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BUTTERFLY AND ODYSSEY
Foreigners in China
By Cool Han

Proximity Butterfly, a spiritual quest and an odyssey of discovery

   

The first sight I saw Joshua Love the legendary vocalist of Proximity Butterfly, he was lying on the sofa with a philosophical expression blended with mystery and solemnity. He looked at the ceiling, at the cold black in it that pulled so loudly, as if he was thinking about a question like TO BE OR NOT TO BE.

It was about one hour before their new record release show at Yugong Yishan Club (Dongcheng District, Beijing) which marked the beginning of their Beijing performance tour in May, 2008. Their new album The Antikythera Mechanism was supposed to be released that night, however, only one assistant from the record company was sent to them bringing nothing but a claim that the CD hadn’t been prepared yet. “They repeatedly told us to wait until tomorrow for about three months. Today is our record release show but they still couldn’t make it out.” Timm Walker, the drummer and backing of this band looked at me with his sad eyes. “We are on our own and we finished the record within one week before sending it to them. But what have they done during these months? I can’t believe their low efficiency.”

He was not the only one who got confused and depressed more than once by the dazzling version of this “mechanism”. Joshua keep silent, Heather just shook her head slightly. Like before, they would keep on working even harder instead of complaining. As an underground band, PB “has been the forefront of Chengdu bands by overcoming what many simply accepted as the impossible.” Without such a passion and determination, how could they stand out and make a difference?

Established in 2003 and gradually gained popularity among Chinese audience, PB labeled itself as psychedelic music and it was never too shy to show respect for its predecessors like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jane’s Addiction and the Mars Volta.

Right now the band consists of four members, Timm Walker-Drummer, Heather Judson-Bass, Kavian Royaee-Saxophone/Bass and Joshua C. Love-Guitar/Vocal. Though each one has a long story to tell, when we chatted, they rarely talked about their past. It seems to me that they chose to live at present, concrete their music walls and pure their souls. They are Proximity Butterfly, they believe in flying high.

Joshua, Heather and Timm, they are deep inside of wisdom, in their twenties and thirties. So when does PB’s odyssey of discovery first get started? This was five to six years ago, before Joshua who had heavily focused on Hegel, Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche couldn’t really understand people’s way of living in a real world where they “drank until they were blind …sucked down late night martinis and complained about their jobs being too hard”, before the Canadian girl Heather “spent a few years doing volunteer work across Canada and Israel and was never settled with just going back home”, before she first came to China teaching English in Chengdu where she met Joshua, probably the most important person in her life, before it took one year and a half for her and Joshua to get to know and understand each other, before Joshua met an artist and college student Chen Duxi who shared the same philosophy and music dreams with them in Chengdu, before a bunch of idealists began to think about starting a band and finally the same bunch of realistic idealists made it real, before a young German guy Timm joined PB as drummer when Chen Duxi left the band and relocate himself in Beijing to learn painting, before PB released their first album and got upset on the release show of their second CD.

Before all that, back in the beginning of their journey, was it harder to fly, and harder to believe in flying? Does everyone fly? Do some fly all the time and others hardly at all? Is it easier or harder to fly in a foreign country? I didn’t ask. After all, PB had been flying away from this secular world for a long time, with Joshua’s long hairs and lyrics, Heather’s long dresses, Timm’s long solos and Kavian’s long impromptus. Why not make its flying literal? It was a way of being chosen.

“People are same. It is culture that makes the difference and shapes people’s mind.” Joshua believes so. He “came to the land of dreams” from America because he was to “challenge his ideas, ways of living, thinking and being”. But after six years of living in China, he still couldn’t “settle down” spiritually. “It’s not your home, you don’t belong to it.” It is not a cultural shock, but something deeper and harder. “You may talk with a Chinese guy for twenty minutes on the train but he still couldn’t understand what you are talking about. It’s not about language but about the feeling.”

For Timm, playing music is just one way to absorb himself into the “local music, painting, film, custom and social dynamic”. Besides that, the 22 years old German has been learning Chinese at a local university in Chengdu. When negotiated with the assistant from the release company, he remained calm and cool, reserving anger to himself. He definitely would have no difficulty using Chinese to pour out his irritation and depression if he wanted. However, he didn’t.

Then Heather Judson came in and sat down. Like Joshua and Timm, she spoke fluent Chinese, much higher than conversational-level. “At the very beginning we played it just for fun. Heather said in Chinese. “There are many foreign bands in Chengdu. Some are making big money; some are just making fun and killing time. ” “Yes it’s like love affairs, they come and go, fall in love and break up.” Timm smiled and added. But when others gave up and broke up, they kept going and united themselves like a family. Gradually, new comers became locals, outsiders became insiders.

The show was on. Once they were on the stage, they became the center of the world. Repetitive beat and lyrics, dazzlingly beautiful lighting effects, dancing people, absorbing audience, like a miracle. “Some performances are like movies. You just get the feeling from it. As for our shows, we hope it is an experience for our audience continuously, no stop. Not just one feeling but many different feelings.” When Joshua explained his music to me on sofa, his eyes were closed. When he started singing on stage, his eyes remained closed. I knew he was flying. They were flying.

They were flying all the time, the past as prologue, the present as reality and the future as climax. It was April 29th, Beijing. No one knew what would happen on May 12th, Sichuan. The Proximity Butterfly finished their Beijing tour and returned Chengdu. They were there, when the earth was split up and the hearts were torn up. They were there, they didn’t leave. After the disaster, they gave several earthquake benefit shows in Chengdu. If Chinese people are building a wall of love and a room of heart for these who lost heavily in the disaster, Proximity Butterfly is bringing “another brick in the wall”, in its own way.

There are so many ways to feel heavy in this world. But there are also some people manage to get rid of gravity and fly. Even whey fly, they never forget to help the hapless and bring them together. Who was I to say that Proximity Butterfly was just a butterfly, that an odyssey of discovery in China was just an odyssey?

蝴蝶的探索之旅
变色蝴蝶的精神求索与发现之旅
    第一次见到变色蝴蝶乐队的传奇主唱爱书华时, 他仰面躺在沙发上, 带着哲学家才有的表情,庄重而神秘。他望向天花板,也望着那中间冰冷的黑暗。那黑暗似乎在努力地拖拽着什么。而爱书华好像思考着“是生存还是死亡”这样沉重的哲学命题。

    还有一小时,他们的新唱片发行演出就要在愚公移山酒吧(北京东城)开始了。这也是他们零八年北京巡回演出的第一站。《安提凯希拉装置》是乐队的第二张唱片,本来应该在当晚开始发行。但是唱片公司只派来一位助理告诉他们说唱片还未备齐。“他们一直跟我们说还没准备好,说了三个月了。今天都发行演出了,他们还是没准备好。”范思聪是乐队的鼓手和技术支持。他望着我,满眼忧伤。“我们什么都靠自己,只花了一个星期就录好了唱片交给他们。可他们这三个月都干了什么?他们的低效率简直让人难以置信。”

    他并不是第一个对这种体制既无奈又不满的人,而这种事也不是第一次发生了。爱书华没说话,海珊珊只是轻轻摇了摇头。和以前一样,他们还是会继续努力工作而不是抱怨。作为一支地下乐队,变色蝴蝶“站在成都地下乐队的队前沿,克服了许多常人看来无法克服的困难。”要没有这份激情和决心,他们怎么可能脱颖而出,与众不同呢?

    变色蝴蝶乐队于2003年成立成都,并逐渐受到了中国观众的认可。乐队给自己的定位是迷幻摇滚,也从不羞于向诸如齐柏林,平克弗洛伊德,简的嗜好,火星之音乐团等音乐上的前辈致敬。

    目前乐队共有四名固定成员。鼓手范思聪,贝斯海珊珊,萨克斯手凯文,主唱和吉他爱书华。尽管每个人都有丰富的历史,但我们聊天时,他们很少谈及自己的过去。在我看来,他们选择活在当下,丰富自己的音乐,净化自己的灵魂。他们是变色蝴蝶,他们坚信自己可以飞得更高。

    爱书华,范思聪和珊珊都是二三十岁的人,充满智慧。那么变色蝴蝶的发现之旅到底是何时开始的?大概要回到五六年前吧。那时候,主修哲学的爱书华镇日沉浸在黑格尔,亚里士多德,康德和尼采的世界中,完全不能理解周围的世界和人们的行为方式。他们“酗酒成性,直至失明,抱着马提尼不放,嘴里抱怨工作的艰辛。”那时候,加拿大女孩海珊珊在本国和以色列做义工,却“从不想着要回家安顿下来”。后来她到成都教外语,遇到了爱书华,她生命最重要的人。他们用一年半的时间来相互了解和适应。后来他们遇到了与他们有着共同音乐理想的大学生艺术家陈督兮。一群理想主义者讨论着组建一支乐队的可能性。后来,同样是这群现实的理想主义者把这个理想变为了现实。后来,陈督兮离开乐队到北京学画,德国小伙范思聪加入乐队成为鼓手。再后来,乐队发行了第一张唱片。再后来,乐队在第二张唱片的发行演出上情绪消沉,闷闷不乐。

    在所有这一些发生之前,回到旅途的始发站,那时候“飞翔”是不是更困难些,相信飞翔是不是更艰难呢?每个人都可能飞吗?有的人可以一直飞,有的人却从来不飞吗?在外国飞是更容易了还是更难了呢?我没有问。毕竟,变色蝴蝶飞离这个世俗的世界已经很远了,伴着爱书华的长发和繁复歌词,珊珊的长裙,范思聪大段的独奏和凯文的即兴发挥。

    “其实人都是一样的,不同的只是文化,因为文化在塑造人的心灵。”爱书华这样认为。他从美国来到这片“梦幻之地”因为他想挑战自己的思想,生活甚至是生存方式。但是在中国生活六年之后,他还是未能找到自己的心灵家园。“这不是你的家,你也不属于这里。”这不是文化冲击,而是比它更深更难逾越的鸿沟。“你可以在火车上和一个中国人聊天聊上二十分钟,但他还是不能理解你在谈什么。这和语言无关,这是一种感觉。”

    对范思聪而言,音乐是一种接触“当地音乐,美术,电影,社会风俗和运行机制的方式。”除此之外,这个22岁的德国年轻人在成都本地的一家大学里学习中文。当他和唱片公司的助理沟通时,他克制而冷静。用中文把心中所有的愤怒和沮丧一吐而快不成问题,但他并没有这样。

    后来珊珊进来坐下。像范思聪一样,她也说一口漂亮的中文,远远高于对话水平。“最开始我们只是为了玩玩。”珊珊用中文说。“在成都有很多外国乐队,有些赚了很多钱,有些只是为了玩,消磨时间。”“对,就像谈恋爱一样,他们来了又走了,合了又分了。”范思聪笑着补充道。但是当别人都放弃了,解散了,变色蝴蝶却坚持了下来,亲密得就像一家人。渐渐地,新来的变成了本地的,外来者变成了熟悉一切的内部人。

    演出开始了。一旦站在了台上,他们就成了这世界的中心。重复的节奏和歌词,让人惊艳的灯光和舞台效果,舞池里随音乐起舞的人们,专注而投入的观众,好像一个迷幻的梦。“有些演出就像电影。你从中获得一种感受。对我们的演出来说,我们希望观众获得持续不断的体验,不是一种,而是很多体验。”当爱书华在沙发上给我讲解他的音乐时,他闭着眼睛。当他在舞台上开始歌唱时,他依然没有睁开眼。我知道他在飞,他们都在飞。
                                                    
他们一直在飞。过去的岁月是前奏,现在的岁月是现实,未来还会有高潮。那天是四月二十九号,北京。没人知道五月十二日将会在四川发生什么。变色蝴蝶结束了他们的北京巡回演出回到了成都。当大地撕裂,人们痛彻肺腑的时候,他们就在那里,没有离开。灾难过后,他们在成都举行了很多赈灾义演。如果中国人民在为这些受灾的人们建造一座爱心之墙和爱心之家,那么变色蝴蝶就在以自己的方式为这座墙,这个家添砖加瓦。

    在这个世界上,要活得沉重太容易了。但总有人想要摆脱地心引力飞起来。就是在飞的时候,他们也从不忘记帮助这些需要帮助的人。我是和谁说过,变色蝴蝶只是一只蝴蝶,他们在中国的探索之旅只是一次寻常的旅行?


 

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