I recently read about a John Cage composition for organ called As Slow As Possible, a piece of music that is currently being played live in a church in Germany. The performance began in 2001 (though the first actual chord wasn’t struck until 17 months later) and will take 639 years to finish. The next scheduled change of note is in October this year.
And I thought: that’s about as slow as my book on China is coming along.
I mostly blame being super-busy at work and being as involved as I can in the lives of my two young children. (And being one of the best procrastinators on the planet.) But I also think it’s China itself. There’s an old adage that goes something like this: “Visit China for a week, write a book. Visit for a month, write an article. Visit for a year, write nothing at all.” This is mostly bollocks; I personally know people who’ve lived in China for over a decade and written a bunch of books. Still, I do think that if I’d stayed there for a month rather than several years, I might more easily have put pen to paper about the place.
But back to John Cage for a second. What’s the opposite of really, really slow music? Really, really fast music, of course. Among the experiences I was hoping to document in my stagnating manuscript about China were the local heavy metal and punk shows I watched while living in Shanghai. For some reason, I only remember the names of the punk bands: Brain Failure, The Great Cock, Loudspeaker, Angry Jerks. This is possibly because the metal bands were all called Excoriatum, or something with “corpse” in the title.
Anyway, here are some photos from a few of the shows I saw back in 2004. The universal elements of punk and metal are all there: the hair, the moshing, the scowls. The first picture is my favourite. It’s taken outside the dive bar where I saw the first of these shows – right next to “The Office of the Committee for Promoting Ethical & Cultural Progress”. Indeed.