(written in 2012, long before the MSG concert and the documentary)
Welcome to the wonderful world of X Japan. Shall we begin with a story?
Ever had that childhood dream of becoming a rock star? Who hasn’t. Well then, let’s take a ride through the imagination now. You are a child who, at the age of 3-4, is being taught classical piano and catching on. In Kindergarten you meet a friend and at the age of 11 you and your friend declare you are going to be rock stars and form a band.
Now imagine you continue to play and play hard for the next few years and slowly emerges something truly wonderful – a band. A genuine band. A band that over the next fiften or so years will rise into the realm of true mega-stardom. A band that hits so hard it inspires a whole new style of music to an entire country and expands into a continent-wide phenomenon. Their impact on visual kei and how that advaced anime is a whole other story. Their influence akin only to Michael Jackson and his glove or a generation of teen girls dressing like Madonna.
Imagine riding the highest of highs until one day your lead singer and best friend – that same friend you met a lifetime ago in Kindergarten – decides to leave the band. It isn’t just the breaking up of a band, it’s the end of a lifetime of friendships and bonds formed and dedication/devotion I can’t begin to understand as I have never created musical magic or magical music.
Imagine losing all of that and then the tragic death of the lead guitarist of the band and also a best friend. A tortured and beautiful soul who died accidentally. End of story? It should be. Is it? Hardly.
Not when your name is Yoshiki Hyashi and not when the band is X Japan.
My affinity for X Japan began in 1998 shortly after the death of hide. I owned a MUD and much of the player base was from Singapore and I would constantly hear talk of this band ‘X Japan’ and I saw how genuinely messed up these kids were over the death of hide. Being a music whore I went and sought out some of their music and the first song I came across was ‘Say Anything.’
I don’t think I moved for the duration of the song from opening to ending note. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and suddenly it became more than an aural thing, I swear I was feeling each and every word even though I couldn’t understand 95% of it because it was in Japanese. It didn’t matter, the beauty of the music, the intensity of the music and the power of the voice blew my mind.
I began listening when my gamers would talk about X Japan and how they grew up with this band, how the band was more than a band – it was every child’s dream come true. Growing up with your best friend and evolving into the largest band in your country and continent. I became fascinated as I learned X Japan had all the elements of the ‘traditional’ rockstars I was accustomed to; trashing hotels, restaurants with “No Yoshiki” signs on them, growing together and starting the visual kei movement that swept Japan and Asia, over a decade of living the dream life.
I learned of the band breaking up in 1997. I’m not clear on the reasons, only that it was ToshI who made the call to leave. Then I learned of the tragic accidental death of hide, the lead guitarist (in respect, I use the spelling he preferred – hide for X Japan and HIDE for his solo work). I can only equate the reaction to this death to England’s Princess Diana, Elvis or John Lennon in the US. Shortly after hide’s death three other deaths were reported in the same manner as hide’s. It seemed to be the end of the line for X Japan as rumours spread of ToshI being brainwashed by his wife, a high-ranking member of an alleged Japanese cult. The whole story behind the story fascinated me and the music remained with me as fresh as when I first discovered them.
One day I came onto my game and one of my players from Singapore was quite depressed. It was the early stages of 1998, a few months after hide’s death and the beginning of internet radio. These were the days where you could set up a Shoutcast server on your own site and people could listen. A few of us connected to him to see what he was listening to and it was X Japan’s ‘Forever Love.’ It was on loop and I swear we listened to that same song for at least three hours straight as we talked to him and tried to cheer him up. Two days later I was informed by another player he had killed himself. At that moment my life changed and X Japan took on an entirely new meaning. I took his suicide personally, we were all there listening and none of us caught what was on his mind.
I’ve spent the years since following the solo careers of the members of X Japan. I firmly believe that Yoshiki is easily the most multi-talented and prolific artist alive today since the loss of Michael Jackson, there is nothing he cannot do or does not do.
X Japan came together again in 2007 and it was like they had never split. I happen to be a fan of the Saw movies and when I learned that Saw IV included a song and video by X Japan I was so excited I nearly wet myself. They did not disappoint. I watched the video for ‘I.V.’ and immediately began to cry like a fool. ToshI sounded as beautiful as possible and only Yoshiki can make a song for a horror movie both romantic and hard and heart-wrenching as that one is. Then I saw hide’s guitar and the rain and was so overwhelmed with emotion..
This is what you get with X Japan. It’s not merely listening to music or seeing a show. It’s an experience, it’s something you literally feel in your soul. The mastery of the lyrics mixed with a voice that seems to have no limits and the melody and harmonies written by a genius. Add to the picture the stellar talents of Pata, Heath and Sugizo and it becomes the ultimte musical experience.
You never know what you’re going to get with X Japan either. I can think of very few bands who are as brilliant in their ballads as they are their harder work. You can’t just listen to one style and think you know them, the next song will be the prior one’s polar opposite but equally as strong. I can go from “Tears” to “Dahlia” and not lose one iota of the passion or emotion.
Yoshiki (pronounced ‘Yoshki) is the heart and soul of X Japan. He writes it all, he plays it all, he feels it all. It’s his almost superhuman talents that have made X Japan what they are (and possibly why Stan Lee made him into a comic book hero). His brilliantly keen musical mind allows him to create songs with all elements of musical styles from classical to the hardest of hard and each and every one is from his soul and that’s what makes his creations living works of art.
Then there is the voice of ToshI. I have no idea how many octaves this man can reach but he goes everywhere and holds those notes that sends shivers up and down the spine. My 72 year old mother who hates everything I like has even fallen in love with ToshI. Watch him when he performs, he always seems to be so truly involved in every song and it makes his voice stronger. He also has a killer smile and knows how to rile a crowd. ‘FIRE!’
I also want to give time to the rest of the band. I’m a gal who loves her guitars hard and X Japan never lets me down. Pata is scary to watch as his fingers fly over the guitar and make it do his bidding. hide had a gift that few others can claim, the guitar seemed to understand him. Sugizo, the newest member, not only makes his guitar sing and cry and wail, he has the most amazing violin I have ever seen and plays it as any Master should. Heath on bass always looks so damn cool and in control and I love good bass. And there is always the precious hide present either in the form of a guitar of his on stage or the announcement that Sugizo had joined as “a 6th member” or the talk to this day of how they are 6.
X Japan fans feel an extremely close bond to this band. Many have grown up with them, felt their pain and loss and love for each other and fandom is an understatement. I myself have spent hours tweeting Yoshiki in the hope of just one reply, it becomes an obsession. We Americans in my age and a bit older grew up enmeshed in the love affair of Stevie and Lindsey, it was a huge part of Fleetwood Mac. X Japan fans feel that same sense of closeness and devotion to the band.
They are master showmen in every sense of the word. It you need proof I recommend watching the ‘Art of Life’ video. For three shows they played with a full-sized hologram of hide. It was too much of an emotional strain (I don’t thin Id’ be able to play with a hologram of one of my deceased best friends) and mixed with the combination of pain from herniated discs and the emotion of the hologram, you see Yoshiki collapse at the end of the video and it’s truly breath-stopping. The mix of admiration for the genius of adding the hide hologram and the emotion it evokes could warm the coldest of hearts. Add to the mix that ‘Art of Life’ is a 29+ minute-long opus (it’s not a song, it’s a freaken’ masterpiece) and you get a glimpse of the sheer amount of pure talent here.
X Japan has finally reached America. They rocked Lollapolooza where by all accounts they stole the show. They sold out every North American venue they booked and easily could have packed Madison Square Garden. I have never been fortunate enough to see them in concert but I’ve watched every video there is and along with everything else, X Japan are grand masters in putting on a show. As with the music, you’re not attending a concert, you are spending a nigh that will be ‘burned into memory’ with this group of magic makers.
The lyrics are cleverly written in Japanese with just enough English to catch the interest and give you an idea of what the song is about. X Japan has been better than Rosetta Stone for me as I have learned to sing in Japanese and understand what I’m singing. Most of the time it doesn’t even matter as the music itself is so captivating it pulls you in and it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand. The seamless flow between the most mesmerising melodies into legend-worthy guitars, drums and classic rock riffs is an X Japan trademark I don’t see duplicated by anyone except possibly Therion a close second.
Their latest single, ‘Jade,” has quickly become my personal anthem and it gets played at least 10 times a day here in the house and weekly on my show. A purrfect blend of hard and soft, of emotion and power, of love and loss, it is everything you could hope for from an X Japan song. I have scars, I have many scars from many surgeries I will never be comfortable with and hearing ToshI sing ‘You are beautiful, your scars are beautiful, like the Jade’ has done something I can’t explain to my psyche but it’s brought me out of a personal hole I’ve been hiding in. This is the magic of X Japan. This is the magic of Yoshiki who once again exhibits that supernatural insight into human emotion.
I’ve heard some members of X Japan are wary of their coming to North America but I hope by now they’ve seen they have exactly what it takes. This is legitimate heavy metal, speed metal, hardcore, all of it. There is also the softer side, the classical side, so many angles you never really fully come to know X Japan or what’s going to come next, just look at their history for that. I’ve watched 10 different live videos of the same song and each and every time it’s a new experience.
They’re not entirely strangers. Imagine my shock and awe to learn that Yoshiki was the music man for ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’ and the music was done in his studio. Holy Zydrate, Batman! Then I watched an interview where Yoshiki quiety acknowledged buying a studio out from under Metallica’s feet (they were booked there for a year but Yoshiki wanted it for its drum quality). He wasn’t boastful but when asked by the interviewer if it really happened, he answered with a simple “Yes” that said said it all. Ive’ shared this story with many listeners and each one has said the same thing – good for Yoshiki! I also would have purchased the ‘Saw IV’ DVD even if I didn’t love the movies the second I found out there was an X Japan video on it. Do you have the movie? Go check out the video. See hide’s guitar, see the rain and the coming together again of a group of magic makers who belong together. ‘I’m calling you dear… find your way…’
I know they will be releasing their first English-language album this year, it would have come sooner but the brilliant Yoshiki was asked to compose the theme for this year’s Golden Globes, another tribute to his versatility and genius. I will be among the first to buy this gem and I can’t wait to review each and every song on the air. There will be new songs and old songs made new as they are done for the first time completely in English. Even this loudmouth is speechless at the thought of this album.
This is X Japan. This is one station owner’s opinion of X Japan. It hasn’t always been easy to find them or their music but now that they’ve come to this side of the globe I can’t contain my excitement and I will do all I can to spread the word of X. Every other Tuesday from 9-10PM NY Time I do an “X Japan Hour” Show before my regular show in hopes that our listeners will come to recognise and love them too.
Wake up, America. We’ve been drowning in a shit tank of Nicki Minaj and bubble gum nonsense and rockers who all sound alike for too long. England gave us Adele, Japan has gifted us with X Japan – let us not overlook this priceless gift. For ANY true music fan, I recommend listening to X Japan and learning of them. If you can’t find one song that touches your heart, you’re probably dead.
We are X. KMRL Mojo Radio Live is X. I am X.
Written by Kittyn / Heather on 2/17/12