Hello, kids, and welcome to September! Does anyone else feel like time is speeding up these days? Could this be a side-effect of social isolation, or some kind of mysterious change in the fabric of the space-time continuum? If the Buck-Tick members know, they aren't telling us... probably because there's so much going on in Buck-Tickistan, and plus, the band members are hard at work, rehearsing for a tour that will never hit the stage, and Instagramming all the while (at least in the case of Imai).
Buck-Tick's latest single, Moonlight Escape, was released last Wednesday, and we appreciate your patience in waiting for us to deliver the translations to you. Translations, kanji and romaji for both "Moonlight Escape" and the b-side "Kogoeru" are now up over on This is NOT Greatest Site, so go ahead and check them out, and feel free to leave your comments on this post. True to their word, Buck-Tick have delivered us a pair of songs that are simple and stripped-down, both musically and lyrically - yet in typical Buck-Tick fashion, the simplicity is deceptive - the music and lyrics to both songs are precisely layered like shadows in moonlight, building off the band's previous work and complementing one another like two chapters in the same story.
For those of you who wondered why the single cover features Mr. Sakurai swishing a goth cloak around... well, it's because in the lyrics, he's singing about swishing a goth cloak around! As he explained to Fish Tank last month, in "Moonlight Escape," Sakurai sings from the perspective of a boy eagerly awaiting the night, when he can escape into his dreamworld, fly and feel the love that has been missing from his waking life. Though Sakurai stated that he intended this song as encouragement for the children of today who are struggling with abusive circumstances, it's obvious that Sakurai's narrative here comes out of his own experiences as an abused child - he's often stated that he feels more comfortable at night, in the moonlight, than in the daytime and sunlight, and it's easy to imagine that he might have felt this way since childhood - free from abuse with his family asleep, free in the dark to feel his own feelings, and able to see, in the moon and the starry sky, a vast universe full of infinite possibility. In the first verse, the goth cloak is a sort of security blanket, wrapping him up to protect him, but in the second verse, it becomes a symbol of his self-expression and power over his own life - with a swish of his cloak, he's gone, off to the moon. Poof! Abracadabra! It's an inspiring reminder of how even for the saddest, most neglected children, adulthood is waiting, with the promise of the chance to stand up on the stage of your own life, put on whatever snazzy costume you like, and sing your own song.
In his comments about these lyrics, Sakurai remarked that he wanted to express "escapism," which is often treated like a bad thing, in a positive light. If your reality is painful and you can't change it, having an outlet for emotional escape may save your life. He's dealt with this theme before, most notably in "Kagerou" - "If all you see is a nightmare/Is it bad to shut your eyes?" But in both "Kagerou" and "Moonlight Escape," there's something more than a mere endorsement of the power of escapist fantasy - there's the question of whether the so-called "real" world is really so real after all. This "life is but a dream" idea has always been one of the central themes of Buck-Tick's work. Who are we, before we're born, and after we die? In "Brain Whisper Head Hate is Noise" and "Bolero," Imai says that before we're born, we're stars. In "Kick" and "Mienai Mono," Sakurai says that the truth is waiting for us in the darkness, but we're not allowed to know what it is until we cross back over. What is this experience called "life," really? In songs like "Die" and "Solaris," Sakurai suggests that maybe life itself is also a dream, and to die is to awaken.
Modern secular society is so attached to the idea of the external, material world that the power, validity, and importance of the internal experience of being a conscious soul have been ignored and treated as irrelevant - but Eastern spiritual traditions such as Buddhism teach that the internal experience of consciousness is everything, that everything in the universe is connected to everything else, and within each conscious soul lies a miniature reflection of the totality of the whole - as above, so below, as within, so without - an idea intriguingly similar to the holographic principle being discussed in physics today. Thousands of years before quantum mechanics, mystical, occult, and spiritual traditions have worked with the idea that thoughts and emotions can affect external reality - then along came the quantum physicists, wondering why it is that the presence of an observer always alters the outcome of an experiment. What's the mechanism behind the power of prayer? Why do you know who's calling before you pick up the phone? Consciousness is energy.
Sakurai's work is full of dreams within dreams, and "Moonlight Escape" is no exception. He's also often worked, both explicitly and obliquely, with the idea that so-called "real life" is the nightmare, hence the need for escape into a deeper dream level to reconnect with love and beauty. On a surface level, "Moonlight Escape" is another exploration of this theme - but there's something more there, as well - a sense of empowerment, which builds in the music with the ascending major scale leading into the chorus, and Sakurai's triumphant belt of, "And I fly now." Once, Sakurai was that sad child, escaping into his dreams to protect him from the trauma of real life. Now, Sakurai is an internationally famous rock-n-roll legend at the peak of his creative prowess. What an inspirational role model he's become! And how did he get there? Where does the creativity come from? From the dreams, of course! What makes Sakurai's lyrics and performances so powerful is that he has used his art to externalize his inner world, offering his dreams and emotional experiences as a gift to his audiences. Abracadabra is a magic word of manifestation, and "Moonlight Escape" reflects this theme by implicitly showing how dreams can create reality.
In Sakurai's case, this ended up being literally true - the difficult emotional experiences of his childhood, and the dreams he turned to to escape them, became the power source for his lyrics and performance, and hence his successful career. However, there's a more metaphysical aspect to this idea as well. In "Adult Children," one of Sakurai's earlier songs dealing explicitly with his abusive childhood, the crux of the song is the line "you should know that you are free." At the end, Sakurai realizes he is free to create his own reality, and chooses to become a singer. But the point of the song isn't about the physical action of becoming a singer - it's the epiphany that in his soul, he is free.
Something similar happens in "Moonlight Escape." In the verses, with a small handful of very gentle words, Sakurai deftly expresses the emotional struggle of the child narrator - "God, I'm praying, please forgive me," - "Papa, Mama, please I hope you won't forget about me." The boy wonders if somehow his bad situation is his own fault. Is he being punished by God? Does he matter to his parents at all? Do they love him? Do they not love him, because he's bad? A lack of love in childhood scars people for life because they grow up believing they're not worthy of love. If you believe you're not worthy of love, it's easy to spend your whole life re-enacting the abusive patterns of your past, and just as easy to flee from or sabotage anyone who comes along offering you true, pure, unconditional love. If you believe you're not worthy of love, anyone who claims to really truly love you must either be lying and soon to betray you, or there must be something deeply wrong with them, or they just haven't learned yet how unlovable you are... but they will sooner or later, and then it will all be over, so you might as well just end it now and spare everyone the heartache.
The only way out of this trap is to learn to love yourself - no easy feat in a world that invests so much energy into making people feel dissatisfied and inadequate, so they make easier targets for capitalist advertising and authoritarian control by governments and corporations. Self-love gets branded as narcissism and treated like a dirty word - because it's the key to freedom. Once you love yourself, you realize that your abusive parents, or whoever else, withheld their love from you not because you were unlovable, but because the parents themselves were struggling with their own lack of self-love. Once you love yourself, you refuse to put up with abusive treatment from others any longer. Once you love yourself, you can accept the genuine love that others offer you unconditionally. You are finally free in your soul, to be the person who you truly are, no longer bound by the pain of the past or narratives of others.
"And I fly now," sings Sakurai at the start of the chorus, declaring his freedom, then launches into a soaring melody, singing of his escape to a world where everything is overflowing love, and sadness has ceased to exist. The people who scoff at this kind of fantasy are usually the people who need it most - people who've been rejected or wounded so much in their lives that they're scared to even try to imagine a world of radical acceptance, free from pain. If dreams are the source of inspiration from which we create our realities, then if you can't dream of it, how can you achieve it? Just by daring to imagine his world of love, the boy in "Moonlight Escape" has already gotten closer to actually being there.
The PV does an excellent job of illustrating the themes of the song in succinctly beautiful symbolism. Sakurai, sitting in the defensive posture of a frightened child, in a moonlit white room next to a vase of baby's breath flowers (symbolizing both childhood innocence and faithful, everlasting love), watches his own "mental movie" projected by an old-fashioned reel-to-reel. Meanwhile, the band members are playing in their own moonlit rooms, in front of stairways and lighted windows, as if to show us that there's always a way up, a way out. As the moon rises, it begins to come out from behind its eclipse, and suddenly the darkness is replaced with light. Sakurai swishes his cloak, does some abracadabra magic hands, shoots a circle of light at the camera, and suddenly the band members are in outer space, playing live on the moon!
In the second verse, Sakurai's posture has shifted - now he's intrigued, leaning forward to watch the films of the band members performing, both in their separate rooms, and together on the moon, and then the film of himself, doing the abracadabra goth cloak magic. At the beginning of the instrumental break, the magic circle of light reappears and homes in on the moon. The black of the eclipse is entirely replaced with blinding white light, and we see a momentary flash of blue sky. Sakurai closes his eyes, puts his hands to his temples, and swirls into ectoplasmic white mist, as if he's astrally projecting his consciousness out of his body. The moon appears on the film screen, next to a pair of speakers, one black, one white, like the yin-yang - an acknowledgement that for there to be light, there must always be darkness as well. Sakurai smiles conspiratorially at the camera, and then pop! He's standing center stage on the moon, performing with the rest of the band! And the misty blue (no pun intended) of the earth in the background matches the color of Imai's hair and jacket exactly. So if you wondered why Imai dyed his hair blue, well, this is why (does Imai really need a reason to dye his hair blue?)
Buck-Tick have always been masters of expressing deep, multi-layered concepts with simple, low-budget music videos, but they've outdone themselves with "Moonlight Escape." Every single cut is timed perfectly with the music and lyrics. Not a single second or image is wasted. And the outer space theme is lyrically beautiful - why waste time being sad when there's a whole universe out there to explore? Buck-Tick should know. After all, they came from outer space. If you doubted us before, this PV ought to be 100% rock-solid proof.
Like "Moonlight Escape," "Kogoeru" is heavy on the moon imagery, and also deals obliquely with themes of child abuse, but "Kogoeru" is as despondent as "Moonlight Escape" is uplifting. Buck-Tick love exploring two sides of the same theme - day and night, black and white, sleep and waking, love and death - and as a pair, these two songs fit into that pattern. "Moonlight Escape" is the love song, and "Kogoeru," with its suicidal theme, is the death song. In "Moonlight Escape," Sakurai challenges the idea that escapist fantasy is weakness, declaring that in fact, it can be a source of love and strength. In "Kogoeru," Sakurai challenges the idea that suicide, as an escape from life, is wrong. Resurrecting the moon-as-blade imagery he used in "Pain Drop" and "Tsuki" on I Am Mortal, he faces his sense of disconnection from himself and from life, staring at himself reflected in a dark window, wondering who he is, imagining that the moon is weeping with him, imagining that the moon is a knife to slit his wrists.
Overcoming childhood trauma and maintaining self love is monumentally difficult. Sakurai has clearly come a long, long way in processing and overcoming the wounds of his past, but scars that deep never heal entirely. In the interviews he gave at the end of 2019, he spoke about his complex feelings about the fact that at age 53, he was the same age as the age his abusive father was when his father died.
"The same blood runs in my veins," he told Kanemitsu Hirofumi in PHY vol. 15. "I've always felt both... pity and hatred. We have the same blood type, and the same birthday, a 1/365 chance! Do things like that even happen? I look just like him, too. And now, I'm the same age... I feel like he's pulling at me. Like, 'come to papa'... that was a joke, but, you know (laughs). My older brother said, 'just hang on till you turn 54' ...there I go again (sighs)." [Sakurai tries to change the subject, and fails.] "Part of it's my age, and part of it's my personality... I understand that I still can't get out of this. I tried to be prepared for it, but I realized that I really can't escape it. I've talked about this again and again, but my father's behavior was what we'd now call domestic violence. My father beat my mother as a daily routine. Those memories have stayed with me, of always being afraid... I always talk about it, though... When I was in the hospital, I realized I need to suck it up and keep living even through my exhaustion, but then I wonder how long I can go on. I'm able to do what I love, and I'm able to make music and somehow pump myself up, but when I got sick, it was like my father was calling me... that's why I can't wait to turn 54. But, I'm so lucky to be blessed to be able to do what I love, and lately I feel more strongly that I'm really doing it, so I guess you could say that I'm happy."
Sakurai stated that with the lyrics to "Kogoeru," he wanted to allow himself the freedom to be as cutting and sharp as he felt was honest, without censoring himself at all. Lyrics like this may be difficult for some of his fans to accept, but for what it's worth, we're pretty sure he's not actually suicidal - it's more like he's using these lyrics to face and explore a passing suicidal feeling he won't act on. Those of you readers who have struggled with depression yourselves likely have sympathy for the nature of the kind of black mood that can take hold and make you feel like everything is worthless, futile suffering and nothing will ever be better or feel good ever again. It's not remotely the objective truth, and some hidden part of you knows that the mood will pass, but when you're in a mood like that, you feel trapped there. After more than two years of struggling with our own serious physical illness, we also feel a lot of empathy for Sakurai's descriptions of how difficult it can be to keep your chin up emotionally when you're physically ill and exhausted. When you're both ill and depressed, death starts to look like a very attractive option... not even because you want to die, exactly, but because, as Sakurai sings in this song, it would be so nice to be able to rest.
To illustrate his desire for sweet repose, Sakurai repeats the phrases "nenne shi na" and "nen nen okorori yo" from "Edo Lullaby," probably the most famous traditional Japanese lullaby (Dir en grey fans already know this one from the lyrics to "[KR] Cube"), thereby arriving in a simple, unaffected way at the real theme of the song - the fact that the lingering scars of his childhood trauma are still the source of his pain. There's so much in that one line, "please won't you sing me a lullaby, for your sweet baby." In fact, the line we translated as "for your sweet baby" literally means, "tell me I'm a good boy." We opted not to use this translation because it reminds us too much of the comic below for us to feel that it would be serious enough in tone for this song...
...however. This line is pretty much the heart of the song. With his exquisitely gentle vocal delivery, Sakurai makes you feel just how much he's been wishing all his life that he had been given that validation by his parents, that he was good and worthy of love. He still feels it so keenly, sometimes it makes him want to die. Sometimes he wonders if dying is the only way to return to the unconditional love that in life, we can so often only grasp at.
There are certain elements of these lyrics that can't be translated into English. One is the fact that "komoriuta" [子守唄], the Japanese word for "lullaby," literally means "child-protection song" - [子] = "ko," child, [守] = "mamoru," to protect, [唄] "uta" = song. Sakurai's request for a lullaby means a lot more when you see the word spelled with these kanji. Another interesting thing is that "nen nen," the archaic Japanese for "sleep, sleep," sounds like the "nen" [念], meaning "emotional energy" or "feelings," often with the implication of strong, tangible feelings, the kind that can affect material reality - like Sakurai's unresolved feelings, and the emotional energy he wishes he could have received from his parents.
Though this is overall a very dark, sad, heavy song, there's still an element of salvation at the end. The major-key melody of the last lines injects a sense of hope despite everything, especially as it inverts from descending to ascending, with more and more voices joining in the chorus of backing vocals, as if the audience has joined in singing with Sakurai in order to cheer him up, saying, "you're not alone, we will sing with you." Sakurai's more than outdone himself on both lead and backing vocals with both songs on this single, and the mixing of the backing vocals is superb - they're more present than on many previous Buck-Tick records, drawing strong attention to the presence of harmony and multiple voices, while still putting the lead vocals front and center. The major-key chords of the outro draw a strong contrast to the moody minor-key synth of the intro, making us feel encouraged that no matter how bad things feel, the sun really will rise again. Healing is possible.
"Kogoeru" also comes back to the theme of the "real world dream," and the theme of sin and forgiveness, which were present not only in "Moonlight Escape" but were also big themes in "Datenshi" - which probably makes sense, because the band wrote all these songs in summer of 2019, and stated that originally, they had planned to release "Moonlight Escape" as the earlier single instead of "Datenshi," but changed their minds at the last minute. The lines in "Datenshi," "Forgive me forgive me / My flesh and my flesh are hurting now" were almost certainly inspired by Sakurai's 2018 illness, just as "Night of the Beasts" was inspired by his comeback from the same illness, and it certainly seems that "Kogoeru" is also related to the illness theme, albeit in a more oblique way. Funny, how illness was already a theme on Abracadabra long before the coronavirus was even a thing.
And on that note... we know y'all are feeling depressed and isolated, and possibly drinking too much, but please do take care of your health, and that includes your mental health. If you need emotional support, don't be afraid to ask for it. And if you can offer emotional support to someone else, please do it. Don't assume anyone is okay. The turbulent times are taking a toll on everyone and the best possible thing we can do is be there for each other emotionally. But also, consider - this life may be a dream, or maybe an RPG game, who knows? If you approach things from that angle, everything seems more fun. Don't get so hung up on the idea of "real reality" that you deny yourself the fun of escaping. Outer space is a great place.
That's all for now, but before we sign off, we'd like to extend our thanks to everyone who was so kind as to support us on Ko-fi. It really means a lot to us! If you have the means and feel so moved, please continue to support us. It might not seem like much, but to us, right now, it's a lot.