OLH: From The Before Time to Now

So, I had this post sitting in my draft bin for a while, initially busting it out after watching Omokage Lucky Hole’s only live show of 2019. I had planned to let the draft die, but in the context of the current societal struggle we continue to endure, I felt it would be good to brush off what I have written, as well as provide an update on how the band has been doing over the past year and change.

The Only OLH Show of 2019

Way back on November 3rd, 2019–Japan’s “Culture Day“–Omokage Lucky Hole (AKA Only Love Hurts) held their one show for the year.

You know, in respect of The Culture.

Outside of a spot of heavy activity in 2016 and 2017, 2018 and 2019 saw OLH back to their old ways, only stepping on stage once per year. Not like they had been doing nothing–at least in 2018, they were holding open discussions on old kayokyoku–but 2019 was a quiet year for the band. That is, until the sudden announcement of this show, the ominously titled Tengoku Made ato Suu-kai no Yoru, or A Few Nights Until Death. And apropos to the title, this show may well have been their last. But I’ll go into that later…

In 2019, OLH was in its 27th year of performing in smoky concert venues, and had become a distinct “around-30” band. This of course means that the members of the band are even older. aCKy, who started OLH in his 20s with Sinner Yang (now Daizawa Goro), can be found in old videos of the band’s performances with smooth, sparkly skin. Now in his 50s, with wrinkles all over his face, there is only one topic on his mind: Death. Mortality has been a recurring topic for OLH in recent years during the MC segments of their live performances, what with the advanced aged of the members, and the alleged heart trouble plaguing both aCKy and keyboardist Sonegawa Akio (aka Sone-chan).

On the topic of death, the show opened with the classic 1977 number Bulldog coming through the PA system, by the Johnny’s Jimusho act Four Leaves. The song began to intentionally stutter when hitting the lyric “omokage,” which was the band’s cue to come on… covering the same song! With vigor, and fury. The cover was in tribute to Johnny Kitagawa, who finally found his way into the depths of hell that year. This cover would then seamlessly transition into Ore no Sei de Koshien ni Ikenakatta, a song the band usually saves for the end of their set ahead of the encore. It was clear from the start of the show that the band wanted to mix this set up.

And indeed, the set was unlike much of what I have seen the band perform in the past, leaning into their more mellow tunes. According to Sone-chan, the set list was as follows:

  • Bulldog (Cover)
  • Ore no Sei de Koshien ni Ikenakatta (It’s All My Fault We Couldn’t Go to Koshien, from the album Dairi Haha)
  • Icchimattara (If I Came, If We Split, If You’re Gone, Whydunit?)
  • 54 Nichikan, Machiboke (Left Waiting for 54 Days, Cover, Ongaku Girai)
  • Atashi Yuube H Shinaide Nechatte Gomen Ne (Sorry For Falling Asleep Before We Could Do it, Whydunit?)
  • Naka ni Dashite ii Yo, Naka ni Dashitemo ii Yo (Come Inside, Please Come Inside, Whydunit?)
  • Senaka Moyo (The Sight of Your Back, Typical Affair)
  • Vegetable Blues (On The Border)
  • Watashi ga Kurumaisu ni Nattemo (Even if I’m Stuck in a Wheelchair, Whydunit?)
  • Tama Plaza Kaikyo (The Tama Plaza Strait, Dairi Haha)
  • Konya, Sugamo De (Tonight, in Sugamo, Dairi Haha)
  • Pachinko Yatteru Aida ni Umarete Mamonai Musume wo Kuruma no Naka de Shinaseta… Natsu (That Summer I Left my Newborn Daughter to Die in the Car While I Played Pachinko, Whydunit?)
  • Kore ga Kore na Mon De (The Wife is Knocked Up, Whydunit?)
  • Tokyo (Ja) Night Club (Wa) (At The Tokyo Night Club, Ongaku Girai)

The band performed nearly all of Whydunit?, which is probably my favorite OLH album. Of note, from Whydunit?, I had never heard IcchimattaraAtashi Yuube H Shinaide Nechatte Gomen Ne, and Naka ni Dashite ii Yo, Naka ni Dashitemo ii Yo live before–a selection of songs that happen to be a laundry list of my favorite tracks from that album, which all share very palpable yet very different kinds of sorrow and desperation.

Both Icchimattara and Naka are brassy songs, which came through amazingly live. Naka is driven by a very persistent bassline reminiscent of an Al Green ballad, which came to life with extreme sensuality live, underscored by the seductive and rhythmic moans of the chorus. Both Icchimattara and Naka feature great funky guitar breakouts, which gloriously massaged the eardrums thanks to Tecchan’s expert, psychedelic strumming. Meanwhile, H Shinaide, which is already a dopey number, came through even more loose and languid on stage, sucking you into its extreme hopelessness.

Another one I hadn’t heard in person was the band’s cover of Hagiwara Kenichi’s 54 Nichikan, Machibokedelivered with emotion and intensity, sweeping us up in the moment. In line with the theme of death, the cover was performed in tribute to Hagiwara, who passed in March of that year. When performing the cover live, aCKy was sure to change the lyrics to reference the actual drug charges Hagiwara was arrested for back in the day, which drive the main story of the song.

As always, aCKy’s banter between songs provided a welcome dose of dark and cynical humor to underscore the expertly curated setlist. He opened by mentioning that this show was their first sold-out show in a while, and only the second sold-out show in the band’s history. The first sold-out show was when the band performed during the year Iyaounashi Ni was touring; a musical based on OLH songs featuring heavyweight talents like Furuta Arata and Koizumi Kyoko. “Where did all that attention disappear to?” aCKy asks the audience. 

“We only perform about once per year,” says aCKy, “and as good Japanese citizens, we have to be hyped for the Olympics next year… which means we won’t be performing.” (Hindsight 20/20–no pun intended–that turned out to be the case… but obviously for very different reasons.) aCKy then draws attention to the title of the show, A Few Nights Until Death. “Me and Sone-chan are in our early 50s… and between our heart trouble and erratic concert schedule, it really is only a ‘few nights’ until we’re done.” The audience laughs, but aCKy assures everyone that he is being deadly serious. Aiming his crosshairs at the fans, aCKy continues, “in the past our M-size t-shirts sold out the fastest… now it’s the L and XL shirts that go the quickest. Seems our fans are getting bigger and bigger each year. You better be careful… or you’ll die early.” 

Deeper into the show, aCKy starts talking about the word keshiki, meaning scenery or view. “I am very fixated on this word,” he says, “there are many ways to use it, like when athletes say they want to see ‘something new.’ I didn’t know you could use the word keshiki like that.” He then goes on to talk about the keshiki both him and band leader Sinner Yang like. “I really like the view of…’underboob.’ And Sinner Yang over here told me that the keshiki he sees in the midst of cunnilingus is like a snow-capped Mount Fuji,” obviously in reference to the age of the band leader’s sexual partners. 

On the whole, the set for A Few Nights Until Death was a very special arrangement of songs that differed from the band’s past shows, and played with the audience’s expectations. This unique arrangement, along with the on-stage banter focusing heavily on death, almost suggests that the band knew this may have been their last show… ever? Or for a while? Well, again, I’ll get there.

This show marked the band’s first collaboration with… food? Along with the t-shirts and CDs, at this show fans had the chance to buy limited-edition OLH chocolate by way of Ushio Chocolatl, a chocolate maker based out of Onomichi, Hiroshima. Turns out these chocolate makers were fans of the band, which led to a culinary partnership made in heaven. The official OLH website states that the concept behind the chocolate is “an adult chocolate for night time,” and during the show aCKy said he hoped for the “dark and twisted world of Omokage Lucky Hole” to melt in one’s mouth when eating it. The ingredients of the chocolate are shrouded in mystery, but what I can say is that it hits the cocoa hard, which is what I like. Alongside that, there are some bitter and fruity notes as well. There are likely a lot of other aspects that I could not pick up, but on the whole, the chocolate deliberately tried not to be sweet. If anything, it tried to make you feel uneasy, convincingly driving home what it means for the world of OLH to melt in one’s mouth. The packaging was penned by Terry Johnson, heta-uma illustrator extraordinaire, featuring the makeshift OLH pig mascot embracing an attractive woman. In the illustration, our intrepid pig is so excited by his female companion that he boasts an impressive boner… which is covered by the chocolate’s label. 

The show also had a last-minute opening act, the underground idol unit known as Way Wave. While they sung against very highly-produced tracks, these two college-age chicks belted out with very soulful voices. They performed a number written by OLH, which was a high-tempo Bubble Era disco banger, and came in as a nice contrast to the other more soul-flavored songs. Their participation in the show was only announced on the day-of, making the girls a little anxious. “All of you had no idea we were going to perform here today, right?” they said timidly. Anyway, they had no reason to worry, because they were legit. When I went to buy their first CD, one of them was wearing a t-shirt decorated with Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain jacket artwork, while the other had a shirt bearing the likeness of Aretha Franklin. I still need to pick up their second album with the OLH-penned track on it. 

…and that was the last OLH show I have seen to date. And the last concert I saw before we were shot directly into Hell World.

But more on the ramifications of that at the end of this post. First….

The Omokage Lucky Hole Manga

In 2017, the sleazy seinen manga anthology Young Comic, released by Shonen Gahosha, started running a series of one-offs based off OLH songs, written and illustrated by the formidable Murao Mio. Murao is known for works with titles such as Virgin Mama, Me and My 5 Wives, and The Encyclopedia of Beautiful Wives for the Modern Age… so as you can see, he was clearly the guy to get on the horn to adapt OLH’s material. I’m not sure how long or how frequently these stories ran, but in March of 2020–just in time for self isolation–Shonen Gahosha released a complete anthology of these tales in a tome titled The Sins and Lies of Men and Women

The book was only sold in select convenience stores (well, you could also get it online), and released in a format similar to the “Wide” comics one typically sees by the conbini checkout, printed on cheap paper with a flimsy cover. And no dust-jacket, natch. Needless to say, it was the most suitable format in which to release a compilation stories based on OLH tracks.

The anthology provides comic adaptations of the following OLH songs:

  • Anna ni Hantai Shiteta Otousan ni Beer wo Tsugarete (My Father-in-Law Who Hated me Poured me a Beer, from the album Dairi Haha)
  • Ore no Sei de Koshien ni Ikenakatta (It’s All My Fault We Couldn’t Go to Koshien, from the album Dairi Haha)
  • Hitorigurashi no Hostess ga Hajimete Shinbun wo Totta (One Day a Hostesses Living on Her Own Started Reading the Newspaper, Ongaku Girai)
  • Icchimattara (If I Came, If We Split, If You’re Gone, Whydunit?)
  • Como Esta NTR (On The Border)
  • Kore ga Kore na Mon De (The Wife is Knocked Up, Whydunit?)
  • Oranda no Hanayome (My Wife from The NetherlandsOngaku Girai)
  • Kyuryobi-san (Mr. PaydayOngaku Girai)
  • Kuchi ni Dashite Ne (Let it All OutOn The Border)
  • Konya, Sugamo De (Tonight, in Sugamo, Dairi Haha)
  • Suki na Otoko no Namae Ude ni Compass no Hari de Kaita (Carving His Name in My Arm With a Compass NeedleDairi Haha)
  • Atashi Yuube H Shinaide Nechatte Gomen Ne (Sorry For Falling Asleep Before We Could Do it, Whydunit?)

As far as the manga’s look is concerned, Murao’s art employs the typical manga stylization for the main characters in each story, complete with large, shiny eyes and otherwise simple features; while ugly side characters have more realistic features with a cartoony twist. Seeing as the stories all focus on the vicious ups and downs of life, when characters experience negative emotions, the pretty stylization goes out the window, opting for more exaggerated and grotesque facial expressions. One great example of this is the teenage boy lead in Beer coming to climax during his First Time, unceremoniously grinding his teeth and snorting. 

Another thing to note about Murao’s art is that while it has generic manga stylization and somewhat stiff artwork, what sets it apart is its grounding in reality. All of the hairstyles and clothing are realistic–salarymen dress like salarymen, hostesses dress like hostesses, and dirty old men dress like dirty old men. If a character’s hair isn’t black, it’s typically suggested that it is either dyed brown or blonde, as is common in Japan–especially among the social class of people OLH’s stories tend to focus on. As such, characters between stories can look quite similar. They are not drawn to stand out with distinctive silhouettes like a Cloud Strife or a Spike Spiegel; they’re just regular folks. What does imbue the work with a distinct air of cheap soft-core porn sleaze is the fact that all the women are drawn with gigantic, unrealistically perfect boobs, and their clothes are all conveniently designed to accentuate their hooters as much as possible. 

Since the stories are all based off of OLH songs, just by reading the song names used as the titles for each chapter–labeled as “Tracks” with a little cassette tape icon–I already knew the gist of each story before diving in. But the great thing about OLH songs is that they tend to leave a lot up to interpretation. At the time of their writing, some songs were inspired by major tabloid stories–expecting the listener to be up-to-date with current events–while others are simply meant to be vague for artistic reasons, skillfully employing wordplay and innuendo. Even with the songs that tend to be more straightforward, there is only so much story that can be conveyed within a 5-minute tune. 

What The Sins and Lies of Men and Women does is present a certain interpretation of each of the songs it adapts, adding unique layers of storytelling that can only be conveyed through a medium like manga. While some songs like Beer and Koshien don’t leave much to the imagination, the stories get fun when they start to play with the more vague track selections. Just by listening to Hitorigurashi no Hostess, one can take in artistically selected snippets of the story being told and figure out what’s going on. But in manga form, we are treated to a very satisfying drama about a woman working in the redlight district who finds herself, and becomes liberated from an abusive relationship. Even more in the vein of leaving it up to interpretation, Icchimattara is deliberately meant to make you think just from its title, which could refer to a sudden ejaculation, a breakup, or someone dying. The raw song lyrics suggest an affair, and the sorrow that comes if the affair is to come to an end. It also implies that the woman in the affair may die. Meanwhile, the manga goes for a more comical interpretation of the title, focusing on a bumbling married salaryman in a relationship with his co-worker… that gradually gets more serious than he would prefer. Another one that breathes great comedic light into already funny song is Kore ga Kore na Mon De, which sets up an unexpected love triangle, ending in a darkly humorous manner. 

One thing these stories do that I am not 100% behind is a tendency to lean on happy or conclusive endings, despite all the insanity that transpires. I understand that this is probably some manga editor at work, but one thing I love about OLH songs is how they always end in an uncomfortably uncertain and unresolved place. That said, sometimes this approach does work to throw an interesting twist into the story, so it by no means breaks the anthology. 

It’s been a while since I read this book cover-to-cover, but my top 3 favorite takes on OLH songs from this anthology would likely be IcchimattaraHitorigurashi no Hostess ga Hajimete Shinbun wo Totta and Kore ga Kore na Mon De. As mentioned above, I probably gravitate to these concrete interpretations of songs written to be intentionally vague, because it’s interesting to see what Murao is taking away from just a few lyrics. 

While the deep despair and existentialism that characterizes OLH songs is somewhat watered down for a more general (?) audience in The Sins and Lies of Men and Women, the book is a great reimagining of key OLH material. From the pervy art style to the cheap nature of the release, this is another excellent way to experience the “dark and twisted world of OLH.” If you’re a fan of the band, I recommend picking it up… if you can. It’s off conbini shelves now, and is being hawked on Amazon to the tune of 3,000 JPY as of this writing. 

The Death of Sonegawa Akio 

As mentioned at the top of this post, the health of the OLH band members is a reoccurring topic whenever aCKy engages in banter with the fans during their shows. While we would all laugh at aCKy complaining about his health issues, in December of 2019, the official OLH website announced that aCKy had been hospitalized. The cause was sensorineural hearing loss. Given his profession, it’s not difficult to guess why this occurred. But while this already cast doubt as to whether or not the band could perform again, the world was then flung into the coronavirus pandemic. So for a while, the band wasn’t going to be performing either way.

The band has yet to make an official announcement regarding aCKy’s potential recovery. And outside of the announcement of the release of The Sins and Lies of Men and Women, in the midst of the pandemic, no-one was expecting much in the way of news from OLH. 

Until September 7th, 2020, when the band announced the death of one of its main members: keyboardist Sonegawa Akio.

I think I caught this announcement about 2 or 3 months late. With the band obviously not doing anything in the middle of a fatal pandemic, I wasn’t keen on keeping up with their Twitter feed or checking the website. But one day out of quarantine-inspired boredom, I decided that I wanted to see what OLH was up to. Seeing the announcement of Sone-chan’s death left me gobsmacked.  

Sone-chan wasn’t one of the band’s founding members, but he was with the crew for a long time–25 years, to be exact–and composed one of my favorite tracks, Pachinko Yatteru Aida ni Umarete Mamonai Musume wo Kuruma no Naka de Shinaseta… Natsu. His expert manipulation of either the Wurlitzer organ or KORG synthesizer added just the right amount of sensuality and established the skeezy atmosphere needed for the material tackled in OLH’s songs. As mentioned before on this blog, aCKy and the band have been aware of my existence as one of their few non-Japanese fans for a while. I follow a bunch of the members on Twitter, but I was surprised to find out one day that Sone-chan had followed me back. In following his feed, I learned that we frequented the same ramen shop in Nakano, where I currently live. We didn’t exchange too much correspondence, but every now and again we would @ each other, talking about ramen or liquor. It was my dream to one day work up the courage to invite him out to a drink… but alas, this will now never come to pass. 

The band published a series of moving messages from both current and former members to celebrate Sone-chan’s all-too-brief 52 years of life. You can read these messages here. For those not versed in Japanese, I will translate the comments by band leader Sinner Yang and aCKy.

First, from Sinner Yang,

Between a shorty like me and a fatty like aCKy, you completed our group of dorks by being a four-eyes. That’s what made us a team.

Next, aCKy. This goes long.

I first met Sone-chan 25 years ago. At the time, our guitarist Okamura DIE Dai-kun played with Sone-chan in another band. “Let’s let him in,” DIE insisted. So we did!

When we met, there were very few people in the band of the same age, but Sone-chan was the only person who was the same age as me. I found out that we listened to the same music, had the same backbone, and all together I felt a comfort in him that I couldn’t really understand. Either way, we became friends quickly.

Be it in private or in public, no matter what the situation, we had a mutual understanding of one another. This feeling continued, un-changed for 25 years. But, perhaps unintentionally, I was unable to notice the happiness I felt in this relationship…

More than that, be it on the stage or elsewhere, having Sone-chan around put me at ease. Nah, wait… it’s because Sone-chan was there that I was able to feel at ease. I feel sad only realizing just now that this is how I felt.

I remember back in 2007, when we were at a live house called Aoyama Cay, we performed alongside Perfume at the height of their popularity. During rehearsal, with no-one else in the audience’s seats, just me and Sone-chan sat there watching those three girls sing and dance. “Man, I am so happy to play with OLH,” said Sone-chan (laughs). And after that, when we helped out on the musical Iyaounashi Ni by Kawahara Masahiko, he made a similar remark upon meeting Koizumi Kyoko, who performed in the musical (laughs). I thought, “so you’re only glad to be with the band when you meet famous people.” But, I want to hear those words again… “Man, I am so happy to play with OLH.”

People used to say “you only start wanting to meet your parents once they’re gone.” Well, for me, that’s how I feel about Sone-chan. 

Like, think about it. We’re shy Japanese people… and weirdos… there’s no way you can just say to someone you care about deeply from the bottom of your heart that you are “always thankful” for them, or think that they’re “really important” to you. I just can’t bring myself to say that. No-one says that. And you know… like… with Sone-chan, much like they do in Sumo, I liked giving him “harsh training.” I’d push him around a bit, but all in good fun (I didn’t actually hit him or anything…?). In that kind of relationship, you just don’t say stuff like that. I couldn’t help it… he was too cute.

Well… you know… I did actually want to say those things. I wonder if it got through even though I never actually said stuff like that…? I mean… when we went out to eat, I was the one who paid. 

We were two single guys who were both getting up there in age. And we both had the same underlying conditions, so we were good about seeking medical treatment to avoid dying alone. However, if this was Sone-chan saying to me “aCKy, you better watch out, too!” then I will take this message to heart and take better care of myself. I will of course never forget you for my entire life, Sone-chan, and me taking this message to heart will be my way of “meeting” you again.

In normal times, we would love to hold a big ceremony for you, and talk about all of our great memories with you. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, this can’t be done. Please forgive us. 

So to everyone who knew Sone-chan in some way and liked his playing, please pop in an OLH CD, or switch on a song on streaming, and listen to him. Try to remember our Sone-chan, even just a little bit–even if it’s the fact that he looks like ramen-loving Koike-san. That is my only wish.

Rest in power, Sone-chan. 

The Future of OLH

Was that show in 2019 really OLH’s last performance? Well, the band has not announced anything specific, but at the same time, they have not been active on either their website or their Twitter account once since the start of 2021. But with vaccinations for the coronavirus finally getting under way in Japan, we can expect for a band of seniors like OLH to be a bit more comfortable about performing in tight, poorly ventilated live venues in the coming months. But with the uncertain health of aCKy and the death of Sone-chan, the band’s future is looking bleak. 

But who knows, maybe they do indeed still have a “few nights until death.”

And you can expect me to be there for every one of those performances. Next year is their 30th anniversary, after all. 

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