Doesn't anybody remember laughter…? - from Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven "Oh baby it's a wild world…" - Cat Stevens
This weekend I did not think deep profound thoughts about my column. I was thinking about rock and roll. Yes – that music that was part of the wave of "yellow culture" our parents warned us about. We have known "sin" through rock and roll, some wise men would conclude.
I want to share something about a passion I once had – about the passion of living in rock. So, I washed myself with the experience – through several YouTube videos on rock music. A visual of Queen's guitarist Brian May tormenting his Gibson Les Paul atop Buckingham Palace excites me. Imagine Hillary Ang of Malaysia's rock group Search or Man Kidal of Lefthanded playing a Jimi Hendrix-rendition of Negaraku atop the Istana Negara – that'll be the day when things have already runamuck! That'll be a serious latah-ization of this nation.
I wanted to feel how old ideas can teach me what newer realities mean. "Old school versus new school", as these say these days, I wanted to test how my perception of the present can be altered by the music of the past. I was experimenting with my own stream of consciousness, as the Irish poet James Joyce would term it. If this column is a stand up comedy, it would be a Seinfeld; if it were an artwork, it would be Andy Warhol's' Campbell soups. Or "Urination", perhaps.
No, I did not think about the three upcoming rallies, the government's accusation that the Hindraf leaders lied, the potential loss of GE-2008 seats by the ruling party, the UPM fiasco of the suspended student, the long term impact of mass protests and street rallies in relation to mass and democratized form of human rights education, the continuing intellectual saga of the UUCA and the Akujanji, my invitation to speak to students in Boston, Washington DC and Stamford, and the documentary on Jacques Derrida I am yet to watch.
I sought solace in rock music. I "chilled" with it. I had so much fun chilling - away from the "chilling" national issues of the day. I have "sinned" again, perhaps. It is said that the guitar is the instrument of the Devil. I went into nostalgia-mode - I felt that I had long hair, tight Levis blue jeans, smoking a Marlboro, had Fonzie's "Happy Days'" leather jacket, and felt 'groovy'. And I had "Fung Keong" sneakers on too. Yes, the language of the mid-1970s came back. "Fag" was for cigarettes", "stoned" and "steamed" was for the feeling drug abusers had after getting "high", as sung by the group Deep Purple in "Smoke on the Water". The song immediately brought me thinking of Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention. This auditory and visual experience further brought me to my growing up years in Majidee Johor Bahru where I joined the elders in listening to an album called Rolling Stones' "Goat Head's Soup" (?) - in my head the tune "We Are an American Band" by Grandfunk Railroad playing.
Energy and inspiration
And yes, the Malay youth then were smoking something that smelled strange. In between running around barefoot in the kampong I would stop by at the favourite hangout of the older "kutus" (wayward youth) in my kampong – to take a peek of what they were smoking. But boy – they really had good, fun, and they had uncomplicated and unpretentious album covers back then. "It's a wild, wild, world…" as Cat Stevens would say. I could have been one of them (the kutus) if not because of an "imaginary friend" I had with me, all the time. Western influence was so pervasive – so addictive. It takes a new paradigm of consciousness to break free of its shackle.
I drowned myself in the wave of old favourite music of "my generation". Raja Petra Kamaruddin of Malaysia-Today would say that The Who – Roger Daltry, Peter Townshed, and Keith Moon – is the band of his generation. Perhaps our most celebrated cartoonist Lat would choose Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" as his musical human semiosis.
My kind of music was the "Stairway to Heaven" genre. The music of Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones (now 'The Strolling Bones"), Carlos Santana, Rush, Queen, Genesis, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Rainbow. And Eagles too. I explored "committed rock music" at one point in my life – the music of the Irish band U-2. Of late too I have been analysing the music and lyrics of the most celebrated Indonesian rocker Iwan Fals. These are the lyrical poets of my generation.
There is so much energy and inspiration in rock music of the mid-1970s that I had refused to listen to rock of this Rempit generation. I hope our generation is not practicing he strange dance of the death metallists. I would prefer to listen to the sound of the whispering wind and my heartbeat than listen to bands such as Linkin' Park, Korn and Peter Pan of Indonesia. My apologies to this generation for my confession. I think the global music capitalists have become too greedy to produce good, sensical, rock and roll music. The children of this generation I think are more stoned and are gathering more moss as an after effect of the over-consumption of today's junk rock and death metal music.
They do not know how to value the lyrics of the great rock and roll pieces such as "Stairway to Heaven", a three-part Led Zeppelin classic that every youngster of my age the were trying to learn to play on the old beaten Chinese-made "kapok" guitar. They have not listened to Queen's operatic masterpiece "Bohemian Rhapsody", Pink Floyd's simple yet profound "Wish You Were Here", or Yes' mystical magical "Turn of the Century" – or even Simon Garfunkel's lyrical poem "I am a Rock" to appreciate the philosophical messages behind the lyrics that are serenaded with, at times shrieking and Earth-shattering guitar riffs. The youth of Cybernetic Malaya need to go back to listening these classic and understand what freedom to think and explore means.
I do not know what the Mat and Minah Rempits and Mat and Minah Reformasis are listening to. I would assume that there is a difference – the rempits listen to death and thrash metal and maybe gangsta rap and the reformists listen to soft rock, and urban and alternative music. I might be wrong in labeling them. Readers may email me to enlighten me on this.
Back to Led Zeppelin - and what went into my head to shape my consciousness. Hey, I wrote about something here – about my generation and how the spirit of rock music can also inspire one to embody and promote free speech. Now I am energised to continue with equally serious issues for my upcoming columns.