Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Birthday Address to the World

Today will mark my 30th year as a 29-year-old.  Next year, I will probably drop the pretense of youth completely; five cycles is a momentous time in the Buddhist world view, and perhaps will finally be the time to grow up.

This birthday is in some ways a low point in my existence, in others a definite perihelion.

The low points: for all intents and purposes, I'm bankrupt.  The opera, which has been at the heart of my struggle for culture in the region, has been bled dry.  Opportunity seekers have flatlined the golden goose, and artists who owe their careers to what we did for them are hemorrhaging away.  I begin the 60th year of my existence much as I began when I came back to Thailand ten years ago ... empty-handed.

For the first time in decades, my Christmas tree stands covered with lights and mementoes from friends living and dead ... and without a single present at its base, because no one has had time to buy any, or money for that matter.  We've all been too busy battling various incarnations of darkness.  Indeed I've officially announced that my household will delay Christmas to Epiphany, the last day of Christmas, January 6 ... perhaps it's even more appropriate as the day the wise men finally arrive and give their gifts.  Wise men are few and far between these days and if they don't show up by January 6, I'll understand.

My suffering is but a pale shadow of what the city and the country around me have endured this year.  Natural disasters, weird governance, and as the year ends, a panicked attempt by extremists to turn our Buddhist, Middle Way world into a Manichaean warzone.

Yet this dark moment in my life is also a moment of supreme optimism.  It is like the moment of maximum tension in the development section of a sonata, because it is at that moment that you finally beginning to realize that you will end up coming home.

This year, my music had artistic triumphs in London and California.  This year my adopted son made a major breakthrough as a composer.  This year Trisdee became a national celebrity as people in Thailand started to realize his international credits are "the real thing".  This year I saw my adopted son Johnny in California, his natural habitat, for the first time in a decade.  This year I stood in my two other "homes" - Europe and America - and tried to assimilate the traumas and triumphs of each - and realized that my three cultures are so deep inside me that they cannot be unravelled.

This was also the year in which the orchestra of young people I built up made incredible strides, played impressive performances of real symphonies, made a CD, and was accepted into competition in Vienna. Of course I still have to raise the approximately 5 million baht it will take to get 50 young musicians to Europe but still, this is an amazing step for young serious Thai classical musicians.

It was the year in which I finally came to terms with the darkness and light of my five years at Eton, and in which the school invited me to compose a new opera for the amazing resources they have ... which will bring to fruition a process which really started at the school, where I made my first attempts to compose an opera more than forty years ago.

We are inching towards Epiphany now ... but there are still no Christmas presents and I am still wondering how I will survive the next few days.

I still believe in the mythic view of the universe: the hero's journey, the war between the dark and the light, and that my purpose in life is to rescue princesses from dragons, though the princesses come in more and more outlandish shapes as I grow older.  In myths, the fate of the entire universe always ends up resting on the shoulders of one man. This is true whether the myth is Christianity, Batman, or Heracles.  One is told often enough that reality "isn't like that" but I seem to recall that when I was 10 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the total destruction of the human race did appear to hang on one person's decision.  Is is perhaps supremely arrogant for us to believe that as individuals, we have the ability to change the world.  Nevertheless, without such beliefs, the world would never have changed.

I do begin my Fifth Cycle Year at a particularly dark moment.  In 2011 I pushed the envelope very very hard.  The envelope appears to be torn, and I don't know how to mend it yet.

But there is a reason that we celebrate Christmas, the rebirth of light, on the darkest night of the year.  There is a reason that angels visit us only when we have reached the bottom of the bottomless pit.

Epiphany comes on Friday.

Oh and here is the link to where The Nation has named me on of Thailand's international top 40....

Somtow makes Thailand's top 40....

Friday, December 23, 2011

Requiem for the Mother of Songs

After three years I finally completed work on my REQUIEM FOR THE MOTHER OF SONGS, written in memory of HRH Princess Princess Galyani Vadhana, and yesterday the Department of Cultural Promotions at the Ministry of Culture agreed to co-host the world premiere at the Thailand Cultural Center. This work requires over 400 performers, is about 75 minutes long and is I believe the first setting of an entire Latin liturgy by a Thai composer; it's probably also one of the biggest concert works composed by a Thai in scale and length. However I hope it will be appreciated for its moments of inner stillness and intimacy as well as its huge gestures. I'm working now to cast the seven soloists. Festa Musicale in the Czech Republic is contributing over 100 choristers to join the vocal forces in Thailand. I'll soon be sending out a letter to choirs and university music departments to ask for their cooperation. 

The initial inspiration for this work came to me in a dream in which I saw a vision of the princess, who devoted her life to classical music in Thailand. I call her the patron saint of classical music in this country.

I thought the work would be done in time for a memorial event shortly after Her Royal Highness's passing, but the piece grew and grew and became a compendium of my life's work, using all of the techniques I learned over the 50 years in which I've been composing and performing my work. It also attempts to find solutions to the central riddle of my cultural identity by forging a link between the Thai and western sensibilities. So for the first time I'm integrating my post-serial past, my post-romantic present, and my roots in Southeast Asian musical dialectic.

I hope that putting together this production, which will be a climactic moment in my life's journey, will also be a path toward conciliation and a way in which many disparate elements of our musical communities can come together. 

Since the princess passed away, there has been a kind of strange darkness in our music communities — people unable to find their way, arguing over trivialities. I hope with this work to find the doorway in the labyrinth, to help us find our collective way back to the light.

My Requiem has been the subject of rumor (and even attempts to hijack it by slapping together other requiems) for many years. But now the score is a physical reality and a vocal score will soon be available for downloading.

I hope my friends will all join with me to make this tribute to HRH Princess Galyani an event to remember.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

To All Extremists

Rhetoric is ratcheting. A big-time general and a big-time parliamentary bigwig have both stated publicly that those who dislike the law should leave the country.  Now, I never realized that "disliking" something was in fact illegal.  In fact, "sinning in one's heart" may or may not be offensive to God, but laws against thinking are neither viable nor enforceable.

Acting on one's thoughts in another matter.  But in between the total freedom of thought and the constrained freedom of action, there is an area which seems quite murky, and that is speech.  While I still can, I would like to use my rapidly declining freedom to address the extremists of every color who seem to want to hijack our national discourse.

I would like to appeal to the ultra-extremists of both stripes in this country.  Both of you are strident but minuscule minorities in a country in which most people truly believe in the Middle Way, which is the very core of Buddhist philosophy.

To the ultra-royalists who would enforce extreme penalties for the slightest infractions of the letter of the law, completely ignoring the purpose for which that law was created, I would say this:

You may legislate obedience, but never love.  We live in a country in which a genuine and almost limitless love for their revered institutions exists in the vast majority of the public.  This love did not come into being because of any law.  Your desire to enforce that love, however good your intentions are, has the potential to gnaw away at the very thing you want to preserve.

No one will dispute your desire to protect the things which most people in this country fervently believe in.  No one will mind if genuine threats or attacks are severely punished.

But your Orwellian idea of putting an electronic spy in every home and of inflicting major penalties for dubious. politically trumped up, or ill-substantiated infractions is an idea that will clearly have the opposite effect from the one you intend.

Please take a look at the history of Siam and remind yourself that our monarchs have often been at the forefront of progressive thinking.  Remember that it was King Chulalongkorn who abolished compulsory prostration.  And remember most of all the content of our present king's birthday speech in 2005.  The speech showed that he is a true visionary and really sees the big picture.

If you truly love your king, please listen to him, and have the courage to implement his wise and far-seeing advice.

Otherwise, you might want to move to country that more closely approximates your view of how things should be run.  I refer of course to North Korea.

To those extremists on the other side, the ultra-revolutionaries who would sweep away everything we hold dear and substitute a completely egalitarian society ... those extremists whom the other extremists see on every street corner, but which I suspect are relatively rare ... I would say this.  Get real.  It doesn't work.  History has shown us over and over again that it doesn't work.

There have been a number of populist revolutions against monarchic systems — against Louis XVI and the Czar of Russia and so on.  In every case, well meaning ideas that sounded wonderful when expounded by philosophers foundered on the realities of human nature.  Such revolutions resulted, not in utopia, but in reigns of terror in which nasty dictators seized power and bloodbaths ensued.

On the other hand, the constitutional monarchies of Western Europe, which took a lot of time to develop, have emerged as some of the more successful democracies in our history.

If your desire is a more perfect democracy, I implore you to work within the democratic process.  Otherwise, you might want to move to a country which more closely resembles the kind of place that Thailand would be if you were actually to have your way and sweep everything aside.  I refer, of course, to North Korea.

As I have said before, the Middle Way is the cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy.  When I look around me, I see that most people here have an enduring love for our institutions, and a distaste for extreme positions.  I agree with the government that excessive discussions of LM reform and/or bomb threats are detrimental to tourism and to the country's international image.  I myself am hosting hundreds of choristers from Europe in July, who are flying here at their own expense in order to enjoy our country and to have a good time collaborating with our artists.  Some have expressed worry.  I've had to do a lot of damage control, reassuring people that this is still the lush, friendly paradise of their fantasies.

The path to reconciliation is through the center of the jungle ... sneaking around the issues is not a short cut.  To find the light we must face, acknowledge, and forgive our own inner darkness.

The extremists of both sides have one thing in common.  If we were actually to implement their plan of action in full, there would be no need for them to move to North Korea.  This country would be North Korea.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Johnny Spencer - America's "Ah Kong"?

There's been much talk in Thai circles about Johnny Spencer, a white supremacist recently prosecuted in Lousville, Kentucky for publishing a poem on the internet that "threatens to assassinate President Obama."

I read the poem.  The guy's a sleazebag.  Yet, though I myself, as one of those non-Anglo-Saxon non-whitebread  U.S. immigrants that have polluted the purity of his utopia, might well be the object of Johnny's hatred, or in his ideal universe be at the receiving end of his bullet, I am troubled by this prosecution.  I too have written poems and they have often been about issues that mean something in the real world.  I hope I'm a better poet than Johnny, but I must acknowledge that even a lousy poet must have some kind of crippled muse.  But what I believe is that while nations have a certain right to deal with threats, attempts to destabilize, and verbal incitements to social chaos, they should not be allowed to fetter the imagination.  Crimethink shouldn't be a crime.

Mr. Spencer, it seems, decided to drop his first amendment-based defense of this case and simply to plead guilty.  That is a pity because a supreme court decision on this would really show us the real American of 2011.  And that would be a weathervane for our whole world, which, for some time now, has been drifting away from enlightenment.

Judge Whalin had ruled earlier that this poem did not fall under the protections of the first amendment because an "average citizen" could clearly view it as a threat to the president.  As an "average citizen" myself, and one who voted for Obama, and will almost certainly do so again, I have to admit that I did not "clearly" see a threat in that poem.  I saw a troubled mind, a sick fantasy, someone in need of psychiatric counselling.

Which brings us to the parallels that are being seen in the Ah Kong situation.  Those parallels do exist, but is also instructive to look at the differences.  


• violence has occurred.  Mr. Spencer didn't shoot a congressman, plant a bomb in Oklahoma City, or massacre a bunch of Norwegian students.  Ah Kong did not lob hand grenades in Rajprasong.  But these allegations of hate speech are happening in a time when people are panicking and ready for scapegoats.

• conspiracy theories abound and infect every side in the discussion.

• an issue of freedom of expression has come head to head with the need to protect a head of state and what are perceived as core societal values.


• What Mr. Spencer wrote is out there for everyone to see and judge.  No one except the court has seen the content in question in the Ah Kong case, leading everyone to speculate that this content fits exactly their own theory of the situation.

• Mr. Spencer has admitted writing the poem, and apologized to the FBI about the implied threat, whereas outside observers have so far not been convinced that this old granddad did anything at all.


Are the critics of the U.S. right to bring up this case as an example of American hypocrisy?  Well, yes, comparisons are absolutely fair game and there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around — the U.S. is a democracy in which the Supreme Court and a few "hanging chads" preempted an election, a country that condemns "cruel and unusual punishment" while happily torturing people off-shore, and so on.  Anyone who thinks America is perfect is blind.  

But the reality is that the comparison doesn't entirely fit.  It fails the "average citizen" test.  I don't see any  concerned average citizens clamoring to release or condemn Johnny Spencer.  Johnny has elicited mostly apathy in the U.S., whereas this Ah Kong case is argued about with incredible passion — a passion fueled largely by rumor, since even the recent public statement by a court spokesperson did not actually reveal any facts; it merely stated the opinions of the judges as though they were facts.  Alas, Thailand has shifted away from the paternalistic mind-set.  Kids don't always do what they're told.  They do grow up despite one's attempts to infantilize them and keep them in the fold.  All government officials need to realize that our taxes pay their salaries, and that they work for us — we don't work for them.

It is possible that if all the facts were actually laid before the eyes of the "average citizen" that the passion would be abated somewhat?  Is it possible that one day those who run this country might trust its citizens to think for themselves, and trust that they may hold a variety of opinions and yet still coexist?


But now ... back to the issue of fantasy.   Let's not talk about bad poetry but instead about great art.  I think that the following quote from the prominent science fiction writer Yevgeny Zamyatin is absolutely appropriate to our times:

True literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.

Insofar as Johnny Spencer took responsibility for his own words, and accepted the real world consequences of his dreaming, he must be allowed, in his own way, the stature of an artist.  A crap artist to be sure, but an artist all the same.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thailand's Achilles Heel

I began this blog on the 6th of December and haven't reedited the opening to match the actual date.  I would like to write something safe, optimistic, and forward-looking, but I find that all I can produce is ambiguity.  Within all this, perhaps, we can find a few nuggets of hope.

Yesterday was the 84th birthday of the King of Thailand.   To Thais, the Seventh Cycle is a major milestone, a confluence of two magical numbers — the twelve-year cycle of the Asian zodiac and the mystical seven.   Every numerological resonance of felicity, fortune, and prosperity is implied in the confluence of those two numbers with the number 9 (as in King Rama IX) which for Thai people, owing to a linguistic coincidence, also represents the word for "progress" or "a step" — meaning forwards.

Yet this day of rejoicing, which Thailand celebrates in a sense as its own birthday as well as the birthday of its monarch,  has come at a time of turbulence in our society.  It is a time when our national and cultural identity is uncertain and when idealogues of many colors are trying to hijack the agenda.  Many hide their true natures under the generic, knee-jerk-generating themes of democracy, love of country, national pride, love of our king, and so on, but in fact all of the above do not preclude us living in a viable twenty-first century pluralistic society.

It has been a time of great personal darkness.  I've returned from my first visits to the UK and the USA in years (in one case, decades.)  In London and in California, I was compelled to face the fact that I have a powerful sense of belonging to both those cultures and for the first time since my ten-year sojourn in Thailand I have been torn.  I believe I'm experiencing a full blown version of those identity crises to which artists are particularly prone, and indeed which often form the very core of our creative impulse.

My personal identity problem however, is a pale echo of the crisis this entire country is facing.  I think this country goes through one of these crises about every thirty years.

Instead of worrying about extremists like Mallika or her counterparts on the other side, those radical revolutionaries who want to burn down everything, I think it is worth considering what an average, thinking person in Thailand probably feels.

I think the average person here has great veneration for Thailand's institutions and would strongly want to resist any attempts to destabilize or overthrow them.  This hypothetical average Thai person feels, I am sure, that his very identity as a Thai is inextricably woven into a certain cultural fabric and that Thailand's institutions are essential to that fabric.  Therefore I feel, along with the average, non-extremist citizen, a great deal of love for this entire system and tend to want to overlook any peccadillos.

I also think that that same average person feels very uncomfortable at the idea that a cancer-ridden old man would be sentenced to twenty years in prison on evidence that is, let's face it, rather flimsy, after being allowed to mount a pathetic defense.  Thus, again, as an average, non-extremist citizen, I am alarmed that such a thing could happen in this country, a country which most people living here view as a relatively free and open society.

Maybe the evidence isn't flimsy, but we'll never know, because our paternalistic system deems us not responsible enough to see the evidence and make up our own minds.

As an average citizen, I am alarmed as well at the warlike noises being made by legal societies and by government officials about the need for even more spying on our electronic lives.  It looks very frightening and to an outsider it must look like we are rapidly descending into a North-Korea like madness.  But read between the lines and it ain't necessarily so.

You see, amid all this censorial rhetoric, which I believe to be largely a posture of self-defense, there seems to a hidden a statement which in its way is utterly revolutionary, and I'll quote the Bangkok Post's reportage on this which states that a certain committee has made the following statement:

"wrongdoers should be separated into two groups: those with an intent to topple the monarchy and those who act with ignorance.  The former should be prosecuted according to law while the latter encouraged to have a better understanding."
It's buried pretty deep in there, and the rest of it is all very confrontational, but this statement is actually telling us what the average citizen wants to hear.
Because the average citizen would support fully and vigorously the suppression of actual, serious attacks against Thailand's sacred institutions.  And that is the same average citizen who is appalled when the law is used against those who have no such intentions, who simply say or do something that pushes the buttons of some over-zealous whistle-blower.
If the law were in fact to be applied according to its actual intent, and not according to some tenuous interpretation that extends to things that do not remotely threaten our institutions, there would be no need to rewrite or reform it.  There is simply a need to clarify the intent and narrow down its application to cases that genuinely threaten our national security.  However, if anyone is going to be able to interpret it any way they want, to misuse it for political gain, or to try to take out an enemy, our average citizen will not be happy.
My optimistic assessment is that underneath it all, there does seem to be someone asking for common sense to prevail.  And to be honest, once common sense prevails, it'll all be over.  

An hour after posting the above, I saw the photoshopped image of Ambassador Kenney's decapitated head on the internet.  This kind of thing can only damage the cause espoused by its perpetrators.  It is precisely the kind of thing that "average citizens" find offensive.  It certainly tempers the optimism I felt after finding the nugget of hope in our official pronouncements earlier today.  In such moments I fear that national reconciliation is slipping away even as some of us try so hard to understand all points of view.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Last week, my dear mama told me that no less a figure than the leader of this country had attacked me as a crypto-yellow-shirt on the red shirt channel.  I said in this blog that I had no proof of such a thing, though of course I found it flattering.  However, my sister has sent me the video in question and my attacker is a far lesser being than the prime minister.

Nevertheless, what it proves to me is that everything one says is liable to massive misinterpretation, distortion, and regurgitation in another form.  This is one of the exciting things about our evolving open society....

Saturday, December 3, 2011


I had a wild day yesterday because I went to Nation TV to do a show about Steve Jobs.  Not that I knew him personally, but I guess they wanted me to talk about the mystery of creativity.  They are doing a ten-part documentary about him for Nation TV which included a highly entertaining panel discussion plus a session of sound-bites.

While at the Nation, I bumped into a number of journalists who have all been (to one degree or another) outraged by the Mallika scandal, but I had already decided not to pour more fuel on the flames because, after all, isn't this woman bound to self-destruct after a while?  And if the democratic party chooses not to follow my sensible advance, won't it only have itself to blame if it becomes collateral damage to Mallika's spectacular political self-immolation?

The people at Nation-TV said to me, "Let it go ... there are real issues to be discussed.  Issues such as corruption, the weird machinations behind the Thaksin 'pardon', the increasing tendency for people to abuse lèse-majésté laws for their own political gain, a serious discussion of whether Yingluck's regime is actually doing the things we all hoped it would do ... these are real issues whereas the mouthings off of a madwoman are not.

Still, they also told me things that got me rather irritated.  For instance, someone working in the offices of the party's upper echelons told me that Mallika's has dreamed up a conspiracy theory in which this "evil red shirt reporter" ghost-wrote my blog and hoodwinked my innocent self into being part of a huge "red shirt plot."  This is an amazing idea for two reasons: that particular reporter's personal ideology, which he has the professional courtesy of leaving out of his reportage, is in fact that of a centrist democrat.  I never even met this reporter in my life until yesterday when I ran into him at the paper's headquarters.  The second reason is that the idea I would need to have someone ghost-write something for me in English, is patently absurd and shows that the woman hasn't bothered to figure out who anyone is before shooting her mouth off.

But taking the cake is the fact that Mallika, after being confronted with her unethical behaviour by her bosses, reportedly went on another witch-hunt the next morning, filing a police report to try to have the satirist tweeter, NotMallikaBoon, arrested for satirizing her.  I don't know whether it was under Thailand's "criminal libel" statutes or whether she was alleging something even more outlandish like "identity theft" - but she clearly thinks what was done to her is illegal, or ought to be.  I don't know why it would be impersonation, unless K. Mallika doesn't understand the word "not".

Now, the use of satire as political commentary has a venerable history.  Aristophanes lampooned Socrates, but I haven't ever heard of Socrates trying to have him arrested.  I don't recall Tina Fey being served with a warrant for imitating Sarah Palin.  If you are in the public eye or are a "public personality" in anyway, you must accept that the public is not unanimously going to like you.  Ridicule is indeed an important part of "being famous" and indeed celebrities are judged harshly if they do not accept satire with equanimity.

Khun Mallika is has professed admiration for China, for that country's ability to shut off Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.  (Mind you, I was in China for a week and had no trouble accessing any of those services form my hotel room.)  Perhaps she also admires China's ability to imprison dissidents and send people to reeducation camps.  Thailand is behind China in many, many ways, but not in the matter of intellectual freedom.  And all citizens, red, yellow, or chartreuse, need to resist the idea that we should slide further backward.  It is patently not her party's policy to curtail anyone's freedoms to that extent, and her actions therefore make her a traitor.

Well, let's leave it at that.  The woman is not a worthy adversary.

What else has been going on, apart from my endless depression about the state of the country, the opera, and my personal life in general?  For these weightier matters, please give me another day or so....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Enemy of the People - Part Two

As people who read this blog know, I have been attacked in the past by people on all sides of the political spectrum.  I believe that is an inevitable consequence of trying to see the world in a balanced way, and of trying to understand people's motivations without being blinded by the oversimplified blandishments of any political party.

I've read certain on-line rants of K Mallika Boonmeetrakul - sent as public messages, as well as seen one of her recent television interviews.  What we seem to have is our own homegrown Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann type ... but an infinitely more dangerous one because her statements undermine her own party's view of itself as the party of intelligent, liberal-minded and forward-thinking people, and insofar as her tweets appear to come from a party spokesperson and not be clearly marked as her personal opinion, they give an extremely embarrassing impression of our country to the international community.

On her television interview she suggested that our country should become like China, and ban facebook and youtube.  I wonder if she remembers the last time Thailand tried to ban youtube, and how it backfired and got mud all over this country's face.  The idea that China is somehow a golden model to be followed on this issue is an abomination.  It is only one step from banning youtube to putting people like me behind bars, like the Chinese did to Ai Weiwei and countless others.  If K Mallika thinks we should become like China in that regard, she should move there.

Thailand has, by and large, been an open society since the 1973 student protests — something which has NEVER been true of China.  There have been numerous attempts to turn the clock back, but no one has yet found a way to reverse the flow of time for long.   They can only delay the inevitable for a time.  The most recent assault on our freedoms began in earnest in the Thaksin administration and under the guise of law, but subsequent governments have not improved the situation.

K Mallika's public tweets are not the harmless ravings of a lunatic precisely because they have the appearance of being endorsed by the democratic party.  They are extremely harmful.  The foul language that she has used in public tweets to address some of the more thoughtful members of the red brigade do nothing to help the democrats and everything to reinforce the conventional wisdom that the democrats are dismissive and elitist.

Today, I sent a note to K. Abhisit, the former prime minister and leader of the opposition.  I would like to quote some excerpts from this letter.

"All the intelligent supporters of the democratic party are going to leave in droves if this woman Mallika continues to spout her nonsense on twitter - on an account that clearly bears the democratic party's name and which everyone assumes to be the mouthpiece of the democratic party.  Many already have.   You must not underestimate the damage she has already done.  ...  The sorts of people who are leaving are precisely the sorts of people you most want to have as supporters ...

"PLEASE come out with some kind of semi-official dissociation from her statements or any hope of the democratic party being viewed as a beacon of hope, liberalism and intelligence is doomed.  Everything you have worked for is going to be shit.  We all want to restore this country's international image and this woman is going to reduce this country's credibility further.  Better still, you should publicly and clearly fire her."

The opposition leader sent me a response that suggests something will be done about the Mallika problem, but a statement which came out just now from the party spokesperson doesn't really go quite far enough.  Probably the very best thing K Mallika could do if she genuinely loves her party, and genuinely cares about the reputation of this country, is to apologise publicly, take responsibility, and graceful step down from her post.  

This isn't really about the democratic party's reptutation.  It's about the way this country is perceived and the way it perceives itself.   K Mallika is a young woman who could use some time off to think and reflect about what she has unleashed.  She has plenty of time in her life to grow and learn and become a valued player in our political system, but that time is not now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Somtow - Enemy of the People

It appears as though the honeymoon, such as it was, is being shelved for now.  People seem intent on choosing sides, intent on declaring the red or yellow nature of their souls.

And people such as I, who as artists tend to zero in on moral ambiguity, and to hold that mirror up to the world, will tend to be forced into pigeonholes not of our own making.

Yesterday my dear mama called me to tell me that I had been singled out for criticism on the red-shirt channel by no less a figure than the leader of this country.  I haven't seen this footage, but if true it would certainly be a sad case of curing the symptom rather than the disease.

However, no one has dragged me off to the gulag as yet, so I'll continue to call it as I see it.

This morning, the papers are full of the announcement that the cabinet has withdrawn its special amnesty paper which would have made a mockery of the annual royal birthday amnesty by creating Thaksin-specific rules.  This could mean many things, depending on the level of paranoia one wishes to imbue it with.  Here are three possible theories:

(a) They decided to put the interests of the country first for a change.  (the Polyanna theory)

(b) The entire thing was a cleverly calculated mini-drama staged in order to have an excuse for Thaksin to address the nation in tones of piety and humility (his letter saying he wouldn't "accept" a royal pardon) and indeed, the yellow-shirts played into their hands by immediately planning a rally, then, humiliatingly, having to un-plan it.  (The Machiavelli theory)

(c) They read my blog regularly and do whatever I tell them. (The fantasy theory.)

Of course (c) is essentially flippant but opinion has been clearly divided between (a) and (b).  There is also the dumb luck theory: that everyone bungled it and the Thaksinites just happen to benefit ... which is conceivable, though unlikely.  I don't believe the Thaksinite management, well-fueled and expensively advised as it is, misses much.

Examining the cynicism which seems to motivate all sides of this war to achieve control over "all this" is very discouraging.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not the Best Timing

I was in a taxi yesterday and the taxi driver was glued to the radio news.  It was being reported that that new rules were being added to the regulations for the King's Birthday amnesty, an event looked forward to every year by jailed criminals in Thailand who hope for an early release. The radio reported that a small, secret cabinet meeting had been held and the rules had been changed so that those convicted of corruption would be eligible for amnesty.

In the past, the big annual royal amnesty has excluded drugs or corruption cases.

A special provision was also added allowing those over sixty, with less than a three year sentence, to receive amnesty.

The Prime Minister was conspicuously absent from this cabinet meeting, citing travel difficulties and saying that she had no clue what had been discussed, according to this morning's papers, which I have been reading to confirm whether I had merely misheard the radio report.

The papers added that officials were removed from the room when this matter was debated and that the official press release omitted details, so one is not entirely sure where this news is coming from.

Such blatant obfuscation can mean only that such a ruling is intended to benefit only one person, though one questions how that person can receive an amnesty at all when he hasn't even been to jail yet.

The rehabilitation of Thaksin is an important aim of this government but I would submit that this is very lousy timing.  We're in the midst of a national disaster right now and the prime minister isn't looking good.

If Thaksin is to have a warm, fuzzy rehabilitation, not a fractious one that will set off more riots, I think that he should simply go to jail for a while.  It need not be a long time, it could be just symbolic.  And you know that jail for a former PM isn't going to be about eating cockroaches and lying on concrete floors.  Nosiree!  "Egalitarian" is not a word that applies in a Thai prison!

For years now, his media handlers have been playing the Gandhi-Aung San-Mandela card — the noble freedom fighter leading the disenfranchised toward democracy.  It's not a description that bears much resemblance to reality, but going to jail would lend it a lot of credibility.  Those three great human rights leaders did go to jail — for years at a time — because of their beliefs.  (Of course, corruption isn't a belief per se, but by the time the handlers get through with it, it could be.)

A few days in jail and people will be eating out of Mr. Thaksin's hand, and his opponents won't be able to say much without seeming ungracious.

There is no need for legislation disguised in general terms that "happens" to give him amnesty.  No need for secrecy.  As soon as even one day in jail is spent, the moral high ground becomes accessible ... with some difficulty, but that can all be smoothed out with the right spin.  Once that high ground is within reach, a "special case" amnesty for one person can be possible without juggling around with His Majesty's birthday amnesty, which is intended to help thousands of unfortunates rebuild their lives.  Indeed, making the birthday amnesty be about one person will ruin the entire thing.

It is rumored that Mr. Thaksin pays $1 million a month to a lobbyist firm in New York.  I'm a lot cheaper, and I think my advice is better.

How cheap am I?  Well, you can start by appointing me Minister of Culture!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Fork in the Road - A Cockroach on the Lawn

In this morning's dream, I am part of a big tourist expedition to parts unknown,  There is a fork in the road ... or rather, there are two pathways from the main road which will join up later on.  I take the first path and suddenly discover that I am alone; everyone else has decided to take the later branch.  But I soon reach my destination, which is a vast Cambodian temple ... it looks like Angkor Thom, except that it is weirdly lit, the huge divine stone faces glowing in an odd golden-yellow, as though they thenselves produced light.  But as I look at these incredible ruins I realize I am alone.  I need to find the others,

Eventually, I do.  They did not see any ruins.  They only want to get back home.  We are thousands of miles away from the city, however.  Eventually they cut across swampy ground, slashing tall grasses with machetes, to reach where I am.  Strangely enough, they do not really notice the temple.

I look back and say, "Civilization is nearer that you think."  Because behind the temple, where I came from, I see a road that is clearly Sukhumvit ... though a section perhaps far out from where I live.

If we go there, I tell them, we can get home.  But none of them follow.  I end up reaching the main road with only Top, the boy who went to California with me recently, and with Antoine, the tenor who got into undeserved trouble with the immigration authorities in London.

So we are standing there and I still hear their voices.  "You'll never get a taxi home."  But a taxi pulls up.  It's red and black and Top and I get in, and I tell the taxi to take me to Sukhumvit Soi 33, and then to take Top wherever he wants to go ... as I look back, I see that Antoine is still waiting ... he doesn't seem to notice that his ride has come and gone....

So I take a brief nap and wake up from another dream.  I am master of a huge estate with big fields and the whole place is infested with cockroaches.  I declare that there will be a cockroach hunt.  I send people out into the fields and they run along the open fields with beaters, making the cockroaches flee from their hiding places, then others of my gang spray them with DDT.

"This is amazing!" says a commentator.  "This will really bring in the tourists!  Call the ministry of tourism and put out some PR for the cockroach hunting season!"

Later on, I am trying to explain to two maids why the cockroach hunt is so beneficial.  But they do not understand me.  One of the maids, in particular is a bearded lady, whose sideburns make her resemble an ape.  She in particular has difficultly understanding me.

I bring them out to the fields to explain, but we discover that the cockroaches, in death, have turned into white jade, purest nephrite such as was once considered the noblest color of jade in China.


It seems that I am living in a not quite normal universe, made weird by this incredible jetlag which I simply cannot shake.  I walk up and down all night long and in the day I sleep at unpredictable hours, unable to do anything productive or to meet anyone.

A general malaise is in the air because no one knows how long the flood will last, or whether anyone, in government or otherwise, will actually do anything or know anything.  Though my street is still dry, the shortages in the grocery stores are bizarre.  There is, for example, no soda at Villa Market, and only the most upscale brands of water, but the foie gras section in frozen foods is just crammed.  We will know what side dish to have with your uncooked Mama noodles when the waters finally come to our street.

I do not remember dreams ... who does? ... but these are extraordinarily vivid and brightly colored, and despite their idiosyncratic qualities seem to actually be trying to tell me something.  The first dream tells me that the fabulous world of myth is but a stone's throw from the mundane path — could the others but see it — which they do not.

The cockroaches that turn to jade seem connected with the jade cicadas which for thousands of years in China were buried with the dead as symbols of rebirth (they have this very long cycle of dormancy and then appear to be born out of the earth itself so it is a natural symbol.)  I collect archaic jade so this seems to be a metaphor that my perfervid brain would automatically cook up.

People cannot fail to notice that I've been blogging every day for the past few days.  This is what insomia does....

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Time's Winged Chariot

I don't smell the fœtid odor of the "fine and private place" quite yet, but I am more conscious that it lurks around the corner.  Today, Jay is 20 years old.   He's probably asleep right now, as it's 3 am and I have just woken up (I cannot shake this persistent jetlag).

Actually he's not asleep.  He and Trisdee just walked into my office.  They have been having dinner together at the late-night Sri Fa which is next to my house and which stays open very late.  I think they tried to invite me, but I couldn't be awakened.

Now, they have  gone to bed so here I am, trapped in this jetlag cycle, saying highly personal things to total strangers in the nebulous nowhere called the net.

Here's a video of me, Jay, Trisdee, and Jacopo fooling around in the recording studio at Assumption University.... I am not going to go back to attempting to create the vocal score/piano reduction of my requiem for Princess Galyani ... this took two years to compose, but doing the vocal score isn't taking that long except now I am stuck on the last movement where everything plays together for the first time ... the seven soloists, three choirs, orchestra, organ, brass band, etc etc....  aaaaah ... how to make it possible for a single pianist to get through a rehearsal?  I don't know.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stumbling on Chapman in the Eton College Library

On looking into a copy of Chapman’s Homer
that might have belonged to Keats

by S.P. Somtow

They stood in Darien, little knowing how
A poet would allude to them long thence.
Their lives as metaphor remembered now
More real than real, intenser than intense.
They came; they conquered; now they’re gone.  But I,
I too have held those pages, knowing Keats
As one might know the earth, or sea, or sky,
As pillar of my world.  Against deceits,
And disillusions, and entropic fears,
Beauty and truth do blend a powerful potion.
My tired corpus piqued by time and tears,
I stand on Keats and see a farther ocean
Where Darien itself stands not, or ever
Silent, for the tide flows backwards never.

(with thanks to Michael Meredith for first reading Keats to me in the 1960s)

One of the astonishing things about my return to Eton in September was that I could finally physically connect with things that were only alluded to when I was a boy.  Including this copy of Chapman's Homer.   Of course, when Keats was my age, he had been dead for 33 years.  My feelings when hearing Michael Meredith read Keats to us kids were probably not too different from the feelings Keats had when he opened this book.  In particular, his rendition of To Autumn made my hair stand on end.

My own poem is of course a silly one by comparison, but I've been trying for years to prevent that venerable old lady, the Sonnet, from flatlining.  Watch for my book, Sonnets About Serial Killers, coming out next year from Diplodocus Press (which is my own ... following another venerable custom, though I may have written the odd bestseller for a genuine publisher, for poetry (and even doggerel) vanity publishing is one's fate.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aha! Proof!

A picture is worth 1,000 words — but can it buy a few seats in parliament?

The above photo, from Reuters, of a Buddha image in the roots of a bodhi tree being swallowed up in the waters, is precisely the kind of image that can be exploited endlessly to shore up the bizarre theory I discussed in my recent blog — that the gods themselves are punishing the redshirts for an impious blood soaking ritual last year.  (By the way, I learned by brief googling that the Guardian of the UK quoted my blog extensively as a a major authority on blood spatter — making me the political equivalent of Dexter.)

Its validity as proof is probably about the same as a photograph once shown me by the father of one of my friends at Eton and Cambridge, Mark Watson.  The photo purported to show the footprint of a man and that of a dinosaur.  I gazed at it (it was blurry) and wondering why the old man was getting so worked up.   "If people coexisted with dinosaurs, what happened to them?" I asked him.

"What a silly question," he said, "they were all destroyed in the Flood, of course."  Later I learned that the Rev. Watson had written a number of books on the subject.  The Rev had a bit of an antediluvian fixation.  I did wonder why dinosaurs hadn't been allowed on the ark, but I guess they would have sunk it.

I haven't thought about Mark in many many years, but I recently found a pic of him, in the same book where I found that polaroid of myself at the age of 22.

As a boy, Mark was as beautiful as a pre-Raphaelite angel.  I wonder where he is, and whether his father wrote any more books.

But to go back to the Reuters picture ... do you remember how I described the Buddha under the bodhi tree about to achieve enlightenment, and the earth goddess driving away evil with water from her hair?  Now the ones who subscribe to this theory will be shouting eureka, eureka as they crank up the machineries of political activism.

Still jetlagged out of my mind, I notice that it's almost 7 am and I should go to bed.  I check and find the disquieting news that my neighborhood's flood percentage has gone up to 20%, the highest it's been in a while.   I check the Bangkok Post online and it tells me Bangkok will be "navigable in two weeks."

As long as the electricity remains, I will, too.   And as long as the Evian holds out, as the markets are all out of any cheaper water.  

Three Cycles Later • Views from the Golden Mountain

My mother was emptying out some old stuff in storage and I found some interesting old photos including this one, a polaroid of my young self, probably taken by myself on an SX-70.  I only owned that camera briefly because my uncle Thongthow wanted it really badly and he bought it off me a month after I purchased it while on holiday in New York.

1975 was my last year at Cambridge and also the year that I wrote this piece, Views from the Golden Mountain, at the request of Witaya Tumornsoontorn, for the Bangkok Chamber Orchestra (a precursor of the Bangkok Symphony.)  I'd just returned from representing Thailand at the Asian Composers' Conference in Kyoto (at 21, I had been the youngest person there by about 20 years) and had my first real critical success with a violin sonata called Cemeteries.  Witaya asked me to do a piece that would be broadcast on Thailand's Army TV station, and he wanted it to be "really shocking" but simultaneously "clearly Thai."  In fact he asked me to adapt one of the melodies of M.L. Puangroi and indeed took me to see her in order to get permission to use it.  Doubtless he was expecting some kind of "arrangement" of the tune, with a few nice slippery impressionist harmonies ... the kind of thing that Hans Gunther Mommer, the local imported classical music celebrity, was doing with Thai traditional tunes.

I took the piece in a completely different direction.  I got the idea from standing in the windswept top of the Golden Mountain - then one of the tallest things in the city, though it is completely dwarfed now - and looking over the cityscape at twilight.

Starting with an eerie, quasi-serial texture of solo strings, flute and harp (the harp part had to be carefully written as Thailand only had one harpist in those days) the piece started by evoking a sort of quasi-Bartokian (or perhaps George-Crumbian) night-music and then out of the ghostly miasma there finally came the sound of M.L. Puangroi's melody, played on a khong wong like a half-remembered dream.  

Well, the thing is, the two textures - post-serial and Thai - had never been pitted together before.  There had always been the idea that Thai instruments would somehow have to be adapted (that is, retuned to a western scale) to blend with western instruments, or that western instruments would have to play Thai melodies with silly, illogical harmonizations.  There had never been an attempt at synthesis in which each element completely preserved its own identity and aesthetic.  That, you see, was shocking, and it was also "phid khru", meaning that it went against the handed-down teaching on traditional music and was therefore a violation of the ancestral precepts.

The piece was played on TV anyway, during prime time (no soap operas to compete in those days!) and M.L. Puangroi was reportedly pretty shocked (though later on she took it in stride).  One viewer called the station to say that the music had got a dog to start howling outside and that he had thought it was part of the piece.  Nop Sotthibandu, the famous Thai jazz violinist, said that ghosts of old Bangkok actually came out of the TV screen.  The piece was, indeed, infamous.

And it was also a piece that could not exist without Thai-ness specifically, because later that year the piece was performed at the Asian Composers' Conference in Manila, and there was no khong wong.  Instead, a gamelan instrument was used and it was not of course tuned in the specifically Thai way.  The entire piece fell, to my mind, completely flat, which was embarrassing since it was played in front of several major world composers.

In fact, I said it was a lousy piece in front of a bunch of them.  Jan W. Morthenson, well known Swedish composer, said "Don't worry, Somtow, we all have them."  Lou Harrison, the perhaps much more well known American composer, said, "Nonsense, Somtow.  It's a lovely piece."

It has not been heard since then.

Now, if musicologists follow the sequence of events properly, they will see that View from the Golden Mountain has turned out to a piece of huge historical import.  What was shocking in 1975 is commonplace today.  The fusion of Thai and western in musical forms has permeated to the level of pop music and film music, and no one would think of decrying it as sacrilegious or against traditionalism.  

I was not in Thailand to see the revolution work out, however.  After pieces like Views and the considerably more fully-imagined Gongula were done, and after Bruce Gaston, Dnu Huntrakul and I created more such pieces and battered ourselves against the walls of public ennui and critical vitriol, I burned out.  It took me only about 3 years for me to pack up and go into the sunset ... literally heeding the traditional command to "Go west, young man."   In a sense, all three of us "sold out" - the others heading towards the more profitable vineyards of populism and commercial music, I towards an even stranger future as a novelist.

The revolution took its own good time.  It happened without any fuss, while our backs were turned.  Today, musicians in this country do not even know that a revolution had to occur for them to be able to play and create music the way they can today.  And that of course is the mark of a true revolution; once it has occurred, all memory of it should fade away.  Or, as Karl Marx put it, "wither" away.

I myself will not step in that river a second time.  I have said all I needed to say in that idiom and reinvented myself as a "kinder, gentler" composer.  

But seeing this picture of my sweet, sensitive self, before I became corrupted by time and doubt, made me think of that piece again.  It may be time to bring it back.  I wonder if it would hold up.

I was looking for the score the other day ... I haven't found it, but I know it is around somewhere....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top and Somtow's California Adventure

A little taste of what we were doing last week ... fiddling while Bangkok flooded, I'm afraid ... but we're back now, and the water's still coming....

This footage is from Top's actual concerto debut, including the infamous string breaking and fiddle exchange scene.

This is a very very good omen.  After all, the same thing happened to Midori at her first concerto concert!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Science and Myth: Avant le déluge

By now, the people of Bangkok have realized that our city governor's ceremony to placate Ganga, the Goddess of the Waters, was at best a temporary fix.  A lake the size of Denmark is still bearing inexorably toward the heart of Bangkok.  Concurrently with the daily reality show of dogs rescued from rooftops, old people refusing to be moved from everything they've ever known, and boatloads of do-gooding celebrities, another, darker drama is happening behind the scenes.

Listening between the lines of governmental rhetoric, one hears the voices of those who have already written off the present — and are planning how they are going to get away with the aftermath.  Groundwork is being laid for blame games.  The déluge is being seen as a given, and political advantage has become the holy grail.  This is not helpful, as over 500 people have now drowned or been electrocuted — a number vastly higher than the casualties of any of the various bits of political turmoil that have recently afflicted Thailand.

Incompetence, lies and deception have certainly played a major role in the way all this has been handled in the last month or so, but to put it all on the people currently in power would simply be inaccurate.  Indeed, I have a certain amount of sympathy for our prime minister, who is, well, just out of her depth.  A natural disaster could not have been on anyone's list of contingencies when the Thaksinites put her up to run the country.  But the flood which is now at my doorstep is the result of years of complacency, recklessness, and failure to exercise any kind of foresight or extrapolation.

I've mentioned before that there's been a lot of bickering about which floodgates should be opened — and therefore who should be flooded first and by how much.  The city and the state have each cited various one-upmanship laws; outraged citizens have been smashing dykes, hoping to let someone else get the worst of it all.  Indeed, selfishness and self-interest seem to have come to the fore.  The disaster has not brought out the best in us.

A brilliant inspiring speech about how everyone should work together for the common good, followed by thoughtful and consistent action involving all branches of government, would have clinched the deal for Thailand's first female prime minister.  Regardless of which neighborhoods got submerged, such a course of action would have made us feel that we were all in it together and would have pushed the "proud to be a Thai" button.  Whether such a course would have actually saved lives or businesses one cannot know.  But people would have felt a sense of communal destiny.   Not only did it have a chance of improving the situation, but it would have been good politics.

Now, the do-gooders in the news are compassionate citizens like Trisdee or our orchestra manager, Pongsatorn, who go out in boats all day long helping to hand out care packages (and even rescue dogs trapped on rooftops.)  The army is getting a lot of good press, too, although the prime minister refused to declare a state of emergency, perhaps for fear they'd get too much power and stage a coup.

As the country-sized lake rumbles toward downtown, we have instead a new kind of speculation, one that is not about centimeters per hour, lunar gravity and tides, or predictions of precipitation.  Rather, we have returned to our neolithic roots, and sympathetic magic is widely seen as the explanation for this disaster.  What I am about to tell you is a theory advanced by sober, rational people who happen to live in a country which lies, as I've often said, at the uneasy crossroads of futurism and feudalism.  In Thailand, people do believe in the power of science — and do consult their astrologer before undertaking any important task.  And truth, you must understand, is the majority congruence of our individual private illusions.  That is why truth can be as fluid as the water which is about to engulf us.

Here is the conventional wisdom amongst a growing segment of Bangkok's population.  The emblem of the democratic party, which is, despite defections by radicals, the main bastion of those with yellow-shirted leanings in this country, is the earth goddess Mae Thorani (Sanskrit Dharani, cognate with the Latin word terra.)  In Buddhist mythology, it is believed that when Prince Siddhartha sat beneath the bodhi tree to seek enlightenment, the evil god Mara appeared to tempt him.  But the earth goddess appeared and, squeezing a fountain of purifying water from her hair, drove away the forces of darkness.

Now, it just so happens that, during the troubles last year, there was a nasty incident in which blood was spattered by red shirts at the democrat party's headquarters, in effect, polluting the sacred icon.  There were a number of things about the incident that could be considered sacrilegious when viewed by those who want to see sacrilege.  From that moment on, there were those who whispered that the goddess would exact some kind of vengeance.

Well, the red shirts are now running the country, and guess what?  Here's the patron goddess of the democrat party, squeezing the cosmic waters to purify the country and dispel Mara's temptations and put Thailand back on the path of righteousness.

What seems to be as "fringe" as Sarah Palin exorcizing democrats in church becomes almost logical after you hear one of the true believers enumerate the evidence.  The flooding, they will tell you, has hit red shirt-leaning parts of the country more than the almost completely democrat leaning south of Thailand — which isn't usually spared the annual inundation.  They'll cite all sorts of facts to prove this hypothesis, facts one cannot argue with because one has never thought it might be necessary to disprove such a notion.

Okay, my friends in the west may laugh.  But guys, check out that beam in your own eye ... think of the local governments in the U.S. seriously trying to legislate the teaching of mythology in science class ... I refer of course to "scientific creationism" ... a horse of the precisely the same color.  Credulity knows no boundaries of race, gender, age, or technological advancement.

Here in Thailand we live in a society where the supernatural does not lurk in the shadows.  It is mainstream.  The theory I have just expounded above is unlikely to be true.  But that it will seriously be believed, and acted on, is fact.  And mythology has a way of becoming truth when enough people reiterate it.  That is how religions happen, after all.  And in Buddhism (which, strictly speaking, isn't a religion) we believe that reality and truth do not necessarily coincide.  Buddha's philosophy teaches us that reality is in fact illusion ... that reality and truth are indeed in some sense opposites. And if reality is illusion, it follows that the better illusionist wins.

So you see, on top of the actual drama, on top of the political drama, a third drama is being acted out as well ... drama on the supernatural plane.  And it is conceivable that this third level will ultimately be a greater influence on what happens after the waters recede than anything in the other two.

Now, whatever the theory may do for some people's sense of self-righteousness, it is another nail in the coffin for reconciliation.

Now, if *I* were prime minister, which I am not, I would forge a new theory — a new testament — out of the same raw material.  There's more than one way to manipulate the data.

Why couldn't the earth goddess be angry at the entire country, which should be nation of brothers devoted to the common good, and be sending this biblical plague to force us all to get along, to turn aside the political differences and "love one another" again?  And what if the facts and figures don't quite fit?  Make 'em up.

I'll say it now just as I said it under the previous regime: I have always given the government great advice in my blog.  However, the previous administration tended to take my advice about a week too late in every case.   Their timing sucked — and they didn't win the election.

My advice to this administration is: never underestimate the power of a myth.  With the right inspirational words, this potentially destructive supernatural force can be made to work in the government's favor.  So get those handlers cracking and you'll come out of this like a goddess yourself.

But aren't we forgetting someone?  What about the victims of the disaster?  What about doing more to help them?  What about more pumps, more food, more supplies?  Better science?  Less bickering?

What about it?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reconnected Lives

So ... I finally went back to California for a few days.  Nine years have gone by.  My old house, now taken over by my son Johnny, has been massively (and quite attractively) retrofitted as a kind of bachelor boarding house.  My godson Håkon's band Desecrate  has become famous.  Harry's diner hasn't moved from Burbank and still is one of the only "sleazy all-night diners" to serve a decent steak complete with pancakes.  Mostly, everyone's still there.  But we all know you can't step in the same river twice...

By a bizarre confluence of destinies the World Fantasy Convention took place in the same city and the same weekend that I was doing a concert in a gorgeous church in San Diego.   Meanwhile, producer David Giler asked me to meet my agent about possible movie deals for Vampire Junction and other long-ago classics.  I suddenly had all the pieces of my life fall into my lap at the same time.  In one week and within a hundred-mile range I conducted a symphony, autographed horror stories in a bookstore, breakfasted with publishers and lunched with agents, and generally had the sort of existence I should probably have had 20 years when I didn't have to drag my gout-ridden, corpulent corpus around with alternating bouts of excruciating pain and artistic ecstasy.

Dean Anderson, an enterprising and ambitious musician in Southern California, had set all this up by creating a plan to exchange artists between our two stables.  He had just done a concert with our Sinfonietta in Bangkok and my visit to California was the "exchange" part of the deal, with a young soloist from Thailand trading off against two young soloists from Orange County.  (Well, one Canadian and one Ukrainian, making it all very international.)  Our soloist was 16-year-old Top who's assistant principal of the Sinfonietta and who had never done a solo concerto before, doing Mozart No. 3 and as all real musicians know, Mozart is the easiest composer to play the right notes and the hardest composer to play the notes right.  So, it's a challenge.

In fact the opening concert was even more of a challenge than expected; Top's E string snapped in the first movement of the concerto prompting a dramatic game of swapping as he borrowed Dean Anderson's violin and Dean quickly switched violins with his assistant ... all without missing a beat ... and then during the excerpts from my opera "Mae Naak" I fell out of my chair.... all in all a wild return to the world of music in the USA (where I had not conducted since 1979.)  Despite all the mishaps we received four standing ovations so I guess the audience must have liked the show.

In the meantime I was staying at the World Fantasy Convention which was an odd thing; I gave a reading from an unfinished fantasy trilogy, walked around the dealer's room, lunched with many friends I haven't seen for years, and in general had a strange flashback to around the late 90s because these people were still the same, just a little grayer and a little fatter.  Still, had fruitful discussions about returning to the writing biz with people.  But I'm not sure about it.  I'm not sure about many things anymore.

It's been a period of reexamination.  Returning to London reconnected me with my youth; returning to L.A. reconnected me with the middle period of my life.  But I am not sure how the Third Act will play out now. These reconnections raise more questions and answer few of them.

I returned to a Bangkok that is slowly, inexorably coming under flood waters.  My house is still dry, but Top's is gone; he and his family are going off to the north somewhere.  I should probably escape as well, but there is so much to do here.  If they don't cut off our power, I'm happy not to leave my house for a couple of weeks ... so much to think about, to plan.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Boulevard of Broken Dreams...

Well no, I am not on Sunset; this hotel instead abuts on Citywalk, which is a Hollywoodised vision of what an urban fantasy would be, located on the grounds of universal studios.

I've got an extraordinary dream to tell you about, weirder even than my life.  It's convoluted and recursive and brightly colored and it happened last night, causing me to wake up several times only to return to it.

This is how it began:

There is a gateway to another universe located in what looks like a box of kleenex.  I put my hand in and I am sucked in through a passageway that deposits me in that world with an odor of freshener or hand-washing gel still clinging to me.  Trisdee and Top have also come through this warp, but Trisdee now looks completely different, and I can see his real self lying in a corridor, asleep or unconscious in another plane of existence.  According to my dream, I am sharing the dream with those two people.

In this strange new world I am being harrassed by my nephew Pub, who is dressed somewhat like "The Joker" or another comic book villain.  Demoniacal laughter as he screams: "The secret formula of the universe!  I must have it now!  You will reveal it!"  and I steadfastly refuse and say I do not know.  Suddenly he claps his hands and four ninjas emerge from the dimensional kleenex box.  They fight me and eventually they shoot me in the stomach twice.  I collapse but feel no pain.  The comic book villain laughs and I say to him, "I am invulnerable!"

We escape down some stairs and are in a subterranean alley in an underground city, the walls painted with vivid cityscapes in turquoise and bright purple.  Top is behind me and in the distance, at the foot of another stairwell, a man is leaping in the air and speaking, sometimes rationally, sometimes using long incomprehensible words.

A professor suddenly appears to elucidate this, but first he asks me to translate the leaping man's words.  I say it is a dream, and that the language is full of puns.  The professor nods sagely and says, "James Joyce has a dream language too and often uses long words, portmanteau words such as dontcrossthelinesofhtestreetatall."  I immediately see a street sign with that word on it and know that I am still in the world of dreaming.   The professor obeys the sign, but has a wild silly walk so I realize he is not the voice of reason after all.

At that moment, Albert Einstein walks by and I call out "Alfred, Alfred," knowing full well that is not actually his name.

In my dream, I wake up and find myself trying to type up the dream on the computer.  It is only as I type that I recall the beginning of the dream, with the secret formula and the ninjas.  Trisdee stands over my shoulder correcting me, and telling me I am remembering the dream wrong and that I am leaving things out.  "Look here," he says, "you forget the words 'koax, koax' which are in your dream even though they are nonsense."

"What do you mean, nonsense?"  I say indignantly.  "It is a quote from Aristophanes."

At this point in my dream, I wake up for real....


Well, this is the dream I had a day after an exciting week in which I reappeared in the fantasy and science fiction community after a ten year absence, conducted in America for the first time since 1979, introduced a young soloist to an American audience, and promised several small presses that I would return to the book biz one day....

The Einstein figure might be key.  There is an Alfred Einstein, of course - he is he biographer of Mozart.  And there is an Albert - the patron saint, perhaps, of science fiction who stands at the gateway between the magical and the plausible.  It seems that I confuse the two.

As for the secret formula?  I don't know what it is but I do know that a lot of people are trying to get it from me in real life.

This is my last morning in California, and perhaps I'll write a blog soon about the incredible experiences I've had this past 10 days, in both the music and the literary universe....