Art is not easy. So many people think they are doing it every day. I’m not saying I know the difference between who are and who aren’t; to paraphrase John Cleese’s Pope Julius II, “I may not know a lot about art, but I know what I like.” In today’s anti-normative world, it’s truly impossible to say which one of a so-called pop artiste dressing herself up in bubble wrap, a rapping idiot-savant calling himself Jesus Christ, and a sixteen year old girl clothed in a tube top and little else singing “Sweet Child ‘o Mine” is art, and which isn’t (do any of them have to be?, is to me the obvious question).
Having this kind of discernment has, on the surface, very little use in today’s surface world. But I believe there is a purpose to being able to tell the difference between those in it for vainglory—Bruce Lee would refer to their journey as the Art of Self-Image Aggrandizement—and those who are in it for true excellence, and the truth that comes with it, for the sake of not merely making an impact on the world, but making a positive one, at least so far as their beliefs and conscience can guide them. I think what makes it easier to tell who’s doing what is to consider the concept of *effective art*.
What is this thing that I propose exists: effective art? I believe what makes effective art effective is that it touches us in a way that is significant. But what does this mean? Effective art (think of a song that still makes you cry even after you’ve heard a thousand times) creates a process through which the audience member not only passes but is also changed in a way that is both indelible and irreversible. Aristotle speaks of mimesis in the Poetics. Mimesis is a large part of this process. By employing the mimetic aspect of art, the artist may create a work that is somehow both broad-reaching enough to apply to all persons yet specific enough that one person will feel as though the work of art has been created just for them.
Because of this personal connection, the viewer will come to see themselves in the protagonist, and will share in their failures and their success. This brings us to the second part of the process, which is catharsis. Via the experience of the protagonist’s highs and lows, the viewer (or listener) experiences the artistic journey not only as the trials and tribulations of another person, but as part of one’s own story, and at the point of conclusion, the viewer (or listener) feels a very real sense of having been transfigured, cleansed, or else having experienced epiphany on a deep level. This is one of the ways the artist can employ their skill and acumen for the good, by creating and layering positive change (which, note, does not assume a “happy ending”) in the conclusions of their art.
I find I can often tell between art that is created by the artists for themselves and art that is effective by locating where I experience what I often refer to as “the tingles.” When a work of art is high intensity, our autonomic reaction is to feel that intensity somewhere in our physical body. I’d wager that all of us have cried during certain movies, songs, theatrical performances, and many other expressions of art based on our preferences (visual art, dance, performance art). In my experience, art that truly touches the soul can be felt in (of all places) the sides of the arms, and the shoulders. Almost without fail, when I notice a tingling sensation there in my body, emotional catharsis is nearby, whether it manifests in the form of a deep cleansing breath, laughter, or crying.
In contrast, art created to serve the artist’s ego can be felt almost anywhere else. I’ve been confounded by this in the past, watching films or theatrical performances and feeling stirred yet also feeling a sense of emptiness and not knowing why (I’m looking at you, “Hancock” (2008)). I’ve felt my head swell in agony over a protagonist’s dramatic fall from grace. My heart has bled over a main character’s crippling anxiety. I’ve even cried watching a community be destroyed for hypocrisy and lack of oversight. But one common factor insists itself upon these three scenarios: I never felt anything in my shoulders, nor did I feel something in the sides of my arms. It seems so odd that this—the precise location of “the tingles”—be the determining factor. But, sure enough, when the dust of high emotion settled in each of these (and, certainly, many other) cases, I was left with a feeling of having witnessed something created not for the benefit of my edification, but instead for its own thirst and need for attention.
And herein lies the danger, and is why art can so easily by hijacked and turned from an activity that is intrinsically benevolent to one whose sole purpose is to fulfill a narcissistic personality’s need for self-image aggrandizement. I disagree with the (relatively recent) adage that “the head can be persuaded, but the heart is not so easily changed” (I think it’s from “Frozen” (2013) (he says, having seen it seven times)); it’s actually fairly easy to manipulate the heart, just look at how many toxic relationships remain unexamined due to family loyalty. There’s not really anything that can be done about this. As we perfect the expression of form e.g. the play, the song, the novel, the movie etc., it becomes easier for art pirates (to coin a phrase) to plunder these forms and mine them for their own selfish needs (see “United Passions” (2014)—actually, don’t.)
I would humbly put forward that awareness is the best weapon under these modern day circumstances. For me, a key component to a better life as an art consumer has been to be relentlessly conscious of the art I was consuming. I found when I was willing to question what was placed in front of me, I became far less willing to leap into the jaws of the predatory pseudo-art that found it way into my purview simply because its creators owned all the distribution outlets (now who might I be talking about? … I still like Frozen.) It’s certainly made me less hip—to this day I have never heard the radio offering known to many as “Uptown Funk,” in fact I’m not sure I’ve heard a new song since 2012, except for that Mendez/Cabello duet from a few years ago (to be fair I was just out of inpatient and was trying to find my roots among free humans by listening to *anything* that came on the radio) and something by Taylor Swift about how some people need to calm down—I actually like that one.
No, I’m not a doom and gloom, everything after 1986 sucks, kind of guy. There are always new, wonderful discoveries to be made as a consumer of art (the jewel that is “Ted Lasso” to name one.) I wonder if we’re not on the precipice of a new *slow art* movement, perhaps similar as to what happened at the transition from the 80s into the 90s, except, hopefully, a little wiser, and this time truly shedding the skin of artifice for a new kind of authenticity, where artistry and artisanship find their place again among the pantheon values of self-expression. For better or for worse I think the “influencer” is here to stay, at least for awhile, and it might be that all you need to do is film yourself eating cereal with hot sauce to be called a “creator” but to quote Keith Carradine: it don’t worry me. (Nashville (1975))
I do what I do the way I do it (this is a surely a quote). No amount of sanitized prefabricated mindless cookie-cutter entertainment can take away my love of creating art to help others. I was told at a young age by an uncle who would turn out to be one of the strongest influences of my early creative life that I should always remember to give back to society. At the time I was busy getting the crap kicked out of me by racist mobs in a Dickensian all-boys boarding school, but, thankfully, the words stuck with me. Art is the greatest blessing (shared; my wife, obviously) that I’ve received in my already pretty blessed life. It seems a natural choice to pass it along.
Some might still call me unsuccessful, and in some ways they’d be right. I have no community of crazed fans (yet/who cares, my wife would say), I have no mantelpiece full of trophies or awards (again, yet/who cares, she’d say, because she’s amazing). But in the past seventeen years, I’ve had the time and space, away from the joneses, away from the restless throng, to gruelingly put myself through the ropes; I’ve gained mastery over the fundamentals of harmony, counterpoint, lyricism, rhyme, wordplay, music production, storywriting, MIDI programming, arrangement, transcription, voice, performance, and many more areas of study that, in my opinion, form only the very basics of what it means to be an artist, a real creator. At least that’s what I think. And sure, maybe all of this is not a route to success. But I believe it to be a path to self-mastery, and, with that, a means to unlock the secret to wellbeing and abundance, in a world that truly needs it.
Travel safe. Talk soon. -AF
One of the advantages of being unsuccessful is that very few people, if any, want a piece of you. I remember well my days of pseudo fame—you know, the kind of which everyone is said to experience fifteen minutes. I remember the unspoken imperative that you at all costs keep up with the Joneses, the incessant expectation that your itinerary be scheduled around this allstar compilation album audition or that appearance at so-and-so’s fashion awards run, rather than your actual needs as a human; all of this turned my young brush with celebritydom into an exercise of being chewed, swallowed, and spat out, time after time, at the best of times.
I remember being asked once, in my state of pseudo-ascendancy by a pseudo-gatekeeper, what I wished to be. Now, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I knew at the time that giving this answer would bear little fruit, so I turned to the closest and most genuine response that I felt would suffice, and said that what I wanted to do was write songs, I wanted to be a songwriter. We debated the subject for some time (meaning, he spoke and I listened, this is Asia after all), and eventually the conclusion was drawn that I would only be a songwriter when I wrote songs and got paid for doing it. That would be my one definition of success.
I carried this charge around with me in my young life as a musician. When I left the bright lights of Malaysia’s cultural capital in 2005, I also left behind a burgeoning career, a move that many friends, even close ones couldn’t comprehend. I didn’t have the guts to say it at the time, mostly because it felt laced with a sort of John Lennon-esque man-child helplessness that I had long sought to avoid. But the fact of the matter was, I left to be with someone, for love if you will, specifically the love of a kind and beautiful woman, wise beyond her years, who looked deep into my soul with all its charred scars and fetid wounds, and said: we can do this.
The years went by. I remember hitting thirty. Still, not a cent from anyone for the songs I was painstakingly writing in my home basement studio. Young puppies became pets in their prime, who became mature dogs, their love unflinching, their attention unwavering. I miss the ones we’ve lost to time, and cherish that moments I am spending with all of them, but especially the oldest ones, who despite our general avoidance of the subject we know are over the proverbial hill. Hairs turn grey, joints become more brittle. And need I mention the colonoscopies? (Well, I’m still just forty four, but I hear their approach like the tick-tock of a hungry crocodile hell-bent on horrors untold.)
So here I am, in my mid forties now, the amount of money I have been paid for my songwriting (or other musical work, for that matter) since I arrived on these shores unable to buy me lunch at the local deli. I live with my wife, who has remained married to me now for reasons unknown for seventeen years, on a decidedly unflashy New England farmstead with six dogs, three goats (one more on the way), two horses, and an open door to those dear to us. I’ve written, say, a hundred and five songs give or take, from orchestral works to acoustic ballads, some organized into sprawling rock operas and musicals, others barely a minute long, just enough to get a single idea across and hopefully elicit a smile.
<sidebar> Don’t ask how I live. The answer is not a soundbite. Separate from my wife’s professional and business successes, which are considerable, my financial situation is a stultifyingly tedious and rancidly complicated tale involving a patriarch who is richer than Trump (and possibly just as disagreeable), and a grandmother who died far too young. The bottom line is I find myself in a place where my day-to-day needs are more or less taken care of (more of less) </sidebar>
Still, it’s a far-cry from being Malaysia’s new “it”-boy who could write his ticket and command a six-figure salary for a month’s work (somehow, don’t ask me). And for my life’s circumstances, my interlocutor that day at lunch would surely insist that I am not to be considered a songwriter, because the cumulative offerings I have received for said activity are too paltry. Now, the lifelong student that I am likes to say silly things like, “What do we really know for certain? Can we be really sure of anything?”
But in this instance, I’m pretty sure of myself when I say: you know, I don’t think he was right.
TO BE CONTINUED...
I’m often asked, “How do you go about writing a song?” More often than not it’s a murky and amorphous process, filled with uncertainty and difficult to quantify, but it occurred to me that it would be helpful, both for me as well as those who had posed the question, to see if I could shed a little light on the commonalities that exist from one song to another. In doing so, I came across the idea of the “Concept,” the creative germ that exists long before the writing process begins, a blueprint that, when followed, triggers a set of actions the inevitable result of which is a finished composition, whether it takes ten minutes or ten years. Today I share one of these concepts with you.
In 2010 I wrote a blog post titled Ten Years and Still Walking. “Strange feelings abound,” I wrote. I remember tremulously hitting “post” on only the second blog I’d ever written, wondering if I was an idiot for sharing my thoughts so, and specifically for having shared a demo of a piece “so early on in its development.” Twelve years later and I find myself knee-deep in the process of writing a fantasy ebook series, releasing a concept album, two singles, and a live EP all in the space of a year while surprisingly not burning out, and Still Walking, which had fallen out of my direct purview for the better part of eight years, suddenly appears within the crosshairs in the form of the musical project Continuity. And thus, the question, “How did I write the song Still Walking?” What was the Concept, and how did it precipitate the process that would lead to the composition?
With Still Walking the Concept is musical. One cannot understand the underlying DNA of this song without being familiar with another two pieces. Still Walking is part of the greater work Continuity, a rock opera that explores mental illness and which is the thematic sequel to States of Matter, the first major piece I wrote, back in 2000. In States of Matter there is one song in particular that has generated a sort of musical meme that has permeated at least a few of songs that I have written. That song is Walking Away, and its (known) scions are the songs No Need to Hide (States of Matter), Light Up These Eyes (Ray of Sunshine), and finally, Still Walking (Continuity).
With Still Walking, part of the song’s raison d’être was to be a link to its ancestor Walking Away. The respective characters in both songs are trying to convince themselves that they are strong enough to “walk,” be it away from a toxic relationship, or physically, having suffered a debilitating illness. To quote Walking Away, I started with a syncopated vi-I/3-IV chord motif. Along with the phrase, “I’m still walking,” this became the song’s underlying Concept. (Incidentaly, I also wanted to quote the song Rain from States of Matter, which I managed to do in the last line of the chorus plus in the background accompaniment in the bridge).
Once I was solid on this, the remaining process was more engineering than anything else. The vi-I/3-IV progression in the beginning of the chorus brought about an ascending ii-I/3-IV-V chorus hook, returning us to the tonic.
Once that was determined, the called-for complementary progression, which would be used in the verses, almost inevitably, had to be descending. I decided upon a descending bass line—1, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2—with corresponding harmonies, with a II7-V turnaround, using the “secondary dominant” (for the geeks out there—you’re in good company), for a little bit of extra tension to propel us into the chorus.
As I touched on previously, the bridge mirrors then entire harmonic universe of the other two sections, by being almost entirely ascending harmonically. It even contains a modulation, one whole-step upwards; after the contemplative introspection of the verses and choruses, the song felt as though it needed some lift. The downchorus returns us to a sense of uncertainty, with the final two choruses a defiant statement of self-belief in the face of overwhelming odds.
In many ways the lyrics of a song are the most difficult component of the songwriting process, in my experience because they are messy, emotion-bound, and while not everyone can claim to be a musical composer, everyone deep down kind of thinks they’re a writer (I should know, writing a fantasy ebook series with absolutely no qualifications to do so). Similar to Walking Away I wanted to keep the lyrical content of this song simple. That said, I’m a huge sucker for the jumble of internal and regular rhyming patterns, in this case ABCD, ABED, as such, in the second verse:
You said (A)
If I may say so myself, I was especially pleased with the internal “tapback” rhyme (A) of “eyes red,” and “gonna shed,” as well as the unnecessary, unintentional, but very satisfying rhyming of “eyes” with “skies.” Love it when a plan (or, maybe, sheer dumb luck?) comes together. Generally speaking, any thoughts I have about lyrics are humble ones. I don’t really have much by way of technical know-how to this process; it’s mostly a lot of probing and asking the song where it wants to take me. I do, however, use perfect rhyme, however, for example: (not from Walking Away)
half/imperfect rhyme :
It’s just a school I grew up in (from Carole King to Stephen Sondheim) and I find it way more challenging to do, and also way more satisfying (probably explains why I stopped listening to pop radio around 2011). I supposed I might recommend, lyricwise, staying connected with the emotional core of the character in the particular moment that the song is taking place. What are the chemicals (hormones, emotions, cognitions) in their body trying to make them do? What are their deep desires (doesn’t matter how dark)? And then relay them as accurately as possible.
I’ll look forward to possibly doing more of these. I’ve got a whole mess of songs, each of whom came with its own version of this process. I hope you found this interesting and that it gave a little clue-in to what can often be considered a baffling if near impossible process. As you can see, with this entry, I included notated music as an aid to the various explanations. If you’d like to hear audio, or even see video, I could look into doing that for future entries.
Many thanks. Travel safe and talk soon.
I’m starting to think the adage might be true, that, as we grow older, our sphere of give-a-damn starts to tighten. A gabillion zillion things happened this year, and I’m not sure I caught any of them because they weren’t in my direct purview. Also, I tend not to be of the “like, subscribe, switch on notifications” persuasion, so, when all is said and done, and for better or worse, I imagine myself a little less “influenced” than your average small-town bear. There’s a flip-side to this, of course, being that I easily made over a thousand *important* decisions this year, that no one gave a shit about. No harm, no foul.
A lack of abatement from COVID meant that, once again, the musician’s primary source of reception and feedback—the live gig—was not an option. However, knowing that the AFO once again could not come to as a performing band freed us to focus on finishing the project that we started in the murky waters of early 2020: Ray of Sunshine, specifically an AFO concept album featuring songs from the rock opera Ray of Sunshine.
More generally, though, we (being BlueDorian Media Entertainment’s 2021 squad, including the AFO, guest vocalists and instrumentalists, designers and artists, producers and engineers, and the organization’s core team) started to see this year as one in which we would be focusing on content, setting ourselves the underlying goal of not just producing but producing our socks off, committing to going above and beyond what we thought ourselves capable of doing, both in terms of quality as well as quantity, all the while retaining our focus and, more importantly, staying sane.
That we succeeded at all was a surprise, that we were able to achieve what we did, a wonder, and to all involved in the past two years worth of curriculum I feel a sense of gratitude and pride—it’s one thing to pump out great material in your *prime* (such an arbitrary assessment) when everyone is cheering you on and you have the will of the fans on your side, it’s entirely another to do in the silent cave that is modern COVID-based life. The work is there, for anyone who wants to check it out (shop.bluedorian.com). It was a thrill and a delight to work, soup to nuts, with such a talented crew of artists—I look forward to working with them again in the upcoming years.
I took part in a QnA session focused around the music of Ray of Sunshine, and I was posed the question, “How can you allow your music to stream for free? How do you get people to pay for your music so you can make a living?” These are good questions, ones that I do not have the answer to. Now, granted, we at BlueDorian have yet to apply a marketing plan to our template. Our first step, still in process now, is to populate the commercial web presence (the store) with content. Anything outside of that goal, I’m not interested in, for the simple reason as to create good product requires focus, and if I’m trying to figure out how to sell my goods before I’ve built my goods, I’m not focusing.
Still, I’ve often self-reflected that music and visual arts, despite being in the same taxonomic “class” of activity, are such polar opposites, in terms of the logistics that their practitioners are required to go through to succeed. Visual artists more or less obey the commercial maxim, that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients, so really, you just need to secure the 20%. Music has no such luxury. Predetermined market values are placed on our commodity in such a way as if I spent two minutes throwing together a selection of pre-written beats, versus if I spend two years composing a piece that painstakingly fuses the sounds of a symphony orchestra, renaissance vocal group, and gamelan ensemble (all of whom I had to hire), both products costs about a dollar in the marketplace of ideas.
Anyway, like I said, that’s outside of my purview, at least for now. We’ll come up with a plan at some point, when it does seem relevant. In the meantime, 2021: cheers! It feels like we hardly knew ye, but I know that’s a lie. We live in formidable times. It’s time to step on the gas, and ride off into the sunset. To that end, here's this awesome fellow:
Travel safe and talk soon!
Wishing you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2022 :)
I had an interesting conversation with with one of my producer friends, where he sort of summed up the state of music right now, saying that musicians appear to have two options—one, they can work and come up with new songs and sounds, or, two, they can “sit around trying to come up with a hundred ways to basically sound like Despacito.” Now Despacito as a song doesn’t necessarily bother me per se, but I definitely agreed with him that what constitutes art right now is more akin to world of sports and competition than it is to what has constituted art since forever ago.
An example of what this looks like is 1) you get "Person A" who’s an insane e.g. bass player, then 2) he/she does a “sexy” cover of a super well-known song, showing off their chops, until 3) they acquire the holy grail (subs, lah) because a) the song is well known and b) they’re racing up and down the fretboard like Usain Bolt. Many artists are doing little more than shooting at targets, because, by doing so they believe they become “influencers,” whatever on earth that means.
This is 90% of music today, I would wager.
So there’s a small 10% who are spending their time coming up with actual new ideas, which is ironic, because that is exactly how that song by The Who or Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson came to be in the first place. Not by the efforts of the “musical bodybuilders” showing off their guitar-playing glutes, but by people who were so plugged in to the actual source of art (which, in actuality, at least in my experience, is a rather quiet and solitary place) and worked hard at cultivating that connection, that they came up with gems that we love and that are lasting, the likes of Penny Lane, Dear Prudence, and Here Comes the Sun.
There’s nothing we can really do, because it’s just easier, frankly, to learn how to show-off running up and down scales than it is to put together new musical ideas, or to write a truly authentic song that’s actually really good as well. That’s why, again, frankly, youtube musical bodybuilders, regardless of their number of subs and followers, are more of less a dime a dozen (type in a famous song and the word “cover” and you’ll see what I mean), while there’s only one Paul McCartney, there’s only one Burt Bacharach, there’s only one Beethoven.
I make this point strenuously, not in order to dissuade others from participating in the musical arts. I’m not talking about a six-year old (or a seventy six-year old, for that matter) who’s recorded themselves playing “Let It Be”—their first attempt at live performance. These moments are authentic and magical, and why not celebrate them as such? Rather, my goal is that we might be conscious of the landscape that we are populating as so-called artists. Who am I as a composer, in this world that values instantaneousness and fetishy familiarity more than it does values and the perspiration involved in birthing new ideas? I’d be lying if I said my encouragement was a blanket affair; as for the musical bodybuilders—godspeed and good luck—there is a LOT of space for you in today’s lip-service-paying, self-image-obsessed, instant gratification-based world, and some of you will go far.
But to those of you in that small, terrifying 10%: I know what it’s like to be you, and I’ll tell you, it’s fucking hard. It really is much easier to sell yourself down the line and focus on self-image and self-aggrandizement than it is to hone what it means to hold yourself true to the realm of new, real ideas. How do I know? I know because I’ve done both. In my twenties, I was all about puffing up my self-image. Heck, if I’d been populating a youtube channel then as opposed to a myspace page (thank you, the early 00s), I might have been able to show you now some streaming material of me doing a “cover” of a number by Train, Gavin Degraw, or Jason Mraz (to further cement me in linear time).
But that was then; it was a bit of a prison, and I’m glad I got out of it. I’m lucky, I guess, that the world culture of the early 00s hadn’t moved so far into the direction of instant gratification that I could navigate my way out of it and not become stuck simply by default. Now, in my forties, I am focused completely on the realm of new ideas. There are certain mitigating circumstances that help facilitate this, but I’ve still made the decision to walk this path—that was my choice, no one else’s. Honestly, it’s not super comfortable. I feel like a constantly-pregnant giraffe, except my young take rather longer to learn how to walk. But I’d rather it to the alternative.
I am told by pop culture that I am supposed to feel old, because I am no longer a marketable sixteen-year old hormone-ridden singing haircut. That’s fine. While we’re on the subject, I’m told by other people, that because I was born a muslim, I’m supposed to feel “wrong,” “bad,” “scared,” or, I suppose, “foreign.” And then, ironically, I’m told by yet other people that, because I do not practice religion, including the one of my birth, that I should feel “guilty” or “ashamed." I care little for and heed even less the proclamations of those who do not walk in my shoes. I feel like Will Hunting in that scene in the bar: All that they say "may be, but at least I won’t be unoriginal."
And, I guess, that would be my humble recommendation to you “terrified 10%ers.”Dare to be original.” Har har, right? How many people say that to you every day? Ad execs, the world over. Insurance companies, credit unions, people who promise they’ll fuck you like a champion if you just give them your money? (Not talking about prostitution here, at least they’re honest about what they do--think about it.) How would any of these people know the first thing about originality? Your youtube bodybuilder wunderkind, here name one, I can name twelve off the top. Be original, they say, while they rattle off Giant Steps at a hundred miles an hour for the fiftieth time this month. The fuck do they know?
Not this guy. This guy knows plenty.
Take it from me that those people haven’t the slightest idea what they’re talking about. How do you know if you’re being original? If you’re truly living in the world of new ideas? I don’t bloody know, I’m not you. But I know what happens with me. Firstly, I’m terrified. Every day I wake up and, as much as I know I’m on my path, I’m terrified. Blank, empty, white pieces of paper stare at me, and say, make me shine. How the heck do I do that? You tell me, how? I don’t know. That terror is the first step of this process.
Secondly, am I doing everything well? If so, get the fuck out. Nothing proves the leading edge than that feeling that you suck at something. Not the “why am I doing this thing soul-draining thing that I hate” kind of suck, but rather, the “oh my god I really want to conquer this but I don’t know how or even if I ever will”-type suck. It’s like when you first learn to do anything that you adore doing, riding a bike, doing a cartwheel, writing fiction. There was a time when you sucked at those things, and the motivation to move past that stage of not knowing was pure art.
The last one is perhaps controversial: do you love yourself? Now. Here, I do not mean do you love the beauty within yourself and your connection with the heavenly force and the solemn, sad, splendid satisfaction that you feel from your own company and the inner knowledge of fullness and peace that you possess inherently. No, that’s awesome. Keep holding on to that. What I mean is: are you a self-loving twit? You know, like that guy on the charts, whose name is--OH damn, I almost slipped up and mentioned some celebrity by name—no, I’m not going to do that, it’s low-hanging fruit and it’s none of my business to judge people in particular, just, you know, the ugly qualities that some of them might inhabit en masse.
So, you know, that would be the last tip I would humbly submit. Stanislavski, in my opinion, put it better than I could ever hack up, so I’ll quote him directly: "Love the art in yourself, and not yourself in the art." Put the art first. Always. That’s all I’m going to say; that’s all the needs saying, really.
I’m off to go write a song. Maybe one day I might record it. Maybe release it. Maybe I’ll do everything in line with what some of those influencers do. Create a social media campaign around it. Who knows? I feel a sense of freedom, a sense of openness, that I do what I do for the love of doing it. Thank you for being on this journey alongside me.
Travel safe. Talk soon.
I’m going to keep this brief as, to many of us, this year has indeed been a bear, and I would be the first to cheer on and endorse time away from devices, social media, and even the internet—if possible, as 2020 draws to a close and its successor winds up to bat.
I think my primary takeaway from this year has been the annoyingly not-obvious observation that the future and the past, despite looking as though they are on a linear spectrum with one another, are very much not, and that the present moment can be used as a tool, at any point, to alter the trajectory of what comes next by making changes, even infinitessimal ones, to what is happening now. And I say this as someone who is by no means an optimist. But there were many realities at the beginning of this year that defined my life. A borderline episode landed me briefly hospitalized, and my intrusive thoughts (OCD) were putting me on a constant state of high-alert (I was registering them at 4-5 out of 5 every day), meaning I was spending most of my days with my eyes closed, at least when I didn’t have to have them opened. I had no idea how I was going to live through these symptoms for another year.
We get to the end of this year, and my life couldn’t be more different. In many ways I don’t understand how it happened. How, somewhere along the way, did I start being able to keep my eyes open during the days. How is it that now I see life with a sense of calm, that when I read journal entries written by me from years passed, trying to make sense of all the pain and suffering that was going on inside every minute of every day, I don’t recognize that person, let alone identify with him. Yet I know I was him, that I am him. And that moment of recognition is always a little tricky, because if I am that person, then those feelings, the ones that overrun and sweep me away, the ones that make cooperative dialogue difficult and relationships impossible, the ones that think, every afternoon quite casually, that I would be better off dead than alive, are still inside me.
I try not to dance down this road too much. The prettier (or, in this case, more dramatic) the flower, the farther from the path. I have a good set of therapists now (as opposed to the one from Mclean who refused services to me because she was convinced having just met me that I wasn’t being serious enough about my recovery. Someone out there might call her a b****, but I know three female dogs personally, and, they are some of the nicest people I've met. So, she’s a dickhead. There you go.) In any case, I have a good set of therapists now, one of whom often reminds me not to look for silver bullets. And, despite my predilections towards doing so, I agree with him. We’ve discussed how progress is often a thousand tiny steps, or nudges, or anything, small and seemingly fleeting, the culmination of which can steer that steamship out of the way of that iceberg. Tiny, tiny steps. And thousands of them. I suppose, for me, the key was to develop a practice. To keep going, no matter how stupid I felt the work was, how little it helped me at the beginning, even days when I didn’t have faith, to bear down and do what little I could to forge a different reality, a different life.
The other thing I take from this year is a sense of gratitude. I use that word a lot (thankfully, I think it does mean what I think it means).This is the counterweight to the above idea. The ability to look at everyday and just feel a sense of fulfilled contentment about the work done for the day. And the ability to lose that sense of goal-orientedness, to be able to laugh and smile and be in love with the journey you’ve taken, today, thinking nothing of how far away you still might be from your ultimate goal, letting go of grasping to things that will inevitably be swallowed by the forces of time: dark-colored hair, optical and aural acuity, effortless joint strength, a vociferous appetite, relationships, people, places, and things; these are all what I mean by gratitude. It doesn’t involve incantations or prayers or any kind of gobbledegook that ritualizes a process that is so deep and inscrutable that the experience of it really goes beyond expression. When I look into my darling dog Mia’s eyes and she looks right back into mine, I have no words for that moment, but I know it’s special.
So. Have an excellent start to 2021. I generally don’t like telling people what to do, but I might go so far as to share something I’m doing for myself this new year’s, which is: stop saying how 2021 will be “better” than 2020. I mean, seriously, folks. Why would you do it? WHY would you DO IT?! :) But seriously, for anyone who’s read this, thanks for sharing in some random musings of a random muso. I look forward to seeing you at some point next year, which I now graciously accept, free of expectation.
Wishing you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2021 :)
Greetings. It is I.
Here is the year-end summary of 2020 #BlueDorian publications and releases. If you didn't get to check them out the first time, here's a list of all of them, in one place:
The following products are now available for sale at the bluedorian online store.
The following music tracks are available to stream, either on their respective BlueDorian project page, or (coming soon) on Soundcloud.com.
The following illustrations and designs are available, to view, as follows:
Gwen (Daughters of Time, character design) - Daughters of Time
Cameron (Daughters of Time, character design) - Daughters of Time
Roya (Daughters of Time, character design) - Daughters of Time
Anneka - (Daughters of Time, character design) - Daughters of Time
Wishing you all a happy holiday season :) from all of us at BlueDorian.
All material is © BYIP Creative Media 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Title Inspiration: Please Release Me (Eddie Miller, Bobby Dean Yount, and Dub Williams), Engelbert Humperdinck
A busy year has been had by all at BlueDorian Media Entertainment:
Though the COVID threat has kept us all bound to our homes for the better part of our days, mastering the art of remote communication has proven very much within the organization’s grasp, allowing an effective collaborative environment to be assembled from the ashes of our previous, in-person-dependent superstructure. As a result, with a little bit of front-end effort, this has been our most productive year to date.
Vocalists Anthony Rodriguez and Michael Spaziani brought both passion and competence at their craft to the task of bringing to life the parts of “Heart” and “Rhythm” respectively in States of Matter. We look forward to future opportunities to work with them and the aptitude and wherewithal they bring to the roles they play.
And finally, last but by no means least, the project Ray of Sunshine brought with it two new vocalists to the BlueDorian roster. Michael Kassatly, a longtime collaborator with Adam Farouk, playing the role of “Dredd,” and Derek Dupuis, a fierce multi-instrumentalist in his own right, playing the role of “Ray.”
The AFO - 2020
The AFO continues to be the main driving engine for BlueDorian’s live music curriculum, though this year we've traded in our typical late-year event for a series of "at-home"-style filmed performances. It has been once again a privilege and a pleasure to have on board such honorable and talented individuals as:
Do check out their stuff—I’ve linked their names to their various respective web presences, and if you are involved in music or putting together a team for some creative project or other, I could not recommend them more (or, for that matter, any of the newer names on this list). They’re all awesome musicians and fantastic folks, doing great work at a time when the life of the creative artist is rife with more than its fair share of curveballs.
In addition to all these wonderful people, working on these projects brought us back in touch with a couple of familiar behind-the-scenes faces: i) Tim Bongiovanni, the wunderkind behind Northgate Studio, and ii) Ray Tarantola, music copyist to the stars and for good reason. It's always sheer creative goodness to work with people such as these who embody true professionalism, and we look forward to more opportunities to work together.
We were back in the studio again after an eight-year hiatus. It's been a thrill to work with Anthony J. Resta and Karyadi Sutedja at Studio Bopnique again. I'm super excited to announce right here and now, in my trademark low-key way, that we'll be releasing, in the new year, five new tracks, a collaboration between our two studios: a studio release of "Seasons Come and Go," a new #AdamFaroukMusic single; and four live tracks from the AFO Performance "AFO 2016: Undivided - Live at the Lilypad": i) These Games We Play, ii) Light Up These Eyes, iii) Never Look Down, and iv) Passing Moments. Look out for more info on these releases in early 2021.
As part of the process of putting these releases together, we've been lucky to work with some fantastic designers to put together collateral and cover and release artwork: Jay Nungesser, Daniel O'Rourke (Blue Fox Studios), Mark Field. Please check out their work, and give them a ring with your design needs!
The Faerworld Universe continues to grow; Daughters of Time in particular has been cantering along, with five "episodes" available at the BlueDorian Store, and more soon to come in the early new year. We've also started a companion series to Daughters of Time and all other Faerworld titles, called the Apochrypha Enigmatis. I've been told to be sparing with what information I share(!), but suffice it to say, a compendium of articles, stories, and other miscellany, the Apocrypha is intended to enhance the reader's experience by providing backstory, context, and other vantage points from which to view the principal story.
In sum, despite (or perhaps due to) what the universe handed us in the form of a singularly absurd year, including a relentless pandemic medical crisis (I, like you I'm sure, still remember where I was when news broke that my state would be going into lockdown), global and multiple humanitarian crises, collective crises of faith, in leadership, in our own ability to see through prolonged periods of emotional darkness, 2020 ended up, somehow, as a year for the books.
Go figure. I suppose 2019 was a nasty year for me with a capital N, so maybe I'm just out of sync by a year. In any case, what I take home from this most of all is a real sense of gratitude. Being able to to stick to the itinerary that we set up for ourselves, in this year's early January, when no one could have possibly predicted how this year was going to turn out, took guts, and grit, and gumption, daresay it - a little greatness? - from everyone who showed up and made things happen, even when, any day, they could have quit or stopped walking or done anything other than participate, and no one would have blamed them.
I am humbled by their efforts, and filled with pride that I might call them colleagues.
Travel safe, and talk soon.
Tragedy struck, and I found myself quiet. There were a lot of words being spoken, some of them incalculably important, some of them probably less so. I had a sense, as I still do now, that deciding which was which was likely well above my paygrade. I’ve made it neither a care of mine nor my business to tell people how or what to think, not because I don’t have a stance, but rather, because, sadly, I’m not sure I think highly enough of people to believe they will do the right thing when called upon to.
There. I said it. Beneath all the pep talks and inspirational speechifying lies a person who has major issues with believing in and trusting others. I tend to hide this well, which is one of the reasons I went silent this time. I couldn’t find a positive thing to say, an inspirational way to spin what was going on. I submit to the court of public opinion, such as it is in today’s hyper-driven, attention-span-less world, that, upon finding out what had happened to George Floyd, I, incensed beyond rational thought, googled the phrase: “people are evil.”
I googled a few other phrases, of similar, if more specific, sentiment, but it’s not making too much sense to share them right now. The bottom line was the realization, that I found myself so close to a point of view wherein humanity is believed to be nothing more than “bad code” that my immediate knee-jerk reaction in response to these horrendous acts of brutality was to look for material validating that view. But, I suppose, after all, isn’t that a big part of the internet’s function, intentional or not? I understand the perverse logic behind the concept of conflict, and I, like all of us in some way, have witnessed where it ultimately can lead. I understand the vile workings of prejudice, and I have seen personally where they can lead. I am no stranger to the abuse of power. So what is it about what’s going on right now that has me stumped?
I “met up” with a dear friend the other day, who is a cultural muslim with a muslim-sounding name and a distinctly arab-indian bearing. There’s always been a high degree of shared common experience between us, and, unfortunately, the experience of prejudice is one of them. I’ve always appreciated and respected his counsel, in part because he’s a few years my junior and as a GenX-er I value the raw opinion of an actual, in-the-flesh millenial, and in part because he’s one of the smartest and most observant people I know. He works for a big company, and had this to say:
I just think it’s not really the time for bandwagoning. If you have something you want to say personally, as an individual, for example, I’m donating to… [BLM]… or, this is my personal experience with racism… [or] what are the tangible actions you can take [such as] checking your hiring policies? But the idea of just: “We have to be part of the conversation!” I don’t know. When it comes down to it, I’m just not sure how interested I am in some brand telling me how to think right now.
It was affirming to hear this, because I realized that precisely what I was looking to do was share—share my story, for what it was, without the burden of it needing to match the experiences of others in order to be valid. Could there be a way for me to speak to my specific experiences of racial prejudice, discrimination, and abuse, different as they are from, say, the plight of black America, and still be contributing productively and effectively to the greater discourse? Or is the issue, at this point, no longer personal?
I think I am in agreement with funnyman, pundit, and commentator Trevor Noah. In a segment of his I recently watched, he distinguishes the conversation of reparations from the more general subject of disenfranchisement of other races, and, for that matter, of other people struck by misfortune, essentially saying that they are two separate topics, though each one is valid. I see and appreciate what he is saying here; I do not claim that my experiences have anything in common with, say, the atrocities suffered by black South Africans under apartheid, nor, for that matter, do they bear any resemblance to the systemic patterns of discrimination, violence, and abuse suffered collectively by black Americans from day one.
But I am feeling motivated to talk about some experiences I’ve had with racism, even if briefly, because I believe that what all of us are all striving for, in this struggle which has come to a head this year, is a better way for humanity to move forward, a way where the murdering of itself, the warring with itself, the pitting itself against itself for petty gain has finally ended, and humanity can at last come into the light and work together, respecting and honoring itself, so that it may rise and be the best that it can be. So while I recognize the systemic societal issues that, ludicrously and sadly, so many people still experience every day in this and other countries (including the one of my birth), I wish to add my experiences, my song, to this dialogue, in the belief that, through the remembrance of the events, and by looking the ignorance and fear that prompted them squarely in the eye and seeing them for the illusions they are, I, and, therefore, we, might take a step or two closer to creating the world we seek inside.
At a young age, I experienced racial prejudice, discrimination, and racialist sentiment, as well as violent actions directly stemming from each of them. I’ve also experienced, as someone with a mental health record, the abuse of power by, as well as abusive behavior towards innocent individuals and patients, by police officers, as well as more than one of those who call themselves mental health practicioners within “the system.”
Prejudice, bigotry, ignorance and fear, have accompanied me, in a number of forms, throughout my life. And I’ve been on both sides of the coin. The first thing to note is that I am a Malaysian, and moreover a “Malay” Malaysian. Those of you who are themselves Malaysian understand exactly what this means and likely can predict what I am about to say. For those of you who are not Malaysian: the status of being a Malay Malaysian, or bumiputra (“son of the earth” #faerworld) is a privileged one. There are subsidy programs available, types of credit that can be established, types of high-yield bank accounts that can be applied for, that are simply not an option for non-bumiputras (I’m simplifying a little bit; if I’ve deviated too far, you can let me know in the comments).
Essentially, however, the bumiputra program is an affirmative action program for an already-privileged majority of the population—the Malays. It’s really just a way to institutionalize racism and racial entitlements in the country, by disenfranchising the ethnic minorities more than they already are. I found out some years ago that I had one of these bank accounts opened in my name. I got rid of it as quickly as I responsibly could, giving the money to a combination of charities and to help get certain aspects of BlueDorian up and running, which felt like a double win, helping grow the company, where the company’s operations are intended to help and bolster philanthropy and charitable causes. In any case, it just didn’t feel right to be involved in this system despite the “good returns,” so that’s what I chose to do.
Bigotry was something I sadly didn’t have to travel too far to experience. I had a close family elder who believed quite firmly that “the Malays” were lazy and unable to amount to anything worthwhile, ironically bestowing upon one of these Malays (my father) countless positions on various directorial boards, so that the company could take advantage of various bumiputra programs and advantages. In any case, he was happy to remind me of this “universal truth" (that the Malays are inherently lazy) each time we met. About twenty years ago I stopped visiting him altogether. The fact that he didn’t understand why was not cause for me to think, as I might have, per his logic, that all Chinese people were stupid. I’m sure I’ve shared other stories, such as his whole beef about me and my cousins being genetically impure (a weird dig at my Eurasian grandmother, and, of course, once again, my Malay father) and that we should all find Chinese spouses in order to “swing the genes” in the right direction. I thank him, actually, for being the bigoted billionaire that he is. It’s primed me well for the past four years, and made them immeasurably easier to weather.
When I was sent to boarding school in the 90’s, I found myself in a Great Britain that was facing a wave of renewed nationalism. I was given “the treatment,” that every “brown-boy” was expected to endure. I was told that I was not welcome, that I should go back to where I came from. But that wasn’t enough. I was referred to as “cow-pat” (cow dung); I and my fellow brown-skinned Malaysians were generally aggregated along with the Indian members of the community, and were referred to, along with the Pakistani members of the population, as “packy” (a racial epithet: the fact that we were all different ethnicities didn’t matter much—it didn’t matter much for us either, we all just didn’t want to be attacked).
I had clothes ripped to pieces, belongings of mine smashed and broken, I was physically assaulted, and I had things stolen from my room, because, I was told, I was a brownie, so those things that were taken belonged not to me but to the white boy three doors down. When I protested and tried to take back what was mine, he came into my room with a metal chair, and threw it at my head. Thankfully, I raised my arms in time to protect myself. I was left with cuts, a broken cassette-tape player, and some heavy bruising (from the beating he gave after he realized that the chair hadn’t hurt me nearly enough), but, again, thankfully, not a serious head injury. When I was asked to explain what had happened, to the teachers and monitors, and I did, accurately but probably favoring my assailant for fear of retribution, I was told not to be such a softie, and that I should simply ignore what the white boy was saying. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, should I also ignore the flying furniture?”
Many years later I found myself in a mental hospital, because my bipolar disorder was turning my brain into mush, and I was feeling extremely manic and extremely suicidal at the same time. I was asked to describe my experiences growing up. So I did, honestly, being quite open about what had happened in school, which was what I just shared with you. This doctor, who, incidentally, was Jewish, and who I guess I thought would have a certain degree of empathy regarding racism, looked coldly at me, and said, “So it seemed you experienced some bullying.” Right, I remember thinking (and fuming), the way your kindred had a minor inconvenience somewhere in the mid 20th century. (I suppose it wouldn’t be the internet if I didn’t invoke Hitler at some point.)
Other experiences were more sporadic, especially after 9/11. Odd looks here and there, furtive glances. Lots of third-degree-type behavior from immigration and customs officers. I remember learning to “act innocent” when traveling—to make sure that I had shaved, and ideally had a haircut as well. Wear something that connects me to something about where I am travelling to, such as a baseball cap etc. It didn’t matter a lick, apparently. One immigration officer stopped me and said I wasn’t allowed to carry a social security card if I only had a visitor’s visa. And that, kids, is how I lost my social security card forever. I later found out that, guess what, it was illegal for that officer to take my social security card. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion: you shouldn’t need a lawyer to accompany you through customs and immigration in order to be treated fairly.
I’ve been doing some practice embracing the world’s paradoxes lately, thrusting this subject back onto my radar. Part of me, perhaps too big a part of me, is able to look at these instances and rationalize them away with spiritual jargon, such as convincing myself that people act cruelly because they don’t know better, and, in the fullness of time, once they learn to act differently, they will. And I believe this, fairly strongly, in the same way that I tend to believe that souls go through many lifetimes, and thus it is possible for us to have lived lives as both victim and perpetrator. But to refocus on the way this subject is manifesting itself more globally today, this kind of passive compassion may be what has led us to where we are now. I’m not judging what’s happening, rather I’m merely acknowledging the inescapable inevitability of it, given the decisions that have led up to it.
My experiences with racial prejudice are nothing compared to what others have gone through. I’ve come out relatively unscathed and despite them I’ve had the freedom to create for myself the life I desire. The same cannot be said for so many who have pinned their hopes and dreams on social systems that, by all accounts and appearances, have not only failed them, but are actively rigged against them. My support is wholehearted to any who face the indignity of being forced to self-demonstrate every step they take, still only to have basic rights rationed, hidden, or flat out denied from them (the same goes for any organization I represent).
On a very small, very personal level, I remember being required to climb the unscalable range that is the esteem of the intolerant, and of the fearful. I remember needing to do it both in this country, and, in a different way, in the country of my birth as well. There’s a phrase in my native language, Bahasa Malaysia, “sama tapi bukan”—similar, but not the same. To this end, I might know how to bake every cake in the world, and, yes, that makes me a baker, but that doesn’t automatically mean that I know how to make great scones. Empathy and compassion aside, I cannot speak to anyone’s experiences other than my own. However, we are all still bakers in this scenario, and collectively, our rolls and loaves and sweetcakes and buns and bagels and scones all have value and meaning. In that vein, hopefully my stories and recollections have some value and meaning to the dialogue that is going on right now.
I hold to the fact that people can, must, and will contribute to the world song in the way that is best suited to who they are, be it speaking up on youtube, posting passionately on facebook, or else baking a cake (or a scone), writing a poem, painting a picture, or composing a song, and, furthermore, that the sooner it is understood the extent to which our fates are intertwined, the sooner we start self-identifying as a tolerant, pluralistic global society, the sooner, in this blogger’s humble opinion, will we get down to actually creating solutions to the world’s ills.
May this dialogue persist. May the people of conscience continue to be outspoken, to express themselves, and may they continue sharing their stories, their experiences, and the wisdom they’ve gained by going through what they’ve gone through. Your lives matter. Your stories are the cure among us that we seek. Share them.
Travel safe and talk soon.
Continued from Chapter Two...
3) One Hundred Percent
We start rehearsals.
Okay. This seems like a good place to go back to the point about there not being a show, because we do keep landing on there, thus far with very little sign of finding any resolution. As mentioned, it wasn’t as though the show lacked content. We had songs. We had characters. We had scenes. We even had set pieces. What was it lacking?
There are two aspects to this question. The first one is fairly straight-forward, and, being so, was relatively straightforward to solve: the show lacked cohesion. The numbers it was missing were those that, somehow, turn rag-tag lists of songs into a show, or at the very least a song cycle or revue. As we began rehearsals, it soon became apparent that some sort of main through-line, and the basis of a main character, were being called for to help this happen. This led to the development of some of the more dramatically involved numbers in the show, including the You Can Make Me Smile/Departures sequence, the romantic duet What Would You Do, and the psychological nightmare Nocturne. It also became clear that, while not, strictly speaking, the story’s protagonist (this is one spoiler I’m not giving away today), Soul was indeed the main character of the show—the one through whose eyes we and the audience were to traverse the proceedings—and needed to be treated accordingly. It is at this point when I cannot help but recall, somewhere between rehearsal and rehearsal, in a half-hour flash of white fury, that the epiphany song When Tomorrow Comes came into being, and solidified the character’s role as group conscience, albeit at times a reluctant one.
The second aspect of this question, or rather, how it was solved, has remained something of a marvel to me, since SOM went into its final week of rehearsals, even though I lived through it, second by hyper-aware second. Now, as mentioned, I had written the show as a revue, meaning it would be a collection of thematically-linked songs, scenes, and sequences, in the musical theater style. It was balanced in terms of where the peaks and troughs were, and the resolution at its conclusion was clearly delineated. We had added elements of theatrical flair, such as an airplane, built out of four stools, for the number With Wings to Fly, as well as moments to showcase the vocal virtuosity of the cast members, not to mention their dancing chops (Find the Sun, and Swing!) But on the night before performance, something about the show just wasn’t working. Fiona, our tireless director, called an emergency meeting at her house. The show’s ending, she was convinced, needed an overhaul. I was exhausted—we all were. We bundled up into enough vehicles as were needed to fit us, and headed downtown, ostensibly to save the show.
For my part, I had no idea what was wrong, nor what the solution was for it. I would imagine the same could be said for the cast. However, we’d come to trust Fiona implicitly over the course of rehearsals—she had never led us astray before, why would she now?
We began to plunk out different combinations and permutations of how the ending three numbers would play out together, until at some point probably close to midnight, the idea appeared out of nowhere. Fiona instructed me to find a segue directly linking the fourth last (preantipenultimate, I suppose?) song to the closer, effectively erasing two songs from the show’s ending. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical—it was a lot of music to leave out of a show that was already struggling to find its length quota. But, and this was the most significant moment that I would come to experience over the course of putting on this production—this wonderful, shoestring production—possibly one of the more remarkable collaborative moments I have experienced in my life: I simply trusted her judgment, knowing that this cut was going to make the show work, and, in turn, at least so I imagine, she trusted me, that I would be able to make that vision happen in a way that was authentic and satisfying. By then, folks had started to conk out in front of a silent TV screen with half-eaten packets of Doritos strewn across the coffee table. I put the finishing touches on the new arrangement, woke up the cast, and we ran it, once more, with feeling.
It was magical.
As for the first—and only—performance, it went well, with hardly any hitch, which was a nice way for things to befall, given how much effort we had put into putting together a show, almost from scratch, with hardly a soul noticing, in under five weeks. The airplane flew, the tap number came together, the “blind” waltz elicited tears, the reworked ending even more so. What’s interesting to me, to this day, is what that “cut” (i.e. the omission of the 2nd and 3rd last numbers from the show) ended up doing. Rather than serve the audience a perfectly balanced meal on a silver platter, it made them jump a little bit, with a jarring switch of gears that, by rights, shouldn’t work, but, I’m finding out as I continue to grow as a creator, almost always does. The song Rain (the show’s closer) in light of this becomes less of a conclusion and more of a catharsis, as the audience struggles to catch up with the emotional roller coaster created by the sudden acceleration of the characters’ collective journey.
4) Live to Tell
Flashforward twenty years. I had plans for States of Matter. In the early aughts, I remember that I was hoping to workshop it, apprentice with preeminent theatricians in various places, exotic (well, places like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which, to me, would be considered less “exotic” and more “home”), and turn it into a “real show,” something that might be relevant beyond its years, a piece of immortality in a fleeting world. As the years passed, I was faced with disappointing reactions to the work. The Malaysians didn’t think it was Malay enough. The Singaporeans weren’t convinced it had relevance in Singapore. I started to wonder when it became acceptable for the identity of art to become so provincial—it would have been one thing, and possibly easier to accept, if consensus had simply been that my music was terrible. Eventually, I shut the project down, in favor of more commercially viable ventures.
Yet, every so often, I would take it out of mothballs, and look it over, maybe do some rewrites, sketch out a new song. In those times, I find myself having this ongoing conversation with myself, wherein I’d pose the question: isn’t it about time to say goodbye to States of Matter? To let go of this ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen-year-old show once and for all?
I think of Fiona’s revisions. I consider them deeply. I’ve become very clear on the fact that they were not only necessary, not only ingenious, but likely integral to the success of what I like to refer to now as “SOM 2000.” Without them, I imagine, that, while audience members would likely have still been supportive, I don’t think we would have seen the droves of moistened-eyed pundits urging their way into the green room to say hello to the cast and crew, who had worked so hard to create something so out of the ordinary that night. It was an incredibly emotional set of moments, put together by an incredibly rare combination of energies. I certainly was blind-sided, and I don’t imagine we’d be able to create this catharsis again.
But maybe that’s just the point. We cannot recreate the magic that was SOM 2000, and perhaps nor should we. It will always have had its place in history. We have the memories, but the energy is long passed. We have all since been influenced by the ebbs and flows of time and the world song. We are different beings than we were then. What remains, if anything, of that SOM, are that which was written down, audio and video recordings of the performance, yes, but moreso, notated scores of songs, that can be read and learned by musicians, actors, and produced, and mounted on a stage. But to try and find our way back to that which was, in my opinion, would be folly. And maybe that’s all well and good.
Think of the experience of living history. I have friends who participate in this, and I have a passing interest in it myself. The idea of cooking a meal from scratch upon an open hearth to me holds in it an incredible sense of romance and adventure. So, one day I hope to create circumstances that will allow me to do such a feat, and, once done, have myself and my loved ones enjoy the fruits of our labors. But that doesn’t mean I have a wish to live in, say, the 18th century. I’m happy, in this case, to let the past be the past, while allowing, even chasing, for certain experiential aspects of this past to exist in the present. This is what’s called a dialectic, two contradictory poses that exist as one; life is full of them, and, I’m learning, the more of these apparent paradoxes I can come to understand, the more of them I can accept in life. And the more I can accept in life, the more opportunities there are, and the more options open up. At least, that’s what seems to make logical sense to me.
What is States of Matter, and what is its relevance in my life? On one hand, it’s a twenty-year-old piece of music theater that doesn’t particularly represent who I am now as a writer. Yet, and on the other hand, I have a great deal of love for it. And I do believe that, in all its sentimentality and generic inspirationalism, it still has things to offer in the marketplace of ideas, especially to young people or anyone who might be undergoing a process of loss of innocence, and a re-deciding of who they are, and, more importantly, who they would like to be. We are all the fearless explorer. We are all the shrewd pragmatist. We are all the turbulent psyche. And we are all the wise sage. We all wander through the rain, and we all long for home. This year we mark the 20th Anniversary of States of Matter’s first, and only, performance. In honor of it, we will be presenting, “States of Matter: In Concert”—an abridged version of the original show, in concert form, with select new material, and brand new orchestrations. Details to follow at bluedorian.com. We look forward to joining with you, in heart, music, rhythm, and soul.
at a glance
Adam Farouk (born April 6, 1978) is a Malaysian musician, producer, writer, and entrepreneur, currently based in the United States. He is known for his integrative approach to the creative arts, and frequently infuses his works with unlikely combinations of style, influence, and genre.
Learn more about Adam's other creative projects at bluedorian.com!
adamfaroukblog.com © 2018-2022 Adam Ismail Farouk / BlueDorian® Media Entertainment. BYIP Creative Media. All Rights Reserved.