Where has the time gone? That’s my typical, yearly response when I realize my kids have only FIVE more weeks of school until summer vacation. So many plans, so much to do, so much undone. I guess you’ve noticed how I’ve neglected the blog these last two months, but I will try to rectify that situation, at least until the actual summer hols roll around.
In the meantime, here’s a so-simple-it’s-brilliant video from my current obsession: Andrew Bird. He’s an eclectic musician from Chicago, vocal-kin to Bill Withers, and this song – this song! – I’m playing it at least a dozen times a day.
Check it out, let me know what you think and enjoy the rest of your week!
“And meanwhile the man was falling from space
And everyday I wore your face
Like an atmosphere around me
A satellite inside me”
How is this song NOT about David Bowie? I wonder every time I listen to it – “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” – the title track from Florence + The Machine’s latest album. I imagine young Florence Welch discovering Bowie as a teenager, sometime in the late ’90s, painting her face with a glittery lightning bolt (everyday I wore your face) and dancing around her bedroom, entranced.
But no, apparently this song is an ode to the California sky, influenced by Florence’s time in the U.S. and her increasing fascination with American music (whether Motown or Laurel Canyon).
The song is stunning, no matter what or who inspired it, and it’s been on constant rotation in my ears. I’m still in a little mourning for the great Starman, and feeling lately like logging on to Twitter or FB is just the daily equivalent of asking: who’s dead now? So songs of comfort and beauty feel quite necessary now.
Here’s a video version of not-quite-the-whole song, filmed (unsurprisingly) under a bright blue sky. The short video was directed by Tabitha Denholm & Vincent Haycock.
Have a good week, x
This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.
The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.
Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.
She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.
But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.
Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…
After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.
I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.
How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?
*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉
The lights dimmed in the chapel before the musicians stepped on to the altar. No central heat in chilly La Sainte-Chapelle, but we were warm enough in our coats and scarves, sitting close together on red-cushioned chairs. The ornate ceiling soared high above us, and stained-glass windows glowed like dreams, even in the darkness. How many shows have you been to in a sanctuary that was consecrated by the Pope’s legate in 1248? A place built by King Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of Jesus’s Cross. Holy Relics of the Passion. The devout French ruler acquired the artifacts because he “wished to affirm his devotion to God”. We kept our voices low, as you would.
The concert was called “Noel au temps de la renaissance”. Fancy Christmas carols. Performed by a quartet: soprano, violin, harpsichord and flute (the type held vertically not horizontally). The group chose pieces from a variety of composers – Corelli, Bach, Purcell, Monteverdi, Caccini – and also included traditional carols like ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘O Christmas Tree’. Half of the songs were instrumentals; the other half sung by a woman named Sophie Pattey. And all of it was beautiful.
At a performance like this in such a hallowed setting, you might expect sternness and gravity, a touch of snobbery. But the musicians were generous and lighthearted. Charles Limouse, who played flute, introduced each song in French and chatted a bit to the crowd. Though I couldn’t understand everything he said, it was clear his mood was warm and playful. The atmosphere felt neither remote nor – here comes that dreaded word for classical music – boring. And at the very end, Ms. Pattey, who had been singing in a variety of European languages, led the audience in two rounds of ‘Jingle Bells’, in English.
There’s nothing like singing carols to get me in the mood for Christmas. My collection of holiday music is extensive, and I look forward to listening to it from mid-December all the way through to New Year’s Day. But this season I experienced something different, something extraordinary.
Towards the end of the concert, Mr. Limouse stepped forward and began playing ‘Silent Night’. Solo flute. The familiar melody floated softly towards us, rising up then down then up again. Due to the chapel’s wonderful acoustics, the notes of the song carried to every corner of the room, clear and strong. Ms. Pattey then joined in, singing the lyrics in German. And in the dim and golden glow, in a place where a king and his family once worshipped in the presence of the reliques de la Passion du Christ, we were a captivated congregation. Motionless. Enthralled. Dare I say, close to holy.
We nourish our bodies with food, exercise, sex, sleep. We fill our ears and eyes with work emails, breaking news, status updates, binge TV, cat videos. For better or worse, I make no judgments, we swim in a stream of constant communication and entertainment. But how often do we get to experience stillness? A singular moment that goes right to our hearts and souls, filling us with a profound sense of possibility, hope, clarity. I believe the yogis and the life coaches and the trendsters call it mindfulness – there might even be an app – and I know the feeling is rare and elusive. I’m a little obsessed with such wonders, I guess, because they are so unexpected. Yet oftentimes these experiences, like a song in a chapel, can be the most nourishing and necessary sensations of all.
May 2016 bring you moments such as these.
Thank you for reading therockmom.
P.S. here’s a playlist, similar to the concert at La Sainte-Chapelle. Enjoy.
It’s been a few days but I’m still buzzed from my Clockenflap experience. Kil Sun Moon, Rachael Yamagata, The Skatalites, Clean Bandit, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Swervedriver, cold beer, good food, best friends, EO and YO having a blast. And I haven’t even mentioned Sunday night! Oh Lord.
But before I get to that thrilling climax, let me tell you about a group of très intéressant folks I met at the festival. I spotted them as soon as I arrived on Saturday. Dressed all in black, they stood looking out at the harbor away from the crowds before wandering over to the Yamagata show. There they sat on the ground, passing around bottles of Smirnoff and playfully photo-bombing the family snap occurring in front of them. They seemed to inhabit their own little galaxy of urban style, as if they had landed in Hong Kong from another, cooler (and colder) clime: the West Village, Rue Bichat, Shoreditch, a Fellini sound stage?
Maybe I don’t get out much (truth: I don’t), but this foursome exuded a confidence and panache I don’t see very often in HK. Yet they didn’t strike me as posers. Who were they?
So I asked.
Ashley, Anthony, Carmen and their shy friend all grew up in Hong Kong and range in age from mid-20s to early 30s. The chatty ones were best friends Anthony and Ashley who met at Clockenflap two years. Anthony runs his own clothing store specializing in Korean and European fashion while Ashley is a graphic designer interested in branding and typography. The duo said their coordinated look was not actually inspired by Paris but it was designed for impact. As Anthony explained, “Maybe it’s too hot and no one will wear a long coat today so you think we will look more outstanding.”
When I asked what’s been the reaction so far to their collective chic, Anthony laughed and said people wonder, “Do you feel hot today?”
Style knows no pain (or heatstroke).
In a town where business dress rules, you’ve got to admire the modish quartet – celebrating, enjoying and perpetuating the long relationship between music and fashion. And by the way, Yamagata was also dressed in all black so they were in good company.
I saw a lot of great bands over the weekend, and judging by their comments, they had a fun time here too. Many acts were Hong Kong newbies, and they seemed a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the dramatic setting as well as the enthusiastic crowds. The festival was incredibly well-organized, and the staff super friendly. I mean, if the beer sellers are still smiling at 9pm on Sunday night then you know some positive vibes are permeating the Clockenflap grounds. My only complaint was that I couldn’t be in two places at once!
But as the sun set on Sunday evening, there was only one place I wanted to be: as close to the front as possible at the Harbourflap stage. That’s where Nile Rodgers and his talented, airtight band were tearing through dozens (and I do mean dozens) of songs that he wrote, co-wrote, produced, played on and/or infused with his magic disco touch. A collection of hits and acts that span four decades: CHIC, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Daft Punk. Rodgers spoke of surviving cancer and realizing every day is a gift, and he was generous in praising his bandmates. When he introduced the last song, ‘Good Times’, he said the tune always inspired a disco party on stage. And then he brought out Unsung Heroes, a Hong Kong domestic worker choir, to dance, sing and take selfies with him and his band. It was a party, absolutely.
I had a half hour to grab a beer and a box of Vietnamese noodles before the last act of the weekend, New Order, took the stage. My day had started at 5:30 in the morning, and my knees were aching from a.m. hiking on DB and p.m. dancing to CHIC. But I didn’t want to go home early because hey! how many times will I get to see New Order? My hardcore-fan friends made their way to the front, but I moved over to the left with another friend, strategically close to the exit, and on a set of stairs where I could rest my weary legs. The location afforded us a view of the stage, the crowd and the entire HK Island skyline across the harbor. The pano function on my phone camera just couldn’t do justice to the surreal and wondrous night.
When New Order gifted us with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Blue Monday’, we ascended to another plane of existence – somewhere between the suburban innocence of the ‘80s and the vibrant metropolis that is Hong Kong, 2015.
I haven’t witnessed this much ecstatic mopey-head dancing since prom night.
Thanks Clockenflap and see you again next year!
You are merely auditing this class. You are not in control. You are here for the ride.
This is not your party.
You know that going in. You barely know any Imagine Dragons songs. They’re a young folks’ band. But so what. There’s no need to criticize the band name (which is kind of kids’ cartoon silly) or get all snarky about their connection to the Transformers movies. They work hard and deserve to earn a living, don’t they?
However, try as you might, the atmosphere at their concert makes you feel old and cynical and angry – angry mostly about the lack of anger. A rock band with songs called ‘Tip Toes’ and ‘I’m So Sorry’? Whose lead singer never utters a four-letter word? Where’s the edge? Your memory takes you back to a scrawny, strung-out Guns N’ Roses opening for The Cult. Now that – that felt dangerous.
You grump about the sea of smart phones and the ADHD tension this creates. Documenting is not experiencing. But then you find your own self, posting a snap, and you vow to put away your phone and enjoy the show. Let the music wash over you – close your eyes, come on. They’re a tight band, and their live experience and skill shows. They’re not bad. Yet you can’t quite relax and embrace the spectacle due to the random thoughts in your head, such as:
- Did he just sing: Dream maker / Heart breaker*? Because that would be a total crib from Pat Benatar.
- I blame Coldplay for this aggressive earnestness. They’re all so sweet! Jeez, for all their higher power positivity, at least U2 wrote ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’.
- Rock guys don’t take off their shirts anymore, do they?
- All this man-bun lead singer needs is an indie film girlfriend and vegan cookbook tie-in.
- ‘Forever Young’ is a truly lame cover tune.
What’s happening? Have you really become some misanthropic music snob? Let go, let go, let go. Lose the sarcasm. Swim with the spirit of the band’s 2.5 million Spotify followers, the 300 million plays of ‘Demons’.
Behind you, six true believers bring hope. They wave their glow sticks in solidarity and sing the words to every song. They are sweet, undaunted, and they’re having the time of their lives.
So is your youngest one, who hip bumps you and hugs you and stands arm in arm with you during the slow songs.
It’s then you realize why you’re here. This is her party.
But you’re still invited.
*The line is actually: Dream maker / Life taker from ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. I heard what I wanted to hear. A little imagination 😉
Hi rockmom friends,
In case you haven’t come across any of my shameless self-promoting tweets and posts, I’ve started writing for a site called Expat Living Hong Kong, sister site to Expat Living Singapore. You can read my first post here. The super coolio thing is I’m getting paid. Crazy, I know!
Without mentioning any names, I’ve done the whole ‘write for exposure’ thing and found that I got about as much exposure as a mainland woman wearing a face-kini.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful for the experience but after 5+ years of rockmom writing I’m ready for the big leagues. Or at least a decent AAA team in a mid-sized market.
The other nice thing, aside from the do$h, is that I’ll be writing about the same range of topics I’ve covered here at rockmom: raising kids, living in Hong Kong, raising kids in Hong Kong (a very special kind of pressure cooker). Expat Living might not want my post about the latest Father John Misty album – dammit! – but I’ll learn to live with that. In fact I’ll continue to post here, and not just about the oh-so-fabulous work I’m doing elsewhere. Fear not, this site isn’t going to turn in to some platform-building, writer’s promo machine, even if I knew how to do that!
Many moons ago, I started this blog to write about music but then it kind of morphed in to a place where I can clear my head of inane theories about parenting and education and why the next generation has been unable to produce a David Lee Roth. But what’s been most gratifying is realizing there are other people out there (and not just my sister) who worry as much as I do about the pressure on children in today’s world AND the future of One Direction!
So I thank you, dear readers, as always for your support. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy therockmom and I hope you’ll feel that this is where you can connect with like-minded individuals and be yourself – much like these women:
Have a wonderful summer – try the beach! See you in August!
All photos courtesy of the fantastic photographer, Philipp Engelhorn, from his series Qingdao Beach No 1.
Philipp lives in Hong Kong – right on! – and his work has appeared in publications around the globe. Find him at:
Hi everyone & Happy New Year.
For the last couple of years, I’ve put together compilations of random thoughts and personal favs, mostly about music and movies, as a way of looking back at the year that was. The lists were heavy on sarcasm and mockery of easy targets like Justin Bieber, Robin Thicke, Lana Del Rey and Kanye West.
This year, I started my list and was about to post when I got an email from my brother in Paris describing how his sons’ school had gone on lockdown because it was quite near the kosher supermarket (site of the hostage crisis that followed the Charlie Hedbo massacre). As soon as he’d heard the news he went down to wait at the barricades along with many other anxious parents. He said his boys were ‘fine and brave’ after they were allowed to leave school but also exhausted after the stress of the day.
So you’ll have to excuse me if I couldn’t find a reason to post an inconsequential list about big names and my little problems with them. I know we all need humor in our lives and sure, it’s fun to mock the pompous and famous – witness three hours of Golden Globe tweets – but somehow this week I feel the need to put aside the snark.
We fly on airplanes, we shop for groceries, we send our kids to school, we pick up coffees on our way to work. We do all these things, every day. Yet sometimes, some of us – whether we live in Sydney or Paris or Peshawar – don’t make it home.
And so as I count my blessings and try not to live in fear in a frightening world, I think about why I started this blog in the first place: to connect with friends and family via music. Not only because many of the people I love are far away but because music has always been my source – of solace, energy, connection, transcendence.
Some people might think music is unimportant or frivolous, but I hope you, dear reader, can appreciate where I’m coming from. I’ll finish with the following playlist of fifteen songs that brought me joy and grooviness and something close to a state of grace in 2014.
May 2015 bring you love, peace and good music.