Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Language of Music

When I was growing up, getting ahold of music from artists not popular or well-known in the United States was difficult.  My mother was never very strict with the kind of music I listened to, so she was never the limiting factor.  Because of her leniency in my musical taste, people have commented to me that had my mother understood English, she would have never allowed me to listen to that kind of music, mainly industrial and metal.

100% Pure and Wholesome.  Honest!

I don't deny that there was probably some truth to these comments, but my mom was not blind, and she was very much aware of the image of the bands I listened to, especially since I had the habit of sharing my music with her.  Nothing excited me more than being able to hunt down an album I had been trying to get my hands on and then show it to her.  There were definitely some bands she did not approve of (Marilyn Manson, no?), but the ones I cared for the most she had no objection to.  She was amazing.

Often, as my mom sat and listened to my music, her brow would furrow together and a look of concentration would wash over her.  I eventually came to associate that look with her wanting to understand what the lyrics were.  For me, this meant having to translate the lyrics from English to Spanish.  It was a task I took on with joy, but it was also a bit of a pain in the ass because I felt like translating a song while it was playing took away from the experience as a whole.

Being bilingual, I never experienced the need to understand what the artist was trying to convey, as my mom did.  Then, a few years later, while reading an interview with one of my favorite industrial bands, PIG, the singer mentioned a Japanese band called Buck-Tick, which he had collaborated with on an album in 1996.

Napster (free at the time - glory days!) had just popped onto the scene, so I immediately searched, found, and downloaded this band he spoke fondly of.  My connection speed was slow (the horror of dial-up), and hours later I sat and listened to my new musical conquest and was taken aback to discover that even though some of the song titles were in English, the song was not.  It was all in Japanese.  I had no idea what they were saying, yet the music and the voice intrigued me.  I downloaded more songs, eager to find at least one song in English.  I never did.  For the first time, I was confronted with how my mom must have felt whenever she listened to my music.  Like her, I was suddenly possessed with the urge to understand what this band was saying.

I scoured the internet, hoping to find a translation somewhere, but found nothing.  After a while, I gave up trying to find a translation and then, just like my mom, I began listening to and fell in love with a band that I didn't understand in the slightest.

One time, while I was driving around with a then-friend, I had my burned CD of Napster-aquired Buck-Tick songs blaring, and he turned to look at me and asked, "How do you know they aren't singing about killing Americans?"  My first reaction was to punch him.  But, in all honesty, I didn't know what they were saying.  Yet, something in the band's voice and their instruments assured me that this was not the case.  So confident was I in this feeling that I never took his, or anyone else's, dismissive attitude seriously.  For me, despite the language barrier, there was something that spoke to me.  I had connected with something, but on such a deep level that I could not express what it was, especially to people who found it absurd to listen to music in languages they couldn't understand.

But I didn't care about other people's opinions, because Buck-Tick had become a very important part of my life and my mother's.  She adored this band and would often ask me to play certain songs that became her favorites.  This privilege was reserved only for Buck-Tick.

Unlike today, ordering imported CDs was not as easy as typing in the url, browsing, ordering, and then, three days later, the CD is in your mailbox.  Even now, imported CDs are expensive, but it is marginal compared to how much it used to cost to special-order an imported CD from a record store.  I did that only one time, with PIG, and thankfully the CD was everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be.  Because, yeah, that was expensive.  I never special-ordered a CD again, and during this time (late 90's, early 2000's) I did not trust ordering any hard-to-find bands online.

Thankfully, the content on the internet was growing and a wonderful thing called YouTube came into existence.   By this time, I had begun to discover new Japanese bands through anime and online threads, but did not think to search for new material for Buck-Tick.

I was enthralled by YouTube and the ability to type in band names and see, actually see, what they looked like: concerts, PVs, interviews!  During this time, I became obsessed with Malice Mizer, Moi Dix Mois, and Gackt.  By reading the comments, I discovered a wonderful and reliable site where I could import CDs from Japan: CDJapan.  I immediately ordered Moi Dix Mois and Malice Mizer and have been ordering my imported CDs from CDJapan since 2008.  Side note, they have amazing customer service.  Additional side note, CDs in Japan tend to go out of print, which kinda sucks because, if you decide not to buy something, you most likely won't get a second chance.

Slowly, as YouTube grew, I started seeing people post up videos with Spanish and English translations of all the Japanese bands I was listening to.  It was great!  And then, as Buck-Tick blared on my head set, it finally occurred to me to look them up.  Sounds dense, doesn't it?  But I had been listening to my burned copy of Buck-Tick for so long that it didn't seem possible that they would still be around.

A YouTube search later proved me wrong, and for the first time I was able to put faces to this band, along with not only English, but Spanish lyric translations as well.  As I began reading the lyrics for two of my and my mom's favorite songs, Jupiter (english translation) and Kodou, that feeling of connection came full circle.  The lyrics were what my heart had already told me.  Like in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, "[it was] the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart."  On that day, I learned not only the lyrics but also, from the comments, and then endless searching on the internet, that these two songs had been written by the singer for his mother, who had been stricken ill and passed away while he was on tour.  It was the language of love and grief.

Jupiter (spanish translation) holds a very special place in my heart, not only because it was the very first Buck-Tick song I heard and that my mother fell in love with, but also because it was the last song we listened to together shortly before she passed away.

Music knows no bounds, and thanks to the internet and the wonderful people who take their time to translate and upload these translations it is truly becoming universal.  To once again quote The Alchemist, it is "the pure Language of the World."


  1. I only listened to a few things with my mom....but one reason I am so fond of music from the 60's is that we would listen to that station on our way out to Blanco or Bastrop....I didn't play industrial music for her at all other than a few NIN songs like La Mer and that Type O Negative song Love You to Death...

  2. BTW Ministry's Psalm 69 IS pure and wholesome....everyone needs their daily intake of hyper aggressive industrial metal!!!

  3. La Mer is a great song! Type-O-Negative was one of the bands my mom did not care for. Peter Steele's voice was not her thing :P

    1. My mom liked how deep his voice was...she also liked the piano at the beginning...Josh Silver never got enough credit for their sound...