Some of you folks may be aware that I suffer from anxiety disorder. It’s not something that is too obvious if you know me casually but that’s becuase it’s very easy to hide.
In my thirties, it was pretty bad – married with children and being the sole breadwinner was not helpful to my mental well-being. But since I turned 40, I have become more self-aware about my condition and learning slowly but surely to deal with who I am.
So here I am, knowing the importance of the here and now. Present sense. In the past decade, I have gone to hell and back but with such valuable lessons.
Yesterday is gone forever and tomorrow might never come. All I have is today. Live in the moment, my friends.
That’s probably a corny sentiment to share but music is all I have in life now. Living the virtually solitary existence can be a mental challenge but eased immensely by the power of my favourite music.
To me, the terms “rock ‘n’ roll” or “pop” are meaningless especially when applied in a cold technical manner.
It has to be about how the music makes me think and feel. And that’s what the best rock or pop music does, in my humble opinion.
It’s all about the art, the craft, the emotion invested by music creators to express a real idea or feeling to the listener – making a genuine connection.
As I watched Hanging Up the Moon (Sean Lam) deliver his beautifully crafted acoustic works in a little record store in the slick cold environs of the Esplanade Mall, I could not help but notice the curious onlooking shoppers wondering what the hell was going on.
I like to say that there are two kinds of music – the music that I like and the music other people like. Music is subjective so it is only an opinion and I cannot definitely say that the music another person likes is bad. All I can say is that I don’t like that music.
There is always a lot to be thankful for. I have learned never to pre-judge a situation – and boy do I have a problem with that – but instead, I have trained myself to cultivate positive thoughts about that particular situation. It’s never easy but usually I find that things do work out in the end, one way or another.
I have begun to define myself almost exclusively as a ‘teacher’. After all, that’s what I spend most time gainfully employed, with six classes over 5 days over three polytechnics for the next few months. Till end August in fact.
Since the late 80s, there have been numerous pronouncements of the death of rock ’n’ roll. Each time, the prophets of doom have been proven wrong – the 1990s with the rise of Nirvana and the 2000s with the Strokes and the post-punk revival. But I sincerely fear that 2016 might be the year that time is called on the former institution known as rock ’n’ roll.
Perhaps it is the death of David Bowie that has depressed me to such an extent that this doomsday scenario now becomes a reality. But just look at the Billboard Top 20 singles and you will realise that rock ’n’ roll is completely absent. I have also been analysing the acts on Laneway Singapore 2016 and bar the rare exception (like Cashew Chemists), again there are no bands playing rock ’n’ roll!
This realisation has also aided in my decision to quit as a solo performer, whether live or in the studio – and focus on other aspects in my life. My main pre-occupation in music will be as a journalist and hopefully, as a curator and mentor. That is the only way I can see myself making a contribution. My music as a solo artist has no fucking significance whatsoever. Time to move on then.
Every year is an opportunity to learn more, to do more good work and to help more people. Personally, every year also provides circumstances designed to mould me into the person that I should be & to deny the impulses that years of genetic and social conditioning have brought about.
In that respect, 2015 was a very good year. No, I am not quite a success yet – not in the eyes of the world anyways but I am content that I managed to connect with the ‘right’ people & forged meaningful relationships.
The only constant is change and I am thankful for the learned ability to adapt to the twists and turns that life will inevitably throw my way. What is crucial are the thoughts and behaviour that I am able to muster.
I have come to terms with who I am and my place in the world and the freedom that affords is priceless. I see 2016 as a unique challenge to push myself further outside of my comfort zone, overcoming my fears, acknowledging my flaws and being the best person I can be, for the benefit of others.
Even as there is online discussion fermenting on whether Singapore artists should stop applying for grants from the National Arts Council (as a protest against censorship), there has been some soul-searching amongst the so-called Singapore indie music scene as well.
Sorry but I am not in a good mood. A few days ago I tried to get feedback about whether people saw me as a singer-songwriter or music journalist first. It was clear that most of the responses were very much based on the age of the responder. The older the person, the more they thought of me as a singer-songwriter first. That’s the problem. In the last year or so, the folks in charge of the media and venues are generally younger – maybe 18 to 35 – and in their book, I am a music journalist full stop. Thus, in the entire year, I have not been invited to perform ANYWHERE! The only shows I have done I have had to organise myself – the Present Sense launches. Is my creative life over at 55? Do these people think of me as an irrelevance? Sad to think that this is true. Fact is the only time folks contact me is to get me to publicise something they are doing – so yeah, I guess that’s the way folks look at me – as a writer, a journalist. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but I’d like to think that my life as a singer-songwriter is not over! Is it???
Having been a recording artist for over 20 years, it’s interesting to observe the changes especially in the area of marketing and promotion of a new release. Signed to Odyssey Records for my first two releases with Watchmen, the label took care of all the marketing and to their credit, did manage to get good press for both Democracy and Love. No internet back then of course, so everything was in print – newspapers & magazines, or over the air – radio & TV. Fair to say, I was featured all over the place back then – not young by any means but still, someone in their early 30s was acceptable to the media.
It was not till the two Popland albums viz. Groovy (1998) and Action! (2001) that one began to see the influence of the internet. Still there were no streaming music or videos, so it was very much text & image based. But this at least allowed me to get media coverage from overseas, in fact, Action! was released by a San Francisco indie label and had US distribution and ads were placed in various indie rock publications of the time, with attendant reviews as well. The good ol’ days.
Ever since I started releasing music in my own name (2013), getting media attention has been really difficult. It doesn’t help that most media (local or otherwise) see you as irrelevant. These journalists tend to be very very young (late teens even) and for them, someone in their 40s/50s making music is difficult for them to comprehend – it’s like asking them to visualise their own parents acting in a ‘childish’ way. This tension and discomfort results in these journalists either (1) totally ignoring someone like me or (2) write reviews that reference my age constantly as evidence of my obsolescence.
But that’s to be expected, I guess and I accept that as part of the deal. After all, it’s entirely my choice to release music at my age and worse, send them to music blogs (etc) for their assessment.
Despite all this, I feel even more challenged to keep making music to the best of my ability and will continue to do so, no matter what. It’s more about the music and less about what people think.
Of course, it is always nice to have people appreciate your music but I am not going to change the way I do things, just because certain people don’t…
Is it the government? Is it the natural aristocracy? Or is it the people that live within its boundaries, whether citizens or not? I don’t really know, to be honest. And I don’t really care. Singapore (or Singapura) is a country that has existed for centuries – named and founded by Sang Nila Utama in 1299! Yes boys and girls, more than 50 years ago. Well, of course, Singapore is more than 50 years old, I will be 55 next February and my birth certificate clearly states my birthplace as Singapore….
Well, we are often told during National Day Parades that Singapore is ‘home’ as that simplistic Dick Lee propaganda piece goes and 50 years of social engineering has basically made us believe that Singapore is whatever the ruling party wants us to believe. AND those of us who do our utmost best to keep our minds clean from this indoctrination year in year out are fully aware of the implications of not towing the line – the paranoia ingrained in every fibre of our being to shy away from any enterprise that involves a modicum of risk.
Even in conversations with my dear late Dad, he would admonish me whenever I started ranting about politics – “be careful what you say in public” – he would always warn. Of course, my father – part of the so-called pioneer generation – could never understand the relative freedom of the internet and could only respond based on his observations of the 60s and the 70s, when the ruling party tightened their grip on every aspect of Singaporean life.
But it’s not the 60s or 70s anymore is it? Surely, the passing of 50 years should mean that it is time for Singapore to change – and not just superficially, in terms of infrastructure and buildings – but the very social contract that has been obediently complied with. It’s a vastly different world in 2015 from that in which Singapore split from Malaysia, and as a people, Singapore must rise up to the ideals stated in our pledge – “one united people”, “democratic society”, “justice and equality” and “happiness, prosperity and
progress” – not mere aspirations but concrete reality.
That to me, is what Singapore must become. Time for a change, my brothers and sisters…