Introduction to Rock
Cheap Trick was probably the band that turned me on to rock. A classmate in 9th grade played electric guitar, and he was really into KISS, Cheap Trick, and Aerosmith. On top of that he was tall, skinny, and good looking, so he was really popular with the girls. He was a real troublemaker up until 5th or 6th grade, but one day he just said that all that stuff was dumb and he was done with it! I wonder if he only had one parent too. His older brother was still a troublemaker though: When I’d go over there he’d always be in the next room doing things with a girl. He didn’t get along with his older brother at all, so he dedicated himself completely to playing guitar. He even got me started by teaching me how to play.
We started talking about forming a band for the 9th grade school festival, so we could play “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. I’d just started playing guitar, and there were three other guys who played besides me. They said it would be a little too much to have a band with three guitarists, normally you’d have two at most. We had a bassist but no drummer, so they told me “Stop practicing guitar and start practicing drums. You’re fat, after all”.
(“Hikigane” (“Trigger”) by Twist)
Cheap Trick’s drummer Bun E. Carlos was a heavier guy himself, and so was Kinto Futagane, the drummer for Twist (a band that was popular at the time). The members of Yokohama Ginbae were too, there were all sorts of people who were. But I still didn’t want to. I thought “If I take up drums now, it’s going to change the course of my life again”, and was stubborn about it. They told me “Alright, if you can get an F chord down in the next month, we’ll let you play guitar”, so I really worked on that F chord. It was all I practiced. I felt like a G would be no problem after getting an F down.
(“Tsuppari High School Rock n Roll” by Yokohama Ginbae)
I wasn’t addicted to Cheap Trick like I was to enka though. The person really instrumental in getting me more into rock was a really gaudy looking guy who would sometimes come into the cafe that I worked at after I graduated middle school. There was a big chain of record stores in Shizuoka called Sumiya, and one was right next to the cafe. The second floor of it had been turned into something of a small concert venue. A guitarist named Kyoko Kobayashi was coming there to do a seminar, and when I went to it, that guy was there too. He played the solo from “Highway Star” in front of Kobayashi, and she told him “That part wasn’t quite right”. So the next time he showed up at the cafe I tried talking to him by saying “I saw you at the seminar the other day”, and he turned out to be a really good guy. He was two grades ahead of me, but he told me to come to his place and hang out, so I did. And when I did, the inside of his house was just covered in paint. I didn’t get it then, but he was really into glam rock. You could hear someone’s voice from the entrance, and when I started wondering who it was he said “That’s my band’s vocalist”. The guy looked just like David Bowie. And in back was a girl that I really liked earlier in middle school, though I never asked her out. She was very pretty, and I always thought that there was just no way I could ask her out. She just appeared there in front of me, and right at that moment David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” was playing: The “Sailors…” part of the chorus had just begun. It was pretty amazing! I felt like I was falling to pieces.
He played all kinds of music for me over the next hour: Iggy Pop, T. Rex, all sorts of stuff. To me, this was all a brand new musical experience. Heavy metal was popular at the time, but no one was paying any attention to 70s glam rock. I was sitting there thinking “This is all so new…” as he showed me pictures of Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie. I thought he was amazing, and of course he was thin. In fact, he was the complete opposite of me! And he wore makeup too, kind of like a kabuki performer or something. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I sensed a close connection to my own roots: My father was a traveling performer. So after doing this for about an hour, with the vocalist and the girl I liked in back, everything I’d suppressed up until that point all just came out with a bang! In “Devilman” there’s a part where a character named Ryo Asuka takes the main character Akira Fudo to a disco or somewhere, to fuse with a demon. That moment for me was just like when the world started warping all around them in that part of the story.
Oh that’s right, they also put some makeup on me! They got out the brushes and said “Try out some makeup”, so I did. I was still fat, so it looked a little…well I looked like Kintaro. But I sort of was able to see something through all of that. A feeling that everything was coming together, even though it sounds strange to say. It was like my future had opened up before me…Well it wasn’t open yet, but it made me think “There’s something here for me. It’s alright to put on makeup and play rock and roll”.
I was used to this sort of thing ever since I was a kid, after all. My grandmother often liked to go out to a place that was like a club for old people: It had a stage and a bar. She went there all the time. And of course they played enka there, so I liked it a lot. They’d mess around and make me put on kimonos and wigs, even put makeup on me. So I really linked those two experiences together in my mind.
I felt like putting makeup on hid everything away, like I was able to become a whole different person. I thought “If I can just lose some weight, this will be perfect”. And since my mother worked in the nightlife business, there were all sorts of flashy clothes around the house. I saw my chance, and I swiped a velvet jacket of hers. And Hirano (the guy who I’d become friends with) came and picked me up, leaving the vocalist behind. I guess he’d gotten a room with this girlfriend so they could have sex or whatever. That was a little shocking to me at the time, but then I thought “Well, he does look like David Bowie after all”. He looked that much like him! They played “Life On Mars” for me an awful lot, but it’s probably better that it was that instead of “Kooks”, the next song on that album.
I didn’t understand the lyrics, but since I knew that they must be about feelings of loss, I felt like I’d found a spokesman. Something that pulled at my emotions had come along that wasn’t enka. It didn’t just comfort me when I felt worthless, but pointed me toward a future without those feelings of loss. I felt as though the tools for making that sort of a future for myself were now lined up before me.
Working at the Cafe
Back then I was working part time at a Shizuoka restaurant called Chichuukai (“Mediterranean Sea”), and it was probably the most depressing point in my life. There was nothing I wanted to do, and nothing I could do. I didn’t know what I was capable of, and I was fat. I just wanted to die…I was in such a state of depression at only 16 years old.
On Sunday afternoons I’d watch this program on TV about the after life, and I thought a lot about dying. I’d just think “There’s no use in going on living, is there?”. There was a three story building in front of where we lived that I’d often played on the roof of, but now I thought about jumping from there. I actually went up there to do it, but I was too scared to jump. I couldn’t even commit suicide, which made me think of myself as even more worthless. I had this feeling that somehow, something good could possibly happen in my life. But I just felt so helpless, and feelings of aimlessness overtook me.
My mother told me “You don’t need to look for a job when you graduate middle school. A customer of mine at work knows a chef that works in the restaurant of a really fancy hotel. You’ll be able to go there and be his apprentice.”. I waited for that to happen, but it never did. Just when I started wondering what I should do, she told me “I found a different place, so call them and they’ll give you an interview”. So I did that, and that place was Chichuukai. When I asked her about it later, she told me she found out about it just from a poster in front of the restaurant. It wasn’t through anyone that she knew at all!
In reality I was only at Chichuukai for about half a year, but I was very serious. After that, I went to work at Lotteria when I was almost 17. You know, the hamburger place. I wore a tie, and even worked my way up to something like Assistant Manager. I worked from 9:15 AM to 5 PM. Looking back on it, I can’t really believe that I did that. But Shizuoka has a lot of delinquents since it’s a bit of a rough city, and it’s a port city as well. They kick and punch people, and they don’t give a shit if you’re a manager or something. Anyway, they like to threaten everyone with violence. I really didn’t like that kind of system.
Why was I was so serious about work? Probably because I was scared of the people there too. I don’t really know why, but my reaction to that was just to be serious. I felt like if I quit then, I’d just withdrawal and become a complete shut-in. Eventually I lost weight to the point where anyone who saw me would recognize that I did, grew out my hair, and just generally got good looking. But when that happened, I couldn’t keep working at those places anymore. At the time, having long hair as a man in Shizuoka meant you had no job. So after that, there was a factory that made Mitsubishi air conditioners that all the rockers in Shizuoka worked at. The job began at 8:15 or 8:30 with radio calisthenics to star the day and everything, but the pay was good. I only had that job for about a week….
Anyway, at the time my life was getting up in the morning and going to work at Chichuukai or Lotteria, and working until 5. There was an old classmate that I got along well with, he was going to high school at this point, and we played the dual lead guitar lines on Iron Maiden songs together. We’d tell dirty jokes to each other, and pretend we were a big band in the studio at the music store. He asked me “What’ll you do if we end up going pro?”. And I’d tell him “It’s not like we even can go pro, being a couple of hicks. Quit dreaming!”. Sometimes when I was on night shift or whatever, I’d bring back leftover burgers and we’d eat them together. We were also both fat kids. That was fun in its own way, but I couldn’t really make a living off of it. Besides, I wasn’t very good at playing guitar, but I also didn’t practice that hard either.
I really didn’t think I could ever be a musician. And I was repeatedly asked “How much do you think the electric bill is when you plug in that amp?” by my mother at home. She wouldn’t leave me alone about it: “You probably think electricity is free!”. I didn’t have any dreams for the future or academic background, I’d ask myself “I’m going to work here, and then what?”. I had no dreams at all, because I didn’t think of just music and eating as dreams. And I was still fat.
There was a cafe called Cafe de Rope above Chichuukai, and of course all the outlaws hung out there. There was a guy two years older than me who was obsessed with Eikichi Yazawa that I hung out with a lot, and we went to Tokyo together pretty often. He was a delinquent who dropped out of school and came to Shizuoka, even though he ended up going to college through distance-learning later on. Anyway, everyday he’d tell me “There’s value in moving up in the world man!”. “Man, you’re not going to get anywhere living like this! There’s value in a guy moving up in the world. You’re fat but you’ve got looks, go to the Tamba Dojo”. He was talking about the acting school run by Tetsuro Tamba, so basically he was telling me to go be an actor. He said that he’d go with me, so we went to Tokyo and looked for the place, but couldn’t find it. We ended up on Kabukicho in Shinjuku at like 11 at night. There were a ton of people there, nowhere in Shizuoka could even compare. We said “Oh, we’re lucky! There must be a festival today!”. There was no festival, it was just a normal Saturday. We didn’t have a place to stay, so we ended up staying in a love hotel together. He told me “I better not see you use any of those tissues, or you’re going to make me think you’re gay!”, and then we went to sleep. But it was still a lot of fun because I got to see all the places I love to see at night: Roppongi, Akasaka, Shinjuku…
Urgh Police Era
Life Changing Diet
So I’d met Hirano, the guy who I mentioned before that liked glam rock. He was two grades ahead of me, so he and his friends hadn’t been coming around much since they were in their third year of high school and studying for college entrance exams. So one day the singer of a band that I’d later join called Urgh Police came in with a really dolled up girl. This guy looked like what you would get if you put Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Wood’s faces together. He had bird-like features, was very thin, and was very fashionable. His girlfriend was actually someone who was very well known, and very beautiful. So the two of them came into the cafe, and my hair was a bit long at that time so he struck up a conversation with me: “Do you like rock?” is what he asked. And I just replied with “Yeah, I do”. Then he said “My band’s going to be playing at that place over there, Circs Town. Come see us.”, and so I did. The performance itself didn’t leave much of an impression, but it left me thinking “Yeah, doing that seems like a lot of fun”.
He came back in and invited me out to another performance after that too. He ended up really taking a liking to me, and I even went over to his place and hung out. And then one day he had a falling out with the band’s bassist, and he told me “Hey, you play guitar, so why don’t you join our band as the bassist. Just practice bass for a month, and lose 10 kilograms”. That was a pretty amazing bargain! Ha ha ha.
As luck would have it, up through middle school I was only 172 centimeters tall, but I had a growth spurt when I turned 16 and was about 180 centimeters tall then. Everyone would always comment on how tall I was, but I didn’t think that was the case. I just didn’t realize it, because I never really measured my height. So I lost 10 kilograms and went down to 63 or 64. I also practiced bass as hard as I could.
If you’re wondering how I lost that weight, I ate nothing but apples, and put on a raincoat and sat under the kotatsu to approximate a sauna! It was before there were things like Billy Blanks Bootcamp after all. And that’s right, I wore a thick beige raincoat. I’d put on the hood and sit under the kotatsu for about 30 minutes. I think my grandmother was worried about me, but I was just so desperate. Anyway, I knew I had to lose that weight so I did a little running too. I was given music as a life tool, so I was finally able to change. I don’t think I would have been able to do it if not for that, and having been rejected by so many girls. I was still young and thought that I should give this a try and join their band, and coming up on my 20s seemed a good time to do it.
Joining A Band For the First Time
I tried to buy myself a bass…but I only made the money you get from working a regular 9 to 5 job: About 100,000 yen a month, or something. However, my mother would only give me 30,000 of that and hold on the rest. She’d just tell me “Leave it at home!”, but didn’t she have income of her own? So I asked her “What happened to the money that I’ve been leaving with you?”, and she said “It’s gone”. She lectured me, asking “How much do you think things cost anyway?!”. She’d used up all of it! What a mess. So I ended up borrowing some money from my grandmother and bought a bass. I got one through a mail order place called Ikeba Music, since there wasn’t a specific one that I really wanted.
So I’d just joined my first band, and they told me “Your first concert’s going to be at Shibuya La.mama. That’s in Tokyo, you’re okay with that right?”. And of course I said that I was. Then we were going to tour right after that, so at that moment I decided I was going to leave home in Shizuoka. We were going to a venue in Sapporo to play with a band that Heesey (Youichi Hirose) was in called Murbas for our first tour date, so I just put all my clothes in a bag, threw it in the truck, and left a note. I wrote “I don’t live for you to take care of me. I’m going to do what I want.”, and then I left home.
Leaving Home – Leaving My Mother
My mother was very against all of this. She said something like “I don’t care if you’re in a band, just don’t move to Tokyo. Work in Shizuoka and live here with me.” I just felt that if I couldn’t break my mother’s spell, I’d never have a life of my own. I was deathly afraid of having a life the same as my father’s: Where I give up on my dreams, go to work in a factory and die. I wanted to be my father as a traveling performer, not as a factory worker. That’s why I left home. When I talked to her about it later in life she told me “I was just very lonely”, though she didn’t say anything like that at the time. Probably because she was about 38, and I’d only just turned 18.
I was very resolved though. Since she could be a bit scary sometimes, I just left that note while she was at work and took off. At that time, I was determined to never come back again. I just left without thinking about anything else. Since my father died after marrying her, I wanted to get away because I thought “She’s definitely bad luck for men!”. She was absolutely going to be angry when she read it though, so I didn’t want to let her. I just settled for not explicitly writing that I was leaving in there, ha ha ha.
But since I hadn’t been working a real job for a bit, I didn’t have any money. I had a leather jacket that our singer’s girlfriend had given me, so I sold that for 5000 yen and headed to Sapporo. It was November, so it was already pretty cold and was snowing there. It was actually freezing at night, and there I was with only one shirt and a tank top underneath! Heesey was there too, all decked out like he always is. Bon Jovi was popular at the time, so he was wearing a leather jacket with fringe. I asked him “Just let me borrow it for 10 minutes?”, and he just said “No way!”. I asked him to go to a nearby music store with me since I’d lost my guitar pick, but I was really cold since I was still only wearing that one shirt. “Let me borrow your jacket for 10 minutes? Even just 1 minute!”. He never did let me borrow it.
People showed up for our concert too: About 300 people for both bands. There was a magazine at the time called “Rockin’ f” that did an article on us, since “Japa-Metal” was popular: 44 Magnum, Loudness, Earthshaker, etc. It was a popularity that was building off of them. Motley Crue was also big at the time, and they were a hard rock band that came from glam. So what you might call “New Glam” had just started getting popular, and it was a scene much like the LA metal one: Poison and those sorts of groups. So I gladly adopted a glam look, put on makeup, grew out my hair, and played bass. Our singer really loved glam rock, and we were a very glam band: Not heavy metal at all. We played rock that sounded a lot like Motley Crue when they first started out.
Revenge on Girls
It was all a lot of fun…I really felt like my life was changing, I’d finally done it.
I was 18 when I played at La.mama for the first time, and we went to a bar in Shibuya called BYG for the after party. And at the subway station right by there I suddenly started to do a little flirting. I figured “Well I’m back home in Tokyo after all”. I also wondered “Why have I been in Shizuoka up till now? It’s so dumb, I’ve been wasting my time!”. It really felt like I was finally home again. Girls in Tokyo aren’t afraid to show their feelings. At first I’d think “Why is she saying she loves me when we’ve just met?”…
After we were done playing I’d go out on the floor and have a beer, watch the next band, and talk with my friends, so girls would come up to me and say things like “You guys were great tonight!”. They’d all usually go to the after parties, and since guys in bands were just their way of having fun at the end of the night, we’d never hear from them again. There were no cellphones then, so you had no way of getting a hold of anyone.
That was the real fun for me of being in a band back then, and after awhile I stopped being able to tell them apart. Obviously there was a part of me that was very sick. Sometimes people have nympho-maniacal tendencies, even women, and I think that I did. I don’t think I could have lived without a woman in my life. But if I had to think about why that was, I was probably projecting my love for my mother onto other women.
This is a completely different topic, but I didn’t have my mother’s milk as a baby. After I was born, I was taken care of by various people at a clinic. The women who worked there would take turns looking after me. My mother was only about 18 at the time, so I guess she didn’t want to take her breast out in front of other people. Maybe that’s why I like breasts! No but seriously, I think that has something to do with it. At any rate, that’s the first place my eyes went to on a woman, ha ha ha.
I feel like I didn’t know what it meant to really love a woman with all my heart back then. I was just happy being able to touch their bodies: I wanted to touch them, and be touched by them.
Leaving Urgh Police
There I was having left home to go tour in Sapporo at 18 years old, staying at my band manager’s place. We were living together in an apartment in Nakano-shimbashi, which is where Futagoyama Stable (housing for sumo wrestlers, now known as Takanohana Stable) is. When I’d get back from drinking and partying around 4 AM, there’d be young sumo wrestlers out there having to run around and practice, even in the middle of winter. I thought to myself that I was seriously glad that I didn’t end up going into sumo wrestling. That’s the path that I’d be on if I’d listened to my family back then. I really didn’t like the idea of being on that path, even if it might have resulted in me being well off one day!
The band manager was a woman, but we never had sex. She really looked after and took quite a liking to me, and would even lend me money sometimes! We scalped tickets too. We had expenses of our own to cover, and we did it in secret…but the singer would definitely have gotten mad if he’d caught us. He was really bad with money himself though: He spent 1,000,000 yen to get his car painted purple, and other crazy things like that. After that he and the drummer didn’t get along too well.
We got to meet with some important people at Sony, and they asked us if we wanted to sign with Sony Records. So we were going to make an indie album, and sign with them soon after. The singer sung all in English back then, but that wasn’t really a thing in the Japanese music scene yet. He got resentful at being asked to switch to singing in Japanese, and then he got resentful over moving to Tokyo with his beautiful girlfriend. He thought that she was going to get taken away from him, since there were so many cool guys in Tokyo. He ended up saying “I ain’t movin’ to Tokyo!”. So I started wondering what was going to happen with him. I’d just started writing songs myself at that point, and was thinking “I could do this myself”. So at 20 years old I quit that band, figuring I could just go find another one.
I didn’t have much of a voice in that band at first, but eventually I started doing more writing. I’d change up arrangements and things like that. But the singer was a very difficult person to work with, so I just ended up thinking “This is too hard, I don’t want to do it”. I was probably searching for an environment that I could be free and have a leading role in.
I hardly ever went back home to see my mother. It really was only once in awhile, maybe once a year or something. I’d call her when I was broke and ask her to wire me 10,000 yen. So needless to say, I heard a lot of “How long are you going to keep doing this?!” from her. And I’d say “Just a little while longer”. Then things would get heated and I’d hang up. I really was a horrible son.
Nonetheless, I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to live my life as a musician anymore. I just couldn’t see the path before me, so I was determined to just have fun. I’d think “It’s fine, I’ll make my debut one day”. But actually, I couldn’t play bass that well, and I didn’t even really like it. So when I ran out of money I sold off that first amp that I bought, and got a much crappier one instead.
When I left Urgh Police, I’d ordered 2 basses and a pretty expensive amp from a music store that Heesey told me about. I did that on a loan that I’d taken out of about 1,000,000 yen. I had to get my mother to act as the guarantor and everything. I practiced with everything I had after that, but it just wasn’t any fun. But I thought I should worry about forming a band first.
Looking For A Band
The drummer ended up leaving Urgh Police after a fight with the singer. A younger drummer joined to replace him, and then I left right after that. I got a vocalist that I was friends with named Matsuo, from a band called Shock, to be the vocalist for my band. At that point it was about time to pick a name for ourselves.
I wasn’t thinking about being the singer, or making myself the center of the band. Since we’d all gotten a bit popular from that coverage in “Rockin’ f”, I was too shy to just reinvent myself as a vocalist. People would ask me “But you play bass, why do you want to switch to being the vocalist?”. Plus it required a lot of courage, and I wasn’t a very good singer. By that I mean I was too shy to sing. Singing in front of a bunch of people was just unthinkable, so I didn’t think I could do it! The point is, I didn’t think I could do it because I wasn’t weighing the pros and cons.
Before my voice changed during puberty, I was aware that I was a good singer. Akira from Finger 5 or Michael Jackson from Jackson 5 were singers at a very young age, right? I’d imitate that, and I was able to sing along with them. If I’d entered my falsetto into one of those chorus competitions that they have in school, I probably would have been scouted by a chorus group. But I didn’t ever enter because that just wasn’t what I wanted to do. And that was the end of it. After my voice changed I just couldn’t sing at all, and I thought “Well now I’m no good at this either”. Something in me changed at that point.
I was a bassist through and through, so would it really be good for the band if I changed that now? I figured we could end up getting signed if I could just found a cool vocalist. “I’ll write the songs, I just need to form a band with someone who can sing them!” is how I thought about it. I didn’t think of myself as being that person at all. Since I’d grown to like song writing, I was looking for someone who could sing those songs right. At first Matsuo was the singer, a guy who was obsessed with Brian Jones was the guitarist, and the guy who left Urgh Police was the drummer. That was the very first lineup for The Yellow Monkey. I was already 21, and though I liked writing, I didn’t feel like the songs I wrote were very good. Not liking playing bass was holding me back. I was probably unconsciously searching for the thing that would let me be in the center of it all. That would end up being singing and writing lyrics and music.
Back then I’d started working part time at a bar in Okikubo, and they had karaoke there. Sometimes customers would make me get up and sing because I looked like I’d be in a band or something. They’d say “Sing some Kome Kome Club!”, so I’d sing “Roman Hikou”. Or they’d say “Sing some X!”, so I’d sing “Endless Rain” in a much lower key. After that they’d tell me I was pretty good, for just being an amateur. That was probably the time I started thinking to myself that I might be able to sing after all.
(“Roman Hikou” (“Romance Plane”) by Kome Kome Club)
(“Endless Rain” by X (later known as X Japan))
Karaoke was held in the main bar area there, and all sorts of different people came in, so I was able to sing some of the enka that I listened to when I was a kid as well. I heard it every day, so it was really able to bring the song writing part of my brain to life. And I was able to mix it with the western glam rock and heavy metal that I was listening to at the time. Once I realized this, my songs just sprung to life! You could say that my whole life opened up before me because of that job.