Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five Songs I Am Ashamed To Love

In my later teenage years I used to hang out with a chinless rich kid who prided himself on his superior taste in music. He said I reminded him of (a chubbier) PJ Harvey and went on for hours about Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. At that point in time I was still enjoying the musical oeuvre of Blink 182 and Everclear, so I was understandably resentful of being bullied into listening to Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea. Like so many guys before and after him, he implied that all I needed was a lecture course in the music he enjoyed in order to see the light.

But I can't help liking the music I do. There's just something in me - a dumb inner jock, maybe - which craves sugary pop-punk and 90s' radio 'alternative'. These days we play Breakbot and Nicola Conte after work or on weekends, but when I'm alone and in need of a pick-me-up, I turn up the volume on something loud and teenage. And yes, I sing along.

1. AWOLNATION - Sail


First of all, I want to point out that AWOLNATION's frontman, Aaron Bruno, looks like a Swedish serial killer. One who's screaming "SAIL!" at you repeatedly, while you keep your hands above your head and try to surreptitiously nudge your cell phone closer with your foot.

I imagine this is what teenage girls listen to in a bid to be hardcore, but to me it's really just a fun party song - nothing too taxing on the brain or heart. I especially like singing "Maybe it's my ADD, baby" while marking the assignments of students with learning disabilities.

2. Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire


I come from a pretty religious family, so I enjoy the sepia faux-exorcism thing going on in the video. If my parents' church performed sweaty-young-farmhand exorcisms like that, they could charge admission and still pass around the collection plate after. I don't even know what the song means (genital itch? waxing gone wrong?) but who cares, it's three minutes and twenty eight seconds of hot beardies cashing in on their Pentecostal hillbilly childhoods. Good for them.

3. Third Eye Blind - Semi-Charmed Life


Oh my god - when this came out in like, 1997, I loved it so much. I had the album and I played it so many times the CD looked like a dog had been chewing on it. The "doot doot doot!" bit in the beginning never failed to cheer me up, even though it's all about crystal meth and the struggle to quit. Here's something funny -  everyone who sings along always, always tries to hit the falsetto in the chorus: "...I'm not listening when you say GOOOODBYEEEEEE!"

I'm not going to lie, I still love it and it makes me happy. I used to stop whatever I was doing just to watch the video on MTV and it was like a little bit of San Francisco sunlight bleeding into my life.

4. Blink 182 - Dammit


For my friends and I, this song was the equivalent of Ave Maria. You just couldn't get away from it - it was on the radio, on MTV, on everyone's Napster playlists. I think it captures the silliness and angst of being a teenager very well, and the wry resignation ("Well I guess this is growing up"). We used to be very badly behaved in movie theatres too - occupying an entire row or two, putting our feet up on the seats in front, flicking popcorn kernels at each other (and strangers). You only get to be so utterly clueless and inconsiderate once in your life, so on the whole I'm glad I had that experience.

5. Everclear - White Men in Black Suits



I know they're not a super admired band - in fact they sold out long ago - and I know this isn't one of their singles, and I know it's not even from one of their few respectable albums. But when I was 14 and struggling with the onset of the black dog (only a small and sad-eyed puppy then) this was everything to me. I think it must have been the desperate, diminishing hope in the chorus. 

Unlike a lot of self-aggrandising pop music these days, the song's declaration of freakdom ("I am a loser geek/crazy with an evil streak/yes I do believe there is a violent thing inside of me") isn't made with pride, it's just stated wearily. There's no fight left anymore, it just wants to be left alone by "all those people". When you're young and feeling helpless, it's all you need to know, that other people have felt the same way. (Of course when you're older you need more, but then hopefully you have the ability to find it for yourself - whatever it is.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside

This December I will be spending some time in Tokyo and Osaka with my family, two of whom are Nippon-mad and one who still hasn't forgiven Japan for WWII. I would like to see Tokyo, but I am not too excited at the prospect of winter. Just the thought of it makes me want to run to the chest of drawers in the bedroom to count the cashmere sweaters I've been hoarding since June.

I remember reading somewhere that Lee Kuan Yew considered the air-conditioner to be one of mankind's greatest achievements. Supposedly, he had a funny little theory (one among many, it's true) that Chinese Singaporeans, being genetically programmed for the four seasons, are ill-equipped to handle life in the tropics compared to the Malays and Indians. Air-conditioning was therefore essential for us Chinese to reach our current level of financial and political dominance in Singapore's hot, sultry climate.

I like air-conditioning a lot, and I sleep in it every night, but honestly, that theory is bullshit. Maybe I really am built for cooler climes - short, wide-hipped, unnaturally pale - but I like the heat just fine, too. In fact, I'd rather be too warm than too cold. As a child, my grandfather was sent back to China just before the war broke out, and the only thing he ever says when you ask about his war experiences is that it was "too [untranslatable expletive] cold". He got his wind-chilled ass back to Singapore as fast as he could, once the Japanese surrendered.

I spent two years in Melbourne, which has relatively mild winters. The coldest it ever got was around 5 degrees. Even then, I was significantly more depressed, and a little bit stir-crazy. It was just something about the all-encompassing cold - the way it blasted through walls and clothing, especially when our shitty little electric heaters only kept one body part warm at a time. The first year I slept next to a window, and woke to find melting ice dripping onto my bed from a gap between the frame and wall.

As a kid I always wanted to see snow, but now that I'm older I prefer vacations by the beach. Give me a stylish resort - something recommended by Mr and Mrs Smith, maybe - set above white sands, soothed by the sound of crashing waves in the night, blessed with a zen infinity pool and fairy globes of light in the manicured grass and trees. I got my resort chic wardrobe all packed and ready to go.

Instead, I'm grimly writing down thermal wear items to purchase from Uniqlo and ordering a pair of Dr Martens 8-eyes online. I hate being cold. Lee Kuan Yew can sleep soundly in his temperature-controlled cryogenic chamber every night, but I foresee shivering in flannel PJs and looking like a grumpy puffball in woolly layers come December.