Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Song for X

It took me two sessions with Jan to complete a first demo of the song I was writing for Dennis: Song for X. It was my deal with François that I would write a song for his boyfriend who cruelly missed original material, as an exchange for the ticket to Paris. 
I had sketched a draft of the song before coming to Paris, a rhythm pattern, a bass line and some synth tracks. The opening lines were based on Facebook posts from Dennis' page, which would often start with "There are days when....". I used them as a hook. Jan provided his skilled and soulful singing as well as some guitars, and I played the keyboards. It was a challenge for me. Dennis' taste and musical style is the opposite of mine: mostly mainstream pop and especially musicals! Like many Filipinos, his is a very powerful and beautiful voice, and like many Filipinos, he also likes to joyfully show off vocally, although he may seem shy and modest in comparison. Writing a song for him however did not mean I had to give up my own musical style. The task was to find a tuneful melodic line without falling prey to vocal clichés. 
Jan and I played a very funny game to help me pen the lyrics. He had a box of cards on each of which a word or a phrase would be written. When in a writer's block mode, he would pull out a card and that would be the direction to follow. Apparently, that box of cards was done by Brian Eno...
My method is similar: when facing a blank page, I take any book, open a page at random and with eyes closed, I point at a word which will be a line from where to start.
Jan and I had actually never worked together musically. Strange for two best friends who are also musicians. Perhaps we were guarding our territories. Lately, Jan has gone through a process of self questioning. He realised he wanted to drop the show-offy and witty mask in order to show a more fragile and sensitive side of him. 
"I don't want to be seen as the entertainer wherever I go. I want to write slow and sorrowful songs!" he told me as he was driving me to Paris from the airport.
"Hey, sad and melancholy is my trademark!!!" I joked.
"Then I'll join in!!!"
Jan played his new songs to me. Indeed, I loved what I heard. I pushed him to not overdo anything, whether vocally or musically, thus exposing himself bare. He liked the idea and took note.  

Song for X was finished in time. I was supposed to meet Dennis earlier for dinner but I pretexted work - which was actually true, and promised to meet him for a late night drink. I was to leave Paris in two days, so the time was now!

I also wanted to complete the song in spite of the differences Dennis and I have had the past weeks. All this drama between he, Isaac and I really shook me and I did feel betrayed by both of them, although I'm fully aware that from another point of view, it's another story... Writing music or being creative in any other field washes me from all the worries, pains and emotional conflicts I may have. Nothing matters and I'm totally focused on my work, a pattern I have developed since my childhood. This haven may be a good protection but I have to realise that I have been emotionally very unstable lately. The little voice crying for more love and recognition is now crying louder, and that disturbs me, as I distance myself from friends and lovers. 

I met Dennis near the Pompidou Center. We found a quiet little café nearby. Dennis suspected nothing. I first gave him a postcard that I had Pierre & Gilles sign especially for him. Then I drew out the lyrics sheet and had him read it. Dennis remained silent the whole time.
I finally played him the demo song with Jan's vocals. 
Dennis was speechless but he was beaming. Words are useless in those moments. 
Mission accomplished!

Listen to:
Song for X

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Family is gold

My parents didn't wish for pomp and circumstances so I turned what was meant to be a large celebration into a very intimate affair: a few relatives and my two best friends, Jan and Vanessa that my mother considers part of the family.
I didn't really told them what was going to happen. They only knew my brother would come with wife, son and dog. I didn't let them know who the other were until the last minute when I urged my mother to get ready - how she likes to take her time and linger...
The afternoon was certainly one of the most relaxing and cheerful we had. The mood was merry and bright, with Jan constantly cracking jokes and Vanessa's daughter Angelina playing with my nephew, thus generating lots of laughters. 
"I didn't want anything big, but today was really enjoyable for me!" my father later told me at the end of the day. 
It was a brithday celebration week end for them. Two days before he was invited to another surprise celebration. Some of my father's closest friends and colleagues had gathered in secret to organise a little event including a little concert and a dinner at an Indian restaurant. My father hardly suspected anything. I was only asked to reserve the date without a clue about what was going on behind. When he came back home, he was beaming and still touched by the surprise. My mother and he were carrying two enormous flower bouquets, a few presents and two big frames of photos taken during the performance of a ballet at the Théâtre du Châtelet a few years ago.
Although he doesn't like to admit it, such gestures do move him deeply. He had spent the last year feeling left aside as a composer, even if his works still get played in the world. Taking care of my mother certainly took all his energy and he had little left for his music. 
Somehow, things began to turn this year. Maybe it was helped by the website I did for him, which allowed people to know what was going on and, especially, where and how to contact him. 

During the five weeks of my stay, I saw my father back at his desk, writing more than he has in recent time. I felt so happy to see him at work again. That's where his soul truly belongs. Being a nurse to my mother is definitely not for him. I do admire him for that. At the age of 80, in spite of the obvious changes the body has to go through, he and my mother still carry on. As a son, I pray that they go on like that for a long time.

The afternoon ended with the family, including Jan and Vanessa, having a walk to the park where the children could get some fresh air and play. Vũ An was everybody's centre of attention. He now can walk, run, jump and climb - which makes it a tougher task for my parents to babysit him. 
Within a few minutes, dark clouds started to darken the sky and before we could find shelter, it was pouring rain. We took it cheerfully and laughed a lot, running from one tree to another to avoid being soaked. Simple things bring great joy. 

I will miss everyone so dearly!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Pierre & Gilles

"Why don't you come to our place? We will show your our studio and our house! I hope you don't mind dogs." Gilles wrote to me. We had not yet managed to see each other - they were having their work exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay, and signing with a new gallerist, and my stay in Paris was coming to a close. But it finally happened.
It's a rare occasion when I am given the chance to meet my hero. Pierre & Gilles' work has accompanied me from my early teen hood until now. They were quite surprised that I recognised so many of their reference. Like them, I was strongly marked by Catholicism in my childhood. Like them I was more than familiar with the Greek myths and created a world of my own. As a thirteen years old boy, I was particularly struck how eroticism could co-exist harmoniously with a sense of innocence. Something that strongly contradicted the turmoil caused by a fairly puritanical upbringing, being a boyscout and still then, a firm believer in the Christian faith!
More than a decade ago, I met them briefly during a signing of one of their books. They made a very nice drawing for me and seemed to show some interest in me. But shyness and a long queue of admirers behind me prevented me from extending the conversation with them.
And now I was sipping a glass of sparkling water in their living room!
Their house was indeed the opposite of zen. Any object had a story that they were happy to tell. Gilles showed me their working place in the basement.
"Contrary to what people think, all the settings and props are real. Nothing is painted or computer-generated. I do the retouching to create this fantasy-like feel to the picture, and of course to give the face of the model this flawless aspect. We have all the props in all these boxes!" I looked around - hundreds of cardboard boxes!
"Will you be their next model?" my friends asked when I told them about the visit. Of course, I couldn't help nurturing the hope, especially since they have photographed many Asian models...
"Have you seen the exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay?" ¨Pierre asked.
"Not yet. I'm planning to go next week, if I have the time before I leave Paris..."
"Do you want to go on Monday? We can invite you. It's only opened for VIP or friends. We can arrange a visit if you wish" And before I could even reply, Pierre was already on the phone, talking to someone.
"It's all set! Bring as many friends as you wish!" he said with a big smile.
How could they be so nice???
Gilles went to get their last book for me and they both signed it for me. Another nice drawing made by Pierre in golden ink.
"Do you have this book?" Gilles asked. I didn't. "I have that catalogue with the golden cover which was released for your exhibition at the Maison de la Photographie, and a couple of books when your agent was Jérôme de Noirmont. I also have your very first book!"
"Oh that one is hard to find!" Gilles exclaimed. As I found out later, it was sold on e-bay for 415 US$!!!
He disappeared for a minute and came back, a pile of books in his hands.
"I hope it won't be too heavy in your suitcase!!!" Gilles smiled.
Then he showed me their last work. The theme was Prometheus chained.
"We borrowed that stuffed eagle from the Jardin des Plantes like we did each time we needed a 'live' animal!" On the picture, the bird devouring Prometheus' liver looked all too real!
Time just stopped at Pierre & Gilles'. They were happy to share their stories with me and also asked lots of questions, watching me with keen and observing eyes.
Funny how things invariably starts to take off on the last week of my stay!!! I thought.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Love / Lust / Caution

Scene I / Courbevoie, Exterior: Saturday afternoon. 
I'm walking away to the train station. My heart's a mess. I can't put two thoughts together without creating an explosion. I couldn't stay another minute at Isaac's. The shadow of his boyfriend is everywhere. At least, William had the decency to take us away from his partner. No Isaac. I have tried to take it lightly, but the pretence is not worth the effort. It's sunny outside. Beautiful, crisp but chilly weather, my favourite. I don't need to wear that Indian silk scarf anymore. I'm checking messages on my smart-phone. Isaac's messages. He's sorry. He didn't mean to lie. He did lie actually. He just didn't tell everything. He begs me to come back. I'm at the train station now. It's only two minutes before the next train to Paris appears. I send a message to Jan, asking him whether he's got time to meet up before we go to Nina's house party. I cruelly need the company of a true friend.

Scene II / Paris, Dennis' flat.
I'm coming back from a lovely dinner at Thomas'. It's always a great pleasure to see him. His flat is crammed with Cd's and books, mostly about music. Of course, he works in that second hand CD shop which has become a must-go, each time I come to Paris.
The door to Dennis' room is closed already, even if it is only past midnight. Surprising, since he usually likes to relax in the living room, watching a film or sipping some herbal tea. We usually enjoy that time to chat and have casual conversations.
I see Isaac's shoes on the floor and his sports bag on the table. Dennis' voice is heard from behind the door. But no one comes out of the room. "Maybe they're having a private time" I think. I go to the bathroom to shower. When I come back, I find a message from Dennis on my phone: "For your information, it was Isaac who insisted in keeping me company for the night. Only to sleep." I take a deep breath and do my bed. 
"Why are you telling me that? It's none of my business" I write back. Of course it is. But what can I say? 
I can hardly sleep a wink. I read a few more chapters of Edmund White's A married man.

Scene III / Saint-Maur, my parents' place. 
I have just put my nephew Vu An to sleep. Mathilde thought it a good idea to have him stay the night at my parents' house for a change. It was a good idea. We can enjoy the little boy for a longer time and play with him. I made sure that he sleeps at the right time, so he won't be cranky the next day. He only woke up once to ask for his mother. I told him she was sleeping. He asked to go downstairs. I told him everybody was asleep. "No go down...?" Two years and three months and now he can speak quite well already. I try to only talk to him in Vietnamese, but I'm the only one. Even my parents don't realise they start a sentence in Vietnamese and end it in French... Vu An stays in my arms for a little while and asks for his favourite lullaby, Henri Salvador's Une chanson douce. I feel he's ready to sleep again and lie him down on his bed. He hardly moves and soon I can hear his deep breathing. It's 5:45 AM. Only after that can I find some sleep. Holding my nephew was like a lullaby.
I'm thinking about Isaac. Have I been too harsh to him? But after my story with William, I didn't want to get caught in another love triangle anymore. In this present case, it's more than just a love triangle: Dennis was jealous of us. Past history between them. Past history not totally buried...
Nevertheless, I sent Isaac a little message, casually asking how he was. No reply. Of course, I had told him a week before that I didn't wish to be the other man again and that the best option was to call it off. 

Scene IV / Paris, Dennis' flat.   
Morning. Isaac has left earlier for his dance rehearsal. I spend the night in total isolation, even if Isaac was sleeping beside me. Images of William kept coming back to me. I felt an intense sadness. No. I couldn't possibly repeat the pattern. I drifted away.
Dennis hasn't said much this morning. He's put on his 'everything is okay' face. But I know he is not fine. When we went to the cinema to see Woody Allen's last opus, Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett, magnificent... and I could sense that Dennis was very displeased by the sight of me and Isaac being so happy together.
"Everything's alright, Dennis?" I asked. It didn't take long before he told me that he didn't wish me to spend another night with Isaac at his place. Past history not totally buried.... I could understand, although I found that jealousy a tad unfair. Dennis likes to seduce every good looking bloke coming his way, and he never thinks twice about how other people may feel. Beside, I was the guest. Keep privacy private. How I wish I had my own space...
"Don't worry, Dennis, I have decided to stop seeing Isaac."
That startled him. He replied that he hopes I didn't made that decision because of him. I explained that I had enough of love triangle, and with him being jealous on top of that, it was best if I walked away from it.
"I just wish you could be a little happy that your close friend finds some solace in someone's arms." I thought. I guess the sight of finding Isaac and I in bed when he came back from work was a shock to him, although he knew very well what was going, and was even the one to push Isaac to go to me on that first night...

Scene V / Taipei, my flat.
My birthday. I have been staying home and working on my music all day. But I received tons of messages on Facebook. Among them, one by Dennis' friends, Isaac sending me his wishes "... Found this to wish you a happy birthday, An. But I can personally do it for you if I'm attractive enough for you!!!! (laugh) Seriously!!!..." 
He shyly attempted to ask me out during my last visit, but I was too busy to make time for someone I had barely met twice.

Scene VI / Paris, Jardin des Tuileries
It's a cool and sunny afternoon. I took Isaac to the garden so to enjoy a bit of sunshine and breathe some fresh air. It's our first time meeting up to spend time together, and the mood is relaxed and peaceful. I enjoy his company. We talk about his possible future within the Pina Bausch company. As he was taking care of his friend Raymond after that terrible boat accident in Malaysia that left Raymond seriously injured, he also would take morning class with the company - Raymond was a young dancer in the school and about to start working for the main company. The director apparently spotted him and connected him with the choreographer. the irony of fate... Isaac is very hopeful about it. I wish this will be the right direction for him. He has spent too long dancing in those silly cabaret shows. 
The weather was getting slightly too cold, we were feeling sleepy so I've decided to come back to Dennis' place and enjoy a more intimate time.
I was glad, I had just changed my ticket the same morning to stay two weeks longer. Thanks to Dennis and François.
Isaac and I made love. Slow and sensuous. His body had this magnetism that I could only yield to.
We had just reached the climax two minutes ago that the door opened. Dennis was back from work.

Scene VII / Paris, Dennis' flat
I had just gone to bed. Dennis and I had dinner together with Isaac who just came back from Essen, where he had been taking care of Raymond for a full month after the tragic accident. Isaac told us in full detail - too graphic details, what happened that day. He and his friend Raymond were rowing from one island to another, with Isaac's boyfriend Brice following closely behind. A speedboat appeared coming in their direction. The driver wasn't looking ahead, but behind, probably speaking to someone and didn't see the rowboats. Isaac and Raymond shouted and yelled at him to stop but he didn't hear anything. A few seconds later, the boat was in pieces, Raymond badly injured, the water becoming red with his blood. The members of the speedboat realised what just happened and helped them to reach the nearest island.
Raymond had most of his ass muscle nearly torn away from his body. As a dancer, that would mean the end of everything....
Isaac is still in shock of what happened. He cannot go out and only concentrates on his dance rehearsals. We were lying in bed, Dennis he and I. Giving each other a hug. Dennis loves it to have boys in his bed, even if it doesn't lead to sex. I was holding Isaac's hand and stroking it gently. After a while, Dennis was snoring, so I left the room and returned to the living room where I would usually sleep.
A few minutes later, the sliding panels opened and Isaac was there. I wasn't surprised - I hoped for it, but I wasn't sure it was a good idea...
"It's Dennis who pushed me to join you" Isaac said. "He says it is okay".
Praying that he really meant it, I enjoyed every minute of that night. For someone who needs his space in bed, even next to a lover, I found no problem embracing him during my sleep. It's rare which doubled the pleasure. I felt like a young lover again.

Scene VIII / Paris, Dennis flat
I'm packing. I just can't stay here anymore. I told Dennis and Isaac that I wished to be out of their mess. I wonder what went through Dennis' mind... Two weeks ago, out of jealousy - feeling 'left out', was his euphemism, expressed his displeasure at seeing me enjoying Isaac's company. Yesterday, Isaac was spending the night in his bed. Even though nothing happened.
I couldn't help but feeling wounded and betrayed. The story was worse than in any TV drama. Of course, Dennis denied and minimised it, said that I was overreacting. Isaac claimed innocence. What can one do when the persons involved do not want to take responsibility? 

Scene VIII / Paris, Nina's flat, Saturday evening
The guests have all arrived. Jan and I are talking in Nina's bedroom. I don't have the strength nor the will to socialise. We talk about music, about the state of pop music nowadays. Jan wants a change in his songwriting. Enough of being a clown and playing. He is going to show his true self.

Scene IX / Paris, somewhere, outside.
It's raining. A friend has sent me a little line: "Sometime peace is better than being right"

Friday, 11 October 2013


At last a few words from Jo!!! And if his mail was brief, it contained a wonderful piece of news - actually two: all the newly revised music for PLAY 2 PLAY works perfectly with the new choreography. No more adjusting to make. I only have to put all the scenes together and send the full music to him. But the great news is that I will go to Japan to attend the performance! Jo didn't expect me to change the music so much and strongly felt I had to be there. I was beginning to resign myself to not go because of the same bloody reason: lack of finance. Obviously, the universe heard me!!! Another miracle! I couldn't contain my joy!!!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Loitering with intent

Sunday afternoon. My father had gone out to attend a concert by an orchestra that wishes to commission a piece from him. I stayed home with my mother. The weather was changeable, at time sunny, at time cloudy or windy. I take that time to have long talks with my mother. When stimulated, her mind doesn't forget and we have very interesting conversations. 
Being here in Paris, my mission is to refresh the energy and bring her and my dad to do things they wouldn't normally do. The reading for her book has been very beneficial for her state of mind. I would like her to feel proud and happy about what she does, and fully acknowledge the achievement. In the past eight years, this was the third book she has published. When I laid them down on the table, she had to agree and she smiled broadly. 
"I never want to boast about what I do, you know..." 

The afternoon went by. My father had suggested that I took my mother for a walk along the river. I nodded, but didn't want it to be a chore. I waited for the right timing. And it came. 
"Let's go out for a walk" I told her. Usually slow to get ready, she had her coat on within a minute.
"Where shall we go?" she asked
"I would say along the river?"
"I have seen enough of that river. It's always the same thing! Why don't we walk to the city hall and buy some cake?"
"I'm afraid at this hour the pastry shops are now closed. And with these new laws not allowing people to work too late or on Sundays, we won't find anything...."
We walked along the river. A daily walk would be ideal for her. Now a physically lazy person, she doesn't like to exercise. 
"But I go up and down the stairs at least six times a day!!!"
It was around five o'clock. We stopped to have a close look at flowers tree leaves and mushrooms. 
"We don't take time to watch anything" my mother mused. 
I took a few pictures of the landscape: the river meandering against a cloudy sky as the sun goes down. Simple but superb. 
"I may have seen it over and over, but I always forget how beautiful it is! I want that photo!!!" my mother exclaimed.
We came reached home just when the little rain became a rain storm. My father was already home. He had bought a few cakes on his way back. I could feel my mother was rejuvenated and happy about the walk. 
Mission accomplished!