By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Arts & Entertainment Editor
The voice is a bit frail, the movements less pronounced. His legendary verve has suffered a setback, but he continues to adhere to the performer’s credo, and the show will go on.
More than six months after suffering a spinal column injury that left him with a degree of paralysis, musician Arthur Nakane will again take the stage this weekend, Dec. 21-22, near his familiar spot at the Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.
He will not, however, be appearing as the one-man band, a performance setup that has been uniquely his own for decades, and one that brought him national fame on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “America’s Got Talent.”
Nakane is still unable to effectively use his hands to play his instruments, so he will be accompanied on the main stage in the plaza by classical guitarist Yoshi Yamamoto, who also works at the Ginza Gift Shop in Little Tokyo.
He can’t stand for long periods or project his voice as he once did, but Nakane said his approach to delivering music hasn’t changed.
“My voice is very weak, but I will try to sing the songs with all my heart.”
On May 31, after suffering several days with a particularly virulent cold, Nakane slipped on the wet floor and fell after a hot bath.
Reaching out to break his fall, his right hand slipped on the porcelain of the toilet bowl and he landed face-first, shattering his cheek bone and doing serious damage to several vertebrae in his neck.
After more than an hour, he estimated, he woke to feel the numbness slowly moving up his body.
“Oh my God, I can’t get up,” he recalled thinking. Unable to reach his cell phone, he banged on a wall to get the attention of neighbors in his apartment.
Two days later, he was completely paralyzed from the neck down, but his condition has improved since, albeit slowly. Within a week, he began to regain feeling in his extremities. One of his first duties was – true to classic Art Nakane form – to issue a press release.
“I couldn’t hold anything, even a pen,” he explained. “It just kept slipping through my fingers, so I had a nurse tape it to my hand.”
He had initially hoped for substantial recovery inside of six months, and while he’s made great progress, his 76-year-old fingers remain largely useless. His doctors have said he may never regain their full use.
“It may take several months or longer to perform as a one-man band once again,” he predicted in a press release he’s been drafting this week. “If my stamina holds up, I would like to resume weekend performances on a regular basis, with karaoke tracks to sing to.”
While the one-man band act has essentially defined who he is for decades, Nakane said that the performances are not what he lives for.
“Most people think I have such a passion for music, especially about my band. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he explained.
“What I have is an unusual passion to please people. That’s what I enjoy. That may be what I’m supposed to do.”
Nakane described his performance in JVP a day before his injury, saying it was a new high for him as a musician.
“That very day, May 30, I played the best one-man band music I’ve ever played. People around me and those who have heard me play many times, said, ‘My gosh, you sound so good today.’ I don’t think I could ever improve from that point,” he said.
“For some reason, I told them, ‘This may be the last time I play as a one-man band. If that happens, I have no regrets, because I feel I have achieved my best.’ If that turns out to be my last performance, I have no regrets.”
As it has turned out, Nakane has taken the stage since then, appearing a few times at the karaoke sessions held on the JVP stage on Friday evenings.
“I went to sing in September, and I went a couple of other times, to rehearse for this weekend,” he explained. He said many in the crowd recognized him and were glad to see him performing again.
“I told them, ‘I’ll be back.’”