Five years ago, on April 9, 2009, we lost one of the great English voices of Chinese rock: Ian Sherman, who succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting—and about which he had been writing—for just over a year.
I think it’s fitting that my five-year anniversary post comes in a few days after the actual anniversary. Not because Ian was ever missing deadlines, but because his writing wasn’t concerned with anything so pedestrian as surface details. It was the experience of the thing in question. It’s not the date: It’s what happened.
Kurt Cobain’s death didn’t do anything as grandiose as “galvanize” the Beijing rock scene (so don’t believe the hype), but it did certainly, provide an important marker at which like-minded mourners could gather and remember, celebrate, and rock. It seemed timely to revisit a recent piece I wrote on Nevermind.
Pete Seeger is one of many Western artists to whom Cui Jian is compared, and with good reason. The two men are linked by their commitment to getting their music, and message, to as many people as possible, seeing in the art of songwriting, and the form of a song, a potent tool for reaching audiences.
With Seeger’s recent passing at the age of 95 and recent Cui Jian news, it seems reasonable to turn to a series of events that bring the comparison closer.
Did we all jinx it by getting our hopes up? By “we all” I mean the million reports on the invitation Chinese rock’s alpha and omega, Cui Jian, received to perform on China Central Television’s massivest Spring Festival Gala, and the zillions of zeros and ones involved in the multi-lingual speculations as to whether he’d play “Nothing to My Name” if he accepted.
Alas. Call it the Year of the Hoarse. The New Year will not kick off with a yaogunny bang. At least not on CCTV.
An unusual though, unfortunately, not completely out of the realm of the related subject for this space. Sino-Japanese relations are again in the news, most recently due to a Prime Ministerial visit to a shrine. It’s an incident that plays out repeatedly: The Chinese see the trip as Japanese celebration of war criminals and crimes; the Japanese make the trip to honour those they believe died defending the nation.
At no point between, say, 1931 and today have Sino-Japanese relations achieved a status that might be described as anything better than strained. And the invocation of Harry Potter villainy on both sides only brings things to a new level. It’s a small step from fantasy books and films to yaogun. Though one might not imagine yaogun, or the Midi Music Festival—the country’s longest-running festival—to exist in a context in which this matters, the truth is that there are very few contexts, if any, in which it doesn’t matter. Thusly is a look back called for.
It was, in October of 2003, a risky proposition to invite a Japanese rock band to participate in the fourth Midi Music Festival.
It went from risky to off the DefCon charts after the orgy.