I was fascinated to read recently that Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies spent three months in late 2008 in the small town of Jingjiang in China – the result of which is reflected in the Cowboy Junkies album that came out in June, “Renmin Park”. Apparently two of his three adopted children are Chinese, I am just getting this from their record label’s site, I really didn’t know much about the band before, except that they’ve been around forever. I’m also bit slow on this one as I only got round to listening to the album last week!
Of course anyone who has been to China, or even a basic grasp of Chinese, would be familiar with “Renmin” 人民meaning People – as in 中华人民共和国 People’s Republic of China or 人民日报 People’s Daily… Most towns have a People’s Park and it’s the place for all kinds of wholesome communal activities. I was curious to see, or hear, what this and the whole China experience meant for the album.
Clearly three months is not enough time for anyone to get their head round a country like China. And I have to say, the blurb on their site about the town welcoming them with open arms and China being such a friendly place blah blah was grating, yes Chinese people love foreigners and cute little kids but let’s not get into that here…
The album is good! There are all kinds of everyday sounds from the park and also Chinese instruments all throughout the 14 tracks. On their label’s site Timmins writes:
I’d spend hours in the park walking around and recording music and conversations, exercise classes and badminton games; in the streets I’d record the intense sound of the traffic; at the school I’d wander the halls and sit in on some classes and record the students chanting their lessons, or capture them at their morning exercise where the entire school of three thousand students would do their calisthenics. Even drifting by our apartment window were the calls of various hawkers, selling everything from vegetables to propane. I recorded it all.
The highlight for me has been discovering their cover of and collaborations with Chinese rock guru Zuoxiao Zuzhou. Zuoxiao Zuzhou has been around making music since 1993 and is an unconventional character in Chinese contemporary culture, he is also an artist and very good friends with Ai Weiwei! His most recent album was titled “OST For Ai Weiwei Works No.1”. In this interview with the ChinaBeat blog he talks about meeting Ai Weiwei and Han Han together:
Han Han and I have admired each other for a long time now but we never actually met until last summer. I introduced him to Ai Weiwei that day, and they admire each other’s work too. I thought I should let them do most of the talking. Han Han and Weiwei spoke mostly of social problems. I spoke with Han Han largely about domestic life and interests. We could have gone on forever.
I don’t have the Cowboy Junkies cover of his song “I Cannot Sleep Sadly By Your Side” to upload here (and I’d probably be breaking all kinds of copyright laws) but “Renmin Park” is available to listen to on Spotify. However I just found the Cowboy Junkies cover on YouTube so I’ll embed it at the bottom of this post.
Here is the original song 《我不能悲伤地坐在你身旁》 by Zuoxiao Zuzhou, for some reason I am finding it quite festive even though it’s not festive at all! Enjoy and happy holidays!