We have these people in the world that we call artists. Maybe you’re one of them, although, if you were, you would probably keep that fact to yourself. So—speaking of artists, what are they exactly? We can divide them up by what they do. They paint, write, dance, sculpt, draw, photograph, dance, act, perform and play music, among other things. These are the things they do. And why do they do them? That’s a better question maybe, the old ‘to what purpose?’ Since this is Layabozi, let’s focus on musicians. What’s their purpose? Most of us go out to hear a band play because we want to be entertained, I think. And isn’t that what the majority of bands do really? They entertain us. Is that their purpose? Let’s step back a second. Those other artists that come to mind: the painters (Pollock, Modigliani, Picasso, O’Keefe, etcetera), the sculptors (Rodin, DaVinci…), you get the point. Are they trying to entertain us? I say no. Inspire perhaps, or, on the opposite side, offend.
The seed for this thinking came to me during an interview I did earlier this week with Lin Di, lead singer of Shanghai-based Cold Fairyland, and bass player Seppo M. Lehto. Lin Di is an energetic woman who speaks rapidly and with a lot of youthful passion.
“I don’t care about the audience,” she tells me playfully. “They know nothing. They can’t understand music, what’s going on underneath, the different parts. Lots of meaning, but no one knows. They are peasants. They know nothing.”
Lin Di is a classically trained musician that has been playing the pipa since she was four-years-old. She composes and arranges the music for the band and hands out sheet music at their rehearsals. The band’s cellist Zhou Shen’an plays in the Shanghai Opera and Cold Fairyland went through a string of guitarists before settling on Song Jianfeng in 2003.
“We rehearse every song for maybe two months or a month and a half,” Lin Di says. “My musicians, they are always complaining, ‘too difficult, too difficult.'”
Lin Di laughs while Seppo nods and chimes in.
“Do you know how to get a guitarist to shut up?” He asks me.
“You hand him some sheet music.”
Fiddling with a napkin, Lin Di talks about the quality of music in Shanghai.
“The Chinese bands they don’t have their own style. They don’t have their own original music. They are copy bands. Maybe they have a few songs of their own. They can play for one hour. The main problem though is with the audience.”
“There isn’t one,” Seppo interjects.
“Yes, yes,” Lin Di continues. “The venue—the big venue—they know that there isn’t a big enough audience for original music. They lose money. So there are no venues, or no venues with a good stage and good equipment, only small spaces. So, we don’t care about the audience. Most of them, when they go out, they want to relax. They think that rock music is angry, too noisy. That’s one side. The other thinks that it’s too heavy, too strong with social commentary. These ‘regular people’ don’t like original music. Only—maybe—the college students like it, the one’s that haven’t been brainwashed.”
“Or they want people to think that they like it,” Seppo says, and Lin Di laughs and launches off on a story about her friend who married an ugly man because he liked heavy metal music.
“I have no expectations from the people. I expect nothing from them. They are empty people…We’re waiting—waiting for the next generation to have power, to make changes. Right now, people say that our country doesn’t need to think instead it needs to make money and [besides] the people have bad taste. The successful bands have to please the peasants. So they write sex and love music. Music that the government approves of—”
Seppo steps in, saying, “Shanghai, this large city, has no original music.”
“We’re on the way to the next level,” Lin Di continues. “Future people might look at our age and learn something from it. Right now, there are so many good things that the people can’t see. They have to learn to see. That’s why I put little secrets in my music. For the few that can learn.”
So should musicians be entertainers? Is that their purpose? To be like little monkeys in red caps dancing to their own wind-up toy?
Cold Fairyland will be playing at the Melting Pot on Heng Shan Lu on March 4th. For more information on the band, look around Layabozi or check out the band’s website.