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.
Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year is upon us. The first day of the Year of the Horse is January 31, which means that on the eve of January 30, a ridiculous number of people will be in front of their television sets, en famille, to watch the always-extravagant and never understated New Year’s Gala (春节联欢晚会). Broadcast on China Central Television, the massive event is something akin to the Superbowl Halftime Show meets Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve by way of Jerry Lewis Telethon and American Idol finale—only bigger. Sketches, musical performances, comedy routines, celebrity appearances and more ring in the new year as only Chinese variety-show television can. Recall, when you imagine the scale and scope of such a performance, what Beijing did for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2008, and you start to have an idea of what it all looks like.
Though there is nothing that could be less yaogun than the Gala, there are hints that this year’s gala just might get a little dose of rock and roll.
I’ve written/griped about rock in Afghanistan before (my gripe not with the music there but the coverage thereof), but I couldn’t resist revisiting the topic when I discovered that China Central Television has deemed the subject worthy of inclusion on their spine-tinglingly amazing program Culture Express. People talk about hurling things at the television, but I’d never felt that urge until I tuned in to CCTV-9, the Central broadcaster’s English channel, home to such amazingness as Yang Rui, who achieved recent noteriaty for his anti-foreigner/Semitic rantings on air and -microblog but who, throughout his time as host of Dialogue, never ceased to amaze me with his smarmy, clueless and downright patronizing-despite-a-lack-of-knowledge-on-any-subject-upon-which-he-was-interviewing-on ways.
(Note, please, the completely objective use of the word “amazing” above: “Amazing,” in this context, refers to the astonishment that this stuff is on the air; not ‘good,’ necessarily, but astounding in the way that only Chinglish and slick-TV-with-Chinese-characteristics can be. CCTV-9 has the amazing capacity to simultaneously inspire [you couldn’t make this stuff up, it’s so amazing!] and inflame [this crap has to stop!] that part of me wonders if it’d be better for the network to go off air or to be beamed into more homes across the globe.)
Yaogun is still at that point where it’s news when it gets on television. Particularly when it is shown on China Central Television (CCTV) — though in the Chinese television landscape, there is no less “Central” television station, the impression one gets when one says CCTV is of the Government’s living room.