Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Age of Rock.

Tune in to MusicFM (95.3 for Malaysians) from lunch hour onwards on weekdays and you will encounter a barrage of hard rock songs, both English and Malay language. What’s so great, you might ask. Well, for one, you might know that I am a fan of rock music, mostly hard and metal variety. Not many know that. Once, when I played a heavy metal music on my desktop at my place, a colleague looked at me as if I was molesting a hamster.

Well, deep inside I am a rocker. Deeper inside I am also a slacker, but that’s besides the point. What I wanted to talk about today is the memory of the time Malay rock ruled Malaysia briefly in the 80s, despite the fact that 80s was mostly known for Synth pop, Michael Jackson, and an assortment of one hit wonders that sounds alike mostly. And MC Hammer. If you thought they were glorious days, you have not heard or met Boy George.

In Malaysia, funnily though, it was rock, not pop that made waves. I was living in a Felda-surrounded plantation where majority dwellers were of Malay extract, and the guys were furious rock fans. I mean seriously. Walk down the road and you see lots of pathetic Slash look alikes, piss-poor Dave Coverdale copycats and D-Grade Klaus Meine. They ain’t heavy, but they are rockers, or so they like to think despite the fact that all of us were consummate sambal belacan consumers.

But that is foreign influence. Thanks to the success of home bred bands like Search and Wings, suddenly there was a barrage of rock bands spurting out like frickin’ mushrooms after rain and cow dung. There were Lefthanded, Bumiputra Rockers (BPR), Iklim, Gersang, May, Xpidisi and many, many other bands with misspelled names

that ruled the airwaves, and thundered across the country holding concerts and indulging in Battle of the Band competitions after which conversations would go something like this:

A: Hey Mat.

B: Huh?

A: Hey Mat.

B: Huh?

A: Hey Mat

B: Huh?

These bands were just like their western counterparts, faithfully following the template laid by Led Zeppelin, though I recall an interview with the latter’s vocalist, Robert Plant, who did not take credit for the influence over, what he calls, “Screaming banshees in cod pieces”. The Malay rockers, consummate screamers they are, mostly dealt with slow or ballad rock. Usually they are much more radio friendly, compared to other fast metallic pieces usually found in the album. Actually, it’s the ballad rock which increasingly pointed out how much of a weenie the songwriter was, that killed the Rock era. Instead of singing about tying your mother down, or children of the graves, they sang about getting dumped by some chick. Instead of shouting about crushing the enemy, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women, they wrote songs about purity in ash (Suci Dalam Debu).

Above pix: Members of Superband Search and hair.

Anyway, what matters then was this: the influence. We were all aspiring rockers then, and that is why till today I am wearing pointy Cuban-heeled boots. Even for my wedding reception. But that’s me. My school mates were nuts about the then rock-influenced fashion. Hairs were long, and usually are voluntarily chopped off by the ever-helpful discipline teachers. Pants were so tight that you wonder they are hard core rockers or just came out of ballet rehearsal. Even the way one walks were influenced by rockers, but I suspect the swagger was from constantly attempting to reposition the crunched family jewels.

But one particular thing intrigued me now, when I look back. I have a very creative pal, Mohd Shah, who specialises in belt buckles. You know, those huge buckles with varied shapes, usually gigantically phallic so much so that they seemed to be making up for the shortcomings below the belt. So, this guy actually cuts these buckles off a metal plate and guess where these plates come from? Yes, he buys them from hardware store. Who am I kidding. He basically rips metal plates off, literally, from milestones by the main road. So, back in 80s if you don’t see the miles in the milestones from Kota Tinggi all the way to Desaru beach resort, you know who the culprit is.

Also intriguing was the rock speak of that time. Borrowing from Chinese, “I” became Gua (Chinese’ Wo that later sounded Wa) which is crazy because in Malay it means “cave”. The often used catchphrase was “Gua caya sama lu” which means I trust you, or literally cave trusts you. Often, the conversation is end with “sial” which is also strange, because it means, “curse”. “Gua caya sama lu, sial”. If it didn’t make sense, “sial” in a very short time, evolved into “siol”, which actually means “whistle”. Of course, I was not aware of the evolution, so once I asked a guy why he wanted to me to whistle after he said he trust me. He’s a crack addict now.

Okay, I was kidding. He is a good buddy, though I have lost touch with him, especially when I did attempt to whistle.

Speaking of which, there is also the joy of listening to the songs, very loud, over the walkman. Remember walkman? The box of a thing, where you “eject” the cover open so you can put the “tape” in it, and “press” “play” to play the songs until the spool gets stuck in the mechanism, which you have to “untangle” which means the only way to do it is to “cut” the tape and “stick” it back and play it again where the messed up part of the tape sound like the vocalist is gargling and singing at the same time, for which you should be very fortunate because the reel is not “stuck” again. Remember them walkmans? Where would we be without them.

Anyway, coming back to the radio show. By the looks of it, there seemed to be renewed interest in the rock bands of the past. Some of them are making comeback, one even claimed that they were wooed by fans through Facebook! That’s an awesome news. With lots of sappy syrupy pop stuff ruling the air waves now, it is a great breath of fresh air to see these rockers strutting their stuff. Of course, some of them may have to keep their pacemakers away from the huge speakers, but I welcome them with open arm. But I am not getting into those tight pants, I’m married.

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