Go with a smile!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Public Accountant

Around 2 years ago I came across an ad, where 600 CDs were being listed as being on sale. I could tell that there was some really interesting music. At that point I hadn’t been keeping up with the developments in the latest music. So I think, it was through researching on which CD was worth buying, that I later on learnt what were the hip names to watch out for. Later on, I also started paying regular trips to second hand CD shops, and bargain bins. I think, that revival in my habit of buying music has seen my buy (and sell) hundreds of CDs.

At the same time I was amazed that there were so many obscure indie bands in that collection, and I also wondered if the seller was some pampered princess who just had a buying addiction. (But I also sometimes wonder that about myself.)

Recently, I’ve had to stop the trips to the cheap CDs. I finally found it too much of a hassle. And I have 400 items on sale, of which almost 300 are CDs. I set a cap on myself, that I should never have so much stock that I have to go beyond 400 items.

2 weeks ago, some guy with an incredibly high feedback rating bargained down my CDs and bought 2 CDs from me. I’ve had weird encounters with people who bargained down stuff, but I thought well $2 isn’t much, and I clear 2 CDs. So I said yes, payment was made quickly, the CDs were sent out quickly, everything was fine. Anyway I overcharged him for postage just to compensate.

Except that after that, 1 day after I sent out the CD, he sent out a testy message saying that I didn’t reply him after he paid up. I was a little annoyed by his impatience but then I noticed that he was the director of some SME. That really got my goat, that somebody earning such big bucks was going to haggle with me over small things.

So I wrote back, “Your CD is on the way. I know I gave you a $2 discount on the CDs. But I don't really know why a public accountant like you needs a $2 discount.”

At the same time I put that up on my facebook page, and some of my friends replied, “some people are like that, if you win it means that he loses,”

And I was hoping that he would see it as the trivial remark it was and think to himself, “I’ve got $2 from you, I can walk away now as a winner,” But I guessed that I would set him off, and I was right, although I’m a little surprised at how worked up he was.

“Hi, I am not quite why you need to make that comment. Anyone is entitled to ask for a discount, regardless of their financial status or profession. Are you insinuating if I told you I was a student without any income, you will give me a hefty discount, in the great name of a fairer distribution of income? Or that if you knew my profession you would have refused to sell me the CDs, let alone gave me the discount, but instead asked me politely to go to HMV and pay $30 for each of the cd?

I would have surmised anyone who has even heard of (insert obscure indie band) would be way too insouciant and unbothered to take a low jibe at someone who he doesn't even know as a person, but who chose to pass a sweeping judgement on me, on the obvious incongruity of someone like me asking for a discount. This utterly confounds me. Oh well...

May I know what profession are you in, or if you are a student, what profession you intend to be in?

Sent from my iPad”

Now that’s a fucking hilarious email if there was any.

At the same time, I saw that ad from 2 years ago which was selling stuff. It was 500 CDs instead of 600. Then I noticed something: that guy was the same person I had argued with. I’m just wondering, since I was eyeing some of his CDs, whether I should still go ahead and buy stuff from him, and see if he realizes that I’m the same person who insulted him. (Or rather wound him up.)

Anyway, this is what I wrote back to him, and I’m still waiting for his reply:

“Yes, it's about the financial status, not the profession. I'd say that having class is not about which obscure indie band you do or do not know, but rather it's the self knowledge that being fairly well to do, it's kinda cheap to be asking for another $2. I think I would have given you the discount anyway because if I were to discriminate based on class I'm just operating on your level. Although I must add that nobody who has managed to make my friends laugh so hard can be a truly awful person.

Are (obscure indie band) listeners (whatever that means) chin chye (I know what insouciant means but I prefer the Singlish version) enough to not pass a comment, but at the same time not chin chye enough to pay $7 for a CD, and that he has to bargain it down further? Well it gives me a headache to think about that but fortunately I have passed the CD on to somebody more suited to ponder that question.”



Sunday, March 06, 2011

5 10 15 20

They have this wonderful feature on pitchfork, where they invite a musician to talk about the music that they were listening in 5 year intervals of their life. Well I’m a musician, even though I’m not the kind of musician they’d invite to give talks on pitchfork (at least not yet). But that sounds like a great idea for a blog entry.

5 years old.

I would say that most of the music that filtered to my consciousness at that age was 70s disco. Probably one of the strongest early memories was ABBA, and my father was a fan. Other things that I must have picked up at that time were the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the Brothers Gibb, etc etc. Considering how easily I took to 70s funk later on in life, it probably made a great impression on me. That was also the year when I started music lessons.

10 years old.

Not much happening to me music wise that year, although that was when I passed my grade 5. I was probably listening to more classical music, because my music teacher (erroneously in my opinion) believed that pop music was a bad influence. I really liked: Beethoven’s moonlight sonata, his 5th symphony, a lot of Chopin etudes, his Fantasie Impromptu.

That was the 80s. I remember that Europe’s “Final Countdown” was a big hit that year.

People in Singapore have this attitude, probably fostered in colonial times, that art is some luxury that is patronized by the upper class. As opposed to something that makes your soul complete, as opposed to something that’s all around you, that tells you something about your own life. A pretty fucked up attitude, I would say. It took me a long time to see beyond that.

15 years old
That was the year my ears were opened to a lot of music that was pouring out due to the “Alternative music” revolution. That was the year I went on a music binge: I discovered Bowie, The Clash, Public Enemy, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, kd Lang, REM, Nirvana, Teenage Fanclub, Meat Beat Manifesto, Pink Floyd, Suzanne Vega, World Party, Matthew Sweet, Sly Stone, Peter Gabriel, Sonic Youth, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Faith No More.

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Public Enemy for the first time. There was so much density going on in their records, and they were doing all sorts of tricks: feedback, bleeps, noise, spoken clips, “YEEEEHHH BOYEEEEE”. I probably didn’t fully understand that it was also a soundtrack to – let’s say – people of a fairly disadvantaged background, but it’s hard to understand how their lives could be so wretched if there was so much great music going on.

At the same time, there was the white mirror image of the Clash, the most socially conscious punk band. Yes, the recording quality was tinny, you couldn’t make out the words from the thick cockney. But the accent was totally authentic to me. They were such adventurous people too, moving from punk to reggae to funk, yet always sounding distinctively themselves. Plus they were also fantastic songwriters, who came up with such catchy anthems. How Jones and Strummer is not mentioned alongside the Brill Building greats is somewhat beyond me.

20 years old
The music of the late 90s was also a wonderful time. Lots of great rap records were made then, although I only knew about them later. Electronica, punk, Jungle, alternative and rap. And some other artists who used all those as colours on a palette. Beck, Bjork, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and Goldie were making music that were basically uncategorisable.

But it was also a time for me to be discovering older classic music. I got acquainted with T Rex through “The Slider”. He made such wonderful 3 minute pop. I found Northern Soul through Dexy’s “Don’t Stand Me Down”. I bought my copy of “Bitches Brew” that year if I remember correctly.

25 years old
In the interim, I had discovered a lot of jazz music when studying overseas. I marveled at the compositions of Jobim, the experiments of Charles Mingus. But I found my real musical soulmate in Thelonious Monk, who understood the architecture of awkward silences.

That year, though, I listened a lot to Bill Evan’s “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”. It was a wonderfully tranquil record, with so much going on under the glossy sheen of “easy listening” music. Listening to how he played was like watching the reflection of the moon on the ripples of a lake, and all those little explosions of light.

30 years old
It was a quiet time for me musically. I had sworn off buying records. I think I discovered Scott Walker around that time. I first became acquainted to the Walker Brothers when I bought their compilation on a whim. Fantastic voice. I liked the strings he put on Pulp’s “We Love Life”. But I was quite unprepared for what I found on “Nite Flights” and “Tilt”.

This was the year, I think, that I started cranking out music on a regular basis. I had just downloaded a freeware that allowed you to make short MIDI clips, something really shitty quality. But it enabled me to write down a lot of music that I held in my head previously, and I was able to write a few songs that year. It was a good year, if every year I wrote as many songs and they were as good as what I came up with that year I would be very happy.

Playing your own music to yourself is a little like popping your own cherry. Writing music without producing it, but keeping yourself amused by listening to it over and over again is the music equivalent of masturbation.