Songs about Home: the Opening Theme Song to Firefly and Chinese Popular Music from the 90s

5 09 2013

I used to listen to a lot of music in Arizona. Windows down, driving through the dark desert at night, blasting the radio, singing along like an idiot. My ex-boyfriend Jake sat in the passenger seat sometimes, and he said he didn’t mind or think I was a dumbass for hollering along to gentle rock and roll music, but I always felt like he was maybe quietly judging me a little. This might be the encapsulation of what was wrong with our relationship.

Anyways, I’m the loyal sort when it comes to music. Once I find a CD (are they even called that anymore, or is there a new word like iDisc-twitter-cloud?) I like, I will listen to it five million times, exclusively, for a longer period of time than many people have relationships, breaking them down until I’ve analysed all the hidden messages coded within and consumed them so that they are a part of me.

The kinds of songs that would suck me into a vortex of exclusivity are always about Home. Missing home, Coming home. Leaving home. In fact, I listened to Michael Buble’s song: Home for like three months.

I suppose the reason I do this is because I don’t really feel 100% at home anywhere. There’s no picture in my head that I can see when I tell myself to think about home. I just get this vague feeling of longing. There’s a word for this in Portuguese, it’s Saudade, according to Wikipedia, it’s a:

“deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return”

I love this word and it makes me want to learn Portuguese. Also the Brazilians have a DAY dedicated to it, during which I suppose people just slump around Brazil sighing and gazing sadly into the distance.

When I listen to my Home songs though, I feel like I’ve come home. In a home-bound state. Like I’m truly myself inside.

I wanted to talk about a couple of these songs today. I haven’t listened to them obsessively, but whenever I hear them, I am full of Saudade. Y’know, when I’m paying attention, and not eating pudding or playing Candy Crush Saga.

The first song is about leaving home. It’s the theme-song from Firefly – the most beautiful, human and whole television series in the ‘verse. This television show and Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles are the reasons I believe true good can be achieved through art. I revisit them over and over again like worry stones or prayer beads. Seriously, if Joss Whedon and Patrick Rothfuss somehow got together to form a creative conglomerate, I would debase myself utterly just for the chance to work in their mailroom.

Lyrics are:

Take my love. Take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don’t care, I’m still free.
You can’t take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black.
Tell em I ain’t comin’ back.
Burn the land and boil the sea.
You can’t take the sky from me.

There’s no place I can be since I found Serenity.
But you can’t take the sky from me.

Ok. I feel like an ubernerd for going on and on about a science-fiction show’s opening theme song lyrics and telling strangers on the internet how the song makes me feel. BUT. I don’t care. This is my gorram blog. Postmodernism and BROWNCOATS, bitch!

This song moves me because it’s defiant. You’ve lost land, love, everything, you’re staring into the infinite darkness of despair, and your world is gone, you’ve got no place to call home, but there’s still the sky. There’s still the home you carry with you inside. It’s wide and wonderful in spite of the sadness. It makes me feel better about everything. I’ve watched the series dozens of times, and I never skip the opening credits.

*

The other song I want to talk about comes with a story. It’s a story of a small family that travelled across the sea, from a city by the shore to a city in the desert. A story of loss and bee-stings, sunburn and struggle, family and a little red car that would overheat any time you drove it with the air-conditioning on so that’s why if you want to be cool, you’ve got to keep 15 full gallon jugs of water in the trunk to pour over the engine if it breaks down on the freeway. But that’s a story for another time. Also I haven’t quite processed it yet, because it’s quite enormous, but suffice it to say…my family moved to the States, and my parents brought their Chinese music with them.

They were good songs! Not afraid to be maudlin. Not afraid to say things like, “I’ve planted nine-hundred ninety-nine roses for you” or “I kiss you goodbye in the snow!” or “It was you! It was you! The one in my dreams was you!”

They were cheesy, yes, but their cheesiness must have been pretty welcome after the 60s and the 70s where most popular music was dominated by red army songs.

This is all the music we listened to until my mother discovered Enya and Celine Dion. These songs are also part of the reason I had an unbearably cheesy/all-or-nothing attitude towards love, and the reason my writing still sometimes drips with doe-eyed sincerity. Another reason for these qualities is that I used to sit around in the Fry’s Food and Drug Store next to my dad’s restaurant all summer reading Harlequin Romance novels with titles like The Sheik or Summer Undone or Rip My Bodice! Just Rip It Dammit! Right Down the Middle! It Really Doesn’t Matter, This Dress was on Sale! Oh! Take Me!

My favourite cheesy late-80s early 90s Chinese song is called《涛声依旧》- tao sheng yi jiu – The Sound of the Waves Continues (or something like that)

The first part of the lyrics goes like this:

带走一盏渔火 让他温暖我的双眼

Dài zǒu yī zhǎn yúhuǒ ràng tā wēnnuǎn wǒ de shuāngyǎn

留下一段真情 让它停泊在枫桥边

Liú xià yīduàn zhēnqíng ràng tā tíngbó zài fēng qiáo biān

It means:

I take with me a lamp from the small boat so that its heat may warm my vision,

I leave behind a piece of true emotion, docking it beside the stone bridge.

Key terms:

情 (qíng) – This word, more than the Chinese word for love (爱 Ài) is used to talk about the relationship between two people. It’s not love in the western sense, it’s not balconies by moonlight or chivalrous feats to win the hand of your lady love. You use it to talk about the relationship between relatives – 亲情, the relationship between good friends 友情, if you cheat on your partner you are stealing it -偷情, and even romantic love 爱 is seldom used without 情 following behind it (爱情). It implies an unspoken loyalty, an intimacy, an inviolable bond. It’s very very important. It’s not the same as love, partly because the word “love” is used so often in English that it has become devalued, and its very appearance in a sentence feels tainted with cliché.

枫桥 (fēng qiáo) – Ok, this is why I love doing this. While trying to look up what the 枫 means in 枫桥, I found out that actually this isn’t just any old bridge. It’s a famous bridge in Suzhou and a Tang Dynasty poet actually wrote a poem about it, and part of this 1400 year old poem has been incorporated into a popular song from the 80s! What!?! That’s really meta, and historical, and I love it. Anyways, 枫 means Maple. The Tang poet modified the original name of the bridge which was a homophone (封桥 – Seal Bridge…Seal, the stampy kind, not the arf arf animal kind) so that it was more poetical. Here’s a picture of the bridge:

Shiny

Shiny

Moving on:

无助的我 已经疏远了那份情感

Wú zhù de wǒ yǐjīng shūyuǎnle nà fèn qínggǎn

许多年以后才发觉 又回到你面前

Xǔduō nián yǐhòu cái fājué yòu huí dào nǐ miànqián

It means:

Unwillingly, I have left those feelings behind,

only, after so many years have passed, I find myself before you once again.

Key term:

无助 (Wú zhù) – I’m not sure about this. It means helpless, unwilling, against my will. Basically I think the writer is trying to say…what happened was not necessarily what I wanted to happen, but it happened anyway, and I kind of really regret it.

Second Stanza:

留连的钟声 还在敲打我的无眠

Liúlián de zhōng shēng hái zài qiāodǎ wǒ de wúmián

尘封的日子 始终不会是一片云烟

Chénfēng de rìzi shǐzhōng bù huì shì yīpiàn yúnyān

It means:

The lingering sound of the clock continuously chimes against my sleeplessness

These dust-laden days I’ve lived, must amount to more than mist and haze

Key term:

钟声 (zhōng sheng) – I can’t tell if this is a clock like a tick-tock kind or a bing-bong through the city kind, because in Chinese, this is a clock:

Tick Tock

But so is this:

Bing Bong

久违的你 一定保存着那张笑脸

Jiǔwéide nǐ yīdìng bǎocúnzhe nà zhāng xiàoliǎn

许多年以后 能不能接受彼此的改变

Xǔduō nián yǐhòu néng bùnéng jiēshòu bǐcǐ de gǎibiàn

It means:

During your long absence, I know you must have remained always smiling,

after so many years, can we still accept each others’ change?

That’s pretty self explanatory. Next!:

月落乌啼总是千年的风霜

Yuè luò wū tí zǒng shì qiānnián de fēngshuāng

涛声依旧不见当初的夜晚

Tāo shēng yījiù bùjiàn dāngchū de yèwǎn

It means:

The setting moon, the crow’s cry, they are as lonely as a thousand years of snow

The sound of the waves remains the same, but the past, and its evenings are gone.

Key Terms:

月落乌啼 (Yuè luò wū tí) –  This is the part of the Tang poem that was appropriated into the song. The original verse goes: 月落乌啼霜满天 (Yuè luò wū tí shuāng mǎn tiān), and it’s a verse about loneliness. The moon is falling into the west, and a crow is crying. The word used to describe this sound is 啼 (tí), which is not so much a cry as a keen. 霜满天 (shuāng mǎn tiān) means the sky is filled with falling snow, and it’s not even the usual word for snow, which is 雪. 霜 on the other hand, is light, flakey, poetic snow filled with loneliness and emptiness.

Cold yucky snow absent of poetic connotations:

2310696102_e2c76a5c5e

Snow rife with connotations:

霜-Lonely Snow

霜-Lonely Snow

Finally:

今天的你我 怎样重复昨天的故事

Jīntiān de nǐ wǒ zěnyàng chóngfù zuótiān de gùshì

这一张旧船票 能否登上你的客船

Zhè yī zhāng jiù chuán piào néng fǒu dēng shàng nǐ de kèchuán

It means:

Is there a way for us to repeat, now, the story of yesterday?

With this faded ticket, can I still find a place by your side on the passenger boat?

Note: The second line reads more like, “can I board your passenger boat?” But that makes it sound a little creepy, and a bit like the person he’s addressing is selling sex. Or is it just me? It’s probably just me.

So, altogether, the translation reads (slightly modified for continuity):

I take with me a lamp from our small boat so that its heat may warm my vision,

I leave behind a piece of true emotion, docking it beside the old stone bridge.

Unwillingly, I have left those feelings behind,

only, after so many years have passed, I find myself before you once again.

The lingering sound of the clock continuously chimes against my sleeplessness.

These dust-laden days I’ve lived, they must amount to more than mist and haze.

During your long absence, I know you must have remained always smiling,

after so many years, can we still accept the change in each of us?

The setting moon, the crow’s cry, they are as lonely as a thousand years of snow.

The sound of the waves remains the same, but the past, and its long nights are gone.

Is there a way for us to repeat, now, the story of yesterday?

With this faded ticket, can I still find a place by your side on the passenger boat?

I hope this translation can convey some of the poeticism of this really popular Chinese song. I love it because it comes from a time when I had a definitive sense of home, because it’s about losing something, and getting it back, but knowing that really, you can’t ever have some things back. Perhaps the inability to reclaim what is lost combined with wanting to reclaim it somehow is what makes this song so beautiful.

Wow this was a long post.


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One response

7 09 2013
chicfoote

Fei your ability to draw me, the reader into the thoughts and emotions within each piece, also challenges me to think deeply about my own world. I can really relate to the emotional connections and triggers that are important and should not be glossed over. Thank you for sharing your insights and reflections with such depth and heart.

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