This morning my sister Mimi, a professional photographer who co-runs Beijing's Yoga Yard, sent me these pics she took from my old band's launch concert for our second album, Epic (演义). They're 8 years old now, taken just five months before the Great Rift. (I've asked her to collect a bunch of stuff for a forthcoming documentary on global Metal that will feature some Beijing bands, including Suffocated, Chunqiu, and Tang Dynasty. I may be posting more of these--photos of the old rock scene as it was, back to the late 80s and early 90s, as I dig 'em out and get 'em scanned).
That night--an incredible high point in my life--was also marred by tragedy: Ding Yi, older brother of TD's lead singer/guitarist/co-founder Ding Wu (with the black Gibson), overdosed in the early hours and never woke up. Ding Yi, who had been resentful of me to begin with, was especially so that night, and not without reason: he was ill-treated by security people and initially prevented from going back stage, while my family was ushered in and treated like VIPs, right in front of him. Apologies from me didn't help at all.
When I talk about my departure from the band I often make half-joking reference to our "Yoko Ono problem"--Ding Wu's girlfriend, with whom I had an awful relationship--and more seriously to the immediate catalyst, the Belgrade embassy bombing, over which let's just say there was some disagreement within the band. But there was a lot of other deeper stuff too--things that had mostly to do with me being an American. It started early: I could up and leave in June of '89, I never faced real economic pressures, I could always treat music as largely a hobby. No matter how good my Chinese got, I was never living in the same world that the rest of the guys were.
Reflecting on the month following the May 9th '99 incident in Belgrade, I realize now what a major watershed it was in my life. My circle of friends changed practically overnight, from preponderantly Chinese to preponderantly expatriate. I went from living with a Beijing-born singer to dating an ABC (American-born Chinese) reporter. I plunged headlong into the world of the Internet: literally days after I formally quit, I had a job offer as editor at for an Internet start-up. I stopped playing music and didn't rejoin a band until early 2001. That's about when I managed to re-establish a sort of balance in life--vocation/avocation, Chinese/expat circles of friends, comfort with my (aspirationally) bicultural identity.
And that's about the time I realized that for me, living in Beijing was going to be about existing normally--having a life in which I didn't feel like a sojourner, someone observing from a dispassionate distance, where I felt like I was integral to the world around me. I ended up dating, then marrying, a Beijinger--a girl I knew from the rock scene, but who married me in spite of my affiliation with it. When I realize now how normal my life is now--a career, a family, very comfortable digs, a city that feels genuinely like home, some wonderful musical outlets, and now this blog--I gotta say I think at least it's going in the right direction.
It's my son John's first birthday today. I sat him in front of the computer just now and showed him some of those old pictures of Dad in his rock get-up, and he giggled and pointed. Probably the right response. My response was harder to understand: I felt a little like crying, but I felt incredibly satisfied, too.