Archive for March, 2002


Thursday, March 14th, 2002

Steam slowly rises into the air from man-hole grating. Hot dog stands. Yellow cabs. Pretzel. Freezing cold. Cheap all night diners. One is constantly moved to break into De Niro’s immortal ‘ya talkin ta me?’ dialogue in ‘Taxi Driver’. In fact, there was so many ‘I’m in a movie’ moment it is now slightly fuzzy when I try to recall it. First time in NYC. Cold and yet cool beyond belief. What a city.

I got into NYC from LA in the evening of the 28th of February. I was in LA to meet this producer who is interested in producing my record and can connect me with some ‘A’ list musicians. I won’t recount my LA meetings here save to say that it went well and I am now faced with the dilemma of deciding if I should double my planned budget for the record and get some ‘A’ list players onto it, or stay cheap and cheerful and do it myself. I learned that in the US, a budget of US$50K for a demo is not unknown. My budget is a fraction of that, and it is meant to be a full prodcution record too, not a bloody demo. Oh well. Blame the Ringgit. I probably can’t afford to raise the budget. Shrug.

My flight from LA to NYC was delayed by 4 hours. Apparently, they had to unload about 10 planes worth of passengers because one of those security metal detector devices you walk through (and always beeps) had not been plugged in all morning and they didn’t know until later. So I sat on the pavement outside the LAX terminal for 4 hours talking to strangers. One of these was a little lady from NYC who had just signed a contract to develop a new children’s tv program for a king’s ransom. The production company that signed the deal with her already produces children’s programs that are household names. She was too discrete to tell me how much the deal was worth, but she did say that it was huge. Big deal for a little lady.

Welcome to Entertainment City America.

When I got into the New Yorker Hotel on 34th street, it was already midnight. The hotel has 1000 rooms and was slightly decrepit but safe. It is run by Reverend Moon of ‘Moonies’ fame. Loads of Eastern European tourists. Dog tired, I got myself a dinner at the ‘Tick Tock’ diner next door then headed for bed.

1st of March

The conference wasn’t due to start until the next day. I spent the day wandering aimlessly around some famous streets – 5th Avenue, Broadway, Times Square. I dropped into Macy’s and picked up a cheap US$50 watch as mine was buggered. I also bought a pair of shades to look cool – but it didn’t work – it is impossible to look cool when your mouth is shocked open by shops selling handbags at US$5,000 a shot. So I put off my attempt at looking cool for another day and checked up the conference facilities at the New Yorker Hotel.

I found the conference producer Steve Zuckerman setting up. I said hello. He introduced me to some of his friends. One of them represents a huge music trade show in Cologne, ‘Popkomm’. His name is Ron. Nice funny black guy who is Kool’s brother-in-law. You boys and girls remember ‘Kool and the Gang’ (Ce-le-brate good times, com’on!)? Anyway, we got on very well. He took me out to dinner at Puff Daddy’s (P. Diddy) restaurant. We had soul food to the sound of hip hop. On the way to Puff Daddy’s place, Ron told me not to look up when I walk the streets of NYC – sure sign of a clueless tourist. I tried, but it was hard not looking up at the Empire State Building.

2nd of March

The ‘Global Entertainment & Media Summit’ officially opened today. Steve got the show going with an impassioned opening speech. He was a ball of energy. The crowd was electrified. But I’ve never been particularly receptive to pedagogical situations, so was trying my best not to look too bored. Steve must have noticed this – for he pointed at me mid-way through: “hey Pete, stand up!”

I looked around: “me?”

“Yeah, you…. stand up so that everyone can see you.”

I did. Steve told a room of about 500 people that I had travelled from Malaysia to attend the conference and had been selected to play. Applause. I sat down. Fuck. Felt stupid and embarassed, “Great – now, I’m a zoo exhibit…”

I checked the program and found that I was due to play in the ‘acoustic room’ today. But no time was stated. So I checked with the soundman in the main room. He said there was a mistake – I was due to play tomorrow at 1.20pm instead. Hm. I settled down and attended panels and listened to industry names talk about the poor state of the music industry (all but one of the majors lost money last year). There were big big names like Danny Schecter (director of indie film ‘We Are Family’), John Waters (director, ‘Pink Flamingo’), Bob Ezrin (producer, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd), Les Paul (inventor of the electric guitar and multi-track recorder), Jewel’s mother and manager, the producer and director of ‘In the Bedroom’ (an Oscar nominated independent film) etc etc. There were famous lawyers, managers, publishers, artists, directors, producers milling around – all squeezing flesh and networking. I guess it is true what they say about the 3 R’s of the entertainment industry: “relationship, relationship, relationship”. So I, too, milled around and schmoozed like the best of them. In between seminars and panels, I gave my CD to Bob Ezrin, a few publishers, one label and got talking to a wonderful old couple from Philedelphia, Rene and Ed.

In the evening, there was a tribute party in honour of Les Paul (85 years young), who gave a funny and moving speech about how he came to invent the electric guitar. Basically, he wanted to play the guitar loudly, so he stuck some hi-fi electrionics onto his acoustic guitar. His technology was never patented and he only gets US$5 for every Gibson Les Paul guitar sold. Anyway, I sat talking and drinking beer till very late with a young artiste manager, Tim. We had a great time. It had been a good first day. The highlight for me was John Water’s one-hour-long speech. This is a seriously funny man with a very deranged sense of aesthetics. The room was in stitches half the time.

3rd of March

Many of you already know that I get butterflies before every gig, no matter how small. My memory of this day is dominated by how nervous I was all day. This was to the extent that, apart from John Scher’s (legendary concert promoter) speech, I remember no other speaker. From the moment the show opened at 10am, I kept looking at my watch and paced nervously.

12 noon. I checked out the acoustic room upstairs. To my horror, there was no public address system at all. A little panic enquiry cleared it up. All the acts playing in the acoustic room were supposed to play ‘acoustically’ – i.e. busking-style – in a room with a seating capacity of about 150 people. Now, I didn’t even remember when I last played in a public place without the aid of a mike. Bad bad bad. It also means I won’t be able to play any of my quiet numbers. I’ll have to play a high energy set instead.

It also means I’ve been practising the wrong songs.


I quickly checked the time. 12.30 noon. I rushed upstairs to my room and started practising. I still had no idea what I was going to play but I knew that I have to play songs that I sing out loud as supposed to mope quietly. I went through the repertoire. Within 20 minutes I ran through all my loud numbers, then took a deep breathe before going downstairs to the conference again. I arrived at the acoustic room on the dot of 1.20pm. Phew. Just in time.

Guess what?

My slot was postponed to 2.30pm.

I didn’t know to laugh or cry. Then I checked the schedule again to find that I would now be playing after a seminar on ‘music and healing’. So. Ok. My room featured some new age thingy just before I played, while at the same time, all other rooms will be hosting high powered talks on how to break into the industry led by music labels and lawyers. Great. It aint gonna be a full house watching me then. Strangely, it came as a sort of relief that I won’t have to play un-mic’ed to a room packed with people. I settled down and waited. Butterflies still fluttering in the pit.

The actual performance itself was a blur. I remember playing to a room half-full (between 50-60) of very serious looking people. I remember saying something like ‘you guys look so glum I’m going play something happy to cheer you folks up…’ and got a laugh out of it. I remember starting with ‘Jesslton Tonight’, then ‘Last Good Man’, then I finished with ‘Arms Of Marianne’. I remember people smiling as I did my set. I remember the room was dead quiet. I remember thinking ‘this is fun…’ as I relaxed in the middle of the first verse. I remember the audience cheering before the bridge section of ‘Arms’, thinking that the slight pause was the end of the song. I remember snapping the B string in the last bar of my set. I remember some guy at the back shouting ‘more!’ before I was ushered off stage by the supervisor lady, who said “sorry, we’re behind schedule, but good job…” as she hugged me at the foot of the stage. I remember several people coming up to talk to me as I left the room, amongst them a lady who hosts a music show for public TV (as opposed to commerial TV) in Manhattan and Brooklyn, asking me if she could feature me as an ’emerging act’ (whatever that means) on her tv show. I remember Rene and Ed coming up to congratulate me. So did Ron, who “loved” ‘Arms’. I remember a guy asking me if I would consider collaborating with him. I remember thinking, “I had so much fun I want to play some more”. I remember another guy saying: “I’m gonna talk to Steve and say that you should have played in the main room. I loved your set.” I thanked him and said I was so nervous I probably would have cocked it up in the main room. A publisher came up and asked if I was represented yet. I said ‘no’ and got a name card in return. I quickly left and went to get a stiff drink. On the way down, I was introduced to a singer-songwriter who offered to get me some gigs in New York when I’m next in town.

So I guess it went alright. I remembered all my lyrics. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.

The rest of the day was just blank. I don’t remember a thing except making some new musician friends and Steve coming up to me to apologise for the haphazard organisation vis performing time and venue etc. He said some nice things about my music and promised he’d help my career in whatever way he can. I thought of asking him ‘which of my careers?’ but I thought better of it.

So that was it folks. My 15 minutes of fame in the Big Apple. To you I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I will say that I made many new friends. I will also say that I would love to go back to New York again and play. But first, I must make a record. In fact, this thought was constantly on my mind for the next few days as I did the touristy bit, which took me, amongst other places, to The Bitter End in Greenage Village (where anyone who was anyone in the 70’s played BEFORE they were famous) . To my surprise, it is smaller than No Black Tie. I had a good time watching some singer/songwriter night there. I also walked passed the Blue Note. I visited the Statute Of Liberty. I dropped into the new and very funky Prada shop (but couldn’t afford anything). I visited Ground Zero. And on my last night, I went to the Knitting Factory (where Umezu Kazutoke, the saxophonist who played at NBT last year, also plays occasionally) to listen to this amazing jazz voilinist called Billy Bang (I was introduced to him by a friend I met at the conference). During the interval of Billy’s set, I went to the bar to get a drink, where I met David Byrne (formerly of Talking Heads).


I saw him from the corner of my eye, confirmed that it was him with the barman, and trotted up to him for an autograph. He obliged. I bought him a drink and we had a short chat. Oh man. This was almost surreal. Psycho killer himself. Fa fa fa fa fa.

If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you the autograph…

There. D.B. On the right.

I lie not.

So. A toast to New York. What an amazing city. So much life, so much going on. I am glad to be home though. A good friend suggested before I went to New York that I might love it so much I won’t come back. Well, I do like New York a lot, more so now that I have made many friends there. But this is home, and now I am back. I miss my teh tarek. Still, it has been a great trip. I return with some ideas for generating work with some of my friends, and a feeling that may be, just may be, one of us will break out yet. Hopefully, I will live to see it one day.

Here’s to dreaming good dreams.