I was just informed that Liang Heping was involved in a serious car accident a week ago; details are difficult to come by, but as of June 29, he remains in hospital with serious lower body injuries.
Liang has been involved in yaogun for just about as long as anyone could have been. A member of the ‘house band’ that backed up all of the singers on that yaogunnily-fateful May day in 1986, it was technically Liang that introduced China to yaogun: He played the first notes of the Song That Changed Everything, Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name,” at the Let the World Be Full of Love concert.
We might turn to Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll for a bit of Liang’s role in the Whole Thing:
“As he sang that first line,” Liang remembers, almost reliving the experience of hearing the song for the first time in the retelling, “my hair stood straight on end. Every other member of the band said they had the same feeling.” Something – with a big S – was happening. “It was as if a person had been waiting and longing for something and finally someone sang it out.”
…Certainly Liang, after an initial shock, was completely prepared for the fame and notoriety that followed Cui’s performance. In his role as house band keyboardist for the “Let the World” concert, Liang wasn’t expecting anything more than yet another pop singer he would have to accompany when Cui passed around sheet music and stepped up to the mic in the rehearsal studio a few days prior to the show. “When he sang,” Liang started, trailing off slowly as both he and his interviewer realized that words couldn’t do justice to the shivers he was re-experiencing nearly two and a half decades after first hearing Cui open his mouth. “After that first rehearsal, I told everyone I knew that we had to pay attention to this guy.” Liang remembers breezing through the other staid singers’ run-throughs in order to spend extra time on “Nothing,” because unlike the other songs they had to play for the big show “we liked it a lot.” So much so that Liang spent the better part of the next decade helping to manage, document and promote the man he believes changed everything.
Joining Cui Jian’s management team, Liang helped pave the way for Cui’s two March, 1989 concerts to celebrate the release of Rock and Roll on the New Long March, his first yaogun record (no small feat, those), and then, picked up a camera and starting filming – everything.
I caught a glimpse of the extent of his archive during my interview with him, when he invited me into his home and insisted I check out some of what he’d gotten on tape. What I saw was mind-blowing, whether it was jam sessions on the island in Beijing’s Back Lake neighbourhood, to gritty bar shows and stadium concerts. Liang started with a simple mission: He knew, as he told me that if he didn’t capture what was happening, then nobody would. “And if nobody filmed,” he continued, “there’d be no record.”
On Cui Jian’s famed Asian Games circuit in 1990 – the Rock and Roll on the New Long March Tour – the band hit Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Xi’an and Chengdu before the plug was pulled and the tour cut short. Liang, who’d attempted to get TV stations to come along for the ride, brought his camera, and pretty soon, wasn’t using it to document what was going on atop the stage, but, rather, what was happening in front of it: People, in short, going batshit.
But, of all the footage, says Liang, “Kunming in 1992 was the peak. I’ve filmed a lot, but that’s the peak.”
When…Liang Heping tells one about “the most amazing footage” he has, one should drop what one is doing, and immediately join him in sifting through decades’ worth of tapes of Cui’s concerts, underground jam sessions and festivals. One should also prepare to be amazed. The footage that Liang showed me is difficult to describe, other than to say that the audience seems to be literally going insane. Not quite in the young-girls-crying-after-getting-a-glimpse-of-Elvis kind of a way, but in something resembling the ecstasy and sheer emotional release of the sudden enlightenment – less zen-master mellow than whirling-dervish-snake-kisser-tongues-speaker wacky.
It still sends chills down my spine to even remember that footage. And think of what caused those people to react to the music the way they did: It was the music, but it was the music in that particular time in each of those people’s lives – and that of their nation. Yaogun helped them through those times. And I find myself, yet again, realizing that rock and roll has a thing or two to learn from yaogun. Yaogun has changed the world, and I saw it on the faces of the folks that Liang filmed.
Liang went on to produce He Yong’s Garbage Dump record, and play with He’s band, while continuing to produce and compose his own music, and perform along with a cast of yaogun characters. He Yong, who went to the hospital to visit Liang, was quoted in the articles on Liang’s accident saying that “he is now an unstable state, not yet out of danger.” But, he adds, “I believe that he will stand up again.”
Our best wishes and thoughts go out to Liang Heping and his family; no doubt the yaogun community is rallying around one of their elder statesmen.