The Remarkable Story of Nude
Camel — On the Prog Rock Fringes
I was a bit of a music snob when I was younger and liked to know about bands that others hadn’t heard of. So when I was a student in the 80s and everyone was playing Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Pink Floyd, and little else, I liked to branch out a bit and take risks on less well known bands.
Sometimes I had no idea what I had bought when I walked away from a second hand record store with a tatty LP, just because I liked the name, or the cover (very important), or the instruments listed on the back.
On the prog-rock scene a very underrated band in my view was Camel who I would share with friends who liked Pink Floyd and Dire Straits. In particular I liked to argue that Camel leader Andy Latimer was possibly the best guitarist in the world, even better than Dave Gilmour and Mark Knopfler, two contemporaries his playing was often compared with (and maybe a bit of Alex Lifeson from Rush too?).
Listening again to their 1981 and 8th album Nude the guitar really is very similar to Gilmour’s — Latimer certainly produced a rare thick luscious tone with the touch of a classical guitarist and a fine ear for a heart wrenching melody — witness a track like Ice from their I Can See Your House From Here album (what is the meaning of that cover by the way?). It is also so nice to hear an electric guitarist play with depth and feeling rather than all out shredding!
The music on Nude is a bit middle of the road and verging on that 80s over produced synth backed watered down rock gaining popularity at the time, but there are some good rock tracks on there like Lies where Latimer displays his trademark Q and A, vocal/guitar, call and response (have a listen and see what I mean about the Gilmour/Knopfler comparisons).
Camel’s best work had already come and gone by the time of Nude, with classic albums like their eponymous debut, the popular Snow Goose, and my personal favourite Mirage.
I saw them at Portsmouth Guildhall in the 80s on the Stationary Traveller tour which must have been just after Nude. They’d gone further down the keyboard route by then (they had two keyboardists on stage I seem to remember!) but did encore with Lady Starlight from Mirage — a quintessential prog epic. It was one of those gigs where I was right at the front resting my elbows on the stage (rarely possible these days). Someone threw Andy Latimer a red rose. I hear he has had a serious chronic illness and has not been able to play much in recent years but has been making a tentative comeback with a reformed Camel — I would certainly go and see them again if I had the chance.
The Nude Concept
The most interesting thing about Nude is the story behind this concept album. It relates to a Japanese soldier who was separated from his unit while on a mission to a tiny Pacific island during World War II. Unaware that the war had ended he lived a Robinson Crusoe-like existence for 29 years on the island until eventually being “rescued” and returned to “civilisation”. Unable to make the adjustment into mainstream life back in Japan he disappeared again shortly afterwards. A fascinating mystery and one of those stories you are surprised is not better known although a few articles did surface about the apparent real life “Nude” after his death as late as 2014.
Nude’s story as retold by Camel — lyrics and sleeve notes reproduced below:
1942 saw a world torn apart. Daily routines had been taken over by a harsher order that drastically altered the lives of millions of people.
Based on fact, this album tells the story of NUDE.
Signs tell the time
Life you will find
O the city life,
Hanging on too tight,
to this illusion…
I’m not what I appear to be.
I couldn’t take the honesty,
It seemed to be…
too easy for reality.
O the city life,
what have I come to?
Faces in the night,
friendly to fool you.
I always try to justify,
the way I am and wonder why
I couldn’t be…
the same to you I am to me.
Nude’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. The postman muttered something about wishing he could go too and handed over a yellow envelope. It was a command long overdue that called for healthy, young men.
In reply to your request,
I hereby protest.
To the ways and means you use
I cannot refuse.
So I’ll take this vow
Fight for the right,
You have said,
To be free.
When this time has run its course,
Live without remorse.
For the deeds I’m bound to do,
it’s all the same to you.
But I won’t forget
Taking a life,
for a life…
to be free.
Nude’s life revolved around orders. He found himself pushed and pulled on to a crowded deck of uniformed figures who shared the same expressionless faces. Loved ones stood anxiously on the pier as the transport faded into separating mist. Water and night seemed one. Nude was going to war…
Thunder cracked. Ramps hit the beach and countless boots assaulted the shore. His heart pounding, Nude stumbled headlong into the undergrowth in a desperate search for refuge. Sheets of rain drenched the sunless forest as the skies opened raging down on the tiny island. Panic-stricken, Nude staggered forward and fell unconscious.
Raindrops spattered from the trees onto Nude’s face. Startled and confused, Nude listened in the humid silence; he was alone and had no idea where he was. Worst of all, he didn’t know what had become of his Regiment.
The setting sun left Nude with the growing darkness of his fears. He made camp and slept with dreams of a dawn rescue, unaware that his Unit had already left the island. In wartime, one less soldier is hardly noticeable.
Seasons turned with time. Nude had given up the search for his Unit but continued to move through the jungle, bayonet poised, as if a thousand eyes were upon him. Home was a cave in a hidden lagoon with abundant vegetation and fresh springs. The highest point of the island provided shelter from annual monsoon floods and sanctuary for his soul.
His military duties consisted of a monthly visit to the mountain top whereupon he ceremoniously croaked the national anthem and fired one precious bullet into the air.
In the loneliness he endured, Nude found an inner strength that flowed with the rhythm of instinct.
Please Come Home
The 29th monsoon had finally dried when a distant buzzing sent Nude scrambling for cover. A tiny plane dipped and swerved, filled the air with swirling white and disappeared.
He cautiously approached one of the scattered pieces of paper:
We’ve been writing letters each day
hoping that you’ll come home.
And we’re wondering if you’re okay.
As you’re not on the phone.
Face the facts now
Take a chance.
Come on back now.
Please come home,
Please come home.
Everyone cares for you.
Please come home,
Please come home.
Everyone cares for you,
We’ve been writing letters each day.
As the sky turned to afternoon gold, Nude picked up the rest of the envelopes and carried then carefully up the mountain.
For a long time afterwards he sat rocking gently. The letters fluttered… the war was over. Long ago. But it seemed of little consequence to Nude. For him, it had never started.
In the days that followed, Nude was no longer at one with his environment. He was now burdened with the need to explain what could not be explained to those who would never understand.
With the air heavy and his instincts dulled by the preoccupation of his thoughts, he failed to heed the warning silence of a normally busy afternoon. With a gasp and a grunt he was wrestled to the ground. A sting in his skin and he was released. He reeled around to stare into the eyes of familiar uniformed figures. The sudden weight of his head plunged him face down into sand denying him protest or the right of a farewell glance at his island…
The band marched beneath a banner that read WELCOME HOME SOLDIER. City streets were littered with cheering crowds entangled in the paper streamers that filled the air. Hailed for his ‘unquestioned patriotism’ and ‘heroic bravery’ Nude was unable to respond. The tidal wave of publicity that engulfed his life had a devastating effect after 29 years alone.
Tell me no lies,
has peace arrived…
Or, is this some kind of joke?
What a surprise,
you don’t realise…
There’s some things you don’t own.
Can you disguise,
can you simplify…
This change you put me through?
Can you revive,
and will I survive…
This life you’ve brought me to?
Physically and emotionally exhausted, Nude was confined to a sea-side resort nursing home.
His war had finally begun.
Weeks of monotony filled his life with an opposite extreme. No longer pursued by opportunists who disguised themselves with good intentions, his body regained strength. The government arranged his back-pay. The mass of generation-removed relatives ceased their dutiful visits and eventually no one came to see the hero who had fought the longest war.
For his 50th birthday, the nursing staff organised a small party. To make him feel at home, the festive cake has been decorated in the form of a tropical island. Nude was visibly moved by the occasion and yet he seemed strangely distracted.
They thought it best to leave him alone.
Nude was last seen on a summer evening in 1972 talking to a small group of people just before he sailed out of the harbour.
In the morning paper, buried within the articles about Asian, Middle Eastern, Irish and American conflicts, was a short column on the disappearance of ‘The Island War Veteran Who Could Not Live in The Civilised World.’
All lyrics by Susan Hoover
except “Please Come Home” (Andrew Latimer)
The Real Nude
The story is apparently based on the life of Hiroo Onoda and as you would expect is slightly embellished but in many respects true to life.
Onoda was enlisted in the Japanese army and sent to the Philippine Island of Lubang in December 1944 — a tropical island in the South China Sea just 100 miles to the south west of Manila. With a population today of 30,000 the island is not entirely deserted or remote.
Onoda and his unit were tasked with protecting the occupied Island from allied attacks and sabotaging any invasion attempts. Under no circumstances must they surrender.
It may take three years, it may take five years, but whatever happens we will come back for you.
When the Americans invaded the island in early 1945 Onoda took to the jungle remaining there in hiding with three comrades. Believing the war was still on the soldiers lived on bananas, coconuts, rice and the occasional cow, and continued their covert operations carrying out guerrilla raids (these were inflicted upon the post war civilian population after 1945).
One of the soldiers gave himself up in 1950 and another was killed four years later by a search party.
Onoda was actually only completely alone for the last two years. His last surviving colleague, Private Kinsichi Kozuka, was shot by police in 1972 as the pair raided a local farm.
The leaflet drops over the jungle described in Please Come Home above did happen but Onoda and his colleagues, still believing the war was on, assumed they were tricks and ignored them.
Bizarrely after years of fruitless official searching for Onoda it was a student traveller who discovered him in early 1974 after only 4 days trekking in the jungle. Norio Suzuki had set out to find “Lieutanant Onoda, a wild panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”
Onoda told Suzuki that he would only surrender if ordered to by his superior officer. Remarkably Major Taniguchi, who had issued his original orders back in 1944 with the promise that he would come back for him one day, was still alive and was tracked down by Suzuki working in a bookshop in Tokyo. So, true to his word, the long-retired Major was able to travel to the Island in March 1974 and relieve Onoda of his duties 30 years later!
We really lost the war? How could we have been so sloppy?
Onoda, still wearing immaculate uniform and none too pleased to learn of Japan’s defeat, finally surrendered to the Philippine President. Reportedly Onoda and his colleagues had killed up to 30 people during their operations but he was given an official pardon for his actions on account of his belief that the countries were still at war.
Onoda did return home to a hero’s welcome and an emotional reunion with his parents but was reportedly unhappy with what Japan had become.
There are so many tall buildings and automobiles in Tokyo. Television might be convenient, but it has no influence on my life.
The album suggests that he stayed in a nursing home and then absconded back to his desert island but in fact he emigrated to Brazil living there as a cattle rancher for ten years. He then returned to Japan and established a group of wilderness training schools. He died in 2014.
See remarkable footage of Onoda’s return to Japan here >>.
Why the name “Nude”?
Contrary to some suggestions that the jungle dweller forwent clothing the patriotic Onoda seems to have religiously worn his uniform throughout his mission. The “nude” may just be a reference to the invisibility of the disappeared man and themes of loneliness, loyalty, survival, displacement, alienation, and honour, which seem in keeping with the album cover art depicting an empty suit standing on a desert island with Mt. Fuji in the distance.
It is indeed very strange to put yourselves in the shoes of Onoda. 29 years abandoned on a tropical island without all the usual trappings of “modern” life and company through friends, family and relationships (he did marry shortly after his return). What would you have missed between 1945 and 1974? The atom bomb that ended the war and basically flattened the country, the post war industrial and technological growth under US occupation, the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, JFK and the moon landings. Would you have gone mad or would you have adjusted to an idealic simple lifestyle living in paradise? What would 29 years even mean or feel like if you were just living day by day with nature and the sun and the seasons without any man made method of time measurement? Would time have passed quickly or slowly?Would you have got bored? What were your routines?
As Onoda still believed he was actively fighting a war it is likely he was on constant high alert living a fairly stressful life but in a very different way to the population in his homeland. Even so there must have been periods where he did not see or speak to anyone for weeks on end. Footage of Onoda on his homecoming suggests a well adjusted happy and healthy man but it is unimaginable the underlying psychological effects of his experience and the subsequent adjustment. Remember too he, with his comrades, was responsible for killing and injuring many islanders — why and how and in what circumstances? Apparently this detail was not revealed in his ghostwritten book.
And What of Norio Suzuki?
In a fateful aside Norio Suzuki did succeed in his quest for both Onoda and the panda but was tragically killed in an avalanche in the Himalayas in 1986, presumably while still looking for his Yeti.
* The Peter and the Cross joke referenced on the Camel album I Can See Your House From Here:
Jesus, on the cross, in his waning moments of life, calls to the crowd below, ‘Peter!’ The apostle Peter hears the call and moves closer to his liege. ‘Yes, my Lord, he says. Jesus calls again, ‘Peter!’ Peter approaches the base of the cross, ‘Yes my Lord, it is Peter, I am here for you what do you need?’ Jesus calls, ‘Come closer Peter.’ Peter is beside himself, wondering what the son of God might have to say to him alone… He climbs the cross. Jesus calls ‘Peter, come closer.’ Peter replies that he is coming. At last, Peter reaches Jesus on the cross, and says, ‘I am here my Lord, what can I do?’ Jesus says ‘Peter? Peter? Is that you Peter?’ ‘Yes my Lord, I am here for you.’ Jesus says ‘Peter, I can see your house from here…’