“And jumping into the No. 1 spot this week,” announced Hiroshi Morita from the studios of NHK radio here last week, “is ‘Pink Spider’ by Hide. As you may already know, Hide is the former guitarist of the group X Japan who shocked his fans by committing suicide recently.”
The studio began to buzz with murmuring. “His record company says it was an accident,” said one engineer, as those around him laughed. “The label also says it’s sticking with Hide’s original release plan,” said another. There was more laughter.
At newsstands, Hide’s face graces the cover of almost every music magazine; in shopping districts, outfits like his sell for several hundred dollars; on television, his videos are repeated as often as commercials, and in record stores his singles are everywhere. Below “Pink Spider” in the Japanese Top 10 was a previous Hide single, “Rocket Dive,” and this week “Pink Spider” was knocked out of the No. 1 slot by another single, “Stay Free,” also by Hide.
In just a few weeks, pop culture in Japan had gone from mourning Hide’s death to consuming it.
Hide (pronounced Hee-DAY) was the intensely charismatic guitarist in X Japan, one of the country’s first and most successful independent-label rock acts (though the band later signed with a major label) and the first Japanese rock band to sell out the 50,000-seat Tokyo Dome. Since it formed in the mid-1980’s, X Japan went from playing loud, fast thrash-metal to stadium-shaking pop ballads, in the process pioneering its own genre, a Japanese equivalent of glam rock known as “visual kei.”
For visual kei bands, outrageous, usually androgynous looks – gobs of makeup, hair dyed and sprayed in ways that made Mohawks look conservative, and a small fortune spent on leather and jewelry – were as important as music (or, in many cases after X, more important than music). When X members followed in the steps of American hard-rock bands like Metallica and cut their hair in the 90’s, thousands of Japanese girls wept openly in the streets.
X actually signed with Atlantic Records in the United States, but the band never released an album at home. It broke up late last year, and Hide began to emerge from the shadow of the band’s most popular member, the drummer Yoshiki (who released a classical album with the Beatles’ producer George Martin and the London Philharmonic Orchestra). With a blossoming solo career, everything seemed to be going well for Hide until May 2, when he was found dead in his apartment, a towel looped around his neck and tied to the bathroom doorknob. Within a week, five teen-age Japanese girls had tried to kill themselves while playing X music or wearing X merchandise. Three succeeded.
At his funeral, 50,000 young fans mobbed the streets. By the day’s end, some 60 of them were taken to hospitals, and nearly 200 received medical treatment in first-aid tents after passing out or injuring themselves. (One girl tried to slit her wrists with a plastic knife.) “Please do not follow him,” urged the surviving members of X. “Do not commit suicide. Send him off to heaven warmly.”
Bryan Burton-Lewis, a radio- and video-show host who toured with Hide as a disk jockey, said the funeral was the most crowded ever for a postwar Japanese musician, which was surprising considering that hardly anyone over 30 knew who he was. “The wake was sad,” he remembered. “I was sitting in there for two hours, and all you heard outside was kids screaming from the bottom of their stomachs. They sounded like demons. In Japan, the image that we have of the X audience is rural kids going through a rebellion phase. They put their life into being X fans: they dress like it, they breathe it, they all talk about how he gave them something to live for.
’'A lot of what Hide did was grotesque. He’s talked about suicide in his records for five years. But the fans who followed him always knew there was a Hide behind that who was a very solid character. He was very outspoken about freedom and doing what you want, and he took on a fan who had a rare bone marrow disease as a personal crusade.”
While the authorities decided that Hide killed himself, his friends and former band members said they felt certain it was not suicide, despite the dark lyrics of some X and Hide songs. Most remembered Hide as a character who would go out of control when he was drunk, often getting himself into some sort of trouble and then claiming not to remember a thing the next day. His death in this strange circumstance, they said, was a drunken accident.
“I saw him a few days before he passed away, and I had no indication from him that anything was wrong other than that he was exhausted,” said Paul Raven, an English musician who played bass in Killing Joke and Prong. Mr. Raven recently formed an industrial hard-rock band with Hide called Zilch. Its debut album will be released in Japan on July 23 and features former members of Nine Inch Nails and the Cult.
“He was under a lot of pressure to finish his solo record,” Mr. Raven continued. “He had three songs completed the day before he died, and now mysteriously a full album is coming out nine days before ours.”
In some ways, Hide was reminiscent of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, although Hide had a less bleak world view. Hide, like Cobain, said he felt like a marginal alternative-minded figure trapped in the image of a pop star. He despised the music business and wanted to change it; he represented a generation of fans who felt alienated, and his death represented the end of a genre.
“To a certain extent, Hide’s death means the end of an era,” said Steve McClure, Tokyo bureau chief for Billboard, the music-industry magazine. “X were the first generation of visual kei bands, but the novelty has worn off. For the next generation of bands, it’s like: 'That’s it. The torch has been passed to us.’ ”