Why I Love… X Japan

This post is seriously overdue, but I have an issue in writing it.  It’s not that I don’t WANT to write it, it’s that X Japan and their music mean more to me than I feel I can properly express in words without sounding completely obsessed.  To me, X Japan represent all I hope to become one day as a musician.  If I could even have half the influence in the music industry as they have, I would consider myself successful.  When it comes to X Japan, it’s like reality is suspended and I’m in “a place where life and dreams become one.”  (To quote their 90s opening monologue.)

Let’s start at the beginning.

It was April of 2003.  I was in my sophomore year of college, going through a lot with classes and personal issues.  Through a project for one of my classes, I discovered the online radio station Japan-A-Radio.  I’d been listening to anime theme songs (aka Jpop, though I didn’t consider it that since everything I listened to came from an anime) since sophomore year of high school, so I thought a whole radio station dedicated to the music was awesome.  As I did my homework one fateful afternoon, I heard a song that made me stop and just listen for its entirety.  It started with a lone, raspy kind of voice, then the piano came in with this beautiful melody.  It was the piano that transfixed me, which was weird because the piano is one of my least favorite instruments (sorry, pianists!  It’s nothing personal, I assure you!)  I checked the streaming info on my player and it told me the song was “Unfinished” by the band X Japan.  I made a mental note of it, and when the song was over I had to run to rehearsal, all the while replaying the song in my head.

About a week later, after constantly hearing the song in my mind, Japan-A-Radio played it again.  I listened with a huge smile on my face, and when the song was over I jumped on KaZaA and looked up the song, along with any others I could find.  I ended up with ten songs; five ballads and five rock.  To my delight, the piano came through on all the ballads and even one of the rock songs (“Silent Jealousy”) so I knew the pianist I admired was actually part of the band and not just a session musician.  I decided not to research the band right away and just blindly love their music.  I told all my friends about this new band I’d come across and even remember saying to one friend, “For all I know, they broke up years ago and one of their members is dead.”

I was so mad a few months later when I discovered that statement was true, but it didn’t change anything.  I still loved the music, and music can last forever.  I collected all the albums and listened to them non-stop.  I got one of my best friends into X (and rock in general) when I locked her in my car on a trip to the mall and played “Art of Life” the whole way there and the whole way back.  “Art of Life” became my favorite song of all-time.  It is a deep song, tortured yet hopeful, amazing in its construction and admirable for the amount of skill and concentration it would take to play it.  “Art of Life” changed something inside of me, and learning about X Japan’s story and the stories of all the members inspired me.  I wanted to do what they had done.

Yoshiki’s story stuck with me the most, as the band had been his dream and he did so much to bring it to fruition.  I decided I wanted to learn from him and work for him, and this gave me the courage to alter my major and take a different path than the one I’d been traveling.  I collected everything I could of X Japan releases and memorabilia and wistfully dreamed of what it would have been like to see them perform.  Whenever I was upset, their music consoled me.  I could quote it, I could cry to it, I could dream to it.  To me, it’s the most powerful kind of music:  The music that merges with your soul and expresses the words you can’t speak, unleashes the emotions you can’t feel, and provides the hope even when everything is futile.

Throughout the remainder of college and graduate school auditions, Yoshiki and X Japan were the driving force to keep me going.  One warm June night in 2006, I was talking online to aforementioned best friend about how jealous we were of those in the L.A. area for their anime convention, Anime Expo, and the guests they had.  I then received news of a very special guest heading to Otakon, the large east coast anime convention, later that summer:  Yoshiki.  We immediately bought passes and started planning.  I got to meet my musical idol.  About a month later, I moved to L.A. and eventually got into grad school.

My grad school education was rough, and in the midst of all the craziness one thing happened that kept me going.  X Japan reunited, and through luck and friends in Japan, I got to attend all three nights of their reunion concerts at Tokyo Dome in Japan.  It was an experience like none other, complete with performances of every single song I could have hoped for, including “Art of Life.”  I ended up losing my voice completely, but it was all worth it.  I knew that if I could see X Japan perform live, anything was possible.

I cannot give up on my dreams if my idols never do.

X Japan did a small tour of North America back in the fall, a little over a month after their U.S. debut at Lollapalooza.  The first show of the tour was in L.A., at a much smaller venue than the Tokyo Dome.  (Tokyo Dome concert capacity = 50,000.)  I managed to get a spot in the standing room only crowd just above the pit, with a perfect view of the stage and nobody in front of me.  I watched in awe and amazement as they commanded the stage and gave the same effort to this smaller show that they did their Tokyo Dome lives.  And I cried.  I full on sobbed and had no control over any of it.  Watching my idols perform, and watching my two biggest influences, Yoshiki and Sugizo, right in front of me was more than I could ever imagine.  They started “Art of Life” with Sugizo playing a violin solo before Yoshiki went into the piano solo.  It was amazing.  It was incredible.  And it was all I could do but wonder at how much power the music had over me.

Individually, each member of X Japan is very talented and very different.  Yoshiki is both a drummer and pianist, balancing his hard rock edge with soft, classical piano…most of the time.  Heath’s bass is simple in its execution compared to the programming of his solo works.  Pata’s shredding guitar does not happen all that often nowadays (but he did do a solo at Tokyo Dome!) but his skill on the acoustic should not be overlooked.  Sugizo brings his own flair and energy into the band and proves his adaptability and wide knowledge of music styles bouncing among X Japan and all the other projects he is a part of.  And above it all, Toshi’s voice soars with a purity and ring all its own.  He is a charismatic front man who shines through even the darkest times of his life.

Over time their music has changed.  They started out as 80s heavy metal in 1982 and progressed into hair metal in the late 80s and early 90s.  They pulled a Metallica and cut their hair in the mid-90s, and with the change of look came a change of style.  Their sound went from 80s metal to 90s rock with electronic elements and programming instead of shredding guitars.  Beautiful power ballads are the constant link through all the changes.  Nowadays they combine rock and ballad, dark and light, heavy and ethereal, and somehow it works.  Their first U.S. single comes out in March, and I cannot wait.

And here, since you’re probably curious, are my top 10 favorite songs:

  1. Art of Life (The first time they ever performed it live.)
  2. kurenai (Their first major single.  The link has video of hide in it, too!)
  3. Voiceless Screaming (with original bassist, Taiji)
  4. Standing Sex (Pata on the mic!)
  5. Forever Love (Understand this is from their final concert in 1997, and it’s towards the end of the set)
  6. Rose of Pain (X rocked out with an orchestra in 1991, long before Metallica, the Scorpions, or KISS thought to… Just sayin’ ^_-)
  7. Unfinished (The song that started it all for me.  This is my favorite performance of it.)
  8. Phantom of Guilt (I wish they did this one live more often!)
  9. Drain (LOVE the siren lights!)
  10. Week End (Snagged the actual PV for this one.)

And other songs worth checking out, in no particular order:

  • Scars
  • Dahlia
  • Dear Loser
  • Sadistic Desire
  • Silent Jealousy
  • Endless Rain
  • Rusty Nail
  • I.V.
  • Jade

~ by violarockstar on February 25, 2011.

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