Posts Tagged ‘Eric Chen’

Renmin Park, volume 1 – My Fall and I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side

Friday, August 6th, 2010

About half way through our three month stay in Jingjiang I stumbled upon the only person in the entire city who was a fan of modern music and who also happened to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the modern Chinese rock scene. My wife and I were often dragged to these very uncomfortable “meet-the-English-speaking-freaks” gatherings, in which a handful of locals who were interested in practicing their limited English would show up and stare at us. On this one particular night a young man came up and introduced himself and upon hearing that my wife’s name was Patty, he said, “like Patti Smith?”. My wife and I were both a little taken aback and weren’t quite sure what we had just heard, so I replied,”…you mean Patti Smith…the musician Patti Smith?!?” He said, “yes, yes..Patti Smith, CBGBs, Horses…”. This was Eric Chen, we became fast friends.  Eric learnt all of his English by watching American movies. He is a music fanatic, caught inside of a country that relatively little interest in the music underground, caught inside a city that is about as backwater as it gets when it comes to modern culture. Eric took me around Jingjiang and introduced me to the handful of musicians that lived in the town, but more importantly he schooled me in the modern Chinese rock scene. He brought me a stereo and stacks of cds by modern Chinese rock bands. I was floored by the intensity of the music. Here was a status-quo that an angry young man could really kick against. No Future, indeed. There was also something about Mandarin that lent itself to rock music. It’s all those hard consonants and those guttural sounds; it just makes for some good gut-wrenching belting.

Near the end of my stay I asked Eric to translate a handful of songs that I was, for whatever reason, attracted to. I quickly learnt that Mandarin may be a great rock language, but trying to bridge the gap between Mandarin and English was not going to be an easy task. I’ve come to the conclusion that Mandarin and English are like two software platforms that just won’t communicate with each other. Eric did a great job translating and then I had to take his translations and turn them into songs that could be expressed in English. Here are Erics translations of My Fall and I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side (written by two great Chinese musicians Xu Wei and Zuoxiao Zuzhou) with my hand written notes on the borders, followed by my further adaptations of the lyrics.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

If you’d like to catch up on some past blogs about the Renmin Park album, just click on a link:

Renmin Park – Introduction

Renmin Park – The Place

Renmin Park – The Sounds

Renmin Park – The Music

Renmin Park – The Lyrics

Renmin Park – A Few Bags of Grain

Renmin Park – Little Dark Heart

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Renmin Park, volume 1 (the music)

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Most of the music that I heard in Jingjiang was uninspired Taiwanese pop and Euro-pop, blaring from tinny speakers in every shop and out of every taxicab window. The most interesting music was found in the parks, where the traditional music was played. On most Sunday’s I would head down to Renmin Park and sit in this tiny pavilion that was home to a music club that performed music from the Beijing opera. Depending on the time of day, different musicians would be there with their erhus, pipas, shangxians and various percussion instruments. There was never any shortage of singers. Each would wait their turn and then stand up and belt out some song written long ago about love lost, stolen or betrayed. Most of the players were great, most of the singers were not so great, but they all approached the music with such passion. There were a few singers that seemed head and shoulders above the others, at least to these untrained ears. I was always welcomed with much fanfare. A seat was made available (after a few visits they knew that I preferred to sit in the back) and tea was poured and someone always made sure that my cup was full. No one in the “club” spoke any English and all I could master in mandarin was “happy new year”, so no words were exchanged, but none of that mattered. I recorded dozens of performances.

About half way through our stay I caught a lucky break. I was introduced to young man by the name of Eric Chen. He spoke excellent English (he learnt it by watching American movies) and he was a music freak. He was also desperate to talk to someone about music, because, as he told me on our first meeting, he was “not only the only person in Jingjiang who had ever heard the music of Radiohead, but the only person who had ever even heard the name Radiohead”. We quickly became friends and we spent a lot of time together. One day there was a knock on the door and it was Chen carrying an, almost portable, stereo system. He also had dozens of CDs with him. My introduction to the Chinese rock scene began in earnest. Chen introduced me to the ground-breaking, emotionally gut wrenching music of He Yong; the dour, introspective sounds of the brilliant Dou Wei; the prog-rock tinged musings of The Tang Dynasty; the melodic Cure-meets-Steve-Earle pop of Xu Wei and the inspired innovative sounds of Zuoxiao Zuzhou (ZXZZ). He introduced me to dozens of more artists that had sprung up on the Chinese rock scene since the ”new openness” of the late 1980’s. He showed me videos of legendary concerts in which some of these artists had performed and cemented their reputations. It was a great awakening for me. Two of the artists that I really became attached to were Xu Wei (but only his first album, as all of us hipsters know full well) and Zuoxiao Zuzhou. There was something about Xu Wei’s guttural voice and simple, haunting melodies that really attracted me and the breadth and unusualness of  Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s work still fascinates me today (sort of a Leonard Cohen meets Nick Cave by way of Tom Waits; Zuoxiao Zuzhou contributes a lyric and lead vocal to one of the songs on Renmin Park). We decided to cover a song by each of these artists on Renmin Park (ZXZZ’s “I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side” and Xu Wei’s “My Fall”). Chen translated the lyrics and then I turned those translations into song lyrics. Here are the original songs as recorded by Xu Wei and ZXZZ:

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