“It’s not the pale moon that excites me,
That thrills and delights me, oh no,
It’s just the nearness of you~~”
I grew up with music. My father, albeit his background from a poor family, enjoys music to an extent. He listens to English and French and Arabic, and of course the Malay songs that have been a part of his upbringing. There was no electricity in his village back then, so they’ll occasionally gather around the only radio in the village (possibly the only one owned by a local on the whole island ) and listen to whatever songs transmitted through the wavelengths. That was his childhood.
My late grandfather was also a patron of the arts, albeit living in conditions no better than the rest of the village. He wrote poems and short stories in his beautiful handwriting stylized in the old ways, each word italic and the letters link with each other. I only found out about his passion in writing long after he had passed away, when I was rummaging through stuff in a box in our old study. In it contains his letters and poems my father kept all these years on rustic yellow paper that looks like it’ll crumble had I handle them any rougher. With it, I also found copies of my father’s journals and letters he wrote to my mother back when they were engaged. They were very heavy in content and not romantic at all, mind you.
My mother on the other hand was not really into music. She listens to them more often than my father, given her family circumstances which are better than my father’s, but was not really interested in them. And she only listens to the songs that are in season, the pop songs of the 70s and 80s. Her interest in songs only started, I think, after she married my father. He was one who likes lyrical songs with stories or messages, no matter the language. He then translates the meaning and relay them to my mother. That was how they started to get romantic, after marriage. Occasionally, he’d sing them to her, and we children would laugh at the scene of it.
My earliest exposure to music was a mixture of what my father and mother listen to at the time. They still listen to it to this day, and I’ve grown fond of the songs they listen to. There is a certain quality in the songs of the old. The lyrics and melody of songs by Cat Stevens, Majida el Roumi, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Kenny Rogers, Jacques Brel, BB King, Julie London, and many more never cease to amaze me. In pop songs of today I could only hear plastic and money in them. There’s no soul in it. The pop songs of the old are fueled by passion, full with emotion, and were sung not out of the urge to just be rich and famous. They were expressing themselves. They were searching for themselves in the lyrics they spew. Brel’s songs are magnificent in that respect. I know scratch about French, but thanks to father’s translation (and the internet of course), I get the gist of it. Les Bonbon, Ne me quitte pas, and Orly are still my favourites till today, though I think most in the English-speaking world will only know Seasons in the Sun or Le Moribond as it was originally named.
Cat Stevens, or Yusuf Islam as he is now known, is also a favourite. There’s a certain feeling of familial attachment in his songs, and I like that feeling. Lady d’arbanville and Into White woken up a longing in me for the lost ones, be it people or culture or even routines that were washed out with time. It made the then six year old me listen those songs on repeat and realize, probably for the first time in life, that nothing stays. Everything dies out in the end. Times are ever changing. His other songs, Wild World and Matthew and Son in particular, has that invigorating feeling to explore the world. Father and Son is another song I like. It is as if the two men taking (or singing) in the song are representatives of me and my father. I was not fond of my father during my childhood days. He didn’t do wrong or beat me, mind you. But he was strict and has very visible lines that I was supposed to follow and stick to, and I hate that. But thank God for those lines and rules, for I would not be the man I am today without them. Come to think of it, I just realized that Father and Son was sort of a way God tells me that what my father did to me was for my own good. Oh wow, the wonders of going down memory lane.
Why did I start writing about this? Oh, okay, it was because of The Nearness of You. I was playing my ‘All of the above’ playlist on random when that song came up. The first time I heard it was when mother bought Norah Jones’ first album, Come Away with Me. It was a spectacular album. I don’t mean that the current Norah Jones is less than great, it’s just that I really liked the first album. Come Away with Me is gold. Only after years listening to Jones’ rendition of The Nearness of You had I found out that it was a cover, and the original was a 1938 song. It was then that I realize, I really do like the songs of the old. They have a certain quality in them that is not present in current songs. It has a certain eloquence that translated feelings into art. Being a man powered by both logic and emotion, the emotion engine in me really revs up at the sounds of the old.
Why am I writing this again? Oh, never mind. Back to Moanin’ by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
16th November 2015