ROCK & ROLL IN CHINA: More Personal than Political

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Perhaps that sense of freedom to pursue his muse was unique and hadn’t really been seen for a generation or more. The demand that art be useful or political had been instilled into the Mao generation of Fazi’s parents.

After 1989, it was clear that the outside world was going to collide with the inside from Harbin to XiXuanBaNa, and Fa Zi was well aware of it.  

He was self-possessed enough to know he was going against what might have been a very rigid societal structure at the time.  Thus, he was very happy to meet and work with me because I was of that outside world.  Still he never thought he was any kind of revolutionary.  He just loved to play guitar and sing, and he loved “Bluse” as he pronounced it.  He knew it had to be kept underground but he also knew it was harmless fun.  

Certainly, beyond Fa Zi, there were others.  Even around Beijing, but beyond in the whole of the country as well, there were those who dug a Hendrix fuzztone.   I remember seeing a Uighur rock and roll band play at the mostly “foreigners only” SanLiTun pub (which was really the only bar band game in town at that time).  He was awesome, a mix of metal and eastern scales, with some black leather thrown in.  The bar got shut down, but now the area is finally bustling.

Of course, there was Wham!  in the early ’80’s, an experiment that now probably is thought to have gone way wrong.  (Thank you George Michael, for being the ambassador that opened the door to western pop.  Or should we call him a passbassador?)

And in 1986 in Beijing there was the legendary People’s Stadium gig.

Cui Jian, the father of Chinese rock and roll, along with a few others, made history there akin to the Beatles playing Ed Sullivan.  Cui inspired those in Tian An Men square a few years later to take his anthem and turn him into a modern Elvis.

But, to be honest, as Fazi told me, western style rock and roll with guitars and amps had been essentially blackballed from commercial possibilities across the country after just a few shows had attracted what looked to be an unruly crowd (especially many with low or no incomes from the countrysides filtering in to the cities) who were willing to express some of their discontent in a social setting.

I mean, when I got there I took it for granted that somewhere in a city of millions someone would be plugging a Big Muff pedal into their Les Paul, but turns out it was rarer than I thought.

Apparently I had stumbled into something bigger than I realized, the famous Yuan Ming Yuan Artists Colony, which was so new and bold at that time it eventually became legend in Chinese art circles.

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Just north of Bei Da at Night

When I rolled up on my Flying Pigeon brand bicycle, it seemed pretty normal to me, perhaps like an apartment complex in Berkeley.  Of course everyone would be melting dolls and dripping wax on canvas and hanging stuff in their windows and playing music loud and writing in notebooks and strumming guitars when they weren’t drinking late into the night.  What else is there for a young person to do?

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Sure, I knew it was unique because you couldn’t find anyone else in the whole city sporting long hair and talking about the Talking Heads, but it still seemed unremarkable in and of itself.  Apparently, though, it was extremely radical for the time.

Of course, it was true that they constantly had to deal with a very negative attitude from the authorities (if not outright hassles), and got funny looks from everyone else.

But I had started off a paranoid foreigner who thought he was being watched by Communist spies plotting to ensnare the Da Bi Zi (“big nosed foreigner”) in a honeypot type sting at any moment (I was kind of hoping, actually), and had slowly grown to realize that there were far too many people for them to keep track of us all.   After a while, I even started dating Chinese girls.

Such as my wife… hi sweetie!

However, YuanMingYuan was down a dusty road and fairly isolated.  That was its advantage but also its weakness.  It was easy for the police to seal up the gate every once and a while, or do a little drive through town arresting a few vagrants just to remind everyone who was in power.

Sometimes I wondered why it was that Fazi was so far out of even the artist’s village, past the tofu bakers,  living up against one of the old original mud brick walls of the Palace which stood far out in the fields.  Did he even own the land or the building?

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Walking on the top of the old summer palace mud brick walls

Perhaps not, but it didn’t matter.  Eventually the government took the land and he moved back in to his parent’s apartment in Zhong Guan Cun and built a studio.

So, in the midst of a colony that was being bulldozed, and in the middle of a culture that didn’t understand where he was coming from, how was Fazi going to suddenly start a professional amplified rock and roll career singing songs that were inspired by Bob Marley and John Denver?  He could barely get electricity out there.

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NOTE: this chapter, part of the soon to be published non-fiction book by Kevin J. Salveson,  is unavailable on the web at this time.  The printed first edition (Extab Media 2015)  features many chapters and photos not available on any digital platform.   Check out “Middle Finger Kingdom” by Kevin J Salveson available on the Extablisment website and store: www.extablisment.com  as well as soon at other fine book retailers such as Amazon.com

Also, look for the Fa Zi story / Rock and Roll in China Film Script called Bend Your Ear which is being developed by KJS right now and is  excerpted on the site www.ideasmilliondollar.com.  Or, if you are a producer who has the chops, purchase it outright on the Extab Store for a mere $80,000.

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Fazi (the Chinese Fat Elvis) + Rock and Roll + 1 American Expat = entertaining music