Back in May, I made a post entitled “A Laowai’s Soundtrack“, where I listed 20 songs that helped define my China Experience. As the New Year ring’s in, I figure it’s as good of a time as any to revisit that. Just as before, the purpose of this is to share a bit of music with people who may not get too much new pumping through their knock-off iPod. Also, to hopefully try to catalog my journey, and hopefully all of ours, through song.
My apologies in advance for my ignorance, with one exception all of the songs are in English, and I also haven’t found a good Chinese band to comfortably consider “mine” enough yet to include on anything so personal. Nonetheless though, today I add 20 more songs to share/discuss with the Anglo-Sino-Blogosphere. It includes: Feist, Franz Ferdinand, Iceland’s finest, a Bob Dylan cover, Simon and Garfunkel, and a Beatles/Jay-Z mashup. Really, how many more playlists can claim that kind of a lineup?
Track #1: Joel Plaskett – Nowhere With You: Before we get going, I’d like to apologize for all of the Canadian-Content on this list. It was rather inadvertent, but what can I say, my country makes great music. This song in particular is very Canadian-centric, with lots of references to Halifax, Nova Scotia. That being said, this is still the perfect song to start out any journey. Whether it’s across the planet or down the street. Even if you don’t know what on earth a Tatamagouche is. It’s just so full of energy and fully encapsulates the travelers mindset and the “na na na” part is full of joy.
Most China-tastic Line: “You got nowhere that you’re going to. Can I go nowhere with you?”
Track #2: Arcade Fire – Neighbourhood #2 (Laika): Let’s face it, moving to the other side of the world from your family and friends is a little strange. This song chronicles these kids talking about their brother who went away and from his family trying to escape himself. They love and want him to come back, even though maybe he doesn’t fit there. Sound familiar?
Most China-tastic Line: “Our older brother set off for, a great adventure…”
Track #3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Don’t Haunt This Place: One of the reasons that many of us move away is to escape from something back home. Often times, your past catches up to you, no matter how much you want it to not haunt this place. Sometimes though, there is no escape.
…alright that may not apply to much to some of you out there, but it’s still a darn good song, give it a listen!
Most China-tastic Line: “Don’t haunt this heart, don’t haunt this place”
Track #4: Broken Social Scene - Pacific Theme: The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean was from a plane en route to Beijing. That may not be the same for all of you, but this song always makes me think of the moment that I looked out the window and the land ended below me. It’s still a great, quirky, song that just sounds right walking down Chinese streets.
Most China-tastic Line: [Instrumental...so...all of it!]
Track #5: Tegan & Sara – Our Trees: One of the first things that people notice in China is the pollution. Even the most ardent defenders of this country can’t really stick up for that one with anything more than “It’s worse in other parts of the country”. This is a great and haunting song about all those missing trees and our missing air supply.
Most China-tastic Line: “If the trees could be lions would they still fall and be tagged? Would they refuse to surrender, refuse to be gagged? If the trees had a mother and a father like mine, Would they stand up say praise the trees the trees will be fine ”
Track #6: Goldfinger - Is She Really Going Out With Him?: Probably the next thing after the pollution that is easy to notice is all of the crazy couplings of locals and laowais. This has been covered all over the place along the blogosphere and I don’t have much to add to it to be honest. While there are multiple healthy couples out there, there are certainly several that are not.
Most China-tastic Line: “There’s something going wrong around here”
Track #7: DJ Dangermouse – Allure: Living abroad is a rather intoxicating thing. Sometimes it doesn’t really make sense, but there is a certain allure to it. Also, it’s hard not to feel like a bit of a big shot with all of your friends being excited in everything you have to say, and countless locals telling you how great your Chinese is (hint: it probably isn’t), and everything being so cheap and easy to live large. What better way to celebrate that than a song originally by the Jigga man himself? I chose this infamous version by DJ Dangermouse from The Grey Album, featuring a sampling of “Dear Prudence” because nothing in China is real or legal, so why should every song on the playlist be?
Most China-tastic Line: “It’s intoxicatin man, y’all don’t know why you do what you do”
Track #8: Stars – Soft Revolution: Do you remember all the “#GFW” tweets that went out back in June and July? Do you remember what that accomplished at all? Do you remember any of the angry blog posts that were written about sixfour, the riots, the Three Gorges Damn, Google, or anything in Tibet? There are all sorts of problems that we witness here in China, and some laowais try to protest, but nothing really happens in the end. Lord knows I’m guilty of it, but it’s the sad truth. We’re fighting a soft revolution here.
Most China-tastic Line: “And after changing everything, they couldn’t tell, we couldn’t sing.”
Track #9: Neutral Milk Hotel - Communist Daughter: (sorry, the video is really strange and irrelevant, but it was the best that I could find) After dealing with the pollution, the prostitution, the ghetto fabulous lifestyle and the restrictions that we face, it’s easy to lose sight of something, the people. This song is here to remind us of them.
Most China-tastic Line: “Sweet communist, the communist daughter, standing on the seaweed water”
Track #10: Sigur Rós - Untitled #4: First a little context. This song, and the whole ( ) album was sung in Hopelandic, a made up language by the band’s lead singer. At first it sounds strange and terrifying, but once you give it some tim and look to the beauty of what is being said and not the actual words, you’ll be genuinely touched. Sounds pretty familar, does it not?
Most China-tastic Line: In the CD jacket, they left the whole lyrics section blank so that listeners could put in their own meanings. Try it for yourself.
Track #11: M. Ward – Chinese Translation: A strange circular song to go for a strange, circular country. This song doesn’t have a ton to do with the title, other than its loopy nature (much like translations). It is all about someone searching for answers and only getting more questions, not unlike a lot of our journeys.
Most China-tastic Line: “I planned an escape, just like you”
Track #12: Eels – It’s a Beautiful Day: The perfect song to accept things, even when they get a little strange and discouraging. For the zillionth time, sounds familiar right?
Most China-tastic Line: “Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day”
Track #13: Wilco - Pot Kettle Black: This is a great song for when you’re getting sick of any of the hypocrite laowai’s you may know (or read on the internet). They are all over the place, it’s impossible to find people who don’t do so many of the things that they complain that the Chinese are doing, or the many things that they complain about all the other foreigners doing, or…
Most China-tastic Line: “It’s become so obvious, you’ve become so oblivious to yourself”
Track #14: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Turn Into: Apparently, we’re not allowed to become Chinese. Doesn’t mean that we can’t hope to some day! There’s lots to admire about the Chinese people and culture. Hopefully at some point or another all of us will make an attempt to become a bit more Chinese at some point or another.
Most China-tastic Line: “Hope I do, turn into you”
Track #15: Franz Ferdinand – Come On Home: Eventually someone wants you to come home. Maybe it’s your parents, siblings, friends, or even yourself. Sometime the urge is there, and it’s a hard, hard thing to fight.
Most China-tastic Line: “Let’s not forget, we were so strong, so bloody strong. Come on home…”
Track #16: LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends: If you are only going to click on one link, please for your own benefit make it this one. It is a perfect song to describe any loneliness, insecurity, and uncertainty that goes along with modern life, especially on the far side of the planet from where you may or may not belong. This song was ever so close to making it to my last playlist, but I decided to go with a different song by the same artist instead. I have blogged about this exact song before, saying:
“…this song just didn’t quite connect with me the way it was with other people in 2007.
When I first heard this I was confident (probably a little bit too confident) and I knew exactly where all my friends where. So the message of this song just didn’t quite connect to me immediately.
But now, after having my bravado shaken, and moving halfway around the world. This song rings loud and clear with me.
Because it helps me ask a question that I’m probably too scared to ask on my own: where are my friends?”
Couldn’t have said it better myself! Errr…wait a minute…
Most China-tastic Line: “Yeah, I know it gets tired only where are your friends tonight?”
Track #17: Feist – It’s Cool To Love Your Family: A very sweet song, by a very sweet songstress. We all love to be independent, but sometimes you’ve got to give in to your desire to be back home.
Most China-tastic Line: “It’s cool it’s cool to love your family, I know because I love them more and more
Track #18: Sufjan Stevens – No Man’s Land: When I first back-packed around China in 2007, my friend and travel-buddy Steve said something incredibly intelligent. I said how much I hate the long days on the plane/train/bus and he told me how much he loves it because he gets to be “nowhere in particular”. This song is here to celebrate the uncertain location that you get in between points A and B.
Most China-tastic Line: “This land is yours, this land is mine”
Track #19: Simon and Garfunkel – Homeward Bound: Easily the most well known song on this list. It’s a great song to have when you’re on your way back home or you want to be.
Most China-tastic Line: “I wish I were, homeward bound.”
Track #20: Antony with Bryce Dessner – I Was Young When I Left Home: It’s not often that people can cover someone as great as Bob Dylan, but damnit these two did it. This beautiful song is one of the many, many highlights of one of hte best albums of 2009, Dark Was the Night. It captures the learning that goes on when you’re on the other side of the planet, and it touches on just how easy it is to lose touch with the people that matter the most to you.
Most China-tastic Line: “I was young when i left home, and I been out a-ramblin’ round, and I never wrote a letter to my home”
So there’s my list, what’s yours?