One of the worlds great mysteries solved. This is an excerpt from the incomparable Douglas Adams book Last Chance to See. He was writing about visiting China in the 80s. I imagine it is somewhat different now…
The world-famous Peace Hotel Jazz Band was out for the evening but a deputy band was playing in their place. The promise is that this is one of the only places in the world where you will still hear the music of the 30s played as it was played, where it was played. maybe the world famous combo keeps the promise but their deputies did not. They banged their way through endless repetitions of Edelweiss, Greensleeves and Auld Lang Syne, interspersed with the occasional bash at New York, New York, Chicago and I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
There are two odd things about this. First of all, this wasn’t just for the tourists. This was the music we heard everywhere in China, particularly the first three titles. On the radio, in shops, in taxis, in trains, on the great ferries that steam continually up and down the Yangtse. It was usually played by Richard Clayderman. For anyone who has ever wondered who in the world buys Richard Clayderman records – it’s the Chinese, and there are a billion of them.
The other odd thing was that the music was clearly completely foreign to them. Well, obviously it was foreign music so that’s not altogether surprising but it was as if they were playing from a phrasebook. Every extemporary flourish the trumpeter added, every extra fill on the drums were all crashingly and horribly wrong. I suppose the Indians must have felt this hearing George Harrison playing the sitar in the 60s, but then, after a brief indulgence, so did everybody else.
This is the first part of an only tangentially related two-part post.
There is a famous song by French anarchist George De Brassens that will be part two, but in this first part I just want to post a little film I made to show that the term “Brother Gorilla” is not actually that far from the truth.
The audio is Douglas Adams and comes from probably his best book which is Last Chance to See. I haven’t actually seen any of the more recent TV series with Stephen Fry but I am sure I will get around to watching it soon enough.
I have been waiting for a long time for someone to put this on you tube.
If you are having a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon you should take the time to watch this. Douglas Adams had the fabulous skill of educating you without you even realising it because you were laughing too much to notice.
This is a perfect example. It is an hour and a half long and you will absolutely love it. I implore you to watch it, you’ll thank me for it…
Parrots, the universe and everything – Douglas Adams.