Thursday, December 18, 2003

Rock 'n' roll Fantasy
I met Keyman about two and a half weeks ago at a SZ Daily English salon where I attempted to talk to 20 Chinese ages 20-40something about the history of rock 'n' roll and a little bit about my history of writing about it.
With questions like "Who are the Beatles?" and "Do you know Karen Carpenter?" it was hard going at times, but I was able to connect with one skinny 20something guy in the front row who was actually taking notes.
After my rambling speech, he buttonholed me, introduced himself as "Keyman", said he played guitar and breathlessly told me he'd traveled standing two hours on a bus for my talk.
Suffice to say I was humbled. My years of writing about it had made me a bit jaded, to say the least. And here was a guy for whom the music really mattered, mattered so much that he'd come two hours on a jammed bus to hear someone he'd never heard of natter on about it.
"I LOVE the music of rock 'n' roll," he said. "It is very precious to me. My underground band broke up two years ago. I swore I would not form any bands any more at the broke up party. But I never restrain my fondness for the music of rock'n'roll. The music of rock 'n' roll is a kind of weapon. It help me to fight against the fate of life, the corruption of political and the hurt of my heart so that I can grasp the truth, freedom and courage and strength."
He paused for breath.
"I have many questions."
He pulled out his notebook, flipped through the pages and came to one with lyrics printed on it.
"What is California Hotel about? My friend says it is about being in a nice hotel. But I think no. I think it is a very dark song. 'You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave.' It is how I feel here and in my life sometimes."
He meant Hotel California, of course. A song that if I never heard it again I could still die happy. But it was fresh, fascinating and meaningful to Keyman, and his energy was beginning to be infectious.
Without underappreciated composer/guitarist Don Felder there to speak for his work himself, I tried my best to explain that it's a song about being sucked up and trapped in the hedonistic Southern California lifestyle. But it wasn't always easy.
"'Warm smell of colitas'...what is 'colitas''?
"It's about smoking marijuana," I said.
"What is marijuana?"
A rocker ignorant of weed. This was different indeed.
As the evening progressed, and over the sounds for two young women spontaenously singing Yesterday Once More and Country Roads together at the table next to ours, I gave Keyman a list of "must have" discs regarding other bands and performers, including the Beatles (whom he had heard of) and the Stones (only distantly).
"Aerosmith, Gun and Rose, U2, Nirvana also attract my heart," he said, and I did my best to give him as much instant input as I could.
In turn he began telling me about Chinese rock, particularly a band called Beyond which -- in terms of their history, if not their music -- is sort of the Asian equivalent of Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Doors, with a smidgen of Spinal Tap thrown in the mix. In other words, after attaining popularity, their lead singer and focal point died ignobly when he tumbled off a high stage at a concert in Japan.
Beyond took the requisite hiatus, then regrouped with the dead singer's younger brother trying to take up the slack.
I told him I'd be interested in hearing Beyond and other bands he mentioned and we recently met at the Lucky Number Apartment for a listening party.
He played some Beyond - which was a little too poppy and overproduced for my tastes -- as well as some Chinese heavy metal by bands called Black Panther and Tang Dynasty that was a little more interesting, if only for its crunch. I could hear that both had done their Metallica homework.
In turn I played him selections ranging from Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly to Jimi Hendrix, early Dylan, Revolver-era Beatles, Who and some old Stones.
Interestingly, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and Sympathy for the Devil pretty much left him cold but he lapped up As Tears Go By and Play With Fire.
And he recently e-mailed me to say that Beyond, now celebrating a 20 year anniversary, is playing at the Shenzhen Stadium on Dec. 20 - would I join him?
How can I resist? Keyman stood in line and scored two cheap high altitude seat tix and we'll be there tomorrow night.
I can't wait. I burned out on stadium shows years ago but Keyman's energy has me ready to rock and raise my flaming Bic again.
In the meantime, he had another question.
"My friend says Smoke on the Water is the vanguard song of rock 'n' roll. Is this true?"

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