The chronicle of a lonely do-gooder family doctor who survived.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Don't Think I've Forgotten (Cambodia's Lost Rock And Roll)

This has been absolutely rocking my world lately.

The music for the compilation Cambodia Rocks came to the American market via a tourist backpacking in Cambodia who bought some cassettes off the street in Phnom Penh. On these, he found an amazing collection of psychedelic garage music recorded by Cambodian artists in the late 60s and early 70s. These were eventually released on CD by the label Parallel World, but because the original source was an unlabeled cassette tape there was no identifying information about the artists. Some of the music was recorded by people who were big stars in Cambodia prior to the Khmer Rouge and eventually the artists and songs have been identified, and as such are labeled in the that first WFMU link above. All links on the WFMU blog are downloadable MP3s.

At first I thought this was just a curiosity, a story of a quirky subculture of lost music brought back from obscurity. But as I have listened more and explored other music from the genre (Pen Ron, Sin Sisamouth, Rous Sareysothea) it has become so much more for me. There is a newness, an energy, an exuberance, a freedom to this music that can only be found in the very best of popular music. There are undertones of surf music, psychedelia, punk rock, and even funk in this music which is surprising when played by musicians from South Asia who carry all of their own musical history and influence and infuse it into this spicy new creation. The music is technically proficient but there are subtleties that are so distinctly different than anything you hear in American garage music. The 16th note pattern of rhythm on the ride cymbal, the way the wah is applied half way through the guitar solo, the line of melody and the register that the singer is using.

The story has a heartbreaking end. While all of this was fluorishing in Phnom Penh, ominous political events were brewing in the countryside surrounding the city. The U.S. began bombing rural targets in Cambodia which were supplying the Viet Cong in neighboring Vietnam. This destabilized the country with rising terrorist activity in the jungle. The U.S. supported a coup against the Cambodian prince and the general put in charge could not hold back the communist Khmer Rouge which was gaining power among the rural Cambodians. Eventually, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country and began a four year reign of terror under Pol Pot which resulted in the deaths of millions of artists and intellectuals, including most of the people who made these recordings.

The video I embedded is a trailer for a film that documents the story. As I understand, they are still looking for funding to complete the project.

The Los Angeles band Dengue Fever has picked up on this genre and they have three full length albums of covers and original music. I would have liked to catch them at Sasquatch this year.

I was first made aware of this music by this post by the always amazing Flapjax at Midnight on Metafilter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Way to go, Gays!

Unmistakable sign that love may yet win out over hate.

I think the cover photo says it all.

And I don't really give a shit if this is a Sneaky Republican Trick. It's a human rights issue and it pisses me off that 27 states have banned gay marriage because certain rednecks think it threatens the strength of their marriage. It doesn't even make any sense -- at least when white people try to keep minorities down, there is a certain kind of logic to preserving their hold on power. But all this is about is allowing two people the freedom to love each other. And what could possibly be more important than love, especially these days?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Crossing the finish line was one of the most emotional moments of my life. To get there, I had to call upon something I didn't even know existed inside me. Around mile 22, it felt like my body was not physically able to carry me any further. The only thing that propelled me after that point was heart.

After training through several continuous weeks of rain and snow, we had woken up to a bright sunny day in Vancouver. Shireesha and Peregrin flew through the half marathon. Ben got struck with a gastrointestinal flu 3 days before the race which wiped him out so he wisely switched from the full to the half marathon which he ran in less than 2 hours. For the full marathon, Matt and I managed to stay together for almost the entire first half, and though it was really nice to have a partner, he and I both knew he'd finish a half hour before me. You can read Matt's account here.

What we didn't count on though was that it took each of us 30 minutes more than we'd planned. I was surprised because I had sailed through my longest training run at 20 miles. But no one told me that the miles get exponentially more difficult between 20 and 26. I was running on less than empty and the only thing you can call on to drive you forward is pure emotion. Matt had the foresight to have our names printed on our team shirts and that turned out to be important. All through the race, I could hear people shouting "Lookin' good John! You can do it John!" Those words of encouragement from strangers became more intense and appreciated the closer I got to the end.

26.2 miles. Just under 5 hours. Only 2 of the original members of Team Brawndo made it across the full marathon finish line. But we had lots of support from Robin, Kim, Darius, and Kathleen who turned up with megaphones, signs, and colored wigs to cheer us on. And of course, Ben, Peregrin, and my little Shireesha were there waiting for me as we crossed the line.

I would do it again in a second. Each week I felt a sense of accomplishment as I was able to run further and further than I ever had before. For those last six miles in Vancouver, I was alone in the universe, just me and the challenge. Running 26.2 miles is right at the edge of what is and isn't possible for most people. I feel like a different person for getting right up to that edge and then forcing myself over.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is closing all west coast ports today to protest the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I see a lot of these guys in my practice since we're sandwiched between the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Not your typical radical socialists, actually most of them have seen a lot of hard living. For the most part, these guys come from the kind stock that are being fed to the U.S. military meat grinder and *a lot* of them are vets.

It's dangerous for those in power to allow these guys the luxury of a political voice. High school educated blue collar workers are usually spend most of their time struggling to stay ahead of debt and health care bills. But give them stability and good benefits and suddenly they have a lot to say about what it takes to create a just society. It's an historical quirk that Longshoremen still have powerful union protection and I wonder how much longer it will last. But more power to them.