The Quintessential Rock Star
hide wasn’t just a rockstar. hide was THE rockstar. He embodied rockstardom - the instantly recognisible mop of hot pink
hair, the unmistakable riffing, the readiness to be offensive if it meant getting his point across. He was a brilliant songwriter, versatile singer, haunting lyricist, and probably one of the most amazing guitar players who ever lived. He was a legend
in every sense.
hide? Who's that? Everyone’s always reminiscing on the day John Lennon
died, and Kurt Cobain
, and other rockstar
s. What about the day hide died? He affected millions of people, just like them. The obvious problem is many people’s (perhaps unwilling) ignorance of his existence. The general superiority complex is ‘oh, it’s just the Japanese
people with their thing, but my bands are REAL bands.’ Aside from educating people about hide, I hope to make it clear that there are musicians from other cultures, that they MORE than hold a candle to our own, and that hide was not just a Japanese musician - he was a musician.
Despite his legendary status, despite his permeating presence in Asian youth culture
, due to prevalent ethnocentrism, laziness, and downright racial bigotry
in the United States, only one of hide’s songs ever made it across the Pacific Ocean
(without assistance from obsessed fans, that is), on the soundtrack for an animated movie called Heavy Metal 2000
. Everything else he accomplished remains in Asia. It’s quite strange, really, that simply by crossing a body of water, a virtual unknown becomes a god on the level of Jimi Hendrix
There’s no easy way to introduce an enigma
such as hide. He managed to perfectly tread the line between feminine
and over the top
. There's no real way to categorize him. He was everything all at once.
Hideto Matsumoto was born on December 13, 1964, in Kanasawa, Japan
. He went by simply ‘hide’ (pronounced hee-day
) throughout his life and musical career.
When he was just a little kid, hide fell in love with the guitar. He dragged his Gibson
around primary school, playing it to classic rock songs - mostly Kiss
. The rest of the kids nicknamed him ‘Gibson’.
His first band was called Saber Tiger
, in which he wrote most of the music and played lead guitar. hide was still in high school at the time, and his band’s activities were so controversial that they were banned from playing at the school. Saber Tiger released a couple of recordings and then dissolved. But even then, it was easy to see what a guitar prodigy
hide really was. Although most of the band was dismissable, hide's solos and songwriting stood out.
However, in light of the frustration experienced with Saber Tigers lineup changes and general fizzle, hide stopped playing music and went to beauty school
. Hideto Matsumoto planned to be a hairstylist. This probably explains his whacked out but very memorable fashion sense
The X Japan Legend
hide had graduated beauty school and was on his way to becoming a beautician for a living when he got a phone call from someone named Yoshiki
. Yoshiki said something like this: “Hey, Toshi
and I are forming a band, and we need a really good guitarist; would you like to play?” The band was X
, later called X Japan
, who became the country’s most legendary rock band. Lucky for the whole world, hide accepted, and joined four other members in a group that was assembled specifically for their musical prowess.
X had an incredibly successful career that lasted for more than a decade throughout the 80s and 90s. They pioneered current trends in Japanese rock, and were the first Japanese artist to sell out the Tokyo Dome
, which is about the size of a baseball stadium. Yoshiki and hide were great friends as well as bandmates. Yoshiki played drums, piano, and wrote most of X’s songs, and anything he didn’t compose, hide did. It was very Beatles
-esque, and led to some of the most memorable songs and melodies ever. American
s may even recognize some of the motifs used in classics like Forever Love
, Endless Rain
, and the thirty minute rock symphony Art of Life
. Songs like Dahlia
are both epic
and accessible, both hard-rocking and beautiful.
hide played guitar for X for most of his life as a musician. He often emerged as the star, being constantly a standout in dress, musicianship, and attitude. He was often given the opportunity to perform his own solo work and sing intros to songs he had written at X shows.
Personality, Philosophy, Musical Prowess
Eventually, hide as a solo artist became nearly as popular as X the band. His personality was infinitely more evident as well, and he stretched and exaggerated it to its full extent. He didn’t just reach out to people, he ATTACKED them, albeit always playfully enough to hold their interest.
hide was many-faceted in his image, but perhaps the aspect that showed itself the most was his biting sense of mockery
. He bitterly made fun of everything and everyone, holding dissatisfaction with the world around him, but in the opposite of an angst
y way. It was almost refreshing in its cynicism
. Even his unique, nasal vocals seemed eternally sarcastic
In sync with this idea was hide’s general philosophy of fuck everything
, including the censor
s. During his performance of Dice
on a prominent television show, a bunch of very naked people held onto a cage and groped him as he sang. However, hide was never into shock value
for the sake of itself. He was always either brutally honest or utterly sarcastic with everything, trying to make a specific point. It didn’t phase him if people got offended, whether he sang about graphic sex, abuse, or what have you.
hide was an overtly sexual human being. That’s often a cliché in reference to rockstars, but with hide it’s really true.
My friend Matt once described him as the ‘boob-grabbing-est man in show business’ - and that included real ones or the fake styrofoam his bass player wore as a woman. hide sings in the classic Beauty & Stupid
, “I just wanna make love... I don’t wanna fall in love.” It was all about sex and partying with him, but he somehow managed to avoid the cliché and make it mischeivous and endearing. For all his offensiveness, hide was simultaneously very childlike. Bouncing around, groping his bandmates, making kissy faces at the camera - the best word to describe him would be ‘omnisexual
’. (Only hide could get away with singing you belong to me completely
to a boy.)
No-one looked or sounded like hide, in style
or in personality
. He was instantly recognisible, thanks mostly to the great mop of hair that saw many a shade of pink in its day. This crop top was his main identifying feature, but he also had a beautiful, elfin
, baby face that could contort itself into so many classic expressions. He made countless things his very own trademarks.
One thing’s for sure - with hide, you must expect the unexpected. When I first saw a hide concert on video, hide pulled out a comb
and started to run it through his hair, and I went, “What the hell? Why is he combing his hair?” And my friend Jack answered, “He’s hide. He can do whatever he wants.
” That pretty much sums it up. Expect band members to periodically crossdress
, expect topless gogo girls to shake their boobs
everywhere... expect random songs about masturbation
Even all of this notwithstanding, the fact remains that hide was a phenomenally talented musician. He was a brilliant songwriter, whether writing James Bond
-esque big band pieces like Psyence
grooves like Sold Some Attitude
, or tragically beautiful ballads like Flame
. He was a downright BADASS guitarist - he licked those strings in a way no-one else could, soloed insanely, often in harmony
with one or even two other guitars. His behind-the-scenes talents included production
- and let’s not forget hairstyling
A little quote, which summarises so much of what hide stood for and tried to teach the world, is 'kiss your misery
'. It’s from the last track on his second solo album Psyence
, called Misery
. With a title like that, you’d expect it to be some angsty, mopey song. In fact, it’s just about the happiest, bounciest, most melodic thing he ever wrote. It’s joyful about suffering - as in, how low can you go, and yet still ‘stay free
See You, Space Cowboy...
hide did not die of natural causes. He committed suicide
The year that he died, hide had begun a post-X project called - get this - Spread Beaver
. They released one single, Rocket Dive
, before his death. The date of release of the second single, Pink Spider
, was set for the seventh of May. The video had been completed. Looking back on his suicide, the song and video are terribly haunting, metaphorically describing an escape through death. hide’s best friend Yoshiki had nicknamed him ‘Pink Spider’ because of the famous tousled pink hair.
In the early morning of the second of May, hide was out drinking with friends. He returned to his home in Japan at around six o’clock am, and his roommate put him to bed. When she checked on him at seven-thirty, hide was not in bed. He was sitting, propped against his bathroom door, unconscious, a towel around his neck and around the doorknob, ripped in half and tied together to form a kind of rope. hide was rushed to the hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival, due to asphyxiation
, at 8:52 AM, May 2, 1998.
Speculation continues to this day on the nature of hide’s suicide. He was not known to be depressed; there was virtually no warning to such an action. Some even claim that he didn’t mean to kill himself, that the whole thing was some kind of freak accident.
It may be worth mentioning certain common themes in the lyrics to his songs, which were often bitter
and even irate
. In songs like Damage
, which sound cheerful upon first listen, there are lines like “you think tomorrow will be better, but it’s not, it’s just a copy of today...” Hurry Go Round
, the last track on his posthumous album Ja, Zoo
, which sounds ridiculously joyous until you read the lyrics, is actually a song that directly addresses the whole issue of seasonal mood swings
, the cycle of life and death, and that although he may be gone today, he never really went away: "Like a merry-go-round
and round... I'll see you again in the spring."
The eternal ‘why’ question continues, however, unanswered. Our hints are certain songs that seem curiously escapist. From Goodbye
: “Say goodbye, just goodbye, without fearing pain, goodbye. Unable to carry everything with my two hands, I leave all my memories behind. Please songs tell me true. Your melody - it’s ringing wherever I go. If ever I’m lost, all alone, if I sing it, I start walking again.”
Over 25,000 people attended his funeral at a Buddhist
temple in Tokyo
on May 7, 1998. Streets in Tokyo were closed off, and police sent boats, helicopters, 100 officers, and 170 security guards to the temple to deal with the emotional crowd. By the end of the first day, twenty-six people had been hospitalised. CNN
did a piece on hide's funeral. Apparently, hide's music didn't reach America, but his heartbroken fans made enough noise to get across the ocean.
The New York Times
ran the following obituary
on May 18, 1998: DIED. HIDETO MATSUMOTO, 33, idolized, ultra-punk former lead guitarist of the defunct group X Japan, after hanging himself; in Tokyo. Following a decade of eclat with the rockers, who broke up in December, "hide" pursed a solo career to the rapture of fans, 25,000 of whom thronged to his funeral. The grieving swarm formed a line more than 2 km long to lay flowers. Though former band members pleaded with fans not to copy the suicide, by week's end at least three had decided they could not live without him.
When being interview by the Canadian press about 'what the big deal' was, Mayumi Meguro, a 21 year old who took the day off for the funeral service, only had this to say: "I can't believe he's dead.
hide’s death did not only affect his fans. Even after X Japan stopped making music, hide and Yoshiki had been planning to work together again, some time around 2000. hide had many other friends and projects in the industry, with J
of Luna Sea
, Marilyn Manson
... his Zilch
album was remixed by well-known artists such as Lords of Acid
, and Nine Inch Nails
. He had unfinished projects with Zilch and Spread Beaver, and planned tours with both Spread Beaver and Manson. In short, his death left the musical world in complete shock. Many rockers (including Manson) dyed their hair pink in hide’s honour. The band Oblivion Dust
’s song Future Womb
was dedicated to hide. A bunch of artists got together and created a tribute album called Spirits
. At hide’s funeral, Yoshiki and Toshi got together for the last time to perform a tear-filled version of Forever Love
, a beautiful X ballad.
Each year since hide's death, Japan has marked his passing on the second of May with a kind of tribute. On hide memorial day
, concerts are broadcasted on huge video screens, flowers are lain, fireworks are set off.
So. Who's hide?
Wacky, crazy, fun-loving, outgoing, omnisexual, beer-guzzling, chain-smoking, party-going, fuck-it-all-ing, truthful, painfully honest, disturbing, embracing, adorable, playful, sexy, beautiful, badass, sarcastic, always mocking, in-your-face, shocking, boundary-challenging, anything-goes-and-if-it-doesn't-I'll-MAKE-it-go.
hide is the master of LEMONed
. He is an ever free angel
. He is the psychommunity
; he is a fuschia flame, and a mad pink musical machine.