Cars, stereo equipment, DVD players, televisions, Pocky, manga, animé; the list goes on and on of imports we receive from Japan. What did we ever give them in return? Rock and roll, that’s what. For years now, Japanese youth culture has embraced American rock, from the famous concerts of Bob Dylan and Cheap Trick at Budokan to the various teens with ’50s pompadours, Marlboro cigarettes and leather jackets. Yet, pun somewhat intentional, something within the free trade of ideas gets lost in translation. For instance, Sailor Moon became more about men looking up little girls’ skirts and less about preteen empowerment as it made its way to our shores. Meanwhile, like the prostitute in the aforementioned film screaming ‘lip my stockings,’ rock and roll took on a more direct, yet distorted approach as in Japan’s reigning rock heroes, Guitar Wolf.
A mix of the Ramones, fifties rock, and industrial thrash, Guitar Wolf became a cultural phenomenon in Japan, and has just recently begun to garner more fans in America. Taking on Ramones like names—Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, Drum Wolf—Seiji, Billy and Toru, respectively, create some of the loudest rock music ever created. In fact, their album Jet Generation from 1999 boasts a warning that it is the loudest rock and roll record ever made and that it just may damage your stereo equipment. Have you ever spoken to a Guitar Wolf fan? You’d know it if you did. They light up like a Christmas tree, get as giddy as a schoolgirl (a la Sailor Moon) and proceed to act as if you have asked a child about his favorite toy. They also always seem to mention the film Wild Zero which stars Guitar Wolf playing themselves as they battle aliens, zombies and crazed fans, making themselves not only the equivalent to the Ramones, but also to Kiss. The reverence is palpable, just as it is on the new tribute album, I Love Guitar Wolf…Very Much. In fact, I’d say it’s the most dedicated and reverential tribute album since For the Masses, the Depeche Mode tribute.
Ranging from the obscure to the iconic, the bands on this tribute album feel exactly what the title explains. Let’s just get this part over with, this album, just as Guitar Wolf, rocks hard. There is enough energy in this record and the band itself to power small nations. It is no wonder that they dub their own style of music as “Jet Rock & Roll.” Bands like Lightning Bolt, Wildhearts and Total Dork pay homage to this frantic energy, with the latter band having their song mixed louder on the CD than any of the others. Former Sonic Youth member and Jeff Tweedy collaborator in Loose Fur, Jim O’Rourke, takes on his own GW persona, making his vocals muddied and letting the guitars thrash. Both Hellsquad and the infamous Jon Spencer Blues Explosion take on the same song, “Kawasaki ZII750 Rock n Roll.” They are vastly different takes on the same material, with Spencer giving it his patented bluesy best. One of my favorites on the record is by one of the few representatives from Japan, Puffy Amiyumi who give their version of “Can-Nana Fever,” one of the band’s early singles. J. Mascis & the Fog is probably the only other really recognizable name on the bill, and they put nitro into their guitars, add their own style of muddy shoegazing swamp rock and create another fan favorite.
If you like this album, chances are you’re either a Guitar Wolf fan already, or you like a few of the bands performing the covers. If you are of the latter camp, do yourself a favor and make your next purchase either Planet of the Wolves or Jet Generation. Ten of the thirteen songs on I Love Guitar Wolf…Very Much are from those two records, originally released on Matador. Unfortunately, earlier this year, Billy, aka Bass Wolf, passed away from a heart attack. The band has soldiered on with the addition of U.G., the new Bass Wolf. So not only is this tribute a love letter to a great band, but to fallen hero. This tribute album is strange in that it is a reflection of a reflection. Guitar Wolf was borrowing from American rock and roll, and thus these bands are borrowing from an homage. But in the end, it’s all the same. It’s all rock and roll, good and loud.