Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The mohawked spoke Mandarin

When I hustled back to Beijing in the mid-'90s a year after my bookbinding adventure there, I was hungry. And no it wasn't just to feed my newfound love of Chinese cuisine (nothing like what I'd eaten stateside!), but I became addicted to the adrenaline of everyday living, the idea that learning one new syllable could lead to a hundred more words, and scrambling amid an ancient culture that seemed to hurtle toward the future.

Back home, my Cui Jian tapes had turned to ribbon from overplaying, as did my collection from other rising rock stars. And then there was the nightlife! Ah, sweet dark that hides and spikes all my favorite vices: illegal gatherings, underground clubs (sometimes literally—a favorite sprouted in an old bomb shelter), smoking and drinking and all that fun stuff.

But the music. I love music, almost all kinds, but rock 'n' roll, so tame in the West, still sounded dangerous in Beijing. It was dangerous in Beijing; just ask Cui Jian, who could hardly play a show. When he did play it was always memorable; once he gigged at the French Embassy, an event that practically turned into an international incident.

One of the first colleagues I met at the paper where I worked was a tall Texan with dyed hair, punked-out leather jacket, and excellent Chinese. We shared a love of music and all things Dishwasher Pete. Tireless and talented, David O'Dell threw himself into Beijing's burgeoning punk scene, helping build it venue by venue and band by band. The shows he lined up always delivered a thrill, pure muscle, energy, and feeling. Luckily he took notes and pictures, and now the book's all laid out for you to live it, too. Enjoy.

P.S. Full disclosure: I copyedited it.


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