Knockin' on parody's door
Enough about Bob Dylan and his Nobel Prize in Literature. He took his time but finally accepted the honour and will make it to the ceremony in Stockholm in December if he can.
What else is hot in the music industry right now? Why, it's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his latest single Hope And Faith, released late last month. This is the third song the songwriting premier has penned since he took power in 2014 and the timing has always been significant.
For his 2014 debut Return Happiness To Thailand, it was to ensure the nation that the putsch was necessary, and that "we will do as promised. Give us a little bit more time. The beautiful land will return". The second song, Because You Are Thailand, meanwhile, came out last year as a New Year's gift to stress once again that "I will not let anybody hurt you" and "if we help one another, the day we hope for will not be so far away, for the Thailand of us all".
This latest song is especially the case. It was released just days after the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej when the whole nation is mourning and struggling to come to terms with this grim reality.
"Don't be discouraged and waver despite sorrow and calamity," reads a verse from the new song, obviously referring to the morale of Thai people after the loss of His Majesty the King. True, it may not have become a smash hit like PM Prayut's debut work but the song's simple words have managed to touch peoples' hearts in this difficult time. And the reason for that is the fact that, for the first time, his lyrics truly reflect what Gen Prayut and his government has done in response to this great tragedy as leader of the country.
The "give us a little bit more time" in his debut song isn't quite accurate when promptness isn't exactly the characteristic of the government's road map back to democracy. In Because You Are Thailand, words like chart tahan, a common saying in Thai that loosely means "the courage and manliness of soldiers", was stressed in the song but it was ironically around the same time when a student activist was being abducted in the middle of the night by eight military men.
Listening to Hope and Faith now, however, there have been actual examples to go with the words. "Hope and faith create great power," reads one part of the song and we think of the courage it took for Gen Prayut to do a televised announcement to the entire nation on the evening of Oct 13. Great challenges which followed were the fallout over the colour of people's clothes and the prevalent cases of ultra-royalists witch-hunting, and the government has done a great job so far in playing down disruptive sentiments.
It was especially commendable that just recently government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd assured us that entertainment activities and TV soap operas can, after the 30-day suspension period, resume on Nov 14. During this time, it is crucial that the government takes control when grief can easily lead to anger, and violent means of social sanctions are often resorted to.
Yet, as with his previous works, the persistent shortcomings in his songwriting are revealed in the use of abstract and generic words like "Thainess", "unitedness" and "goodness", whose meanings are always elusive.
With this new song, when we sing "let us be united and persist in goodness", is Gen Prayut referring to the raids in the Ramkhamhaeng area and subsequent detentions, without revelations of solid evidence, of 14 Muslims earlier last month for alleged connection to a bomb threat in the Bangkok area. At the time of writing, nine suspects have already been released whereas it's not clear if the other five sent to Ingkayut Borihan Military Camp in Pattani remain there.
When we sing about faith and sincerity, has it anything to do with Gen Prayut's recent order that reports on the government's policies and performance be put on an outdoor screen at Sanam Luang where Thais gather to mourn His Majesty the late King?
For a tiny second, we are tempted to think of Gen Prayut's fledgling songwriting career in relation to Bob Dylan's protest songs like The Times They Are A-Changin at the height of the civil rights movement or A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall in the midst of Cold War uncertainty.
The notion is sheer preposterousness, I apologise for bringing this up. One writes songs for the cause of others while the other for his own ends.
Kaona Pongpipat is a writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Writer for the Life section
Kaona Pongpipat is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.