Music has and always will be a prominent part of my life. This morning, I was rudely awoken earlier than I wanted to be by my hand phone. The received message was from a good friend informing me that Michael Jackson was dead. I instantly got up and turned on CNN to see how he died and what people were saying about it. This prompted me to later ask some Indonesian friends if Michael Jackson was popular here. They looked at me as if I was crazy and informed me that he was indeed larger than life in the big Durian. These people have the same childhood memories as me such as Thriller and the J5 (that's Jackson, NOT Jurassic!). Of course Michael Jackson is huge in Indo, he's (was) bigger than Monas, what a stupid question.
The odd thing about this is that it is not such a stupid question. Somebody somewhere has their finger on the musical pulse of Indonesia and Asia. This faction is in control of what people here get to hear. I've had many a conversation about music with Indonesian friends. It is amazing to find out which bands/artists they know and which ones they have never heard of. My lady companion, for example, knows the words to every Lionel Ritchie song but has never heard of Kiss, Rod Stewart or Neil Young. When I try playing some of their timeless hits, she will ask me if this is a new release and politely pretend to like it. Even friends of mine who are really into music that isn't popular have no idea who Public Enemy, The Supremes, Soundgarden, The Kinks or The Talking Heads are. I may be slightly mistaken in some of these examples but the point I'm making is that there are a lot of musicians who are household names in western countries who have never sold a single album or enjoyed a minute of air play in Indonesia. Some Indo friends of mine are conversely surprised to hear that Iwan Fall or Dewa don't sell any albums or tour abroad.
I often wonder who these musical censors are and why they decided that Bon Jovi and not Def Lepprard got to flood the Asian scene. Who had the brilliant idea that Michael Buble could become a household name in Java? Who decided that Tom Petty wasn't worthy? Above and beyond this are the iconic musicians who sell millions of t-shirts in this country. I've met many people who will wear a Beatles or Nirvana shirt who don't really know any of their songs. One time I met a girl who had a shirt on that read Mick & Keith & Charlie & Ron & Bill. When I asked her if she was a Rolling Stones fan, she had no idea what I was talking about. She told me that she saw the shirt in Blok M and thought it was cool and thanked me for informing her what the names meant on her trendy T. Some of the poorer people in Jakarta are given free clothing from a charity and will unknowingly strut around their kamupng professing their love of The Grateful Dead, N.W.A. or Panterra. There's nothing quite as amusing as a woman wearing a jilab and a Slayer t-shirt.
Luckily, I manage to listen to iTunes at home and my iPod when I'm out so I basically have control over what I listen to. This is pretty easy to do when you have a music collection rapidly approaching 20 000 songs. That being said, I know the words to way too way more Akon and Pussycat Dolls songs than I'm comfortable to admit. When a pop song becomes popular in Jakarta, it gets played constantly. I don't mean 5 times a day constantly, I mean non-stop. I was in a bar a few weeks ago with some friends and we begged the waitress to stop playing "Right Now" by Akon. By this point, she had played it 6 times in 1.5 hours. I don't even think that I could listen to "I Want You Back" more than 3 times in a row and that song could bring a potential jumper dancing off the ledge.
The rest of my day is going to be spent listening to some of my favourite Michael Jackson songs and the artists he influenced. I hope those of you who were lucky enough to be exposed to the whole scope of music during your upbringing are as thankful as I am. Try and do your best to open the ears and minds of the people who weren't so fortunate. Make a change for once in your life.
P.S. Most of my Indonesian friends didn't know who Farrah Fawcett was.