Perhaps it was the combined effects of Hong Kong’s Rugby Sevens Weekend, the brittle resistance put up by New Zealand against Australia in the World Cup Cricket, and watching all those European raiders hijack Dubai World Cup Day, but being with someone who insisted in playing me the Taylor Swift Songbook and her brand of popcorn in the way of “Blank Space” and “Dear John”, which I told her were “good”, made me realise that I needed a fix of music reality bites. Big bites- and then bigger bites when reading that Fortune magazine, in what must be the result of gulping down way too much Kool-Aid, had named Miss Swift as one of the Top 10 World Leaders. Taylor Swift? A World Leader? But, then again, also making the list was Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders during the Umbrella Movement protests. Enough said.


As whenever overcome with these moody blues and fifty shades of grey, I went to my usual Happy Place- the lesser-known Lennon-McCartney songs such as “I’ll Be Back”, “Rain”, and the entire White Album, which show that even their “B-Graders” are still aeons ahead of many songs around today.

So as not to get stuck in Strawberry Fields Forever, I inhaled huge intakes of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, “Elusive Butterfly” by Bob Lins, some Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, Nick Drake, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, John Phillips, and Dylan just to remind myself of a time when so many artists only ever recorded their own material.

To not be caught up wallowing in a past that will never return, I listened to almost everything the wonderful Sia has ever recorded along with the music of Malaysia’s incredible Yuna, an artist who deserves far more recognition than, basically, the Malaysian and Singaporean markets.

Personally, I wish Sia and Yuna collaborate on a recording one day soon. But that’s another story for another day.

With Taylor Swift’s “Dear John”- John Mayer- and one of his songs that’s always been a personal favourite for its lyrics, melody and the singer-songwriter’s vocals-”Heartbreak Warfare”- playing in the background, I wondered why so few in Hong Kong- and other cities in Asia- rarely write their own material.

Is it something in the water? The curries? The chow fan? The lifestyle? The DNA. There’s Yuna- and who else?

Even Chinese diva, the spectacularly beautiful Faye Wong, has depended on the musical doodlings of others and her one-time obsessions to be a Chinese Bjork or Cranberries Chinoise as opposed to showing us, through songs that come from heart, mind and soul, more about her innermost thoughts.

Perhaps, she doesn’t have any “innermost thoughts”, or like what happens in Vegas and stays in Vegas, and others in this region, Faye would rather keep what’s inside to themselves, and have songwriters create songs that keep their public images intact like some Procter and Gamble brand as this set strategy is what’s taken them this far, so why fuck with it?

To her credit, at least Taylor Swift writes about every guy she’s dated, who, for reasons only known to them, have quickly dumped her, and which then results in her putting angst to paper and giving substance to the saying, Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned, something that also propelled the usually “safe” Norah Jones to write “Happy Pills” and “Miriam”, both complemented with music videos that were a combination of “Mad Men”, “Fatal Attraction”, and something from the quirky mindscape of David Lynch. 

Perhaps most musicians and singers in Asia are performers and interpreters as opposed to being originators? If so, let’s just hope these interpretations have more balls than the prozac-induced covers heard on the latest Diana Krall record, which has almost as much blandness as the covers by Hong Kong’s Karen Mok and Taiwan’s Joanna Wong and her “Snorah” Jones-type warbling that had some at Sony Music excited when the latter was still making records.

Gawd, Joanna Wong was boring to watch in concert. It would make me wonder what it might be like to give her one. But then, she’d sing her plodding version of “Vincent”, and look as if she’d smelt something truly wretched and immediate shrinkage would take over my being.

I’m not asking anyone to go through Dr Janov’s Primal Therapy and start screaming about going through “Cold Turkey” and calling out for “Mother” like Lennon did, but are Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift the songwriters whose songs matter most these days? And will the bloke who recently left One Direction- Blaine? Wayne? Billy Zane?- bring his own genius brand of songwriting into this mix? Thank gawd for the very real songs of Adele.

One attends jam sessions in various clubs around the region, and either hear note-for-note covers, or else musos blowing off in all directions with instrumental solos a go-go and the obligatory skittish scatting. But amidst all this back-slapping musical masturbation, can’t someone jump onstage and be as original as Tom Waits, spaz it out there and add some substance to the usual paint-by-numbers jizz masquerading as jazz?

Of course, there have been attempts at writing originals with, alas, most coming out like this gem from model-actor-brand-warbler Michael Wong.

If a spoof, this track is absolutely brilliant. But if meant to be taken seriously, then those associated with this atrocity should be required to sit inside a padded cell and listen to every James Blunt recording over and over again.

Not to end on a downbeat, if you haven’t already, check out South African Blues guitarist Dan Patlansky.

Hans Ebert
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and Fast Track Global Ltd
www.fasttrack.hk

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