Zen Visual Kei

I apologize for not being very active lately. Truth be told, I haven’t really been feeling inspired by anything enough that I would want to write about it/review it. Most of what I’ve been listening to this past month has been pretty much the same old stuff. To put it in internet layman’s terms: meh.

So, recently, instead of listening to tons of music, I climbed into the mountains to hear the sound of the birds, and live off the land, miles and miles from the nearest tub of Gatsby Moving Rubber, without a perm in sight…And while I was in retreat…I wish I could say something like “I became enlightened”, but unfortunately my realization was somewhat lesser. I realized that I’ve been kind of snobbish, mostly because I’ve become paranoid in recent days about the creativity involved in the recent Visual Kei (and Jrock at large) releases. Some of them have felt more than a little mainstream, and of late, I’ve been waking up from gloomy nightmares, the word Commercialism…commercialism…commercialism… echoing around the room.

However, thankfully before my threats of KAT-TUN rebellion actually resulted in the buying of best-of albums and switching my banner out for one of Kamenashi Kazuya with his hair knotted up in a pink hair-tie, I started thinking more about where things stand, not in regards to the music industry and commercialistic totalitarianism,  but in regards to being a Visualist, and the listening to music aspect of our fandom. (I made the new banner just in case though!)

Just being annoying...

I like the Japanese word “Hajime” 「始め」 which means “beginning”. What I like about it is the kanji because it’s an extremely common and simple character, 始, but it has multiple parts, which, in my eyes, kind of represents the causes and conditions that need to be in place for anything to “begin”. In Japanese, the phrase meaning “Nice to meet you/How do you do” is “Hajimemashite” 「始めまして」 which means, literally, “it has begun”. I like this sentiment because, unlike “Nice to meet you”, it has a feeling of continuity and progressiveness.

In the same way that a personal relationship has a “it has begun” moment, which then develops and progresses into a “now we’re bros” plateau of mutual acknowledgement, media and music has the same patterning (in fact, most things do). In this case, you’re hearing a song for the first time– that’s the “hajimemashite”. Then, if you liked that song enough to look into it further, you will continue to explore that artist’s works (music, movies, media), to the point that maybe you will even travel to foreign countries to see them perform live (is the personal-relationship equivalent engagement? just kidding).

A while ago I read a book called Zen Guitar, which, you guessed it, applied the concepts of zen to playing guitar. The format of the “method” in this book was that the “student” was supposed to think of playing the guitar in the same way you would practice a martial art. The first thing the author tackled was the “black belt” issue. People wanted to know what it took to become a “black belt”. Sparing you the sentiments about how “one will forever be a student” and all that (he doesn’t spare you, but I will), I did like his comment on the topic. He said (paraphrased, as I can’t remember it verbatim) that “in the way of Zen Guitar there is only one belt: the white belt. The student must always return to white belt, every time. The only way that you can attain a “black belt” is by practicing to such an extent that your white belt becomes soiled, and steadily, blackens from use.”

Now, taking all of this philosophy into consideration and then looking at the actual experience of this developing relationship with the experience of listening to certain music, there is no definite point of fulfillment, is there? And yet we rush (it’s a side-effect of visualist dementia– don’t worry, we all have it) forward as if there’s some sort of finish line, or black belt. Essentially, there isn’t one.  At least I don’t think there is– not for me, anyway. And yet it’s interesting to see how, even with something as circular in nature as the appreciation of music, impatience develops. We obsess over when new material will be released– forgetting that there are still songs on old albums that we haven’t even listened to properly.

Essentially, it’s hard to avoid becoming jaded to something. At first and for a while it’s exciting, but if you do something enough, live it and breathe it enough, it becomes a habit – something done without thinking. Even if new material comes out, are we really as excited about it as we were right when we first started listening to The GazettE? I’m not trying to speak for anyone else, or state that this is just how it is. But for me, at least, Visual Kei and Jrock isn’t just a “phase” or something that I will lose interest in after a while. I would never “break up with it” as it were, just because I’ve hit a flat area. These are the points in ones relationship– with anyone and anything– where it actually starts to take awareness and conscious action to keep something alive, strong, and healthy. When you stop appreciating something properly, the jadedness creeps in, lethargy soon follows, and then who knows what’s next– gangrene, maybe. Or even worse, you find yourself actually checking out DBSK albums on eBay (don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying I’ve done that. Not yet, anyway.).

What I’m going to do about it, to both help refresh my appreciation of Visual Kei, and bring some new material to SG, is go back through all of my albums/singles/DVDs/whatever, many of which are dated from several years ago and haven’t been reviewed (I won’t do repeats) yet. I will do my best to listen to them with a “white belt” ear, and review them. It will definitely help me get back in touch with the older stuff, hopefully it will help newcomers to VK check out some classics, and maybe it will send some of you vets back to your dusty collections. Who knows, right?

16 responses to “Zen Visual Kei

  1. Wonderful post man. It’s true that thing s overtime get tiring so we do have to go back to basics and find out what made us love what we love. I do this all the time so its great to see a post like this, especially about music. So thanks.

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  3. [No wonder you inquired about my LOVE IS DEAD review! ;p]

    You’ve really expressed the sentiments I’ve also been feeling as of late. I think I’ve certainly started to become a little jaded and scarily enough, I’ve only been on the VK scene for 2 and half years! D: Sometimes I wonder how people have been fans for as long as 10 years but it certainly is possible as proven by the fact that D’espairsRay is still here and going strong. I, too would probably never truly abandon Visual Kei…if you look at the history of the scene and see how much things have grown and changed since its conception…it’s simply amazing. So while it may suck that bands have started venturing down the path of “commercialism” its certainly worth sticking around as something revolutionary is bound to happen. [I believe we are partway there with having so many J-rockers *cough Zero* on Twitter, lol. XP]

    To be honest, one of the reasons I haven’t finished my review yet is because its been difficult to gain perspective on the single. Becoming “jaded” or “too used to it” is one reason why I like to review things as soon as they are released as I usually form immediate and strong opinions about it. After about 10 listens though, this usually dies down and it becomes difficult to express previous thoughts on it. That’s why I usually end up changing my blog or starting “new” projects. XD

    Going back in time in a discography is definitely a good way to reacquaint yourself with a band and their sound and I’ll definitely be putting this idea to use. :)

    • Yeah, I’ve been into Visual Kei/Jrock for almost 5 years now, so I guess this was bound to happen to us eventually. ^^; Somehow, though, I can’t help but think that maybe it’s not just the fans who are experiencing jadedness. In a way you can sense it from the bands themselves, especially considering the drastic stylistic changes some of them have undergone just in the past year or two. It seems like a lot of groups have hit a similar stage, and are trying to figure out how to continue expanding and evolving, while still struggling with the fact that the VK scene is now pretty crowded. Even (or especially?) for veteran bands such as D’espairs and DuelJewel, with all the newcomer bands trying to cop their style, it seems like keeping a fresh but consistently good thing going would be a wicked challenge. With that in mind, I guess it makes it a bit easier to respect what they’re doing with their more experimental work.

      You definitely have a point with the whole Twitter thing. As weird as it sounds at first, actually this integrated social networking is actually really cool, and certainly could be the pebble that starts an avalanche. The fact that bands are working to interact with fans worldwide on a more independent and personal level is something new. As TMR was saying last week, depending on how the Twitter thing works out, it could effect his plans around where to tour.

      Hah. I’m exactly the same with reviewing. Always caught between not wanting to be too rushed in my opinion, and not wanting to wait until all the opinions just neutralize….Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing your review when/if you finish it. I couldn’t help but notice that it’s been a while since you posted anything. You have an awesome blog- I hope you don’t stop doing it! ;]

    • That would probably be a pretty effective remedy. I’m trying to figure out if D’espairs is ever planning on actually releasing tour dates. This is one example where they’re abusing Twitter… Stop announcing things before you have any information to give us!
      You’re going to be in NYC this summer, right? Planning on seeing Miyavi while you’re there?

      • Yip and Washington. :) I’d really like to go but the thing is, I’m not going on holiday with my family and there’s a set schedule for the conference I’m attending and I’d have to get leave permission which is only allowed if I’m visiting family. I have an aunt who’s stays in NY so I wanna see if I can contact her. But even before all this, I have to convince my mom that I won’t be commuting there on my own [it’s my first time visiting America. ^^;] and that it is not some giant concert hall but a live house…the Fillmore is a live house, right? X’D

      • Ah, I see. So it’s a bit of a hassle for you to arrange fitting the live in there/convincing your mother.
        I’ve actually never been to the Fillmore, so I’m not exactly sure what kind of venue it is. I believe its capacity is around 1000 people, so yeah, it’s pretty small- you can see a pic of the floor @here. If it helps you convince your mom, I looked up some venue reviews and one of them stated “Lying just a block away from Union Square also makes Fillmore New York perhaps the easiest venue in the city to access by subway”, and referred to it as “an interesting and accessible nightclub”. Just switch out the word “nightclub” for “livehouse”, of course. XD

  4. Excellent article. I have felt the same way lately, so much so that I’ve downloaded a lot of old music I haven’t listened to for at least five or six years, as well as music from preschool shows I watched during childhood. Yes, you read that correctly. But you have to understand how catchy some of that stuff is! Keep writing pieces like this, because I really feel like you’re speaking directly to me. I can relate big time.

    • I don’t know about you, but I think between me threatening to switch to Johnny’s Ent and you downloading preschool-show theme songs, we could probably squeeze some new [good]material out of SOMEONE.
      As for me, I think I took my own statement about “going back to classics” a little too seriously. Just a few minutes ago I was listening to Japanese ’90s music with all the trimmings, and I was getting kind of enthusiastic about it. The point is…you never know where you might find something that will revolutionize your iPod.

      Thanks for your feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed the write-up, and I’m also pleased to see some other people expressing their own frustration with the music scene, but actually with an intention and direction for how to overcome it and get back into the swing of things.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. @Gacktpause: Thanks for that! :) It seems to resemble the live house I visited while I was in Taiwan, although it was a little smaller with a capacity of 500.

    Are you planning on attending any of Miyavi’s lives in the US?

    • Yeah, no problem. I think the live house I saw a.b.s at in London was about that size (500 cap.) as well. Although the Fillmore holds twice that, I think they have a whole balcony area as well, so it’s still pretty small.

      Honestly, I’m not sure yet what lives I’m going to be attending this summer. ^^; Thus my current state of perpetual anxiety and skyrocketing stress-levels.

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