Tuesday, 5 January 2010


Day 28

Mon 30 Nov

Cockroaches upset me not because they are terrifying per se, in fact the babies are very pretty, like cartoons of themselves. In the UK they are a taboo, while in China as in many countries, they’re just a fact that’s less welcome than some, like ants or rodents or rain. But I remember struggling to keep a Council flat in Ardwick clean while roaches poured out of the wall partitions. They invaded the walls, the waste pipes, the cupboards, the fridge, the food. One night I forgot to check my salad before eating it and found myself with a wriggling mouthful. They carry a memory cargo to me in those little brown body cases.

“Meanwhile back, on Penny Lane…”

Meanwhile back in the studio, Deng Chuan likes The Beatles, Nick Cave, folk music, and syrupy Chinese ballads. Yan Yan votes for heartbreak Classical music, especially when delivered via piano. I’m free jazz, ancient crackling blues sung by people without teeth and rockandroll. Therefore when Yan Yan is away we crank up the stereo and go gothic or play The Beatles, as common ground.

I’ve picked up Revolver and the White Album, remastered for about a quarter of the UK price and Deng Chuan has Sgt Pepper. We put them onto Yan Yan’s fabulous machine. The energy blast of them jumpstarts us and we work late, laughing at the sheer happiness of the sound.

For the past godknowshowlong recording engineers have slaved on Beatle recordings, meticulously cleaning each Beatle-instrument, each Beatle-voice on the original tapes and then reassembling the mixes. It seems churlish not to listen, especially as I can bag up a couple of the gooduns for a fiver.

I played The Beatles to Beatle-death, time ago - they are as familiar as the hymns we used to sing at school assembly and memory patina is so deep that I don’t actually hear songs, I hear remembering. But the cleanup they’ve been given changes the texture of the whole thing - the joy in the recordings jumps and catches me unexpectedly. Sgt Pepper’s music bounces, while the White Album is heartbroken, the song Julia sweet and forlorn and crystal, as tho sung here and now.

Both Yan Yan and Deng Chuan get listless and deathly when I play atonal music - or sing, which amounts to the same thing as Trehy observed. Mostly we flit across Chopin and Schubert to Keith Jarrett and Alice Coltrane to Deng Chuan’s Chinese folk mixes. But in the evenings, working late it is to the dayglo of Deng Chuan’s Sgt Pepper, or the strange unravelling White Album, with its black holes and beauty.

(I get up from writing this in my apartment in Chongqing to make a drink and sure enough a baby roach disappears under the cooker.)

It seems to me that the biggest legacy of The Beatles is their pleasure at finding newness – of writing the future. That’s why I have such a problem with Fabnostalgia – it misses the alchemical fever that the music was made in. The John Lennon of 1966 would’ve gagged at the thought of a Beatle Experience museum.

So for me, the biggest wakeup comes just after a shot of Sgt Pepper, when Deng Chuan and Wang Jun find download after download of traditional Chinese folks, Siberian throat singers and eerie mountain music on the zithery gu qin. For them, this is history but for me it is as bright and new as those shiny remasters. We listen into the small hours, gathered around the little charcoal fire bowl, the lights of the laptops twinkling around us.

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