I Saw the Queen of Morlum (and Molam and Mawlum and Morlam)

Her name is Banyen Rakgan, and here I must quote Wikipedia:

“Banyen was the first national mor lam star, whose appearances on television in the 1980s brought the form to an audience beyond its northeastern heartland. She bridges the gap between traditional and modern mor lam, normally appearing in traditional clothing, but using electrified instruments and singing luk thung and dance influenced songs.”

The basic story of how I found myself ten feet away from Banyen performing live is simple: It was serendipitous.
I work at Rajabhat Mahasarakham University. There are many Rajabhat universities located all over Thailand. A few days ago I went to the Rajabhat in Ubon Ratchathani (where the US Air Force created a base during the Vietnam War) with 450 other teachers from my university for what they call a “sports day,” and insofar as helping my tug-of-war team lose twice and thus tie for third place (the victories needed for such were achieved before I came in at the semifinals), I guess I did play sports. Sports Day this year was actually two days – we arrived on February 4th for the opening ceremony and dinner, and played sports on the 5th with teams fielded by all the other Rajabhats in the Isan (NE) region.
According to a close friend, Banyen has been overseas (mostly in the states) for some years and only recently returned to Thailand. She’s a teacher at the music department at the very university we were visiting, which explains why she was performing at the closing ceremony/dinner. She is now 55 years old and has only become more beautiful with age. Everyone calls her “Ajarn Mae” which are respectively the words for teacher and mother in the Thai language. This encompasses the feelings that most Thais, and especially most Thais from Issan have for her – they grew up on her music and she is a national hero; she is also the most famous molam singer in the world. This much I have studied since the last time I really wrote about molam on this blog. Incidentally, Banyen is also a student of Ajarn Chawiwan Damnoen (who I guess would have to be called the Queen’s mother), who sang at our wedding in 2006 and is also a living treasure…
I had no idea what was going on when Banyen started singing, as we were working through the free food and booze at my table in an auditorium crammed with several hundred university employees. However. I was drawn to her voice, and soon found myself threading through a crazed yelling mass of fellow teachers who were temporarily achieving enlightenment with an instinctive dance passed down through their DNA. I eventually reached the center stage and there was only a single row of people in front of me. People were offering her money as they do here – from grade school performances all the way to stadium concerts – and when she came to accept it, I saw that her dress was made from what looked like polished pieces of broken mirror… There is no way to describe the sound. It flowed through my body and I felt it as much as heard it. The primeval beat of the drums, the fluctuating melodies of the Kaen reed flute, and the luscious voice of Thailand’s Queen of Molam (I use that word because this type of Molam is basically flirting)… For a few minutes I was lost in the groove, which is something I haven’t felt for a long, long time. Dare I say it? Yes. For a few minutes, I too achieved an enlightened state. A state that I hereby coin as Molamgasm.
The video I took on my crappy old cellphone is so bad, I was determined not to bother posting it here. The more I thought about it, though, the more I became convinced that it would be an interesting experiment: Perhaps Banyen’s presence transcends the absolutely horrible quality of the video. Possibly not. Oh well, it’s all I’ve got:

What a shame. I’m pretty sure this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Then again, it probably plays better in my memory than it ever would on YouTube. Speaking of which, if you want to see much better videos of Banyen, she is well represented there. Here are two of my favorites: LINK 1, LINK 2
If I ever have a chance to see Banyen that close again, I’ll be sure to have a decent camera. Or maybe I’ll just ask Ajarn Chawiwan to introduce me…

Fort Minor – Kenji

You might not have heard of Fort Minor, it’s a side project of Mike Shinoda’s (lead man of Linkin Park). In 2005 they released their first (and to date, only) album, The Rising Tied. In my mind this is one of the best hip hop albums released in semi-recent memory (which isn’t saying much, I’ll admit – the golden days of hip hop died with the Walkman).
I bring up the subject of Fort Minor because I’ve recently been in contact with former Japanese American internees and their children who wanted more information on posts I’ve written here on internment. Anyway, the subject came up about internment in popular culture and I could only really recall Fort Minor’s song Kenji. I’ve since done my due diligence Googling and found other examples, of course, but really Mike Shinoda has a wider audience and more impact than all the others combined.
Searching for the track on YouTube turns up an amazing number of homemade video and slideshow tributes for this song. Check it out, some of them are pretty touching with what appears to be re-enactments and family photos spliced with some of the same LIFE magazine photos I linked to last month. Here’s a pretty good one with decent sound quality:

Here is an interview with Mike Shinoda about the Fort Minor album. This is what he has to say about the song Kenji:

I’m half Japanese, and the song “Kenji” is based on my family’s story during WWII in an internment camp. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began a period of racial profiling. They put all the Japanese-Americans (and some other Asian-Americans) in secluded camps for the duration of the war. My dad was three years old, and had twelve brothers and sisters. My oldest aunt was in her twenties, and had four kids. Her youngest was born in Camp. Her husband died in Camp. They stayed there for the duration of the war, captive. Once they were released, they returned to vandalized homes and racial tension. That’s what the song “Kenji” is about.

Lyrics for “Kenji” by Fort Minor

My father came from Japan in 1905
He was 15 when he immigrated from Japan
He worked until he was able to buy respect and build a store
Let me tell you the story in the form of a dream,
I don’t know why I have to tell it but I know what it means,
Close your eyes, just picture the scene,
As I paint it for you, it was World War II,
When this man named Kenji woke up,
Ken was not a soldier,
He was just a man with a family who owned a store in LA,
That day, he crawled out of bed like he always did,
Bacon and eggs with wife and kids,
He lived on the second floor of a little store he ran,
He moved to LA from Japan,
They called him ‘Immigrant,’
In Japanese, he’d say he was called “Issei,”
That meant ‘First Generation In The United States,’
When everybody was afraid of the Germans, afraid of the Japs,
But most of all afraid of a homeland attack,
And that morning when Ken went out on the doormat,
His world went black ’cause,
Right there; front page news,
Three weeks before 1942,
“Pearl Harbour’s Been Bombed And The Japs Are Comin’,”
Pictures of soldiers dyin’ and runnin’,
Ken knew what it would lead to,
Just like he guessed, the President said,
“The evil Japanese in our home country will be locked away,”
They gave Ken, a couple of days,
To get his whole life packed in two bags,
Just two bags, couldn’t even pack his clothes,
Some folks didn’t even have a suitcase, to pack anything in,
So two trash bags is all they gave them,
When the kids asked mom “Where are we goin’?”
Nobody even knew what to say to them,
Ken didn’t wanna lie, he said “The US is lookin’ for spies,
So we have to live in a place called Manzanar,
Where a lot of Japanese people are,”
Stop it don’t look at the gunmen,
You don’t wanna get the soldiers wonderin’,
If you gonna run or not,
‘Cause if you run then you might get shot,
Other than that try not to think about it,
Try not to worry ’bout it; bein’ so crowded,
Someday we’ll get out, someday, someday.
As soon as war broke out
The F.B.I. came and they just come to the house and
“You have to come”
“All the Japanese have to go”
They took Mr. Ni
People didn’t understand
Why did they have to take him?
Because he’s an innocent laborer
So now they’re in a town with soldiers surroundin’ them,
Every day, every night look down at them,
From watch towers up on the wall,
Ken couldn’t really hate them at all;
They were just doin’ their job and,
He wasn’t gonna make any problems,
He had a little garden with vegetables and fruits that,
He gave to the troops in a basket his wife made,
But in the back of his mind, he wanted his families life saved,
Prisoners of war in their own damn country,
What for?
Time passed in the prison town,
He wanted them to live it down when they were free,
The only way out was joinin’ the army,
And supposedly, some men went out for the army, signed on,
And ended up flyin’ to Japan with a bomb,
That 15 kilotonne blast, put an end to the war pretty fast,
Two cities were blown to bits; the end of the war came quick,
Ken got out, big hopes of a normal life, with his kids and his wife,
But, when they got back to their home,
What they saw made them feel so alone,
These people had trashed every room,
Smashed in the windows and bashed in the doors,
Written on the walls and the floor,
“Japs not welcome anymore.”
And Kenji dropped both of his bags at his sides and just stood outside,
He, looked at his wife without words to say,
She looked back at him wiping tears away,
And, said “Someday we’ll be OK, someday,”
Now the names have been changed, but the story’s true,
My family was locked up back in ’42,
My family was there it was dark and damp,
And they called it an internment camp
When we first got back from camp… uh
It was… pretty… pretty bad
I, I remember my husband said
“Are we gonna stay ’til last?”
Then my husband died before they close the camp.

(lyrics via)

MTV redux

So MTV has somewhat atoned for the past decades of sin by finally providing… music videos! I browsed around for an hour and realized it’s literally been 20 years since I’ve really watched music videos… And it’s telling to see the #1 watched video on the site (I swear the kids linking to that vid must think Wang Chung is an Asian porn site).
Some of the videos seem to be in fairly high def as well. Go check it out; mtvmusic.com

Literal Video Version: A-Ha

For the 80’s music video nerd in you:

I recently had an 80’s themed dream: Adam Ant and Robert Smith were inventing Jolt in Charlie Sheen’s backyard as a sort of before-its-time Junkyard Wars competition.
That is all.

Maxie Update

We are settled into a private room at the private hospital on the street behind Serm Thai shopping center in downtown Mahasarakham. The facilities are better than the VIP room at the provincial hospital where we stayed after Max was born.
Max has an IV in his arm and he’s doing fine. He’s been fine the whole time, actually. This whole week he’s been coughing and getting stuffed up, but never stopped playing or smiling. It was heartbreaking watching him being held down by nurses and getting stuck in the arm with a needle. He cried LOUDLY and shook his head back and forth in pain and frustration. He actually pried his free arm loose of the sheet it was held under and he let loose with a massive backhand that didn’t connect with anything. He looked at me, crying, with a look of shock and incomprehension. It was… hard to watch.
But now we are settled into the room for the night and it’s all playtime and smiles again. Nam had me bring SO MUCH stuff from the house to support the little emperor’s activities here… The security guard at the front door helped me schlep some crap from my car to the room upstairs; it still took three trips, and I’m pretty much a world-class bagboy.
Anyhow. The best thing about this place is that there’s dedicated wireless on each room.
Google chat is ON, biotches.
They are actually saying that he has pneumonia now. So this is kind of serious.
Meanwhile, this next week is finals week and I’m writing tests in between being a boyservant and figuring out how to play Japanese children’s music from my iriver to a pair of USB-powered PC speakers. Simple willpower isn’t cutting it, so I imagine I’ll take apart the inversion pump on the wall for parts and perhaps pump out the jams via venturi effect.
Oh something really weird happened right after my last post, at home. My desktop PC, the one I put together from parts after my White Night died a few weeks ago, well it just up and died, too. I only had a couple minutes to fiddle with it, but it seems totally fuxx0r3d. I wonder what’s up with that. My desktop PC karma is just really crap lately. Anyway, because I was scanning max’s chest x-ray right before the PC died I forgot to take it off the scanner and bring it here for the doctor to see. So after we got here and I unloaded everything from the car, I went back home to get the x-ray. Dude, the house was so empty without my wife and the Max. Damn. No way I want to stay there alone tonight! Plus, I have the boyservant role to fill.
I am being told to go buy dinner. The night market where everyone tried fried cricket and grasshoppers after our wedding 2.6 years ago is just down the street, so I’ll see what non-insect yummies are available there I guess.

Murasaki Inu

A lifetime ago (13 or 14 years ago to be a bit more exact) I sat in a stuffy classroom in Tenri, Japan, and started penning my first essay in Japanese. Not having yet learned any kanji, I wrote it entirely in the phonetic alphabet known as hiragana. It began something like this: One day I walked to the main worship hall and saw a purple dog…
Thus, the legend of the murasaki inu (purple dog) was born. It was a recurring theme in later essays (four years worth to be exact) as well as many blues/enka jams (anata ha tashika ni aru / watashi no murasaki inu) when Cosmic Buddha would rock abandoned parking lots, smoky music studios, and our guitarist’s cram school late at night.
Well guess what?
I saw a purple dog today. A purple dog, here in Mahasarakham, Thailand. (Nam and I were taking my mom to see the fish sanctuary, so I have witnesses.)
I don’t think it was naturally purple. It looked like purple iodine solution (used for disinfecting wounds) had been liberally applied to a shaggy white dog, but that’s not the point. It was a purple dog.
That is all.


On ebay:
The World’s Greatest Music Collection
3 Million Records, 300,000 CDs, 6 million+ Song Titles

“Every recording in the collection was purchased by the collection’s owner over the past fifty years and represents a lifetime of work and his desire to see the music preserved for future generations. Advancing age and health concerns are forcing the owner to sell…
The new owner of this magnificent collection will also acquire (1) the rights to Spin-Clean, the owner’s patented vinyl record cleaning system, considered the best on the market by audiophiles the world over, (2) the rights to Discmist CD cleaner, (3) CD Saver 2-part archival CD storage sleeves, (4)Yellow Jacket 45 RPM acid-free archival storage sleeves, (5) ownership of the owner’s six publishing companies and eight independent record labels, and (7) more than $100,000 worth of antique recording and listening devices and other music memorabilia currently on loan to a museum.”

This collection would totally look good in my room.

Tribute to stsanders

You might remember a quick post I wrote a couple months ago about some awesome guitar hero parodies that were getting a lot of attention on YouTube. I hope you got to see a few of those hilarious vids, because they’re all gone now: Copyright Vampires Delete Guitar ‘Shred’ Videos from YouTube
Here’s a followup article as well: Humorless Metalheads Shut Down Popular YouTuber
As a side note, I can’t believe that wankorama-master Yngwie Malmsteen indirectly made my blog twice in a single month.