company was bought by AOL, and another VOIP company (a Skype competitor) was bought by Microsoft.
YP: I read that your grandfather and great-grandfather were politicians, but also writers and musicians. Instead of politics, your family encouraged you in the arts, and you have written a series of best-selling books as well as J-pop songs. What’s next?
TG: I’m making special Japanese editions of my books to go along with my music. My first solo album “The Diamond You” was pure joy to create. Now I’m focusing on writing again, I have a few screenplays I’m developing and some new books on the horizon.
YP: You’ve lived around the world, you studied at three universities on three different continents, and you could choose to work anywhere. Why have you spent so much time in Japan and why make Japanese-language music?
TG: Yes, I studied at Soka University of Tokyo for my undergraduate degree, then the University of Salamanca (Spain) for International Relations, and finally UCLA for my Master of Fine Arts. I’m fortunate to have homes now in many of my favorite places, in West Hollywood, Las Vegas, Key West, and Punta Mita (Mexico). But I have a special place in my heart for Tokyo. I have lived in Japan on and off for many years. Many favorite childhood memories are times spent in Japan. A lot of my best friends are in Japan. Deep in my heart I feel we are one big human family, so spreading happiness and love in one part of the world radiates to every part of the world.
YP: Did you also go to high school in Japan?
TG: I attended Torrey Pines High School in my hometown of Del Mar, CA, and also spent time with an intercultural exchange program in Brisbane, Australia.
YP: Is it true you used to live at the Park Hyatt Tokyo? It sounds like the film “Lost in Translation.”
TG: Yes, it made sense for my lifestyle for a while. The Hyatt is the best. Wherever I go around the world I always try to stay at Hyatt hotels.
YP: Your work has touched the lives of millions already through your commercial success, and you are also involved in charity work too is that correct?
TG: Yes, I support a few educational programs in the Americas. I support The Trevor Project, which works to prevent teen suicides, and I’ve enjoyed getting involved in establishing scholarships for college students at Soka University, and as well as personally sponsoring underprivileged children to attend schools in Mexico and Peru.
YP: Are you involved in charity work in Asia, too?
TG: I have dreams about massive charity development, especially to help children and save wildlife in Asia, Africa and South America. First I will make my work the best it can be, to inspire, entertain, and educate. Then I intend to give the fruit of that labor back through charitable foundations.
YP: Your family traveled a lot while you grew up, partly because of roots in the aviation industry.
TG: I’ve had bankers, politicians and military officers in my lineage. My father and stepfather were entrepreneurs too, so they traveled for work. Most of the men in my family have pilot licenses.
YP: Do you know how to fly?
TG: I have my own plane now, a Cirrus Turbo. I am not licensed to fly by myself yet, but I’m studying.
YP: You had a lot of experience in music as a child, performing in Broadway musicals. How did that start?
TG: I started taking violin lessons (the Suzuki method) when I was 7 years old, and performing professionally acting, singing, dancing when I was 8 years old. My main voice coach was the legendary Seth Riggs, who taught me how to perform every day without hurting my voice. I was fortunate that my first major job was with the # 1 national touring company of “Evita.” I spent about two years in “Evita,” then starred in “Peter Pan” and “March of the Falsettos.” In between theater gigs I was also fortunate to work for the Disney Channel doing voiceovers, and for Duncan Hines doing brownie commercials.
YP: You also appeared in an NBC show with Clint Eastwood about Alcatraz. How was it working with such a Hollywood legend?
TG: Yes, I was only 12 when we did that, so although I knew who Clint Eastwood was, I didn’t really think of him any differently than the other adults I’d been working with.
YP: How do your early musical experiences in Broadway musicals influence your music in Japan?
TG: The foundation of music in my life is musical theater, which is powerful compared to studio music. The style of music I create in Tokyo is mostly pop, which is not usually made with traditional instruments. These days, pop songs are mostly artificial sounds generated by computers, and often the producers don’t understand music history, culture or philosophy. So the end product might sound catchy for a month or two, but people get tired of it fast. That is why pop music suffered in sales for a while but thankfully the “realness” of music production is coming back.
YP: Sales for music continues to decline everywhere around the world including Japan.
TG: The root cause is that current trends in music lack depth, solid content, foundation. As a result, pop has lost much of its voice and message. I have much to say, and I have the background and foundation in my life to hopefully do it well. My mix of pop with “real music” is one of my hallmarks. I put together a 50-piece orchestra for some of my songs. I’ve been told this is unheard of anywhere in the music industry now.
YP: Critics say a big problem today is that pop music has become “throw away” entertainment. It is made for the moment, and has no power to last. People don’t want to spend on music they know they will be sick of hearing in a month. What’s the remedy?
TG: For the pop music industry to survive, it must go back to basics and supply people art that touches their hearts deeply. I want to provide people with pieces they will love more and more as time goes by. The more you hear it, the more you love it. That is true art. The way to create this kind of art in pop music is with real musicians, real instruments, real lyrics. That is what we did with “The Diamond You.”
YP: Even some of my friends who can’t understand Japanese all enjoyed listening to your music. When music is of quality, anyone can relate to it, even in a different language.
TG: People are thirsty for good music. Now it’s time for a revolution in pop culture, time to unleash a wave of new art. “Future art.” Time for artists to create value with everything we do – for me this is through my books, my music, my acting, my screenwriting. One of my musical mentors, Herbie Hancock, told me: “Be thoughtful in everything you do. You never know how your simple actions, an idea written in your book, a line in your song, is going to touch someone you may never even meet. Because one person was moved by your art, that person may be inspired to do something that changes the entire course of history.”
YP: Reminds me of the “butterfly effect.”
TG: Exactly. Artists have the opportunity to speak to countless people, so we have a responsibility to be thoughtful about how we create, to think deeply about what kind of energy we put out in the world. It’s about becoming happy, and helping other people become happy. That’s the ultimate mission of an artist. That’s the ultimate mission of every human being, I believe.
YP: I feel like I’m talking to the Dalai Lama now.
YP: In your writings, you often mention your study of Nichiren Buddhism, that you’ve been a member of the Soka Gakkai International since you were a teen, and your daily chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, but you also have a Jewish background.
TG: That’s correct, I’m a JuBu (a Jewish Buddhist).
YP: This is the first time I’ve heard that term; it means you are both Jewish and Buddhist?
TG: Yes, I’ve learned from the wisdom of my ancestors and both Jewish and Buddhist traditions throughout my life, especially in times of adversity. When you read my biography it can look sweet and simple. But my father suffered with depression, and we underwent financial turbulence in my family too. My neck was broken in a car accident and I was almost paralyzed. My mom also suffered from chronic illness when I was young, and I saw her fight for her life. All of these experiences taught me to go inside my heart and figure out what’s important in life, and help others to do the same.
YP: Your grandmother in Kyoto was a very important part of your life growing up. She helped you overcome hardships you faced.
TG: Yes, she took my mother and me under her wing during the hardest times. She is the one who showed me how to live a joyful life. I am forever grateful to her, I pray in thanks for her everyday. I wish she was still here to see how far I’ve come. I’m sure she’s still watching over me. My song “Diamond” is in memory of her. The word “Diamond” conjures up many positive images and feelings all of which I relate to her: strong, priceless, beautiful, rare, pure, clear…. Hopefully this will be the case with my work too.
YP: Thank you, Taro.