Readers' Submissions

Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 193

  • Written by Dana
  • September 8th, 2007
  • 16 min read



I'D REALLY RATHER HEAR

Do you ever wonder about the genesis of things? How so-called progress happens? We won't use the word evolution because that assigns too much importance to this trivial subject but . . . what was the trigger for the change? Who was responsible? What were the conditions that lead to the first pioneering effort? Anyway, I am curious to know the first time and the first bar and the first bar owner who decided to replace Thai music with western music. And western music means predominately American rock ‘n roll. And when did it happen? Was it in the late 50's when people still thought of Thailand as Siam and not too inaccurately either? No, probably not. Too early. The only westerners in Thailand in the late 50's that a pioneering bar owner might have been pleasing would have been . . . actually, I have no idea what westerners were in Thailand in the late 50's and why they would have been in the Kingdom. I'm thinkin' too early.

Ok, so the first bar to go western music for western customers was probably in the 60's. Probably a good bet. Hey, I don't mind being corrected on this. Just thinkin' here. Anyway it is probably possible that some elderly farang in the Kingdom actually has an opinion, or better yet a fact on the very first bar to replace Thai music with western music to appeal to a new customer base. Actually if I remember correctly the very excellent historical website called BangkokEyes has already done the research and the answer is in their archives somewhere. I feel like I have read the answer to this question on their web site but I can not remember where.

So why do I care? Well, partly it is just a fun thing because clearly that individual was a visionary and on the crest of a wave that has since inundated all farang based Thai entertainment venues. Today you can't escape the ubiquitous, overly loud, and repetitively played western rock ‘n roll based music in gogo bars, and open air bars, and the like. It's like hemorrhoids that are just not going to go away. It is now a part of the bar owner myth that you can not attract and keep western customers unless you play western music.

I think this is nonsense and I rue the day that first Thai or non-Thai bar owner most probably in the early sixties and most probably in Bangkok decided to replace the haunting, and fun, and traditional Thai music with western crap. I don't go half-way around the world to a Third World Asian country to have it be just like Boston. I travel at great expense, and some risk, and a lot of inconvenience to have it be like itself. I want Thailand to be Thailand. At least that is what I would love to settle for. I'd really rather Thailand to be Siam but that is long gone. And to me the two things that make the Thai experience an experience that I find transporting are the Thai women and the Thai music. They are both unique and when combined are simply other worldly. If I am in a bar and a Thai women is smiling at me, and I can hear Thai music; I am probably going to do whatever she wants. It's a double dose of personal Thai anesthesia for me. But if I am in a bar and a Thai woman is smiling at me, and I am being blasted by some 70's American rock ‘n roll music; it is just too pushy and transparent. Plus I can't hear anything she is saying.

Now don't get me wrong: I love western rock music. It's great music and it is no accident that it is the predominant youth music of the world. But it is not Thai music. I am in Thailand.

Now I know what some of you are going to say:

"Oh Dana – don't be so reactionary, and unrealistic, and stupid. If guys are in gogo bars it is because they are shopping for a sex experience and nothing is better for pole dancing for the girls than good old American rock ‘n roll."

Well, my response to this is that you are right, and you are also not right. It is true that rock ‘n roll is sometimes great music for pole dancing, and I have seen some happy girls doing some uninhibited, inspired, sexually appealing pole dancing to rock music. But not much lately. If you are going to use this argument to make fun of me you better hang out in some bars. It ain't what it used to be. There are predominately three kinds of dancing now.

1. The Bangkok shuffle by bored girls.
2. The no-shuffle 'looking at themselves in the mirror' dancing.
3. And the 'just standing there gaining weight' dancing.

Before you get on the phone or start emailing your buddies to come to sexy Bangkok to see sexy uninhibited girls dancing and cranking and displaying to western rock music; I suggest you go to the bars again. I know that you can see great dancing to more diverse music in discos and clubs, and of course that includes Thai discos and clubs; but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the gogo bars, and the open air bars that newbies imagine are going to be some kind of sexual nirvana of Sodom and Gomorrah proportions for tourists. It just ain't like it used to be, and it is probably not going to get better. I have a theory about this.

My theory about this is that the girls are bored. Bored. So so bored they could just scream. So bored they are reduced to shuffling, or staring at themselves in the mirror, or just swaying on stage and gaining weight. They are bored out of their minds. Bored. Lobotomized. They would rather be dancing to their own music. Thai music. The way they do on their own time in clubs, and discos, and Thai bars, and karaoke joints, and at parties, and in their rooms. And I would rather see and hear that also. There are many styles of Thai music, and many rock theme Thai groups and singers if that is what you want to hear; and many traditional or regional kinds of Thai music that are all suitable for selling sex and having a good time. The notion that western rock music is the only, or the most appropriate, music for getting farangs to buy alcohol and barfine prostitutes is just silly.

Are you familiar with:

1. Paran
2. Baby VOX Re.V
3. Golf & Mike
4. Paradox
5. Fahrenheit
6. Zeal
7. Ebola
8. Num Kala
9. Dak Big Ass?

Well, the girls know what all of these words mean. This is the music that makes them smile. And dance.

So I would like to find and meet the first bar owner who went to an all western rock format and started the tsunami of today's adult farang sex tourist bar environments. I would like to meet him for history's sake. And I would also like to meet him to slap him. Thanks to him the Kingdom is not as interesting, and the Kingdom is not as fun for me. When I am between visits to Thailand and I play Thai music on my computer in Boston using either Monsoon or International radio or other available music sites it gives me the chills and brings tears to my eyes. Thailand. I wish I was there. And I wish next time I was in Pattaya and I walked into an open air bar at four o'clock in the afternoon to share a roast chicken with my girlfriends they were playing Thai music. I am in Thailand. And I wish many times when I was in gogo bars the happy girls would be line dancing or doing routines they had made up to their own music. Thai music. Music that means something to them and makes them happy.

Have you ever heard:

Mi Youn
or
Palmy
or
Clash
or
Girly Berry?

How about:

Da Endorphin, Spin Head, Cinderella, The Richman Toy, Squeez Animal, Jetset'er
or
Playground?

Well, the girls have heard this music and this music makes them smile. I almost feel sorry for them when they are supposed to look sexy to one more boring rendition of Hotel California. Hell, I don't want to hear it either. I'm not in California, I'm in Thailand. Does anyone remember Siam or why they got on the plane in the first place? Did you dream and save and finally get on the plane to see trancelike bored women shuffling to blasting crashing screeching rock music.

Does the music of

Chuck Berry
Bee Gees
Queen
Lynyrd Sknyrd
Bryan Adams
Lenny Kravits
Bruce Springsteen
Deep Purple
E.L.O.
Bob Seger
Tina Turner
Roy Orbison
Santana
Smash Mouth
R.E.M.,
Billy Ray

have anything to do with Asia or the Thai experience? How about:

Dire Straits
Metallica
Def Leppard
AC/DC
ZZ Top
Billy Idol
Led Zeppelin

Any Thailand or Siam or Southeast Asia in that music? How about the covers done so excellently by the bands from the Philippines? They are probably the most technically skilled cover musicians in the world but does it have anything to do with what you dreamed about, and saved your money for, and flew thousands of miles to experience? Did you ever once in Manchester, or Sydney, or Edmonton, or Miami, or Oslo, or Chicago, tell your friends or family or office mates that you were going to Thailand to sit in a bar and hear American rock music played by guys from the Philippines? And the best part about this vacation experience would be that bored girls would not be able to dance to the music or smile to the music?

You never said that. You never thought that. Come on – don't try to fool Uncle Dana. You never had that bonehead meteorite of an idea streak through your brain for a nanosecond. You should not have to settle for it. Oh, and one more thing I bet you never said to your friends, and family, and office mates when you were describing your up and coming exotic Asian sex vacation. You never mentioned that the music is so loud you can not talk to the girls. You can not get to know them. You can not charm them. You can not be charmed by them. You can not use the intimacy of language shared to make a judgement about whether they might make suitable companions. I can remember . . . oh forget it; the music is just too loud. Ok, I'm middle aged and I just can not resist so buckle your reader seat belts . . . I can remember when you could sit in the bars and actually talk to the girls. You know, like they were human beings or something. Oh, forget it.

Gotta go . . . some great Mor Lam Sing style music by the band Rock Kuk Kuk just came on. And after that I am going to listen to some more Mor Lam Sing by Jintara Poonlaab. Then maybe some traditional Lanna music, or some ceremonial and court music from central Thailand. Hell, I've even got a CD of elephants playing music–ok, the music is crap but I was a tourist and the money was a donation to help the elephants. Anyway, I think I'll make it an all afternoon thing. Some Thai covers of rock music with the charming Thai mispronounciations and slightly different tones and rhythms, and some electronic sounding Kantrum style by the band Rock Khong Khoi, followed by some Luk Thung cuts by Sao Sampaan and Banyen Rakgen. Modern Thailand has a rich and diverse and prolific music culture. In fact for a sometimes desperate, often ignorant, and many times resource deficient country; I have always been impressed by Thai TV production values and Thai music. This Third World does not do everything well, particularly in my opinion in the arenas of self government and social skills; but they are terrific at music when left alone. Really, considering the small size of the country the music scene is prolific and interesting and fun.

If you are an experienced musicologist, or ex-pat, or knowledgeable tourist, or bar lizard and you are noting all the good examples of Thai music I have not mentioned you are correct. I am like a stone skipping across the water here. Only touching down now and again for personal experiences. I do not know much. I wish I spoke Thai. I know I am missing 99% of everything. For instance I love Asian female pop; whether it be Vietnamese or Chinese or Thai. Sometimes I will go down to Chinatown in Boston and buy a handful of Hong Kong songstresses, and Vietnamese sirens, and Thai CDs if I can find them. I don't know what they are saying/singing but I love the sound. Four Mod anyone? Ever wonder who buys those Skytrain overpass CDs that are sold at fancy kiosk displays? I do. Salute the tourist. Years ago I bought a CD of Western Christian Christmas songs sung by Thais with Thai inflections and errors and accents. Songs of my culture and my youth. Utterly charming.

Anyway, to return to theme: to ignore this music and this culture and snuff it all out with imported mostly American rock 'n roll in every farang bar is a shame. A real loss. And do not get me started on the sexual allure of all Thai girl bands. Electric guitars in front, waving saxophones in back; short pleated skirts and ribbons in their hair: sweet Jesus on a cracker I have to be carried into these places by the door staff because my knees have gone weak. And do not tell me you are not waiting with baited breath with the rest of the world for the success of the group Venus Fly Trap–Thailand's first all tranny group. Beat me with a stick this is the kind of pop group we need. The mind boggles.

Hey, I just thought of some more Western crap I do not want to hear in bars in the Kingdom after I have waited six months and traveled for thirty hours. How about

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Oasis
Limp Bizkit
Guns 'n Roses
Aerosmith
Van Morrison
Counting Crows
Eagles
Tom Petty

Ok, I'll take a pill . . . ranting now.

You can walk and wander all over the NEP's three floors and then walk up and down Soi 4 and not hear any Thai music. You can walk from the entrance to Walking Street in Pattaya to Soi 16 and not hear any Thai music. You can cruise Soi 6 and Soi 7 and Soi 8 (75 bars?) and not hear any Thai music. Same-same in Phuket and Chiang Mai, etc. Apparently the word is out in the Thai-farang red light and nightlife business community–'Thai music does not sell'. Who says so? I don't believe it. I don't believe it for a second. I think we are just in myth territory here.

You can cruise the open air bars on the right just before the Walking Street sign and not hear any Thai music. At least twenty bars in the high season with a minimum of ten girls per bar. Two hundred girls who would like to hear Thai music. Ever wonder why they look bored? I'd like to hear Thai music too. At four o'clock in the afternoon I do not want to be blasted by the latest European techno crap. I'd like to have a quiet drink, and play Connect 4 with a quiet girl, and hear some quiet Thai music. Thailand. I'd like the sound of the Thai music to make me feel so far away from my life in the States that it does not exist.

Think I am being too dramatic? Does anybody remember the wei–one of the things that made Siam/Thailand different and special and charming? When is the last time a Thai brought their hands together and gave you a wei (and meant it)? The weis are disappearing. Is Thai music going to be the next Thai thing to disappear? When will it all be gone–every part and particle of the Kingdom's social and cultural tapestry that made it worth a thirty hour trip in Coach class on an airplane to get there? Don't ask me–but the disappearance of Thai music makes me nervous. What will be the last gasp–Thais wearing English rugby shirts, and shaving their heads, and getting club tattoos? Count me out. I'm not a player if this is the future evolutionary team known as Thailand.

I would like Siam/Thailand to stay connected to itself. I would like to hear Thai music in Thailand.

Is this the future–that eventually all nations will be indistinguishable from one another because the tsunami juggernaut of western culture has wiped out and homogenized all that is different about different cultures and countries? Will our great great grandchildren not be able to distinguish between Fiji and Iceland, Laplanders or Tierra del Feugians, Germans or Basques, Bolivians or Russians in St. Petersburg? I tell ya–if I get reincarnated two hundred years from now and I hear 'Hotel California' anywhere in Thailand; I am just going to start shooting.

Hey, this is going to be great. It is winter here in Boston with one foot of snow on the ground and I am going to spend this Sunday afternoon listening to Thai music. Regional music, and traditional music, and Thai rock music, and several kinds of country music, and lots of female pop. I love Thai female pop (ok, I said that already). I once pulled out a wad of baht on a bus and bought a fistful of the music the bus driver had been playing. He thought I was crazy and I thought I was smart. What a score! The only thing I am missing here in my Boston apartment is a Thai woman. Still I'll be scoring 50% and I'll be happy. I just wish when I went into some of the tourist bars in Thailand they were playing Thai music. Then I would have Thai women and Thai music and I would be 100% happy.

Maybe some day.

Stickman's thoughts:

Thai music can be heard in a number of bars, but it is only the odd song. You’re probably in a minority in that if bars play too much Thai music most western customers clear out. It is yet another of the huge differences between Western men and Thai women.