19.4.17

The Best of Buck-Tick, Part I

For those of you who didn't catch it, the suggestion list we made in one of our recent posts for which Buck-Tick tracks should be included in their 30th anniversary best album was mostly a joke. "Capsule Tears" may be charming and heartwarming but it's far from the band's best work. With that list, we were mainly encouraging y'all to take another look at Buck-Tick's discography, beyond the fangirl hits.

However, since so many people were so keen to share their candidates, we decided to do a serious post on this topic. What songs does Cayce think represent Buck-Tick's best work, and why? Which of these songs should be included on a 30th anniversary best album, and why?

Buck-Tick have released a lot of best-of albums over the years, and they don't really need to do another one - at least, they don't need to do another conventional one. Traditionally, a best-of album provides a summary of a band's career, by including both the band's greatest hits and also those songs which either garnered special praise from critics, became fan favorites, or ended up being influential on future artists. By that line of thinking, a traditional greatest hits of Buck-Tick album should include songs like "Sexual XXXXX" and "Hurry Up Mode," which represent the band's early work, songs like "Taboo" and "Victims of Love," which show their progression toward a darker sound, "Just One More Kiss" and "Aku no Hana," which highlight their early popularity, and so on. But what's the point of that? Those songs have already been included in most of the previous best-of albums, and everyone already knows them. Re-releasing them yet again is pointless.

No, my friends. If there's any point in Buck-Tick releasing a 30th anniversary best album, the point should be to highlight their artistic achievements. What is it that Buck-Tick has expressed with their music that nobody else has managed to express? Which songs represent the distilled essence of Buck-Tick's message? Which Buck-Tick songs do we want to recommend to the paleomusicologists of the distant future (assuming that Stale Cheeto doesn't get us all blown sky high within the next four years)? 

After 15 years of following Buck-Tick, here are our picks. On the one hand, that's a short time to have been following the band, compared to their core Japanese fanbase. On the other hand, perhaps the lack of nostalgia for the bands early years lends more objectivity to our opinions. All criticism is biased, so this is a biased list, but we did consider our selections very carefully. We tried to veer away from the band's singles and most popular tracks, but some of them actually do represent the band's best work. However, that's not the point of this post, so we left them out. 


30 of Buck-Tick's Best Songs, From an Artistic Perspective
As Selected by Cayce, in Chronological Order (because rankings suck!)

1. Victims of Love (Koroshi no Shirabe version)
Why is it good?
This is the first song Buck-Tick ever wrote that hinted at what they would later become, but when they recorded the original version of it for Seventh Heaven, they didn't yet have the technical chops to do it justice. The Koroshi no Shirabe version, on the other hand, is a perfect encapsulation of both Sakurai's gift for erotic poetry and Imai's gift for experimental guitar, which are two core elements of Buck-Tick's identity. Since I already wrote a whole article about this song, I'll leave it at that.

Should it be on a best-of album?
In my opinion, the apex of this song's evolution was actually the live performance the band gave at Climax Together in 1992, so if any version of this song goes on the best album, it should be that one.

2. Brain Whisper Head Hate is Noise
Why is it good?
This Asian fantasia ties together Imai's love of sci-fi monsters with his love of psychedelic imagery to create a solar-plexus sucker-punch of a song that no one else but Buck-Tick could have pulled off. "In my flowing skin, I feel my instincts / The heartbeats of trembling atoms" could sit up there with The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" in the pantheon of Excellent Lyrics about Drug Trips, but it's just as exciting when you're sober. In addition to capturing the sensual delirium of Buck-Tick's aesthetic world, "Brain Whisper" also sums up the optimistic futurism of the early 90's, and looking back on that these days, that optimism smells like the lost innocence of childhood cut short.

Should it be on a best-of album?
If not this one, then "Madman Blues" (more on that later). No best of B-T is completely without a psychedelic Imai monster song.

3. Dress
Why is it good?
With only two chords and one simple bass riff, "Dress" is a perfect demonstration of the alchemical way Buck-Tick songs are more than the sum of their parts. Each part on its own is laughably simple, yet when combined into a whole, somehow they synergize into a beautiful dream world so lush you could almost inhabit it. Plus, how many people noticed that this song is really about gender fluidity, a love song by Sakurai to his inner woman? Beneath all those beautiful words is a work of radical queer art, brought to life by one of the most interesting music videos Buck-Tick have ever made. "Dress" was a fan favorite for all the wrong reasons, and we're planning on writing a longer article about it in the near future, so stay tuned.

Should it be on a best-of album?
It was already on a bunch of best albums, so no. But it's definitely one of Buck-Tick's best songs.

4. Die
Why is it good?
What other band have even attempted to write a song describing the moment of death in first person? It sounds creepy when you say it like that, yet somehow, "Die" manages to be one of the most comforting and uplifting songs Buck-Tick have ever written. Sakurai's embrace of death as "warmth in my skin" is so deeply Buddhist it sounds like something out of ancient Japan. As a lyricist, Sakurai has been tremendously influenced by medieval Japanese poetry and Heian era aesthetics, and "Die" is one of the early demonstrations of this. Hear this song even once and you'll never forget it.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Absolutely.

5. Darker Than Darkness
Why is it good?
Appearing as Track 93 on the Darker Than Darkness album, this song unfolds slowly out of a wash of noise, expanding into a gothic epic showing Buck-Tick at their most experimental. The cinematic lyrics evoke a post-apocalyptic fantasy world reminiscent of Storm Constantine novels, while the orchestration makes masterful use of dulcimers and fifth leads, invoking the work of classic goth bands like Dead Can Dance while staying true to Buck-Tick's vision. The band have never made a song like this before or since, so "Darker Than Darkness" should be savored just for that.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Fuck yes it should. And they should play it live.

6. Loop
Why is it good?
A speaking voice this lovely could make a McDonald's menu sound like a love letter, but this mystical Buddhist poem intoned in Sakurai's voice becomes a true magic spell. "Loop" may not be a song in proper terms, but in addition to serving as the theme song for Six/Nine, one of the tightest concept albums Buck-Tick have ever released, it's also a beautiful demonstration of the evolution of Imai's use of noise. 

Should it be on a best-of album?
Yes.

7. Itoshi no Rock Star
Why is it good?
Though not the first song Sakurai wrote about his struggle with his own fame, "Itoshi no Rock Star" is certainly the most humorous - the major chords, sax solo and sarcastic guest vocals from Sakurai's ambiguously gay bestie Issay are all just distractions for the fact that this song is a nothing but one big long sick burn against fangirls. Self-hatred has never been so hilarious! Oh yeah, and the guy playing that sax solo? That was Sakurai Atsushi, folks. Why did he quit sax?

Should it be on a best-of album?
There are so many great songs on Six/Nine that it's hard to choose the best one, but this is the only song on which Sakurai ever played saxophone, so it might be worth voting for just for that.

8. Mienai Mono wo Miyou to Suru Gokai, Subete Gokai da
Why is it good?
It combines one of Imai's catchiest-ever guitar riffs with some of Sakurai's best-ever lyrics. Plus, there are two versions of this song and both are equally impressive - they build on each other so that to hear one without hearing the other is to miss the whole picture. Oh yeah, and sticking with that ridiculous title took guts. Buck-Tick deserve a medal for this song. 

Should it be on a best-of album?
Objectively it's one of the best they've ever written, so yes.

9. IN
Why is it good?
Buck-Tick are so dark all the time it's easy to assume they're never happy - but "IN" hits your ears like pale blue waves on a sunny summer beach, enchanting you into a sultry summer sex fantasy so pastel and breezy that on first listen, you could be forgiven for failing to pick up on the reason why the song got its title. "Sexy surf rock" is a mini-genre that Buck-Tick have gone back to again and again, so no best-of album would be complete without at least one example, but we chose this song because it ties together all the best things about the Cosmos album - bright colors, acid-trip entheogenic lust, endless layers of multi-tracked noise, and erotic intertwining of vocal and guitar around lyrics which are explicit enough to make you blush yet symbolic enough to escape all possibility of crassness.

Should it be on a best-of album?
If they made an album for each season, this should be on the summer one.

10. SANE (Cosmos version)
Why is it good?
Notice how when you put this one together with "IN" mentioned above, they spell "IN-SANE"? Madness and mental illness are one of Buck-Tick's big themes, but "SANE" is the only song in which Sakurai explored the subject in English rather than in Japanese - which is why the lyrics sound like they must have been written by Imai, and that reversal is delicious. The overall sound is as minimalist and bizarre as Buck-Tick have ever been, boy-yoy-yoinging like a musical Rube Goldberg machine toward an unexpected climax. Again, nobody could have written this but Buck-Tick, and Buck-Tick have never written another song like this before or since.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Sure, why not. But in fact, "SANE" reached its apex when the band performed it live on the Razzle Dazzle hall tour, and a whole live experience can't be packed onto a CD.

11. Gessekai
Why is it good?
Buck-Tick have written a lot lullabies and a lot of songs about drug trips, but this is their only drug-trip lullaby explicitly about tripping on prescription drugs. Written about Sakurai's convalescence following his near-fatal illness which cut short the Cosmos tour and nearly finished the band for good, "Gessekai" is neither a comeback anthem nor a face-off with mortality - it's a love song to life. And if Sakurai swam all the way back from the brink of death just to see those flowers blooming, we all owe those flowers a kiss of gratitude. "Gessekai" shows Buck-Tick at their softest, gentlest, and most lyrical, and is beautifully complemented by brilliant low-budget PV in which Sakurai, hanging upside down from the ceiling like a bat, appears to float upright in a stream of bubbles (actually pieces of paper falling from the ceiling) while the rest of the band perform upside down around a giant chandelier, which later gives way to a magic circle in which Imai plays a Satanic cross-shaped theremin. Not only that, but this was Buck-Tick's first-ever anime theme, for the deliciously 90's Yokohama vampire romp Nightwalker. Go watch it! It's oh so much better than Trinity Blood

Should it be on a best-of album?
Yeah, on endless loop.

12. Muchi no Namida
Why is it good?
The metallic effect on that bass! Buck-Tick's heavy, sexy bass lines are one of the defining characteristics of the band, but no bass line they've ever recorded can even touch "Muchi no Namida." The guitars are crunchy. The vocals are macho. The lyrics are scathingly anti-war and more relevant now than they've ever been. Confessions: this is the song that made Cayce a Buck-Tick fan.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Whether or not it's on the best album, they should play it live more often. We were overjoyed to hear it at Climax Together 3rd.

13. Kalavinka
Why is it good?
Where to start? The fretless bass line? Imai playing that whole-tone scale riff on a MIDI guitar made to sound like a cross between a shakuhachi and a glass harmonica? Sakurai's majestic classical-Japanese style lyrics? This is one of the weirdest songs Buck-Tick have ever made, and if they ever play it live again, we'll cry blood tears of joy.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Fuck yes. This is the Buck-Tickiest Buck-Tick to ever Buck the Tick.

14. Asylum Garden
Why is it good?
Cool use of industrial noise samples, a slow build to a spine-tingling chorus, sexy rumbling bass and romantic minor chords - it's everything Buck-Tick does best, supporting lyrics which tell a story of the madness of Vincent Van Gogh. "Nerdy songs about art history" is another mini-genre Buck-Tick have in the can, but this was the first of the family. Bonus points for the fact that it ties the art history thing in with another Buck-Tick staple, "songs about going mad."

Should it be on a best-of album?
For sure.

15. Check-Up
Why is it good?
Confession: Cayce's parents have no interest in Buck-Tick, but Cayce's dad thought this song was catchy. Sakurai and Imai trading vocals is a staple technique Buck-Tick have used again and again, and the stark contrast between Sakurai's lyric velvet baritone and Imai's scratchy science fiction rasp never fails to impress and excite...but Check-Up is special because it poses such an interesting question: 

Which one did you choose?
1. The type who survives by bowing to power
2. The type who waits for a lucky shot.

If you haven't asked yourself this question in earnest, you're not yet true a Buck-Tick fan. Consider it!

Should it be on a best-of album?
If this got voted onto the best album, that would be a lucky shot indeed. But it's an awesome song.

16. Shanikusai -Carnival-
Why is it good?
Like "Dress," this existential, quintessential Hide ballad is a perfect example of Buck-Tick at their most gorgeous, luxurious and sensual. Unlike "Dress," it's also one of the earliest and most beautiful demonstrations of Sakurai's spine-chilling falsetto. Though it was one of the standout tracks on Kyokuto I Love You, it didn't reach its full potential till the Memento Mori tour, where a host of burning torches cast a flickering glow over Sakurai's pantomime love affair with a skeleton wearing his own clothes - creepy as fuck and the essence of Memento Mori.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Like "SANE," this one was best experienced live. But sure, put it on the best album.

17. Long Distance Call
Why is it good?
The bass sounds like the EKG monitor of a slowly dying heart, and the harmonies and lyrics are heartbreaking. If "Ai no Souretsu" is the saddest song Buck-Tick have ever written, "Long Distance Call" is a close second. So many death ballads fall into either melodrama or sentimentality, but "Long Distance Call" is brutal honesty from beginning to end. Depending on your mood, it might be almost impossible to listen to you - but that's how you know Buck-Tick were doing it right.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Yes.

18. Gensou no Hana
Why is it good?
Quintessential Hide, quintessential Sakurai. Sorry Lawrence, but we're going to declare this one the best of Hide's ballads. Cherry blossoms are Japan's national symbol, so no Japanese band with a vocalist named Sakurai would be complete without a love song to cherry blossom season. The major key and glittering acoustic guitar chords loft the listener onto an updraft of joyful exultation as fragile as a soap bubble. Celebrating both the beauty and fragility of life, this is another song that would find itself perfectly at home in ancient Japan, but it's simultaneously begging to be redone as a folksy acoustic guitar cover.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Hands down.

19. Passion
Why is it good?
One word: layers. This song is built like a noise or trance track, rather than a rock song, out of a stack of layered tracks that slowly build on one another. Though every bit as massive and melodramatic as Bara no Seidou era Malice Mizer, "Passion" manages to avoid cheese through sheer force of minimalism. Everything in this song, from the synth to the guitar to the lyrics, has been pared back to bare bones - just like that spooky line in the lyrics, which are gut-wrenching overall. "Romance" and "Muma", eat your heart out. "Passion" is the best song on Juusankai wa Gekkou.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Absolutely.

20. Cream Soda
Why is it good?
The chromatic weirdness of this song shocked fans when it came out, and for good reason - who the hell has ever heard a song like this? What genre is it even supposed to be? Sakurai's lyrics may be nothing but one long clever word play, but they're also impishly playful and sexy as hell. "Cream Soda" is one of Buck-Tick's most memorable songs ever, and it was the most-viewed page on This is NOT Greatest Site for years.

Should it be on a best-of album?
For sure.

21. Mr. Darkness & Mrs. Moonlight
Why is it good?
"Mr. Darkness and Mrs. Moonlight" marked Buck-Tick's first foray into the new territory of "sexy Western." Imai sure loves his cartoon angels and devils, but this song keeps the goth-loli pastiche to a manageable level, while offering up some excellent 50's rockabilly-style harmonies and deliciously eerie use of guest vocals by counter-tenor Selia. It's rare to hear both Imai and Hide play acoustic guitar on the same song, but every time they do it, it's a joy. Plus, there's that shout-out to blues genius Robert Johnson, and the smuttiest exclamation of "oh my god" Japan has ever heard.

Should it be on a best-of album?
This song is so much better than "Alice in Wonderground," guys. Vote for it instead!

22. Umbrella
Why is it good?
The harmonies between the two guitars and the vocal line fit together as perfectly as the little bits of wood in those lovely inlaid boxes for which Hakone is famous. The lyrics show Imai's growth as a poet toward more sensual, romantic work of the kind that Sakurai as known for, yet they preserve Imai's sense of happiness and whimsy. A bat falling in love with an umbrella? It would make a perfect children's book. Bonus points for the Showa retro honky-tonk vibe.

Should it be on a best-of album?
This was definitely the most underrated song on Memento Mori. Why are they performing "Les Enfants Terribles" when they could be playing this one? Wtf Imai, I can't even.

23. Coyote
Why is it good?
"Coyote" remains Buck-Tick's only fully acoustic song to date, and it's simply beautiful. Perhaps the band play it a tad too often, but it's easy to forgive them for that because this song is so well done. Sakurai's at his best here in both lyrics and vocals, and you can practically taste the rattlesnakes and prickly pears in Imai's acoustic guitar. Listen to it one too many times and you may wake up to find yourself on a plane for Arizona by accident.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Yes.

24. Only You (album version)
Why is it good?
Experimenting with different genres is what's kept Buck-Tick interesting all these years, so Imai's first boogie-woogie should be greeted with applause. Not only that, but the live brass from Soil and "Pimp" Sessions is as fat and sexy as could be. The fundamental alone-ness of the human condition is a big theme in Buck-Tick's work, but "Only You" turns this existential sadness into a celebration. You're the only one of you there is or could ever be, and that makes you awesome! That's the message of this song, and who could hear that without a smile? Plus, the bridge is an explicit rejection of the kind of racism that's been building in the world lately. "Black or white or red or yellow they're all beautiful," sings Imai. Prissily nationalistic Japanese fangirls would do well to listen.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Sonically, "Only You" has a lot in common with many songs on "Razzle Dazzle," but it's better than most all of them, so yeah.

25. Adult Children
Why is it good?
How could long-time Buck-Tick fans fail to share in the triumph underlying this deceptively simple Japanesque ballad about Sakurai coming to terms with his abusive childhood? In addition to being a great song, it marked a major turning point for Sakurai in his relationship with the music and with the fans. This is the song where he stopped apologizing. I already wrote a lot about it in this article, so I'll leave it at that. 

Should it be on a best-of album?
Absolutely.

26. Love Parade
Why is it good?
Hell, this is basically Buck-Tick's theme song. The fact that it contains specific references to the events of 2012 just makes it all the more special, because it's about experiences which the band and the fans shared together. "Steppers -Parade-" is lots of fun, but it's also basically just "Climax Together" redux. "Love Parade" is the one that really gets down deep.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Why not?

27. Melancholia -Electria-
Why is it good?
We love the album version of this, too, but the electronic version brings back one of Buck-Tick's signature sounds: a blend of electronic and acoustic instruments in equal measure...and bonus points for the dubstep grooves! Buck-Tick have written a whole slew of catchy electro dance songs over the course of their career, and "Melancholia" is one of the best of the bunch. The simple yet deep lyrics are neck deep in occult symbolism and invite endless interpretation - but there's no question that there's something radically queer and feminist at work here, and in a world piled high with the stinking dog shit of the patriarchy, that feels like victory.

Should it be on a best-of album?
I bet it will make it on there without your vote, but sure, go ahead and vote for it.

28. Mudai
Why is it good?
This is a piece of musical Surrealist art, on a concept album about Surrealist art. How meta is that? Plus, it brings back some of our favorite obscure Buck-Tick tropes - whole tone scales, occult symbolism, creepy falsetto vocals, sexy monotonous bass lines, and psychoanalysis. Objectively, it's the most interesting, different, and unusual song on Arui wa Anarchy. It's the kind of thing serious Western music critics would adore if any of them stopped being racist for long enough to give Buck-Tick a chance.

Should it be on a best-of album?
Yes, without a doubt.

29. Future Song
Why is it good?
From my review of Atom Miraiha: 
'The number of layers of meaning it manages to pack into less than four minutes is beautiful to behold. You can't get more quintessentially Buck-Tick than this, to the point that it seems pointless to try and count the ways. Not only is “Future Song” a perfect blend of Imai and Sakurai's vocals, it touches on all the band's major lyric themes (monsters, destruction, debauchery, art history) and even incorporates most of their definitive musical styles, from industrial techno to gothic cabaret to ethnic fusion. Buck-Tick have done plenty of Imai-Sakurai trade-off songs like this before... but never before have Imai and Sakurai's parts meshed so perfectly together to evoke the essence of an album. “Future Song” couches scenes of passion and eros in the modern obsession with violence and destruction in the name of “progress” – the beauty of Nike of Samothrace is overshadowed by the beauty of the arcing bullets, while the body of Bonita admired by Sakurai turns, in Imai's hands, into the body of a gun. The song is full of constant impatience – “kick their asses,” “out of the way, here comes the future,” calls Imai, as if mocking the cries of oblivious late-stage capitalists and tech entrepreneurs and the players of bloodbath video games alike.'

Should it be on a best-of album?
Out of the way, "Muma." "Future Song" is here.

30. Manjusaka
Why is it good?
As with "Passion," Hide cuts this song back to bare bones, then milks the simplicity for all its worth. Simply put, it's a beautiful song, showcasing one of Sakurai's best-ever vocal performances and some seductively spare guitar work. Sakurai just gets better and better at the ancient Japanese poetry, but "Manjusaka" is particularly multi-layered and spooky. All-around skillfully crafted, haunting and lovely. What else can we say?

Should it be on a best-of album?
Without question.

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Whew, that was a long list! Turns out that 30 songs is a lot! And if you noticed that we left out all the songs you know we love... that's because we've saved them for our next post. Stay tuned for Cayce's favorite Buck-Tick songs. It's coming soon! But tonight, we've run out of steam for writing and it's time for chocolate and wine.

P.S. Natalia, one of our lovely readers, has graciously translated this post into Spanish for the benefit of Buck-Tick's large Latin American fan community. Thanks a lot, Natalia! Read it here.

13 comments:

  1. Great list- I was nodding along to your descriptions- you really sum up the songs well. Going to have to give Check Up and IN a few more listens as they never really grabbed me.

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  2. I will totally vote 95% Cayce's selection without a doubt, without waiting for the next heart-beat.
    The little doubt was because I wasn't familiar with Sexy Stream Liner's songs.

    Wishful thinking now...

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    1. Oh dear, go listen to Sexy Streamliner immediately.

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    2. Sexy Stream Liner vies with 69 for my favourite B-T album of all time (though Atom Miraiha is pushing in there too, which makes me extra sad there was no standing tour for me to go to). Please please go and find a copy of SSL as soon as you can! It's truly an amazing album.

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  3. What an amazing list! I agree with most if not all choices. And I'm so happy to see Cream Soda here, it's one of my top 5 I think.
    (No Mermaid? :D)

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  4. Great great selection! I have to agree with almost every choice. Love to see Kalavinka there, one of my favs of all time. And DTD, I've been listening to that song almost everyday for like a month now. Can't wait for part two of this post.

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  5. Amazing selection of songs!
    Thank you for that!
    And as I'm part of BUCK-TICK Chile, I translated this post to Spanish for them to read so we can discuss on them :)

    And in case you want to share it with other Spanish speakers, here's the link https://www.evernote.com/shard/s445/sh/ba2f653d-297f-43a3-bf9e-004c5ebc4247/0ef91a8ccc147a3f396fd35b9014b583

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    Replies
    1. Wow, how flattering! Thank you! I added the link to the text of the post above.

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  6. I'm not gonna roll over and just take your overturning of my declaration of the best Hide ballad. See you in the Bucktickistan Court of Appeals!

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    1. Hey, for the record, I do think that "Love Parade" is a great song. Hence its inclusion on the above list!

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  7. Great recommendations, I went back to listening to the tracks while reading your descriptions, they inspired new love for tracks I didn't pay attention to! Although BT wrote a lot about getting high or stoned, I really doubt if they ever got the chance to use drugs though (Imai getting arrested was probably the closest they ever got, and that note on prescribed drugs from Gessekai was hilarious!)

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    1. Lisa, let me ask you: what band/artist can you name who's written about drug use to the extent that B-T have, yet never done drugs themselves? How would they know what doing drugs feels like, if they'd never done them themselves? Spoiler alert - there are drugs in Japan, too. They may not be legal, but that doesn't mean they don't exist and that rock stars don't eat them like candy and chocolate. Every performer wants to feel like the hero or heroin of his own story.

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    2. Oh, also - Sakurai stated in interviews at the time that he wrote "Gessekai" about his convalescence. I can't recall if he mentioned drugs or not, but since he had major surgery and nearly died, I don't think it's a stretch to assume he was on a lot of high-quality painkillers. So, not a joke!

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