My first impression was that he must have been the escaped leader of that Japanese cult who had poisoned everyone on the subway in Tokyo some years back. But when he smiled and said to me (or tried to say, with a thumbs-up) “Bob Deelan OK!” I knew he was more Chinese Jerry Garcia than Japanese Jim Jones.
I end up becoming good friends with Fa Zi. Getting along with him turns out to be easier than I imagined despite the fact that my Chinese is poor and his English is rock-and-roll-English. What they say about music being the universal language is true enough in an odd way. Fa Zi points at the door -“Doors!” He says. He points to his Jeep parked outside. “Cars!” He says.
So one way or another we communicate. He pick up a guitar and says “Fendur, Strat-tuh-cast, good!” He smiles. ” Jimi Hendrix, OK!”
Pointing at his Les Paul, he burbles “Geebson! Number One! Yi wan liu, jen de.”
So I say, ” Shen Ma? (What)?”
“He means that the guitar is worth $16,000 dollars,” says his wife in English.
“Well, that’s…rightous,” I say. I’m not so sure about $16,000, to be honest, maybe $10 grand on Ebay, but it keeps its tune and tone like a dream, no recalibration needed.
Though I don’t get around to explaining the kitsch-only value of having a Bee Gees poster on the wall, I do compliment him on his Beatles record collection which includes a copy of the original Apple Records issue of the “Let It Be” single.
Thus, Meeting Fa Zi was like moving into a new neighborhood and discovering that your next door neighbor has a drum kit set up in his garage.
So, day after day, I bicycled over to Yuan Ming Yuan and we let rip Derek and the Dominoes on the hi fi while his wife stokes the coals for tea, and we talk. He regales me with his extensive knowledge of
British invasion rock and roll. “Clap-tun, Ayr-ic Clap-tun. Ni zhi dao?”
“Yes I know,” I say. “Cream.”
“Blusse. Robert John-Son. Crossroats.”
“Blues, yes. ”
He sings a snatch of the guitar riff for Sunshine of Your Love. Then he waves is palm back and forth: “Clapton so-so, Deelan so-so, Fa Zi how!” he says.
What did he just say? ‘How’ in Chinese means good.
“He says that they are just so-so,” his wife explains. He’s laughing. “Leenon so-so, Deelan so-so, Fa Zi how!” he grins.
In order to prove to me why he can laugh at some of the greatest in modern music’s pantheon he picks up his guitar and starts to sing. This big teddy bear of a man with funny pronunciation and some pride in his American-made guitars was from another country and could not possibly “get it” could he?
I thought of all those Soviet rock bands of the ‘80s doused in vodka and red spandex . Now here were the screeching Chinese!
Fa Zi, however, was different.
When I heard Fa Zi tear into his singing, with a plaintive blues growl that was universally understandable, I realized. Sometimes there are naturals born in that Johnny B. Goode tradition. He was singing like Joe Cocker, and he had it, that tone your ear cocks at and your spirit pauses over, that certain something which makes legends. His voice was so powerful that I had to ask him to stop for a moment. “Whoa, hold on, hold on!”
He looked at me. His wife looked at me. I blinked. I asked them, did he
realize that it was no joke, that in fact it was true that he had a voice good enough to become the next great international rock and roll hero?
“Fa Zi sings better than Joe Cocker,” I said. “Ni zhi dao Joe Cocker?”
“I know,” said his wife. And they did,.
“Joe Cocker so-so,” said Fa Zi, “Fa Zi how!” He was grinning again, and he was just about right!
Next Post: FAZI’s FAMILY >>> THE BAND >>>
(NOTE: this chapter –part of the soon to be published non-fiction book by Kevin J. Salveson– is unavailable on the web except by password. The printed first edition (Extab Media 2015) features chapters and photos un-available on any digital platform. Check the Extablisment website and store: www.extablisment.com as well as other fine book retailers such as Amazon.com for a release date.
Also, look for the Fa Zi story / Rock and Roll in China Film Script called Bend Your Ear in development right now. Or, if you are a producer who has the chops, you can purchase the rights to co-produce on the Extab website store for a mere $10,000 (plus the terms of a negotiable contract). Act fast, only a few in stock!)