The front door was open because we’ve been experiencing cool weather lately. But they don’t do screen doors in SE Asia so mosquitoes and other critters can fly in. It’s maddening, but there you have it. And since we don’t have a dining room table I was sitting on the floor, using our couch as a table to eat my chicken soup while I read an article on my Samsung phone about communism that my brother sent.
The hotel next to us was blaring “Hotel California” by the Eagles and even though it has been one of the most overplayed classic rock songs, I started to get into it, especially the guitar solo. Like most music, it time-traveled me back to all those moments that I have heard classic rock or American music in Asia.
I started it at the guitar solo. You’re welcome.
It’s funny because you don’t expect it when you first arrive or if you are new to SE Asia. You expect to hear local or ethnic music. But there have been countless times I have stepped into a taxi to hear Western music being played. Sometimes it’s how I’ve ended up bonding with the driver. There’s something surreal about being in a land so different than your own and hearing familiar music, music you grew up with, music you used to listen to when you were driving down roads.
When I was doing research for my book, I asked Uncle Ron (he’s technically not my uncle, but I was raised the Thai way so all of my mom’s friends are my uncles and aunties) about what his experience was as an American GI during the Vietnam War. He talked about what it was like to walk into ‘those bars’ and how shocked he was at the cover bands playing American and British classic rock in Thailand.
“They didn’t speak English, but they knew all the words to popular 60s and 70s rock songs. They were very good, too.”
An example of what Uncle Ron heard covered:
When we lived in Chiang Mai, there was a bar that used to play live hard rock (there are others, trust me) that we used to walk by and stop and listen to sometimes. Other times we’d admire how well certain songs were covered, and discuss the musical merits of each band member. The guitarist was particularly special at wailing out Black Sabbath, Guns ‘n Roses and Led Zeppelin with passion.
These days, musical tastes run more along pop and K-pop (*cringe*) and I fear as a global community we’re worse for it. I try to introduce other musicians (you know the kind that play their instruments) to my students and they usually roll their eyes at me and wonder when they can hear The Chainsmokers or other music that they’re accustomed to, but in my opinion, fluff that is forgettable or replays in your head until you want to scream.
This isn’t to say I haven’t tried. I want to know what’s popular. I’ve also always been a student of popular music and videos which I blame from coming of age when MTV first aired. Now, I know you might think I’m being too hard on the genre, but I find looking at culture through its various lenses and influences, fascinating.
Other forms of music (classical, jazz, rock, country, etc.) require skill. Pop these days has been reduced to auto-tune (think Photoshop for singing voices), beauty over brains and sexy-slick dance moves. Sure, I’m making a generalization, but it’s been long understood that the music industry has killed talent for the all-mighty dollar.
You could argue that this is about tastes and I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t think so. I think a lack of creativity, innovation, risk-taking and the reward of such artistic behavior is part of the demise of our society. Pop music is empty-headed. If I don’t watch the video sometimes it takes on a different flavor. Or sometimes the video is what makes the song interesting.
But with classic rock (or bluegrass or other forms of music that I like), I don’t watch it. I listen. I return to the music again and again. I appreciate different songs depending on my mood or various points in my life. And often the complexity of classic rock, for instance, transcends time and creates a mood in me that resembles awe over the sheer talent of what I’m listening to.
The same commercialization of music has taken over art. The art world has become fixated with ideas (not even good ones). It’s rare to take our time with art these days. I find art history remarkable in its downward spiral from the Renaissance and Impressionistic periods to let’s say, the urinal (oh, excuse me, the Fountain) by Duchamp and this conceptual art phase that frankly has left many people “visually uneducated” or confused.
Copying is considered smart and what ‘true artists’ do has been misunderstood and attributed to Picasso. Artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have made their living from copying other artists, and not even creating their art themselves. It’s mindboggling, really, how rich they have become from not even drawing or painting or sculpting at all. Yet they are the most famous artists today.
Sorry. I know there are those who would argue against me, but when art, music and movies (anyone else saturated with old TV reboots and comic book heroes?) has become devoid of CREATIVITY, we’ve got a big problem.
Part of the reason why writers have a hard time being traditionally published is these money-making machines don’t want to take a risk on someone untested. There’s a reason why we have an explosion of indie publishing, indie music and even indie movies. Talented, creative and crazy souls want to do what they love and push against the norm or at least offer something unique. But the tidal wave of what we’re told is art or music is as overwhelming as the advertising world we live in.
And that’s why we need individual voices more than ever.
/1/ Really worth the watch if you haven’t seen it already…
/2/ Pure pop vocals, the way they used to be.
/3/ Traditional Thai “luk thung” music. Rockin’, funky.
/4/ Have you heard of Dengue Fever? Cambodian lead singer + LA band + awesomeness. “Seeing Hands” is my favorite song from them.
How important is music in your life? What’s popular music where you’re at? Do you listen outside of your favorite genre?