hide Memorial Day
by Holly Interlandi
Sixteen years ago, this world lost someone. But it wasn’t just any someone. It was hide.
“Who?” you might say.
There’s no easy way to introduce an enigma such as hide. He was everything, all at once.
hide wasn’t a rockstar. hide was THE rockstar. He embodied rockstardom: the instantly recognizable 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.
Everyone’s always reminiscing on the day John Lennon died, or Kurt Cobain, or other such people. 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.’ 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.
Hideto Matsumoto was born on December 13, 1964, in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Japan. He went by simply ‘hide’ 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 Saver 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. Saver Tiger released a couple of recordings and then dissolved. But even then, it was easy to see what a guitar prodigy hide really was. Besides writing some very rocking songs, the solos he was able to play as a seventeen or eighteen year old were completely unfair in their dexterity.
However, in light of the frustration experienced with Saver Tiger’s lineup changes and general fizzle, hide stopped playing music and went to beauty school. (I hope I’m not the only one who finds this hysterically funny.) Hideto Matsumoto was going to be a hairstylist. This probably explains his whacked out but very memorable fashion sense later on.
hide had graduated and was on his way to becoming a certified beautician when he received a historic phone call from Yoshiki, who was forming a band with Toshi, his oldest friend. 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 through the 80s and 90s, and now continues today. 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 – holding around 60,000 people per concert. 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. 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 over the top and 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.
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 angsty 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 censors”. 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. He sings in the hide 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 not annoyingly macho – he somehow made it mischievous and endearing. For all his offensiveness, he was simultaneously very childlike. Bouncing around, groping his bandmates, making kissy faces at the camera – the best word to describe hide would be ‘omnisexual’.
No-one looked or sounded like Hideto Matsumoto, in style or in personality. He was instantly recognizable, 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, elfish, 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 should 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 answered, “He’s hide. He can do whatever he wants.” Most likely he was aping the 50’s style rockers that he saw on the streets of Harajuku Tokyo in the ’80s. That pretty much sums it up. Expect band members to periodically cross dress, expect topless go-go 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. A brilliant songwriter, whether writing James Bond-esque big band pieces like ‘Psyence’, industrial grooves like ‘Sold Some Attitude’, or tragically beautiful ballads like ‘Flame’. 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. (Another style he borrowed with class from KISS and Iron Maiden – ed.) His behind-the-scenes talents included production and arrangement – and let’s not forget hairstyling!
“Kiss your misery.” A little quote which, to me, summarises so much of what hide stood for and tried to teach the world. 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’. Stay free your misery.
But no matter how long I babble about hide’s personality, no matter how intensely I emphasise his philosophies and musical principles, the fact remains that people don’t like an artist unless they enjoy the music. Some even require a good ‘hook’, or something they can sing along to. I would never have given this man a second thought if not for the downright likeability of his music – catchy, poppy, hardcore, headbangy, grooving, dreamy, downright gorgeous – it’s everything. His music will always be alive.
hide did not die of natural causes.
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 ended up 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 eight fifty-two am, May second, 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’ and ‘Hi-Ho’, 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…” And then ‘Hurry Go Round’, the last track on his posthumous album Ja Zoo, which sounds ridiculously joyous until you read the lyrics, which are a hopeless, sardonic look at the endless changing of seasons, how it never ends, how the life cycle is all meaningless. “…Until we meet again in the spring.”
Over 25,000 people attended his funeral at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo on May Seventh, 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 hospitalized. 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, Hisashi of GLAY, Marilyn Manson… his Zilch album was remixed by well-known artists such as Lords of Acid, Ministry, Beck, and Nine Inch Nails. He had unfinished projects with Zilch and Spread Beaver, and planned tours with both Spread Beaver and Marilyn 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’ in 1999 after his death. (Probably the best hide tribute album available – ed.) At hide’s funeral, Yoshiki and Toshi got together despite their arguments to perform a tear-filled version of ‘Forever Love’.
Yoshiki was emotionally and musically paralysed by hide’s death. Following his performance of X’s song ‘Forever Love’ at hide’s funeral, Yoshiki disappeared to his residence in Los Angeles and didn’t do any interviews for a full year. Check the brief interview with Yoshiki in MAT #10 – ed, After losing his father to suicide at a young age, losing X Japan, losing his relationship in its entirety with X’s singer Toshi who went on to join a religious cult at the time, and now losing hide to suicide at the exact same age as his father (33), everyone was sure Yoshiki had been pushed to the edge. Luckily, and quite impressively, I might add, he survived to tell the tale. The fact that Yoshiki has persevered encourages me whenever I become deeply sad over hide’s death. In addition to this Yoshiki weathered the storm in 2011 when Taiji passed away after a night of dangerous drinking as well.
In the year 2000, a hide museum was opened in his home town. Each year since his death, the country 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 LEMONed master celebrating what would have been his 50th birthday December 13th. An exclusive track never released called has been assembled using the Vocaloid technology which is so hide and being set for release this December to coincide with the psyborg rock star’s birthday. he is the ever free angel. he is the psychommunity; he is the fuchsia FLAME, and a mad pink musical machine somewhere on another plane still making badass music yet to be discovered by mere mortals.
Holly Interlandi is an editor, writer, columnist at Famous Monsters of Filmland and when we decided to do a tribute to hide she was the girl to go to with guns and passion blazing on this rockstar gone but not forgotten. You can reach Holly at: email@example.com; her twitter @junkstory; and her blog concretesoul.wordpress.com, where she posted a lengthy study of why hide’s solo record PSYENCE is her favorite album of all time!