Song: Allow a Few Artists to Get Rich First

em.jpgAs China approaches the 30th anniversary of its Reform and Opening policy, there is probably no more appropriate choice for a musical interlude than this tongue-in-cheek rock-opera melange from Second Hand Rose.

Any one who followed the development of Chinese rock in the early years of this century will be familiar with Second Hand Rose (二手玫瑰). Among dozens, perhaps hundreds of pretenders, the rotating line-up of northeastern musicians is arguably the only mainland musical outfit to successfully achieve the Middle Kingdom pop world’s holy grail: a blending of Western rock with traditional Chinese music. The traditional music in this case draws on errenzhuan (东北二人转), a folk opera style noted for its vulgar but bitingly clever irreverence–as perfect a match for the original spirit of rock ‘n roll as exists in China.

The first time I saw a Second Hand Rose show, in Beijing in 2005, I told myself, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ll probably never see anything like this again.” It’s easiest to describe the band in terms of paradoxes: music as raw as it is delicate, performances as passionate as they are polished. But what ultimately makes Second Hand Rose unique is its monstrous elegance, in particular the cross-dressing swagger of Liang Long, the band’s lead singer. Other members of the band are more masculine, but equally masterful, playing a range of instruments from electrical guitar to the traditional suona(唢呐) with a true love of musicianship all too rare in Beijing’s increasingly scene-driven pop landscape. CDT’s Zhaohua Li counts himself a rabid fan and happily swallows the relatively steep ticket prices ($7 versus the typical $4) to take in every show they play in Beijing.

“Allow A Few Artists to Get Rich First,” from the band’s first album, is one of it’s most iconic songs. The title is a play on Deng Xiaoping’s famous exhortation at the start of China’s reform era to “Allow a Certain Group to Get Rich First (让一部分人先富起来)”—a line often used by government officials in the intervening years to justify China’s skyrocketing wealth gap. Listen to the song here and see CDT’s translation of the lyrics below:

I’m a pack of name brand cigarettes
I was shoved in the pocket of a poor man
I’m a rapacious little mouse
I was adopted by a rich man

I’m a box of STD pills
I was secretly opened by my lover
I’m a sacrilegious saint
I was kicked down to earth by God

A sty of pigs flies to the sky
A gang of pirates drowns on the beach
My son was transformed into money
Swaying flowers wilt on the riverbank

I was forced to become a worker
I was forced to become a businessman
I was forced to become a poet
I was forced to become a loser

Allow China’s farmers to get rich first.
Allow China’s beautiful people to get rich first
Allow my maid to get rich first
Allow China’s artists to get rich first

A sty of pigs flies to the sky
A gang of pirates drowns on the beach
My son was transformed into money
Swaying flowers wilt on the riverbank

Music from Sogou. See the Chinese lyrics here.

Finally, a Youtube video of one Second Hand Rose live show:

March 4, 2008, 2:10 AM
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