Monsoon

I want to begin the aforementioned song stories with one of the songs I am most happy with. I wouldn’t consider it necessarily my best song, but I’ve always felt it to be a piece that holds together well. I think songwriters are always striving for an elusive elegance of form – and perhaps Monsoon is the closest I’ve come to this so far.

It’s also my wife’s favourite, which is an endorsement if ever one was needed.

Monsoon is a song reincarnated. In my early 20s I wrote a song called Monsoon on the Irish bouzouki. I remember being reasonably happy with it at the time, but after a little while I discarded the bouzouki (it’s got a lovely sound, but my bouzouki was so badly made it was close to unplayable) and I lost the notebook in which I’d written down the lyrics. Most of the song was forgotten.

Fast forward a decade. I’d said goodbye to my friends, my band and my life in England and moved to Vietnam. It was Tet holiday – Vietnamese New Year – and I was visiting some friends in the coastal city of Nha Trang. The night bus made good time, and I rolled into town at about 4am; a little too early to go knocking on my host’s door to say I’d arrived. Instead I found a comfortable patch of sand, sat on the beach and played guitar. As the sun rose behind the islands on the horizon and the ever health conscious Vietnamese began to appear in droves for a brisk pre-dawn ambulation along the seafront, Monsoon’s riff tumbled out of the guitar and I instantly knew I had something interesting.

Sometimes your fingers find something on the guitar which immediately resonates – unfortunately it doesn’t happen often!

As I recall, the song still took a long time to come together. It was the first song I wrote living in Vietnam, and many of the lyrics reflect my first impressions of a country that can capture the senses with a ferocious passion. It was a place full of promise, mystery and seduction.

Tropic heat, tiger cage,

And your shirt, your shirt stuck to your back

Almond eyes, toffee skin, loneliness

Leave you rolling in the honey trap

Of course, I wasn’t the first to be so ensnared by Vietnam.

‘I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colours, the taste, even the rain. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here.’ – Graham Greene

There were plenty of people seeking a new start, a reinvention, an escape in Saigon. And the transformation could be intoxicating – an old life’s meagre pocket change suddenly a fortune, an average face suddenly handsome simply because your eyes are blue. But this privilege was not without its pitfalls.

You’ve a crown on a chain

With a regalia, regalia of rust

You’re King Midas of verdigris

And your touch

Is turning gold to dust

As Greene points out in the very first line of his book, for many this exoticism was objectified in a woman. Observing these complicated, perhaps compromised, relationships between the Vietnamese and the foreigner, each half bringing their own loaded expectations – of sex, wealth, a taste of the exotic – the inspiration of the song was found.

Sitting on a plastic stool on Pham Ngu Lao, ice coffee in hand, I would watch these unlikely couples and sneer. The old white male, average face and below average style, bulging belly and balding head; his Vietnamese lover, half his age, the clashing colours and frilly borders of her clothes bought secondhand at the chợ, clinging tenaciously to her man’s hand like it was a winning lottery ticket. But who was I to judge? Who was I to divine what was really in their hearts? I didn’t want to write a cynical song. And after all, I was just as entranced, just as seduced by Vietnam.

Somehow by dint of being Michael Caine, he rises above 'dirty old man' status.
Somehow by dint of being Michael Caine, he rises above ‘dirty old man’ status.

My song needed some balance – a reflection to carry the song to its close. It was all too easy to dismiss what I was seeing as a collision of sex tourism and gold digging. These strange, awkward couples negotiating their way past the low coffee tables cluttering the sidewalk, who knew where they were headed? Perhaps it was towards a little happiness, a new start.

The monsoon’s here to wash us clean

And take away all left in between

At this point the song had neither a title nor a chorus. But somewhere along the road of its convoluted composition, the refrain of that old Monsoon (and the only part I could remember) came back to me.

And the monsoon is coming on the western wind

It’s rattling amongst the coconut trees.

Here were two lines that didn’t say much in themselves; but immediately provided a central metaphor around which the rest of the song could take form. The concept of the monsoon became crucial in guiding the structure and theme of the song – the gathering storms in the first verse, the promise of incoming change in the chorus, and the release and redemption of the outro.

Reading back over the lyrics, I realise the theme I’ve discussed above is buried quite deeply – it’s not a song that boldly states to be about sex tourism – nor is it really (although it makes a good headline!). It’s got enough ambiguity to be interpreted in many ways, and I’d argue that’s something to be pleased with. Arguably, one of the measures of a song’s success is the listener’s capacity to imbue it with new meaning. If you listen to it I hope you find something that speaks to you.

In my next post I’ll talk about the process of recording Monsoon – which can be heard and downloaded for free here: https://farflownfalcon.bandcamp.com/releases

Below is the full lyric.

Monsoon

VERSE 1

Whatever mumbo, whatever jumbo

Whatever you, whatever you can conjure up

Half a light, half a star, a cruel sky

Soon Heaven will spill its cup

It’s twilight, come midday

And the clouds, the clouds hang like a fist

Susurrations, invocations, a thunderclap

Grants the thirsty child her wish

CHORUS

And the monsoon is coming on the western wind

It’s rattling amongst the coconut trees

The monsoon is coming on the western wind

It’s rattling amongst the coconut trees

VERSE 2

Tropic heat, tiger cage, and your shirt

Your shirt stuck to your back

Almond eyes, toffee skin, loneliness

Leaves you rolling in the honeytrap

You’ve a crown on a chain

And a regalia, regalia of rust

You’re King Midas of verdigris

And your touch is turning gold to dust

CHORUS

And the monsoon is coming on the western wind

It’s rattling amongst the coconut trees

The monsoon is coming on the western wind

It’s rattling amongst the coconut trees

OUTRO

The monsoon’s here to wash us clean

Take away all left in between

So beat a rain dance on your tambourine

And let the rivers run down the ravine

The monsoon’s here to wash us clean

Take away all left in between

So beat a rain dance on your tambourine

And let the rivers run down the ravine

Advertisements
Monsoon

2 thoughts on “Monsoon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s