Archive for March, 2008
I remember watching the Hong Kong Sevens as a young lad, usually up late at night to see New Zealand in the final — likely against Fiji — marvelling at the futuristic-looking grandstands that seemed to disappear into the sky. The atmosphere caught on camera looked terrific, with 40,000 people dancing, hollering, all dressed up, and (though I didn’t recognise it at the time) joyously drunk.
It would have seemed ridiculous to suggest to me at the time that I’d one day be part of that action. So foreign and exotic seemed Hong Kong that I probably would have thought it more likely that I would one day actually play for the All Blacks. (Come to think of it, that was a bona fide childhood fantasy of mine; one that I would play out within the confines of my bedroom, where my imagination would run its wildest, and where I would bounce a small, foam rugby ball off the walls and score tries on my bed, all the while providing a commentary that sung my glorious praises, especially because, at 14 years old — the age I projected I would make the team — I was demonstrably the youngest All Black ever.)
So this weekend was kind of special for me, even if my love for rugby as something of a religion has faded. I went to the Sevens to enjoy the spectacle, get embroiled in the heady atmosphere, and get joyously drunk. That New Zealand won — they really were in a class of their own — helped sweeten the deal, but it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. Thanks to a press pass, I could roam freely and enjoyed the hospitality of a corporate box, as well as the hard-to-get-into-but-regrettable-when-you-do South Stand, in its fully, murky and beer-soaked glory.
Still, it might be a once-off. All that drinking takes a lot of effort. And Monday morning hangovers aren’t that much fun.
Thanks to mondo-wicked MP3 blog Sixeyes, today I discovered Scott Matthew. An Australian living in Brookyln, Matthew plays quiet folk that’s a not-too-distant relative of work from Antony and the Johnsons.
He’s my new favourite, and I’ve only heard two of his tracks.
He even lives up to what in most musicians’ cases is biographical hyperbole:
“His voice cries without whining. His songs accuse without soliciting pity. Scott Matthew’s music has truth and exigency. And he forms this into songs that are purely magnetic, that expose an honest beauty and sorrow, allowing listeners to take and feel part of the experience.”
The song ‘Abandoned’, in particular, is worth your attention. Do it already.
Looks like I’m starting to make a habit of quoting from Harper’s — but the magazine is so damn good. Below is another affecting excerpt, taken from its Readings section. It is taken from an interview with a mortician who was working during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. He describes one of his saddest experiences: when a young girl’s body has been brought in after she was killed in a traffic accident. Half her head was gone.
She looked radiant, with a sweet smile, as if she were alive. I put some French mascara on her. Her eyes looked beautiful. At the memorial service, all the attendees were shocked to see the beautiful angel lying there. They cried and took turns hugging her. I was observing from the corner, secretly praying that they would allow her to stay in the mortuary one more night, so I could look at my creation alone and bring some flowers or toys to her. But they quickly wheeled her into the crematorium after the memorial service. All my work lasted for just over an hour. Beauty doesn’t last. It’s bound to be destroyed.
And something from the Harper’s Index:
Percentage of single US women in their twenties who are “very” or “extremely” willing to marry for money: 61
Percentage of women in their thirties who are: 74
Average compensation of the ten highest-salaried presidents of US public universities: $533,000
Number of them who earn more than the school’s football coach: 2
Percentage of Democrats who rate their mental health as “excellent”: 38
Percentage of Republicans who do: 58
Saturday night was one of my favourite music outings in Hong Kong. It was my second visit to the Cattle Depot artists village in To Kwa Wan. Four great local indie bands were playing. Well, two great ones and two average-good ones. Oliver and The Pancakes fell into the latter category. My Little Airport and The Yours were definitely in the former.
I took photos of both the last two bands, but they didn’t turn out as good as the one above, which is a shot of the old apartment buildings that overlook the depot. My friends and I had bought some beers from across the road ($7 a can!) and drank them merrily inside the premises. I later pushed my way up to the front of the crowd by the outdoor stage and tried to (drunkenly) inject some energy into the motionless onlookers (Hongkongers can appear so outwardly dispassionate) by occasionally screaming like a girl and generally whooping and hollering. It didn’t work.
One line in particular from My Little Airport got me cheering: the male singer, in an ode to a female singer from a Beijing band he has a crush on, cooed: “I have to sing sha la la la la / Because I don’t sing Putonghua”. Too cute.
The Yours are fast becoming one of Hong Kong’s best bands. The two lynchpins — Jack and Nick — are now consummate performers, brimming with punky attitude. Buckets of cool, and a ‘Fuck you, I’m going to keep playing this music even if you won’t dance’ style. It’s an audacious brand of class that most Hong Kong bands are too timid to touch. They’re doing their own thing and one day soon the audience is going to grow up and like it. A lot.
After being frustrated by iTunes for so long for not letting me download music with a Hong Kong credit card, and after struggling dull-techedly with torrents and having only haphazard success with Limewire, I was warmly pleased today to finally strike upon eMusic.
EMusic lets me choose from a selection of 2 million indie — and only indie — songs for US33 cents each. Now I can feel good about paying for great music produced by indie musicians and still have the convenience of downloading. There’s no DRM on any of the songs, so I can shift ‘em from my iTunes to my MP3 player to my computer at work with ease and total freedom. And the site keeps an update of new stuff coming in, with reliably good reviews from both editors and users. I’m stoked.
Today I have already downloaded:
Beach House — Devotion
Fuck Buttons — Street Horrrsing
The National — Boxer
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks — Real Emotional Trash
Devendra Banhart — Oh Me, Oh My (nod to commenter on last post — I presume that was you, Murdoch)
Beirut — The Flying Club Cup
Boards of Canada — Hi Scores
One day I’ll be cool like you.
I’ve just spent an hour watching Eternal Children, a documentary about the freak folk scene. Featured in the video are Devendra Banhart, the Coco Rosie sisters, and Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons. It’s recommended viewing for anyone interested in some of the most wonderful, and wonderfully original, musicians around today. It also provides great insight into those figures.
Banhart comes across as a precocious young man with pot-inspired pop philosophy about the duality of man (etc, etc) as if he’s a first-year university student who just finished reading Heart of Darkness. His music rules; his wit, not as sharp.
The Coco Rosie girls come across as thoughtful but actually rather inarticulate. They speak greater volumes with their beautiful, layered harmonies and sonic mash-ups.
Hegarty, though, is my favourite. He is articulate and funny, and his style outstrips all others for originality, boldness, and downright get-up-and-whoop quality.
Watch the first part of the doco below and follow the links on YouTube for the other five parts.
Long, flustered days at work have prevented me from blogging much. After a day spent hunched over a keyboard, one doesn’t always feel inspired to drag more words out of the well. I always marvel how journalist-bloggers such as Colin Espiner and Audrey Young manage to balance the demands of daily journalism with the extra workload demanded by a blog. I love my job, but I don’t want to be tied to it to the extent those people are. Work is important, but not important enough to suck away the only life I have.
That’s why I’m reduced to occasional blogging, where I post random pictures I happen to like (and sometimes have even taken myself), like this shot taken at dusk by the Lamma ferry pier a week or so ago.
And this picture of a couple of speakers sitting in a stairwell below a recording studio in Jordan. There’s not much to this photo, but every time I see it, I give it some time. There’s something very Hong Kong in it — and I reckon it even says something about the place of rock in Hong Kong. A couple of neglected speakers in grotty stairwell, in one of the world’s most modern cities.
In the meantime, I’m fascinated with, and horrified by, the riots in Tibet and, more significantly, China’s reaction to them with the Olympics just months away. I remember when it was first announced that Beijing won the rights to host the 2008 Olympics, back in 2001 (I think), I wrote a story for my student newspaper, Critic (which I later went on to edit), exploring the controversial decision and what impact it would have on, for instance, China’s human rights actions. Now here I am in China seven years later watching the history unfold (admittedly, still from a distance).
In those years, China has tip-toed so carefully towards the Olympics. It has, so far, been a case of steady-as-she-goes. Now, virtually on the eve of the start of the torch relay, it may be about to step on the loose rock that starts the avalanche.
I have my first by-line in a foreign-language publication. Today I received in the mail two copies of the March edition of Rolling Stone Italy. Robert Smith is on the cover, and inside the magazine there’s a two-page spread featuring part of the interview I did with Smith in July.
Of course, this being Robert Smith, a Cure fan has already translated the story into English and put it online. It’s amusing to compare the translation to the original.
This was probably the easiest money I’ve ever earned. The magazine’s managing editor found the transcript of my interview while researching Smith and asked if they could translate and re-print it. I said yeah.
And then I said woot.
Every so often I read something so affecting I want to share it with everyone. Often this happens when thumbing the pages of Harper’s, and particularly in its Readings section. What follows is a simple passage written by a Russian soldier who fought in Chechnya during the 1990s. Here, as part of his book One Soldier’s War, he writes about a cow his brigade inherited and nursed back to health from emaciation. After days of survival, the cow finally took a turn for the worse:
The next day, her nose started to bleed. She was dying, and without looking the cow in the eye we led her to the ravine to finish her off. She was barely able to walk, and we cursed her for dragging out her own execution like this. Odegov led the cow to the edge of the ravine and turned around and fired at her somewhat hastily, sending the bullet through her nose. I heard bone break with a dull thump and crunch, like a side of raw meat being hit with the flat of a shovel. The cow staggered, looked at us, realised that we were killing her, and lowered her head submissively.
The man in the sports coat,
with the swept-back hair,
the tan, suede sports coat,
the flowing, swept-back hair,
is publicly on the phone —
on his BlackBerry 8830
The man in the sports coat with swept-back hair
and a WiFi-enabled BlackBerry
is on the escalator, laughing,
his head thrown back,
his mouth sucking sustenance from the smog.
The laughing man in the sports coat on the escalator,
on his BlackBerry
(with trackball and tethered modem capability),
is on his way up
out of the city.