More than his or her musical debut, a musician’s death bears the mark of an era. Buddy Holly, Kurt Cobain, and Michael Jackson have all been memorialized not only for their contributions on Earth, but for the enduring legacy of their media-saturated deaths that accompanied them into the afterlife. Indeed, an early, and even mysterious, death can often immortalize an artist beyond what they could have achieved as living, breathing, creating individuals who, like everybody else, make poor choices and bad decisions. Trapped in time on the day of their death, their work can transform from increasingly lackluster, to an omen of things so great to come, their death becomes almost shameful.
hide was no different.
Lead guitarist of X Japan from 1987 to 1997, he helped pave the way for dozens of Japanese visual kei bands whose popularity would peak in the 90s and 00s. Originally intending to work as a beautician, he was recruited by Yoshiki, the demanding drummer/pianist of the band, introducing the trademark guitar solos that would mark their tracks from the speediest metal to the softest power ballads. Even under Yoshiki’s controlling musical environment, he was able to compose some of the best, if not eccentric, songs for the band, including “Love Replica,” an instrumental guitar number featuring spoken French, and “Scars,” one of the more traditional tracks on X Japan’s final album. The band’s most unconventional character (in a band of already peculiar gentlemen), he was often seen sporting plastic suits in lime green and bright red even after the band’s more visual look was toned down to black leather and slick haircuts. With his fuchsia hair and distinctive guitars, his energy during concerts was magnetic.
Despite his standout performance in X Japan, his solo work, too, captured unprecedented national and critical attention. Free to explore his more quirky musical influences, hide’s solo work evinced a futuristic charm that transcended the tired, bloated grunge and alternative of the Western 90s with a focus on the fantastic and otherworldly, though even with lyrics about pink spiders and majestic rockets and a predilection towards nonsensical musical accents, hide defined his nation’s musical decade by remaining ahead of his peers without ever forgetting his audience. Keeping the punk rock ethos in his glam rock aesthetic, infusing the lyrics with absurd realities, and perhaps dating himself with the older style of punctuating lyrics with English phrases rather than inserting foreign words at random transcended his albums beyond the sincere Japanese pop aesthetic into a world of deconstructing genre.
It’s too easy and too predictable, as well as foolish, to reexamine hide’s body of work as a series of suicide letters: as early as 1996, he sang “Hallelujah! I’m miserable” and composed “Good Bye,” the song inevitably playing in the background of montages and clips portraying his greatest moments; the work of all artists can be sad, lonely, depressed, and desperate as equally as they can be joyful celebrations of life’s more satisfying moments. The day before hide’s death is littered with amusing anecdotes and aggressive showmanship: set to release “PINK SPIDER,” he was interviewed and performed several songs for a television program before heading out for a night of drinking with friends only to be found dead in his apartment the next morning with a towel tied around his neck. Enter the media.
Since May 2, 1998, greatest hits compilations, remix albums, toys, tribute concerts, and museums have all been released, held, opened, and closed. Unfinished recordings have hit the market, taped footage of the funeral has become legendary for the morose portrayal of a former band wilting behind their instruments as Yoshiki and X Japan vocalist Toshi belted out their signature hit “Forever Love,” and several dollars have been made under the hide brand while fans formed theories on whether or not the death had been intentional or accidental. Yoshiki vowed never to drum again. Japanese rock music was never the same. And a twelve-year-old girl in Chicago discovered her first hero.
For fans of hide, the songs were more than therapeutic, they were intimate reflections of a society seen by freaks and outsiders. Like all the world’s popular artists, hide was viewed as a physical manifestation of late night dreams and unspoken aspirations, not just as an entertainer, but as a man who found a way to skirt the system and get paid for tearing it down. The oft repeated saying about finding one’s favorite music before one becomes an adult or never at all sums up the notion of the unformed, emotional mind and its relationship to sounds that, literally, are nothing like what you’ve heard yet; without broader contexts, without better or worse comparisons, it is one of the only times in one’s life where music can be pure. Even after resurrected corpses via holographic technology, for a generation of music lovers, hide will always be the guy on late night shows who told funny stories about being mistaken for a prostitute in Los Angeles, blogged his love for Garbage before blogging was a word, and gave thousands of people an escape for brief moments of time. Even when the world gave you nothing, it gave you music.