Guantanamera

Between Stations

Between Stations
BY Kim Cheng Boey
(Giramondo Publishing, 2009)

In memory everything lives in music, says the American poet William Matthews. Music preserves the pulse of our experiences and charts the stages of our lives. Each phase of our journey is attended by a different soundtrack, and all the moments therein are permeated by its tune, voice and the whole aural map of its being in the air. What we have lived through is carved in long grooves and then forgotten until some day the stylus is activated, and then there is no stopping the long playing. Everyone has his or her Vinteuil, a sonata that condenses the themes and expresses so aptly the storyline of their lives. It summons back les temps perdus, all those reveries and traumas of childhood, the state of being in but not of the world, when we watched our elders conduct their affairs with a logic that defied our understanding, when we witnessed them fall in and out of love while we hung suspended in a kind of transit; and then ourselves undergoing the throes of growing up. Like passwords to the country of the past, the songs conjure up the sights and sounds, the whole emotional geography of an era.

We can be forgiven for thinking that they were about us. There are songs that we loved and took as our own for each stage of our lives and then there are songs that we were listening to consciously but which we heard in a kind of unhearing way. Heard melodies are sweet, those unheard are sweeter. Especially sweet in retrospect are the songs you never really meant to listen to, but which formed the ambient landscape of your childhood. Music preserves the pulse of our experiences and charts the stages of our lives. Each phase of our journey is attended by a different soundtrack, and all the moments therein are permeated by its tune, voice and the whole aural map of its being in the air. You were absorbed by them, drawn into the drama of the lyrics, and the story unfolding around, the relationships that seemed bewilderingly remote and fascinating. They are songs that you would later reject in youth as saccharine, as you advanced to more exalted tastes: Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Mahler, Elgar, Charlie Parker, Coltrane and Bill Evans. You become a musical snob until you realise that Coltrane and Evans knew the value of a good pop tune and could transfigure it into something profoundly moving: Coltrane’s ‘My Favourite Things,’ Miles’s ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ and Evans’s ‘Theme from M.A.S.H.’ Maybe something in me is at last turning postmodernist; I listen to what used to be in the top of the charts — ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘Yesterday Once More’ — with the same fervour with which I tune in to classical, jazz or world music. I don’t mind being called maudlin now; Elgar’s concertos touch the same chords in me as the sadly sweet voice of Karen Carpenter or the pained sensitive timbre of David Gates.

It is comforting to hum the tunes that ruled the airwaves in your childhood. Play a Beatles or Leonard Cohen LP and your belief in music, in life, is revived, even if momentarily, and you become that yearning, hopeful youth again. I find myself longing to hear even the Chinese pop that my mother played on her portable turntable that she acquired and carried with her from room to rented room: Teresa Teng, Tang Lan Hua, all those bittersweet songs that mirrored the disappointments in her life. The hits are indices to the past; a lot happens in the duration of their stay on the hit parade. For that reason a song can bring back a whole epoch of one’s life.

Page 1 of 3 1 2 3 View All

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

Permalink URL: http://www.cerisepress.com/01/03/kim-cheng-boey-guantanamera

Page 1 of 3 was printed. Select View All pagination to print all pages.