Saturday, December 30, 2006

It’s About Time…Dir En Grey are FINALLY doing a real US tour
Finally, almost 10 years later, a real Dir En Grey tour in the US. An actual tour, with a full set and opening bands and the whole shebang. OK, so the opening bands kind of suck, but nobody’s going to see them anyway. I do feel kind of sorry for them though – they’re probably going to have to play their whole sets with the crowd screaming for DEG all the way through, and musically they’re a pretty poor fit.
I’m very happy about this tour. I was starting to think I’d have to fly back to Europe to see these guys play a full set, and much as I’m happy to go home and visit, the crowds in Germany are kind of scary. I’m a small woman (158 cms), I’m not too fond of being trapped in a mosh pit with big drunk guys. This is a much better option.
The whole thing is kind of amusing, though. To give some background for those who have no idea what I’m going on about, Dir En Grey started out as a visual kei band. Think pretty boys in make-up and feminine clothes. They initially attracted an audience full of adoring teenage girls, like most visual bands do, although in their case these were not the more mainstream teenage girls, and they still aren’t. Then a few years ago they changed their look. They pretty much look like a “normal” rock band now, although the eyeliner still makes the occasional appearance. No more skirts, though, and one of the guitar players has been sporting a rather sexy little goatee recently. For anyone who’s been paying attention over the last few years it looks like they’ve been deliberately moving away from the whole visual thing. One would think that now that they’re making an effort to conquer the West that would be a pretty easy thing to do, since most people here wouldn’t recognize a visual band if one walked up and smacked them in the face with its shiny hot pants. One would think that, but one would be forgetting the power of the internet.
What’s amusing me is that the visual thing seems to have followed them over here. I went to see them back in August as part of a big summer tour with Korn (who were better than I expected them to be, BTW. The Deftones sucked, though.). You could tell who most of the DEG fans were a mile off. There were literally dozens of teenage goth girls in silly stripy tights, cheap corsets and various other Hot Topic-spawned ensembles. In California, in August. It was kind of hard not to point and laugh, but I bravely resisted the temptation. There were even a few dressed up like the band – not the way they look now, they way they looked in 1999. The whole thing was bizarre. The metal guys who were there to see Korn seemed a bit bemused by the presence of angsty, horny teenage girls, especially when they started squealing as if they were at a Justin Timberlake show.
The kiddies seemed terribly upset to realize that the band don’t look particularly girly any more. The funniest moment of the whole day was when a couple of the guys came out to do a meet and greet and one of the girls screamed “Oh my God, Shinya’s a man!”. Now granted, he spent the first few years of his career in a skirt, but still, he’s been photographed shirtless enough times that one wouldn’t think his gender was really in doubt. There was another group of girls who kept complaining about the bass player’s choice of footwear – Doc Martens, or something similar. I spent most of the show with a constant chorus of “Why can’t Toshiya wear the pretty girly clothes like he used to?” droning in my ear. The man’s almost 30, 6 feet tall, and has abs you could bounce quarters off. He’s not a pretty little boy any more, and there’s really no reason he should be. Actually he looks much sexier this way (those who are reading this on LJ – see my current icon and try not to drool. But of course I only appreciate him for his bass-playing skills. Hey, stop laughing!). I was tempted to ask the kids what the hell was wrong with their libidos, but my parents brought me up to be polite…
So, it would seem that the visual subculture is making some inroads in the US. On the one hand this is a good thing. American girls need some alternative to the constant “you must love macho frat boys, even if you think you don’t” brainwashing they’re usually subjected to. The shit-stirring part of my personality is delighted that something that flips the gender script as thoroughly as the visual scene does is taking hold over here. Visual’s anime and manga cousin, yaoi, is also making serious inroads (more about that later), also thanks to the internet. On many levels this is a good thing.
It’s just kind of a shame for Dir En Grey. This is an amazing band. Seriously, everyone I’ve ever introduced to them who likes music at the heavier end of the spectrum loves this band. They deserve a wider audience overseas. On a purely musical level if there’s any Japanese band or artist that could cross over to the US, it would be these guys (although Ellegarden and D’espairs Ray have a pretty decent chance, too, and I would love to see someone take a shot at marketing Sakarai Atsushi or Kiyoharu). The problem is that on a musical level the natural audience for them in the US is metal, punk and industrial fans, and that demographic is mostly male and more than a little homophobic. I can’t imagine what they’re going to think of the cross-dressing, making kissy faces at each other during live performances, being followed around by hordes of screaming fan girls aspect of DEG’s history, especially since it seems to be following them over here.
Just to clarify, I have no problem with cross-dressing, boys making out on stage or any other aspect of the visual scene, although I’m not too fond of the shiny sparkly Alice Nine-style stuff. Back in college I had a group of Japanese friends who were all into the visual scene, which is how I discovered it. I like pretty boys in eyeliner. Pretty boys in eyeliner and skimpy clothing are even better. I’m just not sure how this is going to play out in America. I also suspect that there’s a storm brewing about yaoi, and that once American parents realize that many of their darling little girls are essentially reading gay porn they may not be entirely happy about it. DEG is inextricably tied in to that subculture, no matter how much they may have changed over the last few years. I just hope they don’t get caught in the crosshairs.
If anyone wants me to post some mp3’s I’d be happy to do so, BTW. I’m a huge music geek and am always happy to introduce other people to artists I love. Think of me as a female version of the John Cusack character in High Fidelity. I won’t post whole albums, though, because my connection is too slow and because I think that if you like a band you should actually buy their stuff and not just leech. Support the starving musicians and all that good stuff (and frankly Shinya could use some feeding up – hey, we could use him as the “support the starving artists” poster boy. I like skinny guys, but his arms scare me).
More music blogging later, and if anyone wants to go check out Dir en Grey in February I’m posting a link to the Free Will site below, they’re selling tickets there. Ticketmaster is selling them for some venues too.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Creepiness
Damn, it's cold!OK, ignoring that for a second, the cold has me trapped in the house on a Saturday night and I've been vaguely glancing in at what my boy's watching on TV every once in a while. Thus, I finally saw part of The Polar Express.Damn that thing's creepy. People took their kids to see this movie? I would imagine doing so had rather the same effect as giving them the traditional Sacred Heart lamp to put by their bed...those must be some freaked-out kids.Why are so many Christmas specials so creepy looking anyway? Frosty the Snowman's a little odd looking too if you ignore the chirpy soundtrack, that old animatronic/stop motion Rudolph thing is bizarre, and It's a Wonderful Life just makes everyone cry. It's almost as if people LIKE making each other miserable at Christmas. The only non-creepy Christmas TV thing I can think of is How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon, not the crappy Jim Carrey movie). I actually miss the UK at Christmas time. American Christmases just aren't the same. the TV sucks, nobody sings any of the good Christmas carols (I miss In The Deep Midwinter), it starts in October, and the food's all wrong.OK, enough of that...Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, or at least celebrate the ritual gift exchange. And Happy Birthday to my cousin Fiona, who turns 34 today.Love and kisses to all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Who knew that Christmas was earthquake season?I just felt the second earthquake this week. Granted, it wasn't a very big one, but still...what's going on? Did anyone else local feel that?Here's hoping that these little tremors are all we get and everyone has a safe and happy holiday.
GPS Tracking of Registered Sex Offenders – Most Misguided Law Ever?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the changes in California law requiring registered sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devices. The change in law seems to have spawned more debate after the fact than when it was actually voted on, which is a shame, as a public debate would have been a very good thing in this case.
Before I go any further let me make my perspective absolutely clear. I think people who commit sex crimes are the scum of the earth. My mother was an abused child, my best friend was raped in high school. I hate these people. I think all of them should be strung up by their balls, or at least locked up where they can’t do any harm for the rest of their lives.
So, I have no problem with increasing the level of punishment meted out to sex offenders. The problem is, I would really rather that punishment focus on making sure that they don’t repeat their crimes, and in that regard tagging them with GPS devices is completely useless.
Firstly, the things don’t work very well. They’re easy to disable (seriously, some aluminum foil will do the trick). All they show is where a person is – they can’t track what the person is doing. Unless our concern is keeping a particular person away from a particular place, and we have cops on hand to swoop in and stop them if they get too close to that place, the things are basically useless. Where they might have some applicability is in cases of stalking, where a person has been forbidden to be within x number of feet of a particular building, but even in that case they wouldn’t do much good when the stalking victim had to leave the house.
Secondly, they deceive the public into thinking that we’re “doing something” about sex offenders when in face we’re missing the real issue by miles. Whether we’re talking about child abuse or the rape of adults one fact remains the same – in the majority of cases the victim knows their attacker. What the focus on high-tech hocus-pocus like GPS devices does is reinforce the idea that most cases of sexual assault are the result of “stranger danger”, of the masked man in the dark alley or the creepy guy hanging out by the playground. In the majority of cases that just isn’t the reality. I’m not saying that those people don’t exist – they do, but the fact remains that in a minimum of 70% of cases (some agencies say the number is over 90% when considering attacks on children) those who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by people they know and trust. That’s the icky fact that society just can’t seem to face. This whole GPS idea is another way to not face that unpalatable fact.
What we’re doing is dodging the real conversation that needs to happen about what to do with sex offenders. Since obviously I know that the string them up by the balls idea isn’t actually a viable option, what is? I’m voting for lifetime sentences for serious offenders – and I mean for the actual lifetime of the person, not 8-10 years.
We also need to take a serious look at how sex crimes are classified in general. Putting flashers in the same category as rapists doesn’t make much sense, though I still think that flashers need to be caught and to basically have the crap scared out of them badly enough that they think twice before doing it again. Actual, bone-fide rapists need to go to jail for life, and there need to be a lot fewer legal loopholes that allow them to escape punishment. Our age of consent laws are a mess of confusing and conflicting regulations, and they need a serious overhaul. Prosecutions for statutory rape when the participants are only a couple of years apart are absurd. Sentences for actual child abuse, with an adult abuser, need to be much, much heavier. The fact that the law treats gay sex differently to hetero sex is a disgrace.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and applying silly technological band-aids isn’t helping.