For David Bowie’s 66th birthday, a song, to celebrate! And this, here, being a site concerned with the Chinese part of the planet, why not a Chinese song?
Bowie fans may recall 1997’s album, Earthlings, and even might recall “Seven Years in Tibet” from that recording. What they might have missed is Bowie’s Mandarin version of the song. I was tipped to it by Chi-chung Wong, a Hong-Kong-based radio DJ and scholar, not to mention having been one of the most important promoters and presenters of rock and roll in Hong Kong since the eighties, who I was priviledged to talk alongside of at a visit to Hong Kong University back in October.
An interesting choice for Bowie, seeing as how Tibet is one of the three big off-limits T’s in China-dealing (the others being Taiwan and Tiananmen), and an especially interesting choice given the song’s opening lines “‘Are you OK?/You’ve been shot in the head/And I’m holding your brains’/The old woman said/So I drink in the shadows/Of an evening sky/See nothing at all” The Mandarin version, called chana tiandi 剎那天地 might best be translated as ‘A Fleeting Moment’ goes a different way: “Are you okay?/The hair you lost/Scars of reincarnation/Flowers grown/If this saying exists/How is their no answer on your lips.”
Alas. Bowie’s pronounciation ain’t half bad:
Bowie’s b-day is shared by the man known in Chinese alternately by ‘The Cat King’ (猫王 or maowang) or the transliteration of his name, ai’erweisi (埃尔维斯). And so, why not a bit of birthday Elvis, too? This is Jiang Zhengwei, an online game designer who goes by the name “Cat King Show,” or maowang xiu (猫王秀) as he appeared on the 2011 season of China’s Got Talent to strut his stuff – and to the resounding approval of the three-member panel: