A Song, Schnabel and A Handful of Sex Goddesses

There’s a little something exciting happening mid-next week, as you may or may not already know. Meanwhile, though, here are a few more things that have me excited lately.

1. Candace Bushnell’s original Sex and The City columns in The New York Observer. I’m actually surprised to have not read about this on other blogs, so either I’m way ahead or way behind. Despite my affection for the TV show, I always kind of wondered if it had to be in some ways a little lowbrow (sue me), because it made  too ridiculous a number of women believe they they could see themselves reflected in it, realistically or otherwise. As a reader and writer, I also wished those columns that Carrie was constantly typing out in her undies would actually make it into the show in some way. And here they are, and heavens, they are gold. Finally I see, really and truly, why this was so groundbreaking, how it was writing like this that actually laid the blueprint for the cultural phenomenon. I take my pretentious writerly beret off to Candace Bushnell — this archive proves that no matter how many imitators, there really can only be one CB.

2. Jerome Kugan’s home-recorded cover of “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. Some covers really are better than the originals, and other covers of. Harry Connick Jr. ain’t got nothing on you, JK baby! This needs to go on your next album. So the poor folks who aren’t your friends can hear it too. Hahaha. ;)

3. This slightly snarky New York Times article says that Julian Schnabel is going to have a show in India. Where where where? Please say Chennai.

4. This 1996 essay by Sandra Cisneros, which I read in order to remind me again why it’s okay to be a certain kind of writer. This week I have been saying a litany of graces for the great ones who paved the way for someone like me to be myself and be okay with it. Without Frida, I don’t know if I would have been able to live with many aspects of myself. Without Sandra, I don’t know if I would have stopped writing funny, sexy, confessional poetry in favour of smarter, more serious stuff. Without my great-grandmother Valliamma, I don’t know if I could have learnt how to feel the fear and do it anyway. There is no shame in acknowledging inspiration.

5. Two Guardian profiles on gifted bad girls, Manet’s muse, Victorine Meurent, and another Guadalupe, Lupe Yoli.

Jerome Kugan’s Songs For A Shadow

In Indonesia. Two more famous poets were cropped out. Teehee.

Have you ever experienced a piece of art and become overwhelmed with the amazement that someone you know, a beloved friend whose fridge you’ve raided, whom you’ve fought with, whom you’ve travelled with, produced so breathtaking a creation?

Because that’s what happened to me when I heard the album version of “Flowers”, from Jerome Kugan’s debut album Songs For A Shadow, to be launched on Saturday April 12. I’d long admired him as a singer-songwriter, but to hear his familiar folksy, acoustic tunes given an electronica spin blew my mind. “Flowers” was suddenly like the moment when something cracked in me while listening to Boys For Pele that turned me into a devout Toriphile. It was some sort of breakthrough; it was the moment I realised the culthood my friend is destined for.

If I could pinpoint a single person whose impact on my life radicalised it for the better, it would have to be Jerome Kugan. I met JK when I was 15. I had just finished school and was working at a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur. I was heading nowhere, in that cute, quirky, blasé, dishonest way that precocious and rebellious teenagers head nowhere, and had no idea how that point in time and the couple of years they precipitated were going to be so pivotal for me. JK had moved to the city fairly recently. He edited and published a photocopied zine of writing and illustrations, called Poetika, which lasted for a good 9 months. He was also organising these indie events, in which people performed music or read from their work. I don’t know how many people took all these efforts seriously in the beginning, but for me, it was a whole new world. A world in which I belonged.

It was because of Jerome’s early efforts at sparking off an underground poetry scene that I have a spoken word career today. Being a part of that scene in its newborn years, before the British Council’s involvement and the visiting poets and the slams with crowds of hundreds, put me in a position I am privileged to have had. The right place, the right time, and rewards for years to follow. Through him, I met countless people, some who became confidantes or collaborators. Heck, it was because of Jerome that I met my closest friend. But above all was the chance he took on me, a kindness I try to keep in mind when I meet younger aspiring writers.

When I had to leave Kuala Lumpur last year, Jerome’s farewell present was a CD with the rough cut of the album as of September 30. Since then, I’ve listened to parts of it nearly every day. My morning auto ride to work feels incomplete without one of my favourites from it.

The album is hypnotic, addictive, mystical to a surprising depth. Omens and miracles, calls for guidance, the mysteries — all have a place. From the dangerously brooding undertone in the hum in Jerome’s voice in “Song For The Service Industry” to the alluring a cappella of “Lightfalls”, there is a powerful quality in this work that defies terminology. Jerome Kugan channels the duende, alright. Only abstraction can describe it: you either feel it or you don’t.

And of course, Jerome as poet and Jerome as troubadour are inseparable. His lyrics are complex, but not overly obscure. Conveniently, he discusses the experience of creating and recording each individual song on his blog (see sidebar index Lyrics and Notes).

My three favourites from this album are “Song For The Service Industry”, “Tomás” and “Flowers”. The first two incidentally have strong political undercurrents. There is something a little manifesto-like in the quiet conviction with which the persona in “Song For The Service Industry” says he will wait (for the day when the tables turn), and “Tomás” was written for Tomás Diego, a Cuban persecuted for his sexuality, and who was immortalised before this song in a small part in the film Before Night Falls. “Flowers” is a spiritual song, an acknowledgment of a power, higher or equal to the creator in his/her element, that will guide and allow the fullest experiences.

And so it is with every happiness that I congratulate Jerome Kugan on the launch of his first album, Songs For A Shadow, on April 12. I’m so proud of you!

Below is the video for “Tomas”. The album is available for sale in Malaysia, will be available shortly in Chennai (I am a pimp, remember?), and for you lucky credit card holders, via digital download.

“The Lovechild of Anaïs Nin and Johnny Cash. Pure Sin on Amphetamines.”*

(Or, Contrary to popular belief, I am not in love with the sound of my own voice.)

But I enjoy using it, especially in artistic expression. And there is some evidence (occasionally culled from speaking to distracted drivers from the backseat…) that shows that there are folks out there who kinda like it too.

No hidden brag posts here, just a nice dose of the shameless usual. I resurrected my Myspace account as a musician one, so as to upload spoken word recordings. You can find me here. Two poems are up now: Karna Considers Yuanfen and And If You Still Must Leave, both recorded by Kieran Kuek at 2am studios, Kuala Lumpur, last year. The latter poem is up in two versions — the violent rendering, in which I usually perform it, and a colder, more controlled one, which Kieran encouraged me to explore as an alternative method of delivery.

To be honest I wouldn’t say that it’s these two poems that should introduce people to my work, but those are the ones I have good recordings of.

I’ve found that I don’t enjoy recording in studios, or for the sake only of recording, very much at all. I slip up more. I feel less in my element. There is an absence of a certain haphazardness, which gets lost in multiple takes. I remember something I read in a magazine maybe a dozen years ago, when I certainly could not relate but was intrigued enough to keep it in mind — the singer Jewel in her pre-sellout days likening recording in a studio to faking an orgasm.

Nonetheless, there are more recordings in the works. The final cut of Poem, which I did with Kieran and also in a different persona, hasn’t grown on me enough for me to upload it. I did some recordings for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last month, and if any of that is workable, will definitely upload.

I recommend using headphones, and listening to them loud.

Find me. Add me. Listen. If you like.

* That would be a quote. The subject line is because I think Jerome’s line, “poor man’s Kylie in shorts” is way cool. My friend the actor and credit card abuser Branavan Aruljothi offered me the above for a “sounds like…” comparison. It is not nearly as cool. But neither am I.