This is a great song

The song is “Gran Torino” by Jamie Cullum, and here are its lyrics.

Realign all the stars above my head
Warning signs travel far
I drink instead on my own
Oh how I’ve known the battle-scarred and worn-out beds

Gentle now a tender breeze blows
Whispers through a Gran Torino
Whistling another tired song

Engines hum and bitter dreams grow
Heart locked in a Gran Torino
Beats a lonely rhythm all night long

These streets are old
They shine with the things I’ve known
And breaks through the trees
They’re sparkling

Your world is nothing more than all the tiny things you’ve left behind

So tenderly your story is
Nothing more than what you see
Or what you’ve done
Or will become
Standing strong
Do you belong
In your skin
Just wondering

Gentle now a tender breeze blows
Whispers through a Gran Torino
Whistling another tired song

Engines hum and bitter dreams grow
A heart locked in a Gran Torino
Beats a lonely rhythm all night long

May I be so bold and stay
I need someone to hold that shudders my skin
They’re sparkling

Your world is nothing more than all the tiny things you’ve left behind

So realign all the stars above my head
Warning signs travel far
I drink instead on my own
Oh how I’ve known
the battle scars and worn out beds

Gentle now a tender breeze blows
Whispers through the Gran Torino
Whistling another tired song

Engines hum and bitter dreams grow
A heart locked in a Gran Torino
It beats a lonely rhythm all night long
It beats a lonely rhythm all night long
It beats a lonely rhythm all night long

Homesick?

I think I must be, despite the great company of my colleagues.  I woke up one day humming a fragment of a song, and later in the day I found myself singing out loud in my head the lyrics.  They go like this.

景色依旧良辰不在,人儿几时回来。 [The scenery is as it was, but the good times are past; when will he come back?]

I don’t think I consciously meant to remember the rest of the song; at least, I don’t remember trying to recall the rest of the lyrics as actively as I sometimes did when I genuinely wanted to remember a song; but, all through the day, at odd moments, I would catch my mind turning these lyrics over and over; the sense was that there was more to look for.

Then today, I found myself singing another part of the song.

我有诉不尽的悲凄,寄托在梦里带给你,[I have uncountable sorrows, which I entrust to dreams to bring to you.]
虽然千山万水隔离,但愿在梦里相依。[Although mountains and seas separate us, I hope we can lean against each other in dreams.]

And immediately I realised (maybe it was an after-the-fact rationalisation; it occurred too quickly for me to tell the difference; our minds are mysterious things) that I had been singing that song because of the line “although mountains and seas separate us”, because that vast immutable distance from a certain bedrock of familiarity was what I had been feeling through all those colourless meetings, even though the meals have been uniformly good to excellent and despite the great company.*,** 

I prescribed a call back home for my homesickness, and I am happy to report that it’s abated, a bit :)

*Ok, not totally colourless – the meetings have been enlivened by a brusque Indian who breaks iron-clad protocol at his will and stands out like a caveman would in genteel society. 

**A recent “fruits of the sea” pasta – mussels, squid and shrimp tossed together with al dente spaghetti in olive oil and white wine – and the second prawn buffet in a week were particular highlights.  A galling episode occurred after the pasta meal: we went to a restaurant in the Old Town part of Geneva for warm chocolate cake – we had heard from a colleague who was stationed here that it was good, the warm chocolate cake – but when we ordered, the proprietess of the establishment (known for its roast chicken, which smelled delicious) told us that she had many customers and could not serve us if we didn’t order anything else.  The thing is, this was at 9-something pm, by which time all reasonable folk would have had their dinner, don’t you think?!***

***Ah well, it was really her perogative.  And the restaurant was crowded.  *grudgingly, still fuming a bit*  I guess in these times she would have an added reason to squeeze as much profit out of her operations as she can, and that’s what she did.

Lee Guitars concert

When I heard about it from a tall, long-legged friend, my jaw dropped. All these artistes, on the stage, together, at the same event? She had to be kidding me, right? Because here’s who she mentioned, not in order, because I lost track when I had to look away for a while to pick up my jaw: Jonathan Lee 李宗盛 (one of the most prolific, popular and evocative lyricists of the past couple of decades); Emil Chau 周华健 (singer of many singalong hits, mostly in the 1990s, and a supremely charismatic onstage presence); Mayday 五月天 (by my reckoning the most popular Chinese band in the world, and by all appearances a bunch of amazingly down-to-earth, airless blokes); Cheer Chen 陈绮贞 (stunningly talented Taiwanese singer-songwriter, with a magnetic voice); Tanya Chua 蔡健雅 (criminally under-appreciated Singapore singer – she has to have a solo concert here soon!); A-Yue 张震岳 (I don’t quite care for him :p).

And later, looking for it on Sistic, I found out that the concert was billed as the Lee Guitars All-Star Concert Singapore, and owed its name to 李宗盛, who after many years of composing, producing, singing and writing lyrics for music decided to craft instruments of music – guitars, to be specific – and set up a guitar-crafting business called Lee Guitars. The concert was meant to be a celebration of the relationship between these artistes and their guitars, and the stories of how the guitars gave them their voice, to share with the rest of the world.

So I did the only thing I could and bought a ticket and went to watch the concert this past Saturday night. Some observations:

  • The first thing I noticed was that the audience was diverse, age-wise. Itty bitty teenyboppers were there, and folks just slightly younger than my parents, and those in-between. It was interesting to see Mayday go mad on stage, and the teenyboppers bop bop bop in the crowd, and among them, the older folks in their seats, relaxed, a little puzzled at the attraction of the noise, then smiling at the remembrance.
  • During the recorded voice-over introduction to the concert, the artistes were announced one by one, and the chap who did the list must have had some sort of applause modulator, because the audience’s reactions to the names, in order, were like this: 李宗盛 (cheers); 周华健 (cheers, loud); 张震岳 (louder); Tanya (loudeR); 陈绮贞 (very loud, high-pitched); 五月天 (high-pitched, ear-piercing, prolonged mangling of vocal chords).
  • But the loudest, most sustained applause of the entire night (three-plus solid hours; worth it!), by far, was for a guitar solo by an accompanying guitarist. He was phenomenal! I forgot his name – shame! – and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he was playing! So many seemed to know, but I didn’t. Darned. But he was electrifying – so psyched up, so in the flow, and then, after he finished, so pumped that he did it perfectly, that we were pumped for him too.
  • All the singers were better ‘live’ than on the CD, 李宗盛 and 周华健 because of their stage presence, the former earnest and likeable, the latter charming and witty; 五月天 because of their energy and chemistry with one another and the audience; 张震岳 because he is really a shy git unless he’s onstage, where he becomes a sly and mouthy mix of brash hip-hop and sensitive R&B; 陈绮贞 because of her talent and her incredible intensity – she gets so lost in her performances; Tanya because she was just absolutely born to sing on a small stage, with acoustic instruments and a small, attentive audience.  It was not that sort of venue, and we were not that sort of audience, but there was this point when Tanya appeared on stage, at the back, and the lights came on a bit early so we caught the last few seconds of the elevator lifting the platform she was on, and she chuckled, nervously, and then started a rendition of 记念, and – you know how sometimes at concerts you get disappointed by renditions of your favourite songs because the artiste insists on singing it in a creative i.e. different way, with a creative i.e. stupid rendition of your favourite part? Tanya sang 记念 differently too, but it was an intoxicating and bracing sort of difference – a bit of jazz improvisation. You had to hear it. You think what you hear on the radio, from her CDs, on YouTube is amazing? Wait till you hear her ‘live’. Just wait. Which is why she needs to have a solo concert, or several, on the double chop chop.
  • 五月天 are amazingly popular, and they seem like such fundamentally decent people that you don’t grudge them that at all. When lead singer 阿信 went into the chorus of 温柔, he sang a bit, and, sensing that many many of the teenyboppers present (and some older folks, ahem) were champing at the bit to show that they of course knew the lyrics by heart, happily obliged and played the part of acoustic guitarist. What a simple but effective way of engaging the audience.
  • The best way to get a cab after a full-house concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium is to walk across the bridge over to Tanjong Rhu Road, where there are many blocks of condominiums, and, at that time, many people returning to their blocks of condominiums in cabs, one of which you can then grab :)

Generosity

I haven’t blogged for a while.  Work’s been extremely occupying.  This coming week should end with epic satisfaction.

So this shall be a short blog.  I wanted to share two YouTube videos.  They are from a Taiwanese version of America’s Got Talent or American Idol – 超級星光大道.  In this episode, two of the most outstanding competitors in the contest get to sing with a much-admired veteran, David Wang (黃大煒).  In fact, as she introduces him, the host says that instead of wondering who is going to win today’s contest, the audience is probably wondering how many songs he’s going to sing.

And so, he goes on to sing with two of the competitors.  And sing tremendously well.  But what impressed me more was his generosity.  David Wang not only cedes the spotlight to the two amateurs, he goes beyond that to make sure the audience appreciates and acknowledges the competitors’ (admittedly excellent) performances.  I want to be this generous when I am in this sort of a position.

More more more

Okay okay, so, I can’t stop.

天天想你 is one of those songs that, were I to hear it on the radio, I would marvel at my luck, and at how long ago I last heard it, and then I would think about getting a 張雨生 (English Wikipedia entry) CD (he sang the song), and then I’d wonder whether they still sell any. (The chap died in a car accident a while back.)

Through the magic of YouTube, I found 3 (!!) versions.

This first one is the original one. Sounds rather more dramatic than I remember it.

This second one is an amazing ‘live’ slow rock version. 天天想你 apparently happens to be 五月天‘s (Mayday) favourite song (even though lead singer 阿信 got the lyrics wrong…). In this video, at about the 4min 10sec mark, one of the band members proposes to his girlfriend! I found it touching that the band members were so obviously thrilled when she nodded and nodded and nodded :)  (Okay, so it was a tad staged…)

This third one is my favourite. 陳綺貞‘s (English Wikipedia entry) pure, effortless performance, laced with bits of improv, made for a terrific homage to a song she used to listen to on a broken Walkman and still occasionally hums.

Ukulele

When I first knew 优客李林, I thought their name was supposed to be a play on the word “ukulele”. They were a short-lived (1991-1996), but immensely popular duo, which always reminded me of the Japanese duo Chage & Aska – especially because both duos featured someone who wore shades all the time.

Their biggest hit was arguably their first one: 认错. Felt like reminiscing today, so dug up a couple of versions via YouTube. Enjoy.

The single version:

The ‘live’ version:

I had a really good secondary school and JC friend who loved 优客李林. After I started working, I bumped into him a few times. Although we never kept in contact, our conversations were always comfortable, if truncated. I hope he is well now.

I remember this to be his favourite 优客李林 song.

Hamster voice

My family does not celebrate Christmas, and I am generally sedentary, so I spent the day at home, sleeping, eating, haphazardly surfing the Net, and, toward the end of the day, browsing through my MP3 collection.

I’ve been enamoured with the Taiwanese songwriter/composer/singer 陳綺貞 (Cheer Chen) since I was in university. Her music is folksy, her lyrics touched with whimsy and well-observed and philosophical, and her voice melodious, like a chirp (my sister calls her “hamster voice”). I was fortunate enough to catch her at a cosy concert in my school’s lecture hall, and she was spectacularly good “live”. (The person who shared the stage with her was her mentor 陳昇 (Bobby Chen) (the link is in Chinese), and to be honest he pretty much stole the show – he’s a natural performer and showman. Toward the end of the concert, a student near the front of the lecture hall stood up to leave. 陳昇 asked him where he was going, got a mumbled reply, and then said in Mandarin, “Shut the gates. Release the dogs,” essentially mock-threatening to detain the student and sic vicious Dobermans on him for leaving before the end of the concert. That brought a crowdful of laughs!)

Dug through good old YouTube for music videos of a couple of my favourites, so I could share them with you folks here, and here they are. (You can find lots more here.)

This one’s called 還是會寂寞 (I’d translate that as “Still will be lonely”):

This one’s 旅行的意義 (I’d translate that as “Why you travel”):

Stuck on Sodagreen

I can’t get enough of 小情歌 (literally “little love song”) by Taiwanese band 苏打绿* i.e. Sodagreen and their 杨乃文-soundalike frontman 吴青峰**. Have a listen :)

*Click through – the web site is really quite cool.

**I’d initially thought the singer was a she, even after knowing about his very masculine name (which translates as “green peak”). He has amazing range.

Update: This 28 Jul 2007 episode of China Beat is a good introduction to Sodagreen’s music, and the frontman’s range.

Over Time

Sometimes I just want to feel sad, and I listen to sad songs.

Then yesterday, while listening to the sad guitar strings of the instrumental theme from the Japanese dorama “Over Time” (by The Brilliant Green – if you like heart-tugging plucks of guitar string and have good audio equipment, you might wanna root around the ‘Net for that), I looked up “Over Time” online, and came across a list of songs on its original soundtrack, and remembered one of my favourite songs from that time: “I Believe” by Yamaguchi Yuko. And then I searched for that song on YouTube, thinking I might find a music video from long ago, but I found this:

I think those of you who followed “Over Time” would remember the scene in this YouTube clip.  Let me clumsily attempt to sketch a brief background: The scene in the YouTube clip is the farewell between Natsuki (the girl) and Soichiro (the guy), who are best buddies/soul-mates. Soichiro loves her, but Natsuki is not as sure – she thinks their relationship is one in which he walks alongside her, while she wants to spend her life with someone who would hold her hand. So Natsuki makes her final decision (after many convolutions): she would spend the rest of her life with Kuga, an all-round nice chap (though of course I couldn’t help disliking him for coming between Natsuki and Soichiro). They are leaving Japan for the US – therefore the farewell.

Watching the show many years ago, I kept hoping for a convenient Hollywood ending – maybe Kuga would die, and Natsuki she’d mourn for a while, and return to Soichiro. But watching the clip again, I realised that she is radiantly happy – just watch the clip: she is seriously joyous! – and I decided one should be happy for her too, as Soichiro is.

True to the excellent, observant writing throughout “Over Time”, the ending was special too. Soichiro is a photographer, and at the ending of “Over Time”, he publishes a photo book called “De Derriere”, dedicated to Natsuki, with a photo of her retreating back, waving the bridal tiara. (“De Derriere” is French for “Hind” or “Back”, but I like to think that it means something like “Back Silhouette” or “背影”.)

Oh, and I also found a synopsis of the whole dorama online. Here’s one of the last episode.