My music heroes – Yutaka Ozaki

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Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Richey Edwards. Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse.  Musicians who belong to the so-called 27 Club (there are more). Through music they proved their immense talents, and, partially due to untimely deaths at the age of 27, they achieved the status of rock n’ roll legends.

The question is – should we glorify those who lived lives of excess and abuse, and simply got what was coming to them? Probably not. Yet all these years after Joplin or Hendrix died, people all around the world still find joy and inspiration in their artistic output and charisma. There’s something inexplicable about certain personae in the music business which makes us – listeners – hopelessly captivated by anything they do or sing about.  The dangerous devotion to music they do – even if it means straying off the safe path of counting the earned $$$ in the multi-million-dollar-worth villa – is extremely charming.

I realize I’m trying idealize some musicians and the self-destructive lifestyles they have chosen, but surely I don’t mean to say that in order to be a true musician one has to be a junkie who needs to die young. What I’d like emphasize though is that the likes of Joplin, Hendrix or Cobain paid the highest price for their music and I believe it’s not up to us to judge them for the non-music-related choices they’ve made.

This short introduction brings me to the main point of this post – Yutaka Ozaki (尾崎豊). Although he died few months short of 27, I can’t help myself but include him in the club mentioned at the beginning, and by that I mean to put him up there among the icons of rock. He is widely unknown to the Western listeners (language barrier still remains impenetrable save for Gangnam Style) but he definitely needs the recognition he deserves.

Ozaki was a Japanese rock singer who became a voice of the youths in the 1980s. His first album, released when he was only 18 years old, dealt with problems of growing up and even tackled the issue of teenage prostitution. It was largely different than candy-pop which dominated the then-music scene. His albums sold incredibly well and live performances were so vivid and intense. Each concert featured Ozaki running, crawling, climbing and lying down, while singing, mumbling, squealing and screaming. ‘Even if you may get hurt, don’t be afraid!’, he cried to the audiences, and people were willing to follow their guru.

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Eng1eng2Album jackets include some fine examples of Engrish but if we look past that, his thoughts and observations are really interesting.

His hit single ‘Graduation’ discussed the shackles imposed on the teenagers by the society, which is filled with rules and the ‘correct’ patterns of behavior. After graduating from school and its limitations, what are the regulations we will be constrained by in our adult lives? Can we ever be truly free?  Despite young age Ozaki’s songwriting was very mature.

In the mid 80s the singer flew to New York. He started experimenting with drugs. Once he returned to Japan, at one point he was briefly (bail) jailed for drug possession. The occurrence caused Sony to drop him off the label  (if I remember correctly they later signed him back though – no room for rules when money’s involved).  Yutaka Ozaki held his return concert in Tokyo Dome in 1988.

Dome

The 1988 Tokyo Dome concert was released last year on DVD. Although his voice was not in perfect condition, the performance was powerful as usual. I love this recording.

Marriage and the birth of his son marked a slight change in his music. He no longer was a teenage sensation singer. Album ‘Birth’ was the number one on Japanese charts. He appeared to have fought off the drug addiction, but his health overall was not that good.

In 1992 he was found drunk, naked and unconscious on the street in Tokyo. He was hospitalized, and after returning home he died soon after from accumulation of fluids in lungs. The circumstances of his death still remain unclear and generate great curiosity among fans.

Such was the end of an amazing rock star. I remember reading somewhere that he was like Kurt Cobain of Japan. Maybe in a way. But his wild on-scene antiques and rants remind me of Axl Rose. His music on the other hand, is similar to Bruce Springsteen’s – a valuable social commentary and a powerful expression of intimate thoughts. As much as Springsteen holds in high regard blue-collar workers and average Joes, Ozaki ‘s music was mostly aimed at teenagers and young people who make their first steps in the society. The lyrics of his songs still hold their own today. Incredible.

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