I’d like to begin my inaugural blog post by warmly thanking Blue Ear Books publisher Ethan Casey, first and foremost for graciously publishing the updated edition of my book Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan, and second, for giving me this forum to periodically spout off about topics directly or indirectly related to the book’s subject material (or perhaps not related at all). I’m exceedingly grateful to Ethan for his belief in my work and for establishing the vital Blue Ear imprint, and am deeply honored to find myself in the company of such exceptional authors.
Live at the Forbidden City chronicles my often preposterous adventures performing music in China and Taiwan in the 1980s and ’90s, where I unwittingly stumbled into the role of an unofficial musical ambassador to the East, playing more than 100 concerts in venues ranging from sports arenas to illicit underground nightclubs to TV broadcasts viewed by millions of Chinese – frequently under bizarre circumstances and the constant threat of harassment by Communist Party authorities. The book also includes travelogues from the Chinese hinterlands as well as my eyewitness account of the violent civil uprising that broke out in the city of Chengdu at the same time as the world-shaking events at Tiananmen Square, a tragic episode that has only recently (25 years after the event) caught the attention of the Western media.
Most of the events recounted in the book took place fully a quarter-century ago and depict a China that’s almost unrecognizably different from today’s hyperventilating economic powerhouse, a rapidly morphing human landscape where gaudy skyscrapers sprout like bamboo shoots against a canvas of shockingly polluted skies, and change occurs at the pace of sped-up time-lapse photography. Indeed, in retrospect, perhaps the most valuable aspect of my book is that it presents an on-the-ground snapshot of a pivotal period of transition in China’s long, convulsive history, as I arrived at just the right time and place and my role as an active musician unlocked doors into Chinese culture that few foreigners were fortunate enough to enter at the time.
It is this theme – the stark contrast between the China I portrayed in Live at the Forbidden City and the China of today – that I plan on exploring repeatedly in these periodic blogs. I’ll be considering such questions as:
• How much have deep-seated cultural mores really changed in the intervening years?
• How are the violent events of 1989 remembered (or not) now?
• Can China truly be called a “communist” nation anymore?
• How has the relationship between China and Taiwan evolved since the book was written?
• What are the implications of China’s deepening environmental crisis?
• What happened to some of the more prominent figures described in the book?
• And of course: Whither Chinese rock (and other) music?
As the old saw goes, if you dig deep enough, you might eventually reach China. Here’s hoping that readers will join me in the excavation in future posts on the Blue Ear Books site!