IMPO…

On Thursday I will be driving down to Boston to spend the weekend at Anime Boston, specifically with the primary intention of attending girugamesh’s concert and panels. I’ve been prepping for it by listening to their albums and tuning into their Ustream events online. Pretty foolproof.

In anticipation of the founders of Visual Kei fusion genre Anime OP <3’s Teen Angst girugamesh‘s long-awaited US appearance, and following on the heels of their January release (first original album since ‘o9’s toeheaded NOW), entitled GO, I’ve been ruminating on the black-clad host boys an awful lot lately. So before I hit up Boston and see them live and then have everyone blame this on post-concert bias, I wanted to address some things about girugamesh and Visual Kei Today.

Over the past 2 or 3 years, there’s been a lot of griping about what girugamesh has been and will be doing stylistically. As far back as 2008, they began entering their re-debut of adolescent, agonized expressionist experimentation that stirred up some mixed feelings from fans. What started out as white-noise steadily developed into doubtfulness about where the band was moving with its sound and image as they began incorporating elements of mixing, pop and electronica into their previously hardcore shredder scene. This developed into outright concern with releases as early as MUSIC, and certainly increased over time when NOW disappointed in its offerings. Now, with the release of b-average sub-standard singles such as COLOR, doubt and concern is turning to dissatisfaction and, potentially, dissension.

I’ll admit, I have not been remotely hesitant to express my opinions and concerns for the future. Although it’s not usually my wont to do so, I may have, of late, been (in regards to girugamesh, among others) unselfconsciously harsh and, possibly, somewhat insensitive to the quivering, vulnerable feelings of COLOR-loving fangirls.

Although I don’t feel the need to explain myself or my views, as I believe vehemently in that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and certainly I believe that my own blog ought to be allowed to be the vomitorium of my own personal opinions, with or without explanation, but that being said, I have an immense respect for, and value highly, the qualities of objectivity and fairness. Generally I think that if people have something negative, critical, or hateful to say, they should save everyone’s time by not saying it at all. I believe that any criticism should not be spoken unless it has at least a somewhat intellectual argument to back it. If you have an intellectual argument, you can say whatever you want as long as you can express your opinion in a respectful, un-trollish way. Any criticisms that I may have toward girugamesh, or any other band or media figure, would never see the light of internet unless they were spoken from a sense of constructive debate and, from the heart of a Visualist and follower of the band, hopefulness for their continued success and talent.

We should know better by now than to judge something without really giving it a chance, but that being said, sometimes some things are just not a good fit when you first discover them. If you judge or criticize something and then do a 180 and start to admire or respect what you previously bashed, I personally don’t believe in that type of “hypocrisy” at all. When I was younger, I used to ardently despise hardcore music, screamo, death-metal, heavy-metal, hard-rock. Even if I talked bull about it when I was 12, that was just because it hadn’t found me yet. When the correct circumstances came into place, I became quite passionate about that kind of music.

I’ve had a lot of 180’s over the past 5 or 10 years, and through them I’ve (mostly) learned not to judge things or people without a good reason. And if there is a good reason to judge it, and I feel like judging it, it doesn’t make sense to waste energy judging something I don’t even like, so it’s better to make peace with it in yourself and just let it phase right out of your reality. This is why I believe a “dislike” option on Youtube is a pointless idea, and why people’s negative comments look intensely foolish. If you don’t like something, just walk away from it.

For everything you like, there is someone who hates it. For everything you hate, there is someone who loves it. I don’t care how anonymous the internet is, when you bash something, it hurts someone who takes pleasure from the something in question. It’s always easier to find a creative way to say something negative about something you dislike– criticism is by default easier than critique.

I’ve read some reviews on blogs and websites that really buy into negativity. People can write the way they want, and if I don’t like their blogs, I just choose not to read them. However, I do have a hard time accepting critics who have difficulty differentiating between “good music” and “music that I think is good”. Obviously all critics are doing is expressing an arbitrary opinion. All they are saying is “I think this is good,” or “I think this is bad,”, and in the end the only way we can truly judge its quality is by the way it makes us feel. When I listen to music that I think is really superb, it’s struck a certain note in my soul, it makes me feel something. Of course there’s quality of technical content– lyrical composition, programming, skill of the musicians. But I’ve heard some really good musicians play some really boring music and in the end it made me realize how, for me at least, technical quality is just a backseat factor, not a deciding one.

 I don’t think “good music” is a flawless recording played by great musicians. “Good music” is any music that speaks to you, that makes you feel like you could take on the world– regardless of how cheesy or obnoxious it may be technically.

Although mostly all bloggers and critics (professional and amateur alike) post their reviews and critiques as if the contents are Fact, every critic should be forced to have IMPO… tattooed to their forehead for whenever they start dishing.

Musical tolerance is really difficult for a lot of people. I used to only want to hear the music I liked and everybody else could go to hell–and take their mixed tapes with them. But, over the past year or two especially, I’ve developed a lot of tolerance for other types of music. This helps to make you not look like an idiot. And now that I’m a little more open-minded, I can tolerate listening to my sister’s rap music or a friend’s Top 40 station in the car without my soul shriveling up into some cold slimy dead thing in the recesses of my being. Even if I wouldn’t choose to listen to any of that music, I can still hear it from time to time and be able to think, that was really good. I enjoyed that.

Tolerance and acceptance is great and all when you’re wandering around like some kind of Ghandi letting people play their entire Muse discography for you, but sometimes the harshest judgment I see passed is by fans, on the bands they love most. Amidst the irony this makes sense, because obviously you love a band for its most prominent sound, and when the band goes to change that sound, it’s like they’re shattering your hopes and dreams. Stop waving your pitchforks– I know all about this. To be perfectly honest, although I appreciate GACKT’s music and projects now, I wish that on the day I get to see him perform live, that it was his 2004 self. Part of my soul curled up and died when I realized I would never hear or see the Sixth Day Seventh Night tour. Ever. That’s a regret I hope they carve on my headstone.

But people change. People need to change. Look back on a photograph or creative work from a year or two ago and you’ll see how much you have changed reflected in it, even if just a little. Now think what it must be like to have fans all over the world watching your every move. It’s much harder to change from that place, I think. It has to take a lot of courage and trust– trust and belief in your followers that they will support you in doing what needs to be done. If this is the GACKT that he needs to be, now that he is older, wiser, more insane, then I can accept, admire, and appreciate that. And know that I own that particular DVD, so it’s all good really.

I know it seems blasphemous that girugamesh goes from being one of the most awesome, angsty, screamy groups in Jrock today, to being a mainstream pop-rock group. However, if you listen to albums such as NOW and GO, they’re not really bad quality, or even worse than girugamesh or 13’s Reborn, they’re just different. They have an inherently different quality. Their music isn’t as dark, but it’s still pretty heavy. They may have added some rap and electronica elements– that’s popular in Visual Kei right now, better learn to accept it or stop sounding surprised whenever you pick up a new release and find that there’s a whole ton of sounds mixed into each track and, no, those aren’t guitar effects.

I’m not going to stop expressing dissatisfaction with a new release if I find reason to be dissatisfied, and I’m not saying that I won’t review an album I disliked just for the sake of having a blog about rainbow-puking unicorns. It’s important to be tolerant and appreciative, yes, but it’s equally as important to be transparent and honest, and be able to call it when a band fucks up. We’re not drooling adolescent fangirls who will “love” any old single just because one of the band-members has a shirtless gravure up on Photobucket. But GO got me wondering if giru‘s new stuff was really that bad, or if it’s just a case of Visualist stubbornness.

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Resolution.

It’s officially the last day of 2010. The last hour of 2010. The last post of 2010. After spending a rigorous day of cleaning (Yes…I know you can’t imagine it, and I really don’t require that you try) so that the house is ready to welcome the good fortune of the new year, I’m settling in to spend the next 50 minutes preparing myself for the turnover of the old year into the new.

I take the whole New Year’s and New Year’s Resolutions thing pretty seriously (self-improvement fixation, afterall), so I never got into the  partying till I drop gig. I prefer my New Year’s to be cognizant so that I can reflect clearly on the year behind me, and approach the oncoming year’s first light with striking and definitive poise. With determined resolve.

Because I adapted certain Japanese traditions into my New Year’s celebrations, the welcoming of the year happens in 2 stages. At midnight, I’ll open a bottle of champagne with the people I care about and make toasts and reflect on my resolutions. And then I’ll stay up until about 6:30, 7:00 AM when the sun starts to rise, and at that point, when the first light of dawn touches the sky, I will make my New Year’s wish.

Resolutions and wishes.

Today I’ve thought more about the difference between them than the actual content of the things I’ll state.

Resolution

1. The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
2. A resolving to do something.
3. A course of action determined or decided on.
Wish
An expression of a desire, longing, or strong inclination; a petition.

When it comes to horoscopes and  fortune telling and resolution stating and wish-making I am a firm believer in the idea that our experience is what we make it, and therefore “luck” and “fate” and “wishes coming true” are, by that school, the expression of an intention followed through with inspired and/or focused action, that results in desired, and/or usually unforeseen, results. I don’t believe in blowing out the candles and expecting your desire to be fulfilled (passive tense). I believe in stating your wish, blowing out your candles, watching the first rays of dawn light hit the horizon on the first day of the year, and knowing implicitly that you, and only you, hold the power to make that wish come true. It’s midnight, Visualists. Go write your resolutions, clink your glasses, blast GACKT, watch fireworks, do whatever you do at midnight on January 1st, 2011. And at dawn, when the first light touches the horizon, make your wish. Make your wish, but make your first resolution be that you will see it through.

Happy New Year.

あけましておめでとうございます。

 

 

A Matter of Life & Death

This post was inspired and instigated entirely by a comment left by J.D. a while ago (my sincere apologies for taking a long time to respond). When I sat down to compose my reply, I realized it was turning into a post unto itself. Since this is a conversation I feel it is important to have, this seemed like a golden opportunity to get it on the table.

J.D. asks:

I just want to know that if its very hard for VK bands (acts) to stand out in Japan’s music industry. The only reason why I am asking this is because many of the VK bands (acts) are starting to tone down their style (or at least those I know of).

Examples:
Girugamesh (toned down toooo much, where’s their old self?)
SID (they look like an idol group now, yet they are still classified as VK?)
the GazettE (SHIVER veered them slightly off-course from their original style)
Angelo (almost same situation as Giru, and the fact that they were a chip of PIERROT makes me more worried)
D’espairsRay (not really much now, considering the fact that Kishi saved them recently)
MUCC (they are going pop, OMG)

Has the “Parental Advisory” label taken its toll on them in any way? Just curious.

gacktpause responds:

It’s certainly true that many of the Visual Kei bands, most noticeably because they are primarily those that have been labeled hardcore or ultimately dark, that we respect and follow have been taking a major turn…not necessarily for the better. It seemed to be starting out as “experimentation” and “new horizons”, and has now plummeted into something of a disaster of identity crisis expressed in sound, and some musical massacre by…by whom, we can’t say. Is it the record label? The composers? The band itself?

I think the short answer to J.D.’s question is yes, it is difficult for Visual Kei bands to stand out. I imagine, especially as the industry has become extremely inundated with bands all struggling to get noticed and gain recognition with few of them actually expressing any particular innovation or individuality, that it’s becoming more and more difficult to get recognized. Veteran bands have to stay afloat, while new bands have to somehow work their way out from under the heavy shadows of Luna Sea, XJapan, D’espairsRay,  and the PSC crew that hit at the right moment and, basically, got lucky by being the right people in the right place at the right time.

Many of the bands have, yes, softened and toned down their sound. My own personal theory, based simply on observances and hypothesis, is that the main way that bands are able to reach a wider audience now is through outlets such as anime and video games (a huge advertising scheme in Japan). However, I think that as they begin working into this mainstream field, they’re taking the tack of conforming and doing what everyone expects in the hopes they can reach out to the people who drop loads of money on ARASHI and other such idol-groups and boy-bands. I believe that, with groups such as SID, Kra, and girugamesh, they’re more or less morphing into staple boy-bands, leaving behind the hardcore (giru, at least) and genuine music they started out with. My guess is it is primarily commercially driven, as many of these artists have proven through trial and error (or lack thereof) that they are sincere, passionate musicians who are channeling their creativity and innovative visions through their work.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this talk about “Visual Kei is dead”, but I, at least, have been hearing it a lot – too much- this year. First of all, it has a bad feeling to me. Of course you could say it has a bad feeling because Visual Kei is the axis upon which the bulk of my life turns. However, the reason it has such a bad feeling is primarily guided (although I won’t deny the other fact either) by a sense of fans and faith, and something missing in the equation.

The past two years haven’t been the best for Visual Kei, this is true. Exceptional releases have been spotty, “changes in sound” have been, at times, cringeworthy; bands have struggled, split up, flourished and failed. It has been, for lack of better words, a bit of a mess. And then some time back, that interview containing “insider’s insights” on the Visual Kei industry hit the web (of which we will not go into detail here. I have yet to feel the need to even humor that article, and its response, with a comment.) and suddenly this phrase surfaced: “Visual Kei is dead”.

Now, I will say this. I am not asserting my opinion as if it is fact. Truly, your guess is as good as mine. These are my own suppositions, opinions, and beliefs. I do not have any magical insider’s insights into the industry. I only have insights into the industry of fandom– and given that as long as there is fandom, no thing can ever die or disappear, that would seem to be the most relevant in this situation anyway.

Visual Kei will only die when it dies for you. Like believing in the Easter Bunny, or being a huge fan of The Rolling Stones or disco, the genre will only “be dead” when your own lack of faith kills it. Many people laugh at Western followers of certain branches of Japanese fashion, such as Lolita, saying “Nobody wears Lolita in Japan anymore, you stupid whities.” You may not see hoards of Lolita at every Shinujuku street corner anymore, sure, but that does not mean “Lolita is dead”. There are many incredible and passionate followers of Lolita in Japan and elsewhere, and many successful designers that, somehow, flourish making nothing but Lolita clothing.

In the same way, I would say in many respects Visual Kei is no longer “the next big thing”. Visual Kei has found its niche and become, on some level, its own facet of the mainstream rock scene. It is no longer particularly shocking or unbelievable. It, like punk music or legwarmers, is no longer what will make the earth shake and fire rain from the heavens. This does not mean Visual Kei is dead.

Visual Kei is still expanding and developing. It has begun busting down borders and taking acts overseas, including and expanding its international audience. Many acts are struggling or producing mediocre music– is this something exclusive to Visual Kei? Many acts are also flourishing and rapidly uplifting their work to higher standards of excellence. Incredible albums and singles have hit shelves, and we are still on the edge of our chairs, waiting for the next releases from artists we continue to respect and recognize for their dedication, talent, and innovation.

girugamesh released some duds, and The GazettE hit us hard with b-average SHIVER. Of course that immediately necessitates the revelation that Visual Kei is dead. Of course it does. I perceive tension in the world of Visual Kei as the bands and artists work hard to figure out how they can fulfill both commercial and creative callings. As Visualists do we throw in our towels, roll up our posters, and sell our CD collections in some fit of indifference? Or do we crank that one exquisite Visual Kei single that came out this past year and head down memory lane, remembering what it felt like to be showered by Zero’s spit, to be embraced by the aura of 雅ーMIYAVI’s sincere words in the painfully hot club? Remembering the choking thrill of hearing about GACKT’s European debut, still clinging to those fragments of inspiration you drew from seeing those lives this summer…holding onto those living, breathing experiences, can you really tell me that Visual Kei is dead?

Visualist Dementia: Symptoms

If you’re a serious fan or follower of any type of media, from music to film to theater, then I’m sure you understand the level of masochism, devotion, and psychological confusion that aforementioned fans and followers deal with as a result of their fandom. As anyone who follows my blog knows by now, I prefer to refer to other followers of Visual Kei and Jrock, and be referred to, as “Visualists” rather than “fans”. For some reason the word “fan” has some negative connotations in my experience, and while I don’t refuse the word strictly, I work with it hesitantly.

In any case, whether you’re a fan, follower, devotee, acolyte, or Visualist, we all experience the same pain, and regardless of where you are, who you are, and how you express your appreciation for the (fill in the blank), we all share a common ground: appreciation. And pain, of course. With great devotion comes great capacity to suffer. At least, I hope you have a great capacity– otherwise I don’t envy you.

Now, it’s not that we just like something and can’t get enough of it because it makes us happy. But if you say it’s obsession then I’ll be offended- I don’t have some unhealthy mental affliction that needs to be rectified by luminous Vitamin B supplements. (Although I hear that a vitamin B [niacin] deficiency is characterized by ‘aggression, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, and in serious cases may lead to dementia.’ Which means I should probably be taking it). It’s just…visualist dementia. I use the term ‘visualist dementia’ as an excuse for all of the erratic behavior caused by an acute devotion to Visual Kei. (Before you ask– yes, I have a highly advanced case.) The only Visualist that they’ve been able to ‘cure’ underwent severe correctional treatment involving brutal methods such as putting them into a padded room and playing Arashi at high volume for countless hours….something you and I can only fathom in our darkest nightmares… Particular symptoms of visualist dementia may or may not include: lack of sleep due to waiting for overseas tour announcements (however factual or fictional), lack of an ability to measure distance based on miles rather than love of a band, and strange lapses of musical hypocrisy.

Now, the misconception that many Visualists may or may not be under, is that Japanese record labels don’t know about visualist dementia. But in fact, they know. They know very well. And based on scientific research on the topic, they invented a form of psychological torture that is widely utilized to improve sales and overseas awareness of artists. This intense form of sadistic punishment….is called marketing. (Note: As of 2010 synonymous with Twitter).

It’s amazing how concentrated our dementia becomes the instant hopes for overseas activity becomes possible. I mean, how cruel is it for band PR to throw around the words “important announcement”? “Important announcement” in our language is synonymous with “overseas tour in our region”. I mean, come on, don’t they know that? (oh trust me, they do) And then they go and announce that it’s not a tour at all, just the release of  some single that we can already get direct from Japan, complete with pre-order bonuses. When that happens, we have no choice but to do our best not to drown kittens in a kiddie pool because no kidding we already got the single, with all of the pre-order bonuses, and don’t need the local version, because we’re saving for CONCERT TICKETS.

And then when they finally announce a tour in Location B, certain people cancel all of their plans with normal people using the excuse that “Sorry, I can’t make it to your event, because Band A will be releasing their tour announcement for my area, and I want to be there when they do so I can get tickets.” Your friends get angry and think you’re going insane, you stay up all night getting jazzed off NesCafe because you don’t want them to release the information at your 4AM which is their 5PM (next day) and have the tickets all sell out before you can get some.

I’ve been thinking about this because there’s been quite a lot of ticketing activity lately. Between MIYAVI, D’espairsRay, VAMPS, and then GACKT’s Europe tour (I know some of you hardcores from this side of the great blue are going), more than a few nerves have been frayed and fried over the past few months. I don’t know about you guys, but I sure got a psychological milking from D’espairs when they took like three months between the “US tour announcement to be released tomorrow!” and the actual promised announcement making an appearance. (For some reason I actually fell for that one.) In a way this is a perfect example of our rabid existence. We spend so much time whining about why won’t the bands ever come to us, and then they come to us and it’s like man, can our nerves even handle this? Can you handle this?


Visual AppliKEI

One of those things that we Visualists like to have as a way of expressing our elitism, is official goods. Posters and tour T-shirts seem to range in the higher levels of demand. These items are like our medals of honor. They show where we’ve been; they confirm, in a way, our devotion. In the case of Visual Kei and Jrock, of course, they also show a level of craftiness and capability, as it can be extremely difficult to get ones hands on items like this. Much of this stuff has to be purchased at goods-stands at live shows, or from the official-goods sites, where they can be extortionately expensive without adding buying-service charges (lookin’ at you, abingdon boys school). Plus, conversion rates and language barriers can create tiers of challenge unbelievable to, say, American-music fans. Yes, we are total bad-asses.

But sometimes getting your hands on the goods (literally) can be nigh impossible. And that aside, often the better way to show one’s devotion and love of a band or artist is to actually put your own creativity into it. Although it may not be as “legit” as getting an official poster or T-shirt (and of course we want to support the artist by purchasing them if possible), it can be just as rewarding to make something on your own.

In fact, in general I detest the whole idea of having to accept things because we believe we have no control over them. We lower our standards and buy the clothes we can find in the chain-stores because we think we have no other choice. Unless you have awesome skills in the sewing department, chances are that belief is probably pretty strongly ingrained. Being someone with a strict and heightened aesthetic, I have serious issues with just sucking it up and “living with it”. Nobody should do that– it’s demeaning. If you want something a certain way, you should believe that you can have it that way. And if you can’t buy it– make it. If you can’t make it– customize the living hell out of it.

Much as I wish (don’t we all) I could break out some badass sewing mastery on the spot and end up with a perfect replica of the red velvet suit Ruki is wearing on the cover of last spring’s FOOL MATE, though, that’s a bit out of my reach at this point. However, I’m not too cool as to be beyond basic home-ec, and this week I put my awesome abilities to use, and I thought I would share the finished project on here and see what you guys think of my incredible display of unforeseen capability.

I started with a basic black Visual-kei emblem bag that I usually use to carry stuff like folders and sheet-music in.

I know most people under, like, 35 would rather jump into a lake in the middle of March than admit to using appliques, but it’s actually a really simple way to customize your stuff. It requires minimal ability to wield a needle, and there are endless variations to how they can be made and used. In this case, I used swatches of denim with the dark wash facing in so the lettering would stand out brighter on the light side.

And here’s the finished product. I wrote everything by hand with a very fine-tip permanent marker…challenging the extents of my artistic ability. I’m pleased with how everything turned out, as I didn’t have to redo any of the swatches, and without using any stenciling or anything, I think the fonts came out alright. I tried to match official fonts as closely as possible, but in some cases I just sort of winged it.

The artists I used: BUCK-TICK, girugamesh, GACKT, Malice Mizer, Alice Nine, the GazettE, and D.

There are other bands I would like to add…I just didn’t want to take on too many at once because after 3 hours of stitching these things on I want to stab myself in the eye with the stupid needle and get it over with (thus the safety pins on the last one). Maybe in a couple of months I’ll feel ready to tackle adding D’espairsRay and MIYAVI.

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?

The Saga Clone Wars

Although highly praised for its ingenuity and fashion-forward consciousness, Visual Kei has its own fashion trends– especially now that certain bands have begun to see moderate international renown. It happens in every genre, really, that the bands that really make an imprint on the market start to create some horrible monster within their business. This horrible monster is called simply a “blue-print”, and is what every aspiring artist succeeding them follows in the hopes of finding similar levels of success. For example, ever since princeling band Alice Nine built a veritable fan-girl fan-base, pretty much every new Visual Kei band’s bassist has been styled to look identical to A9‘s Saga. They even try and match their physical appearance. It must be a tough world for any bassists who don’t look like his identical twins. I guess there’s always plastic-surgery.

But, to be true, my perspective on the whole thing isn’t nearly as bleak as I make it sound. It’s not all just grasping at the fame of the forefathers– not at all. I do believe in genuine and sincere appreciation of the preceding groups– they do become famous, and thus they do become role-models for the bands that follow. In this case, of course they want to get the same perm– they’re trying to invoke the same energetic power of the person they admire. I’m sure every single Visualist has experienced, on some level, trying to copy the style of their favorite artists in the same exact attempt to draw on the strengths of their role-model. Why we choose to judge so harshly the fans who are actually trying to make music for a living, I guess we will never know. “Plagiarism” and “copying”, we call it, without actually even thinking about what it is they’re doing, or trying to achieve. Those are cruel words, I think. While certainly there are agencies behind a lot of it, saying “dress him like Saga, and then he will be popular and steal Saga’s fanbase.” I think that there is also just as strong a possibility that the member himself is saying I admire and respect Saga-san and his bass playing. And then, whether done consciously or not, he begins to style himself in the same model he so respects.

Fortunately, many people who start out copping someone-else’s style usually (hopefully) come to draw on their own unique style and strength. At the beginning, though, the effort that it can take to move from Point A to Point B can be so great that the person in question may not feel like it’s possible, and as a result, they draw from someone else and use that as their inspiration that drives them to be able to summon the courage it takes to actually put themselves forward. Once they have moved from Point A to Point B, and it becomes time to move to Point C, then, they can actually look at who they have become, and realize that they no longer need to draw directly from the source that initially gave them strength. They are able to find their own strength, their own style, and emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon, stretching out its own wingspan, colored with its own unique patterning.