Revisiting Cui Jian

When I found, on my various internetty feeds, sources and whatnots, references to an interview conducted by VICE magazine of Chinese rocker number one, Cui Jian, my attention, like many other China-watchers and -blatherers, was piqued. After all, who isn’t constantly on the lookout for Western media mentions of Chinese rock and roll?

From a Shanghaiist link, the video made its way to newsgathering blog Beijing Cream, China Digital Times and to this post at the Washington Post‘s WorldViews blog. The Post‘s post includes my statement – which I’ve also trumpeted in the pages of Red Rock as well as over WNYC’s radio waves and at as many other platforms as is humanly possible – that Cui deserves to be considered for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

(“We shall consider,” quoth the Rock Hall website’s induction process page, “factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.” It’s not that, say, Heart, or any of the other 2013 inductees don’t deserve admission, it’s just that, well: Raise your hand if you’ve taught a billion people to rock? Anyone…?)

But I digress.

In addition to being piqued by the video interview making rounds, my attention also experienced deja vu, if one might be able to attribute the experience of deja vu to one’s attention. That was because I’d seen this video before, back in 2008, when VICE first posted it.

Just imagine what the folks at VICE could do with a caption of this beauty… (from VICE by David Feinberg)

What struck me then, and now, again, in the wake of the magazine’s reposting of the interview, was how uninformed the whole thing came off as seeming. That begins with the title of the video, calling Cui the “Grandfather of Chinese Rock.” It would be even more insulting if it wasn’t for the fact that one of the first things the interviewer (left) says to Cui is that she’s “been here [in China] a week and a half.” From there, you can easily imagine how things might unfold.

Luckily, though, Cui has had a lot of practice dealing with uninformed journalists, Chinese or otherwise. “Fuck Confucius” is a nice VICEy title, and, sure, sort of paraphrases Cui’s thoughts on the man who, in his words “totally destroyed the culture of China culture,” by “teaching people how to be nice to people but not nice to themselves.” Put another way, as he said in the great documentary, Night of an Era, “The way [Chinese people] think just conflicts with rock music . . . Chinese people don’t appreciate the beauty of rock. Being critical is never a kind of beauty in Chinese aesthetics.”

My point here is, first, that this interview isn’t new, which isn’t to say it’s not valuable. It is valuable, but it deserves to be supplemented, which is second on the my-point-here list. Do check out the interview in written form. And check out another, more recent, interview – on CNN, no less – in video form, below, and in very-extended-transcript form. (And sure, while I’m at it, why not also supplement it with the juicy bits that I include from many interviews with Cui over the course of Red Rock). For CNN, Cui is more direct than one may have become accustomed to seeing. To hear him say, emphatically, that yes, rock music, in the words of reporter Stan Grant, “needs to be political” is something that seems to be new territory for Cui, who is, as he told VICE, good at “playing games” in order to continue his work. What’s new is his being closer to coming-right-out-and-saying-it; Cui has been the master of a style of ‘play’ that matches his low-key interview voice: He has been extremely careful about what he says to whom, preferring to leave the specifics to his audience. “I wrote (“Piece of Red Cloth”),” he says, “on the edge of two sides. One is love, or sex, and one is politics.” But don’t take it from me:

Let us, though, look not to the artist himself, but, rather, to the work he’s created. Cui’s last album is a criminally-underlooked record; with all the talk of his oldest material, like “Nothing to My Name” – which is, to be sure, an absolutely and unprecedentedly important work that still resonates; ditto for a bunch of his other material – you might forget that Cui has, in fact, continued to create music since the 1980s. Here, then, is “Mr Red” from 2005’s Show You Colour.