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Taiwan Rocker Comes Home

Asia's rock legends have been beating a path to play Shanghai. The latest one, reports Susan Zheng, is 1980s Taiwan rocker Chyi Chin, who is morphing from bad boy to family man for his Shanghai New Year's concert.

It's lunchtime, and Taiwanese pop singer and songwriter Chyi Chin is decked out in an apron, cooking pepper crab hot pot. "The herbs I just put in are to enhance the nutrition in this dish," says the 43-year-old earnestly, sounding more like an experienced chef than a rocker. The steam wreathes his face, and if not for the banks of cameras around him, he could have been mistaken for a dedicated househusband.

It's an image Chyi is not averse to pushing. The pepper crab was being cooked up at a press conference promoting his year-end concert, Returning Home for the New Year's Celebration, which will be held at the Shanghai Grand Stage on December 30. It's a long way from the longhaired, leather-clad rock icon who released his first, instantaneous hit -- Wolf -- in 1985.

The youngest son of divorced parents, Chyi was so troubled as a youth that he was sent to a correctional institution. Today, he wears a crisp black T-shirt and the long hair, which has been cut, reveals some graying at the temples. So what of the rocker past? Are we to believe that this is a new man?

"You see, everyone does different things at different ages," says Chyi thoughtfully. "I have entered the `years of no confusion'," he says, referring to an old Chinese saying that infers that those over 40 come to an understanding of the true meaning of life. "I really do see things very differently now. I used to be so emulative, but now I just don't push myself too hard. Sometimes you have to let go of something," he says. One person Chyi had to let go was his girlfriend, the Taiwanese movie star Joey Wang.

The two stars had a high-profile love life and several breakups, with Wang serving as Chyi's muse: His hit songs Winter Rain, Memorial Day and Don't Let My Tears Go through the Night were all inspired by the screen beauty. "We had a very good time. I am really sorry that things didn't work out between us," says Chyi. "Now I pine for family love and really want to find the love of the my life." Like many men reaching the mellow age, Chyi claims that he feels a genuine loneliness without his "significant other."

"I used to hang out with members of my band a lot. But gradually they got married, one after another, and it's very difficult to get them to go out these days," Chyi says with a sigh. The man who has recorded 25 albums in 22 years and created songs that have become household names will bring his Mandarin pop classics to local fans. "I know local people are used to spending New Year's Eve with family members," explains Chyi, before saying rather disingenuously. "I am not trying to disturb the reunion. But I really think of Shanghai as my home, so I want to celebrate the New Year `at home'."

With that revelation, Chyi segues into his plans to buy a home here. "I like Shanghai very much and plan to buy a house here in two years," he says. "In the meantime, I will open a studio in Shanghai. A suburban warehouse might work, as long as it is quiet enough for working."

Buying a Shanghai home is not a new thing for Taiwanese singers -- Richie Jen and Jonathan Lee have done that. And Chyi has another reason to feel at home in the city -- his elder brother owns and operates a hot pot restaurant on Nanjing Road. But home or not, building a studio here is not an easy thing. "I find it quite odd that a big city like Shanghai doesn't have many famous Mandarin singers," says Chyi. "There must be a great many talented singers who simply lack the opportunities or simply a platform, and that's what I want to create for them." Chyi, who has a studio in Beijing, is profoundly aware of the importance of opportunity and mentoring for young singers. After all, his path out of his troubled youth came via such a mentor -- in his case, it was his elder sister, the diva Chyi Yu, who gave him a guitar and helped him establish his musical career.

Although Chyi hasn't yet finalized the guest performers for the New Year concert, he has a clear picture of the type of music locals like. Based on his concerts during the 1990s, he notes that "Shanghai audiences prefer my slow, romantic songs, while Beijing audiences prefer rock 'n roll." He is right. Shanghai audiences much prefer his romantic, ballad-style music from the late 1980s and early 1990s to his latest album, Calling.

"I like Chyi's melancholy songs, which have a beautiful melody, especially his old songs," says Jiang Wen, a 29-year-old local fan. "Actually, I don't know much about his new songs." It's hard to say, at this point, whether Chyi's upcoming concert will be as sensational as Emil Chau's was in August.

The veteran Taiwanese singer's concert went until midnight, with fans singing along throughout the entire concert, turning the Shanghai Grand Stage into a big KTV room. But regardless of what happens, Asia's veteran pop legends are beating a path to Shanghai: In addition to Chyi and Chau, Alan Tam and Hacken Lee, Tsai Chin, rock band Beyond and "The Godfather of Chinese Rock," Cui Jian, have all performed or will soon perform here. So what's the appeal? Is it the nostalgic songs or the singers that the fans are flocking to see? While fans like Jiang argue that the old songs are more melodic than the hottest R&B and hip-hop hits, the agencies that book these acts have their own, shrewd reasons.

"Fans of the older singers have are now older themselves, and have greater purchasing power than younger fans," says Jin Yun from Shanghai Arts Corp, which promoted Chau's concert. Despite the glittering competition from his peers, Chyi is quite upbeat about his chances at the box office, noting that there are more than 600,000 Taiwanese working in Shanghai. But he's also quick to point out that he doesn't want to push things: "Both Chief Chaw and Jeff Chang (two Taiwanese veteran singers) had concerts on the same night in Beijing this past September," says Chyi with a grimace. "Whether it was a mere coincidence or on purpose, that's really going too far."

Chyi Chin's Shanghai concert Time: 7:15 pm, December 30

Venue: Shanghai Grand Stage, 1111 Caoxi Rd. N.

Tickets: 100-800 Yuan

Tel: 6469-2858, 6428-7011

(eastday.com December 8, 2003)

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