Why a course on writing about rock music? Can’t folks simply find out online? Well, by the same token, why go to school then? Might as well learn everything online! Well, of course, I am being facetious but believe me, I have heard these arguments before… To be honest, apart from wanting to act entrepreneurial-like (and hopefully make some money), I really wanted to be able to share the knowledge and experience I have amassed from almost 40 years of listening to music (and over 20 years of writing about it!). Cuz the fact is that most music writers in Singapore don’t really know that much about what they are writing about so, I have felt the pressing need to do this. The challenge, of course, is to convince folks that they need to spend $300 to improve their writing when most of their readers might not have any clue about what good and effective music writing even looks like! In any case, I think ultimately it will be a fun time for everyone involved and so why not spend 4 Saturday afternoons with yours truly? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up!
Just realised that I haven’t done one of these for some time now.
So where am I? Caught between life’s necessities and the ‘luxuries’ of following your own dreams. And even in the latter case, trying hard to be true to myself.
Over half of the year has gone by and I am putting together a brand new album of songs that conceptualise somewhat the lessons I have learned in the past five years.
I say somewhat because the concept behind Present Sense is not really autobiographical but definitely my own life experiences have inspired the story that will unfold when one listens to the new music.
As always, I keep my expectations as low as possible. Even if the local music scene begins to build higher expectations, I remind myself that my relative advance age will always be a prejudicial factor in the scheme of things. Hard to swallow perhaps, but a hard truth nonetheless. Coupled with utter lack of appreciation for the arts that continues to plague our society, it’s a constant battle against the odds.
I still hear flattering things about my so-called status within the music scene but the reality hardly bears that out. Mostly, what I find is disrespect and even worse, a flat-out cold shouldering. I try not to dwell on these things – these are facts – but that doesn’t lessen the hurt.
For the brave few true friends I am thankful and comfort myself with their support – you know who you are. Present Sense is a tribute to you all.
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How seriously should we take what a person posts on social media? Well, if it’s something interpreted as seditious in the eyes of the law, very seriously but what about something short of that measure? I have been guilty myself of posting irrational emotional rants on social media when I allowed heart to rule over head but I am not talking about that. I am talking about the offensive Facebook comment or Tweet that is coldly calculated to offend.
Most recent examples of course, are the online reactions to a video of the controversial Youtuber Amos Yee being slapped by an unidentified stranger. The fact that there are ‘keyboard warriors’ who are cheering on this assault as some form of vigilante justice is bewildering no doubt but is there more to this that meets the eye? Do these commentators wilfully commit these indecent acts as a means of rebellion – a way to transcend their pathetic, mundane existence and get public attention well beyond their normal means?
Surely, in a face-to-face situation, most of these ‘trolls’ would probably not dare to fire a verbal shot in anger but emboldened by the apparent lack of accountability for a social media comment, take the plunge without any thought of the consequences. It just comes too easy. I sometimes think that responding with some kind of admonishment of this kind of anti-social behaviour serves no other purpose than to egg these ‘trolls’ on. I believe the best medicine is to cut off the attention the ‘trolls’ craved, deny them the glare of the public spotlight and they might simply wither away.
Hey yeah, it’s me again. So how are you enjoying the all-new, all-different Power of Pop? What’s that? You didn’t notice anything new or different about the site?
Well, yes and no. As promised, I have taken the writing onto a more personal level – so superficially you’re going to see more ‘I’s instead of ‘we’s – but also moving on I intend to express more of an opinion about things that matter to me. No more sitting on the fence and being politically correct. I mean, it’s not as if I have a huge audience to potentially offend and lose! 🙂
But seriously folks, at the start of this new week, I am feeling excited about this new direction and I hope that you will give me the feedback necessary to make whatever adjustments needed to improve things around here.
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Now, some of you dear faithful readers are aware that Power of Pop is a labour of love for me. Coming out from more than five years writing for BigO (Before I Get Old) magazine and attempting to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the internet, I launched my own reviews webzine in the late 90s. I was fortunate enough to get support from a couple of independent record labels from the USA(viz. Not Lame, Jam), which specialised in the melodic rock genre, called ‘power pop’. Thus was born Power of Pop! Geddit?
Ever since BigO stopped publication in the early 2000s, I had tried to figure out the best way to present the webzine and it was always been difficult to keep things consistent in order to get any commercial traction. Along the way, I wrote for many other magazines – both online and print – before revamping completely in 2008. This coincided with a renewed commitment to cover the Singapore indie music scene – I both the domain name powerofpop.com and engaged a web designer to arrange Power of Pop into a WordPress ‘blog’ of sorts. I had entertained certain notions that I should consider Power of Pop a commercial entity, took on external writers and tried to increase web traffic. But I lacked the stamina or the will to feature pop music entertainers that I felt were not making artistic music worthy of my time and effort. In recent times, Singapore blogs and webzines have emerged to fill in the gap in music coverage that once was too evident. This blogs/webzines have even started giving more attention to local music as well! Which brings me more or less to 2015.
Where does Power of Pop now stand in the scheme of things? Purely for my self-amusement, I think. One of the rules of music journalism is to be objective and to write in the third person. I believe that in order to move forward, Power of Pop is going to be more personal, more idiosyncratic, presenting my individual taste in music, film, comics, books etc. Musings about pop culture from my unique perspective. So yet another re-invention of my almost two decades old vanity project is on the cards. Hope some of you will stick around! Thanks for your support, always!
Someone recently asked me why I do what I do in music when the tangible rewards are … non-existent. My answer – when I finished – caught me by surprise. It was an out-of-body experience almost – I spoke the words with such conviction and persuasion and whilst it might not have completely convinced my listener, it certainly enhanced my self-belief in everything that I am doing.
What did I say? I can’t remember…
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Been a surreal last few days after the launch of the KAMCO Music digital re-issue programme. I found myself checking up expectedly on the Youtube views when normally I don’t really care. And of course, the view numbers are pathetic but expected. When you’re 54 years old and totally unknown, nobody’s gonna be paying attention. So I am going to keep my expectations low for the rest of the programme and not give a fuck about the rest. The re-issue programme is really for me so …. just enjoy the ride, I guess. Well, not just me but for every other artist the KAMCO Music digital distribution is going to help. Also it is worth remembering that there is also exciting news on the horizon for S-ROCK fans with a project I am closely involved in, which I hope will be the starting point for whole new paradigm. Can’t say too much, at the moment but fingers crossed … and see you on the other side!
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At the beginning of a semester, I will tell my students that the most important lesson they can learn is RESPECT. I expect my students to respect me even as I respect them and I expect them to respect each other. There can be no deviation from this. No matter how intelligent you think you are, or good looking, or hip, or cool or entitled, there is no excuse for being disrespectful to a fellow human being. Sure, I can appreciate that people go through different situations in their lives and at times, they make mistakes and lash out in ignorance but that is no justification for disrespect. Period.
This has happened. The cancellation was brought about by the organisers failing to obtain a Public Entertainment Licence for the event. Rumours are circulating that the police had concerns about possible drug abuse during FMFA based on the drug overdose deaths at last year’s event in Malaysia. Was this a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the authorities? Was this a message to FMFA that there was no place for the festival in the region in light of last year’s fatalities? Of course, no official explanations were given but from the perspective of the authorities, it is perhaps understandable that anyone granting the licence would be sweating on there being no repeat of last year’s tragedies.
Without any access to what went on behind the scenes, it seems a terrible waste of resources that the festival was allowed to market FMFA and sell tickets even though the licence was not yet obtained. Was there any dialogue at all between the two sides as to what could be done to achieve some level of comfort that the police would accept in order for the festival to proceed? Should the organisers have alerted ticket buyers to the possible risk of the festival being denied a licence? Moving forward what can be done to balance the needs of public safety and organisers’ commercial concerns?
Obviously, this is bad news for the FMFA organisers and the ticket buyers but in the bigger scheme of things what does it mean for organisers of large scale events in Singapore? Is this an isolated incident based purely on last year’s festival? Or is this emblematic of the a more conservative approach adopted by the authorities? Well, surely, there will be doubts in the minds of similar festival organisers about the viability of Singapore as a proper venue in the future.
So, one-off or a dangerous precedent? Hopefully the former but we shall have to wait and see…
And so it’s the end of another semester. This semester was difficult, as due to the cutting down of classes, my income had been reduced significantly. Initially, I was extremely upset by this as the school did not provide a satisfactory reason for this reduction and I felt prejudiced against because of my age. This has happened to me before with previous employers as ageism is a real problem in our society. But I resolved to trust in GOD and looked for other opportunities to earn an honest living despite the challenges.
So I managed to get another class in another school but not at the same pay and thus, there was a shortfall that I had to cover for. Again, this was a lesson in relying wholly on GOD’s provision to see me through on a daily basis. Glad to say that things are somewhat at equilibrium and whilst music projects are trickling in, there is still so much to trust GOD for.
So the next eight weeks are crucial for me as I am impressed by the need to spend my time wisely. To that end, I will be focusing on quite a few music projects. To wit,
– Recording of my new album, Bring Back Yesterday.
– Producing a charity song.
– Recording a score for a TV movie.
– Copy writing for the So Happy project.
– Re-releasing my back catalogue (and other 90s rock releases) under Believe Digital.
– Producing a SG indie rock compilation.
– On-going work with SGMUSO in my role as Treasurer.
– Working with young artists under the KAMCO Music banner.
– A StageFright music festival.
– Preparing for the launch of the new album, Bring Back Yesterday.
As you can see, there’s quite a bit on the plate. Add to the above, my work with TODAY and POWER OF POP, and it is clear that there is still so much to look forward to. To help me along, I replaced my aging white Macbook (5 years young) with a brand new iMac to motivate me to work harder. Over this long CNY holiday weekend, I will endeavour to get to know my iMac better so that in the months ahead, it will be the platform upon which many new creative ventures will be born!
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You know the old adage – one man’s meat is another man’s poison? Well, it’s always been true but it does seem for me personally that folks’ taste in art and music have been getting from bad to worse year on year. Or is that merely my own perception. Of course, things like age and background do get in the way of perspective and point of view but gone are the days when there were generally accepted principles of what was good music and what wasn’t. Nowadays, it’s popularity and the numbers that hold even more sway than ever before. Image and hype even more persuasive than ever. Every new awards show will have controversy over young people not knowing this or that legendary artist and that will continue to get worse and worse. In the final analysis, I do what I wanna do, end of story. I need to be informed about what is hot and so forth but in my heart and soul, I know what I like and I like what I know. Period.
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I’ve always believed that the ‘generation gap’ did not apply to me. Being obsessed with pop culture, I could keep myself relevant with the times and remain connected to young people. Or so I thought.
I will be 54 in slightly more than a month (*hint*) and I am now teaching 17 year olds, whom I often have trouble understanding at all. For example, during a recent Art of Story lesson, I tried to use the example of Star Wars to illustrate certain salient teaching points. Guess what, most of the students have never seen Star Wars! I must admit, at that in point in time, I felt very very old. In the end, I used the Avengers movie as my example.
Then, of course, there are the students who wear tee shirts of The Doors, Nirvana and The Ramones – not knowing who those bands are! The recent idiocy of the Paul McCartney-Kanye West collaboration bears this modern day problem out – young people don’t give a fuck about history. This, despite having the world available to them at a finger-click. (I even met a Singaporean twenty-something who did not know who David Marshall was! Google him now please!!)
Yes, this is a generalization – there are young people who do give a fuck about history. But these are the proverbial ‘needles in the haystack’. The noise around our young people is all about the here and now, taking things at face value, not understanding context and never knowing the bigger picture – instant gratification.
Not their fault – it’s a product of education and product marketing brain-washing. What can I do? Continue to swim against the tide as best I can. Won’t you join me for the ride?
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It’s the first day of the new year and there’s a feeling of beginnings in the air. Well, of course, it’s actually just another day but what we do with the next 12 months is up to us, really.
2015 is the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence and by now, “SG50” will either excite, bore, annoy or terrify you. Personally I am hoping that “SG50” will allow all of us living on this island to love and appreciate one another. Yes, as simple as that.
Also, I am praying for deeper understanding of Singapore history, especially in the arts. Not so much of recrimination and blame but a year of healing where the art & music made in Singapore may be restored to its proper place in the hearts, minds & souls of all who call Singapore their home.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
“Jealousy originates from fear or anger over the prospect of failure in achieving a desired goal”.
A simple online search will lead you to various definitions of ‘jealousy’. Basically, it comes from intense feelings of insecurity. This is compounded in the modern age by social media, where one is able to see other people apparently succeeding while one is seemingly failing. As a person who suffers from low self esteem, I understand this state of mind completely.
Especially, during the festive season, one is inundated with images and videos of people celebrating and having a good time. For me personally, seated alone at home, looking at all this, it’s easy to become jealous and even angry, that sense of being marginalized because nobody invited me to any of these wonderful activities.
As a musical artist, the same applies as well, when people share about their successes and I can also witness the multitude of likes and positive comments that accompany said Facebook post or tweet. Again, seated alone at home, it doesn’t take much to feel like a failure in comparison – I begin to wonder why I have not achieved similar success in my artistic life.
Then there is anger and it is pushed outwards as a defensive mechanism. Instead of constructive reflection, jealously would drive oneself to direct the blame at others. The usual excuses – that person must be rich or have connections or very lucky or be good looking but untalented etc.
But none of this really helps – all it does is isolate the jealous sufferer even more and exacerbates the situation. Ultimately, self-awareness is the ‘cure’ for jealousy. Acknowledge your failures and do something about them. Seek advice and make a plan to overcome failure in order to take that first step towards success.
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It pains me to say this but I think I’ve finally lost any connection whatsoever to new music. Recently, I’ve been looking at the new movies coming out in 2015 and getting rather excited about the prospect but new albums? Not any more. That saddens me a great deal but the harsh reality for me is that the last great rock decade was the 90s and nothing since can match up to what came before anymore.
One big step is that I will not be writing music reviews anymore in the format that I have been accustomed to for over 20 years. I mean, what’s the point of describing new music when one can simply listening to the music at Youtube or Spotify? Sure I will still feature deserving new music but it’s got to be more than a standard review to justify inclusion. In addition, more attention will be given to the Singapore music scene cuz at least that provides me with emotional resonance and aligns with my personal goals.
So from 2015, Power of Pop will be focusing more on film in general, ‘old’ music and of course, #sgindie music. I will try my best to highlight worthy comics and books as well but the priority will be given to film.
“Monophobia” is the fear of being alone. It is an anxiety that I am all too familiar with. Coupled with a slight case of agoraphobia (fear of crowds), it can make going out particularly challenging. Especially when I go for music events, there is always the acute fear that I will be on my own, looking awkward, with my mind screaming for me to get out of there immediately. Add that to the low self-esteem that I have and it is a constant obstacle to overcome. A internal battle that takes place every time I leave home for an event. It’s amazing I haven’t completely lost my marbles yet!
So if you see looking decidedly uncomfortable at an event, please be a kind soul, come up and re-assure me that I am welcome and accepted in that company. Of course, nobody is really thinking that I do not belong but that is certainly what is going on in my head. In that environment, alcohol definitely helps in silencing all those negative voices. So I usually will try to get two bottles of whatever into me to settle down those nerves. So if I suddenly transform into this gregarious character and have too much to say then you know it’s the alcohol successfully calming me down to something closer to normal. Although, over-compensation might be the next issue on the horizon. But that’s another story …
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On Saturday, I was asked the vexed question about whether a person in Singapore could make a living from music making. Lately, it has been an issue that has been occupying my thoughts and I think I have arrived at a conclusion. Fact is, it’s the WRONG question. Music making should never ever be about the money. That’s putting the cart in front of the horse, so to speak. Money is just one factor towards making the best music possible along with developing your talents i.e. songwriting, performance, marketing etc.
If you want to make a whole lot of money – be a banker, lawyer, doctor, politician – please don’t make music cuz you are in the WRONG place. Once you are in music for the money, your priorities get all fucked up and you begin to compromise your artistic principles and your soul will die, bit by bit until your creativity has been completely drained from you.
So get your head straight about this issue! Don’t beat yourself up about how difficult it is to make a living out of your music – that’s not what music making is about. Making music is about the act of creation, connection, sharing and the touching of the hearts, mind and souls of the people who are exposed to your art. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is a bonus.
THE INFINITE SADNESS OF BEING
Every now and then, I get depressed. It just happens. Often there could be a simple, trivial trigger that sets it off. Today, it was about only getting two classes for RP next semester. I know it’s not a big deal but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a criticism of my work at RP and it’s difficult to convince myself otherwise. And that starts a avalanche of self-loathing and I begin to list out the different ways I suck as a musician, as a songwriter, as a writer and as a human being. I look for clues to justify this negativity and usually social media is fertile ground for this very bad exercise. Haha yeah. Every time somebody does well, I feel like a loser and failure in comparison, especially in music circles. Which is silly, of course, but the emotions are there nonetheless. I am sad about ending my North American adventure and returning home partly due to the fact that I have to face so much disappointment. Again, this is illogical but in my mind, 2014 has been an abject failure. None of my plans for writing and music have actually moved forwards and in fact, I really feel that I have gone backwards. How much of this is my depressive mood and how much is honest reflection is a bit hard to tell. Writing it all out like this does help and I am hoping that things will get better in the final quarter of the year.
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Meritocracy is bullshit. There is no such thing. Success is often the confluence of race, family and nationality. If every human being was truly equal at the starting point of life then maybe just maybe, there would be true meritocracy. The only people that push this idea of meritocracy are the wealthy, so that they can insist that their wealth is deserved and also to keep the poor down. But this is probably something you are aware of but also something that you know is almost impossible to do anything about.
In this cruel world, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But there is a silver lining to all this. In the final analysis, being wealthy does not make you a better person. Wealth is transient and you can’t take it with you when you die, and if you can’t use your wealth to improve the lives of others, then what is the fucking point? Amassing wealth and possessions for the sake of it is ultimately meaningless.
All this is easier said than done, of course. But there is no use in lamenting your lack of wealth – if you can learn to be contented with your lot in life, then your financial position will have no impact on your emotional state and you can be happy in any and every circumstance. Surely, that must be the objective of every human being and thus, I have resolved to find the good in every situation and to live every day as if it were my last….
Power of Pop is at a bit of crossroads. It must be said. If you know me then you will realize that I have no grand plan for this website, I just make it up as I go along. Well, it’s been over 15 years now and I really need something new, something fresh to keep my interest in keeping this website alive. Nowadays, we have in Singapore other websites who already do a good job with covering the local indie music scene, so part of me wants to retire totally from that and move on to something completely different. Part of the motivation in the past was to score review CDs and review concert tickets. The former has now been superseded somewhat by streaming services and the latter, well, is fulfilled by my commitments as a freelance writer. Music reviews – as a concept – seems to me rather irrelevant in 2014, considering that readers can easily listen to music and thus, there is less need for a writer to describe the fucking music anymore! As far as recorded music is concerned, the writer acts more as a tastemaker of sorts, helping music lovers to sort the wheat from the chaff and point the way.
And considering the sheer amount of music out there, it’s impossible for the writer to listen to everything and to write long-winded reviews about new records. Upon reflection, it’s become clear to me that Power of Pop is simply a promotional tool now, and mostly in relation to upcoming gigs in Singapore. That’s important, of course, but it does seem that other publications are doing the same thing – and have bigger audiences than I do – so, what is the point then of Power of Pop? Perhaps this website must become my personal platform for my opinions instead of social media. Does not make sense for me to divert hits and visitors the way of the usual culprits when I should be doing so for my own website, does it? So, that’s the new direction then and I will use my upcoming trip to Seattle and Vancouver as a test run of this new direction. Stay tuned, boys and girls.
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Regular visitors will be aware of my extremely low tolerance for trolls. My attitude is simple – if you have nothing good to say – SHUT THE FUCK UP! Is that so difficult to achieve? Seriously, sometimes the attention one gets from trolls seems totally incomprehensible – what did I ever do to you? – always seems to be the recurring protest that springs fully formed in head. I mean, the world is in bad enough shape without having these illogical trolls contribute absolute nothing to make things a little better.
Bottom line is clear – I must always be in a position to control what the comments I receive on social media. Which means blocking trolls essentially and avoiding being part of groups that tolerate trolls. Recently, I left a comic book group that seemed innocent enough when it started but of late has reminded me why I stay clear from these groups as a general rule.
Much safer to make my own opinion public via my own website where I can easily control the outcome of unwelcome trolls. Now you know why it’s always good to be king.
Back to normal programming….
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Phil 2: 4, The Message)
This passage of scripture drives and informs my life. It’s a difficult one to follow as it involves self-sacrifice, a quality frowned upon in our world. In April 2007, somewhere in New York City, I resolved that my area of influence was in music and I needed to use this influence to help musicians in Singapore. How exactly, I wasn’t quite sure of at the time but I knew that that had to be my purpose in this life.
Over the course of the last seven years, in the pursuit of this ‘calling’ I have faced tumultuous events in my personal life designed to test my resolve and to lead to new ways and means by which I could invest in and bear fruit from my gifts. It has not been easy, believe me. Often times, my eagerness to help someone else has led to misunderstandings and my fragile low self esteem has taken a lot of battering along the way.
At the end of last year, I rather fancifully imagined that I could venture into a totally new creative area but the last six months have proven how foolish my thinking had been. But through the disappointment, I have learnt to bring the focus back to music and to music people. It was appealing to my ego that new ‘friends’ had turned up to bring me into new pastures where I could prosper but that was my vanity speaking to me and I am thankful to have been put right and properly brought down back to earth.
In the last few weeks, this scope has expanded beyond our shores and has led me to make connections with various foreign bands and the joy I experienced in these encounters has made it clear to me that this was the path all along and all I needed to do was to stick with the program. I will be in Seattle and Vancouver in late September/early October and will take the opportunity to build on and strengthen these new ties as I push myself further into my beloved world of music.
None of these pursuits involve monetary gain or have been conceived to further business interests – I truly believe that that will take care of itself as long as my heart is in the right place. All I want to do is to help as many musicians as I possibly can in whatever shape or form. These are exciting times to be involved in music!
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