I Want My Thai TV!
I admit it; my taste in music is a bit dated. My teenage days were primarily shaped by the 60’s culture in which I grew up in, and I feel damned lucky about it! Those of us who are of “a certain age” fondly remember when there was a new Beatles song practically every week. Then there was the best of the rest of the British Invasion”: The Stones, The Who etc. Fast forward to 1967 and the Summer of Love. Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and of course the Dead (That’s The Grateful Dead to those who have never paid homage at the shrine of Jerry).
Yes I was a certified granola eating, pot smoking, sandal wearing, free loving, long hair back then. If you’re waiting for me to start getting misty eyed about Woodstock though, forget it. I wasn’t there. No, I was still too wasted from the first and only time the Newport Jazz Festival had rock bands. Led Zeppelin plus a liberal amount of psychedelics had me in recovery mode when the rest of the hippie world headed up to upstate New York.
The 1970’s started with some great music: The Eagles, Queen, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers, Aerosmith and then plunged headfirst into the abyss of…Disco. Oh the horror of it all! That’s the cut off point of what I consider “my music”. Obviously there has been plenty of good music since then, but it was another generation’s “Prime Time” and not mine. I was married (the first time around) and raising a family. By the time MTV came along, I was already an anachronism, a living fossil to those who were embracing punk, grunge, hip-hop, and worst of all rap (read crap!).
I am not really a musical Neanderthal. I enjoy listening to a wide variety of musical styles. I enjoy Jazz, Classical, Latin, Salsa, Afro-pop, Reggae, Blues, Soul and of course Thai.
I started listening to Thai music before my first visit here in 1998. Back then I was chatting on ICQ to the young lady who would eventually be my wife. Does anyone remember good old ICQ? I was also tuned in via internet radio to stations like Radio No Problem. Tata Young was just a sweet teenage girl with her first big hit, Chan Rak Thur, which is still a favorite of mine.
Over the past decade I’ve had a chance to listen to many different styles of Thai music. Most of it I like, even the girl groups who are so sweet they could induce a diabetic coma. I’ve also seen more than my share of Thai music videos, which is what this piece is actually about. After you’ve seen enough of them, you can pretty much predict what is going to happen, even if you can’t understand a single word of Thai. Like the rest of Thai TV, they are fairly formulaic, relying heavily on symbols and iconic imagery. On my last bus trip to Bangkok while watching the obligatory music videos Sombat Tours was showing, I starting thinking about some of these old standbys. What follows is my completely subjective and utterly irrelevant analysis.
The whole foundation of these little musical vignettes rests on three essentials: motorcycles, the mobile phone, and photographs.
Motorcycles are more than literal vehicles in these stories. They are status symbols. Guys always have them polished and gleaming to impress the girls. The question is always will she or will she not be riding off into the sunset smiling sweetly sitting behind the love of her life? Perhaps a more accurate description is her love of the past five minutes. Both men and woman change lovers more often in these videos than partners at a dance marathon…and sometimes for no other reason than someone else saunters by and smiles. Dumping one’s lover at the drop of a hat is an equal opportunity sport here in the Land of (Cheating) Smiles. Guys casually dump girls as often as girls dump guys.
Motorcycles are also a means of escape…usually from the poor country life. How many times have we seen the sweet but foolish schoolgirl cut class and ride off into the night to party? The next day she is dragging her ass in the classroom, barely able to stay awake. That of course doesn’t stop her from going out the next night…and the next. Occasionally we see “good girls” who run off to the Big City, only to wind up living a life of sin. These girls always have hardworking parents who cry themselves into despair, and often sickness. Fear not! Since these videos are morality plays, the wayward girl usually sees the error of her ways and in the end begs forgiveness of her parents.
Motorcycles are also a convenient way to kill someone off. “The accident” has been a staple of rock and roll since the 1950’s. Anyone remember: Last Kiss, Leader of the Pack. Tell Laura I Love her, and Dead Man’s Curve? Usually the guy goes storming off on a dark and stormy night after being rejected. This formula works as well in Thailand as in Farangland.
As for the significance of the mobile phone, well anyone who’s spent any time here knows that Thais are never without them…and that they are always switched on. It’s been well documented here by many of you that one sure way to know if your tee-rak is cheating on you is the inability to reach her phone. If you can’t get through to her, it’s often because she doesn’t want to be reached by you, at least while she is more profitably engaged.
Both guys and girls are always wistfully gazing at the phone number of a lost love, wondering what went wrong. They are always sending text messages that are never returned. On occasion though, just when the story’s protagonist has given up all hope, the blessed phone eventually rings. Yes! They have not been abandoned! Often times either the girl or the guy loses a slip of paper with THE phone number on it. I’ve even seen a number of times a phone number written on somebody’s hand that somehow is washed away. Fear not! In those cases there is always a happy ending. Other features of the phone other than to make a call are always coming into play. Ah, the shared pair of earphones as the happy couple listens to “their” song, and the photos taken with the phone’s camera!
The old expression about a picture being worth a thousand words was never better illustrated than in a Thai music video. We know the moment that we see the story’s guy or gal staring forlornly at a photograph that all that’s lacking is how it all came to grief. The variations are endless. There is the lonely soldier whose love has thrown him over while he has been busy selflessly serving his country. There is the girl who gave her heart away to the Thai version of Casanova. There is the shy boy who has wistfully gazed at photograph of the girl of his dream, only to see her ride off on the above mentioned motorcycle of another guy. There is the shredded photograph in the wastebasket. There is smashed framed photograph on the floor, thrown in anger. There is the photograph of the two of them together in happier days.
While the motorcycle, the mobile and the photograph stand as a central trinity in these videos, there are some honorable mentions that deserve some recognition.
There is the single rose that guys are always whipping out from behind their back to present to the object of their affection. These are either accepted with a shy smile, or thrown back at the poor fellow’s feet. There is the locket or other piece of jewelry which receives one or other of those treatments.
Another noteworthy mention is the small restaurant where invariably, a) the happy lovers spoon feed each other some som tam, or b) an old girlfriend or boyfriend comes across the two gazing into each other’s eyes. Often a major row ensues. Often the old girlfriend or boyfriend is only now discovering that they have just become the old girlfriend or boyfriend. Then there is a fair chance that someone is going to be wearing dinner, usually the guy of course.
There is the small farm, which inevitably represents traditional values of family life, hard work, piety, and self sacrifice.
There is also the small neighborhood shop where so much of life really takes place.
Oddly, the one thing you won’t find in any of these videos is sex. Oh, some of the dance videos feature scantily clad coyotes shaking their booty, but in the story videos there is seldom more than a hug or a peck on the cheek. No passionate open mouthed exchanges of bodily fluids, and definitely no groping or fooling around in bed. Hey, there are children watching!!!! We wouldn’t want them to pick up any wrong ideas! Oh yes, they can pick up quite an alternate education watching these things.
Wow, you really have been watching a lot of Thai TV!