The Story Behind The Song

I was looking for a classical DVD when I chanced upon this book by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Jo-Ann Geffen of the Chicken Soup for the Soul seires. The 101 songs in the book are written by some of the world’s greatest songwriters who give their personal stories about the songs they have written.

There are many reasons why a songwriter writes a song. A song makes history; a song evokes memories and feelings. Here are a few extracts:

  • What The World Needs Now Is Love – lyrics by Hal David & music by Burt Bacharach. There are three ways this pair worked together: Bacharach had the melody ideas, David had lyric ideas; they showed each other what they had, pitched out what they both liked and worked on it together. This was the only David-Bacharach song that Dionne Warwick turned down.
  • One Voice – by Barry Mannilow. It is the oddest song written because Mannilow wrote it in a dream! The song woke him up from his sleep and he heard the melody and lyrics all done; ran to the cassette machine and recorded it half-asleep. The next morning, he woke up and had forgotten that he’d done this. Writing a song in a dream is the purest creation. Amazing.
  • Right Here Waiting – by Richard Marx. It was written in 12 minutes. Marx grabbed an envelope he found and wrote down the lyrics. His friend heard him sing and got a tape recorder. His only mission was to send it to his girlfriend (who became his wife) in South Africa to tell her how much he missed her.
  • That’s What Friends Are For – by Carole Bayer Sager & Burt Bacharach who were married to each other at that time. Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder recorded it. Elizabeth Taylor was there and this inspired Sayer to donate the proceeds to a charity. Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross and Elton John were involved in the project. It was awarded the Grammy song of the year.
  • My Way by Paul Anka
  • Fighter by Christina Aguilera
  • Wouldn’t It Be Nice by Tony Asher
  • Bohemian Rhapsody by Roy Thomas Barker
  • Tell Laura I Love Her by Jeff Barry
  • Operator by Jim Croce
  • Ordinary People by John Legend
  • True Colours by Billy Steinberg
  • Because You Loved Me by Diane Warren
  • Welcome to Heartbreak by Kayne West

Sidney Sheldon’s Reckless

This book was written by Tilly Bagshawe in 2013, six years after Sidney Sheldon died, based on the character Tracy Whitney created by Sheldon.

Sheldon was the author of 18 bestselling novels, all of which I had read when they were first published. I have also read most, if not all, of Tilly Bagshawe’s previous 14 novels. Naturally, I was drawn to this book when I saw it on the library shelf.

Tracy is a typical small town mother, a home-maker devoted to her son Nick. Now going by the name Mrs Schmidt, she was once a computer wizard, cat burglar, jewel thief and con artist known as Tracy Whitney. She thought she had left her reckless past behind her until tragedy struck and she is forced to return to an even more dangerous life.

The story also involves Hunter Drexel, an American journalist, who is kidnapped by Group 99 while doing research. Group 99 is the radical leftist organisation founded in Athens by a group of young Greek scientists who describe themselves as a band of “Robin Hood Hackers” targeting big business interests on behalf of “the dispossessed”. In actual fact, it is a terrorist organisation.

As in Sheldon’s and Bagshawe’s novels that I have read, this novel is filled with suspense. I remember watching movies based on Sidney Sheldon’s novels; so perhaps one day Tilly Bagshawe’s novels (especially those written in the vein of Sheldon) would be made into movies too.

Family Sins

Like most, if not all, of Sharon Sala’s novel, this one, written last year, tells a story that is both suspenseful and romantic. My attention was arrested right from the opening line; and that is perhaps the top reason that I borrow all her books to read as soon as I find they’re available for loan at the library.

Stanton Youngblood dies suddenly from a shot to his back but he left a clue by scrawling in his own blood the word ‘Wayne’. ‘Wayne’ is his widow (Leigh)’s family name, so the killer must be someone from the family because Leigh left her wealthy family behind 30 years ago when she fell in love with Stanton, and this was a betrayal that was never forgiven.

The investigator for this murder is a prodigal son who had left this town when the love of his life (clue; not Leigh) would not marry him. This time, however, he is the one whom she seeks to help solve the murder…

The description, the characters and the plot are so vivid, engaging and gripping that I felt I could not turn the pages fast enough. It is good entertainment. And I look forward to Sala’s next novel

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

I’ve been wanting to read The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto because I enjoyed Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, and I thought this would be even better because it is narrated by the voice of Music.

The story begins in August 1936 in Spain in an erratic 6/5 tempo. Frankie was born amid the cacophony of ringing bells and clamorous destruction. It is not so much the tale of how this orphan was adopted by a blind music teacher and how he became the greatest guitarist that  captivates me; it is that Albom did a lot of research about music (esp guitar music) and musicians (not just guitarist but well-known composers and musicians of different genres). Some examples are:

  • Lagrima (‘Teardrop’) – a landmark guitar piece composed by Francisco Tarrega (Frankie’s original name is Francisco) and performed by the great Andrei Segovia
  • Traumerei by Schumann
  • 12 Etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos
  • Vivaldi
  • Ferdinando Carulli
  • Dizzy Gillespie, the jazz trumpet player who once said: “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play. Silence enhances music. What you do not play can sweeten what you do.”
  • Modest Mussorsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition and how he died at 42 of alcohol consumption
  • Billie Holiday (how she died at 44 because her liver  had been destroyed by drinking)
  • Charlie Parker (died in his mid-30s of drug overdose)
  • Tommy Dorsey (died at 51 because he choked in his sleep and was too deep in pills to awaken)
  • Jimi Hendrix (died at age 27 from swallowing a handful of barbiturates)
  • Hank Williams (his bloodstream was laced with morphine when he was found dead in his car)
  • Tony Bennett – singer, painter, Grammy winner, Kennedy Center honoree and one of my favourite singers
  • The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me was written by Doc Pomus, a polio victim

I also like how Albom describes certain phenomenon using music analogy:

  • In Western music, things resolve. A suspended 4th moves back to the 3rd. A diminished chord slides to its tonic. Dissonance to consonance. Humans follow no such rules. Music allows for quick creation. But it is nothing compared with what humans can destroy in a single conversation.
  • Love + Music = Duet; All love stories are symphonies, and like symphonies, they have 4 movements –

Allegro – a quick and spirited opening

Adagio – a slow turn

Minuet/Scherzo – short steps in 3/4 time

Rondo – a repeating theme, interrupted by various passages

Finally, music can soothe a soul. The body is another matter. Music is in the connection of human souls, speaking a language that needs no words. Everyone joins a band in this life. (A statement that recurs repeatedly throughout the book.) And what you  play affects someone. Sometimes it affects the world.

The Cooked Seed

 

This memoir is written by Anchee Min in 2013, a sequel to Red Azalea, her first memoir (about growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution) which I read about 20 years ago.

This memoir is written at the urging of her daughter Lauryann, to whom she dedicates the book.

The story begins on 31 August 1984, when Anchee is about to land in Chicago. She was considered a “cooked seed” (meaning, no chance to sprout) in China. She also wrote about her memories of China, her good friend Chen Chong (better known as Joan Chen) since the days in Shanghai and her mother’s sister who lives in Singapore. She writes about the impact learning about pop music, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Prince, french fries, ketchup, the Virgin, Mary and Madonna, Michigan Avenue, Chicago Bears, going underground and illegal alien have on her.

In the next part of her book, she recounts her days as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois, her struggles in learning English and coping with the filmmaking class she was enrolled in, the various jobs (as many as five simultaneously – as waitress, fabric painter, attendant at the school’s film-equipment booth, administration office and student gallery) she had to juggle to make ends meet. She writes about being homesick and her hospitalisation ordeal, about being a victim of a money scam, about being raped, getting pregnant and abortion.

The middle sections of the book tells of her first visit back to China in 1987, how she met Qigu Jiang who later became her husband and a reluctant father, about how she bought her first property and all her struggles and failures. Despite all these, Anchee wrote her first novel, Katherine, which I’ve read and enjoyed.

Her daughter was born on 8 Oct 1991 and her new mantra became: Settling is temporary, while change is permanent. She most admired the character of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind because she was captured by how Scarlett survived as a female, the provider for her family and a woman of incredible resilience. I cheered when she eventually divorced Qigu and got custody of Lauryann. Many years later, she met and married Lloyd Lofthouse, someone she got to know through the Yellow Pages.

Together with Lloyd’s support and encouragement, Anchee was able to bring Lauryann up to be a confident young woman, fulfilling her dreams. She was also able to write her novels, Becoming Madame Mao, Wild Ginger, Empress Orchid, The Last Empress and Pearl of China. Happiness is now in her every cell. She counts her blessings every morning as she rises. The cooked seed has sprouted: “My root regenerated, deepened, and spread. I blossomed, thrived, and grew into a big tree.”

Tricks and Treats

I borrowed this book to read before the author’s visit at next book club discussion later this month. This was written by the Spice Queen of Singapore, Devagi Sanmugam with Joycelin Tully. Devagi is also the author of 18 cookbooks and a well-respected culinary consultant and celebrity chef; Joycelin is the editor and co-writer.

The theme – stay close and gather your families often around good food, and stay blessed with love and happiness.

Over five chapters, Devagi recount how in many ways, people were nicer and the food tastier in the ’60s and how through her grandmother she finds the bond of family and love.

Chapter 1 recounts her school days, when she enjoyed free milk, the Milo Days, the Kacang Puteh man, the Punjabi’s chapatis and samosas, the Waterloo Street Rojak, mee siam, mee goreng and mee rebus.

Chapter 2 tells of the way they lived – without a refrigerator, no electrical appliances but stove implements and a wood-fired stove, the Pig Swill man and the Sacrificial Hen, slaughtering a chicken, ngoh hiang and popiah.

Chapter 3 is about family traditions – for eg the coming of age: eating raw eggs and drinking sesame oil for 28 days, which gives the body a little jolt of oestrogen.

Chapter 4 explores the multi-cultural feasts – the making of Nonya Kueh Kapit (a boisterous communal affair), Kueh Bakul aka Tee Kueh aka Nian Gao (a dark brown steamed cake made from glutinous rice flour, very sticky and sweet and offered to the Kitchen God to sweeten his tongue), Ketupats and Hari Raya celebrations.

Chapter 5 remembers the almost forgotten foods – Puttu Mayam vs Putu Bola, biscuits of yesteryears, childhood sweets like Rabbit Milk candy, haw flakes, kok kok tang (a hard candy coated with roasted glutinous rice flour and sold by itinerant peddlers who announced their arrival by hitting their chisels on a metal tray), malt candy, kueh kaya aka Puttu Kachang and agar agar kering.

This is a food memoir, much like the book Feast published by the National Library Board. Maybe I’m biased, as many of the writers in Feast are my friends, but I’m not as impressed by Tricks and Treats and other Childhood Tales. I think I’ll give the book club meet a miss.

 

Missing

I was attracted to this book by Shelley Mackenney because the blurb says it is about how Shelley chose to go missing and live anonymously and the momentous choice to get in touch with her family again. This is unlike the other books I’ve read, which were about how girls got abducted and rescued.

There are twenty chapters –

  1. Leaving – recounts how Shelley woke up one morning and decided she was not Shelley Mackenney any more, after years of feeling unwanted, unloved and lonely, isolated yet under claustrophobic protection from her family
  2. Trauma – how she developed onopmania (shopping addiction), depression; her paranoia and panic attacks and how she was living in an invisible prison
  3. New Life – how she was emptied of all emotion (no fear, no guilt, no  hate, no love)
  4. The Refuge – three months in which she came close to cannibis, crystal meth, heroin, amphetamine, angel dust, all kinds of alcohol and violence
  5. Stripper – another of the catalogue of incidents that happened to her; her pride and self-respect
  6. Abducted – how a missing girl on her own is fair game for any pervert or criminal
  7. Homeless
  8. The Streets
  9. Survival
  10. The Flat – Chpts 7-10 show her surrounding bareness and the absence of any emotion; an empty shell with no personality and no conflict and no love
  11. Working girls
  12. Pregnancy
  13. The Unit – Chpts 11-13 show how she got away from the clubbing and drug-taking and how she realised she hadn’t had it so bad and started to be thankful for the good things in life
  14. Mother – questions, questions and questions about her own mother and no answers
  15. Alyssia – how, without a doubt, her daughter saved her from herself
  16. Moving Again
  17. Cancer – severe dyskaryosis; Chpts 16&17 show how she worries about her daughter and how she felt more and more that she was lucky to experience each day, each hug and heartache, each smile and sigh, each thrill and tear
  18. Family – because she felt so protective of Aalyssia, she had a deeper understanding of her grandma’s and dad’s protectiveness over her, and decided to make contact
  19. Nan
  20. Writing – how she helped her Nan (grandma) write her memoir, Borstal Girl, which became a bestseller; how she made a documentary about missing persons and came to write this book

Epilogue – She has learnt how to appreciate things and be thankful, instead of always feeling empty and disconnected. She looks around and sees all the good and wonderful things that cost nothing. No matter how bad things are, there’s always sosmeone worse off – having it harder and tougher – suffering their own personal misery. She has learnt how to forgive herself and stop beating herself up for past mistakes, learnt to live with the issues when younger, know how they affect her and how she can cope with them. Life is a work in progress; things happen every day: feelings surface, problems occur, mistakes are made, but they can be turned aroung and made positive by pragmatism. Happiness is there for those who know where to find it. Things are not so terrible and there’s nothing that can’t be overcome by love and time.