LOVES & THANKS ~Fifteen Years with GLAY

LOVES & THANKS ~Fifteen Years with GLAY
Written by Erin Grace

Fifteen years.

Or, if you’re any kind of GLAY fan at all, you know it’s actually nineteen years.

Or, if you’re not just a rabid Jiro fan posing as a full-on GLAY fan, you know it’s actually twenty-one years.

There are two things about this that freak me out:

1) I was ten when GLAY went pro, six when the band picked up Jiro, and only four years old when the original three formed into a band, and I’m one of the oldest American J-Rock fans.

2) One of the major influences in my life was created by a bunch of fifteen and sixteen year-old Japanese rock-wannabes.

(I can hear you all now, calling me a shameless, bare-faced fangirl for the hyperbole inherent in calling a J-Rock band “one of the major influences in my life.” You will eat your words, doubters, but more reminiscing first.)

GLAY has ever been one of those great bands: not too poppy (like Ayu), not too rocky (like Dir en grey); not too fake (like Gackt), not to visual (like Malice Mizer); and all while maintaining a higher quality of music than L’Arc-en-Ciel.

That’s not to say that GLAY has always been better than L’arc. Those of you who still think of GLAY as being nineteen or twenty-one years old – or even those of you who aren’t surprised to hear that GLAY is fifteen – will remember the troubling times and music that were the turn of the millennium.

But wait – some of you don’t remember that?

Well then, curl up around Mama Sutematsu, and she’ll tell you the story of GLAY.

Once upon a time there was a band called GLAY. They were known for a style that wasn’t too heavy, but not too light – “gray” if you will, and quirky enough to spell “gray” with an “l.” There were three band members originally, and a fourth that came along later in the game. They played wonderful music all over Tokyo, some of which still survives today. Surely you’ve heard the classics that have survived from the time when GLAY was just another indie band crawling along the underbelly of Tokyo: “Kanojo no MODERN...” and “FREEZE MY LOVE” are two excellent examples. They were signed to a major label after building themselves up in the indie scene, and released some truly wonderful music.

Their first albums were clear and strong, with great music on every track: “Yes,Summerdays,” “Tusuki ni Inoru,” and a variety of beautiful songs that sounded like the old indie rock. I remember buying “BEATOut!” in the BookOff in Takadanobaba – only 100 yen! – and not expecting much, then listening to it non-stop for the rest of my year in Japan. I listened to “Yes,Summerdays” religiously, riding my bicycle through Musashi-Koganei every Saturday to attend extra Japanese lessons. I didn’t understand the lyrics to save my life, but I knew enough to cry at the right parts: “mayowanaide,” and “toki wo wasureta summerday.” Mostly it was the music that touched me – intense but delicate, a strong balance between the severity of the electric guitar and the gentle sound of the acoustic, with just the right touch of strings and a great beat.

Even by “BELOVED,” though, they seemed to have lost a little steam. “Lovers change fighters, cool” and “Shutter Speeds no Teema” had much of the vibrancy and energy of the previous albums, but “GROOVY TOUR” and “HIT THE WORLD CHART!” seemed affected, while the other songs, though good in a general way were somewhat forgettable, and not nearly so urgent as the songs from “BEATOut!” and “Speed Pop.” Even the ballads – finally showing a touch of GLAY’s much softer side – were not quite what we had expected after the previous albums. Not bad! Not bad. But not what we expected.

Then – the real death of any truly great band – the compilation album. Not to say that “REVIEW” was in any way a bad mix of music: the songs chosen for it were really the very best of what GLAY had done so far, but we should have known from this – a compilation album for number four – that a musical desert was ahead. Album five (“GLAY SONG BOOK”) wrote in stone what “REVIEW” only hinted at: a compilation of orchestral instrumentals could only mean that there was no salvation in sight, and that it was too late to turn back.

GLAY SONG BOOK” was followed by “HEAVY GAUGE,” which had some good music, though none of the original vibrancy of those first few albums, then “Mirai Nikki” (and, honestly, who even remembers this album?), then another compilation (“DRIVE”), then on to “ONE LOVE.” Although I thought “ONE LOVE” was a reasonable album, I know there are many who disagree with me, and really – are we looking for reasonable out of GLAY? Are we looking for okay or tolerable or acceptable? No, we were, and always have been, looking for amazing, inspirational, kick-ass.

From here, I won’t bother to list the GLAY albums any longer. To do so would be to dance and parade on the one truly sore spot of GLAY’s existence: the wonder-children of J-Rock had become hacks, unable to produce a good album, and nothing more than a joke against Japanese music at large. While I was in Japan I could find not a single person that thought GLAY was worth the time any more, and I finally understand why. I’ll jump five years ahead, so that we can leave this little bit of GLAY history to rest in peace, and not stir up any restless ghosts.

Before I proceed, though, let me say that this desert wasn’t without the occasional oasis. Even the heavy-handedness of a Japanese production studio couldn’t completely crush the delicate beauty of Takuro’s music, and GLAY managed to pepper these bad years with some amazing singles. “Missing You” is in my opinion one of the best GLAY songs every written, and the song that made me love GLAY in the first place was “Global Communication.” “Winter, again,” “MERMAID,” “Yuuwaku,” and “Itsuka” also made life worth living with GLAY during these years, if only marginally.

Now skip ahead to the big break-up: GLAY from their production company, GLAY from their manager, GLAY from the old, pitted rut they’d fallen into. After years of being conned out of money and fame, after years of being forced to produce mediocrity, GLAY burst from their bonds and created their own production company, LOVER SOUL. They celebrated by producing a small slew of new songs, including the aptly named “ROCK’N’ROLL SWINDLE,” which I like to think was a subtle-as-neon jab against their old producers. Not to say that this was the end of their trouble – GLAY still had yet to experience the pleasure of being sued for copyright infringement of their own songs – the four songs released on “G4,” the teaser single after their break, contained the same vitality and strength of the old music, as if the band had never lost it at all.

Since then they’ve only gone up. “Love is Beautiful” was a gorgeous album, every song on it shining with the old vibrancy, but tempered with something that I can only call maturity: like old wood polished to a new shine, GLAY glows with a glorious inner beauty that shines out from them, adding the depth of age and experience to their already beautiful lyrics and music. The new brood of songs is undeniably different from that first heart-racing music, but I think it’s better in its way. GLAY has finally reached the freedom that they have always strived for, and you can hear it in every note from the guitars, and every word from Teru’s mouth.

I suppose that’s the end of the tale.

Huh? What was that?

Oh, you want to know how GLAY was one of the biggest influences in my life.

Well, you know, I guess it’s silly, but well, since you asked...

When I was in high school I was one of the stupid little DBZ freaks. There wasn’t any other anime to like, but I don’t know that that totally absolves me. Because of DBZ, I was curious about this “Japan” place. I’d heard about samurai and geisha when I was a little kid, but I figured that it couldn’t really still be like that, so I looked into it. What’s the modern Japan like? For starters, what do they listen to? So I did a little research using my parents’ brand-new 28.8-speed dial-up (I told you I was one of the oldest J-Rock fans!), and found this band “GLAY.” I also found bands with names like “Luna Sea” and “L’arc-En-Ciel” and “/\ucifer,” but GLAY was the one that really stuck in my head for some reason. I found a slew of songs, mostly with Japanese names, but then I found this song that looked promising: “GLOBAL COMMUNICATION.”

So I downloaded it.

I hated it.

It started with this confusing mish-mash of noise, then an overly-catchy beat, sung by a guy with this kind of weird, scratchy voice.

I closed the file and didn’t even think about it for probably another two weeks.

Two weeks later I found myself looking for Japanese music again, and I remembered that I had
“GLOBAL COMMUNICATION” still just sitting on the computer. Now, understand: back in these days, a downloaded song was a pretty big luxury: any kind of quality would take at least a half-hour to download, if not longer. If it weren’t for this, I probably would have just gone and downloaded a different song and, in all likelihood, found another band. Instead, I had no desire to wait another half-hour for a song to download, so I just listened to “GLOBAL COMMUNICATION” again. It wasn’t as bad this time, but still too catchy and bouncy.

I put it away for another two weeks before listening to it. Then a couple days. Then a day. Then I decided that it was actually a pretty good song, and I wanted more. I went back on the internet and waited for “Missing You” to download.

From the very beginning, I loved it.

Now, without boring you to death, here’s what happened next:

I loved the song, but couldn’t understand the words. I looked for translations, but there were none. I decided to learn Japanese.

After spending high school teaching myself Japanese and learning to transliterate, I went to college and majored in Japanese, spending a year in Tokyo during this time, focusing on learning to translate poetry. I came back and started a website with the express purpose of translating everything GLAY there ever was. I graduated from college with my degree in Japanese, and set off to my first job, at a translation company.

Sadly, the website has since fallen to the wayside (grown-up life has a way of stealing what you value most in exchange for rent). I still don’t know the exact translation of “Missing You,” though I’ve learned how to understand almost all of their other songs without the aid of a Japanese - English dictionary.

I want to tell you what I imagine my life would be like if I hadn’t downloaded and stuck with “GLOBAL COMMUNICATION,” but the truth is, better than ten years after the fact, I couldn’t even begin to speculate. All I know is that, twenty-one years after a bunch of sixteen year-old Japanese rock-wannabes got together to hammer out a couple of songs, I’m happy to say that I’ve never been missing them.