About half way through our three month stay in Jingjiang I stumbled upon the only person in the entire city who was a fan of modern music and who also happened to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the modern Chinese rock scene. My wife and I were often dragged to these very uncomfortable “meet-the-English-speaking-freaks” gatherings, in which a handful of locals who were interested in practicing their limited English would show up and stare at us. On this one particular night a young man came up and introduced himself and upon hearing that my wife’s name was Patty, he said, “like Patti Smith?”. My wife and I were both a little taken aback and weren’t quite sure what we had just heard, so I replied,”…you mean Patti Smith…the musician Patti Smith?!?” He said, “yes, yes..Patti Smith, CBGBs, Horses…”. This was Eric Chen, we became fast friends. Eric learnt all of his English by watching American movies. He is a music fanatic, caught inside of a country that relatively little interest in the music underground, caught inside a city that is about as backwater as it gets when it comes to modern culture. Eric took me around Jingjiang and introduced me to the handful of musicians that lived in the town, but more importantly he schooled me in the modern Chinese rock scene. He brought me a stereo and stacks of cds by modern Chinese rock bands. I was floored by the intensity of the music. Here was a status-quo that an angry young man could really kick against. No Future, indeed. There was also something about Mandarin that lent itself to rock music. It’s all those hard consonants and those guttural sounds; it just makes for some good gut-wrenching belting.
Near the end of my stay I asked Eric to translate a handful of songs that I was, for whatever reason, attracted to. I quickly learnt that Mandarin may be a great rock language, but trying to bridge the gap between Mandarin and English was not going to be an easy task. I’ve come to the conclusion that Mandarin and English are like two software platforms that just won’t communicate with each other. Eric did a great job translating and then I had to take his translations and turn them into songs that could be expressed in English. Here are Erics translations of My Fall and I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side (written by two great Chinese musicians Xu Wei and Zuoxiao Zuzhou) with my hand written notes on the borders, followed by my further adaptations of the lyrics.
If you’d like to catch up on some past blogs about the Renmin Park album, just click on a link: