Archive for August, 2003


Wednesday, August 13th, 2003

I know I’m late in writing this report for Songwriters’ Round 10. To be honest, I’m plain didn’t wanna do it. You see, if I thought that trying to independently produce my own record was tiring, this independently trying to market, license, promote and generally sell the record is even less of a joke. Endless rounds of media and gigging stuff mingled with the knowledge that I ought to be spending more time writing new material is ridiculously stressful. On top of that, I have to prepare for the Japan Tour in three weeks and begin production for a series of major concerts in KL in October. It all adds up to zero life and constant fatigue. So you can understand why I have been putting off writing this report. I simply didn’t feel up to it. But I suppose guilt always get me in the end – so here I am again.

In the past, whenever I write these spam-like things, I’d at least try to be entertaining – but for this one, I’m not gonna bother. Too tired for that. So I’ll just ramble. Bin it if you get bored.

I met a really nice guy about 18 months ago. He is a wonderful singer and guitarist – mild of manner and kind of face – let’s call him Tom. I won’t say his real name because I don’t think he’d like that. But I recently met up with a couple of mutual friends who told me Tom is very seriously ill. The friends bought one of my CDs for him. It got me thinking – when we met at NBT, we used to talk about writing music and perhaps even playing some stuff together – but now he is too ill to play. I felt funny about that for a while. It’s not that I know Tom very well – for I don’t – we’ve shared a few drinks and laughs and that’s about it. Still, I’ve heard him play, admired the sheer musicality of his playing, and kinda felt a kinship, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I tried to imagine not being able to play again. I felt terrible. You see, I did give up music for a few years in the 90’s, and know exactly what it is to not be able to do something you’ve always wanted to do since you were a kid . In other words, not be able to do the thing that you’ve define yourself with for as long as you can remember. What torturous hell. So, as if reaching out for a security blanket, I tried to write new songs last week. The first time I’d tried to write any music for a few months. First time I felt like I had something to say for a while. But a few nights later, I came up empty. Well, not exactly empty. Suffice to say they weren’t any good. I guess I am dry.

Thing is, I’ve written songs since I was a teenager, and this isn’t the first time I am dry – so it is not quite time to panic yet. What I normally do when I am dry is simply not do it for a while. I’d read, watch films, have long long chats with friends etc. – anything but try to force something that is not there. Then, after a suitable period of inactivity, the mind floods and stuff comes out. Like magic. So, there is no reason to believe this dry spell will last. I have too many ideas for new songs and am too much of a big mouth to stay silent for long. But I’d need to empty my head in order to re-orientate things. Time to just do zilch and think about nothing – go back to the daily grind of paying bills, watch trashy TV, hang out, think about beaches that I never go, have an argument, etc – i.e. live. Yes, that’s the trick. Yum. It’ll be fun to do nothing after more than a year of constant activities too. Good. Hell, I deserve a bloody break. But then, the next day would see me charging around once more. Groveling for help, budgeting for shows, seek funding, pushing for export opportunities, meeting associates, doing radio, playing to strangers half of whom aren’t at all interested, trying to do the best that I can to make it work – all things that I cannot afford to neglect if this crazy trip is to end with some sort of sense and resolution. In the mean time, all I wanna do is clear my head. Get some space to breath. Then write. Tell stories. Try a different sonic adventure. Get into someone else’s head. Adopt a different voice…

Except there is no time.

Then I think about Tom again. I don’t really know why. haven’t figured out what the connection is yet, so I have no clever rationalisation for telling you all this. Perhaps it is because whether I would have a chance to do more recordings would depend on the commercial fate of ‘Rustic Living’ but there is so much yet to do before that can happen. Perhaps it is because I am on a pilgrimage to that manic depressive country everyone seems to visit once in a while. Perhaps I worry for Tom more than my fleeting acquaintance of him would warrant. I don’t know. All I know is I want some space to write the next record. But there is no such space right now. Too much clutter, too much crap. Irresistible crap. But crap nonetheless.

A middle aged friend with a heart of gold emailed yesterday with a forwarded email from his friend in Australia who likes ‘Rustic Living’ and thinks it is a ‘winner’. My friend ended his email with this little jest – ‘now having raise our expectation, you’ve a tough act to follow (with the second album). Well, it is well known that the second record is the true test of a musician’s ability to go the distance. If I get a penny for every talented debutant who then sinks out of trace after a wonderful debut, I’d be richer than Brunei – so I’d be lying if I say that I am not worried about living up to expectations engendered by ‘Rustic Living’, or that I am not stressed by the spectre of the second album bomb. But the best medicine for such worries is simply to write more material. Now, before you get the impression that I am completely empty when it comes to the next record, I must tell you that I have written almost 80% of the tunes already. They sound radically different from the songs in ‘Rustic Living’ and I am rather intrigued by them. But I haven’t written the words. Tunes are easy. Good stories are hard to come by and I’ve been writing rubbish lately. Sigh. Perhaps I’ll stumble on something soon.

Do I sound depressed? Actually, I am not as morose as I sound here. I remain fairly chirpy most of the time and can be counted on to be quite civilised in the course of an average day. It’s just that I am too tired to type chirpily right now. So I type like a dried prune instead. A shade of the dark and shriveled. I guess it makes a decent change from the normal hyperactive drivel I send out.

What about Round 10?

Well, it went really well. Packed and smoky as usual. Amir, Peter and Mia were all superb. But the banana goes to Edwin and Albert. For a first gig, that takes some beating, guys. I could see you gaining in confidence as the show went on, and towards the end, it was like a two person riot – in two part harmony and boppy guitars. I would say ‘well done’ except it would sound patronising, so I won’t (or have I already?). Anyway, this was the second time the Round received an encore, and I am in danger of taking it for granted already. I remember Amir graciously saying the first time he played the Round last year that ‘whoever said Malaysia doesn’t have songwriter talents should be shot’ and I must yet again concur with that sentiment. The fact that our domestic market seems to largely ignore our own pool of talents remains one of the greatest gripe I harbour. Let’s just hope things change for the better soon.

I guess I must also report that I got up on stage and played a couple of songs after the billed acts were done. I wasn’t terribly good really. Well, at least I didn’t feel I did any other than charge my way through ‘Blue’ and ‘Jesselton Tonight’, like the way I seem to charge all over town nowadays. Nothing seriously amiss, to be fair – but it wasn’t anything to write home about. Good job my little sprint was followed by an intriguing bunch of open mike players – Sara, Ain, Az, Chris, Mumbai, Ian, and Shelley – one or two of whom I am certain will be invited to be billed in the next few months (wink).

Then, as the room thinned out till there was no more than a handful of people remaining, I fell into a looser mood and played more stuff. All the quiet songs. The sad ones wherein I talk more than I sing. I relaxed and sang the songs as they were written to be sung – softly and clearly – like a confession – like the way Tom did James Taylor when I first met him. It felt good to play to a deserted room songs that have carried me this far. I had a great time.Thank you to the 6 of you who stayed behind to listen till much too late for a week day. I would have played some James Taylor for Tom, except I don’t know how. Perhaps I should learn one or two Taylor tunes. It’ll never be as good as Tom’s version, but then that’s not the point.

Get well soon, Tom.