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Veteran Singer Set to Rock Beijing

Cui Jian, "godfather" of Chinese rock music, is having a concert on Saturday.

The veteran rocker has been lying low - kind of. This will be his first concert in Beijing for 12 years.


Cui has dubbed the concert "A Dream in the Sunshine" and is expected to perform many of his classics, including "Nothing to My Name" - his 1986 signature song, which many consider as heralding the birth of rock music in China.


"I won't miss it for anything," said Yuan Wang, a music lover in Beijing. "I was too young to catch his previous show. But I know his music through recordings."


Cui Jian is widely acclaimed as the singer who captures the spirit of our era - an era that ceded idealism for pragmatism. The angst and frustration in his music have fascinated a whole generation, just as they have baffled and repelled the older generation.


In "The Power of the Powerless," his 1998 album, he commented on the nouveaux riches: "Make more money, make more money. / Things will change when you have money. / But when will it be enough? / So you tend to get lost in making money."


He steadfastly refused to change with the times: "I hate my life and I want to improve what's around me. / But you said Don't be too serious / You should see through, think through but not say through. / You said everyone's ideals have been washed away / Money can buy ideals."


Songs like this resonated with many people and also became "thorns in the eyes of others." He encountered constant difficulties when trying to stage shows and was rarely seen on television. In one music video, he portrayed himself performing underneath a stage while cheesy folk dancers strutted their stuff above him.


But Cui Jian is changing, and not necessarily for the better, noted some of his fans. "His music still has its sting, but it's not as forceful as before. There are places where his mind is willing but his flesh is weak, so to speak. But he does try, and try very hard," observed Du Libo, a Zhejiang musician.


Du told China Daily that the regulatory environment is more tolerant than when Cui first burst onto the scene, and he needs to adapt to the ever expanding entertainment industry. "If he cannot move on, as David Bowie does, he will only play for nostalgia."


Like some of the younger singers such as Jay Chou, Cui draws inspiration from African-American music. "But only the young can embody the spirit of the times; the middle-aged can be a pillar of the times; and the old are the memory of the times. Therefore, currently Cui Jian is not at the forefront of our era," reckoned Yuan Wang.


"Cui Jian would not blindly accept outside influence. He'll be critical and contemplate social ramifications. But Jay Chou is not just another pop singer, he represents the 'now' generation," explicated Yuan.


For his own part, Cui Jian is older - he just turned 44 last August - but has not given up his ideals about music and life. "Living conditions have improved, but I never forsake my scepticism and critical attitude," he said.


And like all pop stars touting their products, he insists that his latest album - his fifth - is better than his older tunes "in terms of consciousness and passion."


The pioneering artist is faced with a classic dilemma: Should he mellow out and smooth his edges, or should he keep his rage at boiling point? Either way, some music lovers will be pleased and some disappointed. Maybe Saturday's concert will indicate his "new direction." 


(China Daily September 23, 2005)

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