Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Bleak month

Our long time neighbour from the house opposite my parents' committed suicide last Monday and hanged himself after long years of depression, leaving a wife and three children. When she discovered him after an ordinary day at work, it was already four hours two late. The sight of her husband hanging on a scarf dragged her into a nightmare she had long tried to ignore. She lost her sense and started screaming on the street yelling "Why, why, why…" 
He had been telling her that he saw no point in keeping on living, words that she discarded as being too dramatic. In spite of her attempts to sustain a sense of normality in the household, all the signs were there, he was taking loads of pills, he had gained weight because of his depression, he was moving extremely slowly and hardly reacted to anything.
I sincerely felt sorry for her. For the past decade or more, she had been taking care of the whole family, working long hours as a medical nurse while her husband was jobless and unable psychologically to find new work. It’s as if all her efforts to maintain even a flicker of life in her husband were as useless as pouring water in a well. She was taken to the hospital where she spent the night. The next day, she was back to herself and ready to face life again. I really admire her.  
Mass was given yesterday at the church where my brother got married. The priest would not host the ceremony for it was a suicide case, so a special service was called for that occasion. I was asked to choose the music to be played by the organist. Not a very good one, she was… She played as if she was a first year student, with lots of hesitation and plenty of missed notes, oblivious of the fact that a funeral was being held down at the altar. The two persons who were conducting the ceremony would patiently wait for their accomplice to end her musical mayhem before going on with the next prayer. Their resigned expression seemed to indicate that the situation wasn't new to them. That gave a slight comical touch to the funeral service.
This tragedy shook my father as well. His familiar surrounding is changing. That is something he always found hard to cope with. 
Another blow for him was when the neighbour from the house next to my parents' also passed away. He had been sick for a long time but refused any treatment, claiming that he preferred to die a natural death. 
His wife who had been impotent for some time already locked herself at home, all shutters down. My mother visited her a couple of times and found the atmosphere particularly bleak.  

Cimetière Condé - the cemetary near my parents' house.

When I was in elementary school, that sculptures of
two lovers would never fail to arouse me on my way to school.

A Gothic style house on my parents street.

The times are indeed shifting. Everything changes around me. We had a Chinese New Year gathering at my parents’ place yesterday, which left me with an empty feeling. Most of the guests were friends of mine or my brother’s, so even if it was quite pleasant, the Chinese New Year atmosphere was definitely absent. I hardly recognized my brother. I don’t know what will happen in the future when we meet after months or years apart. Will he start to ‘thou’ me? I know he’s glad to see his family, but I have the sad impression that he belongs less and less to our family when I see the strong bonds that tie him to his friends and his wife’s family. He never felt at home with us, I must admit. It was difficult for him to find his place amidst two parents and a brother who all have strong personality. I know it’s a family affair and that blood’s thicker than the mud, though. Quite ironically, she has got closer to us since the marriage…

Had to go to beg for money at the social council this morning. My banker and my landlord are after me with axes in the air! I don’t want to let them ruin my life. There will be a solution. There is also something to figure out in my inability to fit in this material world.
Sometime, I see so many similarities between my life and that of Bach, Molière or Mozart. They went through the same struggle. Is it a consolation? Only if I knew I had their talent!


Quite fortunately, I changed my album title from Pandemonium to Hyperbody. I found out that the Pet Shop Boys used Pandemonium as the name of their new release. I actually also caught the word Pandemonium used as the title for another album by a rather obscure hip hop band. To think that I was so proud of myself to have found that name! Quick, quick, let’s finish this album and have it released!
As soon as all the songs are done, I will send out copies of the demos to some record companies in the UK, Germany or Belgium.

To bring a feel good note to my otherwise gloomy day, I bought Peter Gabriel and Massive Attack‘s latest albums, respectively Scratch my Back, a collection of covers beautifully arranged for a symphonic orchestra without any drums nor guitars, and Heligoland, Massive Attack’s first studio release in six years. I can’t really say this music brings sunshine in my heart for both albums are quite dark in tone, but I am musically aroused. 

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Scene at the police station, a few minutes before midnight. 
An empty waiting room. It’s cold outside.
“How can I help you, sir? “asks a young blonde female police officer.
“I would like to make a declaration of theft. My bag was stolen in a Five Star hotel lobby and with it my wallet, credit card, checkbook  and all my papers.”
“Do you have any ID?”
I startle.
“It’s precisely what was in my bag. No I don’t have any ID” I tell her.
“I’m sorry sir, but we need an ID to make sure about your identity. You don’t have your passport? “
“That’s what was in my bag…”
“Oh… There’s nothing we can do for you, sir, I’m afraid. We need an ID.”
“So if someone, a tourist has his papers stolen, then there’s nothing you can do for them?”
“Not if they don’t have their ID. Can you call someone, a friend who could come here with his papers to testify that you are someone that he knows…? ” she keeps on very politely.
Then her colleague added:
"You'd better always carry your ID with you, especially now, you know, because you look em... foreign" 
The only thing to do was to leave.

If the day ended on a rather pointless note, things were fruitful today. I completed the musical arrangement for the penultimate song of the album, Don’t be koi. I used the rhythmic skeleton of a Tom Waits cover I did a couple of years ago, changed the chords and added some strings and a recorded piano track. It was so simple. I didn’t have to think. I was doing something, and music came out of it. That’s how easily most of the other songs came these past weeks. They’re now nearly all done. Pascal has yet to record his guitar parts, Alex will be playing some strings for me on Butterfly Rider in Toronto and Deepika will grace The Blessing with her beautiful voice in India! The marvel of technology… That fast way of working would have been unthinkable even ten years ago!

I met up with Tatiana yesterday. She’s a drummer I was introduced to at the time I was starting my collaboration with Michèle Atlani. Shall I count the years…?
I bumped into her by chance in a bar, some two or three years ago. I must admit I didn’t remember her. She did. Easy to spot me, anyway: how many Vietnamese pianists were there in the little world of chanson française?
I was hoping to get her to play for the album and for the concert. I like the idea of having a female drummer. And her career has been interesting. She plays many other instruments; she worked with dance companies as well as singers. Her musical taste ranges from pop to contemporary music… The perfect girl! She’s very much in demand and that was the reason she had to decline, not without some regret. Her only availability for some recording sessions wouldn’t have been before the end of March… two weeks before the concert! However, we get along very well, so I hope to see her again and possibly get her on board for future concerts.
I don’t want to worry about finding the musicians. Things will come in due time.

Writing songs

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Winter muse

Cold night. I walked home with my headphones on, listening to the instrumentals of my album songs. I must say I’m proud and delighted of what came out those past weeks. Inspiration has been flowing – rather unexpectedly. I was wondering how I’d be able to finish the music and how some songs would shape up. But it happened. I spent the past two weeks working night and day. The instrumentals are still incomplete, some songs are barely the skeleton of what they’re going to become. Guitar, piano, drum and string tracks are yet to be added on some songs - and of course the vocals! But I’m happy. Really happy! I’ve gone beyond myself both musically and lyrically. I surprised myself and gave life to what were tentative ideas even weeks ago. I don’t know what is happening; it feels like I’m at the heart of a whirlwind.  One thing I have managed to trust more and more since my time in Taipei: to believe that no matter what, my wishes will materialize. Sandee Chan said that I didn’t need a record company to do my album because I knew what I wanted and had the means to do it by myself. I was thinking ‘How can she say that? She has a studio and her own record company, people and musicians working for her. It’s easy for her to state such things.’  Now I realize she’s right. Even if I have no financial means at all, things still come to me. Jan’s guitarist contacted me on Facebook. I boldly asked him whether he’d be willing to play on my album. He said he would. We met for the first time last week. I sang the songs on the incomplete playbacks and he loved what he heard. We’re going to have our first recording session tomorrow!
I haven’t heard from Sandee Chan since we last met that one October afternoon at the Eslite Café. But I know I can make it on my own. Then maybe will she reappear. Who knows…
Everything can happen indeed!


Bévinda came this afternoon to finish a song we had started to work on a couple of days ago, Ja fui. It was my first time to write a song with someone beside me. During the six years or so I spent touring, writing and playing with Michèle I usually would compose the music on my side before I’d show her anything. It was fun with Bévinda, though. She has such a positive energy and we were very fast. One idea, one chord would lead to a melodic phrase, then to a verse, then to more chords.
We will perform the song for my concert. More songs will certainly see the day that way.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Nothing comes to light

3:00 am. I was about to go to bed. Then my eyes stopped on a sheet lyrics of a song I haven't yet worked on: Nothing comes to light. I quickly wrote the lyrics in Taipei one Thursday afternoon, as Jason’s sister was mopping the floor in the living  room and I had not paid much attention to it since.
I sat at the piano, turned on the soft pedal and started playing.  It all suddenly came out. And only then did I realise the meaning of what I wrote. The chorus went Give her love ‘coz she can’t help it / Give her love coz’ she can’t save herself… The verses were describing a lonely woman was drifting like Mrs. Stone in Tennessee Williams’ novel. Lonely woman, drifting and loveless, trying to find something. I actually got inspired by my cousin Nina and her current marital problems.
But as the music flowed out I understood it was also about: the Alzheimer disease. She wants to sail to distant shores / Where nothing can alter her mind / Day come white and night come black / Nothing comes to light. The woman was my own mother! I was trying to exorcise my fear of seeing her losing her mind and drifting in an inner world of her own. It’s true, she does keep forgetting things. She easily gets distracted and always claims it’s the Alzheimer disease. Even though it is not, I had been repressing the thought it could actually be the case. She went to see a doctor. I don’t quite know what to think. But what I tried to avoid appeared in the song…
This altered state of ego / She tries to shell her mess / Find a spot of her own / Nothing comes to light.