Saturday, July 15, 2006

My trip to San Francisco to see Hyde

Travel broadens the mind but thins the wallet.

I love to fly, and yet I was stressed about this trip--perhaps leaving my husband, perhaps such a fundamentally foolish mission; I envisioned earthquakes and plane crashes (seeing X-Men III the day before I left didn't help), but nothing more untoward than extra baggage searches, leading to a last minute dash to leave my multi-purpose tool with my husband before they confiscated it, occurred.

Flying out over Boston harbor (during ascent) I watched the islands recede. Landing in San Francisco and I was again watching the ocean give way to curved shore lines. They are such similar cities after all. San Francisco is still bright and shiny yet sadder too, perhaps because I am older and am seeing it with my own money and my own time--before I was in a comfortable car with my aunt and uncle, on their dime. My hotel was small and neat, as I wanted. I rested briefly in my room and then walked, yes walked, all you fools who attempted to drive, to Japantown to meet friends. It would have been a fine walk had I not been lugging a laptop, but even so, the hills were relatively mild in the center of town and I arrived with perhaps an hour to spare. Wandered a bit--bought a few gifts, a Totoro T-shirt for husband, etc. And yet, I was unimpressed. We import books all the time--our house is littered with foreign book catalogues so this was not as exotic as I wanted it to be. The internet and globalization makes the world small and mediocre. Union Square was full of the same old stores, and Japantown has nothing that cannot be bought on-line. The colleges in Boston bring enough Japanese to warrant a lot of good stores. I saw Moomin giftware, but if I cannot afford them online then I should not buy them here.
Met friends from cyberspace--that tentative, "Are you who I think you are?" both literal and figurative. Had dinner and chatted about other things than Hyde (but mostly Hyde). We went back to their room and watched the L'Arc~en~Ciel videos for which I lugged said laptop--then it's all L'Arc discussion. I took a cab back to my hotel as the fireworks died down. This was the first 4th in a long while where I did not in some way watch a fireworks display; I saw one explosion high one over the tops of buildings while I waited for the cab and then failed to tip the doorman and felt like a rat. Strangely I do not miss the fireworks as much as I thought I would but still, tonight, feel dreadful about the doorman. Left my hat in the cab as I feared I would.
Woke ludicrously early--still in Boston, apparently--and tried to doze to a more reasonable hour; it's going to be a long day after all. Walked again down Market from 4th to 11th and was struck by true city blocks as opposed to Boston blocks, but persevered. As I approached the location I saw that we had been lied to, or at any rate, mislead. There was already a line of 50 people. A few spent the night! Found my friends and the woman to whom I was selling a ticket. All was well and we hunkered down to wait. Sans chapeau I did have a parapluie. We were the ones under the pink umbrella for anyone who was there. I bought the umbrella a few days before in case of San Francisco rain, pink because I knew everyone else's would be black. Despite it's protection I still find later that I have sunburned the part in my hair and my hands are brown. I tan easily but since discovering Goth in high school have tried for pale. Hyde, after all, likes his women pale (though of course, he would have just been joining L'Arc when I was in high school and college, so hardly affecting my decisions). This is fandom--we were there at 1:30 for a show scheduled to begin at 9. People drove, walked and biked by asking, "Who are you lined up for?" "Hyde," we screamed. They were puzzled. I told some men unloading beer that he's very short and that's why we need to be need to be in the front or we won't see him at all. Scoping for public bathrooms, taking breaks in turn for food. The hours passed. We were joined by a startlingly confident girl of 16 who joins our group, thus jumping the line, but I didn't have the heart to tell her no--mostly because I knew she would simply find someone else further forward (which she did eventually), and because watching her non-fan father was fun. Around 7:30 things started to happen, which was good as a sharp breeze was blowing. More people seemed to find "friends" near the front of the line--I was annoyed at the time, but now find it easy to forgive--had I been on my own, I might have tried the ruse. Once got to the second row of a David Bowie concert by walking confidently up to sit with friends (poor ex-boyfriend who suffered for my presence, I found out later). Sat on the ground until the show started and then nobody noticed a (small) extra person in the row.
We peered on tip toes to see the doors opening. We then crawled forward to have our bags checked, cameras confiscated and hands stamped. Once inside, I saw they were selling two colors of wristbands that I had promised for B back on east coast. Frantic texting--using text speak which I try to avoid. "Wt clr wristbnd? Blk r rd? Dd U wnt 2?" Phone vibed minutes later, "Yes Blk" but by then I dared not leave my place, so after the show she was left with red. We were about 5 "rows" back slightly to the left facing the stage. More waiting and repetitions of warnings about cameras and camera phones in English and Japanese. The opening act was more funny than good. The ballads awful, the tongue-in-cheek "Love/Hate Relationship" amusing but nothing to run out and buy. The lead singer reminded me of Nick Rhodes as surfer dude. At one point an audience member who had apparently seen them at the earlier Hyde shows screamed, "You're hot." "Of course I am, I'm the lead singer," he replied (or something like that). They go off after repeating the mistake that Hyde is a band, not a singer. Knew I would read about that on boards.
BEGINING OF HYDE PART Classical music (can't recall the piece) played over the change--with much crescendo and cymbals--different, kept expecting Hyde to appear in a puff of smoke with the timpani. And then, at last, drummer, masked keyboardist, bassist, guitarist entered and at the last, small figure with bandana over face. It's real. That's Hyde, less than ten feet from me, in the flesh. And am bowled over by a wave of sound. Damn, that I didn't stop for earplugs on the way down. I was so sure I would have time. I stood resolutely against the crush like a stone in a stream to maintain some personal space and quickly realized that there were now more people between me and the stage. The stream rushes past the stone and fills the pool (or something like that). Decided that that would not do--let myself go with the crowd, not actively pushing, but letting the crowd move me into empty spaces. To hell with personal space. This is rock and roll after all. So if I trod on you, bumped you, crushed you, stabbed you with my purse, or otherwise impeded your enjoyment, I am sorry; it was not intentional. At one point near the end I was only three rows of people back.
In person he is still beautiful. I can't decide if he was wearing foundation or not, but either way, his skin is lovely. He looks (to me) closer to his age than the photoshoped pictures will allow, but in a good way--biseinen. Like Bowie in his early 30's, his face all sharp planes, sculptured bones. He was wearing artfully shredded jeans--at first I thought it was just a pattern, but I think now that it was tufted or textured in a design, a brownish or plum colored long sleeved shirt (with the lights it's hard to tell) with reverse seaming and a leather vest with misc. straps and dangly bits, typical of his taste (or his stylist taste) these days. At his hip he had a sort of flat leather bag or holster, apparently holding nothing. Once he pulled down the bandana (with his signature sigul) it stays around his neck through the whole show. What I remember most are his eyes, lined in a thin ring of black, wild whites, and the deep dark pupils that seemed to be looking at each of us individually, (but was probably just seeing the spots left by the changing lights). A master showman can make each person in the crowd believe that he is talking/singing to them alone and Hyde fulfilled that. He did "crazy" eyes to convey emotions--like way back in the Claustrophobia days.
His voice has all the things that I love about it, with few of the things that annoy me. It is full and resonant without too much vibrato. I fear I will leave the instrument review to others as I was pretty deaf pretty early on--I am out of practice. It was, as I've said, a wall of sound. This is my fundamental problem with Faith as an album in general--just a roar of sound without detail. In the end I do prefer Ken's delicate, and varied finger work, but a concert is in part about the group gestalt. How we all wanted to be there with Hyde. The louder songs that I like less on the album worked best live, more than "I Can Feel," for instance. As often happens when I see a concert I walked away from it with a new found love for the album and a need to listen to it--to lock the image with the sound. Like all concerts, I swear to myself that I will remember the set list for Mesmerized, but I don't. So stealing from others set lists (and remember, this is my opinion and my taste, backed by nothing but my opinion and my taste):
I'm really glad he opened with "Made in Heaven" rather than "Jesus Christ" as he did at the other concerts. It's just a more fun song than the wailing angst of "JC" even if I like the concept of "JC."
Still don't like "It's Sad." Just rolls off of me on all levels.
"Jesus Christ" was fine for 3rd--we were all warm then and needed a small spacer
"Season's Call," "Dolly," and "Prayer" all rocked along although, again the softer parts of "SC" were lost for me. I liked "Dolly" much more live--the "Build a tower tall and strong. It will be beautiful. Using our technology. Babel will stand anew" really lifted the roof live.
In between the little chats--"MC", presumably after the English master of ceremonies. His amusing Japanese intonation on "Why do I see my name everywhere (in San Fran)? Are you welcoming me?" 'Welcoming me' rising an octave like the mother in "My Neighbors the Yamadas." He said something we all failed to understand about the slopes of San Francisco, and our misunderstanding sent him scrambling back to the cue cards at his feet. I wonder if they let him rollerblade on Lombard Street? When the crowd misunderstood his intro to "I Can Feel"--"...that perfect moment when love becomes one with the universe," which of course everyone thought was going to be "Perfect Moment" it seemed to surprise him--as did the gifts tossed on the stage. A startled look crossed his eyes.
"Faith," again, I enjoyed more live.
Then "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Now I had heard the download of this and actually deleted it--just what the world didn't need, another Beatles cover, but sung live, in Engrish by a small Japanese man and his fans it was more surreal than John, Paul, George and Ringo could have imagined. The luminous eyes were rolling for the verses--"Kaleidoscope eyes" indeed, then we were all nearly head banging on the screamed chorus! When I got back home I requested it from friends to listen to again and again.
I like "Hello" and "Masquerade" which I know puts me in the minority--for "Masquerade" at least, but I saw the lyrics first and I love them--the IRONY. The bands I love are ironic--never take yourself too seriously. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't, maybe he doesn't even know what he's singing (I hope not) but it's ironic when I sing it.
"Hideaway" not one of my favorites because the pronunciation on the album is cringe making, but fun in concert.
He asked us to sing with him on "Unexpected." How could we refuse. Ending with him nearly disappearing as he jammed to the floor.
Then they left the stage and when he returned he was wearing all the same clothes. Very disappointing--unexpected indeed.
Before the show I had seen the roadies set up the acoustic guitar and I was hoping for "Mission" but he hadn't played it at the other shows, so you can imagine my delight at hearing the notes begin a predictable song, but I love it. We counted backwards with him on "Countdown" and ended with his intriguing lyrics to "Midnight Celebration." (That song still puzzles me, but I fear to question it's meaning too much is to be fangirling.) He made a brief reach into the audience for hands, and I hoped he'd repeat it on my side but he seemed to not enjoy it much and escaped quickly.

And then it was over--every normal sound came down a very long tunnel to me. Bought B's wristbands, poured into the night with Musing and Ikuni and parted quickly for cabs.
END OF HYDE PART

Riding back to the hotel, what did I feel? A weird mixture of sadness and elation, and I am mad at myself for my own ability to rob myself of present happiness by wanting something more. Happiness is in wanting and anticipation. Eating the cake is seldom as much fun as thinking of eating it (although likewise the dentist is seldom as bad as thinking about the dentist). What did I want--transcendence? A life altering experience or a very good concert, which it was. I like to think of myself as unique--we all do, I suppose. I avoid things that the pack clamors after which is why, when I find myself in fandom I am alarmed. What does this mean for how I see myself? When I find myself as part of any mass I am alarmed. I am a fan of Hyde's--it's all any of us are, and Hyde is what each of us needs because he is a "star" and not really real (not the Hyde in each of our heads). Perhaps this is why some try to become uber-fans, and feel justified in bitch-slapping anyone who doesn't know as much as they do, or appreciate in the ways that they do. It lets them feel unique in the midst of the mob. I certainly don't want to be that, but I'd like to be the kind of person who can simply say, "This is this silly, expensive thing I've decided to do for myself because it's fun--in and of itself--it's fun to go to a concert of a person who's voice and music you admire, and if he's eye candy, so much the better." What's funny is that now, over a week later I can look back and say, "What a great concert. That really was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I went." Like I said, listening to the album helped recapture in slow mo' the crazy rush of the concert. Life is always like that, and I am always sad as the ephemeral moments whiz by. You can't put them in jars, and to try too hard to do so is to lose them faster or not enjoy them as they are happening. You can put the memory in jars of sorts, by writing things like this, until the memory is the reality. As I tell people how exciting it was it becomes more exciting for me. A partial trick for me is to always something else on the horizon to look forward to. (Obviously not as exciting as Hyde) but the next show I'm designing, the next event I'm going to, etc., like I'm building ladders to happiness.

My uncle picked me up around noon the next day and I had to explain that I was speaking very precisely because everything sounded like my head was in a bucket. He said I wasn't screaming--which was good. He also found it funny to think that one should take earplugs to a concert (you probably didn't have to for Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman). He drove me around a little to the spots in San Francisco that I hadn't visited like Coit Tower where we looked out over the bay. I pointed out that I don't think the Golden Gate Bridge would stretch to Alcatraz as Magneto makes it do in X-Men III, which I said just negates the whole film for me. My uncle (not a science-fiction fan) says as opposed to Magneto moving the bridge in the first place? I started to point out the internal logic of fantastic fiction, but decide not to bother. I played Roentgen for my aunt who says it's nice background music. Played a part of "Season's Call" for her but decided that that's not really worth it either. Enjoyed their company for what it is. On Saturday my uncle drove me back to San Francisco at 3 for a 11pm flight (they had a party to attend). My former hotel graciously allowed me to store my luggage and catch a shuttle from there, so I went around the block to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The museum was showing an exhibit of the photographs of Shomei Tomatsu. Tomatsu took pictures of the hibakusha, the survivors of Nagasaki after the atomic bomb. They are beautiful photographs of horrible things. I had used some of these photos as source material for a paper design project in college--the melted skin. It was a very difficult project to do and it was all my own making--I wanted to face my own fears. Other people were bringing in images of buildings, or sculpture and one woman was doing a design for a Japanese house and had lovely pictures of screens and fans. I had pictures of growths, tumors, survivors of Civil War battles, scars and autopsies--my fellow classmates dreaded my presentations. It was strange to see them on the walls of the museum after all this time. I wondered if Hyde knew they were on exhibit or if he had seen them before as they tie in so much with his themes both on Awake and Faith. There was another exhibit at another museum that I saw advertised around town about the fascination that east and west have had on one another. Bowler hats on kimono'd men in turn of the century photographs. The Japonisme that was so prevalent amongst the fin-de-siecle. And yet what does it mean--this co-mingling of cultures? What did it mean then, what does it mean today? Another of Tomatsu's series was called "Bubble Gum and Chocolate" for the GI's stationed in Japan after the war (of which my father was one) and their continued presence on Okinawa up to the present day. Again--a love/hate relationship. It can sometimes turn ugly. One of Tomatsu's photos is of a fumie, the religious images that suspected Japanese Christians were forced to step on after the ban on Christianity in the 1600's. Reluctance to do so revealed Christians who were burned to death or crucified upside down. I would say the strange relationship between east and west after the Meiji restoration certainly led to much of Japan's actions of World War II. If you ape another culture, what does that mean for your own cultural identity? Or your nations?

One last incident--I bought a book for the trip home (and then slept the whole way instead) and treated myself to very good sushi outside Union Square. Then I caught my shuttle and arrived at the airport 2 hours before loading. I was reading and listening to Faith when there seemed to be some confusion about the gate. A young Asian woman asked me in heavily accented English if I knew what was going on. I broke the cardinal rule of airports (ah well) and asked her to watch my luggage while I went to check. Lo and behold we had to go to a different gate in a different wing! So she and I walked together. I asked where she was from (that awful question) and why she was going to Boston. Yes, she was Japanese and was going to Boston to talk to grad schools in Environmental Engineering: Harvard, Tufts, Boston College. She was rushing through and was then going back to Tokyo until her classes began again in the fall in San Francisco (one year to finish). I gave her tips about Boston and then, laughingly told her about coming across country to see Hyde. She barely knew his name but had vaguely heard of L'Arc~en~Ciel (maybe I should have called them Laruku), had heard of Gackt (but only because his name was everywhere). Then I took a gamble. I thought she looked older than an average college student. I told her that my husband and I were big fans of Ryuichi Sakamoto. That pleased her no end. She thought he lived in New York now with his wife, musician Akiko Yano. I sadly told her that they had divorced, but we spoke of his old band the techno group YMO. We were sitting far apart on the plane, but I promised to meet up with her at the other end and gave her my card on which I carefully wrote my name in Katakana for her amusement. She gave me her address in Japan and email. I mention this because when I was in college and asked Japanese friends if they had heard of Sakamoto they dismissed him as pop that their younger sisters liked--posters on the wall, etc. Sound familiar? Now he is a highly respected musician who composed the opening music for the Barcelona Olympics. The lasting question for me will not be whether Hyde can break into the west, but whether he can break into serious musicianship.

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