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Monday Morning Music – Capsized

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!

 

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Monday Morning Music – HBHBHB

“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

Madonna, All Hail

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.

Madonna cage

The Queen, in her cage.*

The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

Madonna.

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.

Madonna.

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.

Madonna supper

Feast your eyes and pass the wafers.

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.

Madonna male dancer

Body by Madonna.

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.

Madonna solo

Kneel, Genuflect, Rise, Repeat.

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?

Madonna.

 

*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉

 

Less Noise, More Clarity

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.

Sainte Chapelle

Difficult to see faces but here is the quartet (l to r): Gilles Harle, harpsichord; David Braccini, violin; Sophie Pattey, soprano; Charles Limouse, flute (photo by therockmom).

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.

The Coolest Weekend in Hong Kong

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.

Clockenflap 1

A certain je ne sais quoi and a pocket for your vodka. (photo by therockmom)

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.

Clockenflap 2

Ashley & Anthony in solidarity with Rachael Yamagata, a singer-songwriter who ROCKS on stage. (photo by therockmom)

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!

Clockenflap 3

Okay, this photo is crap but if you were there you’ll remember the awesome scene. Thank You and Good Night! (photo by therockmom)

Slaying the Dragons of Sarcasm

Take a ride on a sea of light (photo by therockmom).

Check your cynicism at the door and take a ride on a sea of light: Imagine Dragons in Hong Kong. (photo by therockmom)

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:

  1. Did he just sing: Dream maker / Heart breaker*? Because that would be a total crib from Pat Benatar.
  2. 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’.
  3. Rock guys don’t take off their shirts anymore, do they?
  4. All this man-bun lead singer needs is an indie film girlfriend and vegan cookbook tie-in.
  5. ‘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 😉

A New Chapter

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!

No way, no tan, no how! (photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

No way, no tan, no how! (photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

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:

Quindao Beach 1.

Everybody’s Free (not) To Wear Sunscreen (Sorry! Couldn’t resist. Photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

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:

http://www.philippengelhorn.com/index.html

Monday Morning Music – Laura Marling

I have this idea – and feel free to steal it and run with it – for a column called Story and Song. Maybe it’s already been done, probably so, I don’t know. But it’s where writers combine a book with a record and discuss / explain / celebrate the connection between the two. Just like pairing a nice bottle of wine with a delicious meal.

For me, I’d start with Laura Marling’s marvelous new album, Short Movie, and pair that with Lust & Other Stories, the equally provocative collection of short stories by Susan Minot.

Marling, a British folk singer-songwriter, is 25 years old, about the age of many of Minot’s characters in Lust…, and both the real singer and the fictional characters are experiencing the appetites, insecurities and ambivalence (about men) of young women in their twenties. In ‘False Hope’ (shown above), Marling asks straight out: Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be alone? While in the story ‘City Night’, a young woman named Ellen goes home with a handsome cad. Minot writes:

The night flapped on, disoriented and dark. Ellen had given up trying to steer herself through it.

Both album and book are closely connected to place; Marling with Los Angeles and Minot with New York. Opposite coasts but parallel journeys – across attraction, heartache, defiance – in search of identity and connection.

I can’t be your horse anymore / You’re not the warrior I would die for*

What I like most about both women is how they can write about relationships and even one-night stands with intelligence and insight, so that the female characters can be smart and capable and yet still succumb to messy emotion. They’re complex women but not immune to being hurt or cast aside.

Check them out when you can & Have a good week!

*From Marling’s ‘Warrior’

2014: The Year in not-so Random Thoughts

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.

From Chicago to China and Back Again: Susan Blumberg-Kason

GCW CoverNot long ago I had the pleasure to meet Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the recently-published memoir Good Chinese Wife. The book is a very honest and brave look at Susan’s difficult marriage to a charismatic mainland scholar and musician, Cai. They met in Hong Kong, spent time in China and settled in San Francisco, where their baby boy was born. After the marriage fell apart, Susan returned with her son to her hometown, Chicago. She eventually remarried and had two more children before writing Good Chinese Wife. I found Susan’s writing completely compelling but also very, very personal. It takes guts (!!) to write so candidly. After I heard her speak about the book’s journey, which is an interesting story in itself, I asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for therockmom, about writing, family and of course music!

Q: Let’s start with the memoir, which is a great read! Full of drama and emotion but not in a woe-is-me kind of way. When you were writing was it difficult to sort of re-experience your history or were you able to write in a more detached way? I imagine you’d almost have to look at yourself as a character, that you’d need that distance, to make the narrative work.

A: Thank you for the kind words about the book! If I had written it right after my divorce, it would have been an angry, finger-pointing story full of rage. But since I started writing it eight years after that marriage ended, I had enough distance between those events and the new life I had created for myself. I was able to distance myself from the person I was during the years of Good Chinese Wife. And once I started working with independent editors, and later my agent and editor at my publishing house, the book became a collaborative effort and I certainly looked at myself as a character. We would talk about me in the third person as if I was a character!

Q: I’m always curious as to how writers’ families react to their work. You spoke about it a bit at your book talk, but I’m wondering: did you get your current husband to read any early drafts? What did your children think when they saw the actual book, I mean it’s such a fun thing, right? Seeing your name on a book!

A: My husband Tom hasn’t read the book yet! I was worried about family members reading early drafts because I was worried they would try to influence what I wrote (ie, keep me from revealing so much). I guess I didn’t need to worry about that with Tom! He has been so supportive and pushes my book at work like it’s a drug, then proudly reports back to me when a colleague has read and liked it. Now he’s trying to muster up Amazon reviews. Tom at first said he would read it, but I have the feeling he doesn’t care to go back to that part of my life. He knows about the events in the book, and I think that’s good enough for him! As for my kids, my son Jake is sixteen and hasn’t read it, but I’ve placed it on a bookshelf and told him he’s welcome to it anytime. Some of his friends have read it, though. My two younger kids are too young to read it, but they were so excited when my review copies arrived in the mail. We all held a copy like it was a new baby. I also brought my little ones to a bookstore to see it on the shelves for the first time, and that was super thrilling, too.

Q: Going back to the story of you and Cai, you met him in the world of academia, but you know after I’d finished the book I found myself thinking that being married to him sounded a lot like being married to a rock musician! The hours, the lifestyle, the – dare I say – ego. Has anyone ever suggested that before? What are your thoughts?

A: No one ever compared it to being married to a rock star, but Cai himself warned me—after we married. The first time he stayed out until the early hours of the morning, he was recording a CD for a businessman in Singapore with a group of musicians at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. When he returned home the next morning, he shrugged and said it’s difficult being married to an ethnomusicologist. As it turns out, he wasn’t kidding! His late nights out in California were all music-related outings with friends he had met in the Chinese music community there. I don’t think that lifestyle is impossible for a spouse, but the person who keeps those late hours needs to make sure he (or she) makes up for it when he’s home!

Headshot from Hong Kong 3

Susan stopped in Hong Kong recently for the release of both Good Chinese Wife & the How Does One Dress To Buy Dragonfruit anthology.

Q: You mentioned that while you and Cai were together, you spent a lot of time around Chinese music and musicians. What’s your take on classical Chinese music? It seems to be an acquired taste!

A: I like Chinese classical music! I’m certainly not an expert in it, but I like the different instruments and the sad melodies. Often when we went out with his friends in China to karaoke, they would sing revolutionary songs, which I thought was funny in a kitschy way. I even learned some of them. I know that’s not classical music, but that’s what Cai’s generation grew up on and what they were most familiar with at that time.

Q: You’ve also said that you actually started to learn to play the erhu with Cai – how difficult was that? Are you a musical person? Do you play any other instruments?

A: I am not a musical person, although I took piano lessons for eight years when I was young and can still read music. The erhu was kind of a fluke. I had signed up for a Japanese language class in graduate school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, but the class was taught in Cantonese. So I had to drop it because I only speak a smattering of Cantonese. A friend from Japan was taking erhu lessons at the University, which I thought sounded very cool. So I signed up, too. It was a lot of fun, and Cai tutored me in erhu after we first met. After we got engaged, he stopped. My class was only a semester-long and I didn’t continue. At the end of the course, I could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! I still have the erhu I bought in Hong Kong twenty years ago.

Q: What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager? What artists/bands had the most impact on you growing up?

A: I grew up in the seventies and eighties, so the first music I listened to on the radio was disco. This was the time of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, so the Bee Gees were my favorite when I was eight and nine. I also liked classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, which are my favorite bands to this day. But the ones that had the most impact on me growing up were The Cure, The Clash, Violent Femmes, and anything that would fit in a John Hughes movie. I not only watched his films religiously, but also grew up in the area where they were filmed. Also, my uncle was in a ska band in the ’80s, so I grew up on that. My parents would take us to all-ages concerts at venues that usually didn’t allow kids under 18. My uncle’s band played with Peter Tosh and The English Beat, so it was pretty cool to have a successful musician in the family.

Q: The English Beat! That is so cool. Are you sharing any music with your kids these days? You have a teenager plus younger children, right? Are there any artists that everyone can agree on – or is everyone’s tastes different?

A: We listen to music mainly when we’re in the car. I’m a chronic station-flipper, so I turn the dial until I find a song I like. My little ones are familiar with Top 40 songs, whereas Jake, my teenager, has eclectic taste. My husband Tom and I have taken Jake to see Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, and Lady Gaga! That’s kind of a good representation of what we listen to in the car, and all three kids are fine with that. Jake plays trumpet in his school’s marching band, jazz band, and orchestra. I’m sure he gets his musical abilities from his father!

Q: So, since you’re from Chicago, I’ve got to ask about Windy City music, which is so varied and unique: blues, house, indie rock, etc. Is there one band or singer that you would say is the quintessential sound of Chicago?

A: I would have to say that Buddy Guy is the quintessential sound of Chicago. He has a blues club not too far from where I used to live in the city, before I moved to the suburbs. Buddy Guy’s Legends attracts both locals and tourists. Back before we had a smoking ban, he used to perform several smoke-free concerts every January. Those were always popular. Now Legends has a new venue, with great food, and it’s all smoke-free now. When I meet people new to Chicago or visiting for the first time, I always recommend a concert at Buddy Guy’s, especially if he’s performing.

Thank you Susan for taking the time to chat with therockmom!

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