"Keep your good vibes, and share with the one next to you," reads the tag to Kenji "Damo" Suzuki's e-mail. And you don't have to read much further into any interview Suzuki's conducted to see how well this phrase tags the grateful 52-year-old German of Japanese descent, whose life has been a series of little miracles.
Suzuki was discovered in 1970 on the streets of Munich, purely by chance. Holger Czukay, bassist for legendary kraut-rock group Can, happened to pass the then-20-year-old busker on the street. Damo's style, inspired by everything from beat poets to Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, drew the attention of Czukay, who asked him to join Can as vocalist.
"I was working in the musical Hair, but only to get money to go back home and back to school again," Suzuki recalls. "I wanted to be a politician. So, if Holger didn't speak with me on the street that day in Munich then I wouldn't be the Damo Suzuki that you know. Today I'd be the Japanese prime minister."
Suzuki performed with Can for the first time that very night, and continued to lend his guttural chanting to Can's performances and recordings throughout what is widely regarded as the group's most creative period -- 1971-1973 -- before he gave up music to become a Jehovah's Witness.
At the age of 33, however, Suzuki underwent an operation for cancer. Following his religion, he wouldn't allow a blood transfusion, a decision doctors believed would lead to serious complications. Insistent, Suzuki underwent the operation on faith and survived. Waking from what he describes as a "bad dream," Suzuki rediscovered music through life, and life through music.
First reappearing with German band Dunkelziffer, Suzuki eased his primal howl back into sprawling music with a series of loose-knit collaborators, finally forming an independent label and website (www.damosuzuki.com) to harness the primitive communication of live shows he termed "NETWORK energy" in the late '90s.
While Damo never became the Japanese prime minister, his unusual course in life has made him a different kind of minister, one preaching the gospel of "instant composing." A fancy way of saying musical improvisation, only saddled with New Age conceptualism, instant composing was one of Can's trademark moves and remains central to the way Suzuki makes music.
"For me," Suzuki says, "there are three things most important for instant composing: longing, passion and everlast [sic]. We have such beautiful words for them in German: Sehnsucht, leidenschaft, zeitlos. I want to create as beautiful and breathing a thing, living with positive energy."
Damo looks at himself and whomever shares the stage with him as equal "sound carriers" who must be trusted by the audience to guide a metaphysical transfer. It's an approach shared by bands such as Japan's Acid Mothers Temple and Oregon's Yume Bitsu. But from Suzuki's fractured English it comes across less pretentious, much more endearing and welcoming.
"I like to create a room/space where we, sound carriers and audience alike, are placed," Suzuki says. "Like a painter, we begin with blank space, an empty room in the universe, and we dress it up with melodies and harmonies. But we belong to nowhere -- free from time ... carrying the audience to inner/outer space with our magic."
For his most recent tour, which finds Damo backed by American experimental/psychedelic band Cul de Sac (collectively called D*A*M*O), Suzuki is beginning with a canvas as blank as possible -- he hasn't even met Cul de Sac. Nor does he see a reason to see them beforehand.
"In Chitown we'll play the sound of that day," says Suzuki. "In Knoxville, we'll play sound for the audience there. Like the condition of the sound carriers, the weather, the construction of the venue are different. Every day, everywhere. No, we never meet each other yet, and we don't know what'll go. But, you know, if you have positive energy, you can make anything happen. I've made music this way since when I was a street musician. It'll happen."
Faith has gotten Suzuki this far. It couldn't hurt to extend equal good vibes to him.
D*A*M*O performs Wed., May 8, at the Echo Lounge, 551 Flat Shoals Ave. Cul de Sac opens 8 p.m. (doors). $8. 404-681-3600. www.echostatic.com/echolounge.