Saturday, November 7, 2015

X Japan - Forever Love

Most people would probably agree that the most commercially successful Japanese rock band of all time is X Japan. If not domestically in their native Japan, X Japan is probably the most popular Japanese rock band outside of the land of the rising sun.

The first important reason X Japan is so successful is simply because they are good. This reason often escapes music critics when discussing the more complicated nuances of musician’s popularity and relevance, but the reality is the overwhelming majority of bands who find popularity only do so because they first earned recognition for their ability, and X Japan is no exception.

Song titles like “I’ll Kill You,” “Sadistic Desire” and “Give Me Pleasure,” all from their first album gives you some indication what X Japan liked to sing about, sex and death were on the forefront, and that alone in rock and roll is not so strange, but there is a certain level of intensity that was rare in the eighties and nineties and even rarer in Japan, a very reserved country. Combine these subject matters with the eccentric line up and we really have something special. But it was not just sex and death that made X Japan a curious commodity, I always found their intensely depressing songs the most possessive of my attention, most notably “Forever Love,” but we will get back to that in a moment.

Hideto Matsumoto, aka hide,
aka The Pink Spider
The drummer and piano player Yoshiki is credited as the band leader and his almost solely independent involvement in the song writing process clearly contribute to the feel and style that makes X Japan so great. The lead singer Toshi is a solid singer but also his solo career speaks for itself, the man is a celebrity in his own right, even without X Japan. Rhythm guitarists Pata and bass player Heath are both good at their jobs and certainly contributed but I have little to say about them unfortunately. Lastly we have hide, and yes he spelled his name with no capital letter.

Lead guitarist hide was, in my opinion, the most interesting person in X Japan. Dressed all in pink leather and owning the nickname “The Pink Spider,” hide was impossible to ignore. A talented guitarist and a respectable song writer to boot, it is no wonder hide was able to become a fan favorite. Surely there is no denying the most popular member of X Japan contributed enormously to their global success.

As stated earlier X Japan had a knack for writing ridiculously dark songs about depression and heartbreak, almost like it was their goal to keep the suicide rate in Japan number one. In the endless effort of making people feel deeply depressed X Japan did their part by creating “Forever Love,” which I am unsure whether or not is my favorite X Japan song.

“Forever Love” means a lot to a lot of people. I can no longer find the video, but I can vividly remember watching a live performance of “Forever Live” where the camera panned over the crowd and there were literally hundreds of girls openly weeping, which is the sort of sight that stays with you, and it was only possible because “Forever Love” is the sort of song that beats up your feelings, and stays with you, forever.

X Japan has a lot of sad songs, but “Forever Love” is ridiculous. The wailing chorus is savagely sang to us by Toshi and with a few words in English, to give westerns like me a sense of what the rest of the song is about; “forever lover, forever dream.” Once we look at the translation of the rest of the lyrics however we experience the full depth of despair at hand. Check out the open verse:

“Mou hitori de arukenai (I can’t walk alone anymore)
Toki no kaze ga tsuyosugite (The winds of time are too strong)
AH... kizu tsuku koto nante (Ah... this thing they call being hurt)
Nareta hazu dakedo ima wa (I should be used to it, but now....)”

Sadly it is important to dwell as the sadness of a song like “Forever Love” because sadness is the primary narrative theme for X Japan, and most notably guitarist hide.

“Forever Love” may be X Japan’s saddest song but it is far from their only sad song, and it is heart break, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts were not exclusive to the X Japan discography but hide’s solo career was riddled with songs about contemplating suicide. Most notably hide’s flagship song “Pink Spider” is about a spider wanting to kill himself, given hide’s nick name is “Pink Spider” obviously a lot can be taken from that track. X Japan broke up in 1997, hide continued his solo career for about a year and then sadly... and predictably... he killed himself.

It would be comical if it were not so unbelievably sad. The Pink Spider, a very solemn, beloved rock star, who was clearly battling with depression (or something), talked about how horrible it was to be him and how to he wanted to kill himself, and he lived out that eventually.

Hide clearly idolized David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust character a little bit. The get up hide had created for himself instantly strikes the eye with thoughts of Ziggy Stardust, only in Pink, and Japanese. The creation of Ziggy Stardust was a strange androgynous alien rock star whose narcissism and self importance was personified with his death corresponding to the end of the world. While David Bowie never lost sight of the fact that he was not really Ziggy Stardust he did find himself very deeply involved with portraying, and being, and becoming the character, so sadly, after much deliberation, David Bowie “killed” Ziggy Stardust and broke up the band, he felt obligated to do it, because that is what Ziggy would have done.

I sometimes wonder if hide felt obligated to kill himself; hide had created this strange androgynous pink rock star whose character was possessed with the idea of dying in a fit of depression and rock and roll glory, immortalizing himself and forever establishing his self importance through death. The problem was Hideto Matsumoto, the man, was hide, or was entirely too much the same person. So if hide had to commit suicide to conclude the rock and roll hero narrative, maybe Hideto thought that meant he had to go too. It is a fascinating thought, but not necessarily accurate.

The details surrounding hide’s death are difficult to pin down, he did kill himself but I am constantly finding conflicting stories regarding his mental and emotional health. Close friends and loved ones do not agree on whether suicide is something hide was likely to do, and even the member of X Japan who worked with hide on creating music that was sometimes about killing yourself are torn whether or not a song like “Pink Spider” was in any way a warning. So when I talk about the possible scenario that hide might have killed himself out of some overly devout artistic expression, it should be noted that I, and no one at all really, knows what was going through hide’s mind when he committed suicide, because we will probably never really know why hide did it.

"Forever Love" at hide's funeral:

To tie things back to the song of the hour, at hide’s funeral the surviving members of X Japan performed “Forever Love” in tribute, and it is in this moment that I feel X Japan is best personified. Heath and Pata look absolutely devastated, and Toshi is clearly beside himself while he sings. To his credit Yoshiki never misses a note on the piano during the ordeal. But this moment pretty much sums up X Japan in a nutshell, everyone, including the band, are horribly depressed and someone has killed themselves, yet we have a great song and everything is weirdly beautiful. I think hide would have liked it; in fact I am very confident he would have.

- King of Braves


  1. the police retracted their suicide comment, it was ruled an accident, the towel was not in a noose around his neck, but under his chin, it was believed that he was doing neck stretching exercises and passed out do to being intoxicated,

  2. What Marsha barrett said. It was an accident, not suicide.