L.A.-based rock artist Yoshiki is the most famous global musician most Americans have never heard of. But if he has his way they soon will. That was the message of a press conference/concert held this week at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
Yoshiki — and his band X Japan — is a rock legend in his home country of Japan and throughout Asia. They have sold 30 million records, produced a highly successful 18-country tour, filled the 50,000 seat Tokyo Dome 18 times and performed in front of a million fans worldwide. He has collaborated with Roger Taylor of Queen and Beatles producer George Martin, performed for the Emperor of Japan, wrote and performed the theme for the Golden Globes, and created the Japanese music genre of Visual Kei which combines punk, glam rock, metal, classical and visual art. And, when he is not doing rock, he is composing and performing classical music – his classical album Eternal Melody has been Japan’s #1 classical seller for years, and his newest classical album, Yoshiki Classical, debuted last summer at #1 in Japan and other countries and # 2 in the United States. Plus, he owns one of the top recording studios in Los Angles, used by artists like Michael Jackson and members of Kiss.
So why does his name draw a blank with most Americans. The event Wednesday night at the Grammy Museum may give us a hint, and also foreshadow how that will change. A small crowd of 100 or so was in line by 7 pm for the 9 pm show. Mostly – but not all – Asian American, and very dedicated.
One woman even proudly showed off the Yoshiki crossed-arms symbol tattooed on her breast, which she was hoping the man himself would autograph. She has been following him since she was child and drove three hours from San Diego for the event. Others in the line were similarly rabid fans.
Inside the lobby of the museum had been configured for a press conference with one of Yoshiki’s “crystal pianos” (actually, Plexiglas, but impressive nevertheless) on a small stage protected by velvet ropes and backed by three enormous portraits of Yoshiki and a giant screen television running a loop of Beatles-scale crowds at Yoshiki’s concerts. A scrum of 40 reporters, television and radio crews was already there looking at their watches and jockeying for position and taking pictures of the display of Yoshiki’s costumes in a back wall.
By the time former Marvel Comic CEO Stan Lee came out to talk briefly about the line of comics Marvel was publishing featuring Yoshiki as a superhero and then introduce the man himself, the lobby was packed with almost a hundred journalists and TV crews. Again, the majority were from Japanese and Asian publications and television stations.
The Hollywood Progressive was in the front row when he congenially greeted the press took questions.
Q. What do you feel about being not only the first Japanese artist but the first Asian artist to be in the Grammy Museum?
A. I don’t know . I Don’t know how to say…how did I deserve it?. I have to thank my fans. My fans supported me and that how I am here.
Q. What is happening with X Japan, your band. Can you tell us what you are doing with that band. Will we see it in the US?
A. Sure. I will announce that tonight. I will be going to South by Southwest on March 14. There is a plan and I will announce it.
Q. Are any of your friends or family being affected by the storms in Japan now ?
Q. There is a story about a composer, Mamoru Samuragochi, (Japanese composer who admitted he was not deaf as claimed and that his music was ghost written) have you been following it?
A. You mean the ghost writer. I have not been following the story, but I know of it… Don’t worry I write my own music.
Q. Why did you relocate here to LA. What is the music scene here for you.
A. I don’t know. It is a nice city. It is the center of a music culture. I didn’t plan to come here. I came when I bought a recording studio. Since I bought the studio, I started living here. It’s nice. I like it.
Q. You have an international fan base. What are you favorite venues to perform at around the world? Are fans different.
A. I am Japanese so I favor some of Japan’s places. And I love performing in America, and in Europe and South America. The fans are different in different countries…the language and things, but they all know how to sing my songs. The reactions are different, but my fans are my fans and I so proud of my fans..
Q. What does music mean to you.
A. Music is my life. It is the most important part of my life.
Q. How do you like having a comic book character created for you?
A. I am very lucky. Being a rock star is cool, but being a comic book character is even cooler.
Q. LA has been called the music capital of the nation? What do you think Could you do your music in any other city?
A. Sure, sure sure. I don’t really know. I am going to South By Southwest next month, so we will see.
Q. There many Chinese people who are your fans. Will you be visiting them in China.
A. Yes. I am going to Shanghai and Beijing in June. Really looking forward to it.
At that point he was led offstage and upstairs and the press and his fans took the elevators to the rooftop garden where a party tent, stage and giant video screens had been set up for his concert. The screen showed videos of Yoshiki and his events and interviews for about an hour while the open area in front of the stage filled in somewhat (security officers told the Hollywood Progressive that 300 were expected but our last count was 200, including the press).
Stan Lee reintroduced Yoshiki and he announced his Yoshiki Classical World Tour by naming each city as at photo of the concert hall he would be playing in was flashed on the screen. He also repeated his March booking at South By Southwest but did not say if he would be playing classical or rock (SXSW lists him as playing a Classical Showcase at St. David’s Bethel Hall on March 14). He then played four short, semi-classical piano compositions, accompanied by a four-piece string quartet and at one point, a vocalist.
The SXSW date may be the most important news from the Grammy Museum event. Despite Yoshiki’s years in LA and in a niche in the LA music scene, outside of a small, mostly Asian-American and very rabid fan base, he is not well known. Given his prodigious talent, his amazing creativity and his willingness and ability to learn new languages, music forms and try collaborations, this is a loss. XJapan’s drum-heavy, highly melodic music is a natural for punk and metal fans in the US and could draw fans from outside those worlds.
More importantly, if he can successfully bring together classical and rock music in a new form, like Yuliana is trying to do with her opera-pop combos in places like Coachella and Irene Diaz is dong with classical piano and jazz/pop in clubs like the Whiskey A Go-Go, he will not only help broaden American music, but build a broad American audience for himself. He did this successfully with his composition “Endless Rain”. Exposing his music and himself to the diverse, intimate creativity of SXSW may help change that, and change him.
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