Saturday, 17 November 2007

Facing The Music

On Wednesday, my husband and I, being of sound mind and body, took our kids to see their favorite Visual K thrash rock / heavy metal band, Dir En Grey, in Sheffield. Dir En Grey performed in the U.K. last year and our eldest was in a sweat to travel down to London to see them, but we ruined her life by nixing this plan. This time, though, one of the clubs they were to appear at was within spitting distance, in Sheffield, and the idea that they might go back to Japan and not tour again for perhaps a year was too much for our besotted girls to bear. To make a long story short, we permitted them to go. The catch was that we would come with them -- we would even drive them there.

The things you do for your kids.

What is Visual K? You may well ask. I wish I could tell you. Suffice it to say that Visual K is a Japanese fashion trend largely represented by men who dress like women and women who dress like men who dress like women. No, I'm not making this up. Think essentially humorless Japanese Eddie Izzards who do music. Very loud music. Think Linkin Park but far noisier and showier, with clothes that are more stylistic and girlie. But don't take my word for it, get a load of this neat little graphic I got from images/dir-myaku.jpg:

Am I lying? Exaggerating? No. I am honor bound to inform you that when we saw them, they had toned this down considerably and appeared in jeans and tee shirts. But you get the idea.

It was a four-hour trip and we hit Sheffield during rush hour. Once we arrived at the venue, we stood in line over 45 minutes, shivering as we breathed in cigarette smoke and listened to the most appalling geek-speak from a young man with a far-too-attentive girlfriend who really should have known better. (And on the off chance she ever happens to read this, my dear, we thought that what you had to say was infinitely more interesting, and why in the world did you let him rattle on so?) We were repeatedly enjoined to Move back, move back! by a bossy young woman with multiple piercings and a voice that could have cut metal, then after our bags were searched, we were allowed into a large, drafty building stuffed full of colorfully dressed kids. We felt old, awkward, and as out of place as a gigolo at a child's birthday party. For our two girls, in a fever pitch of excitement, heavily groomed, hair-straightened, combat-booted and mini-skirted, it was Shangri-La.

I've forgotten the name of the opening band, and I wouldn't mention it here even if I hadn't. They were just awful. No matter how hard I tried, I could see no redeeming features: a handful of ill-favored young men who will surely develop serious problems with their vocal cords if only they live long enough -- which seemed doubtful. The sound was so loud you couldn't tell how well they could play or sing, every single one of them brought to mind the Aryan Nation, and all of them were given to posturing and stomping about on stage in an uncoordinated and ungainly manner that would have been funny if it hadn't been so acutely embarrassing. The one touching thing about their performance was the way the lead singer thanked Dir En Grey for inviting them just as they were leaving the stage. "We fookin' love you guys!" he cried passionately, and as I am a sucker for grateful youths who have the good manners to say 'thank you,' something inside me went Awww!

Then Dir En Grey came on.

Bear in mind that on their genre is mainly known for displaying the ponciest looking Nancy-boys you have ever seen: a highly made-up, hyper-groomed, exfoliated bunch of cross-dressing posers that I wouldn't have looked at twice in my salad days. Also bear in mind the fact that I am not all that keen on heavy metal, and the whole Visual K appeal sails right over my head. But the minute they started up, one thing was certain: Dir En Grey are damn good.

Their screaming, screeching blast-of-noise like a thousand donkeys dying in a lumber mill actually had a melody much of the time. Their drummer could drum, their lead singer could sing, their guitarists played the hell out of their guitars. And while none of them might have attracted my fancy way back when, once they got going, their tall, willowy bass guitarist -- well, he took my heart entirely. I just wish that he had taken his shirt off in the height of the performance rather than the pint-sized bandy-legged lead singer -- who incidentally slashed himself across the ribcage and drew (my daughters insisted) real blood. Personally, I thought his blood looked a lot like food coloring and it didn't seem to coagulate either, but maybe that was because he was sweating so freely.

Yes, they were good, but after fifteen minutes my husband and I had had enough. I was using first-class ear plugs but still longed to cover my ears, and I couldn't help reflecting on my own magnaminity: hell, I couldn't even get my parents to listen to the Beatles! Selfishly, part of me was hoping Dir En Grey wouldn't give more than one encore, but they were generous, to the obvious joy of the crowds -- and our rapturous daughters.

Finally, it was over, though, and the stars bent down to wave to their fans, smiling in a slightly bemused way as though they were delighted, but surprised, by the adoring hordes. They began to throw their drumsticks and guitar picks to the crowd, also spraying everyone with the remaining water in their bottles. I have been assured that this is a tamer version of what has happened in the past and I was heartily grateful that they toned this act down: I have quite enough laundry as it is. My eldest had managed to retrieve a guitar pick -- obviously used, to her endless delight -- and my youngest insisted that the tall willowy bass guitarist had looked in her direction a time or two. Clearly, we both have the same tastes in men.

My daughters happily told us about the obnoxious blonde who had pushed and clawed them away from the stage, and the beautiful Chinese fan who had screamed her head off with them. "How did you know she was Chinese?" I couldn't help but ask.

The eldest gave me a scornful look. "Duh. She was speaking Chinese."

All in all, it was a night to remember. A happy, cosmopolitan bunch of young people wildly entertained by a hard-working band that did nothing worse than moisten clothes and ruin everyone's hearing. My daughters are now eagerly discussing the chances of Rammstein, a German heavy metal group, in case you didn't know, coming to the U.K. to perform.

Is it too much to hope for, I wonder, that in another 65 years my great-grandchildren may be passionate fans of Iraqi musicians?


Carole said...

You get 536 brownie points for going to the concert. You get 632 brownie points for finding a redeeming feature in the music. And you get 1121 brownie points for good parenting. All in all, you done good.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I doubt this music will stand the test of time. It sounds like music for the tone deaf to me. Cross-dressing will always have a niche market, though.

-eve- said...

Gorilla made a good comment... LOL! Yeah, not going to turn into time-worn classics.

Like the way it ended (and yes, I think it could happen, those Iraqi musicians... ;-)... made me chuckle..:-)

Katie Alender said...

This only works at venues with assigned seating, but I discovered (to my utter disbelief) that you are allowed to skip the opening act! This after sitting through a band called "B!tch and the Exciting Conclusion", which played a ten minute song entitled "_____ Manifesto", the first word of which is too filthy even to include here.

After the ear-crushing tenty minutes of it, my friend (far more experienced than I in the etiquette of music) suggested we go out and refill our drinks, at which point we saw half the crowd milling about, safely out of B!tch's reach.

You are a heroic mother, there is no other word for it.

Angela WD said...

Oh, you are a good mother. I wouldn't do that. Although I grudgingly took my daughter to see Poison where Ratt opened for them. I was pretty bored, and I remember listening to them way back when!

Merry Jelinek said...

Egads, woman, you're my new hero... funny, too, the concerts I liked, my mother would have reacted to in much the same way... okay, actually she wouldn't have stomached it at all and she would definitely have embarrassed the heck out of me...

What my daughter listens to now is far more melodic and tame than what I liked way back - but she's only ten, I figure the really rotten stuff will hit in a few years.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- Believe me, I can use all the brownie points I can get! The 632 brownie points for finding the redeeming feature of the first band, though, is not deserved; I tried, but I failed. When they got applause, I figured it must be from their families sitting in the audience. Though my parents would never have thanked me for producing what they did.

GB -- Privately I happen to agree with you about the music, and if their audience weren't deaf to begin with, they will be soon. Still, I have to argue that these boys really were talented. It may be that as they mature, their capacity for producing tunes will also mature. I agree about the cross-dressing, though, and the Japanese are past masters at this what with kabuki and the Takarazaka theatre ladies.

Eve -- The sad thing is that even if my great-grandchildren have the chance to become great fans of Iraqi music, somewhere else in the world a conflict will almost certainly have erupted and very possibly my country will intervene in an unhelpful way, and there will still be terrible discord. Still, it's nice to hope.

Katie -- I agree: it seems very rude to skip the opening act, no matter what it happens to be. (And The B!tch and her Exciting Conclusion sounds like a real yawner.) If the ladies' room had been any more bearable, I'd have taken my tequila and sat in there, nursing my drink, my headache, and my middle-aged angst. But it wasn't great, so I was stuck. I've been thinking that if we ever do that again (and we're gluttons for punishment, my husband and I), I might bring one of those collapsible sports spectator chairs. It would be worth it for the looks on our kids' faces alone.

Angela -- I will have to look up Poison and Ratt! We normally don't do things like this, but our girls were desperate to go, and we were able to use this as a sort of bargaining chip. We got them to do a lot of Japanese in preparation, so it wasn't a total loss.

Merry -- Actually, during the show, I amused myself with the thought of MY parents' reaction to Dir En Gray. Just thinking about it was so awful that it brought on a hot flash.

I can't pretend to like all my kids' music. But a childless friend of mine once told me that the single thing her parents could have done to earn her respect was to listen to her music. I have to say that this advice has stood me in good stead: I really have tried, and oddly enough, they appreciate it. A lot of friends swear that their kids don't want them to listen to their music, so I suppose I ought to be glad that mine want to 'share.'

Kara said...

Bear in mind that on their genre is mainly known for displaying the ponciest looking Nancy-boys you have ever seen: a highly made-up, hyper-groomed, exfoliated bunch of cross-dressing posers that I wouldn't have looked at twice in my salad days.

David Bowie did it first...and better.

Cracks me up that your kids like Rammstein. I remember when they came out in the U.S. I was alarmingly young and impressionable. I don't know what that has to do with anything...but there you have it.

Brian said...

I cannot stand so many of the modern bands with the *witty * names but the lack of musical talent, other than a talent for making mere noise.

The accompanying hype with make-up, weird costumes and such like does nothing to reverse my revulsion from watching characters with their hair hanging into their eyes , prancing back and forth making masturbatory movements with their guitars, and mouthing incompehensible , unintelligible and unintelligent lyrics.

I am adaptable at 78 to so much that is modern but there are limits.

Am I now getting too old ? Ready for the nursing home and *Golden Oldies *?


A Paperback Writer said...

So this must've been how my father felt when he took me to the Shawn Cassidy concert in 1978. Poor Dad. But he never complained.
It cured me; I've never been to a live concert since (not with a famous band, anyway -- plenty of local bands, though).
You have my lasting admiration for this.

Anonymous said...

Many many parents of Dir fans, have had to do this ,over the years .
A few kids were pre teenage in Japan ,and the parents would take them ,and let them dress up as the guys (cosplay).
You are not alone,and in good company .
And they ARE talented .
May sounds like noise ,but its not ..
And the genre dictates that they dress that way .
Its a kin to kabuki ,which was only done by MEN in Japan in the beginning..

And do you know how much MONEY, those bands make in Japan.
You have no idea.
Every member of Dir en grey,is a millionaire plus.

Mary Witzl said...

Kara -- David Bowie certainly did it brilliantly, and he may have been the best, but he was not the first. If you ever get a chance, read about kabuki in Japan and its origins and you will see where Bowie might have gotten some inspiration. There is a Japanese pop star by the name of Kenji Sawada ("Julie" is his stage name because of his admiration for Julie Andrews -- I kid you not); I think he is roughly Bowie's age and any match for Ziggy Stardust. And my kids aren't the only ones who like Rammstein; my husband and I think they're great and fervently hope they aren't really skinheads. But damn it, even if they are, their music is fantastic.

Brian -- I am glad you didn't have to sit through that first band, Brian! What amazed me was that although in many ways they might have struck some as similar to Dir En Grey, in fact they were very different. Dir En Grey's performance was stylized, but spontaneous; they were highly coordinated and their music was sound -- um, no pun intended there. They obviously had skill and were an organized, disciplined group. The first group didn't have their actions in sync; their musical skill was hard to judge because of the awful cacophony that overwhelmed their performance, and you got a sense that they hadn't practiced together as much as they should have.

You're not ready for Golden Oldies, though. Or if you are, you'll be listening to them with some of my kids' friends who can't stand heavy metal. And you'll be the only ones around who can still hear, too.

APW -- Wasn't Shaun Cassidy the younger brother of David Cassidy of the Partridge Family? Or maybe I am completely out of it... My mother took my sisters and me to hear Tim Buckley in 1971. I'm not sure what she was thinking of, but I do remember that the concert was free (which would have suckered her into it) and was at our local university (convenient). We weren't a musically sophisticated family and we were all shell-shocked. My mother was honestly traumatized; she'd had no idea.

Anonymous -- I agree with you about Dir En Grey: they are talented, and that bass guitarist was cute. And I can see how they have become millionaires, in which case I wish my kids had gotten at least a drum stick.
I must disagree with you about kabuki, though. Originally, the actors were young women, but during the middle of the 17th century (I think), there were a lot of scandals involving these young ladies and their customers, and women were outlawed from performing. Then the young men who took over ALSO ended up in scandals, so only mature men were allowed to be actors. Japan is second to none when it comes to talented cross-dressers of both genders: don't forget the all-women Takarazaka theatre. And I'd pit Sawada Kenji against David Bowie any day.

Christy said...

The collapsible spectator chair is absolutely evil genius. If you do that, you'll have to laugh, "Bwa ha ha ha ha!" when you pull it out. As for the band, I admire anyone with the sense to wear knee pads as daily wear. And no matter how outrageously they are dressed, they do appear to be mostly covered up. Hurrah for modesty! (I fear that I have early onset fogeyhood.)

debra said...

Ah, Mary, the gift is that you shared it with your children. They will remember that. Hopefully all of your hearing survives these teen years. You are, you know, one of t-h-e cool moms :-)

Kim Ayres said...

Superb post, Mary. I thought I'd left a comment a couple of days ago after I read it to Maggie, but I must have been distracted.

It would make a great one for The Storytellers Blog. Are you making any progress with the recordings yet?

A Paperback Writer said...

Younger half-brother, I believe. He was a super-star with 3 albums, good looks, and a starring role as Joe Hardy on the weekly Hardy Boys TV show. Then , when his fame started to flicker a bit, he wisely invested his money in producing or something else, rather than continue to grab hopelessly at fame a la Brittany Spears.

Mary Witzl said...

Christy -- The more I think about the collapsible spectator chair idea, the more I like it. I may also invest in a pair of bi-focals and fuddy-duddy lounge clothes similar to what you see little old ladies wearing in Miami Beach. Ooh, yes. Yet more bargaining chips!

Debra -- Actually, I think they wanted to forget we were there, but they did very well nevertheless and happily chatted about all their experiences, which really was a gift from them to us. And thank you for reminding me: I had forgotten all about my Cool Mom status! I suppose I was just paying my dues, trying to make sure I earned the honor.

Kim -- I still have not gotten around to doing this, as we have not figured out how to download the recording. Really, I ought to get some sort of booby prize for incompetency. Or maybe I can persuade Eyrl to come by some time and put me out of my misery. I will do it, though -- I will!

APW -- Having lived outside the States for so long, I have vast areas of pop culture ignorance and this is one of them! While it may sound trivial, it often makes me feel completely out of it. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Eryl Shields said...

I love the photograph, they look like beautiful dolls, the sort I would have gone mad for as a child.

I commend your bravery: I love live music but would be terrified to be stuck in a large concert hall unable to get away from the really loud. And I can't stand most heavy metal, it's so invasive.

Sue Millard said...

How brave of you, Mary. I've tried joining in to listen to music at the volume the kids seem to find necessary, but it hurts, and my husband gets really angry if he is within earshot, so for the sake of peace, I don't do it any more!

re cross dressing, the British are also well into this for the sake of entertainment, and have been for centuries: actors of the Shakespearean period were all male despite parts being written for women (see the film "Shakespeare in Love" for a few funny sidelights on this). Not to mention the man-in-a-dress who is compulsory in British Pantomime, with his counterpart of the leggy woman in tights playing a thigh slapping young hero.

Nice writing as usual! and an example of liberal parental attitudes that will probably annoy your daughters no end in future; parents are SUPPOSED to disapprove of the younger generation's choice of music, that's what they choose it for.

Ello said...

You are the coolest mother in the whole world! I hope your daughters appreciate you! You rock!

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- This music was phenomenonally invasive. My biggest worry is that in another decade or so, the number of kids with real hearing damage will be off the charts. I'm utterly serious. I would encourage any technically minded teenager to pursue a career in hearing aid engineering: they'll make a fortune and never be unemployed.

Sue -- I thought Shakespeare in Love was fantastic, but Gweneth Paltrow wouldn't have fooled me one minute with her far-too slender neck and pencil-stick wrists. And you are right about pantomimes: what is it about men dressed as women that is so wonderfully funny? Women dressed as men aren't half as amusing. Clearly, women with their vanity and endless primping are much better subjects for lampooning. I still believe that the Japanese are leaders in cross-dressing, what with kabuki and Takarazaka, though I will admit that I don't know much about the British history of cross-dressing.

Actually, our kids are thrilled that we like their music, and even brag about this to their friends. I really find this odd, but there it is.

Ello -- Bless you, I am not cool. I don't dress in cool clothes, I keep getting the various groups' names mixed up, and my knowledge of pop culture would fit into an egg cup. But I will still revel in your compliment!

Ello said...

Mary - who cares about clothes and getting these names right? What makes you cool is your attitude and respect to your children, family and friends. And without a doubt you are a very cool mom.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm not, Ello -- honest! But I'll still happily settle for others thinking I am!

Chocolatesa said...

"screaming, screeching blast-of-noise like a thousand donkeys dying in a lumber mill"

ROFL! This line had me doubled over laughing in tears!!! Thank you!