Everyone has one or two or a few songs which when you hear them, tug at the heartstrings, playing a melancholic chord that causes an involuntary sob to rise and catch in the chest, the eyes to well up, and strange unbeholden tears to stream down despite your best efforts to fight and resist the embarrassing but irrepressible emotional tide…
Over the years, I have realized that no matter how deliriously gay and happy a mood I may be in, or how deep and peaceful an equanimity state I may had centered myself into, there are some songs which I only need to hear a few strands of notes of and which will at once plunge me into a melancholic but not entirely unwelcomed abyss and release forth the floodgates…
Here is a song by one of my favourite female singers of mainstream Mandarin music from the 90s. 萬芳 Wan Fang, apart from having one of the better vocals and range at that time, probably had the most expressive and emotive voice among her peers. In this 2008 video, 萬芳 Wan Fang is singing a song she first recorded fifteen years ago in 1993. In this relatively recent mini-concert she held as part of her comeback tour, though the years may have left their marks on her, they seem to have also imparted a beautiful 沧桑 edge and echo to her voice that only time and experience can do. She may be in her forties now and despite what detractors once said of her looks, 萬芳 Wan Fang will always be beautiful to me.
萬芳 – 新不了情 Wan Fang – A Love That Never Ends (2008):
A Love That Never Ends
When the heart has tired, the tears too will run dry
This deep love, is difficult to give up difficult to end
Once we possesed, eternal ever after
But I’ve not seen you now, for days and seasons
This one love, shall forever be impossible to end
May we in our next lives, embrace it once more
To love someone, and to cherish this love till old
How to face all this, I am at a loss
Remembering the past, the lingering nostalgia of the hurt and pain cannot be forgotten
Why do you still come, stirring up my heartbeat
How can I stop loving you, you should understand this tonight (by now),
Destiny never ends, love never ends
And here is the same song sung by Wan Fang from 1993. This music video is from the 1993 Hong Kong movie of the same name, 新不了情 A Love That Never Ends.
(The 1993 movie itself is a remake of a 1970 classic of the same name)
This movie is so sad…and so good.
新不了情 A Love That Never Ends MV (1993):
Another piece of music that is immediately arresting within its first few notes, truly has a ‘beat that my heart skipped’: the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto composed in 1959. While this orchestra composition is already not that new, some of the melodies within the composition are actually based in part on 地方/local operatic arts that have been passed down and performed for hundreds of years, and of course all inspired by that old and beautiful Chinese folktale, 梁祝/Butterfly Lovers.
Here is what I said previously on this most wistfully sad song:
Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto 1st Part:
I believe the first two minutes of this first part, from the light ethereal flute opening, to the wistful oboe transition, into the much anticipated and achingly sad and beautiful violin solo, is probably the most recognizable of all Chinese music for all Chinese people anywhere for some generations now. Many a stoic Chinaman who may not know the story, will get teary-eyed upon hearing the familiar tune.
[But I still prefer the versions with an erhu or guzheng solo]
And even the modern theme song used in the 1994 movie 梁祝/Butterfly Lovers, which also sampled part of the tune of the orchestra, is similarly moving, with very exquisite lyrics accompanying as well:
[song starts 3:50]
Coming before you without a word, to share a cup of water
Within this lightness (the plain water) there are thick strong feelings, intoxicatingly filling and overflowing the heart
No matter it be a tragic misfortune or a perfect destiny, what more fleeting ethereal butterfly dreams
To give back to you this life in this lifetime, and for all our previous lifetimes
May we as a pair of butterflies fly across the thousand mountains and ten thousand lifetimes together
And to repeat myself:
“And of the many dramatized versions of the 梁祝/Butterfly Lovers story in recent decades, the above 1994 film version by the mercurial-Mercutio maverick genius director, Tsui Hark, is my favourite.
Tsui Hark’s film version, while ostensibly a romantic-comedy, does full justice to the tragedy that is at the heart of the story. And with his breath-taking scenery and cinematography, beautiful sets and costumes, and a wonderfully arranged adaptation of the musical score, he hits all the right notes; especially with a few precious scenes and moments which for me, are amongst the most tragic and heart-breaking evocations in cinematic art.
This 1994 film and faithful retelling of an age-old tale defined the themes of love, tyranny, loss and commitment, for an entire generation.”
That is, my generation, while coming of age in the 1990s.
Need to give a little sigh for the 玉女/dream goddess of my teen years: Charlie Yeung/楊采妮. The film director/producer Tsui Hark made a casting coup when he casted the 19 year old Charlie Yeung as the female lead, Zhu Yingtai in the 1994 film. And of course, he scored another stunning coup by reuniting and casting her in his 2005 film 七劍, when the now older but still so lovely Charlie Yeung made a brave comeback after her shock retirement at the age of 23.
In more recent years, when I first heard the Ryukyuan/Okinawan singer Rimi Natsukawa sing the song Nada Sōsō/Spilling Large Tears, the soft but very intense native style she sang in, the beautiful melody composed by the Okinawan band BEGIN, the use of the traditional Sanshin 3-string instrument, and most especially, the painfully tender and plaintive lyrics written by Ryoko Moriyama… I was reduced to a weeping mess.
Nada Sōsō 淚光閃閃:
Even now, I cannot bring myself to translate the song lyrics.
Too painful, too cutting, too close and personal…
The songs above span for about the last twenty years, marking the different stages of my life when the songs intersected with moments and events which made them especially meaningful. They largely marked the years during and after my coming of age, where naturally the more memorable and obviously painful events in life would seem to occur…
But I did not realize that there is a song, from much earlier in my childhood, which I had almost forgotten, but which holds the key to many half-buried tender memories. I heard this song again last evening, in a most inexplicable setting, and it left me reeling as half-forgotten memories began to burst forth, transporting me back to times, places, feelings from over a quarter of a century ago. And left me making an embarrassing spectacle of myself in a very public place…