April 1, 2012
Since this was asked after the Maskara Makwe-Makwe last night, here’s the post once again.
To Marini: let’s pretend that this is my album and you are reading the liner notes.
I sing. I write songs. When the planets are aligned just right, I might even come out to perform them. In public. Sometimes I record them. Mostly so that I will remember how to play them. My interest comes and goes. Some days I can’t put the guitar down. Other days it gathers dust and cobwebs in that lonely corner of my living room.
I record these, every now and then, so that I remember these little pieces of my life.
There are notebooks upon notebooks that are torn at the edges under my bed, full with scribbles and rewrites. Songwriting is not a release (karaoke is). It wasn’t to communicate. There isn’t something inside of me that wanted to come out. It is just another form of writing, I guess. Only, much simpler and shorter. Easier to remember. Eventually it becomes something that I would do absentmindedly – on the bus, while lining up to pay for the groceries, at the movies, during lectures – much like how you hum a tune while you work. I don’t have a process, just like how I write without having a specific thought in my mind and just let my fingers type whatever that is running through my head. Some days bring you rain, some days bring you songs.
I never did stop singing or writing. It is a sum, an aggregation of all the little things that make up my existence. It is not a definition.
But I did stop performing in public.
Somewhere along the way I find that singing for strangers who don’t care about me or want to listen to what I have to say brings me no joy. It’s not the strangers’ fault. How do they say it? It’s not you, it’s me.
This collection of songs is autobiographical. Each song, in fact, was written with someone in mind, or for someone. For instance, “When I Hold Your Hand” and “My Heart Talking” were written for friends who wanted to impress their long distance girlfriends; “Wishlist” was my version of a cheesy love song (its original title was A Cheesy Song, I still have notes from way back when to prove it); “Scream At Me” was a poem written after a very long, protracted argument that ended with years and years of silence (10 years, to be exact), and “I Wrote This” was written on a rainy Valentine’s Day back in the year 2000, as I was going home from another late night at the office and saw dead roses scattered on the wet pavement.
Many were written during the life and death of several different relationships. Specific beginnings in fact – Phase 1: the moment when I start to (reluctantly) fall in love; Phase 2: the part when I have to deal with the realities of life and everything else in it while trying to make the relationship work; and Phase 3: the time when the relationship starts to break… that awful awful realization that this is going hurt a lot more than I’d think it would.
What you will hear are the songs in their original versions, the way I heard them in my head when I first wrote them. Over the years some of them have changed a little bit, some of them have changed a lot. But these were how they were born. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of someone washing the dishes in the kitchen, the sound of the toilet being flushed, door being slammed, girls talking etc. In one song (which is not in this collection by the way), you can even hear the sound of a motorcycle speeding away and a rooster crowing somewhere.
That’s a slice of my life for you. To kill some time.
[Tracklisting and quick explanation of each song are included below]
1. Phase 1
3. Suga Pop Candy
4. My Heart Talking
6. Phase 2
7. Needful Things
8. As I Hold Your Hand
9. Can’t Change You
10. Spare Me Your Snatches of Time
11. Scream At Me
12. Goodbye Song
13. Puisi Akhir Musim Bunga
14. Phase 3
15. Stupid Reasons
17. Let’s Not Talk About Ifs
18. Yang Sebenarnya
19. I Wrote This
Phase 1: Around 1999-2002 I used to go to a cafe called Strudel’s that was located in Lucky Garden, Bangsar every Saturday at 4pm. It was such a routine that friends would just randomly turn up on Saturdays on the off-chance that I would be there reading a book or writing a song. This was written on one such afternoon, fueled by a fresh strawberry tart and several glasses of latte and a boy that I was trying not to think about too much.
Revelation: About a year after I moved to my old apartment in Sunway, I found an unfamiliar cassette tape in the box of books that I was about to unpack. There was a boy that came over to my apartment back in Vista to help me with its packing. I have no doubt that he was the one who left the cassette in there. I played it and understood what it meant immediately. But by the time I discovered the cassette we were already estranged. I tried to talk to him about it but I guess too much time had passed, so the moment too, passed for both of us.
Suga Pop Candy: This was fueled by too much sugar. It was one of the first 3 songs that I wrote (the other 2 being “Stupid Reasons”, which is included in this collection, and “Fool”, which isn’t) and I was still in university at that time. It must have been 1994 or earlier. Written for a friend who was in UTM Sekudai, right after he came to visit me in college to commiserate about his broken heart (which I was not responsible for). This song was an attempt to cheer him up.
My Heart Talking: This is a song written during my Vista days when my apartment was constantly full with friends and strangers who needed a place to sleep or to eat or just someone to talk to. One of the boys wanted to impress his girlfriend, who was studying in UITM Arau. So we started with writing the lyrics first, and I wrote the melody a few days later. He could not sing this, so we recorded it on a cassette tape and he gave it to her together with a bunch of flowers the next time he went to visit. The relationship did not last of course, they were only 19! But oh to be that young and that naively optimistic in love all over again.
Wishlist: Wishlist took 4 years to write. The melody has been at the back of my mind since 1995 and I was humming it everywhere I went. But I could not seem to find the right words. There were many aborted attempts at writing the lyrics, until one night a friend remarked that it was a song in A minor. We laughed at the cheesiness of the combination of chords. So for the longest time, the working title for this was “A Cheesy Song”. Right around the same time Pearl Jam released an album that contained a song called Wishlist. The word “Wishlist” stuck to my mind and eventually I saw this song as two people, who knew how each other felt, but would rather it remain un-said than spoken out loud. Wishes that didn’t come true. Just a list. The song wrote itself after that. This is my most requested song, maybe because everyone at some point of their lives has experienced the pain of unrequited love? I don’t know. I used to hate singing it because I didn’t understand why telling someone you love him/her is so difficult. Learned my lesson since.
Phase 2: This was written in late 2004. Awa was just learning to play the guitar and was trying to figure out how to play this so I recorded it in her laptop as a suprise. I was in a great relationship with a great guy but was uncomfortable with him worshipping the ground that I walked on. What if he discovers the real me? What if he hates the real me? Love goggles. Scary thing, that.
Needful Things: A close friend was going through a personal tragedy. But I was not able extricate myself away from work to be there for him. I spent two days locked in my room listening to “P.S. A Retrospective” by Toad the Wet Sprocket to work through my guilt. There was a song called “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted” on the album. That line spurred me to write this as my apology of sorts. It didn’t bring me much comfort and I have never been able to perform this without having to stop a few times to calm down. It has only been performed in public once, and I think it will remain that way.
As I Hold Your Hand: This, too, was written to impress someone’s girlfriend during Vista days. But the boy decided not to go ahead with it so it remained unfinished. Not long after I started having problems sleeping at night, something that persisted til today. The weekend before that I had slept at my sister’s place and my niece held on to my hand the whole night to calm me down. I doubt if she remembers that. A close friend was sleeping over one night, I went out to the living room to wake him up and asked if it was okay for me to hold his hand for a while until I get sleepy. He laughed at the unusual request but acquiesced. Til today, I sleep with one hand holding the other across my heart. That was how I decided to finish this song, that sometimes you don’t have to say or do anything – a hug, a hand to hold – and all that needs to be said would have been perfectly understood.
Can’t Change You: I wrote this song in one night. People change. Feelings change. That’s all I can say and that is all there is to it.
Spare Me (Your Snactches of Time): 2003. I was sick of being a convenient friend. It happened just once too many times.
Scream At Me: This was a poem that I set to song. The room in my old apartment faced Sunway Pyramid. It was raining very lightly and the lights from the mall glowed like stars. At that exact moment I was overcame with a terrible sense of loneliness and longing for someone that I haven’t spoken to or seen for a very long time. Sometimes things just get so screwed up and stubborn that way. What can you do?
Goodbye Song: I have a very vivid memory of this song. I was playing Wild Arms 3 on the playstation when suddenly I was hit by an uneasy feeling so strong that I stopped playing and looked for my mobile phone immediately. I dialed a number and blurted: babe, if you are with someone else you are breaking my heart. He went very quiet. I am sorry, he said. I didn’t mean for you to be the last to know. Much to my shock, I burst into tears. I was genuinely sad that it was confusing. There was no reason for it. We were not in a relationship. We were just friends, plain and simple. I did not have that kind of feelings for him. But something clicked in my head that night and suddenly I understood all the words between the lines. The cassette tape that I found a few weeks later, and “Revelation”, the song that followed, was written for him. I guess I am not that good at reading clues. Awa told me to let it go, not only that it was not meant to be, she said, he was never yours to begin with. This is the same boy that flashes through my mind when I hear the song “Drawing” by Mr. Children. The guilt lasted for years and it was only in 2007 that we reconnected. But you can’t go back, can you? And the friendship was never the same again.
Puisi Akhir Musim Bunga: This was the first song that I wrote in Bahasa Melayu. The title was the title of a poem that I liked when I was a teenager and two lines in the chorus were taken directly from the song “Rindu Abadi” by Rausyanfikir. I wrote this in late 2004 and intended to perform it at the Starbucks Songwriter series, but I ended up using a different repertoire altogether. It was written after receiving a phone call from someone whom I used to go out with. We were on good terms (still are) and I asked why did we break up at the first place. He said I don’t know, you were the one who dismissed me one day. The word “dismiss” stayed with me for a long time. Hearing him saying it without a hint of irony or anger made me feel ashamed about how reckless I was (am?) with other people’s heart.
Phase 3: Is there such thing as the love of your life? Does soulmate exist? I don’t know. But if there is, this was written for him. Vee came up to me when I was done singing this, the one and only time I performed it in public, and gave me a hug. That song was very telling, she said, but I hope and I know you will be fine some day. I am still waiting for that day :-(
Stupid Reasons: Why do people lie and give me stupid reasons and pretend that they are ok, that they are not in pain, that they can live without a heart?
Amused: I never forget. I can laugh about it. But I don’t forget. Remember that.
Let’s Not Talk About Ifs: For a boy that keeps reappearing in my life, trying to make amends for past choices. I am not bitter or angry. It’s just that talking about ifs is very tiring and trying. I don’t think we were a victim of circumstance, I think we are romanticizing a past that did not happen. We would have made the same choices today. The reasons that made us do what we did were real and they exist as long as we do. Nothing’s changed.
Yang Sebenarnya: When giving up and walking away is the best option. Love, is almost always, never enough. Like Job said, it is like a broken glass. Even if you are able to put it back together, the glass will never be the same again. I guess when being together hurts more than being apart, the decision is already made for you.
I Wrote This: Valentine’s Day 2000. It was raining and I was working late. As I waked to the taxi I stepped on dead rose petals that were scattered on the pavement. It wasn’t depressing, it was just sad. This is my favourite song. It is about acceptance – admitting that I am not fine but knowing that I am going to be ok… some day. And if I close my eyes and breathe real slowly, I can still remember how I felt that night. And that gives me hope because hard as it was, I got through that difficult moment alone and on my own terms, and I am still alive.