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Friday, March 27, 2009
Guitar Wolf return to silence the lambs
By SIMON BARTZ
"We've come back and we're going to attack your planet with humongous love," says Seiji (that's Mr. Guitar Wolf himself) as he downs vegetable juice at a Jonathan's family restuarant near Yoga Station in western Tokyo.
I light a cigarette and look at him. He isn't smoking his regular Peace coffin nails; he's given up ("I can't believe now that I was doing something so horrible," he says) and he's drinking juice rather than beer, and he's talking about love.
What's going on? Have I stepped into an alternative universe where Guitar Wolf are not the dirtiest, noisiest, rawest and rowdiest (AND BEST!) blues-punk band in the world, but are instead a bunch of hippies who hand out flowers to their fans.
"I'm no hippie!" snarls Seiji. "It's not sweet love; it's offensive love. I'm coming from outer space in this huge battleship, and I'm going to invade the planet."
But love, perhaps, is the wrong word.
"No, Simon. When a wolf eats a lamb the wolf loves the lamb it eats."
And Seiji leans back in his chair, strokes the enormous white wolverine sitting obediently beside him, and lets out an eardrum-perforating demonic cackle that shatters all the light bulbs in the cafe and causes young children to run screaming for the door. No, that doesn't happen. Seiji just smiles and drinks another vegetable concoction before moving on to a coffee.
But anyway, talk of butchering innocent little lambs is more what I've come to expect from Guitar Wolf, and I feel more comfortable.
We're here because, on April 4, Guitar Wolf play a comeback show at Hibiya Outdoor Music Hall in Tokyo after being AWOL for the past 18 months. Seiji says that in their 21-year history, it's the longest they've ever gone without playing a show.
I tell him the two rumors that have been doing the rounds as to the reason behind this sabbatical: (1) Seiji went into hospital to have hip-replacement surgery and spikes stuck into his leg to hold the bones together after taking one too many jumps off 6-meter-high stacks of speakers; and (2) He had a Bob Dylan experience — crashed his motorbike, met God briefly, got a bollocking from said Almighty, and went into hiding to lick his wounds.
So, Seiji, what happened?!
"It is a lie that there is an injury," he says, fixing me with his eyes. This is the first time I've seen those eyes in the 13 years I've known him, as today, instead of his regular impenetrable jet-black wraparound shades, his lenses are only slightly colored. (Note to fans: His eyes are brown and normal looking, not red or glowing with miniature fires burning inside the pupils or anything. But then again, it's midday and not midnight).
"I pretended I was in hospital, but I was in America," he says. "And in America I met a Hollywood actress and every night we were partying. It was Kim Basinger. She's an obasan (middle-aged woman) now. I became a midnight samurai." And now he does start laughing.
Seiji, I'm not sure I entirely believe what you're telling me.
"OK, Simon. I'm going to tell you a bit of the truth. I was so high up on the speaker stack at a show, and I jumped, and I seriously injured my right leg. I had surgery and my right leg is now that of a cyborg. Well, that was the rumor I put out when actually I went to Hollywood," he says coming full circle, retaining the element of mystery, as he has always done.
I imagine you are not going to be jumping off towering speaker stacks in the near future, I say.
"I won't be jumping for a while," he admits.
I assume you've written a stack of new songs and will play some at the show.
"I was enjoying myself in Hollywood too much to write any songs," he says. "Anyway, the fans will enjoy the old songs because it's been a while."
Is there a new album on the horizon?
"You'll have to wait and see," he says.
You got injured, I tell him. You're not drinking beer right now and I remember in a previous interview with me you claimed you drank nothing but beer, ("I'll be drinking it tonight. I drink beer every night, but now it's midday," he retorts) and, over the past few years, you've started doing an encore where you just play a slow, mangled ballad without Drum Wolf Toru and Bass Wolf U-G. What is that song? And: Do you see yourself chilling out and doing more of that stuff when you're aged about 60 and can no longer climb a speaker stack?
"Guitar Wolf was asked to contribute to a tribute album for Ei-chan (Eikichi Yazawa, bassist of the famous '70s rockabilly band Carol, who went on to enjoy massive solo success) about eight years ago," says Seiji. "I wanted to cover a Carol song, but they asked me to do a Yazawa. Carol songs are straightforward rock 'n' roll, but doing a Yazawa is difficult for Guitar Wolf because it's much slower. I chose his most famous song, 'I Love You. OK.' Me singing and playing along is the simplest and coolest way to do it, so when we do an encore it's just me."
When you're 60 will you be the new Yazawa?
"No, no," says Seiji, shaking his head. "He is a great man, but I don't aspire to be like him. I aspire to be the next Link Wray. People say I look like a Japanese Link Wray and also I do some of his songs live with Guitar Wolf. I started playing guitar after listening to Link Wray. I just like him; the fact he exists."
I was looking at your Web site yesterday (GuitarWolf.net) and many foreign fans have posted messages in English. I thought we'd run through a few. Jac Hagerhorst from Washington, D.C., wonders if you will tour the U.S. again soon.
"I do want to at some point in the future but I don't know when. I've first got to adjust my cyborg self. I have to ensure everything is in perfect working order. And in the States the first thing I have to do is head off to Hollywood. These women don't let me go so easily, you know."
Guitar Wolf are the most famous Japanese rock 'n' roll export to the States so what are your best memories from touring there?
"It's always interesting and fun. Touring with The Cramps 10 years ago was maybe the best memory. There's a blog I write for Ki/oon records (Guitar Wolf's Sony offshoot) called 'Fujiyama Shout,' and you can read about it there. There's a link in 'news' on our Web site."
Another guy, who calls himself "UFO Romantic" (the name of Guitar Wolf's 2002 studio album; one of their best), says: "I hope that one day I too can be rock 'n' roll like you guys. Guitar Wolf is my inspiration for who I want to be as a man: bold, brazen, honest, brave and passionate (Seiji nods as I read out each of these descriptors)."
He pauses for about half a minute before slowly and carefully saying: "It is good that you look up to Guitar Wolf . . . but don't try and challenge Guitar Wolf . . . but I accept your feelings . . . I look forward to seeing you. You should practice jumping from high places."
Mr. UFO Romantic also says: "Give my regards to Billy." (The original Bass Wolf, Billy, died in 2005 aged 38. The hard-living, fun-loving fan favorite is sadly missed despite young U-G bravely replacing the irreplaceable.)
"I went to Billy's grave recently," says Seiji. "I regret that Billy died March 31. I wish he'd died on April 1. That would have been more Billy-like!"
It's psychological manna from heaven that time can help heal the pain of grief, and I'm happy Seiji can now crack a joke about Billy, although he doesn't quite laugh and I'm sure I see sadness in his eyes. It's still not easy. It never will be. But it is good to remember Billy for the good times that he gave us — the quintessential gregarious swashbuckling rock 'n' roll joker. A Japanese Keith Richards, if you like.
Did you leave a can of beer at Billy's grave like some fans do?
"No. I just prayed, like I do there every year. Next year you should come with me, Simon."
I notice Seiji is wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket signed by Joey, Johnny, Marky and C.J. Ramone. "I met them at Shinjuku in a hotel in about 1995," he says. "It's one of my favorite leather jackets. My other favorites are one signed by Joan Jett, and a black and white one like what Johnny Thunders wore."
Any regrets Seiji? I throw in, as he gets up to leave.
"I regret not having Link Wray's autograph. I never met him. When Guitar Wolf was touring America once, he was on the same route, like one week before we played he would have played. We were following him, but always missing him. I was shocked he was playing in the same venues as us because they weren't huge places and Link Wray's a legend."
And then Japan's very own rock 'n' roll legend strolls out of Jonathan's and makes his way home. And he's not limping.
Guitar Wolf play Hibiya Outdoor Music Hall, April 4. Starts 18:00. Tickets are ¥2,525 (aged under 20), ¥3,969 and ¥4,649. For further info call Hot Stuff Promotion, (03) 5720-9999. firstname.lastname@example.org